Chuck Fletcher will return as the Wild’s general manager, team owner Craig Leipold said on Thursday.
Speaking from his office in Racine, Wis., Leipold said: “Listen, I should put this to bed right now. There is absolutely no way Chuck is not going to be here next year. He is our guy. I continue to have a high level of confidence in Chuck and his staff and we’re already talking about next year.”
After losing in the second round of the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, the Wild managed only 87 points this year, making the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference. The Wild trails in its first-round series with Dallas, three games to one.
In his seven years as general manager, Fletcher has hired and fired two young coaches, Todd Richards and Mike Yeo. Fletcher has signed veteran players such as Martin Havlat, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, who have not produced as much as expected, and he has relied on a group of young players who also have been less than consistent.
He also traded for goalie Devan Dubnyk last winter, and he propelled the Wild into the playoffs and to a first-round upset of St. Louis.
Will Leipold ask Fletcher to alter his approach?
He laughed. “That’s a great question,” Leipold said. “But I would never answer it. Let’s just say that Chuck’s going to be with us, and we haven’t gotten into any detail, but Chuck knows he is not on any hot seat with me.
“So if there are rumors — and I haven’t seen them — then they aren’t something Chuck or anyone else should be worried about.”
Leipold also offered optimistic views of defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise.
Suter appears to have committed major mistakes during this series. After Game 4, interim coach John Torchetti criticized Suter for his positioning on a Dallas power play goal. Friday, Torchetti softened his criticism and did not mention Suter by name, instead saying players, “A, B, C and D” need to mind “their assignments.”
Leipold defended Suter. “I think Ryan has had his best year as a pro,” Leipold said. “I think this has been a year he has performed at the highest level I’ve see him perform at.”
Leipold has known Suter since Leipold owned the Nashville Predators, which drafted Suter in 2003.
“I’ve known Ryan for a long time,” Leipold said. “I’ve known his father, watched him grow into a young NHL player and now a seasoned player, and he’s not just a great NHL defenseman. he’s a quality person.”
While Suter is a tremendous skater who ranked second in the league in time on ice per game this season, he often has looked ineffective on the power play, getting wrist shots blocked or failing to shoot with velocity or accuracy.
Why does Leipold think so highly of his play this season? Is he relying on statistical measures or the naked eye?
“It’s kind of both,” Leipold said. “Probably more my watching him play. He has more confidence, I think. He’s taking on a greater leadership role. I think he’s mentored our young defensemen really, really well. He’s probably getting two minutes less a game, maybe 90 seconds less a game. That doesn’t sound like much but it’s a lot.
“I think that may have helped him as we’ve gone down this stretch and in the playoffs. He’s an important part of all facets for us — power play, penalty kill or even strength. He’s kind of the leader on the ice.”
Should Suter remain on the power play?
“That’s probably over my pay grade,” Leipold said. “What I see on the ice, the view I have, I look at it very different than the coach or general manager. That question would probably be better for them to answer.”
Does Suter’s relationship with Leipold allow him to influence organizational decisions?
“No, there’s absolutely no truth to that,” Leipold said. “I don’t talk to Ryan much outside of the locker room. I may send him a text once a month, and it’s usually about how my son is doing in college and playing on the tennis team. My son worked for Ryan for a couple of summers at his farm, and so he’s taken a real interest in my son and mentored him really well in the summertime.
“But other than that Ryan has no input with the people who make decisions. I never ask him about anybody. He never makes any moves. He never initiates a discussion on any person.”
Parise has a back injury and may not play again this season even if the Wild makes a long playoff run. Suter and Parise are both at the end of the fourth year of 13-year, $98 million contracts.
“No one has told me that we should be concerned long-term with Zach,” Leipold said.
Leipold did not plan to fly to Dallas for Game 5.
“I’ve had a couple of bad-luck games there,” he said. “I’m not going. I’m going to head back to St. Paul on Saturday and watch the game on Sunday.”
In keeping with his optimistic view on Fletcher, Suter and Parise, Leipold is counting on his team winning Game 5.