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ST. PAUL… While my childhood neighborhood has changed quite a bit since I was a young kid years back, living right at the end of West 7th before crossing the Mississippi over to Fort Snelling, some things are exactly the same. And that’s a good thing. Back in the day I was a short bus ride away from the old Auditorium and a St. Paul Rangers game. That distance remains the same. That’s great because today I’m moving into my new office downtown to start my new gig as the GM for the Minnesota Wild. Oh, there’s one small detail, such as Club owner Craig Leipold being unaware that I’m taking over, but he’ll get over it once he hears my masterplan for the attainment of hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup. He will disagree with my overall view of the team’s current status, but I believe many in the know will understand my analysis and based upon fan angst over the teams recent past, I know many of them will get on board with my vision.
What in the H-E-double hockey sticks makes me think I can do this? From the hockey side I’m not too far from being a 60-season observer of the NHL, some years more intensely then others. I think I can focus on a game and separate talent. I recall being at a NorthStar-Blackhawk game back in the late eighties and with about 3 minutes left in the game, telling the friend with me who the three stars would be at the end of the game and in what order. I was called some choice names. I responded with a dinner bet at a fancy 494 strip restaurant that I was right. I ordered the Filet Mignon, and he paid for it. Doesn’t make me a hockey expert, but I think I have a feel for the game. I’ll readily admit I’m old school, probably favoring how a player looks to me over his analytics, but I’m not so OG that I don’t consider them and blend them in with what I see. But I’m not entirely hung up on analytical data either. Go for the blend.
From the business side I can analyze budgeting models, and nothing speaks louder to me than a basic Profit & Loss statement, fancy accounting principles be damned. I’ll find a tax expert, as well as a salary cap and contract expert. For scouting get me 8 old fart hockey guys from South St. Paul and the East side that can still travel, get me 4 from the western suburban hotbeds, and get me another 8 from Duluth and the Iron Range. If they can still pack a suitcase and fly or drive, lets go. To me it all gets back to that separation of talent thing. I’ll need a meditation pyramid in my office with a cosmic hotline to Herbie and Badger. I’ll need a good hockey ops guy and a couple of hotshot Zamboni drivers and I think we’ll be good to go.
Next, it’s time for that sit down with the boss. No, I’m not talking about the new Gotti movie. It’s time for Craig and me to talk turkey. First, right after the dismissal of Chuck Fletcher, (an excellent hockey guy in my book) Leo was on record as saying the team needed only a few “tweaks” to get to Cup level. That’s an opinion I don’t share, and my first directive will be to get him to alter his perspective on that. The first part of my plan is to analyze him as an owner. My quick thumbnail on him is that of a guy who loves his team and organization, is never afraid to commit resources to furtherance of the mission but is afraid to make necessary hardcore hockey decisions due to fears of ticket/gate revenue loss amongst other concerns of a like nature. He is overly protective of the team business interests at the expense of doing things that will help hoist the silver. You must be able to throw that to the wind to an extent if you want a title. That he thinks the current club only need be “tweaked” is indicative of this. Don’t be stupid, but…
The current roster doesn’t have the goaltending to win a cup, defensive depth is an issue as are the 7-12 forward spots, and within the 1-6 forward spots, good, but not good enough. And the overall most glaring weak spot? The team is missing that one top ten superstar player, most likely a forward, that can pull people out of their seats and get you over. My philosophy is like many others in the game, you must build from the net out. Duby and Stalock will not win you a Cup. Suter, Spurgeon and Dumba are a solid 1-2-3 D punch, even though many fans get excited about Dumba, his upside dictates that he stays. Seeler and Soucy need experience and will get it, and from there it’s filling in. I would see what Brodin would pull in trade interest.
Can Staal pull over 40 goals again? How much longer will he maintain? Parises physical longevity? Zucker’s inconsistency? Granny? He’s probably not top 6 on a Champ team. Koivu? Why did Chuck extend him? He is close to the end for a few reasons. Nino, inconsistent at times and takes penalties at inopportune game moments. Coyle? Supposedly tons of upside, but we haven’t seen it. IMO, I don’t think he understands his own strength and ability. I see a player who could dominate games but seems too timid to do so, plus needs to learn how to finish. Cullen, I believe, is likely to retire. For Ennis, Winnik, Foligno, they are marginal players. Kunin, Greenway, and Eriksson-Ek are young and I’m not quite certain they are top six forwards, ever.
I’m going to change course here for the sake of this week’s space. The Entry Draft is Friday and as I do not see a Cup in the Wilds next 5-year plans, due to current roster considerations and pipeline, I change direction in total and I go bold, here are the Wilds positions; R1/24th pick. R3/63rd, 86th, and 92nd. R5/148th and 155th. R6/179th and R7/210th. The Wild won’t be drafting an immediate franchise changer this time so I’m going draft and develop here. Throwing normal wisdom aside I’m taking the two best goalies available at 24th and 63rd, hopefully Alexis Gravel from Halifax/QMJHL and Jakub Skarek, HC Dukla Jihlava/Czech Extraliga. Obtain these players now and start the process. With the next 3 picks I’m going for D-men, best available. With the final three I’m taking the best 3 centers available. Of course, this won’t be the Wild’s strategy. They are pegged to take Center Akil Thomas at 24. He is ranked as the 15th best pick though. If the club is stuck on a center pick, they are more likely to get Ty Dellandrea by the time 24 comes up. Next Week; Part two, until then, over & out, PEACE