Wild out of tourney, Fletcher out as GM

Marc Elliott


Wild owner Craig Leipold and GM  Chuck Fletcher in happier times
Wild owner Craig Leipold and GM Chuck Fletcher in happier times

CARLTON PEAK… You know when you are watching a cartoon and suddenly there is that moment where some giant object comes out of the sky and then hits terra firma with an extraordinarily loud crashing thud? Did you hear that mid Friday evening at the end of the 5-0 total posterior whipping put on the Minnesota Wild by the Winnipeg Jets to end the series and win it 4 games to 1? I heard it. Outside of the Game 3 anomaly that the Wild won 6-2, this series was basically over after that game concluded. Think about that, the final goal the Wild scored in that series was in the 2nd period of G3. Let that settle in because the team was shutout for 7 straight periods after that. G5 was literally over 31 seconds in when the Jets Jacob Trouba scored on the very first shot on goal of the game. I knew right at that moment that I was hoping against hope that the Wild could recover from that. They couldn’t. It was a Men versus Boys dominating performance by the Jets. The Jets can play it anyway you want it, and I’m not referring to the DC5 hit from the sixties.

Physicality, skill, finesse, you name it, they have it. And it doesn’t hurt to have an Abrams Tank on defense named Dustin Byfuglien. I’ll guaran-dang-tee-ya that there are a minimum of 3 Wild players that are still feeling bodychecks put upon them by the Big Buff, and that was several days back. The Wild were outscored 16-9 in the series which doesn’t quite allay the overall upper hand the Jets had on the Wild but there was one, one goal game, and then the 2-0 shutout, which was basically a 1-0 game without the ENG at the end of the tilt. But make no mistake, there was little chance the outcome wasn’t going to be what we saw and now the Wild head for the golf course and the Jets are on to face Nashville in the 2nd round. It just took the Preds 6 games to get past the Av’s who had to beat STL on the last day of the season to get in. Either way, I have the Jets ousting the Presidents Cup winner from the 2nd round, I’ll be thoroughly surprised if Nashville can stop this machine. 

I have gone through many post-series interviews and articles with players, coaches and high-level analysts and while many understand the level that the Jets are playing at as of right now, most of the analysts believed the Wild are a post season underachieving team. It’s hard not to arrive at that conclusion. The Wild have been at least a 100-point regular season team 3 of the last 4 years. They have gone 1-4 in the playoffs in that timeframe, advancing to the 2nd round once, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks 2 games to 4 in what turned out to be another Stanley Cup year for the Hawks. Even in considering that, the Wild are one of three teams that have made the playoffs in 6 consecutive seasons. (Pitt/12, ANA/6 and MN/6) Getting in the tournament is no small feat, winning it is an epic challenge. The “wait til’ next year” mantra will ring hollow if the club makes another postseason appearance with basically the same roster. The current roster has been mostly intact for the past 3-4 years.

In 17 seasons of competition the club now stands at 26-47 (a mere .356%-win pct.) all-time in the Stanley Cup playoffs, has no Stanley Cup wins, no Conference Championships, and only one Division title going back to the 2007-08 season when they won the lowly Northwest Division and then were promptly bounced out in the 1st round by the Colorado Avalanche. Whatever the clubs regular season accolades have been, it’s an easy statement that they must not be built for the playoffs. In fact, over the weekend team owner Craig Leipold has concluded the same thing… 

WILD TEAM OWNER CRAIG LEIPOLD will not renew the expiring contract of Executive 
VP & GM Chuck Fletcher. His tenure ends after 9 seasons. This is of little surprise to me. That’s not to say I’m happy about it, Fletcher is a very good Hockey Exec, and has some solid accomplishments at the helm. When Fletcher was hired in May of 2009 the personnel shelf was somewhat bare and void of any players who could elevate the fortunes of the team. The fan base was getting restless then and is even more so currently. The fortunes of the team in the regular season continually rose in his era but could not get over the Central Division playoff hump with a Blackhawks behemoth in it’s heyday, and then a couple of bigger stronger teams in STL and Dallas who were better in those years but couldn’t sustain and go on runs, and now with a super team in wait, the Jets. Call it bad timing or whatever. The Wild put some good clubs on the ice that simply couldn’t beat these teams who were better than them in those playoff years.

If Fletcher had a weakness as GM it was that he was willing to trade assets and draft picks thus mortgaging the future of the club in a “win now” attitude versus a longer-term view of draft and develop. Leipold himself must share some culpability in this. As a result, the team now has an AHL affiliate with an expensive roster that can’t win as well as the big team and only features a handful of prospects that will last in the NHL for a period, and sadly, they won’t be the franchise changers this team needs. Leipold’s win now and fill the arena attitude are what Fletcher had to operate under and are what is costing the team now and will in the future. I can go on, but I’ll save it for another time…

THE 2ND ROUND IS ALMOST HERE; in the West in my submitted bracket I have WINN vs. NASH with a JETS win. I had VEGAS over LAK and that happened, but I had ANA taking out SJ. The Sharks swept the Ducks, so we will have a VGK/SJ matchup. I had VGK moving on to the WCF and I’ll stick with that. In the East I had NJ beating TBAY and that didn’t occur. I have TOR ousting BOS, and in fact they will play a Seven Heaven on Wednesday eve and I’m staying with the Leaf’s. Give me TBAY over TOR in the 2nd. I had PITT ousting PHI and that occurred, but I had the CBJ taking WAS out and that was reversed. The CAPS are 1-9 all-time versus the Pens in the playoffs, and I don’t think that’s changing, PITT over WAS. It has been a great tourney so far! PEACE