You can add Minnesota to the list of teams that will be looking for a new coach. The Wild relieved Todd Richards of his duties today after going 77-71-16 in his two years at the helm of the team. Yes, he finished those two years above .500 but in the NHL being slightly above average doesn’t always mean you’re going to make the playoffs and in both seasons the Wild missed the postseason. That doesn’t cut it in the NHL and Richards pays for it with his job.
Is it his fault that he couldn’t get a team weighed down by bad contracts and mostly average talent into the postseason though? We’re not buying it. When you look at what the Wild have on their roster and then compare it to what it costs to ice a team like that, it’s staggering to think that you can expect any coach to make a playoff team out of that quagmire.
Things aren’t going to be much easier for GM Chuck Fletcher next season either as the Wild are committed to over $52 million next season already. Even with the salary cap reportedly headed up to $62.2 million next year, with all the issues and holes the Wild have on their roster, that extra $10 million or so in space doesn’t leave them much room for improvement. The Wild aren’t a team that needs to patch a couple of holes, they need a complete overhaul of the roster. The problem there, what do you do with some of the bad money?
Cam Barker has been a bust since being acquired from Chicago last season and at over $3 million with a year left on his deal, maybe he can be moved for a draft pick. The Wild might look back on dealing Nick Leddy, who’s now starting for Chicago on defense, as a mistake. Winger Eric Nystrom is making $1.4 million and has two years left on his deal. Guillaume Latendresse has been good but often injured for the Wild and he’s making $2.5 million next season before hitting restricted free agency.
Then there’s some of the deals Fletcher’s signed on his own. Martin Havlat has been producing solidly when in the lineup. Whether you want to say that’s worth $5 million over the next four seasons makes for a potentially fiery debate. Same goes for Matt Cullen at $3.5 million, Marek Zidlicky at $4 million, and a former Wild GM Doug Risebrough-signed Pierre-Marc Bouchard at $4.08 million all for the next two years. Those deals in a vacuum perhaps work out great, but when all paired up together it makes for quite the financial mess to work around.
As for the next guy to come in and try to fix up the Wild and get them back to the postseason, Fletcher will have an interesting decision to make. Jacques Lemaire went out of Minnesota because the Wild wanted to liven things up a bit but now a couple of familiar names are popping up on the radar in Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien. Therrien in particular is interesting because he’s been working as a scout for the Wild this year. If Fletcher wants to keep in house, Therrien could be their guy. If they go for Hitchcock, the Wild’s dedication to wanting to liven things up will go by the wayside as Hitchcock is a defensive-minded taskmaster behind the bench.
Important times are ahead for the Wild and they have to be especially smart about the direction they go in as the fan base is losing their patience. It’s time to start winning in the State of Hockey.