Wild owner defends coach, feels team took step forward

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When the Minnesota Wild acquired forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter last year, the question was how much the team instantly improved. The 2011-12 Wild didn’t come close to making the playoffs, but with two new star players on the roster, there was excitement about the franchise’s future.

In the end, they barely made the postseason in 2013 and were eliminated in five games by the Chicago Blackhawks. With that in mind, Wild owner Craig Leipold was asked how he viewed the 2013 campaign.

“I would say success,” Leipold told the Star Tribune. “Clearly moved forward, got better [but] feel a little empty. I feel like we didn’t accomplish what I thought we had the ability to do.”

Leipold feels the team is moving in the right direction and when the speculation about Wild coach Mike Yeo’s job being on the line was brought to him, he was quick to defend the bench boss.

“I can just tell you that we like Mike,” Leipold said. “He’s our guy. If some list puts him on the hot seat, that’s just people doing that. That’s not going to affect us.”

He also feels the team had some tough breaks that might have contributed to the way their season ended. Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville both suffered late season injuries and even when Pominville returned “he wasn’t himself.”

On top of that, they lost starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom during the warmups for Game 1 of their first round series.

“That stuff just doesn’t happen,” Leipold said. “That’s like a movie. So those are some of the reasons we feel like we just didn’t have the breaks. But we also didn’t achieve what we thought we could do.”

Going forward, Leipold doesn’t expect the team to be aggressive on the free agent market because they don’t have the cap space for that, but “everything’s on the table” as far as trades go.

He doesn’t think the Wild have the same depth as the Blackhawks team that defeated them, but he doesn’t believe the gap is big.

“Yeah, we’re a couple players off, but we’re not that far off,” he said. “I do believe that.”