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Under Pressure: Chuck Fletcher

This post is part of Wild Day on PHT…

The Minnesota Wild have employed two GMs in their history: Doug Risebrough, the franchise’s architect, and Chuck Fletcher, who’s been in charge – somewhat startlingly – since 2009.

In that time, the Wild have spent a lot of money, particularly in landing local stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Even if you dismiss John Torchetti since he was interim head coach, Fletcher’s had plenty of opportunities as far as hiring coaches goes, as the franchise has gone through Todd Richards, Mike Yeo, and now employs Bruce Boudreau.

Fletcher deserves some credit for the fact that the Wild ‘s active playoff streak of five seasons, particularly since they missed the postseason from 2008-09 through 2011-12. Still, this team has peaked with two second-round trips and hasn’t ever won a division title under his watch.

It’s almost become a tradition in Minnesota: whatever happens during the regular season – and it seems, whoever’s behind the bench – the end result is always disappointment … and even so, Fletcher preaches patience.

Still, you wonder how much patience remains above Fletcher, particularly when you consider how Wild owner Craig Leipold regretted the bold move to land Martin Hanzal at the trade deadline.

“In hindsight, geez, I wish we wouldn’t have done that,” said Leipold, per the Minneapolis Tribune. “I supported that decision at the time, and I’m willing to live with it.”

Yeesh, how long is Leipold “willing to live with” Fletcher’s teams falling short of the mark, though? It had to cut deep for Leipold to see his former team, the Nashville Predators, come two wins short of a Stanley Cup before his own team even made a conference final.

(Leipold said he was happy for the Predators … but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t jealous.)

For years, the Wild have produced some mild results on the ice, though Boudreau’s 2016-17 edition finally pushed for something bigger. That underdog status doesn’t parallel the team’s spending, however, and you have to place some of the blame on Fletcher.

After all, the two constants since 2009 have been seasons ending in disappointment and Fletcher being the GM.

There’s a lot of pressure to change that in 2017-18, and that ultimately falls on him.

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    KHL hopes to start 2020-21 season on Sept. 2

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    The Kontinental Hockey League says it plans to return on Sept. 2 to open the 2020-21 season.

    The last KHL game was played on March 12. The season was then suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    The KHL is widely considered to be the strongest hockey league outside the NHL. It ended its 2019-20 season partway through the playoffs without declaring a champion.

    The league says Sept. 2 is a preliminary date that could be subject to “necessary corrections” depending on how the coronavirus situation develops.

    International travel restrictions became a problem for KHL teams. The league has teams in six countries but most are in Russia.

    The projected Sept. 2 start date is broadly in line with other recent KHL seasons.

    Sharks look for rebound following rough 2019-20 season

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    The San Jose Sharks had started planning for next season long before the news became official Tuesday that they would be one of the seven teams left home if the NHL resumes its season.

    A slow start, a rough December and an injury-plagued final stretch of the season left last season’s Western Conference runners up at the bottom of the conference standings.

    ”We didn’t get off to a good start. We were chasing our tail,” general manager Doug Wilson said Tuesday. ”October we were awful, November we were one of the best teams in the league record wise anyhow and December we were awful. That’s where the frustration really got elevated. We are capable of playing some good hockey. Were we a great team? No, we probably weren’t a complete team. But we knew we were better than we were playing, and that frustration, that’s OK. It’s now how we channel that, what our focus is, what we do this offseason.”

    This marks just the second time in the past 16 seasons that the Sharks failed to make the postseason. They responded the last time by making the only run to the Stanley Cup Final in franchise history in 2015-16 before losing to Pittsburgh in six games.

    Wilson is hopeful for a repeat even though this season’s team struggled as top players like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns had down seasons, goalie Martin Jones struggled and young players like Kevin Labanc failed to develop as anticipated.

    ”We did not meet our expectations this year,” Wilson said. ”But I do know this, we’ve got some really good players that care a lot. That’s how I look at it. Every year is a different year, a different team. We do not take missing the playoffs lightly. We’re not a team that’s going to go into this long protracted rebuild.”

    COACH THEM UP

    The poor start led to the firing of coach Peter DeBoer in December. Assistant Bob Boughner took over on interim basis and the team showed signs of playing with better structure under his leadership. Wilson said he hasn’t made a decision on Boughner’s status but praised the work he did.

    ”It’s a process that’s ongoing,” Wilson said. ”Very difficult to come in and coach a team halfway through the year. You don’t necessarily have all the ingredients and your staff that you want around you.”

    GETTING HEALTHY

    The Sharks dealt with some bad injury look during the season with Karlsson, captain Logan Couture and star forward Tomas Hertl all missing significant time. Wilson said all three are healing well and should be able to be in top shape whenever next season starts. That will be especially helpful for Karlsson, who spent last summer recovering from a groin injury, contributing to the slow start this season.

    ”This is the one benefit that he’s going to have,” Wilson said. ”He’s going to have all the time now to get healthy and to get that elite level of fitness the great players have and that he’s been able to have in the past. This extra time for him will be very beneficial.”

    JUMBO’S STATUS

    One question for the Sharks before next season starts will be the status of Joe Thornton. The Sharks brought Thornton back this season on a one-year deal and he finished with seven goals and 24 assists in 70 games. His production increased as the season went on as he had 11 points in his final 17 games after just 20 in his first 53. Thornton has expressed interest in returning at age 41 for his 23rd year. Wilson said he is in frequent contact with Thornton and knows he cant wait to get back on the ice.

    FREE AGENCY

    The Sharks have most of their key players other than Thornton under contract for next season. Depth forwards Melker Karlsson and Stefan Noesen are eligible to be unrestricted free agents, along with defenseman Tim Heed and backup goalie Aaron Dell. But with significant money tied up in Karlsson, Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defense, as well as forwards Couture, Evander Kane and Timo Meier, the Sharks will have little flexibility unless they trade one of those high-priced stars.

    DRAFT DOINGS

    The Sharks won’t have the benefit of a high draft pick following a down season because they traded their first-round pick to Ottawa before the 2018-19 season for Karlsson. San Jose did acquire Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in a deadline deal for forward Barclay Goodrow and also has two second-rounders. Those picks could be used either for prospects or packaged in deals for veterans who can contribute even quicker.

    Plenty to figure out before NHL decides on hub cities

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    Whenever the NHL is able to finish out the 2019-20 season, the games will be played in two “hub” cities which will host each conference.

    The league is still investigating the cities they’ll use, which will be dependent on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations.

    “We’re going to go to the places that in terms of the logistics, the health issue I talked about, the testing issue I talked about, the governmental issues we talked about, we’re not hung up on east‑west,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman on a video conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “For TV scheduling it may be better if we’re in different time zones, but we’re going to go to the places that we think are the safest and make the most sense medically at the time.”

    As the NHL revealed on Tuesday, 10 cities are in the mix.

    • Chicago, IL
    • Columbus, OH
    • Dallas, TX
    • Edmonton, AB
    • Las Vegas, NV
    • Los Angeles, CA
    • Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
    • Pittsburgh, PA
    • Toronto, ON
    • Vancouver, BC

    [NHL announces return-to-play plans]

    The Canadian government currently has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering the country. That could affect Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver’s chances to host.

    “The interpretation of the quarantine consistent with our players’ ability to travel in and not have to do a strict self-quarantine in a hotel room, we won’t be in a position to use any of the Canadian cities as a hub city,” said Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “We’re faced with having to find a solution to that. Hopefully we can.”

    All of those markets, outside of LA, feature a team in the Return to Play plan. Bettman said that there is a chance a team could move to the other “hub” city if their location is one of the chosen two. For example, if Vegas and Columbus are selected, the Western Conference will play in Columbus and the Eastern Conference would play their games in Vegas.

    But it’s never that easy. Logistics may require a team to play in its home city, but it won’t be as advantageous as it usually is.

    “[I]f a team happens to be in its own market, the players I don’t think should be planning on going home,” Bettman said. “They’ll be staying in the same conditions that everybody else is.”

    What comes next is to move into Phase 2 next week with players holding on- and off-ice training in small groups at team facilities. That could include players from different teams who live in the same city.

    “This is a little bit different dynamic,” said Daly, “so we felt like it was important at the request of the NHL Players’ Association to make it available, but it will come down to the individual club specifics as to whether they can really accommodate those players on any real basis.”

    If all goes well Phase 3, teams entering formal training camps, will get under way in July. That could set up the 24-team return in August, perhaps?

    MORE:
    A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
    An overview of the Western Conference series
    Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?
    Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft odds

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    PHT Morning Skate: Return to Play reaction; DeBoer on Golden Knights

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    Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

    • On the NHL’s Return to Play plan: “While the NHL has a plan to resume the season, it appears to be written on a cocktail napkin soaked in beer. These are confusing times, as it is. Trying to logistically plan a season that may or may not happen only adds to the confusion.” [National Post]

    • Playing a full, 82-game 2020-21 schedule? Kicking off next season with the Winter Classic? It could happen. [Ottawa Citizen]

    • A Q&A with NHLPA executive Donald Fehr on the Return to Play plan: “There are still things that have to be negotiated. We haven’t done the Phase 3 or Phase 4 protocols. There are some things about the [return-to-play] format that aren’t quite finished. There’s a lot to do, but that issue will certainly be one that will be raised. And I’m fairly confident that we’ll find a way to resolve it. Nobody wants to expose someone to unreasonable risks given the circumstances.” [ESPN]

    • Peter DeBoer on his Golden Knights team: “It’s the most talented team I’ve had in my coaching career. It seems like a great combination of talent and character and leadership.” [NHL.com]

    • On rethinking “success” at the NHL Draft. [1st Ohio Battery]

    • Legendary Michigan coach Red Berenson is joining the Big Ten as a special advisor. [Detroit News]

    • Brett Riley, who served as an assistant with Colgate last season, will be the first head coach of the new Long Island University men’s hockey program. [College Hockey News]

    • Finally, uh oh…

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.