The Chuck Fletcher era is over for the Minnesota Wild. After employing Fletcher as their GM for about nine years, the Wild dismissed him on Monday.
“I feel it is time for a new approach,” Wild owner Craig Leipold said in the team’s official release.
The team added that they are immediately searching for a replacement.
For better or worse, the Wild have been generous when it comes to giving their general managers time to make their new approaches work.
Fletcher was GM since May 2009, while Doug Risebrough served as the first GM for about a decade (1999 to 2009). While some teams employ their top executives for multiple decades (see: David Poile in Nashville, Ken Holland with the Red Wings), there are also plenty of front offices who receive precious few opportunities to get things right. Fletcher received plenty of opportunities to break through, and ultimately, his run with the Wild ends with a whimper … and some problems for the next GM to sort out.
Let’s ponder the biggest decisions of the Fletcher days.
There’s simply no way to get around it: the dual signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were the defining moves of Fletcher’s tenure with the Wild. On July 4, 2012, Fletcher handed Parise and Suter matching 13-year, $98 million contracts.
Just seeing the total cash and term on those deals is staggering, especially as each contract seems to look scarier every time you consider the implications for the Wild as a franchise. Both players are 33 – and showing their age at times, especially in the case of Parise’s unfortunate health – yet their $7.538M cap hits (with no-move clauses) won’t expire until after the 2024-25 season.
At the time, Parise and Suter linking up in Minnesota as free agents felt as close to the NHL would get to its version of LeBron James’ “Decision.” The biggest of many differences is that, while the Miami Heat won two titles and made multiple NBA Finals appearances with James & Co., the Wild have settled for modest gains. Sure, they’re riding six straight playoff appearances, but they’ve never gotten beyond the second round and haven’t won a division title since signing Suter and Parise.
Spending $15M in cap space on the two already seems dicey. It may only look worse going forward, and if a new GM gets the Wild out of one or both of the deals, it will come at a cost.
The bad tends to outweigh the good when you consider how much Minnesota is spending on its team (a final cap hit above $75M this past season for a team that won one playoff game, according to Cap Friendly).
This is an aging group, which is disconcerting when you consider that this team doesn’t appear to have a ceiling as a true championship contender.
Eric Staal stands as one of the best additions of Fletcher’s tenure – and make no mistake about it, Fletcher’s had some nice hits along the way – and he’s already 33. Staal also will need a new contract after next season.
Again, it’s not all bad. The Bruce Boudreau addition helped players old and young flourish. Fletcher fleeced Garth Snow in getting Nino Niederreiter. The franchise has done a nice job in certain drafting and developing situations, particularly with the likes of Mikael Granlund.
The whiffs have been pretty epic, though, with Parise and Suter already entering albatross territory.
The next Wild GM faces a tough haul.
Do you try to move Parise and/or Suter, even if it means sweetening the deal by giving up picks? Should the Wild keep Boudreau or let him move on if the plan is a more concerted “rebuild” effort? Would the Wild be better off making difficult decisions, such as parting ways with underrated Selke-caliber center Koivu while he still has value (if he’ll waive his no-move clause, of course)? How much will useful RFAs Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker cost?
Those are some difficult riddles to answer. Fletcher faced tough calls of his own, and enough went wrong that he’ll no longer be running the show in Minnesota.