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Wild fire GM Chuck Fletcher, who leaves behind a mess

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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.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Decisions

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

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.

Mixed bag

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.

Staal, Parise, and Suter are all 33. Mikko Koivu is 35. Even Devan Dubnyk (another nice Fletcher find, and a guy on a team-friendly contract) is already 31.

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.

Questions ahead

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.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Just as things were looking up for Wild, they lose Parise

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Injuries have already been an issue for the Minnesota Wild early in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and health has been a regular concern for Zach Parise. The latest bit of news only makes things worse.

The Wild announced that Parise is “week-to-week” with a fractured sternum. Week-to-week sounds a little optimistic, so the Athletic’s Michael Russo provides a more specific timeline of six-to-eight weeks.

So, the Wild essentially lost Parise for most – if not all – of a possible playoff run.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Minnesota states that Parise suffered his injury during Game 3, but didn’t specify when, exactly, that happened. Russo believes that Parise was hurt during some of the late-game nastiness that’s typified much of the series, which the Winnipeg Jets leads 2-1 after the Wild showed fire in a Game 3 win.

TSN’s Michael Remis tracked down the collision(s) Russo referenced. Ouch:

The Wild were already dealing with a significant injury as Ryan Suter is sidelined with a fractured ankle suffered late in the regular season, an ailment that required surgery.

Parise already underwent back surgery in October, pushing his 2017-18 regular-season debut to early January. If that wasn’t enough of a shame for Parise, he has been playing well lately. The 33-year-old scored three goals in as many playoff games and generated nine points in his last nine games of the regular season.

It looks like Tyler Ennis will take Parise’s spot in Minnesota’s lineup alongside Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter. In the likely event that sticks, it will be the first playoff appearance for Ennis since 2010-11 with the Buffalo Sabres. Ennis recently acknowledged his frustration with being a healthy scratch, so he’ll get a chance to prove himself starting tonight.

The Parise-less Wild host the Jets in Game 4 tonight on CNBC. Puck drops begins at 8 p.m. ET. Here’s the livestream link.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Jets throw weight around against Wild

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It’s early, but so far the Winnipeg Jets look like a juggernaut in going up 2-0 in their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild.

While the Wild can take some solace in the idea that the series switches to Minnesota for Games 3 and 4, falling 4-1 has to be disheartening because of the way this latest contest played out. For the second straight game, Devan Dubnyk kept them in the contest for quite some time; Winnipeg only held a 1-0 lead heading into the third period despite what was a 27-14 edge in shots on goal.

None of that really mattered as Winnipeg just wouldn’t be denied. Again.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

After Game 1, it was noted that the Wild don’t seem suited to trade blows with the Jets, and that story carried over to Friday. Some might even say that Dustin Byfuglien‘s monstrous hit on Mikko Koivu is a quicky synopsis of this one-sided start to the series.

Again, the Wild shouldn’t just roll over here. After all, they went 27-6-8 at home during the regular season. They can look to the Flyers’ turnaround from Game 1 to Game 2 against the Penguins to note how quickly things can turn in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Still, the Jets are a different animal than the Penguins, and some would argue that they are a more balanced, rugged, and frightening team. They’ve given Minnesota very little room to breath in this series, and it shows in the lopsided numbers.

Things got nasty late in Game 2. It’s evident that the Jets have no issue mixing it up, either.

Heading into the postseason, the Jets were still trying to earn their first playoff win since the dawning of the Jets-Thrashers rendition of this franchise. It’s already fair to wonder how many teams will be able to take them down in a best-of-seven series.

Game 3 takes place in Minnesota on Sunday. It airs on USA Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

1 team, 1,000 games: Milestone increasingly common in NHL

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Victor Hedman refused to go to sleep without a contract.

A full year before he could become a free agent, the hulking No. 1 defenseman told his agent he wanted to sign a long-term extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning the first day he could. Hedman put pen to paper on an eight-year contract well before the sun went down.

”It was never a doubt,” Hedman said that day. ”Staying in Tampa was the No. 1 priority.”

Patrice Bergeron felt the same way when he signed his second, third and fourth contract with the Boston Bruins. Like Hedman, Bergeron wanted to stay with the organization that drafted and developed him for as long as possible while taking less money to surround himself with enough talent to win.

Now each player is on the road to joining an exclusive and growing club of players who reach 1,000 games with one team. Over the past week, Chicago’s Brent Seabrook and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin became the 49th and 50th players in NHL history to play their first 1,000 regular-season games with the same organization, and that group will welcome many members in the next several years as franchise building blocks lock in to long-term deals.

”You’re going to see it more often now,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ”Just the way the CBA is and the way the bigger names probably don’t move around as much as they did in earlier years.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Next season alone, longtime Seabrook defensive partner Duncan Keith and Bergeron are expected to join the one for 1,000 group, with Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu and Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar in reach of the milestone before the end of 2018-19 if they stay healthy. San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren’t far behind as this era of long-term stability produces a parade of silver-stick ceremonies for one-team foundation pieces.

”If you’re playing 1,000 games in one organization, you have to be a certain level of player,” said agent Kent Hughes, who represents Bergeron. ”It’s really significant because you’re talking about a series of contracts and we’re in a cap world and in order for that to happen in a lot of cases, I think there needs to be a little bit of give and take on both sides.”

In Ovechkin’s case, it was a $124 million, 13-year contract signed in early 2008 that then-NBA commissioner David Stern told Capitals owner Ted Leonsis he’d live to regret. The only regret now for Leonsis is not signing his face of the franchise for 15 years, and Ovechkin said if he could turn back time, he’d sign for 16 years.

Ovechkin is an anomaly in today’s NHL, where contract lengths were capped at eight years in the last round of collective bargaining talks. Since that CBA went into effect in January 2013, 33 different players have signed eight-year contracts – 28 of whom re-upped with his original team.

”It means a lot to any player to get off their career and say, ‘Well, look at this, I played 1,050 games with one team – my whole career, I’m one of the few,”’ said agent Peter Wallen, who counts one-team players Hedman, St. Louis forward Patrik Berglund and Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog among his clients. ”The only reason you will stay there for 1,000 games is that’s because you’re in the playoffs every year, you know your GM is giving you the opportunity to go deep in the playoffs and they want to win the Stanley Cup.”

The other most-recent players to reach 1,000 games with one team – Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and New Jersey’s Patrik Elias – all lifted the Stanley Cup, while Daniel and Henrik Sedin went to the 2011 final and were part of a perennial contender in Vancouver. It’s a delicate balance for teams between paying stars their value and maintaining roster flexibility to contend for several years.

”It’s difficult because you can’t let that key player go while he’s in the prime and you have to keep him content,” Hughes said. ”If the player doesn’t work with you, then it becomes more and more of a challenge to find a way to remain competitive.”

Yet the one-team, 1,000-game players should keep piling up with the likes of the Flyers’ Claude Giroux, Devils’ Travis Zajac, Bruins’ David Krejci, Kings’ Drew Doughty and possibly the Islanders’ John Tavares – if he re-signs this summer – on pace to hit the mark. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov could follow Ovechkin as the only players to get to 1,000 with the Capitals after none did it in the first 40-plus years of the franchise’s history.

”Organizations want to build a core group maybe, and that’s maybe why it’s so common these days that more guys stick with one team,” Backstrom said. ”For me, personally, I like that, and obviously not move around. But sometimes you can’t control it, either. I feel like we’ve been fortunate here that we’ve been here a long time, so I’m happy about that.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild

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[CLICK HERE TO WATCH]

Dallas Stars

Jamie Benn / Tyler Seguin / Alexander Radulov

Mattias Janmark / Radek Faksa / Tyler Pitlick

Remi Elie / Devin Shore / Brett Ritchie

Antoine Roussel / Jason Spezza / Gemel Smith

Esa Lindell / John Klingberg

Marc Methot / Stephen Johns

Dan Hamhuis / Greg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen

[Stars – Wild preview]

Minnesota Wild

Jason Zucker / Eric Staal / Mikael Granlund

Zach Parise / Mikko Koivu / Nino Niederreiter

Jordan Greenway / Matt Cullen / Charlie Coyle

Daniel Winnik / Joel Eriksson Ek / Marcus Foligno

Ryan Suter / Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin / Ryan Murphy

Nick Seeler / Nate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk