H/T to Andrew over at The Third Intermission for bringing this to light.
Jacques Lemaire realized he had worn out his welcome and departed, and still-settling-in owner Craig Leipold fired general manager Doug Risebrough. Rather than recycle, Leipold has brought in Chuck Fletcher, most recently the Penguins' assistant GM, as GM, and San Jose assistant Todd Richards as coach. With AHL head coaching in the Pens' organization on his résumé, Richards is more new wave than old school. There were a lot of nights when I left the arena after watching the Wild, shaking my head and wondering how many goals a healthy Marian Gaborikwould score if turned loose. He might be (and even stay healthy), but not with the Wild. In this economy and with all the other options for hockey interest in Minnesota, one more nonplayoff season will put the Wild's sellout streak at risk.
While Frei is a respected member of the hockey media, I am going to call shenanigans on this one.
Who cares what a healthy Marian Gaborikcan do. He is a Ranger now. Not that it matters much, since he was barely a member of the Wild. Fletcher replaced Gaborik with a prolific scorer in Martin Havlat. A player that led his team in scoring, and would have led the Wild in goals, assists, and points if he had been on the squad last season. That is an upgrade, not a downgrade.
On defense, Fletcher jettisoned the human pylon Martin Skoula, the only man more entertaining, in that painful kind of way, than the Three Stooges. Gone also is Marc-Andre Bergeron, who played minutes only when there was little or no chance of him screwing anything up. In their places are Greg Zannon and Shane Hnidy. Tow defensive minded d-men. They were needed to be able to unleash the talents of Brent Burns, Kim Johnnson, and hopefully, Marek Zidlicky. Bringing in two guys that have shown they have a nose for keeping the puck out of the net allows the guys who have a nose for putting the puck in the net to do so.
Every move made so far has been a positive one. Fletcher missed out on a number two center, but the summer is young. They also need a second scoring winger to take the pressure off of the top line.
All in all, the team has gotten better. Are they Cup contenders? No. Not yet. I see no reason to lump them in with Colorado and Phoenix though, either. My guess is that Fletcher is not done yet, and this article is extremely premature. I think the Wild can make the playoffs, but I don't think they go very far just yet. One more off season, and maybe. But 13th in the West? A bit cynical.
What say you Wilderness? As the Wild sit right now, adjusting for filling out the roster, where do they finish the season?