Editor's note: This was originally scheduled to run yesterday, but the news of Todd Richards' dismissal led to its obvious bump to today. The message is still timely, and I hope you enjoy it.
No one associated with the Minnesota Wild is happy about the way this season played out. Well, except for people in Chicago. Still, the vast majority of people involved, even marginally, with the Wild have found a way to be disappointed, yet remain professional. Negativity in the press comes with the territory, and there were a few frustrations taken out going both ways throughout the season.
Still, composure was, mostly, maintained in the printed and verbal media about the team. That is, until today. In what reads to me like rant that Mr. Powers had welling up inside him all year, Tom lets loose on a litany of topics, and comes across as a toddler unhappy that his toy was taken away.
Sorry, Tom. You were wrong earlier this year, you were wrong all year, and you are still wrong now.
In his end-of-the-year piece in the Pioneer Press, Tom Powers does what most Wild writers will be doing in due time. Taking a look back at the season and addressing shortcomings, examining where they can improve, and doing so in as fair a way possible given the major questions to be addressed.
Oh. Wait. That's not at all what he did.
Going off about the financial side of the game, something fans generally care very little about, Tom gives us an analogy of walking down an alley and running into a wall. To show just how desperate the team is, he gives us this:
The Wild are cutting corners. Just recently, Leipold ditched five employees from the business side of his hockey-arena operations in an effort to cut expenses.
I agree the Wild need to be lean if they aren't going to make the playoffs, but is there any evidence that those five positions were needed to be successful? I don't enjoy anyone losing their job, but sometimes big businesses let people go. It happens, and it happens for any number of reasons. Unless these five people were making some serious bank, it seems a fairly small measure, but a justifiable one.
Also, not a single fan cares if the Wild got rid of some people on the business side. They didn't buy tickets to the accounting meeting. Just saying.
Turning to the part of the game the fans actually give a rip about for just a moment, Tom discusses, you know, the game.
The team defeated the Dallas Stars 5-3 on Sunday to knock them out of the playoffs. Yippee! Norm Green sucks. But it really was small consolation. The Wild finished a well-deserved 12th in the 15-team Western Conference. They didn't underachieve and they didn't overachieve. They are what they are, which is incredibly mediocre.
Indeed, Norm Green sucks. Not too many fans were excited to stick it to Norm last night. The guy doesn't even own the team, and is almost two owners removed. Norm Green matters little to a game involving the Stars, and most Wild fans are done with him, and them.
Are the Wild mediocre? Yes, sir, they sure are. Would have been a great article to write, in fact. How do they get out of that mediocrity? Can Chuck Fletcher fix it? Instead we get this:
But does Leipold want to pay off the final year of Richards' contract and then go out and hire someone else? Probably not. Remember that the Wild cafeteria, which used to serve top-end dishes to hockey VIPs attending the games, now features chicken sandwiches available for $10.
As of yesterday, it turns out, yes, he does want to pay Richards and someone else. What's that say Tom? How does this fit into your "Leipold will do anything to save money" rant? Ran that story on the wrong day, huh?
But what is this about the press meal? Remember the cafeteria used to serve top end dishes, now features chicken sandwiches for $10? Really, Tom? You think the fans remember the free press meal they never got?
Who is this article for? The fans (your audience), or the Wild brass (not your audience)? The fans pay $5.50 for a hot dog and only get one. You get as many as you want. The fans pay $6 for a soda, and get no refills. Yours is included and you get as much as you want. Your popcorn is free in the press box, the fans pay $4 for theirs, and you get refills, they don't. The fans pay upwards of $200 to $300 a game to watch the same thing you get paid to watch.
You're going to gripe over the $10 press meal? Really?
Yes, I think the press meal not being free was a cost cutting measure. Welcome to running a business, sir. You know how much time I spent worrying about it? About 13.6 seconds. The length of time it took me to figure out where the ATM machine was.
I can see this $10 maybe being a concern if you were at the majority of the games, but the what, six games you came to this year? Nah. Write it off as an un-reimbursed expense and zip it.
Moving on, we get back to the task at hand. Improving the team. Inresponse to Backstrom saying the "one thing" the Wild need to fix is the offense, Tom gives us this:
That's a big thing. The Wild are offensively challenged. But there doesn't appear to be much help on the horizon. None of the late-season call-ups knocked anybody's socks off.
None of the late season call ups were offensive guys. Drew Bagnall strike you as a goal scorer, Tom? Carson McMillan and Colton Gillies performed very, very well in their roles. No one expected them to come up and light the lamp, and yet both figured in games, with Gillies' tally being a critical one. Did they knock my socks off? No, but I knew exactly what to expect from them, and that is exactly what they gave.
A little basic knowledge goes a long way toward tempering expectations, Tom. Neither of these guys is the next Gretzky. No one expected them to be, except you.
Tom then examines the salary cap issue, something fans may be very interested in.
General manager Chuck Fletcher has been hampered by a lack of salary cap space. He's about to create a bunch of room as perhaps a half-dozen free agents aren't asked back.
"A bunch" of room? No. Not a "bunch." A little. Remember, Tom, Mikko Koivu was extended this past July. That takes an entire expiring contract right there. Some room, yes, but not much. Contracts expiring this off-season are a mix of HWSRN and Fletcher deals. The biggest difference? Fletchers are short term, stop gap contracts. The others were not, and hurt the team for a long time.
But Tom disagrees. Shocking.
There has been a tendency to blame the previous regime for some of the current troubles. But there actually has been a great deal of turnover during the past two years. Look at the forward lines: Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Eric Nystrom, John Madden, Brad Staubitz, Latendresse and Chuck Kobasew are all Fletcher's guys.
Havlat has been one of the best players on the team two years running. Great signing. Matt Cullen struggled this year, but was not given the greatest linemates to work with, either. Kyle Brodziak? Brodziak has done nothing short of moving from the third line to the top line, all at a small cost. Best deal Fletcher has made. Nystrom, Staubitz, and Madden are small potatoes and aren't hurting anything. Latendresse is hurt, difficult to blame the GM for that. Kobasew was a mistake. One point for Tom.
On defense he has added Greg Zanon, Jared Spurgeon and Barker. Ancillary players Casey Wellman, Warren Peters, Drew Bagnall and Nate Prosser are newcomers, too. But the team still is spinning its wheels. And the up-tempo, exciting hockey we were promised rarely has materialized.
Added Zanon, the NHL's second highest shot blocker, Jared Spurgeon who looks like an absolutely amazing find, and Cam Barker. Barker is a joke, I'll give you that. Wellman, Peters, Bagnall, and Prosser are Houston Aeros. Some of the best players on the team, as well. Wellman and Prosser are part of the future, not the current, and Bagnall impressed the hell out of us in Minnesota. Not too much to gripe about in that set, either, Tom.
They had 82 games last season, too, and didn't. So the Wild remain with their noses pressed against the wall. And Leipold must be wondering what he got himself into. Things have gone downhill since he walked in the door. The only possible way the Wild can increase revenue is to get into the playoffs. That seems unlikely. I don't know where that leaves them.
Perhaps they will install pay toilets in the concourses.
Things have, indeed, gone downhill since he walked in. As expected. It takes time to fix things when they are as completely jacked up as when he bought the team. None of the situation is done with a conscious decision to make the team worse. He is the owner of the team, and if he feels he needs to cut on the business side, so be it. If he feels he needs to fire the coach, so be it. If he decides to keep the coach, so be it.
The difference is that fans will care if they charge to use the toilet (not going to happen). They don't care if they raise the press meal to $50. The fans care if he fires the coach, they don't care if a couple guys lose their gigs in the office. Craig Leipold has a business to run, and the fans that care about the health of the organization will let him run it.
Until you, Tom, buy a ticket, and a $5 hot dog, and a $6 soda, and $4 popcorn, and start showing up more than three times a year... no one wants to hear you complain about your $10 press meal or how much you dislike cost cutting measures in a business losing money.
Enjoy the off-season, Tom. You may want to use the time to learn a little bit about the organization and its fan base before next year. You're behind the curve.