From nearly the moment the North Stars departed for Texas, there were people working in Minnesota to bring a new hockey team in to replace them. Then Mayor of St. Paul Norm Coleman did his best to bring the original Winnipeg Jets franchise here before they moved to Phoenix prior to the 1996 season. Unable to relocate a team, Minnesota had another chance when the league announced that it wanted to expand from 26 teams to 30. After that announcement, a group of investors led by Bob Naegele Jr. filed an application for one of the four expansion teams. Naegele was instrumental in the creation of the Minnesota’s current NHL franchise, but as most Wild fans have heard by now, he died Wednesday night at age 78 due to complications from cancer.
Naegele paid $80 million in an expansion fee when the league granted Minnesota a new team (a far cry from the Golden Knight’s $500 million fee or Seattle’s $650 million fee, but still a large sum of cash). He also helped get the Xcel Energy Center built. Both the Jets and the Hartford Whalers passed on relocating to St. Paul, in part because the existing hockey arena, the St. Paul Civic Center, was inadequate for hosting an NHL team (the Met Center had been demolished in 1994, and the land was currently a parking lot for the Mall of America, a few years away from becoming an Ikea). Naegele, the city of St. Paul, and the state of Minnesota came together to help get a new arena built. He agreed to put $45 million towards the arena, bringing his total investment to $125 million. In addition to helping establish the Wild, Naegele was critical in the building of the beautiful arena Wild fans pack on a regular basis.
For all of his efforts, Naegele is commonly referred to as the most important individual with regards to the creating of the Wild. Norm Coleman, who tried hard to lure a team himself said this of Naegele: “As a mayor, I dreamed great dreams, but it was Bob Naegele who had the skill and the faith to turn those dreams into reality. The result was the Minnesota Wild.”
Plenty of players had reactions to the news of Naegele’s passing, including the team’s first draft pick.
I’d like to express my deepest and heartfelt condolences to Naegele family. Bob Naegele,Jr. was a great,honest and the family man with tremendous amount of integrity. Me and my family loved him dearly. He was a family to me. Thank you for everything! R.I.P ❤️ pic.twitter.com/on8BkEADGc— Marian Gaborik (@MGaborik12) November 8, 2018
Trust me when I say this, nobody loved the Wild more than Mr Naegele, period. Strong in his faith and convictions but always, always cared about others. You changed my life, & gave me opportunity when you purchased the Wild, I will always be indebted and grateful. RIP Mr. Naegele— Wes Walz (@walz3737) November 8, 2018
Commissioner Bettman also released a statement:
The consensus from everyone who had worked with Naegele was clear: he was a kind and loving man who treated everyone he met with a tremendous amount of respect.
For his contributions to the game, Naegele was awarded the 2016-2017 State of Hockey Legacy Award by the Wild and the 2008 Lester Patrick Trophy by the NHL. The Lester Patrick Trophy is awarded as a recognition of an individual’s contribution to the game of hockey, and past winners have included John Mariucci, Hobey Baker, Lou Nanne, and Herb Brooks (see the full history here).
Bob Naegele sold the Wild to current owner Craig Leipold in 2008. He explained he sold the team, despite a clear passion for hockey and the Wild, because none of his children were interested in taking ownership from him, so he figured he might as well sell “sooner rather than later”. Getting a fair deal from Leipold probably helped the decision. Leipold was reported to have paid $250 million for the team, so Naegele received twice his original investment.
Since their first game on October 6, 2000, perhaps no Minnesota team has been better at bringing its fans together on a consistent basis than the Wild. And Wild fans have Bob Naegele Jr. to thank for that. Rest in peace, sir.