Monday, Mar. 25, 2019

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Nanne: Fletcher Did ‘Hell of a Job’


Nobody in Minnesota has more experience in the NHL than Lou Nanne, 76, the former Minnesota North Stars coach, GM and president. With rumors circulating the last few days, Nanne wasn’t surprised to hear Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was fired Monday, a move he doesn’t agree with.

Prior to last season owner Craig Leipold said anything short of winning the Stanley Cup would be a disappointment. The Wild was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Jets Friday. While Minnesota is one of only three NHL teams to make the playoffs during the last six years, the Wild has advanced beyond the first round only twice during the time Fletcher has been in charge.

Nanne told Sports Headliners that when measured against the skills a GM needs like knowing personnel and how players contribute, Fletcher was more than successful. “Chuck did a hell of a job. I mean when you make the playoffs six years in the National Hockey League, you’re doing something right. Don’t ever kid yourself.

“St. Louis was an excellent team last year. Look at them, they missed the playoffs this year. Take a look at Los Angeles. Since they won the Cup (2014), I think they won one playoff game.

“Take a look at how many Cup winners don’t get back, and don’t make the playoffs for years after. There’s a lot of them.

“These guys (Wild ownership), I don’t think they understand how good a job the Wild has done to make the playoffs six years in a row. It’s a hard thing to do. You do it two years in a row (2017 and 2018) for 100 points (during the regular season), that’s tough. …

“Everybody wants to win the Stanley Cup. …Not an easy job.”

The new general manager will inherit a team stuck in the same annual performance gear. There are salary issues to confront and aging payers to make decisions about. There are also promising young ones like Joel Eriksson and Jordan Greenway.

Chuck Fletcher

Would a new GM want to let his franchise get worse before it gets better, by clearing out personnel and contracts. With losing comes better positioning in the draft and sometimes improved payroll flexibility.

Nanne said, “I wouldn’t have let him go. I am a fan of Chuck. I’d give him the opportunity if you want to tear it down and build it back up again. The fact is you almost gotta be bad before you’re good.”

Nanne said Leipold might pursue Predators’ assistant GM Paul Fenton to become only the third GM in franchise history. The two built a working relationship when Leipold was owner of the Predators before buying the Wild.

Leipold’s official statement was gracious toward Fletcher but the owner made it clear aspirations for the franchise aren’t changing. “I want to thank Chuck Fletcher for his substantial contributions to our franchise over the past nine years,” Leipold said. “Through his strong work ethic, integrity and vision, Chuck and his staff built a winning culture and a perennial playoff team. For all of that I am grateful.

“I feel it is time for a new approach aimed at delivering a Stanley Cup to the deserving fans of the State of Hockey. I wish Chuck and his family the very best going forward.”

Worth Noting

It appears guard Payton Willis saw a crowded and talented roster at Vanderbilt, and decided on transferring to Minnesota. The Commodores have one of the nation’s top recruiting classes for 2018. Willis was a reserve his first two seasons at Vanderbilt and after sitting out next season will have two more years of eligibility with Minnesota.

The 6-4 Willis started four games as a sophomore and five as a freshman for Vandy, averaging about five points per game both seasons. The Gophers have experience and depth issues with their guard roster for next season and 2019-2020.

ESPN college basketball authority Fran Fraschilla has a prediction about the Gophers next season: “I thought Jordan Murphy was on his way to All-American status this past season. If Amir Coffey takes the next logical step up, (if) Eric Curry comes back healthy and (Dupree) McBrayer can play up to his potential, I think they will be a middle of the pack Big Ten team with a chance to definitely play in the postseason,” Fraschilla told Sports Headliners.

Those four players figure to be starters, along with Isaiah Washington. Coffey and McBrayer were dealing with injuries of varying severity last winter, while Curry missed 2017-18 after preseason knee surgery.

An optimistic note about Minnesota is Big Ten leaders Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State could all take a step back after losing personnel. “I don’t expect any of the top four teams to be as good as they were this past season but they still all have great tradition,” Fraschilla said.

When Fraschilla saw the Gophers play last fall, before the Reggie Lynch suspension and Coffey’s shoulder injury, he thought the Gophers were a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 team for the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Fraschila has been following Rochester John Marshall five-star forward power Matthew Hurt who will be a senior for the Rockets next season and is one of the most coveted recruits nationally in the class of 2019. “He’s definitely in the top 15 players in the country, without a doubt,” Fraschilla said. “He’s a big kid with really good versatility. He’s got toughness, can play inside or out. He’s destined at some point in time to play in the NBA if everything goes well and he keeps working hard.”

Gopher football players from last year’s team who have shown interest in playing pro football are Adekunle Ayinde, Vincent Calhoun, Jonathan Celestin, Merrick Jackson, Kobe McCrary, Duke McGhee, Steven Richardson, Ryan Santoso, Andrew Stelter, Nate Wozniak and Garrison Wright. A Big Ten authority told Sports Headliners he doesn’t expect any of the players to be taken during the three days this week of the NFL Draft but predicted Santoso as a free agent will earn a job as a punter or perhaps kickoff specialist.

Santoso started his Gopher career as the team’s field goal specialist. He became one of the Big Ten’s best punters, averaging 43 yards his senior season. He also had 17 touchbacks on kickoffs.

The authority also sees possible NFL camp invitations for linebacker Celestin because he runs so well, nose tackle Richardson who despite his short stature is strong, and 6-10 tight end Wozniak. “Everybody is looking for tight ends,” the source said.

As part of an NFL promotion to announce draft picks during the fourth through sixth rounds on Saturday, the Vikings will be at the St. Paul Curling Club where 2018 members of the U.S. Olympic men’s gold medal curling team will help publicize the selections.

Peter King writing yesterday for predicted the Vikings will take UTEP guard Will Hernandez with their No. 30 selection of the first round on Thursday. Referring to his “surprise” prediction, he wrote that former Chanhassen and Arkansas center Frank Ragnow (not necessarily a projected first rounder) will be chosen No. 27 by the Saints.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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