Wild Owner Talks Needed Upgrades
Personable Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold spoke one-on-one with Sports Headliners yesterday via telephone. The club’s hopes of a Stanley Cup run ended in a qualifying series loss to Vancouver last Friday. Leipold spoke to that disappointment and more in the following interview, with questions and answers edited for clarity and brevity.
The Wild lost the series 3-1 after winning the first game. What is your reaction to how the team played in the series?
I thought our first game that we played was maybe our best game of the year. I am not disappointed in the effort. I think we played hard. I think we’re as good a team as Vancouver is. There were a lot of good things that came out of that series.
Why do you think the Wild had difficulty holding leads?
That’s a tough one. Losing Ryan Suter (late in game three and unavailable for game four) that hurt us. They (the Canucks) are a good team and they have a lot of really fast young scorers. We knew that we had to play really well defensively and offensively in order to win that series, and we just couldn’t get it done.
What happened with Suter not playing?
He got a puck (hit) in the same area (right ankle) that was damaged two years. The coaches and medical (staff), out of caution, didn’t want him to take a chance that there was something really wrong with it. He might have been ready for the next game (last Sunday) but we didn’t have an MRI back for that Friday game and just out of an abundance of caution they thought it was best to hold him out.
I think Wild fans look at the franchise and say general managers change and coaches change but the club can’t make a deep playoff run? Are you as frustrated as they are?
Yeah, I think we all are. Five, six years ago we had some really pretty good teams but our first round matchup was against the best team in the NHL, Chicago. They were winning the (Stanley) Cup and we just couldn’t get past them. We need to get past the first round, second round in order to really become as good as we think we can be.
What will it take to change things?
We need to be better right down the middle. We need a good first line center—I think is going to be important to us. I think our goaltending needs to improve. Last year (season) it was not good. That needs to be better. I think if both of those (center and goalie) are better for us, I think we’ll be a better team.
How do you see the goalie competition going forward?
Frankly, we’ve had no conversation on that. That’s going to be up to Billy (GM Guerin) and what direction that goes in. I am certain that’s something Billy is going to take a good look at.
Suter and Parise were paid a lot of money several years ago on their contracts that brought them to Minnesota. Have they been worth the money?
I get asked that question at the end of every season. I would do it over again in one second. It changed our franchise. They’re not the reason that we haven’t gone as far as we would like to be. Ryan continues to be the mainstay of our defense. Great defensive player, gobbles up a lot of minutes for us. Zach Parise was still our leading scorer last year.
As you watched the series in person did you feel the chemistry was right on the ice?
I thought our chemistry on the team was fantastic. I had the pleasure of seeing all the players everyday…all the time. The chemistry between all the players, the leadership in the locker room and the camaraderie that they have I think is absolutely fantastic. I am really encouraged by how our players play together, both on and off the ice, and how they feel about each other.
Have you seen enough of forward Kevin Fiala to be convinced he is a star already?
He certainly is a difference maker. When he’s got the puck on his stick, the other team is playing hard. They know he is a special player. We’re real excited about Kevin Fiala on our team. We’re hopeful that we can surround him with players that can get him the puck in the right spot and he can bury it.
Do you plan to be any more involved this offseason than in past ones?
No, I absolutely do not. I spent a lot of time with Bill Guerin in the last few months. I can’t be more happy with that decision (to hire Guerin last year). He is the right guy. Highly motivated, incredibly competent. He knows what to do. I am excited about Billy, and I am excited about Dean (new coach Dean Evason). I think those two guys are going to work really well together. It’s their decisions, it’s not mine. I’ll keep my hands off. I’ll give them advice (but) they all know the advice I give them is the advice of a fan, not an owner.
What did you see in Dean that you like?
When we’re watching all the players practicing on the ice, somebody asked me who is the hardest working guy out there. My answer is Dean Evason. My God, he is a hard, hard working coach. He is on the ice directing all the plays, all the practices, the scrimmages. You’d see him on the bus and on the airplane. He’s constantly looking at video and talking to the assistants. I am very happy with what I see out of Dean.
Mikko Koivu is 37 years old. Will he return for next season?
I have no idea. There will be time for that discussion. That will be Mikko’s decision and Bill’s decision.
How long is it financially sustainable for the Wild to play without fans in stands?
We’re fine for next year. It’s hard, it’s expensive and obviously we lose a lot of money. You can’t have fans, that’s your No. 1 source of revenue. Next year we already have it figured out (a budgeted loss). If we don’t have fans (at some point during the season), we don’t. We’re going to have to find other ways to generate revenue if we can. We have to find a way to survive and we’ll do that.
What’s your reaction to speculation that because the season was cut short, the franchise lost millions of dollars and sustained the biggest deficit since you bought the club in 2008?
Yeah, I would confirm that.
What are your thoughts about the upcoming NHL Draft?
We have the ninth pick and that’s not a bad pick. It’s a great draft. It’s a deep draft so we think our ninth pick is going to be a really, really good player.