New Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher plans to bring a completely different brand of professional hockey to State of Hockey, one fans of the Wild haven't seen in the team began play in 2000-01.
"On the ice I want a team that plays an up-tempo, aggressive, fast style of hockey," Fletcher said at his introductory news conference at Xcel Energy Center on Friday afternoon. "We want to dictate the pace of the play to our opponent."
Under the leadership of former GM Doug Risebrough and ex-coach Jacques Lemaire, the Wild have always been a trapping team that thrived on keeping the puck out of its own net instead of putting it in the opposition's.
Things are going to change under Fletcher, who comes to Minnesota after spending the past two seasons as the assistant GM under Ray Shero in Pittsburgh, where the puck zips around the ice and the home team is always pushing the tempo.
The son of Hall of Fame executive Cliff Fletcher has worked for Florida, Anaheim and Pittsburgh and has had a hand in each reaching the Stanley Cup Final once. He believes the blueprint for success in today's NHL can be found in the four teams still playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- Pittsburgh, Carolina, Detroit and Chicago.
"You see common themes: quality goaltending, a defense corps that can move the puck, and scoring throughout the lineup with speed and skill," Fletcher said. "And, maybe the key factor is their best players are willing to pay the price physically. I think every year it changes a little bit, but that's a pretty darn good blueprint.
"You want to be on your toes, not on your heels," he added. "The coach will put the system in place, but we'll be more aggressive on the ice."
Who that coach is remains to be seen, but Fletcher hopes to have Lemaire's replacement in place by the Entry Draft next month. Lemaire resigned at the end of the Wild's disappointing regular season.
"That's our first priority right now," Fletcher said.
One name that has surfaced is Todd Richards, the current San Jose Sharks assistant who was hired by Fletcher to coach the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League in July 2006.
Richards led the Baby Penguins to the Calder Cup Finals last year before moving on to join Todd McLellan's staff in San Jose for 2008-09.
"Communication skills, leadership skills, someone who shares my philosophy on style of play and someone who is demanding, but fair," Fletcher said in explaining the type of coach he is looking for. "Experience is nice but not necessary. It's about leadership and communication in today's NHL.
"Some names have become apparent to me in the last 24 hours," he continued. "I want to speak to some people in the industry and do some homework, but my goal would be to get a short list of candidates, spend some time with each and make a decision."
Also on Fletcher's short list is the upcoming draft and free agency. The Wild, who have the 12th pick in the first round of the draft, will be front and center come July 1 because of questions about whether pending unrestricted free agent Marian Gaborik will re-sign or move on.
"I want to spend a lot of time with the Hockey Operations staff here," Fletcher said. "As of now I'm an insider, but 10 minutes ago I was an outsider. Certainly I'll reach out to (Gaborik's agent) Ron Salcer and Marian in the future and introduce myself, but like any impending free agent, Marian is going to call the shots. That's his CBA right. I respect that -- but having said that I'll reach out to him and get a sense of where he's at."
The draft will be key in Fletcher's plan to turn the Wild into a Stanley Cup contender.
His philosophy -- much like that of Shero, his former boss in Pittsburgh -- is to build through the draft and develop from within while keeping enough room under the salary cap to have some flexibility at the trade deadline.
Shero has made some shrewd moves at each of the last two deadlines to make the Penguins the envy of every other team in the Eastern Conference. He traded for Marian Hossa last year and landed Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz this season.
"You want to find players that fit into your style of play and with the attributes that I spoke about -- passion, hard work and team-first orientation," Fletcher said. "There are a lot of players out there that don't embody those philosophies and I think it's best to stay away from them."
Fortunately for Fletcher, he comes to a team that already has some cap flexibility. This could allow him to make some moves on July 1 or later to start building the team he wants, but he believes some of Minnesota's younger players -- skaters such as James Sheppard, Cal Clutterbuck, Colton Gillies, Brent Burns and Pierre-Marc Bouchard -- are going to play a big role in that, too.
"I think if you look at it it's a strong core on defense, strong goaltending and some quality forwards, but that's an area you could upgrade, sure," Fletcher said. "You want to add more depth in scoring. It's a common theme throughout the League. There are some good young players here that hopefully this year or next year can assume some of those roles."
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