Fletcher sat down with Wild.com to briefly look back, and look ahead to an important offseason. Wild.com: Your first year is in the books, and now it’s on to preparing for year two. Where do you start?
Chuck Fletcher: I don’t think I’m done looking at the first year yet. You have to analyze the previous year, and look at the areas we excelled in and where we didn’t. You have to identify the ways to improve. From there, we’ll have planning meetings with the staff regarding the Draft, Free agency and the scouting combine. The third stage will be the action stage, and that’s where we’ll start filling in the roster through the draft, trades and free agency.
But we have plenty of time to thoroughly analyze where we need to improve and how we need to go about doing that. You want to look at the previous season, but you also want to continue scouting through the end of May and into June.Wild.com: As you prepare, I assume you'll be closely monitoring this year’s playoffs. When you watch these games, how much does playoff performance factor into your opinion of a player that you may target in the offseason?
CF: Certainly. We have a lot of quality, veteran scouts on our staff and as a group we’ve been watching players for several years. So we always take into account a player’s performance, his consistency over the regular season and how he performs in critical games. Those games could be regular season games, or playoff games.
We’ll have people scouting different playoff series, and we’ll also have a video library of a lot of the games that we’ll be able to refer back to over the summer, and next season as needed.
The scouting will continue at both the amateur and the professional levels, including the world championships for the next four to six weeks. Once those games are coming to an end will be when we actually start many of our meetings. Wild.com: But would you personally put more stock in a guy at any level who has an average regular season, but then turns it up in the playoffs, or a guy with a huge year, but can’t find his game in April and May?
CF: Yeah, you look at that, but you also want to look at career performance. Is that a pattern that’s been exhibited throughout his career? Is that a one time shot? You want to look and see what a player has done in critical moment environments over his career whether it’s junior, college, AHL or the NHL. Certain players seem to exhibit a certain level of performance in critical situations and we definitely want to identify that.
But it’s not just stats. You want to look at how players perform. There are players that can have a good playoff and not put up a lot of points. But the regular season is important and consistency is important. And again, how a player performs in big games and pressure situations is a critical element. Wild.com: As far as the current roster situation, some decisions will have to be made whether it be tendering restricted free agents, signing or not signing unrestricted free agents and potentially trading players. Have you made up your mind on these types of decisions yet, or will it be something you need more time to figure out?
CF: I think everybody has their own opinions as far as what they want to see happen this summer. But again, there’s another six to eight weeks of hockey to scout, and there are several meetings to be conducted before we even get into the serious meetings we’ll have at the end of May and early June leading up to the Draft and free agency.
There’s no sense rushing into any of these decisions at this point. We have a lot of time, and we might as well take advantage of utilizing that time.
We’ll be prepared to make the decisions when we have to, but most of those decisions we make happen in the latter portion of June and early July. Wild.com: Every season will bring some different faces to a lineup. Having one year behind you and Todd Richards, is next year a chance to give more returning players an opportunity to play with familiarity no longer an issue?
CF: Definitely. We expect to have a better training camp. We feel the players that will return will be more familiar with how Todd coaches and the system he coaches, and how we expect to play night in and night out. There’s going to be more familiarity from the coaches toward the players, and vice versa.
I think we’ll all have a year of experience under our belts. There shouldn’t be as much teaching that takes place in camp. We expect to be able to develop a greater level of cohesion much quicker this year than this past season. That should benefit us in terms of how we start.
This year of experience should definitely benefit Todd, the players and all of us in management. Our goal is to become a tighter team much quicker than we were able to accomplish this past season. Wild.com: You’ve expressed disappointment about not making the playoffs, but is there a positive takeaway you can point toward as something that yields hope for next year?
I think maybe the season is not far enough in the back of my mind to fully digest everything. Right now, it just seems like a disappointment. Anytime you don’t make the playoffs it’s disappointing. Our goal was to make the playoffs.
Over time, maybe more positives will come to mind as I have a chance to let some of the emotion subside and properly analyze everything.
I look at how tough our September and October was, and the hole we dug for ourselves. Yet, our ability to play much better in November, December and January to battle back to within two points of a playoff spot made me like the resiliency and character of our group.
I liked some of the young players we acquired over the season. I liked the two college free agents – Casey Wellman and Nate Prosser
– that we were able to sign. I felt they came in and showed some of their potential.
I’m excited about Scandella, Cuma and Hackett, and the fact that they’re turning pro next year. And I’m excited that we have four of the first 69 Draft picks this season. I think there are some positive things that happened, and some positive signs for the future. And we have some quality players to build around.
But again, you keep going back to the fact that in this business you’re judged on performance, and we didn’t make the playoffs. In that sense, the emotions are still raw and it still stings.Wild.com: How do you prepare for next season in regard to Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Do you move forward as though he will return, or do you plan for another season without him and hope you get his return as a bonus?
CF: First of all, I have no doubt that he will come back and be a healthy, happy and productive hockey player again at some point. We obviously hope that’s sooner rather than later, but the nature of a concussion makes it impossible to predict when he’ll be able to return.
We have five months until training camp starts. At this point, it’s too difficult to project. We have two and a half months before we have to make a lot of decisions with respect to potential trades or free agent signings. Prior to making those decisions, we’ll obviously have a better sense of where Pierre-Marc is at that point in time. Hopefully we’ll see that he’s making progress, but again, the nature of this type of injury – there will always be a lot of uncertainty we’re contending with until he returns to full health.
There’s going to be a certain amount of projection and guesswork involved, but fortunately for us we have two to two and a half months to see how his health improves before making those decisions. Wild.com: I don’t think we ever heard from you regarding the upcoming NHL Premiere with the team heading to Finland to open next season. What are your feelings on this event?
CF: We’re very excited to go to Finland and play these games. I think over the course of the next few years, every team will probably go. It’s certainly an opportunity for us to go to Europe and play in non-traditional NHL markets. It’s an opportunity to go to the home of three of our current players and hopefully enjoy a rabid following of Koivu, Miettinen and Backstrom fans while we’re there. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to get together as a team. We’ll bring 24 players over there along with coaching and front office staff. It will be a great opportunity for everyone to spend some time together and hopefully develop some chemistry prior to our return to North America.
Certainly there is a lot of travel involved, but I believe our team travels more than most teams in the NHL. I would like to think our group is a little bit more used to traveling than, say, teams from the Eastern Conference.
We’ll have to look at the right balance of practice vs. rest for the course of the season. And we’ll be working with the NHL on our schedule for the month of October upon our return from Helsinki. We’ll do whatever we can to make sure there are some rest breaks for our players during the season, and that we don’t overload our schedule at the beginning of the season.Wild.com: Finally, give me your impressions of your new surroundings in your first year here in Minnesota.
CF: Our fan base is unbelievable. We’ve sold out 409 consecutive games. Our fans continue to come and sell out the building and cheer us on despite our struggles this season. It probably helped to have the home record that we did, and we played much better at home than we did on the road. We had a lot of entertaining games at home, and we seemed to be a better offensive club at the Xcel Energy Center. Part of that is due to the fact that our fans supported us so strongly.
During our wrap up interviews with a few of the players, and I got their thoughts on playing in Minnesota, and what they liked. To a man, every player mentioned how great our fan base was, and how comfortable it is for them to play at Xcel Energy Center in front of a sold out crowd every night, and what a boost it is to play in front of them. A few of them actually said they would have liked to bring about 9,000 of them to give us a spark on the road.
But it’s a dream job to be a general manager in the NHL. Despite the topsy-turvy first season in terms of our performance, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of being a manager. It’s what I’ve dreamed of. To be a manager in this market, in front of these fans and such a great hockey environment is an unbelievable experience and opportunity for me.