With the Stanley Cup Playoffs upon us, Wild.com's Dan Myers chatted with Wild owner and governor Craig Leipold about the addition of Eric Staal, the growth of the club's young core and his excitement for the playoffs after the best regular season in franchise history.
Dan Myers: The Wild set a bunch of franchise records this season, but perhaps the two most important ones were victories (49) and points (106). With the regular season in the rear view mirror, what are your thoughts on it as you reflect?
Craig Leipold: It's been an interesting season. It's been a season of ups and downs, a season of stellar play and times where we looked like we were unbeatable. Other times, we would go into a funk and try to break out of it. But I think when you look around the League, you see every team has gone through this, the ups and downs of a long season. I think our year has been a special year for us. It's been a good season.
DM: You became the majority owner of the Wild in 2008. After a few years outside the playoffs, the club has now reached the postseason five straight years. Would you say the bar has been raised for this franchise, in terms of your expectations for it on a yearly basis?
CL: The bar is higher. I mean, five in a row, comes within what we consider to be "elite status." There aren't many teams that have done that. Even though our history has been really good, and our present is great, the next five years look to be phenomenal as well. We've got a great, young core of players and we've got young guys, prospects coming up that look like they're going to be outstanding NHL players. So we're all excited. The bar is higher for us, not only for our fans, but for our team, the players, the bar is higher and for management, the bar is higher.
DM: You talked about the team's young core ... after years of hoping guys like Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter would sort of take that next step in their careers, it appears like all four did so this season. How encouraged are you by that?
CL: Before the season started, I think, as an organization, if we could get two of our young guys to have a breakout year, where they were real difference makers for our team, then we were going to have a really good team. If we'd have three of those guys or four of those guys, then we'd have a great team. The fact that we had our best record ever, we surpassed our most points ever -- I think we've had a great season. This is really an outstanding team. The young guys are just a huge part of our success, and they've come through. We're real happy with the way our young guys have stepped up and taken us to the next level.
DM: What has the addition of Eric Staal meant, not only to the on-ice product, but as a quality person, an ambassador of the organization and a leader in the dressing room?
CL: Eric has helped us in so many ways, and clearly, we talked about our young guys that have stepped up, but so have our experienced players. Eric is one of those guys that has made a huge difference on our team this year. We're excited about him joining our team. He knows how to win a Stanley Cup. He's one of the guys; he understands what it takes. And his leadership is really going to be important the next couple of months.
DM: The organization celebrated Staal's 1,000th game in the NHL last week, something that has only happened here with the Wild five other times. How fun is it for you, from an ownership perspective, to be a part of those kinds of celebrations?
CL: I'm a student of the game, I think the game of hockey and the history of hockey is spectacular. When a player gets to 1,000 games, there's an awe factor that the organization has for them. Those players that reach 1,000 games, they're in a different category. It doesn't happen every day, and when it does happen, it only happens for really great players. Eric Staal is still a young guy. I find it hard to believe that he's already played his 1,000th game, because he has a lot more games to go in him. That's probably the exciting part when I see Eric on our team, that not only does he have a great history playing, he's the kind of guy that will help us going forward.
DM: In addition to Staal, the Wild has added a bunch of captains or former captains to the mix in recent seasons. How valuable has that been and can it be moving into the playoffs?
CL: We're really lucky that we have in our locker room, the likes of Eric Staal and Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu; five guys that are considered captain status on most teams. The leadership core is second to none. I don't know any other team that has quality leaders that we have: experienced leaders, great people.
DM: After a historic regular season and with a bunch of guys coming off career-best years, is this as excited as you've been heading into the playoffs?
CL: Yeah. Playoffs are crazy. All teams step up and there's a great formula for being successful in the playoffs: staying healthy, having great goaltending and scoring goals. If we can do that, and I think this is certainly the best team I've ever had here, we have that kind of organization and teamwork that I feel really confident in. We can have a lot of fun this year and make a lot of noise.