After finishing two points shy of making the Western Conference playoffs in 2009, the changes came suddenly and swiftly in the State of Hockey.
And it all started with Owner Craig Leipold naming Chuck Fletcher General Manager on May 22.
Fletcher worked in a number of executive capacities including serving as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ assistant GM for the past three seasons. Two have ended in Stanley Cup final appearances.
On June 16, Fletcher hired San Jose Sharks assistant Todd Richards, former Wilkes Barre Penguins head coach and Gophers star, as head coach. The chemistry between Richards and Fletcher evolved when they worked together for two seasons and Richards led the baby Pens to an AHL Calder Cup Finals berth in 2008.
“Todd's earned my trust over the years,” Fletcher told Wild.com “And that's something this summer that will help us hit the ground running with the relationship that's already been developed.”
Fletcher vowed to bring an aggressive up-tempo style to Minnesota, the brand of hockey that helped the Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins contend for the Stanley Cup for the last three seasons. Fletcher earned a ring when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in June. One important lesson Fletcher learned in his career thus far? Value draft picks.
True to form, Fletcher traded his first round No. 12 pick to the New York Islanders in exchange for No. 16, No. 77 (Round 3) and No. 182 (Round 7) on June 26. Fletcher then selected elite skating defenseman and Eden Prairie native Nick Leddy in the first round.
At No. 77, the Wild drafted goalie Matthew Hackett of London, Ontario and at No. 182 left wing Erik Haula of Espoo, Finland. All told, Fletcher finished the weekend in Montreal adding eight players to the club including Kyle Brodziak from Edmonton and the Oilers’ sixth round pick (No. 161) in exchange for the Wild’s fourth (No. 99) and fifth round (No. 133) picks respectively.
Brodziak, a 6-feet- 2, 209 pound center, played for Richards in 2006-07. Under Richards’ tutelage, the 25 year-old St. Paul, Alta. native, produced 52 points in a 62 game season with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. Brodziak adds size, grit, versatility and depth up the Wild’s middle. Brodziak won 51.6 percent of face-offs last season (489 of 947) while averaging 12:43 of ice time playing mostly on Edmonton’s third or fourth scoring lines.
“Always trying to get better on face-offs and I think that’s going to be a huge part of my game,” Brodziak told Wild Radio’s Kevin Falness. “I think I can, like you said, provide some depth and hopefully become a solid two-way centerman who plays tough and plays hard every night.”
Fletcher signed Brodziak to a three-year contract on July 23.
IN OTHER NEWS
• Shane Goudie of Hockeysfuture.com evaluated the Wild’s 2009 draft and noted management’s addition of later picks while still getting the player they wanted.
• The AP via Rivals High from Yahoo! Sports highlighted Fletcher and Assistant General Manager Tommy Thompson’s decision to go local with the Wild’s first round pick. Nick Leddy, named 2009 Mr. Hockey, confessed, “In high-pressure games, I always seem to do well. … I’m really glad I went to the Wild. It’s my hometown. I love the crowds there, it’s unbelievable. I actually got to go in the locker room, and it’s all first-class stuff down there. It’s going to be great.”
• During the free agency period, Martin Havlat signed with the Wild. Havlat netted 29 goals (five game winners including this gem) and 77 points in 81 games with the Chicago Blackhawks. The 28-year-old Czech Republic native, who was drafted No. 26 overall in 1999 by the Ottawa Senators, also amassed 15 points in 16 Blackhawks playoff games.
• Minnesota added hardnosed defensemen Greg Zanon and Shane Hnidy to bolster a Wild defense that allowed 197 goals (the second fewest in the league last season).
• SI.com’s Allan Muir rated the Havlat and Zanon free agent signings Nos. 4 and 5 on his list of best signings.
• Fletcher re-signed Josh Harding on July 29 before the Regina, Sask. native hit arbitration. Harding appeared in 19 games and earned a .929 save percentage and 2.21 GAA last season.
• Meantime, the Wild also agreed to terms with Wade Dubielewicz, who backstopped the N.Y. Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets previously, and two others (right wings Duncan Milroy and Jon DiSalvatore) on July 17.
• The Wild will open its season on the road against the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets on October 3 and then play its home opener against the Anaheim Ducks on October 6. Wild TV highlighted the upcoming season’s matchups.
• Ontheforecheck.com's Doug Hoag broke down road travel for your favorite team. The Wild will log 43,599 miles and play 15 back-to-back games, two less than last season.
• The Wild will unveil a new third jersey this season. Here is a rundown of other teams’ third sweaters set to debut this season.
• Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom head NHL.com’s list of top Finns in the game today.
• Brent Flahr, an integral member of the Anaheim scouting staff on the 2007 Stanley Cup team, joined the Wild on July 27. Flahr left his post as Director of Hockey Operations with the Ottawa Senators to become Chuck Fletcher’s Assistant General Manager. Flahr will evaluate and assist player personnel decisions, contract negotiations and league-related issues. A month earlier, Fletcher named Jim Mill Assistant to the General Manager. Mill will also serve as General Manager of the Houston Aeros.
• Director of Hockey Operations Chris Snow discussed how statistics are used and the what-else elements considered when evaluating players and his overall experience thus far with Adam Gretz of Fanhouse.com.
• For a complete run down of off-season activity and clips, be sure to check out Wild.com’s Offseason Rewind.
• Calgary General Manager Darryl Sutter landed highly sought after defenseman Jay Bouwmeester on July 27 by trading Jordan Leopold and a third round pick to the Florida Panthers for the rights to negotiate with Bouwmeester. Three days later, Sutter signed the 25-year-old Edmonton native to a five-year deal worth $6.68 million per season. The Bouwmeester signing gives Calgary a top notch defensive corps already headlined by Dion Phaneuf, Cory Sarich and Robyn Regehr. Though salary cap issues may have prompted Sutter to trade Wayne Primeau to the Toronto Maple Leafs for cap relief.
• Sutter also hired former Devils coach Brent Sutter who moved back to Calgary for family reasons.
• The Edmonton Oilers turned to veteran leadership by naming Pat Quinn head coach and Tom Renney as associate head coach on May 26. The Oilers also sought veteran goaltending by signing 36-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year $15 million deal on July 1.
• The Oilers recently pulled its offer for Dany Heatley according to Greg Wyshinksi of Yahoo! Puck Daddy Blog. Edmonton’s offer included Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid.
• Jenn Sharpe of Oilers.com provided summertime tales from the Edmonton’s Front Office.
• Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis traveled to Sweden in the hopes that Daniel and Henrik Sedin would re-sign with the Canucks. The journey paid immense dividends because the 28-year-old twins of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, signed identical five-year contracts worth $30.5-million each.
• Gillis became President of the Canucks when Chris Zimmerman resigned from his position. He also got the league to reduce Vancouver’s road travel.
• With the retirement of Joe Sakic on July 9, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reported that the Colorado Avalanche will go younger with Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski as the likely top two centers. Dater also asserts that Matt Duchene’s selection (No. 3 overall) could pressure management to keep him around.
• Relive Sakic’s wicked wrister and Top 10 goals via RDS. “Et le but! Joe Sakic!”
AROUND THE NHL
• The NHL established the salary cap for the 2009-10 season at $56.8 million with a salary floor of $40.8 million.
• For the armchair General Managers out there, check out this salary cap calculator via CapGeek.com. NHLNumbers.com will also give you a nice general overview of how the salaries are planned out.
• With the salary cap number on the minds of General Managers throughout the league, few if any blockbuster trades occurred during draft weekend held in Montreal with exception of a major deal involving rugged veteran defenseman Chris Pronger.
The Philadelphia Flyers acquired the 34-year-old Pronger and prospect Ryan Dingle from the Anaheim Ducks for forwards Joffrey Lupul and Luca Sbisa, first-round picks in 2009 (No. 21) and 2010 and a conditional third-round pick in 2010 or 2011.
Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer examined the deal noting that Pronger gives the Flyers an elite trio of defensemen including Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. At the same time, Carchidi also cautioned that it could be an all or nothing scenario for the Flyers and the move gives Philadelphia under $5 million to fill other needs such as a right wing, back-up goalie and a fourth-line center adept at winning faceoffs.
Meantime, THN.com’s Ken Campbell deconstructed the multi-year extension Pronger signed on July 7. Cambpell brought up the regularity of front-loaded contracts in long-term deals and cited a loophole in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to soften the blow of the cap hit toward the end of a player’s contract.
• On that note, the NHL is investigating Chicago’s signing of Marian Hossa and whether Hossa’s 12-year, $62.8 million contract circumvents the salary cap and the CBA. The Blackhawks disputed the implication of any violation. Pronger’s contact is under scrutiny, too.
John Jaeckel, of Hockeybuzz.com, pleads the NHL, “If you approve a contract that is consistent with the CBA— even if a team has found a way to use the existing rules to its advantage— stand by your decision.”
Yahoo! Puck Daddy Blog’s Greg Wyshinski dissected the loophole and garnered a wide variety of reactions from reporters covering the league.
• NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wrote a letter to Phoenix Coyotes fans explaining the future of hockey in Arizona and clarifying the team’s ownership.
• The league re-scheduled the non-relocation auction of the Coyotes from August 5 to September 10. Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of MLB’s Chicago White Sox and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, placed a bid for $148 million, while Ice Edge Holdings, a group of Canadian and American businessmen, filed a $150-million offer. According to David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail, both local bidders wanted more time to negotiate a new arena lease with the city of Glendale and new deals with creditors.
• A.J. Perez and Michael McCarthy of USA Today reported the prospect of the NBA and NHL softening its stance on jersey ads to generate revenue in a down economy.
• THN.com’s Ryan Kennedy believes that New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow needs to give No. 1 draft pick Jonathan Tavares more of a supporting cast to produce.
• Jacques Lemaire came out of retirement on July 13 to coach the New Jersey Devils for a second run. Lemaire guided the Devils to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Championship in 1995. Lemaire compiled a 255-108 (.529) mark in 656 games with Minnesota.
• Marian Gaborik signed a five-year $35 million deal with the N.Y. Rangers on July 1 and could play alongside Brandon Dubinsky when the season starts according to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks. In Minnesota, the 27-year-old winger from Trencin, Slovakia scored 123 goals in 207 games the past four seasons (equates to a pace of 49 goals in 82 games). Gaborik shared his thoughts on the big move.
Gaborik will return to Saint Paul when the Wild host the Rangers on October 30 and Lemaire’s Devils visit Xcel Energy on January 2, 2010.
• The 2010 Winter Classic will indeed be held at Fenway Park and the Boston Bruins will host the Philadelphia Flyers much to the chagrin of ESPN’s Scott Burnside who had hoped to see Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals at the Fens instead.
• The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek explained the stressful summer for unsigned free agents noting the current economic environment and teams trying to get their house in order as well as competition from Russia.
• Despite being awarded a two-year $5.75-million deal in NHL Arbitration, the Detroit Red Wings’ Jiri Hudler still wants to play in Russia.
• Jeremy Roenick announced his retirement. Fans across the league will remember his open and honest sound bites and for gamers, his legendary NHL 94 rating. That said, and I’m quoting a line from Vince Vaughn in movie Swingers,“It’s not even me so much as it’s Roenick. He’s good.”
IN THE SYSTEM
• Wild.com has a breakdown of highlights and diary entries by Colton Gillies from this year’s development camp held from July 6 to July 12 at the X.
• The Houston Aeros advanced to the AHL Western Conference finals for the first time since 2003, but eventually fell in six games to the Manitoba Moose, the league’s regular season champs. Michael Russo of the Star Tribune noted the Aeros’ ability to win two Game 7’s on the road under head coach Kevin Constantine who is 5-0 all time in Game 7’s at the NHL and AHL level.
• Defenseman Clayton Stoner, right wing Danny Irmen, left wing/center Benoit Pouliot and left wing Robbie Earl all accepted qualifying offers on July 15.• Minnesota signed 2008 first round draft pick (No. 23 overall) Tyler Cuma to an entry-level contract. The 6-feet-2, 192-pound defenseman recovered from a season ending knee surgery in February and posted nine points in 21 games for the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League. Cuma spoke with Wild TV about the rehab process, his new contract and cracking the roster.