The Minnesota Wild organization has enjoyed a very long honeymoon period in the Twin Cities. Their long home sellout streak has realistically come to an end, even though the team continues to announce sellouts because they are giving away tickets.
The team struggled mightily out of the gate to find composure under new head coach, Todd Richards. They lost the face of their franchise, Marion Gaborik, to free-agency (New York Rangers).
Fans in Minnesota are not so hockey-starved after an entire decade of professional hockey. When they let go of Jacques Lemaire as head coach last Spring it signaled a new era of Wild hockey. The franchise was letting go of what remained of those expansion years. They are now a permanent NHL franchise, they are a profitable NHL franchise, but in large part have been a very unsuccessful NHL franchise on the ice.
One miracle run in 2003 where they came back from two 3-1 deficits to earn a spot in the Western Conference Finals is their only serious playoff run. They really never should have been there to begin with. The team was not that good through most of that season and they got lucky with hot goaltending from Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez.
The franchise never made moves to get highly talented free agents into town. They elected to build from within and it looked promising as wingers Marion Gaborik and Pierre Marc-Bouchard were growing and maturing on the ice, and the Wild looked to have two very talented stars on their hands. Defensemen Brent Burns was a budding star as well when he accumulated 43 points in 2007-08 season. There were some nice players on the ice, but the Wild were largely unsuccessful due to injuries to all three. Hip problems with Gaborik, various concussion symptoms with Bouchard, and an inconsistent Burns contributed to the Wild missing the post season in the 2008-09 season.
New owner, Craig Leipold saw enough of the old regime and pretty much relieved General Manager, Doug Risebrough of his duties after he determined his work was highly unsuccessful. Botched draft picks and the inability to improve the relationship with Gaborik was the last straw. Risebrough left the team in terrible shape. The Wild dug into their pockets and hired Chuck Fletcher away from the Pittsburgh Penguins. He followed up by hiring a Minnesotan as head coach, Todd Richards.
The off season brought in a lot of new faces and included the departure of Gaborik. That set the stage for easily the most unanticipated Wild season in their franchises brief history. It was the first year they had not and have not completely sold out all of their season tickets. They have struggled selling single game tickets as well. The building is not empty or nearly as empty as the struggling Timberwolves of the NBA, but it isn't anything close to the atmosphere that it was in the first half of the decade. The Wild proudly own what is widely considered the best arena in the NHL. It has some of the best visual angles of any arena in the country. The history of hockey in Minnesota is spread throughout the building and has been considered a great success for the city of Saint Paul.
The team has turned it around over the past month. They have scratched and clawed their way right back into playoff contention after completing playing themselves out of it after getting off to the worst start in team history. Multiple trades have sent a message through the locker room. If you aren't performing, you will be sent packing.
The bounce back after the bad beginning is a big surprise considering this. Pierre Marc-Bouchard, Brent Burns, and the off-season acquisition Petr Sykora have played a combined 32 games for the Wild. With what could be considered three of their best five players on the bench, the Wild have flourished in their new system. A more uptempo and offensive game has translated into more victories of late and the fans are returning to the arena.
It seems that GM Chuck Fletcher and owner, Craig Leipold are ready to put their stamp on Wild and the state of hockey. Wild fans and the NHL can definitely expect one thing, it won't be anything close to what Doug Risebrough did to this franchise. Risebrough screwed Calgary when he traded away Doug Gilmour and pretty much screwed the Wild when he ruined the relationship with Marion Gaborik.
Wild fans can count on one thing, this team will continue to change until they are successful. Fletcher worked very closely and helped construct last year's Stanley Cup Champion, Pittsburgh Penguins. They have the face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby, and talent all over the ice. Wild fans can just hope that they will build the same product here.