Well, we’re just about there. The NHL Draft.
On Friday, the front offices from all 30 NHL teams will be together in one place for two straight days, drafting, and wheeling and dealing.
They’ll be looking for the best fits for their organizations and, suffice it to say, this is as good a time as any for us to talk about the coaching and front office of the Wild this season.
Granted, this season wasn’t the easiest for either the management or the fans. The management (namely Todd Richards and Chuck Fletcher) had to deal with players that weren’t necessarily the right fit for their system while the fans had to suffer through a team that wasn’t necessarily playing at the top of their game because of this.
That being said, I have some strong opinions about this, so let’s get started.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written over this past season, you know that I was very underwhelmed with the first NHL season of Todd Richards.
Richards came to the Wild with a winning pedigree and a reputation of being a “winner.” He hadn’t missed the playoffs in his career and he was sold to fans as a coach that would make the team competitive right away.
What ended up happening, though, is that Richards just couldn’t get through to the team.
While it was expected that Richards would push the team hard during training camp and that pushing would allow the team to pick up his new, up-tempo system quicker, it was very apparent that the team was not comfortable with this system, even heading into the Olympic break.
Now, whether this is an indictment of Richards’ ability to get through to the team or just a matter of the conditioning of Jacques Lemaire not wearing off as quickly as they had hoped is a matter that is up for debate. My personal opinion, however, is that it was the former.
Richards often looked lost on the bench, especially early on in the season. He didn’t look like a man who had control of his players early on—he looked like a man who was searching for answers and finding none.
Maybe it’s because I was used to the demeanor of Lemaire, who typically wore his emotions on his sleeve, behind the bench but Richards’ cool and calm demeanor oftentimes came off as aloofness and confusion rather than someone who knew what to expect from his team.
To Richards’ credit, the team suffered through a rash of injuries this season that was fairly spectacular (to the tune of 300+ man games lost to injury) and he had to work with what he had, but I never got the feeling that he was quite in control of the team the way that a coach should be.
That being said, as the season progressed, Richards seemed to control the bench much better and get much more comfortable both being vocal with his players on the bench as well as with the referees.
As the team progressed and got more comfortable with Richards and his system, Richards got more comfortable behind the bench and it showed.
The biggest moment that, in my opinion, defined the beginning of his season was the Petr Sykora debacle.
Sykora came to Minnesota on the hopes that he would provide both goal scoring and a player to mix with newly acquired Martin Havlat but, for whatever reason, Sykora never really got that chance.
Now, to be fair to Richards, I don’t know the behind the scenes goings on of the team. Sykora could have been dragging down the locker room with his attitude or he could have not been putting forth the effort—I just don’t know. But, from my view point, Sykora was never given an ample chance to succeed with the Wild and it ended up costing the team a player that could have been a valuable goal scorer.
In all, Richards season was a fair representation of the Wild’s—a maddeningly inconsistent one. He improved as the season went on, which gives me hope for his future with the team, but he certainly needed to be better this season for the Wild to both understand and execute his system to the fullest.
The opposite of Richards, if you’ve read anything I’ve written this season you’ll know my opinion of Fletcher.
In short, he did a marvelous job with not a whole lot of assets to work with.
It started at the 2009 Entry Draft, where he wheeled and dealed, picking up more picks and also center Kyle Brodziak, who would turn into one of the team’s most reliable checkers and players this season.
Fletcher has been derided by many Wild fans for some of his moves (trading down to pick Nick Leddy, giving up too much for Chuck Kobasew) and, to their credit, the moves are moves that could easily be classified as questionable. Overall, however, Fletcher did a fantastic job.
While I won’t look at all of his moves this season, let’s look at a few.
Alexander Fallstrom, Craig Weller, and a second round choice in the 2011 NHL Draft for Chuck Kobasew
This is one of the more questionable trades that Fletcher made this season and the biggest thing that stands out in this one was the inclusion of either the 2nd round pick or Fallstrom.
Many thought that the inclusion of one or the other would have been enough, but the Wild were not dealing from a position of strength and were desperate to find another NHL-level player.
It remains to be seen what Fallstrom will develop into, or who the draft pick will turn into, but for what the team needed at that point in time it was a calculated risk, though not one I necessarily agree with.
Benoit Pouliot for Guillaume Latendresse
This trade could easily be one of the best trades of the season for both squads.
Both Pouliot and Latendresse are supremely talented players that desperately needed a change of scenery. Both were being knocked for having the same downfalls and both went to their new teams for a fresh start.
While I won’t speak of what Pouliot brought to Montreal, I will say that Latendresse flourished under his fresh start to the tune of 25 goals in 55 games.
While Latendresse’s season with Minnesota was far from perfect, he turned into an instant fan favorite and became the hard-hitting power forward that Minnesota had always lacked.
In other words, this trade was a tremendous coup for Fletcher and the Wild.
Kim Johnsson and Nick Leddy for Cam Barker
This trade is one that many people were concerned about, especially given that Leddy was just selected in this past draft in the first round.
Many thought that the trade of Leddy stunk of hypocrisy because of the high value that Fletcher placed both on draft picks as well as developing from within their own system, but the reality of the situation is that you have to give in order to get.
While the Blackhawks were able to shed Barker’s salary by taking on the expiring contract of Johnsson, they weren’t willing to just give Barker up for just that.
The reality of this, however, is the same as with the Kobasew trade. Fletcher gave up a valuable asset, Leddy, who is at least two or three years away from being a potential contributor on the team for one who is ready now.
On top of that, Barker’s youth is something that will be extremely useful for the Wild. At 23, he still has his best years ahead of him. He’s big, he’s physical and he has offensive tools and, while he isn’t the best skater, that can be taught.
The bottom line is that Fletcher gave up a player who is still three years away from being an NHL player for one who can help the team immediately.
The bottom line for Fletcher here is that his first season as a General Manager was a bit of a mixed bag.
He made some good trades and signings and he made some that might not have panned out as he would have liked.
In the end, however, his season was one that should give Wild fans a lot of hope. Unlike his predecessor, he is not content to sit around and maintain the status quo. He is going to do whatever he has to do to try to improve the team and that in and of itself is a welcome change for those used to the mindset of Doug Risebrough.
Up Next: A look to the future