By Michael Russo
OK, I’m back from a long walk along the Mississippi in an attempt to decompress.
It’s amazing how in two words (not that it went like this), “You’re fired!” changes everything.
Think about it.
Suddenly the frontrunners for the coach may change. Suddenly the Wild’s style may change. Suddenly the players who feel like they’re teflon may change. Suddenly the Wild’s philosophy’s may change, especially when it comes to drafting, trading and free agency.
The direction of the Wild changes forever just by two words.
Look, I like Doug Risebrough personally. I don’t want to stomp on somebody that just got this type of news. And the fact of the matter is, a lot of futures, and those of people I like and respect, are suddenly up in the air inside the front office and elsewhere.
But this needed to happen.
I didn’t think it would, mostly because of Craig Leipold’s history of being patient and also by witnessing the way the two co-existed as recent as the second-to-last road game of the season in Detroit.
But clearly he had the stomach for it.
And again, this needed to happen. Everybody who reads me regularly knows that I have been a giant critic of the way Risebrough has operated the past year. If you read my last three or four columns, you know my opinions well, and I’ll tell ya, it’s not easy when you’re on an island by yourself.
But where I really turned was Monday. At the news conference, Risebrough opened up with these words: “One of the things I regret as a manager not doing is managing the expectation a little bit.”
It was one of the most arrogant, insulting things I’ve ever heard from a GM that didn’t make the playoffs. It took every ounce of energy in me not to get the carving knives out yet again.
Want some contrast? Watch Edmonton’s Steve Tambellini at the Craig MacTavish press conference. He was angry, he raised expectations, he said everything needed to change, including evaluating the way things are done in the front office.
Risebrough? Expectations were too high. The fans need to be more patient. The media, especially that idiot at the Strib, doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
It is unacceptable to miss the playoffs. It is unacceptable to continue a philosophy where you don’t mind losing quality assets for nothing. It is unacceptable to not come to the rescue at the trade deadline when there are deals to be made.
People are paying real money to watch this team, and teams around the Wild are getting better. Somebody needed to stand up and say, “This isn’t good enough,” as I wrote two Sundays ago, and amazingly, Leipold did.
The Wild needed to change philosophy here, and to do that, the man in charge needed to go. That’s unfortunate, because like I said, Doug is a good person. But that’s the way it works in the cruel world of pro sports.
Simply, what Risebrough accomplished here — and yes, he made an expansion team competitive — didn’t warrant a job for life.
Leipold couldn’t take the risk that disillusioned season-ticket holders would disappear if he stuck with the same man at the helm. And he couldn’t take the risk that Risebrough would hire a coach he could control rather than the best man available and he couldn’t take the risk that the Draft would be messed up or that nothing would change as far as free agency goes.
This was a chance to get somebody in here who could hire his own man as coach and who would look at everything with new eyes. No previous opinions. No allegiances to certain players or people. No hatred toward the agent of the best player in franchise history.
A new direction, and that is a good thing.
What’s amazing to me here is how nobody knew. Even Tom Lynn and Chris Snow and the majority of employees found out today, and this happened Tuesday.
It’s interesting, but my radar went up yesterday because a bunch of players had their meetings with Risebrough cancelled, but I just figured he was interviewing MacTavish or something. Yeah, right.
I hear Risebrough got on his Harley and drove.
Now, to move forward here, I talked to a lot of people today — some on the record, some off — who want this job. Many people have already solicited Leipold.
Here is the story with some candidates.
If it were me, I’d be on the next plane to Chuck Fletcher, the Pittsburgh assistant GM. I know him well, and the guy is one smart dude. I know Jay Feaster’s called already. I talked to Pat Quinn and Doug MacLean, who are very interested. I believe Neil Smith would like it. I think Rick Dudley would be a great candidate. I believe Pierre McGuire would be an interesting choice (he’s long been interested in getting into management), as would Nashville Director of Hockey Ops Mike Santos and assistant GM Paul Fenton.
You can see the list I’ve compiled. You can bet they’d be interested in Dave Nonis, but I can’t see Brian Burke letting him go from Toronto. Jim Nill in Detroit has been coveted by many, but he never leaves. Lots of people will line up.
Normally I’d think Tom Lynn would be a candidate, but Leipold made clear today he’s looking for “new eyes.”
Said Leipold, “If I’m someone out in the NHL, and this job is available, with the kind of players we have coming back next year and the kind of fan base, I would jump all over this.”
Had to trim this out of the sidebar, but I asked Quinn what he’d want more — coach or GM. He said, “I’ve enjoyed both jobs, am capable of doing both and have had success at both. I know the top job is the manager, but the one with more action as far as being in the heat of battle is the coach’s job. I’m certainly drawn to that. I’d be interested about either position.”
I’m sure I’ll be back on Friday.