Wild GM search update; Hockey’s finest hour(s)

Posted on May 12th, 2009 – 2:27 PM
By Michael Russo

I’m going to Game 7 tonight!!!

Caps-Pens? Nope. I’ll be in Milwaukee to attend Aeros-Admirals. I’ll probably jump on later and give you updates, as long as in return you give me Caps-Pens updates :)  

After watching every minute of last night’s games, tonight can’t get here soon enough. Carolina-Boston, Detroit-Anaheim, and all four teams have a lot of work to do to equal the excitement of last night’s Washington win over Pittsburgh and Chicago’s elimination of Vancouver.

More on that in a second.

First we interrupt for a Wild GM search update. Tomorrow (Wednesday) I believe the Wild will complete its first interviews when owner Craig Leipold sits down with assistant GM and acting GM Tom Lynn. It makes sense. Lynn’s been in Houston. Leipold’s been in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Both will be in Milwaukee for Game 7 of the Houston-Milwaukee series, so I’m sure they’ll sit down for Lynn’s interview.

After that, according to sources, Leipold, Jac Sperling and Matt Majka will cut the list to a handful of finalists who will be brought back for second interviews and tours of the offices and arena. Those finalists will likely include at least TSN analyst Pierre McGuire, Pittsburgh assistant GM Chuck Fletcher and Anaheim assistant GM Dave McNab.

I am certain from talking to a gazillion people that the biggest thing that’s delayed this process is the fact that all these men are working right now. Because Pittsburgh and Anaheim are still in the playoffs, and McGuire is working almost nightly, it’s created a scheduling challenge to get them all in here, sources say.

And when it comes to second interviews, it makes sense to try to bang them out one by one by one so the interviews remain fresh in mind and a decision can be made rather than an interview, three or four days of nothing, then another interview, so on and so on.

So, long story short, it’ll still be some time before a GM is hired. Hey, maybe I’ll be back in the Continental U.S. by then — which would be nice. Of course, I leave the country again a few days later as well.

The people I know have been interviewed are McGuire, Fletcher, McNab, Pat Quinn, Nashville execs Paul Fenton and Mike Santos, and by tomorrow, Lynn. I’m still not convinced former Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster’s totally out of it, and I know there’s been conversation with Tampa Bay assistant GM Claude Loiselle.

There could be others, like I’ve said before. I’ve heard lots of names and are only writing the ones I’ve confirmed through a variety of ways. The frontrunners remain, I believe, McGuire, Fletcher and McNab.

There’s been a ton of buzz about McGuire, who has the personality to place the Wild on the map. I can tell you, I’ve gotten several calls from some of the NHL’s heaviest hitters — Hall of Famers, players, agents and execs — really pumping up McGuire. He’s got lots of friends in all different areas.

Fletcher’s been in the game his whole life, negotiates contracts and has an eye for talent. He’s immensely respected. And McNab is known as a person who will leave no stone unturned in finding players. 

I know I’ve mentioned some time-sensitive reasons to get a GM in here quickly, but in reality, there’s plenty of time. The Wild has until July 1 to exclusively negotiate with Marian Gaborik, but let’s be honest. It’s an incredible longshot that he’ll re-sign and forgo his right to free agency this close to it. If Brian Rolston didn’t do it, why would Gaborik? If the Wild can only offer him a short-term deal, well, he might as well wait. And you can bet Leipold knows that.

Also, there’s really no insane urgency to hire a coach right away. In my opinion, it’s only essential to have a coach in place by July 1 so free agents know who’s coaching. That’ll allow a long time for the new GM to interview coaches, and remember, there’s sort of an unwritten rule in the NHL not to have any big announcements during the Stanley Cup Finals. So that takes us into mid-June at least for a coach.

As for the playoffs, it’s been amazing watching the young stars dominate this postseason with pure skill, personality and enthusiasm.

What this proves to me again is how imperative it is to develop stars internally. In most cases, you can’t just buy them in inflated free-agency markets. Look at a few of the stars from the teams alive: Chicago — Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook; Detroit — Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen; Anaheim — Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan; Washington — Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Green; Pittsburgh — Crosby, Malkin, Fleury; Boston — Kessel, Lucic; Carolina — Staal, Ward.

Now, Boston and Carolina are the two teams who’s acquisitions have added tons, guys like Chara and Ryder and Savard and Jokinen (playing like a star) and Whitney, etc.

But in today’s day and age, want a star, you better develop him on your own.

And usually, you have to be bad for a bit to get those top draft picks. Obviously, Detroit’s done a masterful job finding studs in the mid- to- late-rounds and Pittsburgh lucked out winning the lockout lottery and getting Crosby, but most the stars mentioned above came as a result of stinking.

This is the biggest reason why the Wild hasn’t developed the superstars. It’s never had a lousy year.

It’ll be interesting to see if that happens without Jacques Lemaire here. As one longtime NHL exec said to me today, “Lemaire kept that team above water so long, I think a lot of people are intrigued to see how good they’ll be with a new coach. Because there’s not a lot there and there’s not a lot coming up. Getting the right coach there is as important if not more than the right GM.”

Got sidetracked there. My original point? The NHL should be ecstatic with how scintillating this postseason’s been. Just phenomenal games, and great hockey to watch.

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