First things first, the Houston Aeros, behind goals from Krys Kolanos and a face from the past, Tomas Mojzis, and 27 saves from the revelation that is Anton Khudobin, beat the Milwaukee Admirals 2-1 in Game 1 of West Division Finals last night. Here’s the link.
Game 2 is in Milwaukee at 7 p.m. Saturday if you have a hockey yearning and want to hop on I-94 and drive east.
Kinda quiet in Wildland, eh? It’s weird covering a team without a general manager AND coach. I think Boston had that for awhile a few years ago because Peter Chiarelli hired Dave Lewis. And I was reminded, the Rangers went without a coach and GM from March to June 1, 2000, when Neil Smith and John Muckler were fired, and eventually Glen Sather hired.
I’ve been getting a few emails from fans wondering what’s taken so long. It’s been two weeks! Calm down. All I can tell you is be patient. This is a phenomenally critical decision. The GM is the most important hire in an organization. Screw this up, and the franchise is set back dramatically. So allow Craig Leipold & Gang the time to do a far and wide search (although, if you’re reading Mr. Leipold, I’m imposing a May 15 deadline because I’m leaving town the next day)
Leipold is keeping everything close to the vest, but here are some things I know from recent days:
– Leipold has formed a committee of confidants who are assisting him with the entire process. Chief among them is Jac Sperling, who is currently a board member for Minnesota Sports & Entertainment (MSE). He also currently owns and manages Grit Rock (Rodeo) Ventures based in Minneapolis. He was formerly Vice Chairman of MSE for Bob Naegele and prior to that was CEO of the Wild, while playing an instrumental role in returning the NHL to Minnesota back in 1997 and hiring Doug Risebrough. Sperling is well-respected and known throughout the hockey world.
– I was told yesterday that Sperling was on the phone recently with a long-time NHL team executive to go over the Wild’s list of 20-plus applicants. The list has been weeded down dramatically, and the interview process was supposed to really get started as early as yesterday (Thursday) and at the latest, Monday.
– Leipold has had phone conversations and email exchanges with several candidates. However, it’s tough to know the exact list Leipold’s interested in for a couple reasons. One is this: Several GM’s have contacted Leipold to recommend candidates, like assistant GM’s, letting him know he’s got permission to speak to them. I’ve found out a number of those identities this week, but I haven’t written their names because it’s so deceiving.
Yes, the Wild’s received permission to talk to these “candidates,” but that’s very different than the Wild contacting teams to talk to candidates. And I’ve since learned that the Wild, even though they’ve gotten permission to speak to some people, really aren’t considering some of the names I know but haven’t written (hope that makes sense).
– One name I keep hearing they’re really focusing on is Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Chuck Fletcher. It’s a sensitive topic right now because the Penguins are in the second round and nobody wants to create distractions for them. But the Wild wants to talk to Fletcher, has received permission to do so, and GM Ray Shero — whom Leipold knows well because he used to be assistant GM in Nashville — is really pushing for Fletcher. The Harvard-educated Fletcher is immensely respected, is young at age 41, in 16 years has been to three Stanley Cup Finals (Florida, Anaheim and Pittsburgh) and has been around the game his whole life (Cliff Fletcher’s son).
– I keep hearing that Pierre McGuire, the longtime NHL TV personality and former Hartford Whalers coach and Pittsburgh assistant coach – is “enamored” by people inside the Wild offices. I know he’s got friends inside NHL headquarters that are pushing his name. He’s long wanted to get back into management, and he knows everybody in the league. And because of his job, he’s probably seen more NHL players and prospects close up than any manager or scout around. I do hear he’s going to get an interview, and boy, you know he’d be aggressive and a quote.
– I still think Leipold is very intrigued by Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton and Director of Hockey Ops Mike Santos. I think he plans to talk to both — if it hasn’t happened already.
– And I keep hearing that Pat Quinn, Doug MacLean and Jay Feaster are very much interested in the job, with reciprocal interest from inside the Wild. I will say this: I keep hearing Quinn mostly wants to coach again, and although he’d take the GM’s job, he just loves coaching and most consider him a better coach. But one would think the Wild would allow the new GM to hire the coach.
– And you know there are always mystery candidates that haven’t been revealed yet. I’ve heard some very, very interesting names, but since I haven’t been able to confirm, I haven’t written them. Of course, if one of them is hired, I’ll probably beat myself up over not writing it for months.
– I know a lot of you are praying this team makes a big free-agency splash. I still think the smartest thing to do, and the thing these guys probably would do instead, is make their splashes via trade rather than free-agent signings.
What else do I feel like rambling about?