Brent Flahr

Hockey’s getting closer

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Boy, I’m exhausted. It’s hard working everyday again, so hard I’m going to Florida in an hour for the long weekend :)

You may not see it in the paper yet, but I’ve been busy sitting down with people in preparation for the Star Tribune’s daily hockey coverage, which begins again late next week.

Just got back from the arena, where there are plenty of signs that hockey’s on the horizon. Equipment managers Tony DaCosta and Brent Proulx were running around, new strength coach Chris Pietrzak-Wegner was working out players and new video coordinator P.J. DeLuca was pulling clips of Wild games last year for new coach Todd Richards.

Got to meet assistant coach Dave Barr, and he and assistant Mike Ramsey were at their desks preparing for camp.

Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen arrived to meet Richards for the first time, and both looked in shape, tanned (well, tanned for two Finns) and ready to go. Marty Havlat gets to town for the first time since his initial press gathering tomorrow.

Richards, GM Chuck Fletcher, assistant GM Brent Flahr, Houston coach Kevin Constantine and Houston assistant coach Troy Ward also gathered the prospects and tryouts kids in the locker room for a meeting and highlight video as they prepare to travel to Traverse City for the prospects tournament.

So hockey is clearly on the horizon.

Players report for camp one week from tomorrow with on-ice sessions beginning in eight days (Sept. 13). Good news: The first two days of scrimmages (Sept. 13 and 14) are going to be open to the public.

The locker room area is a lot different than last year. Amazing what a fresh coat of paint and new carpet can do, but gone are all the pictures of players and big Wild moments that the team wallpapered the locker room with last year. That’s been painted over with “Champions Are … ” and Richards will likely have the players fill in the blanks. Richards also has added some inspirational messages all around, like his favorite, “The Man on Top of the Mountain Did Not Just Fall There.”

Richards also re-did his office, modernized the players lounge, added a room specifically for massages and modernized the fitness center. It looks good; the players should be happy.

Later today, the Wild is expected to release its new scouting staff. The team kept many, but replaced others. As I mentioned earlier this summer, Barry MacKenzie and Todd Woodcroft won’t be returning. As reported in July by Sid the Kid Hartman, part-time scout Glen Sonmor has retired from the NHL but will remain doing Gophers radio. Also, Marty Nanne, Lou’s kid, will be joining as a part-time scout.

Nanne is a former scout of the Florida Panthers, so he knows Fletcher well. In fact, yesterday Fletcher reminded me of the time in 2000 when Nanne begged the Panthers to take Paul Martin 58th overall. They took Vladimir Sapozhnikov instead. Nanne was so upset, he called the travel agent from the draft table to get out of Calgary.

Nine years later, uh, … the Panthers should have listened to Nanne.

That’s it for now, but when I land later tonight, I’ll publish a fresh blog you’ll be interested in. After tonight’s, unless there’s news, the blog will likely be dormant until mid-next week.

Update: The Wild announced changes to the team’s scouting staff today, adding Chris Kelleher (professional), Pavel Routa (European), Craig Channell (amateur) and Marty Nanne (Amateur/part time). Among the notable scouts who are no longer with the team: Marian Gaborik’s brother Branislav Gaborik and Glen Sonmor.

Flahr to be named assistant GM

Monday, July 27th, 2009

As originally anticipated here on the day Tom Lynn was dismissed June 15, Ottawa Senators Director of Hockey Operations Brent Flahr has been hired as Wild GM Chuck Fletcher’s new right-hand man.

An announcement to name Flahr assistant GM is expected as early as Tuesday.

Flahr, 35, and Fletcher have been friends since their days working with the Florida Panthers in the mid-90s. I know Flahr from covering Florida as well, and he’s a sharp, smart guy and familiar with Minnesota, too. In fact, I ran into him a few times when he was scouting Minnetonka’s Jake Gardiner a few years back, and the Anaheim Ducks — the team Flahr worked for at the time – did eventually draft the now-Wisconsin defenseman in the first round. 

Flahr, a former Princeton captain originally taken out of the ticket office in Florida, spent eight seasons with the Panthers, working at times as a scout, video coordinator and assistant to the GM. He spent four seasons as an amateur scout with the Anaheim Ducks, with which he worked with Fletcher, and the past two as director of hockey operations for the Ottawa Senators. 

Flahr will oversee the hockey operations department, as well as scout and assist Fletcher with contract negotiations. Tommy Thompson will remain in his role as assistant GM/Player Personnel (in charge of scouting).

The Wild has also made changes to its amateur and pro scouting departments, including not renewing the contracts of Director of Player Development Barry MacKenzie and pro scout Todd Woodcroft.

There will be other roles in hockey ops changing as well. 

Pre-Draft chatter; Loiselle interviewing for Wild asst. GM post

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Word of the day: Scruples. Yes, scruples. Scruples. I love that word, except when some people don’t have any.

Scruples. Scruples. Scruples.

I hope I just made somebody out there in the media world feel guilty (if you think I’m talking about you, I probably am).

So onward, about 11 minutes ago (it’s 2:11 p.m. my time as I start this blog), GM Chuck Fletcher began a meeting with his staff to go over Draft strategy and undoubtedly trades. During a morning meeting, assistant GM Tommy Thompson finished all pre-draft player interviews and finalized the Wild’s Draft list with the scouts.

What do I hear through the grapevine. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the St. Louis Blues are definitely interested in Josh Harding, but Fletcher wants something substantial for him and if it doesn’t come now, he’s willing to wait until later this summer or next season. However, the tricky thing here is there’s only a certain smattering of teams that are looking for a goalie next season and beyond, and if they don’t get Harding now, they’ll sign a free agent goalie after July 1.

So Harding is definitely in play. But Fletcher would love a top-six forward rather than, say, a second-round pick because at least with the NHLer, you know what you’re getting. A draft pick, as we all know, can amount to something or amount to nothing.

TSN’s Darren Dreger “tweeted” (I’ve learned the lingo) that the Wild is one of a handful of teams still in the Ryane Clowe sweepstakes with San Jose. I haven’t confirmed, but I trust Dreger’s sources and it makes a helluva lot of sense. Clowe is an awesome young player, you can bet former Sharks assistant Todd Richards loves him and he plays the exact type of high-octane, hard-nosed style the Wild wants to play.

It’ll take good assets to get him though, and who knows if the Wild’s got em. And then you’ve got to sign him, which won’t be cheap, which is the reason the Sharks may deal him if they can’t sign him for themselves.

According to impeccable sources, Fletcher interviewed Tampa Bay’s Claude Loiselle this morning for the vacant assistant GM’s post. Loiselle’s contract expires June 30 and has permission to seek other employment. Loiselle is a well-respected guy who used to play, has negotiated contracts and knows the league well, especially because he used to work for the NHL.

However, as I reported a few weeks ago, the second tomorrow’s Draft ends, Ottawa Director of Hockey Ops Brent Flahr has a window to talk to other teams. He’s the likely guy as he and Fletcher are very close from their days working together in Florida and Anaheim.

Nothing new on the assistant coaching situation, although word on the street is Richards and at least Mike Ramsey had a very good initial meeting.

Speaking of assistant GM’s, Tom Lynn is here and actually will be on the media risers with yours truly tonight as a member of the stinkin’ media, haha. I joked with him yesterday that the first time he stands behind the barricade trying to wave down a GM, I’m taking a picture and holding it for ransom.

Lynn’s doing a blog for the Hockey News, and here’s his first posting on the anatomy of Draft deal. Remember, Wild has done many or set up many trades at the Draft.

I talked to agent Don Baizley in the lobby this morning. He and Montreal plan to talk early next week about Saku Koivu, and that’s all Koivu’s thinking about, he said. But if he goes to free agency, you know who’s a coming after him. That’s me saying that, not Baize.

There’s other stuff, but I’ve got to report it out some more. One of them is a bit of a Wild newsmaker, but I’m not comfortable writing it just yet. But … maybe later.

So, why Richards?; Thoughts on Tom Lynn’s dismissal

Monday, June 15th, 2009

First, here is the Todd Richards story for Tuesday’s editions

And, here is the player reaction sidebar and Tom Lynn dismissal short (the Chuck Fletcher quote on Schultz was from a sitdown I had with him last Thursday). 

During the Wild’s month-long GM search, owner Craig Leipold had in-person interviewees give them a list of three coaching candidates they’d likely rank 1-2-3 if they had the opportunity to hire one in Minnesota (at least, this is what I’m told by sources).

As you know by my coverage, I talked to a horde of GM candidates over those several weeks, and I asked them the same question. Of the six or seven that did answer that question for me, Todd Richards was on at least five of the lists, including a few that actually got in-person interviews. He was considered that much of an up-and-comer in his incredible fast track from player (2002) to coach.

So you know Leipold heard this name a lot during that month and thus is very comfortable with this hire, and trust me, this was all Chuck Fletcher. As Leipold said at his news conference to introduce Fletcher, he gave the new GM full authority to build his own Stanley Cup-caliber team from top to bottom. That meant final authority on coaches, players and his hockey ops and scouting departments — as proven by today’s firing of longtime assistant GM Tom Lynn.

So, why Richards? I’ve talked to many of his friends and colleagues the last month because I was 100 percent positive he’d top Fletcher’s coaching search list in particular. So I feel I’ve gotten at least a little glimpse into what type of person he is and his personality (and by the way, everybody says he’s just a great guy with a lot of character). 

First and foremost,

Fletcher feels it imperative to have a close working relationship with the new coach (Fletcher’s going to be around the team every single game the first half of the season), and the two of them became very close and grew a mutual respect for each other after Fletcher hired him in Wilkes-Barre. In fact, Fletcher recommended that Richards stay in Wilkes-Barre instead of taking the San Jose job because he was so certain he’d soon be an NHL coach. Ironically, Michel Therrien was eventually fired by the Penguins, and Richards would have gotten the job in Pittsburgh instead of Dan Bylsma. Well, who would have thought, but Fletcher gets the Wild job and Richards get to return to his hometown.

Second, Richards is an offensive-minded coach. He believes in pursuing the puck and attacking with it. He believes in hard-nosed hockey, up-tempo hockey and an activating blue line. And whattyaknow, Fletcher believes in the same type of hockey. So there’s an immediate mesh.

Third, and this could be the most important,