Matt Majka

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

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

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.


Fletcher, McGuire considered frontrunners on Wild GM short list (updated)

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

fletcher.jpgmcguire.jpg quinn.jpglynn.jpg 

 Fletcher                       McGuire                       Quinn                         Lynn


Happy Cinco de Mayo! I love that Seinfeld episode where Elaine shops at Putumayo and then goes to Cinco de Mayo and screams at Gladys Mayo, “Sales commission, bye-bye-O.”

Or something like that.

Here is the link for the article I wrote in Tuesday’s edition on the Wild’s short list.

The Wild’s search for a GM is heating up as the Wild — owner Craig Leipold, former CEO and current MSE board member Jac Sperling and COO Matt Majka — has trimmed the applicant list of nearly 30 down to a handful.

The frontrunners, sources say, are Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Chuck Fletcher and TSN and NBC analyst Pierre McGuire. McGuire didn’t work for TSN Monday and isn’t working tonight, and he’ll be in Raleigh on Wednesday, so it’s not difficult to figure out that the million miler traveler will interview today. Fletcher is expected to interview later this week, and if he is offered the job, one would think he’ll be allowed to leave immediately. I doubt the Penguins allowed him to get this deep into the process only to forbid him from taking the job if the Penguins are still playing. 

Also in the running are longtime NHL coach and GM Pat Quinn, Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton (and maybe still Director of Hockey Ops Mike Santos) and Wild acting GM Tom Lynn.

I also heard Monday evening that Tampa Bay Lightning assistant GM Claude Loiselle has had conversations with Leipold, but it was unclear whether he’d get an in-person interview.

This seems like a two-horse race, although the one thing I’ve learned in these type of things is anything can change on a dime. Some people interview poorly, some people blow you away in interviews, last-minute candidates emerge.

But I’ve talked to dozens of people around the league the past month, and I’m pretty sure on the names still alive — so to speak.

I know both Fletcher and McGuire very well just from covering the league since the mid-90s.

– I covered Fletcher for seven of his nine years in Florida, and he’s as sharp as they come. I remember Bobby Clarke, the Panthers’ first GM (which not many people recall), hired him in the Airport Marriott in Toronto. And I remember Fletcher telling me once that his first duty once he got to the expansion Panthers was to figure out where to buy a washer and dryer for the practice facility at Gold Coast Ice Arena in Pompano Beach, Fla.

It was a funny story, but here’s this 25-year-old kid that could barely do his own laundry wondering, “OK, do I just go to Brandsmart or something.”

He’s come quite a long way. He’s considered the next big thing, and a lot of it is for all the reasons I’ve mentioned lately. You don’t find 41-year-old’s with 16 years of experience in management, and quite frankly, 41 years of experience when you consider he’s lived inside hockey rinks since he was born. He’s about high-tempo hockey, and after seeing the job Dan Bylsma has done on the Pittsburgh bench this season, I think he’d probably want a young coach (and remember, he originally hired former Gopher Todd Richards in Wilkes-Barre).

– I’ve known McGuire from Day One of covering this league and he’s as plugged in as they get. He knows the sports inside-out. While he hasn’t worked for a team for some time, few people have had the unfettered access to players, coaches and managers like McGuire. And I’m not just talking at the pro level. I’m talking at the amateur level. He’s done all the national tournaments for TSN. In fact, ironically, he once showed me a picture of his son — then probably five or six — racing Colton Gillies at the world championships.

He’s about high-octane offense, games played with an edge and has great relationships with team personnel and agents throughout the league. He’s a salesman, too. He’d probably be able to lure top players to this market.

I’ve talked to players over the past couple weeks, and there’s a genuine excitement about the two names seemingly leading the pack.

As I wrote today, owner Craig Leipold is grabbing what he feels are the most intriguing candidates from different categories. You have the traditional, been-in-this-sport-forever candidate in Pat Quinn. You have the hot commodity and young energy and smarts in Chuck Fletcher. You have the passion and experience of somebody who’s watched more hockey than most in Pierre McGuire. And you have the internal candidate with deep knowledge of the Wild in Tom Lynn.

I think Lynn will have a tough time just because Leipold seems intent on “new eyes,” but Lynn wasn’t always in lockstep with Doug Risebrough as people may think and maybe the only impediment of Lynn identifying problems before and changing them was the fact he wasn’t the man in charge.

Regardless, I think Lynn will be a GM in this league at some point.

Fenton I think will have it tough as well. I don’t know him. I know he’s highly respected, but I think in the end, Leipold will be a cognizant that there could be a perception – fair or not — that he took somebody from his old team, Nashville. 

Even though he might ruin my Hawaiian trip, Leipold’s going about this the right way :)