WILD: 'We needed to make some dramatic changes,' GM Fletcher says
ST. PAUL Chuck Fletcher is remolding the Wild. Sometimes by choice. Sometimes by necessity. Gone this season are Brent Burns, Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, Antti Miettinen, John Madden, Chuck Kobasew, Cam Barker, James Sheppard, Jose Theodore a...
Chuck Fletcher is remolding the Wild.
Sometimes by choice.
Sometimes by necessity.
Gone this season are Brent Burns, Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, Antti Miettinen, John Madden, Chuck Kobasew, Cam Barker, James Sheppard, Jose Theodore and even coach Todd Richards.
They join the likes of Marian Gaborik, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Kurtis Foster, Eric Belanger, Owen Nolan, Kim Johnsson, John Scott, Benoit Pouliot, Derek Boogaard and others who have left -- or come and gone -- since the Doug Risebrough regime.
The new look of the Wild includes Mike Yeo as coach and former San Jose Sharks Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi surrounding center Mikko Koivu on the No. 1 line. It's a look Fletcher hopes will return the team to the playoffs after a three-season absence, the past two during his tenure as general manager. He sat down recently to discuss that and more with the Pioneer Press:
Q: You were quoted on one of the websites that at the end of last season you really realized you needed to make some changes; the team wasn't as competitive as you wanted it to be. Is that accurate? Something needed to be done?
A: It's no fun fighting for that eighth spot every year. We just felt we needed to make some dramatic changes to become the team we want to become over the long term.
Q: How do you make that happen?
A: We've been doing it for a few years. We've drafted very well. You go back a
few years, and the year before I was here (we got) Tyler Cuma and Marco Scandella in the first two rounds. Colton Gillies is a good hockey player. Two drafts ago with (Mikael) Granlund and (Brett) Bulmer and (Jason) Zucker and even Johan Gustafsson, the Swedish goaltender, all of them are very much prospects 16 months after being selected.
We felt we were starting to infuse some talent into the system, but we wanted to be even more aggressive over the summer. If you look, over the past two
drafts, we have added four first-round picks and four second-round picks. We think that will really accelerate the building of this organization, and it should hopefully give us a lot of depth in the future and some quality players that should compete for a long time.
Having said that, we feel we went out and addressed some of our needs for this present team. Dany Heatley's under contract for three years. Devin Setoguchi is 24 years old and hasn't even hit the prime of his career. Darroll Powe and Mike Lundin are just entering the primes of their careers. Everything we did, we wanted to have some impact, not just on now but on the future as well.
Q. Heatley and Guillaume Latendresse had "down years," at least for them, last season. Do you expect almost a windfall from them if they bounce back?
A: You look at a lot of players on our team, and we had very few who had career years last season. I think we have a lot of players who can bounce back and have better seasons than they had last year....I think that's where there's some excitement around the team. There are a lot of players who are in a position, assuming they stay healthy, to have good seasons. That's where you see your team growing and improving.
Q: A lot of guys are gone. Do you have a vision about how you want to mold the team?
A: If you're implying I want to bring in my players, I don't think that's the case at all. There are a lot of players that were here -- Koivu and (Niklas) Backstrom and (Nick) Schultz, they're all huge parts of this team. There've been players that we've moved that were big parts of this team, but you move them for different reasons, to accomplish different goals. It's the nature of the game. You take a 24-month snapshot, there's a lot of change on every team.
Q: Do you like what you see so far in training camp?
A: I like the way our team came into camp in terms of attitude and physical conditioning. A lot of players sent a message to me with their attitudes and their conditioning levels that they were ready to come to camp and put the last few seasons behind us.
Q: Is there a different atmosphere surrounding this team?
A: (Thursday's exhibition win at St. Louis) was indicative of that. We had a preseason game last year in Montreal where we were just outworked and outskated, and they hammered us. That was just a real disappointing game. We had a more unproven lineup than St. Louis, yet guys were diving in front of pucks and blocking shots....There were second and third efforts all over the ice. There's just a very competitive spirit right now in camp.
Whether it's the returning players coming into sort of an energized room right now or players from Houston or young prospects coming in and seeing a new coaching staff...there certainly is a positive energy around our team right now.
Q: You made some aggressive moves over the summer. Does that put the GM on the line?
A: It's not about me. It's just making the moves you feel you need to make to make the franchise better. We've been caught on a treadmill here for awhile, in my opinion. I think we charted out a slightly different direction, and to me we're aggressively going in that direction. Maybe the last two seasons we've tried to be a little bit of everything, and now we've aggressively decided the path we're going to go down. It's just about getting better and making the organization better.
I think now we have a stable of prospects that will make us competitive in the future, and I think we have a pretty good mix of players here now that will make us competitive in the present.
We've acquired some good, talented pieces over the last 12 months, and I'm very optimistic about the future of this franchise.
Q: Specifically, what is that path?
A: We had to add more young assets. The best teams in this league all have quality young assets. When you're not making the playoffs and you look at some of the teams that are making the playoffs and they have better prospects than you do, it's a pretty humbling scenario. We've added some good players for this year's team, but again, every player we added we feel can help us over the next two, three, four, five seasons.
Matt Hackett, he's not far away. He's a quality goaltender. Look at defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella and some of the young forwards we have and the kids we have in college and Europe right now -- there are a lot of quality assets. I still think of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who hasn't hit the prime of his career, and Devin Setoguchi, who is just scratching the surface of what he can become. There are a lot of good things happening, but again, we have a lot of work to do. This is just a start. We're going to face some adversity and we're going to have to deal with things, but we're going to get better.
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