When Chuck Fletcher was hired as General Manager of the Minnesota Wild on May 21, 2009, his boss – Wild Owner Craig Leipold – told the media, “Starting today, we expect more of ourselves.”
Flash forward nearly nine years later, and Fletcher has done just that with Leipold’s hockey club. The expectations have been raised as the team enters it’s sixth straight post-season.
Of the previous five consecutive years the Wild have made the playoffs, they have advanced past the first round just twice and have never made it past the second round.
No longer is the expectation of the Minnesota Wild just to make the playoffs, it is now to win in the playoffs.
In the wake of their disappointing first round exit to St. Louis last April, the team’s motto in training camp this season was, “Good is not good enough”, signifying that expectations are raised and need to be met.
Leipold also echoed the lofty expectations for his club during the preseason when he said, “Anything short of winning the Stanley Cup would be a disappointment.”
A bold statement to make, especially considering his general manager – Fletcher – is in the final year of his contract.
During the season of heightened expectations, the Wild seemingly had one constant thing throughout – injuries.
The injury to Suter – suffered on March 31 in Dallas – gave the team a crippling blow to their postseason odds with just a week remaining in the regular season.
Head Bruce Boudreau was able to manage his way around the injuries, and guided the Wild to their fourth – and second consecutive – 100 point season in franchise history. A pretty impressive feat considering how little he was given a full lineup this season.
But even before the injury to Suter, the Wild were not going to be favored in their first round matchup with Winnipeg. The Jets set a franchise record this season with 114 points, thanks to an electric offense and stable goaltending (finally) thanks to Connor Hellebuyck – who set an NHL record for most wins in a season by an American born goaltender.
Minnesota also dropped three out of four games to the Jets this season, with the November 27 game in Manitoba providing the worst loss of the season – a 7-2 waxing. So even when you take into effect the Wild played the Jets just once past that point – a 4-1 win on January 13 – the Jets still have given most enough to believe they will be the ones moving on past the Wild in round one.
So now we circle back around to the expectations of this team heading into their first round matchup with Winnipeg.
Does that fact Suter is out and Spurgeon will not be at 100% change your expectations of this postseason? Do you give Fletcher a pass on this season and bring him back in 2018-19 because the Wild never really iced a full lineup this season?
These are questions Leipold will have to answer should the Wild make another quick exit in the postseason. With Fletcher’s contract status for next year still in the ‘undecided’ category, it is possible a faster exit – four or five games – from the playoffs could bring change to the Wild front office.
But for an owner who never made a GM change in his Nashville days, he could very well give Fletcher a pass on this injury riddled season and let him try again to bring a long playoff run to St. Paul in 2018-19.