Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring cleaning in Minnesota

It's been a busy whirlwind of a week for hockey fans and the mail redirection office in the Twin Cities.

First off, the first and only coach that the Minnesota Wild have ever had, decided that 8 years behind the Wild bench was enough. Jacques Lemaire called it quits on April 13, praising the Minnesota fans for their loyalty and enthusiasm for the game and the Wild.

While he is leaving the Wild, he was less revealing as to what his future plans may be, which no doubt will have his name mentioned frequently with any possible moves in Montreal should that team change ownership in the off season. Though having done the Montreal scene before both as a player and a coach, one suspects that he might wish to find a location a little more relaxed about their hockey for his twilight years in the game.

The 63 year old Lemaire has been a fixture in the game for decades now, from his days with the legendary Canadiens, to his time in Switzerland, New Jersey and Minnesota. While once considered a pariah for his "trap system" in New Jersey, the Wild in the last few years showed that he hadn't forgotten all that firewagon hockey that he learned while in Montreal.

Since he has no plans to leave the game, one suspects that a GM's job or another coaching position could very well be in his future, all that remains to be seen is the destination, though some suggest that Lemaire stay close to the phone and close to the Twin Cities..

As Minnesotans began to think about the changes to come in the coaching ranks, came word that the General Managers job was also heading for the Want Ads. In a surprise announcement the Wild advised that Doug Risebrough had been relieved of his duties as President and General Manager.

Like Lemaire, Risebrough was the only senior executive that the team had known, joining the Wild nine years ago to steer their course into the NHL as the league made amends for the less than sure way they handled the departure of the Stars previous.

He and Lemaire became the architects of the Wild, building the team from the ground up and taking them to the playoffs the last three years, it was apparently their absence from this years competition that led owner Craig Leopold to decide to take the team in a different direction.

Leipold took over the team a year ago, that after some interesting dynamics in Nashville and most likely like any owner, he more than likely now wants to put his own people into place.
While some recognized his contribution to the game in hockey mad Minnesota, his departure from Minny-St. Paul hasn't been universally mourned. A number of newspaper columnists, bloggers and other observers of hockey in Minnesota haven't exactly been passing out the prayer cards after the announcement of the non renewal of his contract.

Not everyone was ready to throw dirt on his grave however, some in Minnesota still think highly of his years of service to the Wild and hockey in the state.

While they take their sides and review their tales, one more change may soon come to the Wild that will also keep the reporters busy with stories through the off season.

Marian Gaborik, the teams main attraction and scoring leader is said to be considering leaving as well, ready to seek out offers for his services from around the hockey world.

One suggestion that is being tossed around the Twin Cities is that Risebrough got into trouble because he couldn't get Gaborik's name on a contract. The net result could be that the three most important names in the franchise last year may all be gone in short order.

Whichever name takes on the challenges of running the Wild will be working in a rather passionate hockey market, one of the few American markets that seems to come close to the Canadian like intensity that franchises above the 49th deal with.

It will be interesting to see who ends up on the short list and the list is apparently growing by the day, and more importantly how soon he is on the job and ready to take the Wild on to the next level of success.

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