Friday, May 15, 2009

Chuck Fletcher: The Odds-On Favorite for Minnesota Wild GM

By Wally Shaver

There have been plenty of names bantered around as to whom should be the next General Manager of the Minnesota Wild. We at Let’s Play Hockey feel the odds-on favorite for the job Chuck Fletcher, currently the assistant general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As we all know, pro sports are notorious for recycling old coaches and general managers. And there is a very good reason for that. Experience in managing at this level is invaluable, whether it’s a GM administering a hockey department or a coach guiding a team of highly paid players.

A current trend in the NHL is shifting from that tried and true thinking, while not eliminating the experience factor. You just have to look for it elsewhere. That’s why we are seeing a resurgence in several franchises: St. Louis, Chicago and Columbus, along with up-and-comers New York Islanders, Tampa Bay and Atlanta, plus teams who have dipped into other leagues for experienced coaches like Pittsburgh, Washington and Anaheim. These teams have all gone with fresh faces in assorted capacities.

Change is not a bad thing. In Minnesota’s case, the time had come for Jacques Lemaire and Doug Risebrough to go. They built one of the most enviable franchises in the entire NHL and we’re all extremely proud of that. Getting to the next level, however, has proved to be a daunting task for a wide variety of reasons, prompting the most important factor of all, the owner Craig Leipold to make changes - it’s his money, he’s the boss and he felt change was needed.

Chuck Fletcher brings an impressive background for a guy who is only 41. First of all, he went to Harvard – he ain’t no dummy. Secondly, his dad Cliff is one of the most renowned hockey general managers of all time and a 2004 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Chuck learned more from dinner table chatter, than some have learned in an entire career.

Third, I have a great deal of admiration for his background. He joined the Penguins in the summer of 2006. They made the Stanley Cup finals last year and are now in the Eastern Conference finals following a dominating performance in their game seven, 6-2 win over Washington Wednesday night.

Fletcher assists GM Ray Shero on all hockey-related matters, including scouting, player development and contract negotiations. He also heads up the hockey operations of Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – a team that made it to the Calder Cup finals last year, losing to the Chicago Wolves (whose coach John Anderson was promoted to Atlanta).

For four years before that, Fletcher was with the Anaheim Ducks as assistant general manager, director of hockey operations and vice president of player development. The Ducks were Stanley Cup champs in 2008, greatly aided by the development efforts accomplished by Fletcher.

For nine years from 1993-2002, little Fletcher was with the Florida Panthers. Seven of those years were as an assistant general manager and one year as interim general manager. They made the Stanley Cup finals in 1996, getting past Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals and losing to Colorado for the Cup.

Do you notice a trend in his resume? His teams get to the finals. I like that - I like that a lot.

“I know several of the Wild candidates quite well, and there are some very good ones," commented player agent Neil Sheehy. "Chuck is one of them who has been in the business for quite some time. He’s a lot like his dad, a non-confrontational guy. Great with people. His time is coming somewhere to be a general manager.”

One long-time, recently retired NHLer added, “The GM's I’ve talked to really like him and hope he gets the Wild job.”

What history tells us in this pro sports business is this: once changes are made as the Wild have done, the incoming management team usually takes an opposite approach to that of the previous regime. For many Wild faithful, that will be a welcome change. Eight seasons with every single home game sold out, many loyalists have tired of defensive oriented hockey. Let’s open it up – just a little bit. Give us a few more scoring chances, you know, something to get excited about instead of wondering where Wally the Beerman is.

The organizations Chuck Fletcher has been associated with have had good skating, skilled teams that can move the puck, take some chances, play physical and compete. His teams like to play offense, and the last time I checked, the teams who score the most goals get to the finals and win championships. Those teams have players who are held accountable to produce offense, as well as being accountable for defense.

With Chuck Fletcher hired as Wild General Manager, good days are indeed ahead.

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