ST. PAUL — Wild owner Craig Leipold hosted a contingent of reporters in his suite at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday afternoon as his team wrapped up the preseason with a 5-4 overtime loss to Winnipeg.
A relaxed Leipold answered a variety of questions between about what he expects from a team that missed the postseason for the first time in seven years; how Bill Guerin has fit in as general manager since replacing the fired Paul Fenton in late July; and whether coach Bruce Boudreau has been approached about a contract extension as he enters the final season of his coaching deal.
Also does Leipold have the patience to wait things out if that’s what is required?
Q. What kind of feedback have you gotten from Bill Guerin’s short time as general manager?
A. Great feedback. … He’s a great guy, people like him, people respect him. He has that presence when he walks in the room and he has the same effect on our players as he does just normal people. He’s just a really good guy and he’s been there, done that. The players recognize that so he’s got that respect.
Q. Do you sense there is more energy than before he got here? Did he spark some life into this organization?
A. Absolutely, I don’t think there’s any doubt. Bruce is just so excited about starting the year and getting going. I think a lot of it is just the new energy that we have. There’s this feeling that last year was just a terrible year for us, things didn’t go right and so we are moving on. We’re moving on with a fresh look and clearly Billy Guerin’s entire hockey career was all about team first. All about team first. That philosophy carries on. I think he’s convinced the players that, ‘Hey, there’s no individuals out there. This is all about our record, all about winning and all about playing together and playing for each other.’ He talks about that so it’s kind of a new energy that we have.
Q. So it feels like Guerin fits where with Paul Fenton (fired as GM after one season) it just didn’t quite feel right?
A. This guy fits unbelievably. He’s exactly what we needed, he has the attention of everybody in the room. All the comments, everything I’ve heard has just been so positive. I’m getting e-mails from people that I don’t really know and they are saying, ‘Hey, I just want you to know that I ran into Billy Guerin and ‘wow’ what a great big personality guy.’ So, we’re excited.
Q. How good can this team be in 2019-20?
A. It’s an interesting question. It’s a very interesting question. … There is such a fine line between the 12th team and the first team. A fine line. And it’s injuries, it’s goaltending, it’s the little things. How far can we go? I don’t know. But I do know that if we play together and give 100 percent effort and have just the normal injuries, I like our chances.
Q. You aren’t very patient but are you prepared to be patient if patience is what’s required to get this franchise back on track?
A. I am. Everybody says I don’t have patience (laughs). I want to win a Stanley Cup, that’s what I want to do and if somebody came down and said, ‘OK, we have a guaranteed five-year plan that you are absolutely going to win it, but you’re going to have to go through a little pain and suffering,’ I’m all in. You show me that plan that gives me that and I’m good. But even all the people that we interviewed for the GM job, there was really no … this wasn’t about a rebuild, this is about … we’ve got some holes in some spots, just like every team has them and we’re going to have to get better, we’re going to have to have young people step up.
Q. What through training camp have you seen or heard that’s sparked that optimism for you?
A. I’ve heard the things from Bruce and Billy Guerin and I’ve spoken with a number of players this summer and there is clearly a feeling of real disappointment in last year and there’s a feeling that they know where the problems were and we can correct a lot of these things. The most important thing that probably gets me excited about this year is that I really feel like this team is playing together like they’ve never played before. So that’s the part that gives me the most excitement. Now, we’re going to find out at the end of the day, is it real? But the things that I’m hearing from the coaches and just people around the team has really been positive.
Q. How has Mike Modano settled into his role with the team as an executive advisor?
A. Mike Modano has been an absolute superstar. He has embraced this new responsibility and taken it up another level. Our employees just love this guy. He did something, I just found out today, that he had a big walk around giving cookies to all our employees last week. Some of them didn’t know who he was. They are just right out of college. … He is so great with sponsors and with season-ticket holders. He’s just excited and he and Billy Guerin, they get along so well, that if Billy wants somebody to throw ideas at and talk to he has that person. That’s not his primary role, but he’s excited about doing anything that he can for us. Anytime he comes here, he’s a superstar everywhere he goes.
Q. Boudreau’s job security is going to be a big topic as he enters the last year of his contract. How do you handle that and has there been any thought or conversation about extending him?
A. The answer is no. We’ve had no conversation. He’s gainfully employed right now and he’s our head coach and we’re excited about that. … He’s our guy. Billy and I have not sat down and talked to him about that. It’s not that we’ve said, ‘no,’ we haven’t said anything.
Q. Is Boudreau’s situation Guerin’s call?
A. That is absolutely Bill’s call. Absolutely Bill’s call. No doubt about it.
Q. How do you feel the fan base has warmed up to Guerin?
A. I’ve got a feeling and the feeling is everybody thinks they are comfortable with Bill. There is confidence in Bill Guerin. I have a high level of confidence. I like the way he’s come in and everybody is fair game, they are all on the table, and by that I mean I haven’t made any predetermined decisions on anybody on this team. No matter who it is. They are all Minnesota Wild players and they’re our guys. Until that changes, everybody’s our guy.
Q. When Modano was hired you made it clear that he had nothing to do with hockey operations. Does that change now based on the fact that he and Guerin are so tight?
A. No, the direct answer to that is it doesn’t change a bit. They just have a unique friendship that I think is going to probably help both of them. (Guerin’s) going to have somebody to talk to but only talk to if he wants to talk to him. Mike’s responsibility is clearly in business operations and that’s where he wants to be involved. Billy, as we all know, is in hockey ops. But they’re very good friend and who knows what they’ll talk about?