When Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold entered the team’s new practice facility a couple of weeks ago Josh Jones Jersey , the organizational motto was staring him in the face.
So was the advice he should make a change in the front office, despite his fondness of general manager Chuck Fletcher.
”It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door: `Good is not good enough,”’ Leipold said. ”I felt that was a signal for me.”
The Wild split with Fletcher after nine seasons and only two playoff series wins, a decision – ”very agonizing,” Leipold said – that the 25-year veteran of NHL management would not have his contract renewed was delivered in a Monday morning meeting.
”I wanted a new set of eyes on this team,” Leipold said.
The Wild have six straight postseason appearances, matching the longest current streak in the Western Conference with the Anaheim Ducks, but they have not reached the second round since 2015. They were only 15-29 in playoff games during Fletcher’s tenure, enough evidence that the roster wasn’t built well enough for all the success the team has enjoyed in the regular season.
”Right now I just don’t see us with this team getting to the championship series. I just don’t see it,” Leipold said. ”I think we’re a good team. I really do, and I just talked to our players about this. They’re a good team, but they’re not good enough right now.”
Since Fletcher stunned the NHL by signing left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, the market’s most-coveted free agents in 2012, the Wild have been a runaway success on the business side with sellouts at Xcel Energy Center as routine as the aroma of mini donuts and the swish of the skates on the ice. The fans have been frustrated by the postseason plateau, though Malcolm Smith Jersey , and Leipold bluntly acknowledged he dismissed Fletcher in part to appease the customers.
”The fans deserve to win one here,” Leipold said. ”This is the state of hockey, and I’m really confident that we’re going to have candidates that are interested in coming here because of our fans, because of our market, because of our team. I’m energized by the opportunity to talk to some of these people.”
Leipold, who purchased the Wild the year before hiring Fletcher, said the move was unrelated to the Wild’s early exit this year. They lost in five games in the first round to the Winnipeg Jets, after being ousted in five games in 2017 by the St. Louis Blues. Last year, Leipold declined to extend Fletcher’s deal.
”My antenna’s been up,” Leipold said. ”Chuck and I have had numerous conversations all year. I wanted to wait until the end of the year to assess everything, to understand how I feel about where we’re going. Are we still in the window to win the Stanley Cup? I believe we are. He believed we are. But my personal feeling was that I wanted someone new to come in and kind of shake it up.”
Leipold said he won’t order a significant rebuild, nor does he believe that’s necessary for postseason progress. He added he would not hire a general manager who recommended a long-haul approach to hoisting the Stanley Cup.
”We were sixth overall two years ago. We were eighth overall this year,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”We’ve got an awful lot of good, moving parts there. We’ll tweak it a little bit, and we’ll be better.”
The Wild haven’t struggled enough to get a game-changer in the draft Jonathan Ogden Jersey , with Matt Dumba in 2012 (seventh) and Mikael Granlund in 2010 (ninth) the only top-10 picks that Fletcher and his staff had. The rival Jets, for example, picked up Patrik Laine with the second overall selection in 2016 and watched him finish second in the NHL with 44 goals in 2017-18 while the team posted the second-best record in the league.
In one way, the Parise-Suter signings for 13 years and $98 million each have worked against the Wild considering they account for 20 percent of their salary cap space and are on the books for seven more seasons. But Suter had a career-high 45 assists, before breaking his right ankle with four games left in the regular season, and Parise was one of the team’s best forwards down the stretch with 12 goals in the last 19 games. He scored in all three playoff games before breaking his sternum.
Trades that didn’t pan out under Fletcher have hurt the Wild more than any free-agent signing or first-round draft pick. Charlie Coyle is all that’s left from the deal that sent defenseman Brent Burns to San Jose in 2011, and Coyle didn’t notch a goal or an assist in the series against the Jets. The trade last summer that sent Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella to Buffalo for Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis didn’t wind up helping.
So Fletcher’s successor will eventually go to work on a roster that produced a goal-less streak of 141:27 to end the series with Winnipeg.
”If you look at the teams moving on, the teams that are winning, they’re scoring and playing at a pretty fast pace,” Parise said. ”We’ve got to get to that level.”
ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-8)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Tyvon Branch; CB Justin Bethel and Tramon Williams; QBs Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Barkley; DT Frostee Rucker; WRs John Brown, Brittan Golden and Jaron Brown; OLBs Karlos Dansby and Kareem Martin; RB Kerwyn Williams; G Alex Boone; ILB Josh Bynes, OT Khalif Barnes; OL Earl Watford; TE Troy Niklas; LS Aaron Brewer.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DT Xavier Williams.
NEEDS: With no QB on roster, team’s No. 1 need is obvious. General manager Steve Keim seems to want to sign veteran, with Cardinals in Kirk Cousins sweepstakes despite salary cap challenges Lawrence Taylor Jersey , especially considering large number of departing free agents, some of whom could be re-signed. Expect Cardinals also to address QB in draft. Other needs are at WR, where ranks are thin to nonexistent behind Larry Fitzgerald. With big contracts of aging, oft-injured G Mike Iupati and T Jared Veldeer, Cardinals will be looking at OL help as well as in secondary. With entire new coaching regime and system, team might look for someone to play FB.
AVAILABLE SALARY CAP SPACE (approximately): $21 million.
ATLANTA FALCONS (11-7)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE Adrian Clayborn; FB Derrick Coleman; WRs Taylor Gabriel, Andre Roberts and Nick Williams; LBs Jordan Tripp, Sean Weatherspoon and Kemal Ishmael; DTs Dontari Poe, Courtney Upshaw and Ahtyba Rubin; CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: FS Ricardo Allen; RBs Terron Ward and Terrence Magee; G Ben Garland.
NEEDS: Tight end is priority following release of Levine Toilolo. Veteran could be signed to challenge Austin Hooper. Team cut Derrick Shelby and could lose Clayborn, so more pass rush help at defensive end may be needed. If team loses Poe and Upshaw in free agency, another veteran defensive tackle may be signed. Guard is another priority that may be addressed high in draft or in free agency. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said at NFL scouting combine that Gabriel would not be re-signed
AVAILABLE SALARY CAP SPACE (approximately): $9 million.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (11-6)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: Gs Andrew Norwell and Amini Silatolu; DEs Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson; DT Star Lotulelei; QB Derek Anderson; TE Ed Dickson, Ss Jairus Byrd and Kurt Coleman; CB Teddy Williams; LB Andrew Gachkar; WR Brenton Bersin; RB Jonathan Stewart.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE Scott Simonson; G David Yankey; WR Kaelin Clay; CB LaDarius Gunter.
NEEDS: Panthers need thumper at safety after releasing Coleman, as well as pass rushing defensive ends after release of Johnson and with 37-year-old Peppers’ future uncertain. Team allowed All-Pro guard Norwell to walk, but believes last year’s draft pick Taylor Moton can step into that spot. Center Ryan Kalil and outside linebacker Thomas Davis said they will retire after season, so it’s time to address those areas. Carolina cut Stewart Kyle Wilber Jersey , its all-time leading rusher; team needs complement to Christian McCaffrey in backfield. Finding speedy wide receiver remains priority. Don’t be surprised if Carolina drafts quarterback at some point and parts with Anderson.
AVAILABLE SALARY CAP SPACE (approximately): $24 million.
CHICAGO BEARS (5-11)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Kyle Fuller (transition tag), Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan and Sherrick McManis; WRs Josh Bellamy, Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright; QB Mark Sanchez; RB Benny Cunningham; TE Zach Miller; G Josh Sitton; DE Mitch Unrein; LBs Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Christian Jones.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Cameron Meredith.
NEEDS: Bears have glaring need for playmaking receivers and could make run at Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson and Rams’ Sammy Watkins in free agency. Chicago needs help on offensive line after declining option on Sitton and with Kyle Long recovering from multiple surgeries. On defense, Bears could use more pass rushers to go with LB Leonard Floyd. Chicago placed transition tag on Fuller, giving them right to match any offer he receives in free agency.
AVAILABLE SALARY CAP SPACE (approximately): $64 million.
DALLAS COWBOYS (9-7)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE DeMarcus Lawrence; RB Alfred Morris; WR Brice Butler; T Byron Bell; G Jonathan Cooper; LBs Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber; LS L.P. LaDouceur; C Joe Looney; CB Bene Benwikere.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE David Irving; FB Keith Smith.
NEEDS: Lawrence will be back after signing for $17.1 million under franchise tag as sides work on long-term deal. Team plans to tender Irving and wants him back. Dallas also wants Hitchens back but likely won’t overpay in scenario that could be similar to last year, when S Barry Church left for Jacksonville. Morris and Butler probably not coming back, and Cowboys could target LG in draft if Cooper doesn’t return. Days of headline-grabbing free agents mostly over with owner Jerry Jones’ son, executive VP Stephen Jones, having strong influence and preferring to avoid big-money deals with players outside organization.
AVAILABLE SALARY CAP SPACE (approximately): $3.2 million.
DETROIT LIONS (9-7)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DTs Haloti Ngata and Jordan Hill; LBs Tahir Whitehead, Nick Bellore, Dwight Freeney and LB Paul Worrilow; CBs D.J. Hayden and Nevin Lawson; C Travis Swanson; S Don Carey; TE Darren Fells; OTs Greg Robinson and Don Barclay; RB Mike James.
NEEDS: Lions’ weakness is defensive line and improving it will be priority under first-year coach Matt Patricia. Former New England Patriots defensive coordinator also might want to bolster offensive line to protect QB Matthew Stafford and help boost poorly performing runni Womens Dorance Armstrong Jr. Jersey