Catbird Seat: "Crossroads"
Two teams with quite different reputations made the same job hire last week.
The Wild and Timberwolves have new men in overall charge of their operations.
The Wild are a franchise that has frankly underachieved in recent seasons. The
reasons for that are as varied as opinions of knowledgeable hockey fans.
They're too defensive. They aren't attractive to high-caliber free agents.
They're guilty of small thinking in upper management. In my mind, all of
those things are true. The first led to the second, and the third made sure
the first two remained in perpetual play.
Now Doug Risebrough is gone, replaced by Chuck Fletcher. His father Cliff
has a long National Hockey League pedigree and Chuck himself has had the advantage of working
for the Pittsburgh Penguins of late, helping mold them into a powerful team.
His first statements about his new team - that it will play an up-tempo
style - show he understands the first of the Wild's three problems. That
understanding may lead him to addressing the second problem, and when the
first two issues are addressed, the third will have been solved by default.
Fletcher's first major decision is hiring Jacques Lemaire's
replacement as coach. If he is true to his word about an up-tempo style,
this will be a very interesting decision indeed. It will tell us a lot
about Fletcher and his management style.
One of the league's biggest names - Mike Keenan, who has coached just about
everywhere but Minnesota in his long career - is available, having been
fired by Calgary last week. Will Fletcher make the safe play and hire an
established coach, or will he put his own stamp on the franchise by hiring
And what will happen with Marian Gaborik? Surely an up-tempo style will be
appreciated by the high-scoring winger, whose struggles under Lemaire are
well documented. It will be an interesting summer in St. Paul.
Meanwhile, David Kahn, who has been out of the National Basketball Association for seven years, is the Timberwolves' new president of basketball operations. The people who keep
track of such things indicate the Minnesota basketball franchise is
among the worst in professional sports, so he's got a job to do.
The question now is how long it will take to fix the Wolves, who are frankly
in a sorry state. Once again, the farce known as the NBA draft lottery
didn't help matters for Minnesota, which has never improved its draft
position in thirteen trips to the league's "Festival of Ping-Pong Balls."
Yet, now is the time for the Wolves to improve. They still have the sixth,
18th and 28th overall picks, two other second-round selections and space
under the salary cap. Despite the understandable flak he's taken for his
time in charge, that was Kevin McHale's work.
The rebuilding of the franchise started with the trade of Kevin Garnett, but
the time is now to reap some of the fruits of that trade.
Kahn's job is immense. The Wolves are in comparative disarray, are having
great difficulty selling tickets, and are in desperate need of a makeover
both for the sake of their long-term viability as well as to encourage
better results on the court.
Like Fletcher, Kahn has a coaching decision to make. McHale's future
certainly doesn't depend on staying with the Timberwolves, and McHale
himself has speculated about leaving the game many times over the years.
However, Kahn has what Fletcher doesn't, at least on the surface - he has an
activist owner. Glen Taylor has been actively involved with the Wolves
whereas new owner Craig Leipold hasn't been so active with the Wild. At
least, not on the surface.
If the Wolves are to grow, and if they are to reinvent themselves, Kahn
needs to find a way to break with the past. When he does - however he does
it - the Wolves will be better for it. Either way, the Twins won't get all
the headlines this summer, and perhaps that's for the best.