Catbird Seat: "Change in the wind"You might be excused for thinking there’s something going on between the Wild and the Timberwolves this off-season.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
You might be excused for thinking there’s something going on between the Wild and the Timberwolves this off-season.
First they hired new chief executives – David Kahn for the Wolves and Cliff Fletcher for the Wild – within 24 hours of each other. They were announced in their new positions on the same day.
Now, the talk about both franchises is over wheeling and dealing, and coaches – and again, at the same time.
The NBA draft is this week and Kahn has very publicly said the Wolves are still in need of a top-to-bottom redo. Watching the team play at the end of last season, especially without the injured Al Jefferson, it would be hard to come to any other conclusion.
His public statements regarding Jefferson and last year’s first round draft pick Kevin Love aren’t exactly confidence builders for players. Yet, he’s being honest, and that alone counts for much. He has reportedly said Jefferson is the second best player on an NBA contending team and Love is a fourth-level talent on such a team.
He’s also looking for a coach, having already ruled out further involvement for Kevin McHale in the rebuilding process. McHale left Kahn with the pieces he’ll need to start the rebuilding, but in order to make a clean break with the past, the Wolves’ new sheriff has decided to dispense with the services of owner Glen Taylor’s longtime confidant.
If nothing else, it should make for an interesting draft night. There is rampant speculation as of this writing that the Wolves will try to trade up from their sixth overall position, but one wonders how much they have to offer if Kahn is so bearish on the prospects of Jefferson and Love.
Meanwhile, Chuck Fletcher has hired a new coach in Todd Richards and already lived up to one of the promises he made when he was hired. He said he would want an up-tempo game from the Wild and he has hired a coach who has that philosophy.
A former Gopher defenseman, Richards earned a reputation as a puck-moving defenseman in college. As an assistant for a very talented San Jose team last season, he had a chance to refine his philosophy.
However, Fletcher doesn’t have the building blocks that Kahn does. Like the cross-town Wolves, the Wild are preparing for an entry draft this weekend. The difference between the teams is that the Wolves have draft picks, while the Wild don’t.
The Wild have the twelfth overall pick but no pick in either the second or third rounds. That has been a significant problem for the team in the past – under Doug Risebrough, the team either traded draft picks or didn’t stockpile them through free agent losses. The farm system doesn’t have a lot in it, and that makes Fletcher’s job harder.
For him, the way to improvement is through trade. That means possibly Marian Gaborik if he can’t be re-signed, or even goaltender Josh Harding, now a solid backup to Nicklas Backstrom in the nets.
Fletcher is determined to remake the Wild in his own image and philosophy. It is heartening to see the Wild consider doing things in a different way – and with some of the existing talent on the roster, a transition to a free-wheeling style may not be that far away.
Yet, one thing is absolutely clear: for both the winter sports teams in the state, significant change appears to be in the wind.
That will more than likely prove to be good news for fans, who are ready for it.