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(Ed. Note: It’s the NHL Alternate History project! We’ve asked fans and bloggers from 31 teams to pick one turning point in their franchise’s history and ask ‘what if things had gone differently?’ Trades, hirings, firings, wins, losses, injuries … all of it. How would one different outcome change the course of history for an NHL team? Today: Podcasters Giles Ferrell and Ben Remington on the Minnesota Wild. Enjoy!)
By Giles Ferrell and Ben Remington
The Minnesota Wild have had a definitively mediocre history since their inaugural season — without many high points, but also, limited low points.
We set out to contemplate what could have changed the course of history for this team one way or another. Due to the unexciting nature of this franchise, we could only muster a few franchise-altering events.
Recent bias might knee-jerk some into wanting to reverse the Brent Burns trade, which sent the superstar to San Jose, where he would thrive, far from the squandering grip of Mike Yeo. However, Charlie Coyle, while no Brent Burns, is a solid player to have, so the net positive wouldn’t exactly change this team forever. Being able to re-sign Marian Gaborik may have had similarly slim positive results, given the fact that he’s actually a Faberge egg that learned how to shoot a hockey puck.
However, there was something a few years back. The Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98-million contracts that will definitely never be regrettable and will undoubtedly bring a Stanley Cup to St. Paul … if only Mikko Koivu made less money. The Parise and Suter contracts shifted the Wild franchise from an inevitable rebuild to a perennial playoff team, albeit one that can’t overcome seemingly any other team in the Central Division that doesn’t rhyme with ‘The Hottest Golden Girl was Blanche’.
But we’re not going to change the Parise and Suter signings … well, at least not exactly. Besides, Ben already wrote an article about that.
We’re going back to the hiring of Chuck Fletcher. The much-ostracized and in some cases, outwardly hated Chuck Fletcher. Famous for his pedigree and penchant for No Movement Clauses, the Chuck Fletcher hiring undoubtedly has shaped the Wild franchise, for better or for worse, over the past 8 seasons. While the Wild have made the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, their lack of success in those playoffs have put Fletcher a bit on the hot seat, as his team made the otherwise average Jake Allen look like the second coming of Georges Vezina this past spring.
Instead of hiring Chuck Fletcher, we’re going to hire the man who just missed out on the job.
That guy you yell at every time you turn on a hockey game on the NBC family of networks.
Believe it or not, Wild owner Craig Leipold who played High School basketball for the Neenah Rockets was very seriously considering hiring the bald one himself to run the Minnesota Wild, but chose Chuck Fletcher from Harvard University instead, probably because he’s actually been in a successful front office before.
So what would Pierre McGuire a standout defenseman from Hobart College do in the State of Hockey™ if he were given the reigns in 2009?
Lets gaze into the crystal ball and imagine the alternate reality in which we get:
Pierre McGuire, Minnesota Wild General Manager.
At the time of making this change in general managers, the Wild had a team that was very much on the downswing and had an absolutely bare cupboard of prospects. The latter was very much an issue of outgoing general manager Doug Risebrough, who played with the Kitchener Rangers, and could not hit on a first round draft pick past 2003 to save his life.
So the incoming McGuire would need to retool the prospect pipeline to make Minnesota a winner for the long haul. In the first four drafts, here is how the former Whalers coach would draft in the first round:
2009 Draft – Wild select D David Rundblad instead of Nick Leddy who played defense for the Eden Prairie Eagles
2010 Draft – Wild select Windsor Spitfires D Cam Fowler instead of Mikael Granlund
2011 Draft – Wild select LW Sven Baertschi who once scored 94 points for the Portland Winterhawks instead of D Jonas Brodin
2012 Draft – Wild select D Derrick Pouliot, a former Moose Jaw Warrior instead of Red Deer D Matt Dumba
Like Fletcher did in reality, Pierre goes heavy on defense in his first four drafts. Cam Fowler works out, but Rundblad and Pouliot do not pan out the way he hoped and the Wild have a blue line that is lacking young serviceable defenseman. He also whiffs on selecting a forward in 2011 with Sven Baertschi, as his tenure with the Wild is short lived as the former Saskatoon Blade Colton Gillies era was.
McGuire does try to improve the team through free agency and trades, however few players want to sign with him, citing feeling “creeped out” during visits to St. Paul, and his constant trade offers for Sidney Crosby finally get him blocked from St. Lawrence Skating Saints alum and Pittsburgh General Manager Ray Shero’s phone.
The team spirals into a dismal slump, finishing out of the playoffs every season during his tenure.
Because of the lack of NHL talent and his love for junior league hockey, Pierre decides to completely rebuild the Wild. He wants to tear it all down and start over since the team has absolutely nothing going for them. The three most tradeable assets, goaltender Niklas Backstrom, center Mikko Koivu, and former Couchiching Terriers defenseman Brent Burns, are all prime candidates for McGuire to move so he can continue his rebuild. So he trades them as follows:
2010 trade deadline – Niklas Backstrom traded to St Louis for a 2nd and 3rd round pick.
Prior to 2010-11 – Mikko Koivu traded to Montreal for a 1st round pick, David Desharnais (Chicoutimi Sagueneens), and Josh Gorges (Kelowna Rockets)
2011 trade deadline – Brent Burns traded to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi (Crowsnest Pass Timberwolves) and a 2nd round pick
The McGuire trades for the best players get butchered, leaving the Wild further crippled. As a result, the Wild do not have the players and prospects necessary to entice Zach Parise, who starred for the Shattuck St. Mary Sabres, and Madison Capitals legend Ryan Suter to sign on in the summer of 2012. Instead of contending for the playoffs, the Wild are now contending for the lottery pick alongside the Edmonton Oilers, leading to a television series called ‘Wild Times’ that runs concurrently with the ‘Oil Change’ series. I
n the spirit of the curse that is Minnesota sports, and much unlike the Oilers, the Wild continuously lose out on securing the first pick in the lottery.
In the end, Leipold’s patience is ultimately tested, but before he can fire McGuire, Pierre resigns in 2013 out of embarrassment and tries to get a job a with NBCSN again, only to be turned away by them and Root Sports Pittsburgh, and settling for a position with Fox Sports Arizona.
With Chuck Fletcher already being hired as the GM by the St. Louis Blues in 2010, the Wild name McGuire’s replacement in Jim Nill, who played for the Medicine Hat Tigers. However, given the mess he was left with, Nill needs to restock the cupboard even more than McGuire did, and a lengthy rebuild ensues.
The Wild bottom out in the 2014-15 season, finished 28th in the NHL, but the lottery finally favors them, in the same year that the Minnesota Timberwolves land the first overall pick and Karl Anthony Towns.
With only the Oilers and Wild left on the board, the first overall pick is awarded to Minnesota, and they select Erie Otters center Connor McDavid.
The rest, as they say, is alternative history.
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