August 21, 2010
(Ed. Note: Welcome to Puck Daddy's August series, "Mount Puckmore" which will feature fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. Today, representing the Minnesota Wild, Nathan Eide from Hockey Wilderness.)
By Nathan Eide
Let's be honest: The Wild likely don't deserve more than one head on a Mount Puckmore.
There should be some kind of ratio of heads: Rings and years in existence. But then the Habs would have some creepy Hydra-like statue, and nobody needs to be subjected to that.
So, let's move on and come up with the four people who have had the biggest impact on the franchise in the first 10 seasons. And before you ask, no, Doug Risebrough will not be given a place on the monument, even though he has had a bigger impact (negative) than anyone else in franchise history.
Without further adieu, let's move on to those who made the cut.
Jacques Lemaire, Coach
Sure, complain about the trap all you want, but from the moment he was even rumored to he hired, Lemaire was the identity of the franchise. Aside from the Xcel Energy Center, Lemaire was the reason to get excited about this team. I mean, here's a hall of famer, with eight Stanley Cup rings as a player and one as a head coach. He was a bonafide legend of the game and he was running the show.
Lemaire was the kind of guy you wanted for a new franchise. With his system, you knew that you had a shot to win every night because the team would focus on the defense, keep the game close and pounce on their opportunities. The system worked so well that he took a team with superstars like Richard Park(notes), Wes Walz(notes), Jim Dowd(notes) and Brad Bombardir to the Western Conference Finals in its third season of existence.
If they would have paired Lemaire with a general manager and scouting staff that wasn't completely incompetant and he likely would've built upon that success, especially once the young talent started to develop; but alas, it didn't happen, maxing out at winning the Northwest Division in 2007-08 but losing in the first round of the playoffs.
After that season the fans and front office turned on Lemaire and his system, forcing out a legend who will always be remembered.
Fondly? Depends upon if you blame him for the low-scoring hockey of the late '90s or not, but he will be remembered.
Enter Mikko Koivu.
Coming over from Finland in the ill-fated 2004-2005 season to play for the Houston Aeros, Koivu immediately showed the fans in Minnesota what we had in store. Only in Minnesota is Mikko not known as Saku's little brother, and that on its own is reason enough to immortalize the guy.
Koivu's work ethic and leadership is undeniable. He has improved his game and scoring every season, while never forgetting hisdefensive responsibility. He is tenacious on the ice, honest and open with the press, personable off the ice and was rewarded for his success and potential with the most lucrative contract in Wild history.
Marian Gaborik, RW
A lightning rod character, both loved and hated by the fanbase, front office and coaching staff alike, the talent is undeniable.
Gaborik was the first-ever draft choice by the Wild, when he was taken third overall in 2000. Blazing speed, the ability to create on his own, score from anywhere and bring the crowd to its feet with his skill, Gaborik was beloved all over the State of Hockey. It all, however, came crashing down to earth when he held out before the '03-04 season. It was an ugly episode, in which he switched agents three times and missed 17 games. The missing games would become a theme that would forever cloud Gaborik's legacy.
Missing 17, 34, 5 and 65 games over the next five years, Gaborik would draw the ire of the fans and coaching staff alike. Called "soft", "brittle" and "paper-mache groin", Gaborik was still a dynamo when on the ice. A point-per-game talent, Gaborik holds the franchise records for goals (219), assists (218) and points (437).
Of course, none of that ended up mattering when it became clear that Gaborik wasn't going to re-sign with the Wild, even when offered more than he ended up getting as a free agent. A legacy tarnished, but still the best talent ever to wear the Iron Range Red.
Selected in the second round, after Gaborik, Nick Schultz has been the franchise stalwart.
Unassuming, Schultz's role is to provide shut-down defense and a workman-like effort game-in and game-out, and he does so in an unassuming manner. The mark of a solid defenseman is that you don't notice him on the ice. It's rare that one ever notices Schultz.
Holding the franchise record of 607 games played, once called-up Schultz has never missed nore than seven games in a season -- and that was only done once. Schultz epitomizes blue-collar Minnesota. Never flashy, always reliable and dependable, Schultz is a professional on and off the ice.
He participates heavily in Minnesota Wild community outreach programs, as well as many charity events in collaboration with other NHLers.
Every franchise needs a constant, and Nick Schultz has been that for the Wild.
Main Mt. Puckmore photo created by B.D.Gallof of Hockey Independent