Seven weeks later, Wild coaching search still quietly in full swing
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When Todd Richards was fired as coach on April 11, Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher assured there would be no timetable placed on finding a successor.
"We'll go through the process, and when we find the right guy then that will be the right time," Fletcher said.
That "right time" has yet to arrive. Seven weeks later, the Wild is still without a head coach.
Fletcher has kept the coaching search a relatively private affair. Several candidates have emerged, but there hasn't been much indication if the team is close to a decision.
It isn't surprising Fletcher is taking a methodical and deliberate approach. After failing to find an immediate winner with his first hire, the third-year general manager is facing increased pressure to revive the struggling franchise.
Fletcher hired Richards less than a month after signing on as GM in May 2009, then watched as the Wild stumbled to a combined record of 77-71-16, pushing the team's playoff absence to three consecutive years.
Amid waning interest and a recent decline in ticket sales, the Wild is far short of what owner Craig Leipold must have envisioned when he purchased the team in 2008.
Regardless of who takes over as coach, Leipold, who hasn't seen his team finish better than 19th overall, has made it clear he expects his franchise to win now.
He told the Associated Press in April the team is "going to have to show our fans by what we do in the offseason, by who we hire as a coach, by the players that we bring in that we're going to have an exciting team next year and that we're going to have a playoff team next year."
Former NHL head coaches Michel Therrien and Craig MacTavish surfaced as early contenders for the job and remain strong candidates. Both were reportedly interviewed a month ago.
Therrien has ties to the organization, having worked as a part-time scout for the Wild. Following a 2½-season stint with Montreal, he led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 during his four years with the team. But Therrien has not coached since the Penguins fired him midseason two years ago after a 27-25 start.
Known for his defensive mindset, MacTavish headed the Edmonton Oilers for eight seasons, guiding them to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006 and finishing below .500 only once. Like Therrien, he's been out of coaching for two years, but recently expressed interest of returning to the NHL.
The most prestigious name to enter the discussion is Ken Hitchcock. Backed by 14 years of head coaching experience, Hitchcock has been to the Stanley Cup finals twice, winning a title with Dallas in 1999. He also boasts a style Wild fans are familiar with.
As a good friend of former Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, he shares many of the Hall of Fame coach's schemes and tendencies. Hitchcock has been linked to New Jersey's coaching search as well.
Given that Richards lacked experience prior to joining the Wild, it would make sense Fletcher would want to go with a more seasoned candidate. But as he noted when the search began, that isn't necessarily the case.
"I don't know that you have to," Fletcher said. "There has been a lot of rookie head coaches who have come in and done a great job. ... Everybody has to get their experience somewhere and somehow. ... You're looking for accountability, you're looking for structure, and you're looking for somebody to motivate and push the group forward."
This could bode well for Mike Yeo -- first-year head coach of the Wild's AHL minor league affiliate, the Houston Aeros. Yeo bolstered his resume this season thanks to the Aero's second place regular-season finish and current run to the Calder Cup final.
The biggest knock against Yeo is the fear he could be Todd Richards Part 2. At 37, he is almost two years younger than the NHL's current youngest head coach, Tampa Bay's Guy Boucher.
Yeo, however, has four more years of NHL experience than Richards did, spending five years as an assistant coach for the Penguins (2005 to 2010) before taking over the Aeros job.
An end date to the Wild's search is unknown, but Fletcher will need to have a coach in place well before the team opens training camp in September.
The Wild isn't alone in its search. Four other NHL teams (New Jersey, Ottawa, Florida, and Dallas) remain in the hunt to fill vacancies behind their benches.
Quick look at four potential candidates
Experience: Eight years as a NHL head coach
(Edmonton - 2000-09)
Accolades: Guided Edmonton to within one win of the Stanley Cup in 2006; As a player, he won four Cup titles with the Oilers.
Current job: Commentator for the Canadian sports network TSN since 2009.
Experience: 15 years as a NHL head coach
(Dallas - 1995-2002, Philadelphia - 2002-06, Columbus - 2006-10)
Accolades: Winner of 1042 games as a head coach; Led Dallas to a Stanley Cup victory in 1999 - the same season he won Coach of the Year honors.
Most recent job: Coached the Canadian national team to a fifth-place finish at the 2011 IIHF World Hockey Championship.
Experience: Seven years as a NHL head coach
(Montreal - 2000-03, Pittsburgh - 2005-09)
Accolades: Coached the Penguins to the Eastern Conference championship in 2008.
Most recent job: Part-time scout for the Wild.
Experience: Served as Pittsburgh's assistant coach five seasons (2005-10)
Accolades: Member of the Penguins' Stanley Cup winning team in 2009
Current job: Head coach of the Houston Aeros - the Wild's AHL affiliate.