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Updated: May 29th, 2014 5:55pm
Zulgad: Ranking the front offices of the 4 local major sports teams

Zulgad: Ranking the front offices of the 4 local major sports teams

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by Judd Zulgad

The Timberwolves can't find anyone to take their coaching job. The Twins' flirtation with being above .500 has come to an end as they have dropped six of their past seven. The Vikings are attempting a reboot after going from a playoff team in 2012 to last place in the NFC North in 2013.

The only executive among the four major men's pro sports teams who might be sleeping well these days is Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher. Fletcher's group won its first-round playoff series against Colorado in seven games before losing in the second round in six to the Chicago Blackhawks.

But even Fletcher has to be concerned with figuring out a way to build a roster that can get past a club like the Blackhawks. Still, it's likely Flip Saunders, Rob Antony and Rick Spielman would be willing to trade places.

Considering where those three teams are at right now, it seems like a good time to rank the general managers in town. OK, we know Saunders carries the title of president of basketball operations but he runs the show and those are the guys we want to rank.

We'll do it from best to worst.


Fletcher: What about the Nick Leddy trade? I can hear it now as some Wild fans read this. Yes, that was an awful deal, defenseman Cam Barker was a terrible acquisition and Leddy has turned into a quality NHL blue liner, but Fletcher made the trade more than four years ago and he has more than made up for it.

Fletcher fleeced the Islanders when he sent the king of false hustle, Cal Clutterbuck, to New York  in exchange for winger Nino Niederreiter, he selected playoff-sensation Erik Haula in the seventh round of the 2009 draft and has built a roster that features plenty of quality young talent.

The Wild GM needs to spend this offseason stabilizing the team's goalie situation and finding a forward who can score goals, adding a big defenseman would be nice, too, but it's hard to argue with the direction in which Fletcher is taking this roster.


Spielman: This shows just how bad things are on the local sports scene. You can be the GM of a team that crashes back to earth with a 5-10-1 record, then fires its coach, and still rank second on this list.

Spielman gets massive demerit points for selecting quarterback Christian Ponder in the first round of the 2011 draft, but it appears he might have made a good decision with the hire of Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer as his coach.

Zimmer, 57, brings a no-nonsense approach to Minnesota and he also appears willing to delegate, something far too many NFL coaches don't do well. Having Zimmer run a defense that was atrocious under former coach Leslie Frazier should provide a boost, and Zimmer's decision to hire veteran coordinator Norv Turner to run the offense also appears to be a wise move.

The Vikings have made plenty of offseason moves to attempt to improve their roster and remake the defense. The true test for Spielman will be at the quarterback position and judging him on that will be impossible under first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater takes the controls from short-term solution Matt Cassel.

The Vikings traded back into the first round this month in order to take Bridgewater, who at one time was considered likely to go No. 1 overall, and if he can make fans forget the Ponder debacle, the view of Spielman's work will take a big turn for the positive.


Antony/Terry Ryan: This one is a bit delicate because Ryan is battling cancer and is a class act. Criticizing a good guy who is sick is never easy. Nonetheless, the Twins have opened themselves up for a lot of criticism with questionable moves this season.

As my radio partner Phil Mackey has pointed out, manager Ron Gardenhire isn't doing himself any favors by refusing to use Josmil Pinto as his designated hitter.

Pinto has the ability to provide punch but Gardenhire is concerned about using Kurt Suzuki and Pinto in the same lineup because that would leave him without a backup catcher and would mean the pitcher would have to hit if the starting catcher gets hurt. The logical question to Gardenhire: Would you rather have your team not score runs or maybe have to ditch the DH on the remote chance that something happens to Suzuki? That wasn't hard to answer, was it?

But if acting GM Antony questioned Gardenhire's decisions, the manager could come right back at him with a few questions of his own.

The Phil Hughes signing is looking pretty good right now. Ricky Nolasco hasn't been as good as advertised, though, so it's a bit of a wash. And Mike Pelfrey, signed this offseason to a two-year deal, was awful before hitting the disabled list. 

The fact the Twins are so thin in center field that Aaron Hicks can't be sent to Triple-A Rochester is inexcusable. The Twins made roster moves that allowed both Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni to be claimed off waivers by Houston and Toronto, respectively. Losing one was OK but allowing both to leave made no sense.

The club now seems to believe that it would be a great hardship to get a guy like that back so Hicks could work on his game, which apparently no longer will include switch-hitting. Developing Hicks is the most important thing here.

He has a chance to be the left fielder in an outfield that will include Byron Buxton in center and Oswaldo Arcia in right. Instead, it's looking more and more as if Hicks is going to end up being a bust in Minnesota. What will make that more painful is if he figures it out somewhere else. (See: Gomez, Carlos.)

So how hard would it be to solve this center field issue?

It wouldn't be. A Twins intern, or radio talk-show host, could work a deal for a journeyman center fielder. Presley and Mastroianni were nothing more than temporary employees, space holders, and getting someone like that back isn't difficult.

Only the Twins can answer why they are not doing this.

When you look at how this team operates, it's unclear if they are trying to win now or trying to build something for the future. This is on Gardenhire as well but his job is to win as many games as he can in 2014. He isn't worried about the coming seasons.

The front office should be but right now there are mixed messages coming from key executives at Target Field and that's cause for concern.


Saunders: One can only hope the Wolves' longtime coach knows what he's doing but I'm becoming more concerned each day about whether that's the case.

Reports surfaced Thursday that the Wolves had interviewed former Bulls and Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who wasn't exactly a hit in either of his previous stops. This came after Saunders was turned down by Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo and then believed-to-be-sure-thing Dave Joerger. And that's only three "no thank yous." The list is probably longer.

If Saunders had a notepad with a list of candidates on it, it's clear he's down to about choice No. 8 and that's why it makes no sense that he doesn't simply name himself coach for at least one season.

How undesirable is the Wolves job? Joerger elected to return to one of the NBA's most dysfunctional teams, the Memphis Grizzlies, rather than come home to coach the Wolves.

Why doesn't anyone want this job? That's simple. The teams' superstar, Kevin Love, wants out and has no intention of staying in Minnesota when he can opt-out of his contract next summer.

Saunders, who doesn't have a ton of experience in running an NBA franchise, should be solely focused on getting the best deal for Love, creating as much stability in his franchise as possible and then hiring a coach after the 2014-15 season.

He also needs to get on the same page with Taylor as far as where this franchise is headed. One of the most maddening things about the Wolves this past season was the fact that Saunders and Adelman appeared to have completely different mission statements when it came to what they hoped to accomplish.

It has been 10 years since the Wolves made a playoff appearance and, in order to end that drought, Saunders needs to bring stability and end the chaos. Right now, it doesn't appear that's happening.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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