Somewhere in the arena, taking in the scrimmage with his lieutenants and charges, General Manager Chuck Fletcher surveyed his empire- not only does the scrimmage represent the future of the organization and "the vision", but the butts in the seats (more than double the attendance than last year) also represent a recharged belief in the job he's done. See, the week kicked off with a presser, introducing not just the greatest free agency coup in Minnesota sports history, but also in the National Hockey League's annals of time- 196 million dollars spent on the two top free agents, in their primes, who should finish their playing careers here; Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.
Two guys who not just make Minnesota a better team (subject to debate from the fancy stats crowd of course) but also immediately bolster the team's profile locally and nationally.
|Photo Courtesy of The Star Tribune|
Forget about the marquee signings for a second- faced with a daunting task of essentially building a self-sustaining organizational model after inheriting a franchise that was destitute in just about every facet imaginable, Fletcher and his Merry Band of Hooligans have managed to turn a parcel of scorched Earth into The Flowing Gardens of Babylon. While the word "rebuilding" was never uttered, he essentially had to find a balance of making the on-ice product competitive without forsaking the very philosophy of building within that he instituted shortly after his arrival in Minnesota.
There is no doubt there's been some mixed results, but one can't fault him for making an effort to carry on both tasks at the same time, something his predecessor never really did. There's always been a caveat to his tenure here- while he's largely been judged by what is seen 82 times a season, and 82 games is all it has been considering the playoffs in Minnesota are what pepper local television sets from Late April on; there's always been this underlying thought that the franchise still isn't what he wants it to be, or where it should be. The cycle isn't complete, that the caterpillar isn't quite a butterfly yet- his initial draft class wasn't even from his "guys"- the scouting staff were holdovers from the previous regime. Even then, there was jack squat in the cupboard that didn't allow in-house competition, much less assets that could be used in trades.
The crowd of 6500 watched the assets scrimmage, two full rosters of Fletcher's prospects capturing the imaginations of the lower bowl, many of whom still on a sugar rush of seeing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in Wild sweaters for the next 13 years. Suddenly this team has the look of a playoff team, and all of the kids are turning pro and will fight for spots for the next X amount of years. The caterpillar is now a butterfly.
With the proceedings that went down on the Fourth of July, the caveat that came with discussion of Chuck Fletcher's tenure here in Minnesota disappeared; no longer can the sins of his predecessor be used as a counterpoint to the failings on ice, and no longer is there a wait for an injection of youth into the system.
Its now playoffs or bust. Period.