Saturday, May 23, 2009

More on the Fletcher hiring


OK, first off, contrary to popular belief, Chuck Fletcher had little to do with building the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins, at least in terms of draft picks having an impact. He joined the team in July of 2006, after the selections of top-five picks Ryan Whitney (fifth overall in 2002, later turned into Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi), Marc-Andre Fleury (first, 2003), Evgeni Malkin (second, 2004) and Sidney Crosby (first, 2005).

That's not to say he isn't any good at his job or won't be any good in Minnesota. Just that any success attributed to him for this year's Penguins team - and let me again re-emphasize this year's Penguins team is misplaced. Which is not to say any of the past three draft classes or free-agent signings of which he was a part won't be helpful in the future. More on that later.

It's hard to determine exactly how much of an influence Fletcher had in terms of scouting and other things, but it's certainly possible he played a hand in bringing Kunitz and Tangradi to Pittsburgh, since he used to work for Anaheim. That was a move that played a big part in Pittsburgh's turnaround, but I don't know for sure if his fingerprints were on it.

What Fletcher did in his three years that has immediate quantifiable success was continue the Pittsburgh organization's recent trend of having a fairly successful AHL affiliate. As the builder of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Fletcher finished no worse than third in the division (two points out of a three-way tie for first in that season) in his three seasons, including a division title in 2007-08. The Baby Penguins won at least one playoff round each season, reached the Calder Cup finals in 2008 and lost a road Game 7 in the second round this year.

Fletcher's first head coaching hire, Todd Richards, became a top assistant for San Jose, which proceeded to win the President's Trophy. (Though we won't mention how well they did in the postseason.) Richards' success was in addition to the good work he did with WB/S.

Among the signings and draft picks made during Fletcher's time with Pittsburgh with promising futures are Luca Caputi (fourth round, 2007), Casey Pierro-Zabotel (third round, 2007), Dustin Jeffrey (sixth round, 2007), Ben Lovejoy (free agent), Brian Strait (third round, 2006), Keven Veilleux (second round, 2007) and Nathan Moon (fourth round, 2008).

People with whom I've spoken (yes, I have people) say this has the potential to be a significant loss for the Penguins. That means Fletcher is very, very good at what he was doing. Fletcher's replacement, Jason Botterill, appears capable but lacks the experience Fletcher has.

All in all, it looks to be a very good hiring for the Wild and it would appear to be a 180 from the previous management's style.

But a word of caution to fans: No matter how good Fletcher turns out to be, it is somewhat unlikely that he immediately turns the franchise around. He'll need more than one season to do it. He has to get all his people in place and the players he drafts will need time to develop. So I wouldn't exactly be planning the parade route for next June if I were you.

Still, Craig Leipold got the man he wanted and the consensus is Fletcher will do a fine job.


Nick in New York said...

Good stuff, KiPA...thanks for helping us bring some semblance of sanity back to the celebration of his hiring in St. Paul.

KiPA - Kevin in PA said...


To add something else to that "significant loss" for the Pens: That's something that might not be felt for a couple years, because word is Fletcher is really good at identifying and developing young talent. So it might also be a few years before the Wild's identity becomes less Risebrough's and all Fletcher's.