It's being reported everywhere: Bob Naegele has sold his controlling interest in the Minnesota Wild to former Nashville owner Craig Leipold.
This makes me nervous. Despite all evidence about Leipold - he's a well-respected hockey guy, he did everything he could to make hockey work in the silliest of all new NHL markets, he's from Racine, Wisconsin - I'm still nervous.
Winning aside, the way the Wild have been operated from Day 1 has been absolutely unimpeachable. The second NHL team in the Twin Cities learned from the mistakes of the first, and has made the right move for Minnesota hockey in almost every circumstance. In the ten years since the expansion team was awarded to St. Paul, the Wild have made every effort to become part of the fabric of what they call the "State of Hockey," one of the great marketing slogans ever dreamed up.
I like the way the Wild are run. And so a new owner makes me nervous. No matter how well an organization is doing, the natural tendency of every new leader is to put his or her own stamp on the organization - to tweak and to fiddle and to make things even better. It's a fact of life; every one of us thinks we can do things better than the guy who just left, and I'm guessing that Leipold is no different.
That said, people do say some nice things about him. Said Barry Trotz, Predators coach, to the Star Tribune in December:
"Craig's a real quality guy. He loves the sport. He loves the passion of the game. He's very passionate about the game of hockey and trying to improve it," Trotz said. "He's definitely not an absentee owner, but he's not an owner that's in the locker room and making decisions. He hires what he feels is very good people to run the organization and doesn't interfere."That sounds like just about what we want, right? Except the Wild already have plenty of good people to run the organization...
Then again, Naegele might be staying - his open letter to fans mentioned that Leipold's asked him to stay on as a partner. GM Doug Risebrough seems excited: "We turn with excitement to Craig for our future. We appreciate his commitment to continuing to build a team with a winning tradition and the shared goal of bringing the Stanley Cup to Minnesota." And Leipold's certainly saying the right things:
“I love the sport of hockey and am very excited to continue the tradition of Wild hockey here in Minnesota – the State of Hockey. I have admired Bob Naegele and the entire Wild organization since the first puck dropped in 2000. It is a true privilege to become part of the organization and the hockey community in Minnesota. I want to thank Bob for this unique opportunity, and I am pleased that he will consider continuing as my partner in the organization."Sure, it's all press-release-speak, but still.
Here's the upshot. I have no reason to be nervous. Leipold's a hockey guy, not a Red McCombs-type. He's got money to burn - his father-in-law owns S.C. Johnson Wax, notable for making half the products in your house. And if he tried to make hockey work in Nashville, there can be almost no doubt he plans to keep the Wild in the best hockey market in the United States.
But when everything has been run so well up to this point - then this is change, and change is bad.
At least, it makes me nervous.