If the Wild want sustained success, they need not look forward to the Nashville Predators as a franchise model to emulate.
Here’s what Nashville has done right:
Drafting and Development
Their leading scorer in 2009-10, Patric Hornqvist was the last pick in the 2005 draft.
Pekka Rinne, their current goaltender, was an eighth round pick in 2004 (there no longer is an eighth round).
Shea Weber, a defensemen who has scored 16 goals in the past two seasons and netted 23 in 2008-09, will become a prized free agent next season. He was drafted in the second round of the 2003 draft.
Consistency at the Coaching Position
The Preds have had only one coach in franchise history, Barry Trotz.
Nashville has made the playoffs seven of the last eight seasons, despite playing in a division with three storied franchises—the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.
During that time they’ve lost their first round picks from 2000-02—Scottie Upshall, Scott Hartnell and Dan Hamhuis.
Last season they made the second round for the first time in franchise history. Nashville joined the league in 1998, two years before the Wild.
They have generated enough hockey interest in Nashville to avoid the sale of the team to Jim Balsille, who wanted to move the team to Hamilton, Ont.
They set attendance records last season and, as evidence of fan loyalty, the Nashville faithful cheered their team in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, a game they lost to the Vancouver Canucks. That’s recognition of long-term effort, not short-term results—a sign that the Preds are relevant in the Music City.
They believe their team can win.
Now, imagine the Predators in a hockey-mad market like Minnesota. They could increase payroll (Nashville is always at the cap floor) because of the big crowds at games and keep those first round picks, offer a big contract to Shea Weber and probably go out and get a much-needed scorer or two.
They’d be perennial contenders.
I understand, the Wild have two significant achievements that Nashville doesn’t: they’ve won their division (2007-08) and have been to the Western Conference Finals (2003).
However, the team has not made the playoffs since winning the Northwest Division in 2007-08.
They play against historically-significant teams in hockey markets, but Colorado won their Stanley Cups in 1996, when the Wild didn’t exist, and 2001, when the team was in it’s infancy.
Calgary’s roster has gotten old and the team hasn’t been good for a while.
Edmonton fell to the league cellar after losing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.
Vancouver has been a strong team, but nothing like the Red Wings or even the Blackhawks.
The Wild have had some great homegrown players, but has relied on outside sources for most of their talent.
Mikko Koivu, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Schultz and Pierre-Marc Bouchard all came from the farm system and the team developed a scorer in Marian Gaborik and a blue line threat in Brent Burns.
Gabby is in New York and Burns is in San Jose, however, and the team’s two stars from the 2007-08 season, Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra, were imported and left as soon as the came.
Matt Cullen, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Guillaume Latendresse and Marek Zidlicky will play a significant role on this year’s team. Every one of those players came from outside the Wild system.
Minnesota is working on building up the farm system, but I don’t see talents like Nashville has in Jonathon Blum or Colin Wilson.
Successful teams across the NHL use homegrown talent. San Jose and Detroit haven’t had the luxury of picking first like the upstart Kings, Blackhawks and Penguins have, but continue to win with homegrown teams. Buffalo looks like a contender and a majority of their roster came from the farm system.
The Wild, like every team in Minnesota, has to rely on drafting-and-development to build their team and trades to supplement their talent. Free agency is tough to rely on because the bright lights of New York, Boston, Chicago and now Los Angeles enamor 26-year-old superstars.
Since losing the North Stars in 1993, Minnesota cannot rely on historical significance (or, really, a history of success) to woo talent to the State of Hockey.
Finally, the team needs stability at the coaching position in the post-Lemaire era. They’ve got to put their faith in Mike Yeo and give him a team to work around.
In order to succeed in the in the post-Gaborik, post-Lemaire era, the Wild must use the Predators as a franchise model.
If they do, the Wild will be the class of the NHL for years to come.
Tom Schreier covers the Wild for MinnesotaSNN.
Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.