ST. PAUL, Minn. — Craig Leipold was relaxing in his owner’s suite at the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday night, preparing for the Minnesota Wild’s preseason game against the St. Louis Blues and said his anxiety was a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.
It was the preseason, after all. When Minnesota starts its season Oct. 3 at home against the Los Angeles Kings, Leipold will be back in his suite at center ice and said his anxiousness will ratchet up to a 10 on the same scale. Leipold lives with every emotional sway during the Wild’s games and says he’s unable to sleep when he gets home, win or lose.
Leipold believes his restlessness this season will be caused more by excitement than reliving missed opportunities.
“I’m asked a million times a day it seems like, ‘how’s the team looking, how do you feel about it?’,” Leipold said. “Fact is, I agree with (general manager Chuck Fletcher) when he tells me, ‘this is the best team we’ve ever had here.'”
Leipold, who bought the team in 2009, made a big investment in the on-ice product last year when he signed the two biggest free agents available in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Adding Parise and Suter — and Jason Pominville at the trade deadline last year — to captain Mikko Koivu has given Minnesota the blue-chip veteran players to go with a promising group of young players like Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Mathew Dumba, Mikael Granlund and newly-acquired Nino Niederreiter.
It’s the type of roster Leipold, who previously owned the Nashville Predators, envisioned when he bought the team and sent Fletcher on the mission to turn the franchise into a perennial winner.
“This is how we wanted to build it, it really is,” Leipold said. “First of all you have to have a lot of young guys because in order to afford the marquee players, you have to have a large number of young guys that are still in their rookie contracts, and that’s how you build the team.
“I would say, last year was probably the first of our window and I think we’ve got a 10-year window ahead of us where we’re going to be a solid team and we feel great about our future.”
The Wild have veteran leaders and young depth in the organization now. Leipold even described some of the players assigned to the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild as “NHL players.”
Minnesota returns its goaltending tandem after re-signing Niklas Backstrom to a three-year contract at less money yearly than he was making previously.
“We knew he wanted to be here and he knew that we wanted him here,” Leipold said. “So, it was just getting the number right. It wasn’t hard. It happened quickly and we were thrilled that he signed.”
Leipold said the organization is working towards improvements to the arena that he hopes to put in place over the new few years and add to the fan experience, and is still hopeful for a new practice facility.
He said the excitement for this season extends beyond the on-ice product and his usual fervor. He sees increased support from ticket buyers and corporate sponsors.
“Season tickets have been really strong, new tickets have been good,” Leipold said. “Corporate community, this is one of our best years we’ve ever had, maybe our best by the time it’s over with and a lot of new sponsors.”
If Leipold gets wound up for every moment of an 82-game season, imagine what it was like last fall when he finally had Parise and Suter in the fold and no games to play because of the lockout. Leipold called the impact of the lockout “all emotional” and “wear and tear” on everybody following the immense buildup of excitement from the summer signings and the anticipation of the fans.
When the games started, Minnesota made the playoffs for the first time in five years, but didn’t live up to the expectations the Parise and Suter signings draped on the organization. A team comprised of nearly 50 percent new players endured its struggles and snuck into the playoffs only to lose 4-1 in the opening series to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
With a full training camp this season, the Wild have time to come together.
“I think we were handicapped a little bit by the newness of the players,” Leipold said. “We don’t have that now. So, that excuse is gone. We’ve had a great preseason and a great camp, a great camp. And they’re all eager to get on the ice.”