ST. PAUL, Minn. – Craig Leipold officially took over as owner of the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, completing the purchase of the team from Bob Naegele in the middle of the first-round playoff series against Colorado.
“It’s been a long process,” Leipold said at a press conference. “Lots of signatures the last couple days. We were hoping to get it done last week and didn’t get done. It just kept dragging out and dragging out.
“I’m just thrilled to death. This is a dream, to be part of a hockey program like this in a market like this. It’s probably going to hit me when I’m on my way back home.”
Leipold lives in Racine, Wis., and probably didn’t do himself any favours with Minnesota sports fans when he said taking over for Naegele, who has owned the Wild since its inception, was like Aaron Rodgers taking over at quarterback for Brett Favre.
“I feel little bit like Aaron right now,” Leipold said. “Bob’s going to be a real hard act to follow.”
Favre is roundly despised in Minnesota by Vikings fans who were tormented too often by his late-game heroics, but they will likely recognize Leipold’s effort to pay Naegele what he views as the highest of compliments.
Naegele will stay on as a minority partner in the ownership group, Leipold said. He is also bringing in Phil Falcone, a 46-year-old native of Chisolm who played hockey at Harvard, as a general partner.
Leipold declined to discuss specifics of the deal, but did say he will own 51 per cent of the team and there is no immediate succession plan for Falcone to take over the franchise, as has been speculated.
“It’s an interesting little transition that could happen some day,” Leipold said. “But I’m not getting into this franchise right now with the anticipation of selling it within five or six years.”
The NHL’s Board of Governors unanimously approved the transaction, and Leipold said he doesn’t have any immediate plans for sweeping changes.
“This organization is well-prepared and well-positioned for the future,” he said. “And I really do believe in the saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
“This is not a broken franchise. This is a marquee franchise. What I hope to do is to continue the success this franchise has had.”
Leipold said he would like to keep general manager Doug Risebrough, who has been mentioned as a possible replacement in Toronto, on board.
“Doug’s a winner, and I really like Doug,” Leipold said. “I’ve always respected Doug. So I can tell you it’s a high, high, high, priority keeping him here.”
Leipold, the former owner of the Nashville Predators, planned to return home to Racine on Thursday and will return to St. Paul on Friday night to watch Game 2 of the playoffs. His Wild trail the Avalanche 1-0.
“I don’t think we expected to win it in four games,” Leipold said. “Home ice doesn’t mean that much any more to this. These are two teams that are warriors, and we’re close to every team in the NHL. It will be a lucky bounce that will probably dictate how three or four of these games go.”