ST. PAUL, Minn. – Doug Risebrough ended his run as the Minnesota Wild’s general manager with pride and confidence, plus hope his work toward shaping the franchise’s foundation would be recognized decades down the road.
Fired last week by owner Craig Leipold, Risebrough said he was comfortable with the situation and respected the decision to end his nearly 10-year tenure with the team.
Still, Risebrough said he was “shocked” when Leipold entered his office to inform him his contract wouldn’t be renewed.
“There wasn’t a lot of discussion about it, which I was fine with. And I’m moving on, and he’s going to find a new general manager,” said Risebrough, who spoke to the media Tuesday for the first time since his firing.
Leipold said last week he made up his mind a month before the regular season ended, and missing the playoffs this spring was irrelevant to the decision.
Risebrough said he believed he had an open relationship with Leipold, who bought the team in January 2008, but insinuated his firing meant there wasn’t a long-term fit between them.
Asked whether Leipold wanted him to shed big salaries at the trade deadline last month to maintain space under the salary cap for goalie Niklas Backstrom and forward Marian Gaborik, Risebrough paused.
“Those are privy conversations. I’m not leaning one way or another with that answer. I’m just not going to answer,” he said.
Risebrough proudly pointed to cap flexibility he created and promised the Wild would be better next season with rebounds by injured players and others who slumped.
“I didn’t always make the right decisions, but I did them for the right reasons. And I feel good about that,” he said, wishing well the franchise he joined in 1999 – a year before taking the ice as an expansion team – and gained the title of president in 2003.
Assistant general manager Tom Lynn handled contract negotiations, but Gaborik’s uncertain future – on a conservatively managed and coached club always needing more goals – represents one order of business left unfinished on Risebrough’s desk.
Gaborik and Risebrough ran into each other at the arena recently and bid each other a cordial goodbye.
The only remaining player from the inaugural season will become a free agent on July 1, Gaborik turned down a lucrative offer last September and got hurt soon after.
Negotiations never continued, and Gaborik’s desire is to test the market.
“I’ve always had tough times signing him, but I’ve always had a good relationship with him,” Risebrough insisted.
Relations with Gaborik’s agent, Ron Salcer, were another story.
“That was not good. That was not good,” Risebrough said, claiming he never once spoke with Salcer after he began representing Gaborik nearly six years ago.
Risebrough didn’t elaborate on his reason. Salcer, who is also upset with the Wild for allowing defenceman Brent Burns to play several weeks with post-concussion symptoms, didn’t return a phone call Tuesday afternoon.
Risebrough defended the team’s handling of the injury.
“Everybody was dealing with it in an appropriate way,” he said.
Expressing energy to continue his career, the 55-year-old Risebrough – who won four Stanley Cups as a player with the Montreal Canadiens and another as an assistant coach for the Calgary Flames – declined to comment on his interest in the vacant GM position with the Colorado Avalanche.
He’s off for a three-week vacation with his family and has a two-week solo canoe trip planned after that.
He’ll miss observing the rhythms of the games from his perch in the Xcel Energy Centre press box, especially the customers who created the atmosphere.
“To come to a place like this where hockey fans instinctively know what you’re trying to do, appreciate what you’re trying to do and debate what you’re trying to do, it was just a really fulfilling experience,” Risebrough said, fondly remembering the 2003 run to the Western Conference finals and the journeymen players who enjoyed career seasons under coach Jacques Lemaire’s watch.
While acknowledging his no-stone-left-unturned style rankled others in the organization, Risebrough hoped his successor would leave the staff intact.
“They’re all really good people. They’re all really good at what they do,” he said.