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Wild GM Chuck Fletcher plans to have a head coach before draft

MINNEAPOLIS - Chuck Fletcher is confident he'll hire a head coach for the Wild by the June 26 draft. In the two weeks since he was introduced as Minnesota's new general manager, Fletcher has been more focused on other matters.

But fret not, Wild fans. Fletcher has a head start on this. He comes from the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins, where he and his boss went through the coaching change process just this year.

"I went through a pretty good internal review of what we were looking for," Fletcher said in a conference call with reporters Friday afternoon. "I feel like I've spent a lot of time the past few months assessing candidates and speaking to people. I don't think it's going to take a lot of time once I can devote all my time and attention to the matter."

Fletcher has spent most of his first days in charge speaking with existing staff and plotting strategy with team scouts for the upcoming draft and ensuing free agent and trading period. He said he'll be more aggressive toward the coach search process next week.

Fletcher won't talk about specifics. But the Star Tribune, citing unidentified sources, reported he has interviewed San Jose Sharks assistant coach Todd Richards. Two other accomplished NHL head coaches, Peter Laviolette and Craig MacTavish, are currently out of work.

Cross Mario Tremblay off the list, though. The lead assistant under coach Jacques Lemaire during the franchise's first nine years, Tremblay was told by Fletcher last week he's not a candidate to succeed Lemaire. Fletcher praised Tremblay's work with the Wild, but said the two of them agreed he would leave now and not wait to be considered as an assistant by the new coach.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero fired coach Michel Therrien on Feb. 15 and called up Dan Bylsma from their top minor league affiliate to replace him. Fletcher was Shero's assistant for three years in Pittsburgh, which is currently playing the Detroit Red Wings for the Stanley Cup.

Bylsma's success bodes well for Richards, who also fits in the up-and-comer category. He just finished his first season with the Sharks. Richards was a head coach in the American Hockey League for two years prior and an assistant in the AHL before that. He was a defenseman for the University of Minnesota in the late 1980s and played briefly for the Hartford Whalers.

Whoever the new coach is, he'll surely bring a different look than Lemaire's conservative system. Fletcher wants an aggressive, physical forecheck with a faster tempo, a style used by the Penguins and several other teams.

Marian Gaborik would fit well with that, though his return is uncertain.

Fletcher said he had an introductory conversation with the free agent-to-be, but declined to comment about a new contract for the star right wing.

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