New Wild owner says 'it ain't broke;' won't make big changesby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
The man who brought professional hockey back to Minnesota is passing the torch. Bob Naegele said Thursday he's selling his majority stake in the Wild to Craig Leipold. Leipold is a Wisconsin native who until recently owned a team in Tennessee. But he and other officials went to great lengths Thursday to assure Wild fans that nothing's really changing.
St. Paul, Minn. — Bob Naegele says he remembers the day he met Craig Leipold. It was June 25, 1997, at a Starbucks.
After a coffee and a chat they went to the nearby offices of the NHL, where the league awarded both Nashville and St. Paul new franchises.
Leipold would own the Predators. Naegle, the Wild -- a team that started playing in 2000.
Now their paths are crossing again, with Naegele selling the Wild -- and showing very little reservation about doing so when introducing his successor at the Xcel Energy Center.
"It became apparent to me over the years that here was a guy who embodied the principles that are important to me, important to our fans, important to you and all Minnesotans," said Naegele.
Naegele, a native Minnesotan who now lives in Naples, Florida, has been the majority owner and team chairman for the Wild since they entered the NHL.
Craig Leipold takes the helm of the Minnesota Wild just weeks after the ink dried on his $193 million sale of the Nashville Predators to a group of owners.
Those weeks were filled with rumors that he might come north. Leipold said he lost $70 million on the Predators since he was granted rights to the expansion franchise in 1997.
Leipold joins the Wild as they sit just four points behind first place in their division.
But for any fan expecting, or worried that the new guy will rush in and clean house, Leipold said "Don't worry."
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This ain't broke," said Leipold. "I'm not here to fix anything; I'm here to support the existing franchise."
The sale won't be official for a few months, and terms of the deal were not released. But when it is finalized, Leipold will also own a minor league hockey team in Houston, the Minnesota Swarm lacrosse team, and other businesses that the Wild's parent company owns.
The Xcel Energy Center is not part of the deal, and is still owned by the city of St. Paul.
Leipold spent much of his time during Thursday's press conference trying to relay a sense that he's not an outsider.
Sure, he lives in Racine, Wisconsin, and will keep doing so. But he promises to buy a condo in St. Paul so he can be at just about every home game.
"When you look at a franchise that embodies everything that every franchise wants to be, this is the marquee franchise in our league," said Leipold.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says he isn't worried. Coleman says the city's recent designation by Sports Illustrated as Hockeytown USA is safe.
"It's a huge community asset. But you have to have someone who loves the game, that wants to be a winner, that wants to have a Stanley Cup in town. And also someone that understands how important the fans are and the community support is, and he clearly gets that piece," says Coleman.
For his part, Naegele also notes that he didn't have to sell the team -- it just timed out right. Naegele admits it got him thinking when he heard Leipold was selling the Nashville team.
"Our intent was to return the NHL to Minnesota and ensure its long-term success," says Naegele. "We put that foundation in place and that was our objective. Mission accomplished."
And Naegele will still be at Wild games.
Naegele says he will still be an investor in the team, which he joked means he'll still get a ring if the Wild ever do get the one thing he never got during his time as owner -- the Stanley Cup.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
- All Things Considered, 01/10/2008, 5:20 p.m.