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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Craig Leipold 'Wildly' Rewarded for Loyal Service to the Predators

A few days ago the Minnesota Wild were officially taken over by former Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold and super-investor Phil Falcone. Since then, Leipold has been drawing some heady praise from his NHL brethren, who are ecstatic to have him back in the fold. Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman are chief among them. Jacobs lauds his commitment, admitting that "you won't find a more dedicated owner than [Leipold]." Bettman for his part, feels that the Wild "couldn't be handing this franchise over to better owners," especially when you have an owner that is so "passionate about the game" and is "great when it comes to league issues."

A lot of people have had mixed feelings about this sale. Many wondered whether the purchase of the Wild was done in an above board manner, or whether Leipold was simply given the franchise, as a reward, for his "loyal service" to the league in the past (particularly for refusing to sell to Jim Balsille). While I'm sure there are no shortage of intriguing schemes that go on at NHL headquarters, I'm doubtful he was given the franchise purely for that reason. That answer is only partially correct.

As a businessman who was a partner in the league for nine years previously, Leipold is someone the owners know well. They saw him go into his pockets to finance a venture in '98 that had little chance of succeeding and no shortage of obstacles. Unlike many owners, they saw him heap much of the responsibility for the success of the franchise on his own shoulders, as he decided to make a second home in the city to run the team. He took it upon himself to let the fans know that they were appreciated, often by greeting fans and thanking them for coming to games. They saw him hire a General Manager fresh off the unemployment line, and loyally stick by him when many questioned his wisdom, as the losses mounted and the unproven coach took his lumps. They witnessed his patience, as the franchise painstakingly developed its draft picks and grew from within. They saw him continue to finance the team even as the team lost tens of millions, unwavering in his commitment to the franchise and city. They got a first hand glimpse of his passion for winning as he opened up the coffers yet again, this time to make trades and sign top free agents, despite the fact that the team was in dire straits financially. They watched his commitment to the city, even in the end, deciding not to fight the NHL and take the lower bid to keep the team in Nashville. That is why I believe they approved this sale, that is why I believe that Bob Naegele sold in the first place, despite having no immediate imperative to do so. What better owner, what better person, to run the franchise?

Praise from a Nashville Observer:

Another Leipold Admirer:

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