Since the end of the season, what have you been up to?
We’ve partnered with a new team in the National Hockey League (the St. Louis Blues) and that’s exciting. We’ve been working on the parameters of settling the loan agreement. Don Levin and I went to St. Louis and met with the Blues owner (Tom Stillman) and their GM (Doug Armstrong) and we were getting the lay of the land in terms of what players they had or were thinking of re-signing and trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Basically, Gene Ubriaco and myself are going through free agents and players we could potentially sign or players we could sign with St. Louis.
How did the team decide on St. Louis for the partnership? Were there other teams you were considering?
I think it’s the best fit. Any time there was a rumor of the Canucks going to Abbotsford or the Calgary Flames going to Utica (NY), it felt like every two weeks, NHL teams called. We are the premier franchise. The city of Chicago is so great and the way our organization is run, the way the players are treated, our practice facility, our arenas, everything combined, teams want their players here. It was a good deal both ways. The loan agreement was great but I think the relationship is a key part. They have the same philosophy as us. They are easier to get along with and very trustworthy of us than others may have been. We felt good about the deal and they did too. They want our team to win and develop at the same time.
During the season when you were getting calls about the agreement change, was that distracting to you in your role at all?
A little bit, because basically Vancouver never really said anything was going on. They said things were happening but there was nothing concrete until they bought the Peoria Rivermen franchise and then our agreement was effectively over. They didn’t say they were coming in to renew, so in so many words they didn’t “break up” with us. We put a lot of teams on hold and when teams came calling we told them the parameters we wanted from a loan agreement and we scared some teams off and others stayed in the mix. It was there for a long time; we knew almost the whole season we’d be making a change. The rumors of Vancouver to Abbotsford started last August. But it wasn’t much of a distraction for me. You just take your calls and move forward.
The Wolves run differently than a lot of AHL franchises. How would you describe the process of what you do here?
I think we give the player the assets they need to develop. We treat them first class, like NHL players, we give them the practice facilities, and we give them a staff unlike any other. We have a skating coach, a goalie coach, and a strength and conditioning coach. We give them every asset they need to succeed and develop. The biggest thing with our organization is we want to develop and teach players how to win. A lot of players go through their whole careers playing for losing franchises. We feel you develop players by winning. Any team that played on our championship teams got an extra twenty games of experience in the playoffs. Ultimately we want the players to succeed as individuals but also succeed as a team and experience winning a championship.
Is the free agent process starting now?
I’m taking a lot of calls from agents, going through a lot of lists and putting the puzzle together. It’s also about talking to St. Louis and finding out who they’re going to sign and trying to look into the crystal ball and look forward to who could potentially come to us, through the draft or juniors. Who might be in St. Louis and who might come down to us and who they might sign as free agents. That’s the scary part right now is the unknown. I really don’t know what we have. When I find out everything they have I can start to fill the spots, because if they’re going to send us eight defensemen I’m not going to go out and sign defensemen. A big part of this is making a lot of lists and abiding by the league rules and figuring out the five veteran spots and going from there.
When can the team start actively signing players to contracts?
Right now. Anyone under an American League deal is fair game. Anyone under a National Hockey League deal is July 5th. We have a lot of guys on the radar, especially with the change of loan agreement and organizations, you’re always looking to get better and I think the relationship between us and St. Louis we want to work together to sign the right players. There’s a wish list and hopefully we get some of them.
You have had a few weeks to reflect on last season. Looking ahead to next season, how do you feel about what’s ahead?
First of all, we had a good enough team to make the playoffs. We had to deal with a lot of transactions though. We had 30+ players who scored at least one goal for the Wolves and that’s unheard of. We had a lot of players miss time because of injuries. Patrick Mullen lasted four periods for us and he was supposed to be our quarterback on the power play. Eddie Lack, Taylor Matson, they were both gone early. Brett Sterling missed 25 games. A lot of players missed a lot of games. It was tough that way. I don’t think we ever had a set line-up on a given night. I still think we were good enough to make the playoffs, we just didn’t play well enough in our division. We were 2-10 against Milwaukee and 1-7 against Grand Rapids. Take a few of those losses away and we’re in the playoffs. It’s frustrating. I know all the players look back and say “what if” because we had a lot of losses where we were winning going into the third period. I’d like to see those things never happen again and it drives you to work harder.
How much control do you have over the new coaches who will be coming in?
That was one of the parameters of our agreement with St. Louis. We wanted some of the control over coaching because we haven’t had that the past two seasons. We weren’t part of the selection process and that was tough, one of the few tough situations with Vancouver. That’s not to say our coaching staff was bad, it was just we didn’t get our say on who was coming in and who was helming our franchise. This year we get to pick the head coach. The other two coaches who were in Peoria (Dave Allison and Scott Allen) will be coming in to fill those spots so it will be a different kind of dynamic. Again, the coaching fraternity says everyone will get along and everyone wants to win.
As far as the head coach goes, we don’t know yet. I think a lot of coaches are assuming that the coaches from Peoria are coming in and we aren’t hiring anyone else and there are no openings. I haven’t really advertised any opening. Any time there is a position here I get inundated with resumes, because if you’re not coaching in the NHL you want to be coaching in Chicago. It’s been fairly quiet and that’s kind of nice. We’re still going over possible candidates.
It can be difficult to indoctrinate a player into how an organization runs. Would you say it’s easier or harder to do with a coach?
I think it’s easier for a coach to come in. When a new coach comes in, I tell them we will give you everything you need to win. Everything is given so they don’t have to hold back. All coaches coach a little differently and need different things and take a different angle. We give them every asset and try to give them the best players available. We want the coach to focus on putting the players through their system and teach them the best they can and we do anything they need to help with that.
Do you have a timeline for when you want a head coach hired?
I’d like to have one two weeks ago. But right now, I’m trying to find someone who is transparent, who will give their opinion on players and who really takes this team as their own and they’ll use the assets and expertise they have, whether it’s with the power play, penalty kill, whatever; I want them to be as thoroughly involved as possible. We give them all the players we can and it’s up to the coach to put it all together.
What’s the biggest jump you hope the Wolves make from the 2012-13 season into 2013-14?
There’s no way I could pick just one. I want us to be more offensive minded, and play to win, not play to not lose. That was a big thing, and why we would lose going into the third period. I think we lost five straight games to Milwaukee when we were winning in the last five minutes. Our specialty teams need to improve, on the power play and penalty kill especially.
State of The Pack returns on Tuesday, May 21. Stay tuned to our Facebook page to submit your questions for Wendell.