ST. PAUL -- Even though the new boss of the Minnesota Wild has hoisted the Stanley Cup five times in his 25 years in professional hockey, Wild fans are unlikely to see the Stanley Cup paraded down West Seventh Street anytime soon.
Doug Risebrough, general manager of the expansion NHL team that begins play next season, won four Stanley Cups as a player with the Montreal Canadiens and one as an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames.
But he knows that his winning pedigree doesn't necessarily translate into success for the Wild, so he's appropriately lowered his expectations.
''It's a lot of work and you've got to find fun in some of the little things and stay focused to get to the right end,'' said Risebrough, who had a reputation as a smart and feisty player during his 13-year playing career that ended in 1987.
''I think you have to go in with the idea in an expansion situation that we have to inch forward. There's not going to be many leaps,'' Risebrough said.
Wild officials won't publicly admit they have no chance at making the playoffs, but reality could hit hard when the 2000-2001 season starts in October.
Since the NHL went from six teams to 12 for the 1967-68 season, the best finish by an expansion team came in 1993, when the Anaheim Mighty Ducks finished with a 33-46-5 record, good for fourth place in the Pacific Division. The 1974-75 Washington Capitals were the worst NHL expansion team ever, at 8-67-5.
Off the ice, there are no low expectations for the Wild's marketing and attendance.
The first faceoff in their as-yet unnamed and unfinished $130 million arena is about nine months away, and team officials are promising an extraordinary hockey building.
The arena features open concourses that allow fans to see the ice while waiting in line to buy food, a massive glass wall on one side with an exterior view that include the state Capitol, and clear sightlines even from the upper deck.
''It seems to be on time and on budget. We've still got a lot of miles to cover, but it's going to be a terrific facility,'' team president Tod Leiweke said.
If the arena goes over $130 million -- $65 million comes from an interest-free loan by the state, $30 million from St. Paul and $35 million from the team -- the Wild have to pay the overruns.
Fans seem to have embraced the NHL's return to Minnesota for the first time since the North Stars left in 1993.
The Wild have 13,500 season ticket deposits of $100 each and are converting those into payments for season ticket packages. The team is required by the league to sell 12,000 season ticket packages by mid-April.
All 74 of the team's luxury suites, which cost between $75,000 and $140,000, sold out in weeks.
The Wild has slowly been hiring staff since the franchise was awarded for $80 million to a group headed by Robert Naegele Jr., whose money came from his family's billboard company and from selling Rollerblade Inc.
Risebrough, hired last summer, spent much of the fall lining up a group of pro and amateur scouts who for months have been watching hockey games from Manitoba to Des Moines to Seattle to Prague.
Risebrough said he didn't tell his scouts to seek out players with specific hockey skills. Instead, he hired people whom he said have hockey opinions he respects: Hall of Fame defenseman Guy Lapointe; former NHL head coaches Pierre Page, Terry Simpson and Glen Sonmor; and other experienced scouts.
Risebrough himself spent the last three seasons evaluating pro talent as vice president of hockey operations for the Edmonton Oilers and has kept his eye in since joining the Wild. Team officials say he flew more than 54,000 miles in his first three months.
He said if he could create an ideal player from scratch, he would build someone with outstanding skating skills -- since fans in Minnesota appreciate good, hard, fast skaters -- and a flexible, but passionate athlete.
''I think the common theme is the players have to have emotion about the game, passion about the game,'' Risebrough said.
The Wild will try to find such players through the expansion draft, choosing from players existing teams leave unprotected.
Once the team is built in the expansion and regular drafts, both in June, Risebrough's next major task will be to hire a coach. The head coach will be the team's public face, and Risebrough has heard persistent questions from fans wondering why he won't hire a coach until summer, just a few months before the season begins.
''To hire a coach for the purpose of the expansion draft is not necessary, because he'll have very little input,'' Risebrough said. ''Coaches only know their own players and how to coach.''
The Wild's decision not to hire a coach until summer shouldn't be a problem, said Don Waddell, general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers.
''When I got hired, I said the most important thing this franchise is going to do is hire a coach, but it's not time-sensitive,'' Waddell said. ''The most important thing we needed to do is scout players because if you didn't have players, you could have the best coach in the world and it wouldn't matter.''
Waddell hired Curt Fraser as coach last July 14, three weeks after the Thrashers built their roster through the draft.
Risebrough won't say who he's considering as coach except to say emphatically it won't be him. Risebrough was coach/GM of the Flames for the first 64 games in 1991-92 before giving up the coaching job.
''I have yet to see it working in today's hockey because you're one or the other. You can be a coach/GM, but you're either a coach or a GM. You're not both,'' he said.
Risebrough may not be the right man to coach the Wild, but his former boss thinks Risebrough has the right makeup to build the Wild into a successful team.
''I've always been very high on Doug. He's loyal, industrious, intelligent. I think they made a wise choice when they gave him a job in Minneapolis. He's a first-rate guy,'' said Glen Sather, general manager of the Edmonton Oilers.
Sather, a teammate of Risebrough's in 1974-75 with the Montreal Canadiens, said Risebrough's hockey skills should translate well to being a general manager.
''The training that you learn playing for a great hockey team is the kind of training that's transferable to just about everything in life,'' Sather said. ''Perseverance, dedication. You're part of a great team, but you've got to sacrifice things to make it successful. And he knows that. He's willing to sacrifice.''
E-mail Jason Wolf at jwolf(at)ap.org
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.