I wrote this up in the Belanger signing thread, but it got me to thinking.
Belanger's always been known as a really intense guy and has often been called Mr. Negative in the Wild locker room. He blew up when the guys played a practical joke on him for instance.
Anyways, last year there were a lot of rumors of a bad locker room for the Wild, probably because of the bad start and new coaches and player movement. But of course nobody is naming names.
The players who left in free agency were Owen Nolan, Eric Belanger, Derek Boogaard, Andrew Ebbett, Petr Sykora, Kim Johnsson, Shane Hnidy and John Scott. Here's what I see:
Boogaard has always been a beauty in the locker room. Same with Scott, never a bad word about him. Johnsson was always well liked and very quiet, very calm and consistent.
Sykora and Ebbett were barely around enough to cause any problems IMO.
What that leads me to believe is that some combination of Belanger, Nolan, and/or Hnidy were causing some problems in the locker room.
This is all 100% speculation, so I'm not by any means calling them out, but I wonder why a guy who was top 10 in faceoffs and excellent on the PK as well as being a consistent 20+ point guy was signed so late in the season for so little money?
Madden, Staubitz, and Nystrom were brought in to be good locker room guys...and I've said before I think that's an underrated factor in a team's success. When you're in last place in the league six weeks in, a lot of guys will start to quit. When you go on an absolute tear and barely gain points in the standings, some guys will quit.
I don't think it is a stretch at all to assume Belanger and Nolan were problems in the locker room. I know tons of people like to repeat the myth that "Nolan added great veteran presence", but people say that about EVERY NHL player over the age of 35, whether he deserves it or not.
I'm not saying Nolan is a bad guy, but he's very intense, and he was massively unproductive over the last 50 games or so. And he was probably pretty hard on himself and his teammates. That alone would create a lot of tension with other players. Having some over-the-hill guy yell at you to work harder, when he turns the puck over or whiffs every time he gets the puck, you are going to zone out.
I also think it was just a chemistry mix between the different leadership styles of the players. Nolan and Belanger are bit of sourpusses. Maybe they would be great on a team with intense leaders where everybody uses anger as motivation.
But I can see Nolan and Belanger conflicting with guys like Brunette, who try to keep the team focused and up-beat for the most part.
All of this is conjecture but I have a hard time believing that Nolan was bad in the locker room. If he had been, I don't think Fletcher would have kept him at the deadline. Furthermore, Richards/Fletcher had stated that he was great for the younger players. I know you stated that they are going to say that, but, I don't think they would say anything at all had the opposite been true.
Anything is possible, but I know Nolan wasn't a cancer at all in that locker room. As just stated, Richards and Fletcher wouldn't of allowed him to choose his own fate at the deadline if they didn't want him there, nor if Koivu didn't think he was able to do something for the team in some way.
Belanger, Sykora, and Pouliot were the only three I knew of that were just really pissed at their role with the team.
I inferred the same thing about belanger--that he was a negative presence--but I didn't get that about Nolan. Or at least not negative in the same way. I can see him being "bad cop" in his leadership role and other players consistently joked about how they were scared of him, he did his own thing, etc, but considering that Fletcher wanted him around at the deadline (and this year, too, if you read between the lines on that piece about him not being signed by the Sharks) I too have a tough time believing he was a detrimental force.
Belanger, yes. The need for more good locker room guys was probably at least partially due to Nolan's departure. Everyone says what a strong leader Koivu is, and I can see that in a sense but over the years I've gathered that he can be a bit insular (call it "focused" if you want). I think they might have wanted a few more loud people to balance out Koivu's more quiet "example setting" style.