Jackalopes Dismiss GM Mindegaard, Coach Dahlgren

The Dakota Jackalopes are likely in for an offseason of change.  After the league assumed control of the team in midseason, they will have a new owner next year.  They will almost certainly be playing in a new city under a new name.  Many of the team’s players might be headed elsewhere.  It’s hard to know exactly what the Jackalopes look like when they take the ice in 2021.  But on Saturday, the organization took their first steps toward a fresh start, parting ways with GM Paul Mindegaard and coach Flim Dahlgren.  Both GM and coach were at the end of their contracts, and the organization put out a press release calling the departures a “mutual decison.”

Mindegaard, a South Dakota native, has been in charge of the Dakota franchise since the SHL’s beginning.  He won some plaudits in the early years for constructing a competitive team that, while not quite as strong as the reigning powers in Anchorage and Michigan, played entertaining hockey.  According to team sources, however, those years were marred by a power struggle between Mindegaard and then-coach Harold Engellund.  Mindegaard prevailed when Engellund was fired after the 2017 season.  In the long run, however, the winner may have been Engellund; the coach was hired by the Seattle Sailors (now the Portland Bluebacks), and is about to make his second straight postseason trip.

The Jackalopes, meanwhile, slowly disintegrated as then-owner Roger Scott grew tired of the team’s mounting losses and directed a reduction in payroll.  Mindegaard wound up presiding over a series of trades that sent virtually all of the team’s high-salaried players packing, and Dakota sank from a promising would-be contender to a rebuilding basket case.  According to team sources, the primary reasons that Mindegaard kept his job were his close relationship with Scott and his willingness to avoid speaking publicly about the team’s financial issues.

“It’s been an honor to be GM here for as long as I have,” Mindegaard said.  “I’m sorry that we were never able to bring a Vandy here, but this has been a great experience.”

Flim Dahlgren

Dahlgren became coach of the Jackalopes in 2018, succeeding Engellund.  In three seasons with the team, he compiled an 63-110-19 record.  In spite of Dakota’s undistinguished performance, Dahlgren earned praise for mentoring his young players, insulating the team from the off-ice distractions regarding financial woes, and for his philosophical musings in post-game press conferences.  He managed to keep the team competitive even after the craziness around this year’s trading deadline, when the Jackalopes attempted to trade stars Ryan Airston and Arkady Golynin and saw the league veto the deals.

At the end of last season, there was a wave of rumors that Dahlgren was considering resignation due to the team’s seemingly endless salary-slashing trades.  But both team and coach vehemently denied those rumors, and he stayed with the team.

“With all the craziness going on around the team and all the changes on the roster, things could have really gone south in the locker room,” said Airston.  “But that didn’t happen, and Coach Dahlgren really deserves the credit for that.”

It is considered likely that Dahlgren will be considered for most or all of the coaching openings this offseason.  Other teams that will be seeking new bench bosses include the Michigan Gray Wolves (after Ron Wright resigned in the middle of the season) and the New York Night (who fired Nick Foster last month).  The Washington Galaxy are reportedly considering whether to dismiss Peter James; for now, the team says that it is “in the evaluation process.”

At this time, the Jackalopes are the only team with an opening in the GM’s office.

Interview of the Week: Flim Dahlgren

This week’s interview is with Dakota Jackalopes coach Flim Dahlgren.

SHL Digest: We’re here today with Flim Dahlgren, who is in his third season as coach of the Dakota Jackalopes.  Coach Dahlgren, thanks for speaking with us.

Flim Dahlgren

Flim Dahlgren: It feels at times as though interviews are my primary job duty.  But I’m pleased to speak with you.

SHLD: You’ve earned a reputation as a coach with a philosophical streak, the kind of person who can turn a routine season-in-review question into a musing on the meaning of winning and losing.  Do you think that reputation helps you in working with a young team?

FD: I find this reputation somewhat hilarious, since it is largely based on an interview in which I was in a rather odd mood.

SHLD: Fair enough.  But your postgame press conferences are generally considered more eloquent and interesting than most.

FD: I also find it hilarious that any player or coach whose comments deviate from Standard Athlete Cliches #1 through 100 is promptly termed a “deep thinker.”  I don’t consider myself a particularly deep thinker, but I do find the Standard Athlete Cliches fairly tiresome.  If I repeated them after every game, I would bore myself to sleep.

SHLD: Let’s talk about the Jackalopes, and the ever-present rumors of financial trouble.

FD: A subject I find even more tiresome than Standard Athlete Cliches.  But I suppose there is no avoiding it.

SHLD: The Jackalopes have the smallest payroll and the worst attendance in the SHL. In spite of that, the team has been competitive.  What’s been the secret to your success?

FD: “Success” seems a bit generous, but thank you.  I’ve found that being the underdog is a powerful motivating factor.  If there is a secret, I suppose that it has been in getting the players to tune out the off-ice distractions, and focus on the game.

SHLD: But that’s no small task.  Every week, it seems there are new whispers that the team may not make payroll or will have to move.  Do those rumors make your job more challenging?

FD: Certainly they do; this is not something other SHL coaches have to deal with.  Our players read the same news stories you do, and they can look up in the stands and see the empty seats.  If every day, someone was telling you that the Digest was about to fold, would you be able to pay attention to this interview?

SHLD: Probably not.

FD: Exactly.  I don’t attempt to pretend the stories don’t exist; that would be ridiculous.  But I’ve also told them these facts: None of my paychecks have bounced.  Neither have theirs.  The hot rumor from last year was that the team couldn’t afford to re-sign Ryan Airston; they did.

SHLD: The lesson being: don’t believe everything you read.

FD: Precisely. I’ve urged my players to focus on what they can control, which is our play on the ice.  But I’ve also told them to come talk to me if they do read something that concerns them, and I’ve promised them honesty if I hear any news they should know.

SHLD: Speaking of rumors, there’s one we should address: the claims that you were contemplating resignation at the end of last season.  Care to comment on those?

FD: How much value is there in reliving the past?  Obviously, I remain the coach.  I made a commitment to this team and these players, and I intend to honor it.  This is a unique job with a unique set of challenges, but I embrace that in full.

SHLD: If the team does wind up moving, would you remain the coach then?

FD: That is tomorrow’s question.  My focus remains on today.

SHLD: Understand.  Well, thank you for your time and a very interesting interview.

FD: Certainly.  I hope this interview hasn’t ruined my deep-thinker reputation.

Jackalopes Player Says Team Should Move

The Dakota Jackalopes financial struggles have been an open secret around the SHL for several seasons now.  The team has parted with almost all of its high-salaried players, cutting their payroll to the lowest in the league.  Unsurprisingly, the team’s record has declined along with its payroll, and attendance has drooped as well, a vicious cycle for the league’s smallest market.

By and large, Dakota’s players have been quiet about the team’s off-ice troubles.  Last season, goalie Christien Adamsson attacked the organization as “cheap” in a postgame rant.  (Adamsson wound up signing with Hershey as a free agent in the offseason.) While some of Adamsson’s teammates acknowledged the truth of his gibes off the record, they haven’t publicly expressed any reservations about the team’s situation.

Joe Freelander

That changed this week, when LW “Jumbo Joe” Freelander – frustrated with the lack of progress on his contract negotiations – spoke bluntly about the Jackalopes’ financial limits.  Not only that, he went farther still, calling for the team to be sold and moved.

Freelander spoke to the media after Thursday’s 3-2 loss to Michigan.  The winger’s rookie deal expires at the end of next season, and he said that his agent has been trying to discuss an extension with GM Paul Mindegaard.  “And what he keeps hearing is, ‘Sure, great, we want to get this done, we’ll get back to you with an offer,’ and nothing happens.”  Freelander said that his agent tried proposing a figure to get things moving, only to receive the same polite but noncommittal response from Mindegaard.

“Eventually, I realized that last year they did the same thing to Matt,” said Freelander, referring to ex-teammate Matt Cherner.  The Jackalopes stated, publicly and privately, that they wanted to sign Cherner to an extension.  But they reportedly never put forth a firm offer, and they ultimately traded him to the Quebec Tigres at the deadline.  Cherner signed with the Boston Badgers in the offseason.

“And if that’s the game, they should just say so,” said Freelander.  “If the real story is that they can’t find enough change between the couch cushions to re-sign me and they’re going to let me go, then be honest.  At least then I know where I stand.  But let’s skip the song and dance.”

Freelander went on, “I mean, we all know that this is a tiny market, and the crowds are getting smaller and smaller.  We’ve got eyes.  But if you’re so broke that you can’t keep key players like Matt and me, then shouldn’t they be looking at moving this team somewhere else?  I know nobody wants to say that, and we’re all supposed to pretend it’s going to work out.  But at some point, someone needs to tell the truth.”

Mindegaard claimed that Freelander and his agent his misunderstood the situation.  “It’s true that Joe’s agent has contacted us about an extension, which I appreciate,” the Jackalopes GM said.  “I told him that we were still evaluating our plans, and that we’d get back to him once we had a clearer sense of things.  I’m sure Joe was disappointed by that, but it’s just the business.”

The GM argued, as he has in the past, that claims about the team’s financial straits were overblown.  “Has attendance been where we’d like it to be this year?  No it hasn’t,” said Mindegaard.  “We’re in the middle of a rebuild, and we knew that could happen.  But it’s irresponsible to claim that this market can’t support a team, or that the team needs to move.  I’m fully committed, and ownership is committed, to making it work here in Dakota for the long haul.”

Jackalopes coach Flim Dahlgren, who reportedly considered resigning in the offseason due to concern about the direction of the team’s rebuild, declined to comment on Freelander’s remarks.  “Joe is a grown man and is entitled to his opinion,” Dahlgren said.  “As for my opinion, I don’t have one.  Team finances are not my responsibility, which is fortunate for everyone.  I am focused on my coaching, and that’s how I’ll keep it.”

Did Jackalopes Coach Nearly Walk Away?

The Dakota Jackalopes have had a tough season in every respect.  An early injury to star winger “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston undermined any hope that the Jackalopes had of producing a respectable season; at the same time, the flailing performance of the Kansas City Smoke kept Dakota from earning the top draft pick.  The team continued to bleed payroll and talent, trading their two top defensemen and even dealing their recently-acquired free agent goalie just weeks after signing him.  In the wake of the latter deal, starting netminder Christien Andersson slammed the organization as “cheap.”

This week, a surprising and discouraging rumor made the rounds: after only two seasons on the job, head coach Flim Dahlgren allegedly had to be talked out of resigning.  According to the rumor, Dahlgren was deeply concerned that the team’s alleged rebuilding effort had no end in sight, further fueling speculation that the team is in serious financial trouble.

Flim Dahlgren

With Dakota, Dahlgren has compiled a record of 43-76-9.  Coaching the Jackalopes, a young team whose roster has been in constant flux the last several seasons, is no easy task.  However, Dahlgren has generally earned positive reviews during his tenure.  He is regarded as a good teacher for young players, and has maintained a generally positive clubhouse atmosphere despite the losing records and salary-saving trades.

“If Flim can’t make things work over there, I don’t know who can,” said one SHL coach.

Given that, it would be a deeply distressing sign if Dahlgren were to walk away, especially without another job in mind.  (He is not reported to be in the running for the Boston Badgers’ newly vacant coaching position.)  Team sources say that the coach only agreed to stay after several lengthy conversations with GM Paul Mindegaard, during which they talked about the team’s payroll, its commitment to re-signing its own young players, and whether Dakota plans to trade away more high-salary players (of whom there is really only one left: Airston).

Dahlgren has often been eloquent in his postgame interviews – at the end of last season, he turned a state-of-the-team press conference into a philosophical musing on winning and losing – and he spoke thoughtfully in response to questions about his rumored resignation.

Asked whether he had planned to resign, the coach replied, “I can tell you that I intend to honor my contract [which runs through next season], and that I plan to return next season.”  Responding to a question about the Jackalopes’ finances, Dahlgren said, “There’s a lot of talk about that, and a lot of foolish rumors.  Certainly, I’ve gotten all my paychecks on time, and so have our players.  This is a small market, so we cannot expect to run New York-size payrolls.  But that does not mean we’re out panhandling for bus fare.”

He went on to discuss the team’s future.  “When I signed up for this job, I was aware the team was moving into a rebuilding phase and that there might not be a lot of wins in the near future,” Dahlgren said.  “There is a difference between rebuilding and perpetual destruction, to be sure.  The last couple of years have been challenging for the fans and the players both, but it’s a worthwhile pain as long as we are building to something.  I have spoken with Paul and the front office about their vision for the future, and I am confident that we have a core from which we can build.”

Mindegaard, who also declined to confirm or deny the rumors, praised Dahlgren to reporters.  “Speaking on behalf of the organization, we’ve been more than satisfied with Flim’s performance,” the GM said.  “I’ve talked with him, and we’re on the same page about where we’re headed.  I’m grateful for what he’s done the last couple of seasons, and I think the future will be even better.”