Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher may not be on the hot seat in MN just yet, but his chair is getting warmer. Salary cap issues, bad trades, and untimely injuries are hindering the team’s ability to improve. Let’s look at some of Fletcher’s deals affecting the team in the context of the current season.
Eric Haula and Alex Tuch to Vegas in the expansion draft. No NHL team planned to get out of the expansion draft without losing an asset. The Wild lost two. Fletcher agreed to send Alex Tuch to Vegas in exchange for them choosing Haula instead of Matt Dumba in the draft. Minnesota needed Vegas to take Haula or risk him being a salary cap casualty following this season. Tuch was considered a top prospect for the team, but the Wild clearly view Dumba as a big part of their future, and couldn’t risk losing both him and Haula. Fletcher also seems to have a little PTSD over the 2011 Brett Burns trade. Burns had very similar numbers to Dumba at this point in his career, and Fletcher is gambling that Dumba will eventually turn into the same type of player as Burns.
The Parise/Suter free agency signings. No one can argue that this deal didn’t immediately improve the team when he made it in 2012. The Wild have been to the playoffs every year since. They have set franchise records for most single-season wins, longest regular season win streak, and most goals in a season. But, the aforementioned salary cap issues are clearly a result of these blockbuster signings. While Suter isn’t a big goal scorer, his defensive value to the team cannot be overstated. It appears that Suter will continue to play at a high level and help lead the team through the end of his contract.
The same cannot be said for Zach Parise. His style of play, size and age have led to a predictable cycle of injuries and missed games. He has yet to play in 2017 due to lingering back problems that required surgery. The Wild were forced to sign Daniel Winnik to fill his roster spot, as he was the only available player the team could afford while staying under the salary cap. The Wild hope Parise will return sometime in January but expectations are tempered at this time. His leadership on the ice will give the team a much needed boost, but it remains to be seen if he can overcome his extensive injury history.
Eric Staal free agency signing. Staal is exceeding expectaions. A leader in the locker room and on the ice, he may be on the wrong side of 30, but still shows good speed and tenacity. He mentors young players like Luke Kunin and is leading the Wild in points since his arrival. Fletcher definitely made a good choice bringing in the veteran.
Pominville/Scandella for Foligno/Ennis. It’s still too early to tell who really “won” this trade. Minnesota’s blueline has seen its share of injuries this season, and they surely miss Scandella’s consistent presence. However, both Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofson display promising skillsets on the backend.
Pominville never lived up to the role of a top liner in Minnesota. Tyler Ennis has started to gel with the Wild and seems to fit in a bit better with Minnesota’s style of hockey. Marcus Foligno has logged plenty of minutes on the ice and leads the team in hits. His most prominent moment was a brutal fight with John Hayden.
2017 first round pick, 2018 second round pick, 2019 fourth round pick and minor leaguer Grayson Downing for Martin Hanzal and Ryan White. Some things just don’t go according to plan. Fletcher made this move in the midst of the Wild’s best season ever. The hope was that Hanzal could provide the extra goal-scoring push to get them deep in the playoffs. In reality, the team chemistry was considerably disrupted by the trade. The Wild actually played worse down the stretch and made a prompt exit from the playoffs in the first round. Neither Hanzal nor White were given contracts, so the Wild actually got less-than-nothing on this one.
Signing Alex Stalock and not resigning Darcy Kuemper. This may be the best move Fletcher made in the offseason. Kuemper struggled last season and the team had a visible lack of confidence in him in net. Stalock was called up from Iowa at the end of the 2016-17 season and has looked stellar. With Dubnyk currently out week-to-week with an MCL injury, bringing Stalock back to his hometown has turned out to be a great play. He is a fan favorite and has given the team a chance to win every game he has been in net.
As we approach the halfway point of the season, the efforts of players like Zucker, Granlund, Staal, and Niederreiter are keeping the Wild competitive. However, their record isn’t on pace with last year’s numbers. They are currently teetering on the edge of the wild-card position in the standings. If they do miss the playoffs, you can bet Fletcher will be updating his resume.
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