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Game #55 – Hawks vs. Wild Spotlight: Fletcher, Bearing Down On Me…

Being a GM in this league isn’t easy. You have exactly no margin for error, and you have to take that and balance the desires of owner, coaches, fans, press, and try and craft a hockey team out of it. You can do all that, and then there just might be two teams in your division better than you anyway and it’s all for naught. And then once you come up empty, the league does not make it easy to start over. Flexibility is a daft concept in the NHL.

And that’s where Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher finds himself. Perhaps it was his idea to sign Ryan Suter and Zach Parise until the sun swallows us all for a dump truck of money. Perhaps it was a directive from the owner after having nondescript, unsuccessful teams forever under Jacques Lemaire. Whatever it was, Fletcher is pretty much fucked right now. Which might see him let go this summer when his contract runs out as well.

The Wild aren’t going anywhere. They’re locked into competing for the last wild card spot at best this year. Maybe, if things bounce right, they sneak in, Dubnyk gets hot, and they can win a round or two. But that’s all built on hope, and Dubnyk has never shined in the playoffs. The difference between him and Jay Gallon last year is the biggest reason they didn’t move to the second round then.

And really, Fletcher is locked into bringing this team back next year. There’s no significant money coming off the books. Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, and Daniel Winnik are the only forwards whose deals are up after this season, for just north of $3 million. There are no d-men who are up. And to make it even better, Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba are restricted free agents this summer. Because they’re RFAs they won’t break the bank, but they’ll be due more than the $4.5 million combined they make now (Dumba could reasonably ask for that himself).

So what do you do? This Wild team still needs a #1 center before it can even think of going anywhere, and those cost north of $8 million or more. No one is going to trade for those Parise or Suter deals, and Parise might be permanently broken after back surgery and just five points in 15 games so far. Nino Neiderreiter or Mikael Granlund would certainly drum up interest around the league, but if you trade them for a forward aren’t you just running in place? You’re supposed to build around guys like that.

You could hope that someone takes Mikko Koivu off your hands, but no one wants to pay near $6 million for two more years for what is essentially a checking center now. The window to trade Jonas Brodin has probably passed. Maybe Luke Kunin is a kid who can do something for you, but if he were something special we’d probably know by now. Dmitri Sokolov is lighting up the OHL, but everyone lights up the OHL. And because the Wild have floated around the bottom of the playoff picture for so long, it’s really hard to find help in the draft in the 15-20 range as they’ve been.

If it wasn’t so punitive, buyouts would be an option here. But because they’re spread out for so long, it’s not an option for Parise or Koivu, and wouldn’t provide that much relief. It should be something that the player doesn’t have to agree to but doesn’t punish the team so harshly if they agree. But that’s not the world we live in.

This is the devil in “going for it.” The Wild thought the signing of Parise and Suter meant they were amongst the big boys. They haven’t seen a conference final or a division championship. And now the Wild can’t even tear it down if they wanted to. If they traded Granlund and/or Neiderreiter, at that point you might as well keep going. Sell off Coyle and Staal and try in include Koivu in something. But when have you seen a team do that?

Parise and Suter have been on the Wild for six seasons now. That’s about the cycle every team gets. But thanks to the system, the Wild are stuck in this one, going nowhere, with no escape. Basically, they’re living your life.

 

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