One year ago, Chuck Fletcher awoke on the morning of the NHL draft in St. Paul and knew there was a good likelihood he would trade popular defenseman Brent Burns in front of the eyes of thousands of Wild fans at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild general manager scheduled a handful of meetings in his office that day with fellow GMs to make final pitches.
Finally, in came San Jose GM Doug Wilson, and Fletcher agreed to send Burns to Silicon Valley for the equivalent of three first-round picks: Devin Setoguchi, the draft pick that became Zack Phillips and blue-chip prospect Charlie Coyle, who was the necessity to make the trade happen.
That would be the first of three trades Fletcher would make with the Sharks last offseason.
"The difference with the draft as opposed to other times in the year is everybody's in the same city, so you can have face-to-face dialogue," Fletcher said. "It's harder to be evasive in face-to-face meetings unless you run for the door."
In three years as Wild GM, Fletcher has made 21 trades involving 14 teams. Five have come during the draft, with three others in the days leading up to or soon after the draft.
That's 38 percent of Fletcher's trades that have come around the draft. With this year's draft Friday and Saturday in Pittsburgh, it's officially the season of "Trader Chuck."
On Friday alone, Fletcher said he talked to a dozen GMs. Some big names are being bandied about, with Columbus captain Rick Nash atop the list. The New York Rangers, San Jose, Toronto, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Carolina are reportedly in pursuit.
Other headliners potentially on the move at forward this offseason could include Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal, Anaheim's Bobby Ryan or Ryan Getzlaf, Philadelphia's James van Riemsdyk, Calgary's Jarome Iginla and San Jose's Patrick Marleau. On defense, there's Nashville's Shea Weber, Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester and Winnipeg's Tobias Enstrom. In goal, there's Vancouver's Roberto Luongo.
Fletcher has histories with Staal, Ryan and Getzlaf in his previous managerial roles with the Penguins and Ducks. And while there's no doubt Fletcher would involve himself in any trade conversation for a star, it's hard to imagine him being able to execute another trade at this draft in the same magnitude as Burns.
There's three reasons for that: 1) The Wild plans to aggressively pursue Zach Parise if the New Jersey Devils captain becomes a free agent July 1, so Fletcher could be in a holding pattern until then; 2) The Wild doesn't have bait in the same realm as Burns on the current roster; 3) Fletcher says he won't blow a hole through the Wild's prospect corps.
So gazing at the Wild roster, the mechanisms of making a big trade are a lot harder without gutting the team or taking a gamble as to which prospects to give up.
In other words, the Wild has gathered kids such as Coyle, Phillips, Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker and Mario Lucia. What if Fletcher trades a Bulmer or a Zucker and they wound up being the best of all of them?
"In a year or two, when we see the development of our kids, we should be in a lot better position to maybe make bigger trades," Fletcher said. "How do you trade some of these young players when you don't know what they're fully going to be?"
Of the established NHLers, Setoguchi could be bait, but it will be hard to get maximum value for a 25-year-old goal scorer coming off a 19-goal season. Defenseman Marco Scandella would provide great value, but how good can he become heading into his third year as a pro? Heavy hitter Cal Clutterbuck tailed off for a third second half in a row, but his upside is still bright.
Veteran Matt Cullen might be tradeable, but he's 35, makes $3.5 million and has a limited no-trade clause.
"If something makes sense, if somebody presents something to you that you haven't thought of, you look at it, but we're not shopping our players all around the league here in a panic," Fletcher said despite four consecutive missed postseasons -- three under his regime. "We're certainly looking for ways to get better, but I just feel this summer patience is going to be more of a virtue than last summer.
"Last summer I really felt we needed to do a few things to free up some room going forward and to get some different types of things in here. And we did that and I think in the long run it's going to work well."
That's not to say Fletcher won't be tinkering.
He acquired Kyle Brodziak at his first draft in 2009 by moving two draft picks to Edmonton. In that deal, he also acquired a pick that became goalie Darcy Kuemper.
In 2010 and 2011, he traded draft picks to move up to select Zucker and Lucia, respectively, in the second round. In 2009, he moved down four slots to No. 16, selected Nick Leddy and picked up two draft picks that were turned into Matt Hackett and Erik Haula.
Fletcher would be willing to move up or down from No. 7 this year. Trading the pick outright for an NHL player seems doubtful.
"I haven't seen anything that makes any sense yet," Fletcher said. "So many teams are in the same boat, it's scary. You go team by team, everybody says the same thing: 'We need more depth, we're thin here, we have a hole there.' No one's even close to being perfect anymore. Everybody's complaining what they don't have. Nobody wants to give up the good things they do have. It's really hard to get real assets without paying a huge, huge price."
So Fletcher says this might be the draft week the Wild should stand pat, wait a week and "try to sign a free agent or two."
"If we're not able to, then we still have the cap space where maybe some team gets into cap trouble a month or two down the road [under a new collective bargaining agreement]," Fletcher said. "We're going to get a good player at No. 7 and we have six or seven young guys turning pro. People sometimes don't like to hear that, but I really don't think we're that far away and I think a little patience will shed the light on where we're at in a very short order.
"I don't think it'll take forever to see how these kids are going to play at the pro level. I just don't want to do something silly here and blow up some of the depth we've finally been able to accumulate until we fully know what we have."