A Wild fan could be forgiven conflicting feelings on Monday night. Minnesota’s most confusing team lost 7-4 at Philadelphia in its first game against the team now run by former Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher.
This result proved:
A. Fletcher is lucky another team would hire him.
B. Fletcher is lucky to get to play against the old, slow, not-so-promising-anymore team that he built.
C. Paul Fenton should have punched Fletcher in the press box while he had the chance.
D. All of the above?
Tuesday night, the Wild blew a late lead but beat Los Angeles 3-2 in a shootout at Xcel Energy Center. Following losses to Detroit and Philadelphia, the result was more a cause for relief than celebration.
The Wild is back to its teasing, taunting ways, following an unpredictably strong stretch of hockey with unsightly losses to Detroit and Philadelphia. The Wild are hanging around the fringes of the wild-card playoff race without inspiring much hope that they could accomplish much should they make the postseason.
They are old. They have large amounts of money committed to older players. They are paying $3 million or more to 11 players on the current roster.
Of those 11, how many would Fenton, the Wild’s new general manager, tell you he felt good about, if he had to tell the truth?
Zach Parise is 34 and halfway through his 13-year deal. Ryan Suter is 33 on an identical, $98 million deal. Both of their contracts include no-trade clauses.
Matt Dumba is making $6 million. His play justifies that salary, which is why his injury has made the Wild look so often inept.
Mikael Granlund is making $5.75 million. He has been a major disappointment.
Jason Zucker is making $5.5 million. He has been a major disappointment.
Nino Niederreiter is making $5.25 million. See: Zucker, Granlund.
Mikko Koivu, 35, is making $5.5 million. The rationale for re-signing him was that he does a lot of little things right. For $5.5 million, you’d like to see more big things done right.
Jared Spurgeon is making $5.2 million. He is one of the great success stories in franchise history.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk is making $4.3 million. Despite his recent struggles, he is worth it, as a strong starting goaltender for a franchise that has no other options.
Jonas Brodin is making $4.1 million. He is a quality player.
Eric Staal is making $3.5 million. He outperformed his contract for two seasons; this year he is underperforming it.
Charlie Coyle is making $3.2 million. He has inspired hope at times while playing center but remains a disappointment.
My guess: Fenton would be happy to sign the checks for Dumba, Spurgeon, Dubnyk and Brodin on their current deals.
The Wild lacks high-end talent among its prospects. The team lacks a goalie alternative to Dubnyk, although Alex Stalock played well Tuesday. The Wild is muddling through another season that is not likely to give it a high draft pick, unless it intentionally or unintentionally tanks.
So how is Fenton supposed to turn Fletcher’s old franchise around if he is stuck with untradable contracts and players?
The most logical move he could make, were he to make a move, would be trading Granlund.
Granlund is on the second year of a three-year, $17.25 million deal. He is reasonably affordable and is a capable two-way player who might thrive on a contending team. And the Wild can’t afford to sign all of its not-so-young core players to lengthy, expensive deals.
If Fenton decides that something must change, he has few options, and Granlund might be the best trading chip he has.
Fenton chose to spend his first summer on the job practicing patience, or at least appearing to. More than halfway through his first season, he’s discovering that the Wild is as Fletcher left it — highly paid, too old, too unproductive.
Fenton will have to do something drastic to change the course of the franchise. That might not happen until this summer, but it will happen.