James Sheppard got a head start on accepting his qualifying offer just like the Wild got a head start on tendering them to its resticted free agents. Sheppard's agreed to a one-year deal worth $803,250 (corrected; had to correct because he got a 5 percent mandated raise since his prior year salary was over 660K and under a $1 mill. Originally thought it was a mandatory 10 percent bump).
Even tendering Sheppard a qualifying offer was a subject of debate this offseason after the 22-year-old floundered instead of flourished (two goals, six points, 64 games) in coach Todd Richards’ up-tempo system last year.
Here's my Q&A with GM Chuck Fletcher from yesterday regarding Sheppard:
What do you expect from him? "Just to get better. I’m looking for James to come back with more urgency and to make a bigger investment in his career. To me, it’s not about the numbers. I mean, it’s always about the numbers, but I don’t want his focus to be the numbers. I want him to come back and have a strong summer and a good camp and come in and earn a spot on our team and play the right way every night. And if he does that, he’ll get rewarded. He’s still a young player, he’s still maturing. There’s no question he lost his confidence last season, but from our standpoint, we know he can play in the league. Whether he becomes a good hockey player in this league will be up to him. We need size, we need young forwards, we need centermen, and he’s all of the above if he can put the time and effort in to take the next step in his career.
"So from our standpoint, it makes perfect sense to give him every opportunity in camp. At some point he’ll have to take a step in his career and show everybody he’s capable of becoming a quality NHLer, at whatever level that is – second-line center, third-line center, winger, whatever he ends up being, he’ll end up being. But my point is he has a chance to become an NHL player that can help us if he can take the next step in his career. It’s really up to him and I think he understands that."
Did you consider letting him go?"He’s a young player. It’s easy to write off young players, but in our situation, why would we? Why would we? We’re going to give him every opportunity to be whatever he can be in camp. He’s not going to be given anything. But by the same token we’re not going to walk away from him at this stage. The organization’s put four years into him and why not put a fifth?
But if he doesn't deserve a spot out of camp, will he be on this team? "If somebody can come in and beat him in camp, then maybe that forces our hand if we’re offered a terrific opportunity to get a different asset and he’s the price we have to pay, we’ll look at it. We’re not saying we’re giving him anything other than for us not to qualify him would be a poor decision from a hockey management standpoint. I mean, why wouldn’t you protect that asset, why wouldn’t you give him every chance to become a hockey player? It’s up to him. If somebody can knock him out in camp, great, the more competition the better. And maybe he comes in and is the player that people hoped he would be. Why wouldn’t we give him that opportunity to compete? Maybe he’s inspired by that and takes a step. I think james is a good person, I think he honestly wants to be a hockey player and right now it’s about doing the rights things and committing himself to being that hockey player."
Basically, the Wild wants internal competition in camp. Cody Almond had an injury-plagued year, and who knows if Casey Wellman will be ready? So for a team short on centers, Fletcher didn't think it would be wise to throw away a 22-year-old first-round pick. Also, what if Sheppard is an asset that can be moved for something or thrown into a deal that could sway it over the top? To have just thrown him out didn't seem to make sense to Fletcher.
The Wild had until June 28 to tender QO's, but they got it out of the way. Guillaume Latendresse, Josh Harding, Anton Khudobin, Nate Prosser and Matt Kassian were sent QO's to retain their rights. Latendresse and Harding have arbitration rights, by the way. Morten Madsen and Jamie Fraser were let go.
By the way, I ran into Prosser last night at the Twins game. He's been down at the rink working out a lot, will be in next month's development camp and is looking forward to a big training camp. It's funny how things work out, but Prosser wasn't even supposed to play at the end of the year. If the Wild don't sustain all those defensemen injuries, Prosser doesn't get those three games and none of us, even the Wild, know how close he could really be to the NHL.