FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. – The NHL draft is typically an opportune time for NHL teams to reshape their rosters with significant deals.
But General Manager Chuck Fletcher, despite watching his Wild get swept in the second round of the playoffs by Chicago, said he doesn’t want to make “radical changes.”
“I like our team,” Fletcher said on the eve of the first round of the draft. “We’re not perfect, but I like our team.”
Fletcher doesn’t want to trade his young core, although two pieces, restricted free agents Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula, remained unsigned heading into Friday. While trading goalie Darcy Kuemper may make eventual sense, Fletcher probably can’t do that until Devan Dubnyk or another goalie is locked up long-term. Jared Spurgeon is a year from restricted free agency and a lucrative contract, but while he might be the Wild’s biggest bargaining chip right now, Fletcher doesn’t want to trade him.
And some vets might be untradeable.
Mikko Koivu is coming off his worst season since his rookie year. Jason Pominville is coming off his worst goal-scoring full season of his career. Thomas Vanek, who had sports hernia surgery two weeks ago, had his worst goal-scoring season of his career. It would make sense for Fletcher to test the waters with any, but it would be incredibly complicated to trade them.
Koivu has a salary-cap hit of $6.75 million and is owed $21.87 million over the next three years. Pominville has a salary-cap hit of $5.6 million and has four years left on his contract worth $22 million. Vanek has a $6.5 million cap hit and is owed $14 million the next two years.
They have no-trade clauses, so in order to trade any, Fletcher would have to awkwardly work with the players, one of whom is his captain, in a difficult marketplace. It would be hard to get equitable value back, and most top teams can’t afford taking on big salary-cap hits.
Plus, Fletcher said, “I want to win and these guys are good hockey players. Look, I get people are emotional. But you have to be careful overreacting to four awful games in May. We played poorly. Our mindset was wrong.
“But two weeks earlier, we had a lot of very good performances by our top guys against a very good St. Louis team and for four months before that, we were one of the best teams in the league. We have to be careful not to overreact.”
Still, it would not surprise anybody if Fletcher tries to take a swing on something this weekend. There have been times in the past he vowed to be quiet and ended up being loud.
And Thursday night, Fletcher said, “We’re relatively quiet. I don’t know that we have a whole bunch going right now nor are we trying to have a whole bunch going.”
Earlier this week, Fletcher joked, “Lots of teams are willing to help us right now, but it’s not maybe the help that we need.”
The Wild only has $12 million of salary cap space and with a less than appealing free-agent class, Fletcher may decide to be patient and wait to make his move next summer.
Thursday morning, Fletcher met with agent Mike Liut about Dubnyk, who won the Masterton Trophy the night before and was named a Second Team All-Star.
Fletcher called it a “good, productive meeting,” and said he hopes ideas emerged. But still, no deal was struck.
“Things can change in one phone call, so we’ll just keep working,” Fletcher said.
The two sides plan to talk again Friday, and while Fletcher wouldn’t go as far as to say it, he insinuated that he needs to have a good idea that they’re coming together on terms or he may have to trade for a goalie this weekend.
Goalies Cam Talbot, Eddie Lack, Robin Lehner, Antti Raanta and Martin Jones could be on the move. Fletcher indicated prices are high right now. Also, Antti Niemi and Karri Ramo are set to become free agents, although Fletcher wouldn’t confirm if he talked to their agents Thursday on the first day of the free-agent interview period.
Dubnyk also could talk to other teams.
“If teams are trading goalies [Friday] or Saturday, if they want picks, they want the picks this year,” Fletcher said. “So that may force some things to happen. [Dubnyk and his agent] are aware of that. At this point, we’re negotiating in good faith to try to get a deal done.
“I think I have a pretty good feeling of what they’re trying to accomplish and I hope they clearly know what we’re trying to accomplish.”
In the meantime, lots of names — Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell, Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo and Brandon Sutter to name a few — are being bandied around the league. Arizona, which has spent $20 million this summer to get to the cap floor, also is entertaining offers for the No. 3 overall pick.
“From talking to other managers, there certainly appears to be some things in play,” Fletcher said. “[Friday] will be an interesting day.