Nick Schultz (55) was a strong, stay-at-home defenseman for the Wild.
Paul Battaglia, Associated Press - Ap
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Schultz dealt for Oilers' Gilbert
- Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO
- Star Tribune
- February 28, 2012 - 8:06 AM
Cal Clutterbuck, taking a swig of Gatorade, stopped short, then wore a look of shock for 10 seconds as he digested the news.
A taken-aback Kyle Brodziak yelled, "What?"
The Wild dressing room came to an absolutely stunned halt minutes after practice Monday when word circulated that Nick Schultz, one of the team's most popular players and the franchise's career leader with 743 games played, was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for fellow defenseman Tom Gilbert.
"He's what this city and this franchise is all about," Clutterbuck said of Schultz, the second player ever drafted (behind Marian Gaborik) by the Wild in 2000. "He has been for 10 years."
The swap involved two players the same age (29) making roughly the same salary (Schultz makes $3.6 million, Gilbert $3.5 million) with two years left each on their contracts.
But they are very different defensemen. The Wild flipped a defensive defenseman for a puck-moving, offensive-minded one.
Gilbert played high school hockey at Bloomington Jefferson.
"This was a hockey trade. This was not a salary dump or dumping a player that we didn't appreciate or we didn't value," said General Manager Chuck Fletcher, who later traded veteran Greg Zanon to the Boston Bruins for young defenseman Steve Kampfer. "We needed to add a little bit more puck-moving ability to our back end.
"It's no secret we've struggled offensively and I think this is a natural evolution for our team. I can tell you one thing: There would have been a lot of other pieces I would have preferred to move besides Nick Schultz."
Schultz established roots in Minnesota. Gilbert, who will debut Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings, was born here.
"It's a great thrill for me, and I'm sure my parents are more ecstatic," Gilbert, who has scored 33 goals and 158 points in 384 games, said. "They won't have to watch me on TV as much. I'm sure they're probably going to get season tickets now. I hope I'm a great fit."
Schultz was shaken at first. He signed a six-year deal in 2008, was the longest- tenured pro athlete in Minnesota and got to take his late father and two brothers on three father-son trips and his mother on the team's lone mother-son trip.
Schultz, one of the team's alternate captains, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are the only remaining member of the Wild team that advanced to the Western Conference finals in 2003.
"This is all I know, being here and playing here and being a part of this team, so it's going to be tough," said Schultz, adding he was excited to join a young, up-and-coming Oilers' team. "I don't know if it's really sunk in yet."
Schultz scored his first goal in 101 games in his final game -- a 4-3 victory over San Jose on Sunday, so as he said, "Nice way to top it off."
Offense from defensemen and, frankly, getting the puck out of the defensive zone and in the hands of the forwards have been problems all season.
"I'd like to think we defend pretty well in our own zone, but we do a lot of it," said coach Mike Yeo, saying the Wild needs to stop slapping pucks around and spending entire shifts in its own end. "I'm not saying Nick was the problem with that and one player's going to fix that, but certainly one player with Tom's ability can help us in that area."
Gilbert had been one of Edmonton's better defensemen this season, playing a shutdown role with Ladislav Smid until suffering an ankle injury in January. After an exit meeting last year in which he was told he needed to become more physical, Gilbert did just that, but he became expendable by the progress of young Jeff Petry.
"When we played against them, he was always on the ice against Mikko [Koivu]," Yeo said. "So not only can he make plays, but they had some confidence in what he can do defensively."
The Wild has oodles of salary-cap room heading into next season, and NBC analyst Pierre McGuire opined on TSN that the Wild acquiring Gilbert could be part of a long-term plan to pursue potential free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter this summer. Gilbert played youth hockey with Parise and college hockey at Wisconsin with Suter.
Fletcher, who can't comment on free agents, said "the next step for us as a franchise" is to go after a big fish.
"Whether that's a trade -- and we have assets now, we have some good, young players, we have some extra picks now -- or whether it's free agency ... at some point we want to go out and try to add some top-end guys," he said.
In the meantime, life in Minnesota moves on without Schultz.
"He's been the veteran leader around here for years," said young defenseman Justin Falk. "When you get drafted and come to your first camps, you see how he carries himself. How he prepares on a day-to-day basis, I've never seen a guy who stays so dedicated, always staying with his routine.
"He's a true NHL pro the way he approaches his job."
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