Chicago – Time to let it go, Wild fans.
Time to put it in the same closet that holds your Norm Green bumper stickers.
Time to acknowledge that your continued whining about the admittedly silly trade that banished your beloved hyperlocal hockey star is a bit overdone.
Time to forgive Chuck Fletcher, the man who made that one mistake while building the team that is now the toast of the state.
In 2010, Fletcher traded Eden Prairie’s Nick Leddy, a first-round draft pick, to the Chicago Blackhawks for another defenseman, Cam Barker. Turns out, Barker lacked a hockey skill that can be handy in some situations: He couldn’t skate.
Leddy could. He became a contributor to a fine Blackhawks team, and Wild fans had their own David Ortiz — a good young player the local team gave up on at the wrong time.
The Leddy move included an unfortunate twist for Fletcher: Leddy is a bona fide, taxpaying, lake-loving local. The Wild likes to tout Minnesota as the State of Hockey but hasn’t employed many players who grew up in The Land of 10,000 Cold Sores.
For four years, every time Leddy scored, or Barker fell down, or the Blackhawks won, or Barker lost another job, Wild fans wanted to inflict a lower-body injury on Fletcher.
The Leddy trade forever will be known as a mistake, but it no longer deserves multiple capitalizations or hashtags. The trade simply isn’t as bad today as it used to be, and the fair-minded should recognize that it was a misstep in Fletcher’s march toward building a winner.
Fletcher has atoned for the Leddy deal by acquiring Nino Niederreiter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula and Mikael Granlund, among others.
While owner Craig Leipold deserves much of the credit for the signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, they wouldn’t have signed with the Wild had Fletcher not built a promising team.
Fletcher also gambled with his career when he hired Mike Yeo as coach instead of a proven NHL veteran, and Yeo has rewarded his faith in these playoffs with his mature leadership.
Fletcher has been on the job since 2009, so the roster is fully his, with the exception of longtime mainstay Mikko Koivu, whose defense against Jonathan Toews has helped stymie the Blackhawks.
Minnesotans fixated on Leddy are ignoring recent events. Leddy was a healthy scratch in Game 3, a reaction to his lackluster play in Game 2. In Game 4, Leddy turned the puck over while avoiding a check by Matt Cooke, leading to a Wild goal.
Leddy has not played well while trying to fill a small role for an accomplished team. He will become a restricted free agent this summer, and the Blackhawks, with budget issues, are not likely to retain him. The Wild might not be interested, not with young defensemen such as Spurgeon, Brodin, Marco Scandella and Clayton Stoner playing well in the playoffs.
The emergence of Spurgeon should more than make up for the trade of Leddy. Fletcher signed Spurgeon as an unsigned player out of the WHL in 2010. The Wild groomed him for a year in the minors, and has helped him develop into a skilled defenseman who compensates for his lack of size with poise and intelligence.
If Spurgeon was a bargain, Niederreiter is grand theft. Fletcher acquired him by trading Cal Clutterbuck to the Islanders. Niederreiter has the size, shot and toughness to become a long-term standout.
“They’ve been great for us all year,’’ forward Dany Heatley said of the Wild’s young players. “Whatever role they’ve played, they’ve done a great job. Awesome to see the success they’re having in the playoffs. They’re all real good kids, they work real hard, and it’s been a lot of fun to be around them.’’
Fletcher has not only built a team capable of threatening the Blackhawks, he’s brought in two players with Minnesota ties — Parise, and Haula, the former Gopher.
This is no time to complain about the one who got away.