Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild GM Chuck Fletcher on trades, free-agent interview period, the future

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 27, 2014 - 8:19 AM

Friday update: Fletcher is expected to meet with some agents today, including Matt Niskanen's and Thomas Vanek's.

Reminder: I’ll be on KFAN at 9:55 a.m. Friday and will be hosting a live chat at 11 a.m. on startribune.com/wild.

GM Chuck Fletcher held an availability with the beat writers in the lobby of the Wild’s hotel after returning from New York City from the Board of Governor’s meeting.

The highlights:

1. News item: The Wild continues to try to re-sign Cody McCormick. He had a good postseason, was physical, made some players, was strong on the penalty kill. He’s also a right-shot forward who can play center. Total conjecture, but one reason why I feel the Wild wants to re-sign McCormick is because I continue to hear from league sources that Kyle Brodziak is being shopped. Well, Brodziak is Minnesota’s only right-shot center, so if you trade him, you probably need to replace that role in some capacity. Obviously, McCormick would come in cheaper (he’s coming off a deal that paid him $1.2 million annually compared to Brodziak’s $3 million salary and $2.83 million cap hit).

“We’ve had good conversations with [McCormick’s] agent and I believe we have a chance. You never know. This late, there’s no certainty he’ll come back. But we have interest in bringing him back and I believe he liked his time here. Now it’s a question is if he’s finding better opportunities, but we’re hopeful on him. I think everybody else at this point is shopping. It gets less likely the longer it goes. That’s what my history tells me. Certainly you can re-sign guys July 1 or 2, but it gets harder.”

Obviously, the one guy he’s talking about is Clayton Stoner because Fletcher wasn’t really trying hard to re-sign the others, including Matt Moulson. The others are Nate Prosser, whom I reported the Wild may have interest in next month if it still has a depth job open and he doesn’t find the right opportunity, Ilya Bryzgalov (no room right now), Dany Heatley and Mike Rupp.

By the way, Fletcher gave a pretty passionate endorsement tonight of Heatley, who will be looking for a job and was such a good soldier down the stretch. Fletcher talked a lot about the extra work Heatley did with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle after practices, which is impressive considering Niederreiter and Coyle were two reasons why Heatley was scratched down the stretch of the regular season and part of the playoffs. I’ll put those quotes in the paper Saturday or Sunday.

-- As of now, the Wild’s at its pre-draft dinner and then the team has all day Friday to discuss trade scenarios, etc. As of now, Fletcher says nothing’s imminent, but that can obviously change and Fletcher has proven that in the past.

“I’ve had lots of conversations with GMs,” he said. “I’m making as many calls as I’m receiving. It’s that time of year. I think everyone – the free agent pool isn’t overly deep. There’s not a lot of high-end talent in the market so it’s realistic teams are going to have to make trades to make the changes they want to make to their roster. … From what I understand it sounds like there’s a lot of trade talk out there
so it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a lot of activity between now and Saturday. We’ve certainly ben talking to teams.”

Some big names could potentially be traded, including Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, Ottawa’s Jason Spezza and Winnipeg’s Evander Kane. Reportedly, the Wild’s not on Kesler’s trade wish list and it would seem hard to believe the Jets would trade Kane within the division. Regardless, it would take a lot of assets and young players to acquire a big name.

“If you can sign a guy in free agency and not give up a top young player or pick and get that person for a comparable role, why wouldn’t you do that?” Fletcher said. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t trade a young player, but we’re not looking to move our young players. I’m not anticipating any big blockbuster right now.

“We’ll continue to talk to a couple teams about a couple scenarios, but again the shopping period’s been interesting and we’ll see what happens next week. There’s players that are willing to consider Minnesota, so that’s a good sign. I don’t want people to think we’re going to sign four guys on July 1 because it’s not going to happen, but we’re going to have some options potentially, and that’s good.”

-- That gets me to the next topic, the free-agent interview period.

Cue Fletcher: “I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several agents of pending UFAs and try to get a sense of who may have interest in coming to Minnesota and talk about different roles and whether what we have to offer them fits from a role and an ice time standpoint with what they’re looking at. There’s been some ones that may work out, there’s been some ones that clearly won’t work out. But that’s good. I wasn’t really involved in the shopping period last year, but it’s been great. It gives you the sense where instead it used to be July 1 it was such a battle to sign guys. You were competing with other teams to sign
players. It wasn’t like you were spending time interviewing players to get their idea of an ideal role. We weren’t having these conversations you might assume we were having. A lot of times you had to make quick decisions and you were throwing money around. So the great thing about the shopping period is you can say, hey this is what we have. This is the type of role. This is the type of fit. Does that interest you?”

Fletcher jokingly gave me flak for tosses names out there in today’s paper and said it makes him happy I haven’t figured out three or four others he has talked to.


“I don’t have any sense right now at all whether we’re going to have chances,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen July 1, let’s put it that way. I think the good thing is people now have a better idea of what we’re looking for. The player holds the cards. We can sell them our opportunity and where we think the team is going. But ultimately it’s going to be up to the players.

“What’s become clear to me is more players are interested in talking to us now than what would have been two or three years ago. The perception of our team has changed based on the conversations I’m having with people. People see us as being a competitive team and people believe if they come to Minnesota they’re going to have a chance to be on a team that’s trying to win a Stanley Cup. To me that’s great to hear. It shows we’re going to have opportunities every year to be a player in the free-agent market. We weren’t always that way. I guess where I’m going with that is I think we can look for the right fit. If it’s not there, we can be patient because if some of these guys want really long-term deals, you’re talking locking them in for a long time. Who’s to say we can’t do something better this year via trade or next summer via free agency? It’s been good. If we can get the right player for our fit, we’ll do it. But we’re not really in a position to just be chasing players and throwing whatever at them. We’ve done that and we’ve got our big guys locked in, and we’re thankful for that, we’re happy for that. But now we’re going to get certain players at certain fits to make us better. That’s what we’ve expressed to people. In a lot of situations, term is a big issue for us. We have some cap space obviously, but we want to be careful with what we do with it.”

And again, that is the key. As I have mentioned for a week, it’s become very clear to me that the Wild has interest in Vanek, but for the Wild to be in a position to sign him specifically, it needs to be a one-, two- or three-year deal. The question: How badly does Vanek want to sign in Minnesota because there’s little doubt he’ll be offered more money and more term elsewhere.

So, we shall see. But it is very clear the Wild feels the need to add a scoring forward somehow someway. The problem is there’s not a ton of them available, at least in free agency.

-- I chatted with Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko today. Fletcher says it’s more likely the Wild will take a skilled forward if it sticks at 18 than a goalie. Remember, the Wild will try to move up or maybe even back to get multiple picks.

Demko did tell me today he hasn’t had much contact with the Wild beyond his advisor talking to them.

“They’re kind of hiding their cards a little bit,” said Demko, who said he plans to return to BC the next two seasons or “maybe even four, depending on my development.”

That last quote is proof again that regardless of the Wild’s perceived short-term need, taking a goalie at 18 doesn’t solve that.

-- If there’s any more scuttlebutt tonight, I’ll be back. But it’s late and I don’t want to be in my hotel room anymore!

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