Michael Russo's Sunday Insider: Fletcher not a seller

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2011 - 11:19 PM

The Wild general manager is balancing this season's playoff pursuit with a quest to protect prospects for the future.

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The Wild has high hopes for 2010 first-round draft pick Mikael Granlund, center, of Finland.

Photo: Reed Saxon, Associated Press

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As usual around the trade deadline, the market is inflated.

Mike Fisher, with a hefty $4.2 million cap hit with term left on his contract, was traded for a first-round pick. Kris Versteeg is a pretty good third-line player (sorry, Versteeg fans, he is), and he cost a first and a third.

Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher won't follow suit, saying, "We're not mortgaging the future."

This type of statement might make the skin crawl for a portion of the fan base, but the Wild's not in position yet to trade its 2011 first-round pick or prospects Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer and Jason Zucker for a free-agent rental or 20-goal scorer.

Only eight teams can advance past the first round. Only one can win the Stanley Cup. So is it worth trading those kids for a hope and a prayer?

Fletcher arrived in Minnesota with a bare cupboard. The Wild either failed on too many first-rounders or drafted too few players.

So Fletcher's "plan" is to do two things at once -- be competitive in the present while aggressively restocking the cupboard. For the Wild to become the team fans are waiting for, it needs to develop its current prospects and add others.

After his already-scrutinized decisions to trade a second-round pick in last season's Chuck Kobasew trade and trade 2010 first-round pick Nick Leddy in the Cam Barker trade, Fletcher can't deviate from his plan again.

Every team goes through stages.

Some teams are in complete dismantle mode, like Ottawa and Toronto. Some teams are so desperate to sell tickets and get past the first round for the first time, they can trade a first for country music star Carrie Underwood's hubby (Fisher). Maybe in three or four years, the Wild can trade a couple of draft picks for a player like Versteeg.

But the Flyers are a lot further along in the process of trying to win a Stanley Cup than Minnesota is.

The Wild's kind of caught in between as the Feb. 28 trade deadline approaches. It probably doesn't have the tradable commodities to add a big scorer. It doesn't need role players. The Wild may need to add a center now that Mikko Koivu's hurt, but there aren't many juicy names available. The deadline's not the time players with big salary and term (Nick Schultz, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, etc.) can traditionally be moved. And while the Wild will get in line with others if Zach Parise ever becomes available in New Jersey, it's not that time yet.

Now, the Wild does have several potential free agents who could prove useful to others. But Fletcher remains hopeful the Wild can make the playoffs with Marek Zidlicky back and Guillaume Latendresse soon returning.

So Fletcher says he won't deal Andrew Brunette, John Madden, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew and Jose Theodore, well, unless he can get players to replace them now.

"In some scenarios, maybe you buy and sell, but we're not a seller," Fletcher said Friday morning, hours before Koivu was hurt. "We like our team. They've battled hard to get this far. ... We're hoping to make the playoffs with this group."

Fair enough. But if the trade deadline comes and goes, the Wild misses the playoffs and then loses these players for nothing via free agency, Fletcher will be subject to the same second-guessing former GM Doug Risebrough got.

Of course, losing the above guys for nothing isn't in the same galaxy as losing Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston for nothing. (To be fair, the Wild traded Rolston's rights on the eve of 2008 free agency for a fourth-round pick.)

But you get the point. There's clearly a pressure to make the playoffs, both to advance the growth process and let's be blunt, to get the million-dollar-per-game gate.

But mortgaging the future for a hope and a prayer? That makes zero sense.

More bad decisions than good decisions are usually made at the trade deadline. And the Wild definitely can't afford that.

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