Fletcher closing in on coach; roster makeup next

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 3, 2011 - 1:10 PM

The GM says he'd consider trading anyone except Mikko Koivu and that the new coach will have influence on personnel.

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Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune file

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TORONTO - It has been more than seven weeks since the Wild's offseason began with the firing of Todd Richards. Ever since, Chuck Fletcher has spent most his time bouncing around the sky at 36,000 feet.

Between his search for a new coach, scouting and watching the Houston Aeros' run for a potential Calder Cup championship, Fletcher has spent "maybe" one weekend day in the Twin Cities since April 10.

But June could prove busier for the Wild general manager.

With the NHL draft on June 24-25 in St. Paul, trade talks are commencing and Fletcher says he's willing to trade anybody -- except captain Mikko Koivu. Qualifying offers must soon be tendered, buyouts are possible and free agency is looming July 1.

But Fletcher is not willing to shape the Wild's roster until he hires a new coach.

"We're closer to the end than we are to the beginning," said Fletcher, in Toronto for the NHL draft combine. "It's not going to go forever. There's a lot to be done, and I think it's very important to work hand-in-hand with the new coach.

"I don't want to make big decisions independent of the coach."

Fletcher has interviewed at least veteran coaches Craig MacTavish, Michel Therrien and Ken Hitchcock and Montreal Canadiens assistant Kirk Muller. He plans to interview Aeros coach Mike Yeo once Houston's season is over. The Aeros are two victories from winning the Calder Cup, with Game 4 in Binghamton, N.Y., on Friday.

Fletcher declined to say if he has begun second interviews, but sources say MacTavish, the former Edmonton Oilers coach who won four Stanley Cups as a player, has had multiple talks with Fletcher and is a bona fide contender.

With every GM in Toronto, Fletcher calls the combine "the unofficial start to the trading season." The Wild has missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons -- two under Fletcher -- so he says he'd do "absolutely anything," other than, "I'm not trading Mikko Koivu. I can guarantee you that."

Fletcher's hands are somewhat tied with players with full or limited no-trade clauses, such as Niklas Backstrom, Martin Havlat, Marek Zidlicky and Matt Cullen, but the GM said, "I'm open-minded to anything. We have to get better, and we're looking aggressively to do that."

The biggest decision brewing is with defenseman Brent Burns, who scored a career-high 17 goals and 46 points last season. Burns, who struggled in the season's second half, is a year from unrestricted free agency, meaning, as with Koivu last summer, the Wild might need to decide to either extend his contract or trade him.

Burns could command at least $5 million annually.

"I'll speak to [agent] Ron Salcer in the near future, and we'll try to see whether there's common ground to get a contract done," Fletcher said. "I personally value Brent highly, believe he's one of top young defensemen in the game and I know he's regarded very highly by a lot of people outside our organization.

"We're trying to find top young players to play in Minnesota, and we have one in Brent Burns."

Fletcher said he feels no urgency to sign or trade Burns this summer, but the Wild has been down that road before. Marian Gaborik turned down a long-term deal in early 2008-09, then missed 65 games because of injury. That destroyed his trade value, and he ultimately signed as a free agent with the Rangers.

Burns also has a history of injury, but Fletcher said, "There's a risk for any player, there's risk in any decision you make. ... If we can't get a contract done, that'll have an impact on his future the same as it would have with Koivu or Gaborik or anybody."

One other upcoming decision could be whether to buy out defenseman Cam Barker, who had five points, was minus-10 and missed 30 games last season.

Barker, 25, is due to make $3.08 million next season. Because Barker is younger than 26, the Wild could buy him out for one-third his salary starting 48 hours after the playoffs or June 15 through June 30. It would then be charged a $375,000 cap hit next season and $541,667 cap hit in 2012-13.

Fletcher wouldn't comment, other than to say, "Whatever I'm feeling right now with anything could change exponentially if I have a coach that says, 'I know this player. This guy will help us or won't help us.'

"I need a chance to analyze the entire team with the new coach. It's hard to get people to like what they don't like and vice versa."

The same can be said for the Wild's six unrestricted free agents, including Andrew Brunette, John Madden and Antti Miettinen. Nothing will be decided until the new coach is in place. "Put yourself in the free agents' shoes: Wouldn't they want to know who the coach is?" Fletcher said.

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