Wheeling, dealing a big part of draft week

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2011 - 1:20 AM

The NHL draft is an opportunity for teams to ship players elsewhere, and the Wild figures to be an active participant on the trade market.

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The Wild has a big decision to make on defenseman Brent Burns, who is entering the final year of his contract but could be a valuable trade asset.

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Hockey diehards will be drooling all over Xcel Energy Center this weekend.

It starts with the fact that every NHL "Who's Who" will be on one draft floor at the same time. If you attend the entry draft this weekend in St. Paul, you'll see (to name an absolute few) everybody from Steve Yzerman, Scotty Bowman and Luc Robitaille to Mark Messier, Ron Francis and Cam Neely.

If you're lucky, you may see Hall of Famer-turned-agent Bobby Orr or former players-turned-league execs Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake scooting by you in the stands.

You'll have the privilege of witnessing tomorrow's stars as baby-faced, pimply, clammy-hand 17- and 18-year-olds.

But perhaps the most exciting part of the draft is when Commissioner Gary Bettman steps to the mike and utters those magical words: "We have a trade to announce."

Yes, there are times the trades don't live up to the hype, but often times big, big names move at the draft, like in recent years, Chris Pronger, Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, and in 2006 to the Wild, Pavol Demitra.

Other than the trade deadline, draft week -- and often draft day as teams wait until the last possible second to drive up prices -- is the second-most active trading time in the NHL.

That's because between the draft combine, the general managers' meetings and the draft all happening three weeks apart, GMs have had three recent opportunities to speak face-to-face. In addition, teams often are trying to dump salary before free agency or begin reshaping their rosters.

Burns in play?

One team that's at least trying to be active is the Wild. GM Chuck Fletcher said that other than trading captain Mikko Koivu, he is willing to do "absolutely anything" to improve.

With the draft in Minnesota, many fans wonder if Fletcher will be looking to make a "splash." That has led to speculation that Brent Burns could be trade bait, partly because the All-Star defenseman might be what it takes to land an impact forward and partly because he's a year from unrestricted free agency.

Fletcher won't comment, other than to say how much he values Burns, thinks he's one of the "top young defensemen in the game" and has had "preliminary" contract talks with Burns' agent.

"Whether we make anything happen on the trade front, whether we add players or move up or down in the first round, you never know," Fletcher said. "But I can guarantee you, whatever we do or don't do, there will be an awful lot of conversations about an awful lot of things that may or may not make sense to us or the team we're speaking with.

"Ninety percent of things discussed around the draft don't happen, but there will be a lot of activity and we'll be busy. What that means at end of day, we'll find out."

Burns can't have his contract extended until after July 1 and could cost upward of $5 million annually, so Fletcher might need to make a long-term decision in advance. The common sentiment in league circles is that Burns is indeed in play.

But some NHL execs are skeptical Fletcher would risk trading Burns in front of the home fans unless it's a grand slam. Before the draft, after the draft? Maybe.

But draft day itself?

In 2001, when Florida held the draft, Fletcher was assistant GM. The Panthers, looking to make a splash, acquired Florida superstar Pavel Bure's brother, Valeri, from Calgary for much-maligned Rob Niedermayer. For a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2000, it's safe to say there hasn't been a louder cheer in BankAtlantic Center since.

"Robbie's a good friend, and that reaction didn't make me happy," Fletcher said.

Imagine if the opposite were to happen. Burns is a fan favorite, so nobody's sure how a sold-out X would react live on Versus and TSN if Burns were traded.

If Burns isn't traded, it'll be hard for Fletcher to execute a so-called "splash."

Unless it is a "special scenario," Fletcher won't trade the No. 10 overall pick outright. Time will tell, but the Wild looks as if it homered with its first- and second-round selections (Mikael Granlund, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker) last June. So, for a team looking to fully vest into a draft-and-development model by adding young talent rather than deleting it, Fletcher would have to feel a trade was a "no-brainer" to move one of those draft picks.

That leaves the NHL roster. Fletcher has said there are no untouchables other than Koivu. But Niklas Backstrom, Martin Havlat, Marek Zidlicky and Matt Cullen have no-trade clauses, and expensive, likely hard-to-move contracts anyway.

Other Wild scenarios

Three players who may intrigue other teams are Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon. But Bouchard and Schultz are expensive and have two and three years left on their deals, respectively. Plus, the Wild wonders what a healthy Bouchard could do on the right side of Koivu next season.

You can bet the two Wild players most sought after are hard-hitting Cal Clutterbuck and Houston defenseman Marco Scandella. Clutterbuck is 23, has led the NHL in hits his first three seasons and scored 19 goals last season. So you can also bet Fletcher would prefer to build with Clutterbuck. And while most players in Houston likely can be had, Scandella might be the one who is not.

The Wild is actively trying to trade defenseman Cam Barker. If it can't, the Wild might consider buying Barker out of the final year of his $3.08 million contract by June 30. That would cost a little more than $1 million but trim his cap hit to $375,000 next season and $541,667 in 2012-13.

The Wild also is willing to move up, or more likely, down in the first round if it means gaining another first-round pick or a second-rounder. Currently, the Wild doesn't have a second, which was dealt to Boston in the 2009 Chuck Kobasew trade. Also, with so much depth at goaltending with Matt Hackett, Darcy Kuemper, Dennis Endras and Johan Gustafsson, Fletcher might dangle one.

So Fletcher has a lot to weigh. The Wild has missed the playoffs for three years in a row, so, "I'm open-minded to anything. We have to get better."

"The priority," Fletcher said, "is to get more young talent to compete with some of these organizations that have top young talent. We think we've made inroads. We think we're on our way. But we recognize we have further to go. We're not there. We had a good draft last year, and we think we'll get a good player at No. 10 this year.

"After that, I honestly can't tell you what will happen between now and July 1 other than we're looking aggressively to get better."

  • NHL DRAFT

    Friday-Saturday • Xcel Energy Center • TV: VS. and NHL Network • Wild in first round: Pick No. 10

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