Michael Russo’s Sunday Insider: Fletcher weighs options

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2012 - 9:00 AM

The Wild's GM feels like his young players form a strong group, but there's that pressure to make the playoffs.

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Center Tuomo Ruutu, left, is highly sought, but it appears the Carolina Hurricanes will try to re-sign him.

Photo: Darryl Dyck, Associated Press

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Chuck Fletcher is weighing the present with the future, treading carefully as he tries to help jolt the Wild into a playoff berth as the Feb. 27 trade deadline approaches.

The Wild general manager wants to make the playoffs, but he doesn't want to do something foolish that he'll regret years from now (i.e. Nick Leddy Part Deux).

After working to build up a prospect pool, he doesn't want to make a desperation move for a short-term fix.

"When you look at it historically, when you're talking about the rental type of trades, the vast majority of time, the team trading the player with the expiring contract and picking up future considerations almost always wins," Fletcher said.

Fletcher finds himself in a position a lot of GMs of midrange teams find themselves in this time of year. He feels the pressure of making the playoffs, something the Wild hasn't done since it won the Northwest Division in 2008. As of Saturday, the Wild was outside the top eight.

But this is often when teams extend themselves in terms of what they give up. Remember, there's only one Stanley Cup winner.

In 2007, the going price for a rental was a first-round pick along with several other top assets. The Islanders acquired Ryan Smyth from Edmonton, Atlanta acquired Keith Tkachuk from St. Louis and Nashville acquired Peter Forsberg from Philadelphia.

None of those teams made it past the first round. Was it worth it?

Would it be smart for the Wild to give up a Johan Larsson or Jonas Brodin or Charlie Coyle just for the prayer of making the playoffs? And even though anything can happen in the playoffs, the reward for making the playoffs may be Detroit or Vancouver in an opening-round matchup.

"We feel like we're starting to build up a pretty good group of young players," Fletcher said. "You just want to be careful you don't start backtracking on some of the accomplishments our scouting staff has made. You never want to close off any option, but we're highly reluctant to give up our top prospects for short-term fixes.

"This is the time we need to be building up our asset base, not taking away from it."

The dilemma Fletcher and many teams face is that several teams want to upgrade, yet there are only a half-dozen teams that you can argue have no prayer of making the playoffs.

The standings have tightened like a tourniquet. Anaheim is on fire. Buffalo is suddenly winning. Florida, Winnipeg and Washington are fighting to win the Southeast Division, which might be the only way of making the playoffs in that division.

And some of the non-playoff teams are locking up their guys early.

Columbus just re-signed Vaclav Prospal. The Islanders just re-signed Frans Nielsen. Carolina recently re-signed Tim Gleason and will try to re-sign Tuomo Ruutu before trading the highly sought-after asset.

"The system we're in now, you have to wrap up players that help your team now because certain players are hard to find on July 1," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said. "If we traded Gleason, we'd be sitting there in the offseason looking for a player like Gleason for probably the next five years."

In 2006, Rutherford hit trade-deadline home-run deals when he acquired Doug Weight and Mark Recchi. Both helped Carolina win the Stanley Cup.

Maybe that's an aberration, but Rutherford says teams can't just look at the end result of a Stanley Cup parade.

"When those deals were initially made, it wasn't just about the players. It was a perception thing for our team," Rutherford said. "We believed we can win, and it's about what it does for the team initially."

Of course, Rutherford has a stake in saying that. He may have to trade Ruutu and is shopping defensemen Jaroslav Spacek and Bryan Allen, so he wants to drive up the price.

Still, unless things loosen up, this could be one of the more difficult years to make a trade.

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