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: "We’re no longer a seller"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild trade news Updated: April 3, 2013 - 6:36 PM
UPDATED
 
The Wild tried hard on Tuesday to trade for San Jose’s Ryane Clowe, but he wanted to go East.
 
In fact, this morning, from people I talked to, it was clear the Wild felt it offered a better package to the Sharks than they wound up receiving from the Rangers. But Clowe had the hammer with a no-trade clause and chose New York.
 
From seeing what the Wild was willing to give up to get Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville, you can bet what I was hearing is accurate.
 
As you know by now, the Wild traded Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett, a 2013 first-round pick and a 2014 second-round pick to the Sabres for Pominville, who has scored 20-or-more goals the past six seasons and twice 30, and a 2014 fourth-round pick. Pominville, when he arrives hopefully tomorrow, will be slotted on the right side of Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu for an all-Captain line.
 
Pominville is just an all-situation guy. PK, point on the power play, does all the little things, versatile, booming shot, etc.
 
I just talked on the phone to his linemate, Thomas Vanek, who said, "We all heard Darcy's (GM Regier) comments that he could be gone, but when it happens, I was shocked. It's part of the business, but we're losing, myself also, I'm losing a great teammate in the locker room, somebody I was with for eight years, and a good friend. He's such a great player and linemate. The Wild, they're lucky. Just a smart, good hockey player who can adapt to any situation and make his linemates better. He's going to really help them. We're going to miss him a lot. Jason is as good a guy as there is."
 
But big, big price from the Wild. Chuck Fletcher explains why below.
 
First of all, “We’re really excited. Our players have played hard and played well this year. I believe we’re improving as an organization. We’re starting to take some positive steps. It was important if we could find the right fit at the right piece, I think it was important for us to try to continue to upgrade our talent and improve our team.
 
“You never know what can happen, but today was an important today. We’re no longer a seller. We want to keep pushing forward and want to compete for talent. It’s just a good day for our franchise.”
 
On Pominville: “He’s scored 30 goals in the league, he’s had 70 points, he’s a team captain. He’s a hard-working, 200-foot player, and I think like some of our other top players, like Parise and Koivu and Backstrom and Suter and you can go right down the list, not only is he talented, he’s got a hard-working mentality and a high level of character.
 
“He plays the point on the power play, he kills penalties. He’s just a guy that brings a lot of dimensions and versatility and a player that could fit into a lot of different roles.”
 
You paid a huge price: “There’s no question, we paid a price. Jason’s a talented player, he’s not a rental, he has term left on his deal (one year), he’s the captain of his team and he’s a guy that we wanted. Anytime you want a good player who’s not a rental, you’re going to pay a price.
 
“(Assistant GM) Brent Flahr and his staff have done a great job for us. They’ve drafted very well. We’ve been able to apply a lot of young assets over the last few years, and the fact that we have really good depth in terms of talented young players, it allowed us the opportunity to pursue a player like Pominville. We have plenty of assets in the cupboard and plenty of talented, young players at evev position. The last few years, our focus have been to gather prospects and picks, but our team is growing and showing some positive signs, at times you’ve got to dip into that pool of talent that you’ve accumulated and pay some assets to get in this case an All-Star NHL player.”
 
Basically, the price was obviously high, but the way the Wild sees it, the foundation of the franchise for years is in place with top-liners Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu and No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter. Then, there future cornerstone forwards Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund and blue-chip defensemen Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba.
 
From there, the Wild is developing defenseman Marco Scandella, forwards Brett Bulmer, Zack Phillips, Tyler Graovac, Raphael Bussieres, is loaded with other college-level players from Mario Lucia and Erik Haula to Adam Gilmour and John Draeger.
 
It still has two hotshot goalie prospects with Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson, who plans to come to North America next year.
 
So since there’s only so many positions on a hockey team and so many contracts permitted to be handed out, the Wild felt it could afford to give up the hefty price and potentially lose a couple top draft picks.
 
“Hey, we recognize that we paid a price,” Fletcher said. “Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett are good, young hockey players. And anytime you trade a first-round pick, you’re obviously paying a significant price. But as a franchise we’ve spent a lot of time accumulating assets and trading for draft picks, and I think it’s a positive sign that as a franchise we’re now trading prospects and picks to acquire players. Typically that means you’re moving in the right direction. There’s always a balance. You can’t make these moves all the time. But if you never make them, how do you get better?”
 
Does this mean win now or bust though? “Again, he’s not a rental. He has term on his contract. And again, we still have a lot of really good young players. Brent and his staff have shown the ability to draft well and I have no doubt they will continue to. Our goal is to win as many games as we can. We feel we’re a competitive team, we have work to do, but we’re trending in the right direction. We want to keep pushing that. We’re not shy about our desire to get better. We’re going to be a competitive team for a long time.”
 
I asked Fletcher what this means going forward for guys like Backstrom and Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who are in the last year of their deals, and Dany Heatley, who is an amnesty buyout candidate this summer. The Wild is only $9 million from next year’s $64.3 million cap without buying out Heatley or maybe re-upping Backstrom or Cullen and before re-signing restricted free agents like Cal Clutterbuck and Jared Spurgeon.
 
“At the end of the year we’ll sort it all out. There’s a lot of hockey left to play. We have flexibility to do the things we need to do, but that’s a conversation for another day.”
 
By the way, the Wild still has two thirds this summer (one extra for Sheppard) and two sevenths and then all their picks from Rounds 2-7.
 
Right now, the hope is Pominville can meet the team in L.A. and debut tomorrow, but that is not set in stone yet. I have left messages for Pominville, known as one of the most accomodating athletes in the NHL by the way, but haven't talked to him yet. I'm sure he's swamped with his life being uprooted.
 
The Wild also acquired goalie Jeff Deslauriers from Anaheim for future considerations (nothing). He’ll take Darcy Kuemper’s spot in Houston until hopefully Josh Harding is ready to return.
 
Lastly, and I’ll leave you with this, Fletcher is always looking and thinking ahead. Pominville was Thomas Vanek’s linemate. They are very close. Vanek has been quoted in the past saying he wasn’t too keen being a part of a rebuild in Buffalo. He’s a free agent in the summer of 2014.
 
Is acquiring Pominville the precursor to pursuing Vanek, the former Gopher, in two summers? Just something to keep in your head from somebody who, if you’ve read me for awhile, guessed for three years that the Wild had its eyes set on the summer of 2012 to go after Parise.
 
It just makes sense. Regardless, the Wild keeps making bold moves, from the Brent Burns-Devin Setoguchi one, to the Dany Heatley for Marty Havlat one to signing Parise and Suter to this.
 
Its eventual goal, besides winning, of course, is to show all players in the NHL that Minnesota wants to win and should be considered a destination the way markets like Pittsburgh, the Rangers, Philly, Detroit always have been.
 
A lot more in tomorrow’s paper and the coming days. Oh, and there’s a game tonight, so more later. I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the second intermission tonight.
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