Russo's NHL Insider: Larsson hard to part with for Wild

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 7, 2013 - 12:44 AM

Parting with Johan Larsson wasn’t an easy move for a Wild brain trust that had watched him blossom into star material.

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Rookie forward Johan Larsson was a player the Wild did not want to trade, but he was let go in the Jason Pominville deal, indicating that the team is willing to make risky moves to improve.

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When you’re a scout who spends weeks on the road in the heart of winter scouring the world for talent, there is nothing more satisfying than draft day.

The most rewarding part is the selection of the first-round pick. In a vast production, the general manager, coach, team’s top talent evaluators and a scout or two get to go on stage, announce the pick on national TV and pose for pictures with a teenager whose dream just came true.

Scouting is an inexact science when trying to project the futures of 18-year-olds. But the other cool part of the draft is trying to hit home runs in the later rounds.

That’s why as excited as the Wild was to acquire Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville on Wednesday, you know deep down it hurt a lot of behind-the-scenes folks in the hockey operations department.

Unless General Manager Chuck Fletcher is able to acquire another first-round pick, the Wild hierarchy won’t get to go on stage this June in New Jersey. But perhaps the harder blow was giving up Johan Larsson in the package. Larsson was considered one of those home runs inside the Wild.

It’s that part of the Pominville trade that caused the most internal debate inside the Wild. Trading Larsson was crushing for assistant GM Brent Flahr, who proudly called him “the Grumpy Swede.”

“Scouts, when you trade a first-round pick, it’s always a little uneasy feeling probably, but when you get a good player [like Pominville], it’s fine,” Flahr said. “Probably more uneasiness comes from trading a guy like Larsson, who you draft and get to know a bit and appreciate. I’m a big fan of Johan Larsson. I think everybody knows that, but that’s the business.

“We’ve worked hard as a staff. We have a lot of good, young kids in this organization now. You can’t always keep them all in order to take a next step to be a better team.”

From Buffalo’s perspective, besieged GM Darcy Regier swung a heck of a deal, parlaying a 30-year-old on a franchise in rebuild mode for Larsson, a potential goalie of the future in Matt Hackett and first- and second-round picks.

The Wild missed on Ryane Clowe. It then really, really wanted Pominville and had so many assets, it was able to afford to give up what most externally would consider a truckload.

There are only so many positions on a hockey rink. The Wild has core pieces already cemented to the ice. They have lots of kids in the pipeline. So Fletcher felt there had to come a point where he began using some of these picks and prospects as currency since they can’t all play here.

Fletcher also wanted to send a message to the team that, as Flahr said, “We want to win now.”

Of course, the thing that’s scary is that despite that “huge, huge vote of confidence,” as coach Mike Yeo called it, the tired club has responded by losing two games since the trade.

“Making this trade doesn’t guarantee anything, but if you sit around and take the safe route all the time, what good does that do?” Fletcher said.

Not only has Fletcher tried to get the attention of the Wild with the trade, the hope is there’s a ripple effect around the NHL. The Wild wants to gain a reputation as a destination — a team players want to play for, like New York, Pittsburgh and others.

Pominville said that rep began last summer when the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for $196 million over 13 years.

Now the Wild is showing it isn’t afraid to trade picks and prospects to at least try to get better.

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