They say the NHL trade deadline in Canada is a national holiday, and it’s not far from the truth.
The national sports networks have wall-to-wall live coverage, and hockey-rabid fans soak in every moment.
Fans also love the month leading up to the trade deadline. They dive headfirst into blogs and Twitter feeds and eat up all the rumors involving their favorite teams. Everybody tries to identify the buyers and sellers, tries to figure out which players, usually those with expiring contracts at season’s end, can be had as “rentals.”
But here’s a word to the wise as the March 5 deadline approaches: Be cautious what you believe because it’s silly season on the Internet this time of year.
Last weekend, Wild fans got into a tizzy because it was reported the Wild made what any rational fan would understand was an irrational offer (allegedly involving a Wild blue-chip forward) for Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.
The Wild brass doesn’t make a habit of debunking rumors and refuting reports, but they made clear this one was hogwash.
Miller is expected to seek a long-term deal worth $7 million annually as a free agent. It’s unlikely the Wild would sign any goaltender to such a price, especially one who will be 34 by next season. And if the Wild isn’t interested in re-signing him, it’s not about to throw a boatload of assets to rent Miller for the final six weeks of the season.
Would the Wild want Miller? Of course. But unless things go haywire before the trade deadline, it’s unlikely new Sabres GM Tim Murray, who, yes, is indeed pals with Fletcher and worked with him in Anaheim and Florida, looks to hit a grand slam with both Miller and free-agent-to-be Matt Moulson.
Regardless, with two games left before the Olympic break, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher says he’s going to be patient and try to ascertain during the next three weeks whether Josh Harding will be able to return.
If not, Fletcher, at least outwardly, says he’s comfortable continuing with a Darcy Kuemper-Niklas Backstrom tandem.
Fletcher would love to add another scorer or defenseman, but with so many buyers and so few sellers because so many teams are in the playoff hunt, Fletcher said prices are inflated.
Last season, the Wild traded a first-round pick, Matt Hackett and Johan Larsson to Buffalo for Jason Pominville. The Wild did so knowing it wanted to sign Pominville to a contract extension, something it achieved before this season. He’s currently the Wild’s leading goal scorer and his signing, although nobody would dare say it, sets the stage for the Wild pursuing former Gopher Thomas Vanek if he becomes a free agent July 1.
But Fletcher said: “It’s pretty hard to make those type of deals every year. It’s difficult to move multiple young assets every year at the trade deadline, otherwise you end up mortgaging your future. I’ll never say never because if an opportunity comes up that makes our team a whole bunch better, we’d look at it.
“But there is a breaking point how much you’re willing to pay [in terms of assets] for a rental.”
With the Olympic break, there will be a trade embargo Feb. 8-23. No team can resume practicing until Feb. 19, so the end of the freeze should give teams that want to pull the trigger in advance of the trade deadline time to integrate new players before the NHL season resumes.
The Wild held its pro scouting meetings late last month in South Florida. Fletcher said he’s trying to improve the team but is content if he can’t make a move or two. He did say prices are similar to last year, meaning any big move could cost another first-round pick.
“In a perfect world, I don’t want to trade first-round picks in consecutive years,” Fletcher said. “If opportunities come up, sometimes you have to do things, and this first round isn’t as deep and our scouts always seem to deliver no matter what picks I leave them with.
“But it would have to be something pretty special. I’d like our guys to have a first-rounder this year.”