CHICAGO – Not long after the Vegas Golden Knights completed their 30-player roster Wednesday night, Chuck Fletcher inhaled, exhaled and said, “Thank goodness.”
Like most every other general manager, the Wild’s chief decisionmaker had to put business on hold with 29 other teams the past three weeks while Vegas GM George McPhee made side deals that in essence caused the league to come to a transaction halt.
“They leveraged things to their advantage, which they should have,” Fletcher said.
There was no Vegas post-party celebration for Fletcher. He headed for a red-eye and scurried out of the world’s gambling mecca with his shirt and wallet but no Erik Haula or Alex Tuch, the 2014 first-rounder Fletcher believed in and the Golden Knights wanted.
Fletcher long understood expansion would be painful for the Wild. His goal was to minimize the damage, something he felt he did by sacrificing Tuch in order to keep Vegas from taking defensemen Matt Dumba or Marco Scandella.
But now it’s logical to think there’s a “what else?”
That red-eye flight landed at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, and there’s a good bet the GM wheels and deals during this weekend’s draft. Round 1 is Friday night, Rounds 2-7 are Saturday.
The Wild doesn’t have first- or second-round picks, which is why the team’s not hosting a fan draft party for a change. It has six picks in the final five rounds, maybe seven if Vegas informs the Wild on Saturday that the third-round pick the Wild acquired for 2018 will now come in 2017.
The big question is whether Fletcher, after making sure he got through the weekend with Jonas Brodin, Scandella and Dumba in tow, actually now trades one of them.
Fletcher is “absolutely” considering that possibility.
While there has been strong trade interest in Brodin all month, Scandella also is getting interest, especially from his hometown Montreal Canadiens. However, talks seemed to cool as of late Thursday.
Other teams in need of defense include Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Boston, Dallas and Calgary. It’s believed Fletcher has had lots of talks with the Sabres and Lightning.
Brodin might lure the loot, but Scandella may be the easiest to part with after back-to-back erratic years. It sounds as if the Wild is reluctant to trade Brodin and a right-shot defenseman in Dumba, one of its best offensive blue-liners, unless the price is supreme.
However, Fletcher said Thursday night, “Teams are calling on everybody. I’m not limited to anybody. I’ll talk to anybody about anybody. So we’ll keep talking.”
While Fletcher is open to receiving an “immediate player” back, he talked mostly Thursday about trading for futures (i.e. picks and prospects) to create flexibility heading into contract negotiations with key players, as well as free agents.
That might be the more prudent route. Jordan Eberle was traded to the Islanders on Thursday. Other top forwards available via trade include Matt Duchene, Derek Stepan and Alex Galchenyuk. But all are expensive.
If the Wild anticipates re-signing both restricted free agents Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter (and Fletcher says he intends to sign both), it would seem the only way the Wild could afford to sign both and conduct other business this summer would be to trade a lucratively paid player.
“That’s what we’ll go through now. We’re open to both avenues,” Fletcher said of the types of trades he can make. “We just want to improve our team. We have a good team. It ended much quicker than what we wanted, and we’re just trying to find a way to be playing much later in the spring next year.”
It’s also believed Fletcher has tried to unload Jason Pominville, who has two more years left with a $5.6 million cap hit. Fletcher finds value in Pominville on the ice, particularly now that the Wild’s forward depth has taken a hit the past week. But there’s no doubt the Wild could use the cap space. Pominville has a modified no-trade clause that allows him to pick 10 teams he can be dealt to, a figure that increases to 20 on July 1.
It’s believed the Wild, at least recently, talked with Boston about Pominville.
In the meantime, the Wild will be, as of now, a bystander Friday and early Saturday. Brent Flahr, running the draft table for the eighth time, said his staff has been preparing like it has a late first- or second-round pick.
Without one as of now, the Wild’s senior vice president of hockey operations said, “We knew what we were getting into when we made the [Martin Hanzal] trade. We want to make sure we get something out of this draft. Our guys work hard, they travel tons of miles every year. They certainly don’t want to come out of a draft with nothing.
“You look at our prospect pool, we have quality forwards, a couple defensemen on the verge of breaking into the NHL. But we can’t get too picky picking where we’re picking right now.”