Last Sunday night, a few hours after he traded this June’s first-round pick, next year’s second-round pick and a 2019 fourth-round pick that “hopefully” becomes a second-round pick because that means the Wild advanced to at least the conference final this season, Chuck Fletcher called one of his amateur scouts to apologize.
On Monday, the Wild general manager planned to call a few more. Tuesday … a few more.
June 23 and 24 in Chicago will be Fletcher’s ninth draft since joining the Wild. Unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat the next three months, it’ll be the second draft in which the Wild doesn’t own a first-round pick. The latest went to Arizona as part of the Martin Hanzal/Ryan White package.
“Imagine being an amateur scout and you get a call basically on March 1 telling you, ‘We’ve traded our first-round pick,’ after you’ve been scouting for five months,” Fletcher said. “You’re out slogging miles, and a lot of your focus is on the first round, it is on the top guy because that’s how the franchise is judged, that’s how you’re judged.
“You’re thinking, ‘All this time away from my family’ … it’s tough.”
This is Fletcher’s 24th year in the NHL, so he knows amateur scouts live and die with first-round picks and the pride of getting on stage for a keepsake picture after a first-rounder is selected.
Pro scouts, they’re scouting in pro rinks, getting on airplanes, staying in nice hotels and are constantly involved in potential deals, giving recommendations, in contact with the GM.
Amateur scouts? “They work all year for two days,” Fletcher said. “The amateur guys are in cars driving to Sudbury, Ontario, and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. They get their two days a year. Believe me, those are special days.”
So Fletcher called many just to let them know he doesn’t take trading his first-round pick lightly “and hopefully we do something special this year that makes it worth it.”
The Wild’s goal this trade deadline was not to deal any of its valuable prospects. Fletcher’s message to the scouts was: They’ve helped successfully draft many potential players, guys like Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Alex Tuch and Jordan Greenway, so choosing to trade picks rather than prospects was a testament to the job they’ve done.
Assistant GM Brent Flahr, who runs the Wild draft table, said his amateur staff gets it.
“Their goal is to win a Stanley Cup, too,” Flahr said. “We’ve got some good players in the stable, and they’re proud of it. To get an asset like Hanzal — everybody wants that type of player — and not have to give up any of our top prospects, that’s big.”
Fletcher is cognizant of the fact he doesn’t always leave a lot of bullets in the chamber for Flahr, whom Fletcher calls the best scout in the game, and his scouts. Since the 2013 trade deadline, not including draft-pick-for-draft-pick trades on draft days, Fletcher has dealt 14 draft picks and acquired five. That includes two first-rounders, five second-rounders (he doesn’t own this year’s as payment in the 2015 Chris Stewart deal) and three third-rounders.
“It’s unbelievable how many picks we’ve traded,” Fletcher said, honestly. “This time, we’ll obviously have to find a way to pick up something back, although that’s why the  fourth-rounder we got from Arizona, as silly as it seems, at least recoups something — six picks instead of five — to give the scouts something to chew on.”
It’s not ideal trading so many picks, but Flahr’s not worried about not having a first and second. Plus, with the Wild’s young core, such players as Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker and Jonas Brodin, intact, and so many prospects coming, the Wild’s in a drastically different spot from, say, 2013 when it traded a first-round pick and a load of assets for Jason Pominville.
For example, the Wild has a league-high 14 first-round picks on its current roster.
“We had lots of big holes three or four years ago,” Flahr said. “We have fewer holes to fill today, and we have guys in the system to fill those spots. You can’t do this every year, but this was the right time to take a shot.”
• Now that the expansion Vegas Golden Knights are locked and loaded, they can begin trading for assets (no living, breathing pro players yet) and sign college, junior and European free agents.
GM George McPhee is also searching for his first coach. He has talked with Gerard Gallant, Jack Capuano and Ralph Krueger.
McPhee said Vegas has converted 16,000 deposits into 14,000 season-ticket holders.
“Local fans, small groups, families, small businesses,” McPhee said. “No big blocks of tickets purchased by shopping malls or a casino. All local, two to eight tickets per sale.”
• Many around the NHL were stunned that Joe Sakic, who runs the worst team in the league — the Colorado Avalanche — didn’t trade Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog at the deadline. But, frankly, it made little sense to do it now when he can wait until the draft and get more teams involved because the expansion process will be over and teams will have full knowledge of their rosters and cap situations going forward.
“As you saw, everybody is looking at expansion. You have to get ready for it,” Sakic said. “You have to have your protection figured out. Obviously, it’s a unique year and different year.”
• Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek felt so badly that 396 Flyers fans threw their hats on the ice thinking Wayne Simmonds had completed a hat trick last week when the final goal actually belonged to him, he plans to purchase 396 hats and donate them to local hospitals for kids fighting cancer. “Well, hopefully that’s the last time I get booed after I scored,” Voracek said, jokingly.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 5 p.m. vs. San Jose
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. St. Louis
Thursday: 6:30 p.m. at Tampa
Friday: 6:30 p.m. at Florida
Sun., Tue., Thu. FSN; Fri. FSN+
Player to watch: Thomas Vanek, Panthers
After missing his return to Minnesota with Detroit because of an ankle injury, Vanek, who spent the past two seasons with the Wild, has since been traded to Florida.
“I’m already fat enough. I don’t need to get lumpy any more.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau, on why he hopes to avoid the latest Wild mumps outbreak.