BUFFALO, N.Y. – Chuck Fletcher has set up shop in Buffalo and is bound to be a popular figure at Thursday’s general manager meetings.
The Wild GM has been involved in trade conversations for weeks and has made no secret that 87 points and a first-round exit last season was hardly satisfactory. His colleagues know he’s open for business at this weekend’s NHL draft.
Fletcher said the Wild doesn’t feel it must make a significant trade at any cost, but he feels there’s a good chance to “improve the team.”
“We’re not going to make moves so we can say to everybody, ‘Look we’ve got a different team,’ but our goal is to be a better team and there could be opportunity to become that this week,” Fletcher said.
While there’s little doubt the Wild would like to add a center — it made a significant offer to Columbus last winter for Ryan Johansen, Fletcher said, “We’d take a good forward of any sort if it’s the right price.”
To do that, it could cost one of the defensemen on the second-youngest blue line to make last season’s playoffs. That could mean Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella or Matt Dumba.
Sources also say the Los Angeles Kings have inquired about defenseman Christian Folin.
“I think a couple guys probably didn’t play to the level that they wanted to last year at times,” Fletcher said. “I think we had a little bit of inconsistency on our blue line as we did throughout our team, and that’s why we had the year we did, but it’s still a really good group. Many of them are still entering their prime years.
“I know [new assistant coach] Scott Stevens is very excited about getting his hands on the group and trying to mold and develop them into an even better group, so in a lot of ways, there’s a part of me that says, ‘Let’s just hold onto this group next year and have a little bit more information until we do something.’ But there’s often only a few opportunities every year to get good players. So if something presents itself, we’ll look at it strongly.”
The Buffalo Sabres, a favorite trade partner that has accumulated Wild assets nonstop since 2013, is desperately looking for a left-shot defenseman. It’s believed the Arizona Coyotes have interest in the right-shot Dumba, and multiple sources say the Wild has inquired about dynamic forward Christian Dvorak and veteran center Martin Hanzal.
The Edmonton Oilers need blue-liners, and anybody from centers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov to wingers Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle could be had for the right price.
Some feel the same could be said for Florida’s Nick Bjugstad and the Rangers’ Derek Stepan.
The Wild also theoretically could be willing to part with forwards. Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter are a year from restricted free agency, meaning the Wild has to decide soon whether it wants to commit to them long-term. Jason Zucker is a restricted free agent.
Fletcher said he may meet with some of the agents who represent unsigned Dumba, Zucker and Darcy Kuemper in the next few days.
It was announced Tuesday that next season’s salary cap will be $73 million. That gives the Wild only $9 million of space with 15 players signed. Four of the Wild’s defensemen — Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Brodin and Scandella — eat up $21 million.
With free agency also opening July 1, a Thomas Vanek buyout could be around the corner. That would provide $5 million in cap relief next season.
“We haven’t made up our minds. It’s certainly a consideration,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher has talked to a few teams about Kuemper, including, sources say, Calgary. But next summer’s expansion draft means a flood of goalies are suddenly available, so it could be difficult for Fletcher to trade Kuemper for quality value.
Fletcher maintains his big focus is “upgrading our forward group.”
“We’ll see if anything transpires. If not, there’s always the ability to look at free agency.”