When Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher faced a goalie crisis last year, he solved it with one, affordable move, trading a third-round draft pick to Arizona for Devan Dubnyk.
Throughout his tenure, Fletcher has found quality defensemen. But he has spent most of his energy and resources on the never-ending search for a forward who can make scoring a goal look easy. He still is searching.
When it comes to Fletcher’s quest to find forwards who can score goals, adjectives are unnecessary, descriptions superfluous.
A list will suffice.
Here are the key offensive forwards Fletcher has acquired since becoming the Wild’s GM in May of 2009:
Martin Havlat. Dany Heatley. Devin Setoguchi. Charlie Coyle. Nino Niederreiter. Jason Pominville. Thomas Vanek. Zach Parise. Mikael Granlund. Matt Moulson. Chris Stewart. Jason Zucker.
Parise signed as a free agent because he wanted to play near home. Coyle is playing well and has a chance at 20 goals this season. Just about every other player on that list was or is a disappointment, and is a reason the Wild has nose-dived and looks unlikely to achieve its goal of winning at least two playoff series.
Havlat was a mildly productive whiner. Heatley scored 24 goals in his first season with the Wild and 23 combined in his next two, as he slowed to Zamboni speed.
Setoguchi was a disappointment who never reached 20 goals in a season with the Wild. Coyle’s 13 goals this season are a career high. Niederreiter reached 24 goals last season and has eight this season. Pominville produced 30 goals two seasons ago, 18 last year and has five this season.
Vanek, whose only contributions can be found in the scoring column, scored 21 goals last season and has 14 this season, as his overall game has deteriorated.
Granlund has yet to produce a 10-goal season and, unlike defenseman Jared Spurgeon, has not learned how to overcome his lack of size to thrive in the NHL. Zucker scored 21 goals last year and has 11 this year and hasn’t produced an assist since. Nov. 10. Moulson and Stewart were brought in to strengthen the team for playoffs; both failed miserably.
Pominville cost first- and second-round draft picks, plus two prospects. Stewart, Moulson and Cody McCormick essentially cost the Wild three second-round picks. Vanek signed a three-year contract worth $19.5 million. Pominville signed for five years and $28 million.
Now the Wild is experiencing its annual winter free-fall, and Fletcher is again looking for a forward who can score a deft goal. According to Star Tribune hockey writer Michael Russo, Fletcher tried to trade for Columbus center Ryan Johansen and Tampa Bay prospect Jonathan Drouin, offering talented young defensemen Jonas Brodin for the former and Matt Dumba for the latter.
This is the logical move for Fletcher: Trading from an organizational strength to bolster an organizational weakness. But Drouin is the last kind of player team a fading team needs — a kid willing to no-show in the minors joining a tense team desperate for playoff success.
If Fletcher stands pat, his team will need to be almost perfect on defense and in the net to make the playoffs and win a series or two. If he trades draft picks for a scorer, he further depletes organizational depth. If he wants to land a true scorer, he will need to give up a young defenseman who may become an All-Star.
Dumba has been mildly disappointing this season, but he is 21 and his shot makes him one of the most dangerous Wild players even given his age and position. Brodin is the more logical player to trade because even at his best he doesn’t produce many points.
Defenseman Ryan Suter and Parise are 31. Pominville and Vanek are regressing. Niederreiter and Granlund are stagnating.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see this team rally and make the playoffs, or even win a series. But owner Craig Leipold’s hope that signing Parise and Suter would make his franchise a champion no longer seems realistic, because of Fletcher’s inability to find reliable scorers.