DETROIT – If you’re a Wild fan dying to know what the Wild’s going to do before the April 3 trade deadline, here’s the answer to two of your questions:
Will Niklas Backstrom or Matt Cullen be traded? “Oh God, no,” said General Manager Chuck Fletcher. “Backy’s been outstanding. He’s our No. 1 goalie. Cullen’s been a big part of our team. That’s the type of guy every team in the league wants to add for a playoff run.”
With a big laugh, Fletcher continued, “We’re trying to win, too, so why can’t we keep them?”
Will the Wild make a splash? “I would like some of our young players to get experience and learn how to play in tough situations,” Fletcher said. “We can’t hide them. They have to go through the process at some point. You can’t just skip it and all of a sudden have these mature players that are just going to come in and play like veterans.”
In 2005-06, Anaheim, with Fletcher as an executive, played rookies Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner. They got valuable experience and a season later, the Ducks won a Stanley Cup with the trio making significant contributions.
Fletcher doesn’t want to make moves at the deadline that would lessen the roles that Wild rookies Jonas Brodin (top-pair defenseman), Charlie Coyle (first-line right wing) and Jason Zucker (playing second-line left wing before an injury opened the door for Pierre-Marc Bouchard to reestablish himself) would have if the Northwest Division-leading Wild makes the playoffs.
“If they can get this experience, it’ll make them and our team better down the road,” Fletcher said.
As for Cullen, 36, and Backstrom, 35, they’re in the last years of their deals. That always leads to trade rumors two weeks before the deadline because the common theory is teams want to get something for a player they may lose for nothing in the summertime.
“I’ve basically said to all the guys, ‘Let’s just get through the year just because of our situation,’ ” Fletcher said. “Backstrom and Cullen, they’re huge parts of our team. They can play through the end of their contract and, at the end of the year, we can talk to them. They’ll know what they want to do and we’ll know what we want to do.
“I’m not saying things are easy, but they’re not complicated. It’s, ‘Do you want to stay and do we have room to keep you and how’s the fit and how did we do?’ To me, there’s no pressure at all. ”
Cullen, one goal from his 200th, has been outstanding since late January. He has 18 points in his past 22 games and is riding a five-game point streak.
“It’s all over the ice,” coach Mike Yeo said, referring to Cullen’s improved play.
“Penalty killing, his defensive-zone coverage, the way he’s tracking back, faceoffs, forecheck, creating turnovers. He’s using his speed every game.”
Backstrom, with Josh Harding sidelined since Feb. 12, is tied for third in the NHL with 14 victories and has a 2.34 goals-against average. He is 11-3-1 in his past 15 starts.
Still, Fletcher says he doesn’t want to be premature and sign them to extensions when there’s no pressure now to do so.
“I just want to make sure the people you bring back are at the right number and cap hit,” Fletcher said. “I’m not in a hurry to get ahead of anything.”
Cullen says he is not worried about it.
“I’m having a lot of fun playing, enjoying it, we’re winning games, we’re in a good spot and I hope we can go on a run and take a shot at winning the Cup,” Cullen said. “That’s the only thing I’m focusing on and why I came here.”
One player who still might be on the trading block is Bouchard, who is in the last year of his deal. He almost certainly will not be re-signed.
Fletcher said like all teams, he’ll gauge the market to see if anything makes sense before the deadline.
“But besides [Zach] Parise and [Ryan] Suter, we’ve added a lot of players — Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell, re-signed [Stephane] Veilleux — that can compete and check and provide depth. I think we’ve tried to get ahead of it by making our moves in the summer as opposed to at the deadline and allowing our team time to come together.
“We’ve added [Mike] Rupp. Brett Clark helps our blue-line depth. We have depth in goal. We have guys in Houston who can come up and play. We’re protected against some of the things that have plagued us in the past, so I don’t know that we have to go do anything.”