The NHL trade deadline approached this year with the Wild in a familiar position in some respects: battling for a playoff spot and hoping to pull out of a mid-winter nosedive.
The approach from Paul Fenton in his first trade deadline as Wild GM, though, was about 180 degrees different than that of his predecessor, Chuck Fletcher.
In some ways, the contrasting approaches make sense.
Fenton is looking after a team in transition — one that seems determined not to completely bottom out but one that is nevertheless reshaping itself with at least one eye on the future.
Before he was let go, Fletcher presided over teams that made the playoffs in six consecutive seasons — and in at least a few of those years there existed a mentality that the right acquisition could fuel a deep postseason run.
The big problem was in how much Fletcher gave up compared to how much his acquisitions delivered.
Using NHLtradetracker.com, I looked at the past six trade deadlines under Fletcher from 2013-18, which netted 11 players and a handful of low draft picks for the Wild and sent out a few lower-level players and 13 draft picks from the organization.
The lower-level picks (fourth round or lower) acquired by Fletcher more or less canceled out the lower-level picks he gave up, but the Wild at or in the run-up to the deadline from 2013-18 gave up two first-round picks, five second-rounders and two-third rounders in various trades.
All for two playoff series wins and 14 total playoff victories in the last six seasons.
The trades ranged from regrettable (getting Martin Hanzal and Ryan White for a hasty playoff exit in 2017 cost the Wild, on balance, a No. 1 and a No. 2) to mostly mediocre. The best of the bunch was nabbing Devan Dubnyk for a third-rounder in 2015.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Dubnyk is the only player acquired by Fletcher in-season in those six years who is still with the Wild. And those nine picks …
Well, let’s just say they’ve put Fenton in a bit of a bind and perhaps forced a sort of retroactive strategy. With fewer prospects having the chance to emerge because of the dearth of picks, Fenton has started to stockpile players from the draft years in which the Wild had limited choices.
Ryan Donato, acquired for Charlie Coyle last week? He was a second-round pick in the 2014 draft, a year the Wild didn’t have a second-round pick because of the Jason Pominville trade in 2013. Kevin Fiala, acquired for Mikael Granlund on Monday? He was a first-rounder in 2014.
Both new Wild players are younger (by about four years) and cheaper (by multiple millions) than the players they replaced. They join the likes of Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin and Joel Eriksson Ek (high picks the Wild did make in 2015 or 2016) as a sort of new young core.
If there’s a critique of Fenton’s approach (outside of the initial returns on getting Victor Rask for the red-hot Nino Niederreiter), it’s that he wasn’t able to stockpile major draft assets.
At least, though, he’s on the plus-side of the ledger. Fenton has acquired a fifth (along with Donato), a sixth (along with Brad Hunt) and a seventh (for Matt Hendricks on Monday) and given up just a conditional fifth-rounder (for Hunt).
That beats dealing away nine picks in the top three rounds, even if the circumstances are different.