The most painless thing for Chuck Fletcher would have been to continue to employ Cam Barker.

That way, the Wild general manager wouldn't have to hear how he threw away his first-ever first-round pick -- and a born-and-bred Minnesotan to boot! -- for nothing.

But Fletcher decided it was time to pull the plug on Barker and take his licks now.

Nick Leddy's future looks bright in Chicago, and the player he was traded for, Barker, almost surely will become a free agent Friday morning when he clears unconditional waivers and is bought out by the Wild.

"Cam worked real hard for us. He was a true professional," Fletcher said. "When we acquired him, he was a player we felt would fit into our short- and long-term plans. He was already an established player in the league that had some success. But it didn't work out the way we anticipated and/or he had hoped.

"When you look back at things a couple years later, things seem crystal-clear. I'm the general manager, and ultimately I'm the guy who makes the trades and drafts the players. I certainly take full responsibility for any decision we ever make here."

At the time, the Wild was trying to push for a playoff spot. Fletcher, looking to get something for free agent Kim Johnsson, figured Barker could contribute immediately.

At 23, Barker was five years older than Leddy --- the former Minnesota Mr. Hockey from Eden Prairie and the No. 16 pick in the 2009 draft. Barker was the guy taken right after Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in the 2004 draft and was coming off a 40-point season.

But in 71 games with the Wild, Barker scored 12 points and was minus-12. His erratic play was troublesome, his skating worrisome. And he was set to make $3.25 million next season.

So instead, the Wild will pay Barker, who could not be reached for comment, $1.083 million to walk away, and his salary-cap hit drops from $3.083 million next season to $375,000 and $541,667 in 2012-03.

"I wish I could sit here and tell you that every decision I'm going to make is going to work out, but some don't," Fletcher said. "And I don't think I'm the only manager in sports or in business or in life that makes decisions that don't turn out the way you want them to.

"But you've got to keep making them and that's what I intend to do."

Fletcher will have decisions to make in free agency, although the Wild is not expected to be a big player.

The free-agent class is lean, and the Wild wants to get out of the habit of signing multi-year, multi-million-dollar free-agent contracts for spots that can be filled internally.

"I don't think we're going to be leading the charge [Friday], but that's not to say we're not going to make a few calls," Fletcher said. "I don't have a lot of expectations going in that we're going to be major buyers. But we also still hope to find a way to make an improvement or two before the season starts."

With Barker gone and Brent Burns in San Jose, one would think the Wild needs to add at least one defenseman at some point.

But Fletcher said he's comfortable with a blue line of veterans Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon with six-year pro Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon. From there, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser and Justin Falk will vie for spots.

"We have to fill a few more holes here, but I don't want to box players out before camp starts," Fletcher said. "We'll take a look at what's out there. If we can clearly get an upgrade or a guy that can step in and play an important role, we'll look at that."