Nearly one month after what he called the “still incredibly disappointing” end to the Wild’s season and nearly one month until the expansion draft, General Manager Chuck Fletcher described himself Tuesday as “actively listening” to ideas from his 30 NHL counterparts.
Recently meeting with his pro scouts and currently getting together with his amateur scouts, the GM will talk this weekend with owner Craig Leipold. Next week he will meet with his entire coaching staff and front office to prepare for the busy month ahead. While all this has been going on, Fletcher has been fielding calls from other teams.
As he said last month, Fletcher has been “all ears.”
“We’d love to find a way to improve our club,” Fletcher said. “We owe it to the organization to listen to everything. … I like a lot of our players, but the reality is we can’t bring our same team back. There is going to be a change or two.”
It’s well-chronicled how challenging this summer will be for the Wild. There’s no way around it: the Wild will lose a quality player to the Vegas Golden Knights in expansion. The Wild also has significant restricted free agents to re-sign, including Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, and not a lot of salary-cap space.
“I just don’t want this [summer] to be how we deal with our cap challenges and how we deal with our expansion challenges,” Fletcher said. “That’s certainly a focus, but I’d like the bigger focus to be, ‘How do we get better?’ ”
That attempt to improve might come via a trade. Fletcher has gotten calls about his top prospects, as well as young core players such as Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Friday that teams are especially calling about Niederreiter and Dumba because they wonder if they can be plucked during such a challenging offseason. For instance, on the blue line, the Wild might have to expose to Vegas two of Dumba, Brodin and Marco Scandella, among others.
“People are inquiring about a lot of our players, not just necessarily [Niederreiter and Dumba],” Fletcher said. “If teams call and ask about a player, I’m listening, but there’s a big difference between listening and shopping.”
Fletcher made clear his objective is to re-sign Granlund and Niederreiter. He has not entered serious negotiations with either player’s agent but plans to soon.
“We’re going to work with the player and their agents and try to do the best we can to keep them here,” Fletcher said. “We’ll do our part and hopefully they’ll work hard with us to make it work. I can tell you with confidence that we’re going to try to make it work, but I certainly can’t tell you that it will work.”
As of now, the Wild plans to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. If Fletcher had to turn in his expansion protected list now, he could. But that, too, can change based on if a trade is made before expansion.
“There will be opportunities to consider things that maybe we normally haven’t considered the last couple summers,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher’s head is spinning with the uncertainty that comes with expansion.
“I said to one manager [Tuesday], ‘It’s as clear as mud,’ because there’s still too many variables that we don’t know or we can’t predict at this point,” Fletcher said. “But over the next few weeks, things will fall into place. Some conversations will go well, some won’t. That’s just the reality of it.
“I don’t know if I can ever recall a summer where everything broke our way. There’s always going to be some disappointments or things we simply can’t come to agreement on with players or teams or what have you. We’ll just work through it and keep the conversations going, and at some point I think the right path will be evident.”