BUFFALO, N.Y. – Box lunches were handed out to all draft tables around 11:30 a.m. Saturday. They should have provided the Wild’s with pillows or five-shot espressos.
In a typically dull Day 2 of the NHL draft, the Wild’s Day 2 was really, really dull. The team’s first pick of three on the day didn’t come until the 106th selection. It waited around until the seventh round to take two more players.
“We did a lot of work with the highlighters crossing off names,” assistant GM Brent Flahr quipped.
The only real activity came during the times bored Bruce Boudreau stood up to stretch.
“My responsibility factor is over now,” Boudreau said after putting himself out of his misery by leaving the table in the fifth round. “It’s hard to think that Bruce Boudreau was the eye candy on the floor.”
Laughs aside, leading up to the draft, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said after 87 points and a first-round exit last season, the Wild was open to anything that would improve the team.
Through the two-day draft, the Wild has yet to do that, at least in terms of immediate help. The four players drafted by the Wild this weekend won’t be wearing Wild sweaters in anything other than development camp and prospect tournaments for two or three years.
Obviously, Fletcher won’t say right this second what he has up his sleeve. But he didn’t buy out Thomas Vanek’s contract for no reason. He has his paws in multiple trade scenarios.
Even Boudreau conceded that: “You guys are smart guys. You can read between the lines.”
But, in pro sports, Boudreau knows you need a partner to tango, so the coach added: “If nothing works out and it’ll be a slower process, it’ll be a slower process. We might wait until July 1, and see what’s out there. I’m sure there will be some new players on the team; you never keep the exact same group.
“Chuck and Brent are really doing their due diligence, and we’ll see how it works out.”
The Wild has had trade talks with the Edmonton Oilers about center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, although all Oilers skilled forwards not named Connor McDavid are also said to be in play. The Oilers appear to want right-shot Matt Dumba and other pieces, including next year’s second-rounder. The problem is the Wild no longer owns that pick.
Fletcher, after trading scores of second-round picks since 2013 and seeing second-rounders Brett Bulmer and Raphael Bussieres flame out, is hesitant to mortgage the future further anyway.
“I can understand the fans’ frustration, but you have to make the right deal,” said Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, Fletcher’s former Harvard pal, referring to his fan base and not talking about the Wild specifically. “I’m having lots of discussions. It’s hard to get a No. 1 defenseman. … As I’ve said, I’d prefer a right-shot defenseman. That’s what I’m focusing on.
“You have to grind away. A couple of discussions I had today, their positions had softened.”
It’s also believed the Wild has talked to the Rangers about center Derek Stepan and the Arizona Coyotes about veteran center Martin Hanzal and prospect Christian Dvorak.
But with Saturday’s start to the free-agent courting period, Fletcher has begun contacting agents to gauge interest. Free agency opens Friday.
Part of Fletcher would prefer that path because it makes him sick to have to trade a Dumba or Jonas Brodin. But the other part of Fletcher knows that he has gotten into trouble signing free agents in the past.
With the salary-cap trajectory not rising anywhere close to where NHL teams expected it would a few years back, Fletcher has to be careful with term and dollars spent. He has bought out former free-agent pickups Thomas Vanek and Matt Cooke this summer and last.
But if the Wild doesn’t acquire a large contracted player this week, it could very conceivably pursue wingers such as Kyle Okposo, Andrew Ladd or David Perron in free agency or centers such as David Backes, Loui Eriksson or Frans Nielsen.
While Fletcher said he can’t stress enough he won’t make a move just for the sake of making a move, he also said, “I know from our standpoint we’re going to have opportunities here in the next week to improve our team, and if we can, we will.”
Boudreau said he feels it’s overblown that the Wild needs an overhaul. He pointed out that the Wild was on a 104-point first-half pace before “some things went a little wrong” last season.
He feels there are tools in place and a new coaching staff that “will bring instant energy and new life just because of the newness.”
But relying solely on a new coaching staff with a new message to invigorate the team seems risky.
Nobody inside the Wild was satisfied with last season’s second half and the way it ended. It’s up to Fletcher to make sure it wasn’t the beginning of a regression, so the pressure is on for him to make the right decisions either this week via trade or next week via free agency.
You can tell, he knows it.