CHICAGO – With the April 3 trade deadline four weeks away, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is monitoring other teams while also working internally to determine whether he will try to sign any of his potential unrestricted or restricted free agents to extensions.
If unsigned, Matt Cullen, Niklas Backstrom and Pierre-Marc Bouchard can become completely free July 1 and are the type of players who playoff contenders typically pursue as “rentals” at the deadline. Cal Clutterbuck, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk can become restricted free agents.
Fletcher says he hasn’t talked to any of their agents about new deals.
“That’s not to say we won’t do something in the next few weeks, but right now we’re trying to get a sense of where everybody fits,” Fletcher said. “I’m curious to see how we play the next month.”
Entering Tuesday’s games, the No. 3 through No. 11 seeds in the West were separated by three points. If the Wild is still in the playoff race, the team would be less likely to trade a veteran such as Cullen or its No. 1 goalie, Backstrom.
“It’s great to have all these kids, but it’s still a hard league for 20- and 21-year-old kids,” Fletcher said, indicating he might be interested in re-signing Cullen and Backstrom, too.
With the standings so tight, Fletcher said: “How many buyers and sellers are there really going to be? It’s hard to find trade partners because everybody’s going to be in it for the most part. If you think about it, the trade deadline is going to be the 35- or 36-game mark. In a normal season, how many teams are out of it at the 35- or 36-game mark? I’ve been calling around just trying to get a handle on what teams are looking to do. I’ve received a lot of calls. All the conversations I’ve had have been in the context of hockey trades rather the [rentals].”
Goalie Josh Harding hasn’t started since coach Mike Yeo pulled him with a 2-1 first-period deficit Jan. 30 against Chicago. Sidelined while he tries to get a handle on treatment for multiple sclerosis, Harding is “feeling a lot better,” Fletcher said.
“Now it’s a question of getting back to strenuous physical activity, then getting back on the ice and seeing from there. Doctors are very confident we’ll get to a spot where he’s going to feel very good most days.”
The Wild is considering flipping backup goalies by sending Darcy Kuemper back to Houston and recalling Matt Hackett, who is 5-3 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .938 save percentage since Kuemper’s Feb. 12 call-up.
“Darcy’s earned the right to be here and playing very well, but so is Hack and we want to make sure we don’t hurt Darcy’s development [by not playing him],” Fletcher said.
At a charity game during the lockout in Chicago, Blackhawks wing Patrick Kane said he and Backstrom laughed about last year’s shootout move in which a super-slow Kane beat Backstrom after several little dekes.
He scored on a similar move against Detroit’s Jimmy Howard on Sunday, but Kane said: “I liked the Minnesota one better. … I’ve seen guys come in kind of slow, but not to the effect that I’ve done it where you’re almost at a standstill. … I did it to [Vancouver’s] Cory Schneider during the lockout [in Switzerland] and he said, ‘It should be illegal.’ ”
Backstrom denied Kane’s similar attempt Jan. 30.