After July 4, there isn't any doubt that things changed for the Minnesota Wild; with over 200 million spent on a cache of free agents in little over a week, the building process toward icing a perennial Stanley Cup contending team accelerated just a bit. Part of the selling point of the power point presentation that was used to recruit these free agents was that this team has, is, and will be built upon a strong foundation of drafting and developing; that in theory, in the salary cap world, this team should be good year after year because young, skilled, and inexpensive talent will be able to step in year after year, offsetting whatever free agent signing or trade that needs to be made.
This is where things get dicey; Chuck Fletcher has done a terrific job wheeling and dealing at the Draft Table, where the Entry Draft in itself seems like such an insulated event- picks are picks, and whatever roster players that are attained/dealt seem so peripheral, considering that shortly after July 1, the NHL enters the quiet doldrums of the deep deep offseason.
Like, these moves are made for the future in essence- the pressure of immediacy isn't necessarily there. Where I think Fletcher struggles in terms of moving and shaking is when there is an urgency for instant improvement.
This is where, and I'm talking now specifically, Fletcher needs to continue to stay the course with the program.
The big nugget so far in the week leading up to the Entry Draft is that Minnesota is one of a handful of teams participating in the Jonathan Bernier Sweepstakes. Bernier hasn't truly gotten a chance to become a full time #1 goaltender since the emergence of Jonathan Quick as pretty much one of the best goalies in the World. The former 11th overall pick has Kings GM Dean Lombardi's word that he'll be traded somewhere that will afford him the opportunity to be "the guy"; and considering the wholly uncertain nature of Minnesota's goaltending situation, Chuck Fletcher has inquired about the asking price.
Josh Harding, although he returned from some complications from his MS Medication to start in the playoffs, is still a wild card considering his medical situation. Niklas Backstrom broke down physically again at the end of the season, leaving the warm ups before Game 1 with a sports hernia. He's begun to be addled with nagging injuries as his time as neared an end here; let's not forget he's now closer to 40 than 30.
And youngster Darcy Kuemper is likely not suited right now for the NHL; with the departure of Matt Hackett to Buffalo in the Jason Pominville trade, it was a vote of confidence that The Wild values him more; its just that he isn't ready.
I've made my thoughts known on the direction that Fletcher should take with the tendy situation- you can get NHL quality goaltending for cheap pretty much anywhere- but it appears that the concept of having a high-pedigree goalie in his 20's backstopping your team for the next decade is awfully appealing.
It hasn't been confirmed, but the names bandied about heading in LA's direction would be Jason Zucker, and Kuemper too if the deal was expanded to include puck moving defenseman Alec Martinez. Zucker has the look of being a potential goal scoring threat (something Minnesota desperately needs,) and Kuemper has to the potential to be the exact same #1 netminder that The Wild are pursuing in Bernier.
To me this reeks a bit of panic move for Fletcher; in fact most of his immediate improvement deals do. The jury is still out on the Pominville deal; high picks are high picks (although that 1st rounder would be quite lovely this year), but #29 was near a point-per-game until he was concussed. I do think there was some foresight though with his acquisition; He brings off-ice leadership and on-ice consistency to a team that lacks that in some of its forwards, so he's an ideal piece to have in the locker room if, indeed it is true, that Minnesota intends to keep roster competition in-house, and have the prospects push each other and the veterans for playing time.
Matt Hackett alleviated what would have been a goaltending logjam; there was no guarantee he was NHL ready, and with Johan Gustafsson heading to Iowa next season, you could have had potentially three goalies fighting for space. Johan Larsson hurts forward depth, but this ties into the cool and precise nature with Fletcher had approached non-immediacy trades in the past; the pick we used on Larsson was attained by trading Eric Belanger to Washington in 2010. Hell, even Hackett was a byproduct of trading down from 12 to 16 in 2009, with The NY Islanders giving us their 3rd rounder (Hackett), and a 7th, which became Erik Haula, who turned pro this year.
In 2009 we traded a 4th and 5th to Edmonton for Kyle Brodziak and a 6th, which became Darcy Kuemper; both of whom have seen ice time with the NHL club, while the picks that the Oil made are still mired in the ECHL/AHL.
Hell, look at the Marek Zidlicky deal last year; that turned into a recently re-signed Steph Veilleux (depth at the least, mentor at the AHL level), Raphael Bussieres, and a 3rd rounder this year. James Sheppard going to San Jose got us another 3rd rounder this year.
Yet, we all know the trades Fletcher's made that intended to improve the club immediately; the Nick Leddy debacle, Chuck Kobasew, and to a lesser extent, Tom Gilbert.
My fear is that now that Minnesota's taken a step forward by getting into the playoffs, is that the pressure will force Fletcher into making more rash moves, instead of maintaining this calm, keep building mentality he's had in the past, with great success. Picks and prospects are currency, but let's not let immediacy make us go broke by recklessly dealing them all away, now that we've got them.