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Based on the way things were going for our local NHL club the past 7 to 8 weeks, I could have told you a month ago that the NHL trade deadline day was going to come and go without any significant activity from the Minnesota Wild, it was just that simple of an assessment. And so today, a leap year day to boot, February 29th, came and went without much fanfare. The Wild’s GM, Chuck Fletcher, made one move to help the team out, managing to finally shed 3rd goaltender Niklas Backstrom’s contract in a trade deal sending him to the Calgary Flames. Chuck had to throw in a 6th round draft pick and received forward David Jones in return.
Jones will not make you jump out of your seat, he has 6G, 9A for 15 points and is a -8 with 10 PIM’s in 59 games. On top of that he is 31 years old. At this moment I can’t tell you how the money and contracts shake out salary cap wise because Jones contract I believe, actually had a higher AAV then Backstrom’s. Jones has a $4mil salary for this season. I did hear some chatter that the Wild would be covering a portion of Backy’s remaining salary for the season. At any rate this deal is hardly a season changer. At the end of the day the club gets to move on from Backstrom.
The Finnish net minder kicked off his NHL career with the Wild in the 2006-07 season and would eventually become the franchise leader in goaltender victories with 194. He signed his current contract in the summer of 2013 for 3years/$10.25mil. Not long after that his game began to trend downward and along with some injury situations the team was forced to try some different options at the goaltender position. Twice Backstrom delayed needed surgeries placing the team in a position of not being able to buy out his contract. When asked to go to the AHL Iowa Wild this season to showcase him for a possible trade deal, he refused to go. While Backstrom was basically protecting himself using avenues available to him through the CBA, it placed the team in a difficult position.
It was time for a separation and now both parties can move on. Backstrom may or may not see any playing time in Calgary in spite of a goalie revolving door there this season due to injuries and poor play. There were a couple of minor leaguer deals done as well and that was that. Within the Central Division, the Wild and Blues were the two clubs who sat out the dance. Chicago has made perhaps, the most significant deals to bolster their roster for another playoff run, which by the way, they will be in. The Dallas NorthStars helped themselves by acquiring D-man Kris Russell. STL got a backup goalie so they could tread water with Brian Elliott out on long term IR. The Tuesday eve opposition for the Wild, the Colorado Avalanche, made a couple of strong moves in obtaining Arizona UFA to be, Mikkel Boedker, a solid two way F, and hard shooting D-man Eric Gelinas from the NJ Devils. This game has renewed interest with the Wild closing to within two points of the AV’s and the 2nd wildcard playoff spot that they currently own.
Who will prevail? The Wild could put up a strong performance versus the Av’s at home and pull even with them. Can the Wild play with enough jam the remainder of the season to get a playoff spot? That’s up for discussion. The Av’s have some youth and the inconsistency that comes with it so if the final wildcard spot is up for grabs between these two teams, I can’t confidently give you a frontrunner at this time.
To summarize the trade day for the Wild I conclude a couple of things; the team has few attractive assets at this point in time that could have made sense for a real contender to do some horse trading for. For veteran assets the Wild were challenged by three factors, the age of the player concerned, their contract dollars and remaining term, and that players production or lack thereof. It’s hard to trade guys with big contracts that aren’t producing, it’s just that simple. The club has only one young player that I would consider an untradeable asset and that is Charlie Coyle. From a production standpoint, size, compete level etc, this is a player to hold onto and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coyle develop into a premier power forward sometime soon. The remainder of the young forwards, save for the potential of a Jason Zucker, are unremarkable at this time, and Zucker is out on IR at this time.
This is strictly theory, but I also believe that team owner Craig Leipold had told Fletcher to be pretty conservative at this years deadline. Usually in the month leading up to this day a lot of fringe teams are deciding if they are going to be buyers or sellers. I think that Leipold has concluded that the way the team has trended this year that they aren’t in the buyer category to possibly make a playoff run, and with nothing to really “sell” they aren’t sellers either. That’s where this club is at right now. Out of the playoffs with nothing they can do about it from a trade or roster movement standpoint. Oddly, the team can compete on a lot of nights, but there are no certainties when it comes to getting wins.
This is somewhat indicative to me as well, that Leipold may be preparing to dismiss Fletcher from his position at the conclusion of the season. I could be wrong, but neither of Fletcher’s coaching hires worked out (both first time NHL Head Coaches) the roster is a mini-mess, and the primary farm club, the Iowa Wild are one of the worst AHL clubs this year with no help in the pipeline. This will require a very big mop and is going to take some time to get back on the proper track. Leipold must take some heat too, his “win now” mantra has cheated the draft and develop model currently in vogue in the show and Fletcher probably had to go along. Aye yi yi yi .. PEACE