It has been an active 12 months for Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher. Now that’s not to say that all NHL general managers aren’t active (unless you’re Winnipeg’s GM), but Minnesota’s general manager has had to make a few more crucial decisions in the past year than some of his peers.
The first move was Fletcher’s decision to move on from interim head coach John Torchetti, who replaced Mike Yeo in February, by replacing him with Bruce Boudreau, who was fired from Anaheim after another lackluster playoff performance. Fletcher did not mind Boudreau’s past playoff performances with Anaheim and Washington, as he seemingly could not dial the phone quickly enough to get a meeting with one of the more successful regular season coaches in the NHL.
Boudreau was brought in on a four-year contract with the Wild, in the hopes he could provide a bit more stability to the regular season (meaning: no more mid-season swoons). He did just that, or close to, as he guided the Wild to their most successful regular season in franchise history and a second seed in the Central Division portion of the Western Conference playoff bracket.
Second on the list of Fletcher’s moves was signing center Eric Staal to a three-year contract in July. Staal was coming off a poor season with Carolina and New York, as he tallied a combined 39 points in 83 games (he got in an extra game after the trade to New York), and had some wondering if his career was on the downslide.
After a productive offseason for Staal, he proved to be more than effective for the Wild in Year 1 as he registered 65 points, which was second best on the team behind Mikael Granlund’s 69. Staal gave the Wild a two-headed monster down the middle with Mikko Koivu, who greatly benefited from Staal’s arrival this season.
Minnesota was pushing its chips all in on the season
As the Wild were flying high in the regular season, Fletcher made another big move, as he brought in center Martin Hanzal and wing Ryan White from Arizona at the March 1 trade deadline. The Wild sent a first, second, and conditional fourth-round pick in return for the two players, the more notable of which was Hanzal. Hanzal was considered the best center available on the trade market, and Fletcher made sure he was the winner in this race as he beat out divisional rival Nashville for Hanzal’s services.
The move signaled Minnesota was pushing its chips all in on the season, considering the return they gave Arizona. They needed a center (especially after they had just watched Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews roast them for five points the week prior) due to the struggles of Erik Haula and Tyler Graovac, and Fletcher made the move to get the best one available. Hanzal has worked out for the Wild in 20 games since his arrival, scoring 13 points, and he now gives Minnesota three established centers down the middle.
Lastly, Fletcher made a move at the end of March to bring back prized prospect Joel Eriksson-Ek from Sweden following the conclusion of Farjestad’s season. Eriksson-Ek was on the Wild to begin the season, but the team wanted him to go back to Sweden and get a bit more seasoning before returning to the NHL. It was not expected that Eriksson-Ek would return this year, thus saving a year on his entry-level contract, but given the Wild’s March slump, Fletcher pulled the trigger to have the 20 year old return this season to give the team more depth.
Since the return, Eriksson-Ek has a pair of points (one goal, one assist) but has helped provide more balance to the Wild lineup, which was struggling mightily to score in the month of March.
The point of all this was simple: while these are moves that have mainly paid off for Fletcher so far, they will be truly be judged here and now in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His team opens the postseason as one of the favorites to win the Western Conference, but the road ahead is daunting as the Wild have drawn St. Louis in Round 1 and have the specter of the Chicago Blackhawks waiting for them in Round 2.
If Minnesota can make a deep postseason run, Fletcher’s moves will be lauded as a success and will give him even more job security with an already trusting boss, Craig Leipold. If it’s a quick playoff exit for the Wild, that hot seat might fire up again for the second consecutive offseason.