The Wild's Chuck Fletcher has strictly been on the receiving end of trade-related phone calls as the NHL Draft nears. But he expects Minnesota to be conservative.
Off a second-round playoff appearance and with several key restricted free agents needing to be re-signed over the next year-plus, the Wild are being cautious as they lend an eye to the future.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
By Brian Hall
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- No one will accuse general manager Chuck Fletcher of sitting on his hands, keeping his phone on silent and missing an opportunity to improve the Minnesota Wild.
Fletcher predicts a busy period of trade activity in the NHL heating up this week with the NHL Draft beginning on Friday and the league's scouts, executives and agents convening in Philadelphia. Never afraid to make a trade, Fletcher doesn't see Minnesota as a major partner for other teams this week.
"I don't know that we're going to be a big team that's going to make a lot of moves here," Fletcher said Monday as he and assistant general manager Brent Flahr addressed the media in advance of Friday's draft. "But we'll see, you never know. Today there's been a move, there's been a couple signings from what I can tell. So this will start to kick-start things and who knows what happens here the next few days."
The trade Fletcher was referring to was the Columbus Blue Jackets acquiring forward Scott Hartnell from Philadelphia in exchange for forward R.J. Umberger and a draft pick on Monday. General managers have been on the phone -- Fletcher said the amount of talks have been "typical" -- and Fletcher has been on the receiving end of those calls more than he's dialed.
Off a second-round playoff appearance and with several key restricted free agents needing to be re-signed over the next year-plus, Fletcher is careful about his moves.
"We're happy with our group," Fletcher said. "We certainly would like to add. We certainly have holes we need to address. But if you look at our team, we either have players right in their prime that are key contributors on our team, or young players that are just starting their career that we're really not that excited about moving.
"We don't have a lot of players in that 25- to 29-year-old age class that seem to be the prime trade candidates in a lot of cases. So, it's not to say we won't make a trade, but we're looking at options in free agency. Certainly there's a lot of UFAs that may be attracted to us as we get into the shopping period, and I think we're pretty interested in keeping our No. 1 pick."
Fletcher and Flahr described next weekend's draft as deep, and Fletcher seemed entertained by the idea of trading back and adding picks. The Wild are without a second-round pick in this year's draft. A drastic move would be unlikely. Minnesota didn't have a first-round pick last year and likely wouldn't want to drop too far this time around.
Like with trades for established players, Fletcher is more likely to exercise patience and see what comes about.
"I don't think we have quite as many holes going into next season as we had in previous years," Fletcher said. "That's not to say you're still not trying to improve your team. But I just feel that this year there's not the sense of urgency that we have had in past seasons, that we have to add certain pieces in order to be more competitive."
Fletcher said Minnesota won't be "chasing things," in part due to several young players who will be restricted free agents over the next two years. Fletcher will need to keep those pending contracts in mind during discussions.
"It just takes one team saying, 'Hey, I'm going to move this guy. Do you have interest?'" Fletcher said. "And all of a sudden your interest gets piqued, and you get involved, but I'm not anticipating being very aggressive. I'm anticipating we'll draft at 18 and we'll take the proverbial best player available, and we'll be happy with that. If there's a way to add a second-round pick so we have one this year, I'm certainly open to that suggestion and I've kicked the tires in a few areas in that regard."
Fletcher said his focus, if he gets into the trade market, would likely be to acquire more offense. Meanwhile, Fletcher does see his fellow general managers wearing out their phone plans.
"I think you'll see a lot of movement this year," Fletcher said. "It's not a particularly strong free-agent class. I think teams will look to potentially fill their needs via the trade route. A lot of teams are looking for specific things right now, so it wouldn't surprise me if there was a lot of movement that doesn't involve draft picks, and of course you always have the movement that does involve draft picks. So, I expect it to be a very busy week here leading right up until July 1."
About those restricted free agents: Fletcher said the team has had some dialogue with some of this year's restricted free agents, but not all of them. Fletcher reiterated his desire to re-sign each, though.
The team has been busy in draft preparation and working on staff contracts and organizational meetings.
"We have so much cap room, so we're not overly concerned about offer sheets," Fletcher said. "There's plenty of time to deal with this. I'll meet with a few agents at the draft for our RFAs and that will obviously become a priority starting in Philadelphia and through the next few weeks."
According to capgeek.com, Minnesota is about $22.7 million under the cap before free agency.
"I've had conversations with all the agents about where we're at and likewise they've indicated what their interest would be," Fletcher said of the group of unrestricted free agents. "There's been good, healthy dialogue. We're so close to July 1. At this point you never know, something could happen in the next day or two, but these guys have waited this long, why not wait another week and see what's there. I think some of those guys will move on at this point. They're aware of where we're at."