Wind of Change


The future’s in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune reveals today what many of us suspected was coming for the Minnesota Wild. Owner Craig Leipold is unhappy, GM Chuck Fletcher is unhappy, and if things don’t change the team will.

"“This group needs to execute better and perform better,” Fletcher continued. “If they can do it, nothing needs to be done. If they don’t do it — I’m not sabre-rattling here — we’re into December, we have to look, ‘Do we have the right personnel?’ We have to look at the trade market more aggressively.”"

Join me after the jump to look at possible moves.

Chuck Fletcher has shown an incredible willingness to make moves to improve the team. With the Wild struggling early last season he sent Craig Weller, Alexander Fallstrom, and a 2nd to Boston for Chuck Kobasew. A little over a month later he sent struggling former 1st rounder Benoit Pouliot to Montreal for Guillaume Latendresse. In February he moved soon to be free agent Kim Johnsson and prospect Nick Leddy to the Blackhawks for Cam Barker. Those moves have had varying degrees of success, but the point is he was willing to do the things to improve the team. Now once again the Wild are sitting on the outside and something has to be done. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.

Fire Todd Richards.

This is the easy choice, but is it the right one? Fletcher told the Star Tribune:

"“But I have complete faith in Todd. Todd is a good hockey coach. He and his staff are preparing our players the right way for every game. His work ethic is terrific. At this point, the coaches can’t play for the players. The problem isn’t the game plan. The problem’s been the execution. When you turn the puck over nine times in the first period like we did [Wednesday, in a 4-2 loss to Phoenix], that’s not [the fault of] coaching.”"

I have been highly critical of Richards. After his bag skate I said that if it doesn’t work he must be fired. I called him out for the Colorado game when he didn’t use his timeout effectively and left Backstrom in way too long. Also as Russo writes, “Matching lines still doesn’t seem to be his strong suit.” But would firing him and bringing in someone else make this team better? Fletcher doesn’t seem to think so and despite my criticisms I’m inclined to agree. While I certainly think firing Richards has to be on the table I also think giving him a chance with returning players (Bouchard, Kobasew) and any new acquisitions is reasonable. After all its not Richards fault that the team’s projected highest scorer came to camp out of shape and is out injured for most of the season. However, and ultimately, whatever other moves Fletcher makes Richards will be held responsible if the team doesn’t win.

Make a trade

(As an Aside, there was a lot of talk about a trade because of scouts being at the game. Read Russo’s explanation on why the Wild’s pro scouts were in the arena and Bryan Reynold’s piece on the “record number of scouts” at the game. While its clear Fletcher is looking at moves, nothing is imminent.)

So with that out of the way lets look at the possibility of which players may be moved. For the sake of this article I’m going to assume that the Wild isn’t looking to move prospects and rookies. That’s not to say they won’t be part of a deal but I don’t believe Fletcher is looking to ship them out for the sake of change. Instead he is more likely looking at veterans.

No Chance:
Marty Havlat has been the teams best player lately and has a no-movement clause. With his recent injury history and high cap hit Pierre-Marc Bouchard is safe. Matt Cullen has a no-trade clause and is a key player on the powerplay. Mikko Koivu just signed a huge contract extension, so despite his struggles as of late he is going nowhere. Latendresse is injured. Cal Clutterbuck has been one of the better players all season. Patrick O’sullivan was claimed off waivers so no one is like going to trade for him unless part of a package deal. Marek Zidlicky is in the first year of his deal and has a NMC. Besides, his ability as a puck mover is badly needed.  And, no one is going to take on Niklas Backstrom’s contract especially with his recent struggles.

Not Likely/Wait till trade deadline:
If the Wild are out of the playoff picture Jose Theodore will be traded, but it won’t be until the deadline. Cam Barker, while moving him would be great, I just don’t know how many teams would be willing to take him with another year left. Greg Zanon brings a lot of heart to the team and although he has not been immune from mistakes this year I think he is someone the team would prefer to keep. I also don’t see much of a market for Eric Nystrom or Brad Staubitz but you never know. Kyle Brodziak, as a center, will draw attention but I just don’t see him being moved as he has shown chemistry with Havlat.

Don’t want it to happen, but it could:
Brent Burns has been phenomenal this year. I don’t see the team moving him but a lot of teams will be asking about him. It was rumored over the summer he might be moved for that reason, but the price would definitely be high. John Madden could also fall into the previous category as he will almost certainly be moved at the deadline if the Wild are out. He brings a lot to the team defensively and leadership wise, but has also made some blunders. He took responsibility for the back to back goals in Calgary.

Most Likely:
The free agents to be: Chuck Kobasew, Antti Miettinen, and Andrew Brunette. Bruno is likely to get the most attention with his experience and playmaking ability. Miettinen and Kobasew could also draw attention for someone looking for help on the wing as both can score. All three guys come with an identical 2.33m cap hit, and to be quite honest, I don’t expect any of the three to be back in a Wild uniform next season. (Unless Bruno is brought back at a vastly discounted rate.) Nick Schultz is an enigma. Highly valued by the old management, new management seems to have never been quite sold on him. His defensive ability is something any playoff team would love to add though.

Personally, with the exception of Barker there is no one I want to see leave, but I realize this team has to be shaken up somehow.  The playoffs aren’t out of reach yet, but every loss makes it that much more difficult.