By Joey Cavalier
Minnesota Wild fans have grown accustomed to yawning through the offseason. Yet this offseason, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has surprised the world of hockey with several daring moves. The hockey rubes here in the State of Hockey are now frothy as ever over the Wild’s future fortunes.
Fletcher has radically altered the Wild’s makeup and future outlook in just one month. Now it’s time to analyze each of Fletcher’s offseason moves, and give out grades.
Fletcher keeps it in the family and names Mike Yeo Head Coach
Rather than going with an experienced NHL coach, Fletcher selected Mike Yeo as the Wild’s new coach. Yeo lead the Houston Aeros (Wild IHL affiliate) to the Calder Cup finals in his only season as head coach. He has vowed to bring a tougher brand of hockey to Minnesota. This is encouraging, because last year the Wild lacked toughness and identity. Fletcher has made it clear that the Wild are going with a “youth movement,” and hiring Yeo will only benefit the youngsters whom he coached in Houston.
The Wild trade Brent Burns to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, prospect Charlie Coyle (2010 1st round pick), and Zack Phillips (2011 1st round pick)
This was a brilliant trade by Fletcher. Devin Setoguchi is a young, proven goal scorer who possesses a physical style of play; two things the Wild lack. Though the Wild gave up their best defensemen, fans need not worry. The Wild have four defensemen in the system that are NHL-ready (Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Drew Bagnall, and Justin Falk). Plus, adding two first round prospects will bolster the Wild’s minor league system. This trade benefits the Wild in both the short and long term, as the team's future contributors will be allowed to step in and play meaningful minutes.
Fletcher refrains from going after “big” names in free agency. Signs Darroll Powe and Mike Lundin
This year’s free agent class was very weak. Several teams overspent on B-list free agents. Fletcher wisely refused to overpay for second-tier players and only made a couple of quiet free agent signings: Darroll Powe (LW) and Mike Lundin (D). Both of these players bring toughness and a gritty style of play. In not overspending this year, the Wild will now have cap room for next year’s free agency period, which is going to be much stronger than this year’s class. Currently, the Wild have over ten million in cap space.
The Wild trade Martin Havlat to San Jose for Dany Heatley
Since entering the NHL in 2001, Heatley ranks first in game-winning goals (58) and power-play goals (128), third in goals (325) and fifth in total points (689). Heatley is at the tippy-top of the A-list and is only 30 years old (which is like being 26 years old in “football years”). Heatley was still able to put up 64 points last season despite having a broken hand and injured ankle for a good chunk of the season. Havlat never really clicked here in Minnesota and has underachieved since joining the Wild. I like this trade a lot… I think I even peed my pants a little when I found out this trade went down.
Before all of Fletchers bold offseason moves, I believed that the Wild were 2-3 years away from a playoff berth. Now, the Wild have the talent to be a top seed in the West. This isn’t just Kool-aid drinking, bandwagon buzz. Fletcher has brilliantly transformed the Wild roster into something to be feared. He has resurrected hope and expectations in the State of Hockey.