Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo tried to put a positive spin on their club’s performance during their recent season-ending press conference, but the local media weren’t buying it.
Despite the Wild returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press considered the season a failure, pointing out the team struggled down the stretch and barely made the playoffs before being bounced in five games by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Souhan was concerned Fletcher gave up too much to land Jason Pominville, who was ineffective against the Blackhawks. Powers, meanwhile, believes without last summer’s acquisitions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild “would’ve been the Florida Panthers.”
Souhan and Powers suggest Fletcher and Yeo have one more season to prove to Wild ownership and fans they’re the right men for their respective jobs.
Of the two, Fletcher faces the most pressure. The Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo observed the Wild GM has some big roster decisions to make, but only $9 million in salary cap space for next season.
Topping the list is re-signing or replacing unrestricted free agent goaltender Niklas Backstrom. He’s expressed interest in remaining with the Wild, and Fletcher is expected to meet with Backstrom this week to discuss his future.
If unable to re-sign Backstrom, Fletcher must find a replacement via trade or free agency. Russo suggested the St. Louis Blues (Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott), Anaheim Ducks (Jonas Hiller, Viktor Fasth) or the Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Bernier) as possible trade partners.
Russo’s colleague Chip Scoggins believes the Wild need more scorers to reach the next level, but acknowledged finding them won’t be easy. Russo speculated Fletcher could use players like Cal Clutterbuck, Devin Setoguchi and Tom Gilbert as trade bait.
Fletcher could also use compliance buyouts to free up cap space. Dany Heatley, who has one year at a cap hit of $7.5 million on his contract, would be a prime candidate, but could be ineligible if he hasn’t recovered from season-ending shoulder surgery by the buyout period.
LONG ISLAND FEVER
Despite the New York Islanders’ first round elimination, their surprisingly strong performance against the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins has Islanders fans looking optimistically toward next season.
GM Garth Snow has some notable players to re-sign or replace this summer. Newsday’s Arthur Staple believes restricted free agents Travis Hamonic and Josh Bailey are “almost certain” to be re-signed, but is less certain over the futures of unrestricted free agents Mark Streit and Evgeni Nabokov.
Contract talks with Streit were postponed before the trade deadline when the veteran blueliner sought a three-year, $16-million deal. Nabokov, meanwhile, was a workhorse in goal this season, but the 37-year-old struggled down the stretch and against the Penguins. Staple believes free agent forward Brad Boyes could be re-signed for a reasonable price.
Snow subsequently told Staple he has no plans to make major moves via trade or free agency this summer, preferring to rebuild from within and retain as many of his current players as possible. He’ll continue contract talks with Streit, Nabokov and Boyes.
If Snow re-signs Nabokov, he should consider adding a veteran backup. Nabokov could wear down over the long grind of an 82-game schedule and neither Kevin Poulin nor Anders Nilsson appears ready for prime time.
Snow should address the issue this summer, rather than risk derailing his club’s hopes for improvement next season.
CAN DUCKS STAY MIGHTY?
The Anaheim Ducks entered the post-season considered a Cup contender, but their early exit at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings had ESPN’s Craig Custance suggesting they face some tough questions this summer.
Among them is Teemu Selanne’s future, as the 42-year-old winger once again intends to take some time to consider his options. Though his teammates hope he’ll be back, Selanne saw limited playing time in the series against Detroit and might not be up for a full 82-game grind.
If Selanne decides to return, GM Bob Murray could have difficulty re-signing him. The Ducks currently have $4.9 million in cap space for next season. In addition to Selanne, Saku Koivu and Tony Lydman are UFAs while forwards Kyle Palmieri and Matt Beleskey are restricted free agents.
Murray could be forced to shed salary, which could resurrect last summer’s Bobby Ryan trade rumors.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).