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Wild exit early, Fletcher stays positive — a familiar refrain in Minnesota

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If the NHL is a bottom line business, then the Wild’s season was a disappointment.

They finished second in the West, yet were upended in the opening playoff round to the St. Louis Blues — a team they finished seven points ahead of in the standings. Minnesota lost all three games at home, managed just one win, scored just eight goals and, perhaps most disturbingly, had a shorter postseason run than last year, when it lost in six to Dallas.

With that in mind, here’s what Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had to say at Tuesday’s end-of-year media availability.

When asked about his group: “It’s still a very good core. It’s a strong team.”

When asked about a major overhaul: “Wholesale changes? Absolutely not.”

When asked about the loss to St. Louis: “A disappointing five-game series that could have very easily gone either way.”

If this sounds familiar, well, it should.

At last year’s exit interview, Fletcher was a beacon of positivity. He insisted Minnesota was a team on the rise, not decline, and remained steadfast in his belief of the group despite media skepticism and a displeased fan base.

To his credit, Fletcher answered the critics.

Hiring Bruce Boudreau as head coach was a terrific move, and buying out Thomas Vanek to free up money for the Eric Staal acquisition worked out beautifully. The organization was also buoyed by how well four of its prospects — Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin — performed at the World Juniors. Given those are all Fletcher draftees, it was another feather in his cap.

Losing to St. Louis shouldn’t negate all that, and it hasn’t.

But should it alter the Wild’s perspective?

Remember, this season wasn’t a one-off. The core leadership group of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter has been together for five years now, and never advanced past the second round. And in the last two years, the Wild have won a grand total of three postseason tilts.

Some have suggested the bar needs to be raised.

Consider, for a moment, Chicago GM Stan Bowman. Like the Wild, the Blackhawks have been bounced in each of the last two opening rounds. And like the Wild, the Blackhawks were bounced really early this year — albeit in four games, rather than five.

Here’s what Bowman had to say in his end-of-year presser:

“Standing here April 22 is not the way we expected our season to end. And it’s a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves. We did not come even close to reaching the standard we have set over the years here. And that’s unacceptable.

“Any successes that we did experience this year are completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season. It’s not close to good enough for anybody. And I think it’s time right not to take a look in the mirror and face facts.”

The biggest difference between the Wild and Blackhawks is that the Wild, quite justifiably, could argue they outplayed the Blues and the only thing keeping them from Round 2 was Jake Allen. Chicago was dominated by Nashville in nearly every statistical measure. So Bowman didn’t have that to fall back on.

But it’s the second part of Bowman’s statement that’s key. “Completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season.” Things were over quickly for the ‘Hawks, just like they were for the Wild. But to hear Fletcher and Boudreau speak today, you couldn’t help but feel the organization believes it just wrapped the most competitive five-game, first-round series in playoff history.

Well, the Wild brass does anyway. For the players, the message seemed to be quite different. And quite telling.

“Right now, we can’t take any positives,” Koivu said, per the team’s Twitter account. “Just disappointment.”

Oilers re-sign Pakarinen for one year

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The Edmonton Oilers have given winger Iiro Pakarinen a one-year contract extension.

From the release:

Pakarinen just finished his third season with the Oilers organization, appearing in 14 regular season games in 2016-17, posting four points (2 goals, 2 assists).  The 25 year old forward missed 53 games due to an injury suffered during the pre-season. He appeared in one playoff game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Oilers brought Pakarinen over from Finland in 2014. Since then, he’s split his North American career between the AHL and NHL while drawing praise for his versatility and hard-nosed style.

Per CapFriendly, Pakarinen’s cap hit will be $750,000 in 2017-18. It’s a one-way deal.

Market heating up for prized Czech d-man Rutta

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Coming off an impressive performance for the Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, Jan Rutta is now being courted by a number of NHL clubs.

Per The Athletic, the Blackhawks are in contention for securing Rutta’s services. That comes on the heels of earlier reports from TSN’s Darren Dreger, who said there are “multiple” offers for the 26-year-old, including ones from Edmonton and Calgary.

“He’s a steady defenseman with size, and he had a strong finish of the season,” an NHL scout told The Athletic. “He was very good in the playoffs and played his best at the Worlds.”

Rutta, who was never drafted by an NHL club, has spent his professional career with Czech League outfit Pirati Chomutov. He’s blossomed into a talented offensive defenseman — finishing second among Czech League d-men with 32 points in 46 games this year — and, as mentioned above, has good size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds.

Last week, Rutta’s agent — longtime Octagon Hockey representative Allan Walsh — tweeted that his client would make a decision on NHL offers soon.

 

Sharks keep stockpiling European free agents, land Sandberg

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Doug Wilson is at it again.

On Thursday, the Sharks GM confirmed yesterday’s news — the signing of Czech d-man Radim Simek — and announced that Swedish forward Filip Sandberg had agreed to a two-year deal.

“Filip is a very creative player who sees the ice well and can create offense in limited space,” Wilson said in a release. “He plays a high-pressure, puck-pursuit game and his battle level is something we have been impressed with, especially against older players.

“We are excited for him to join our organization.”

Sandberg, 22, is fresh off a Swedish League title with HV71. The club announced Sandberg would be headed overseas last week, but didn’t divulge what team had signed him.

It wasn’t surprising NHL clubs had interest. Sandberg had a good offensive campaign in Sweden, scoring 25 points in 52 regular season games, then broke out for six goals and 14 points in 16 playoff contests.

Prior to this year, Sandberg twice represented Sweden at the World Juniors, including the 2013 tournament where the country won silver. He finished with two goals in six games playing alongside the likes of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

As for Simek, he inked a one-year deal.

“Radim is a quick transition defenseman who drives the play offensively and plays with a physical edge,” said Wilson. “We like his offensive instincts especially on special teams and think his game will translate well in North America.”

Simek just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, where he had two points in eight games.

According to a report from Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, the 24-year-old has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that can contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

The hope now is that Simek and Sandberg will continue that trend.

Avs dismiss three from coaching staff, but Bednar remains

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Colorado GM Joe Sakic said there would be turnover this offseason, but that head coach Jared Bednar was safe.

On Tuesday, Sakic followed through.

The Avs have parted ways with two of Bednar’s assistants — Tim Army and Dave Farrish — and also relieved goalie coach Francois Allaire of his duties.

Army, 54, has been with the club for the last six years, having previously served as the head coach at Providence. He served under three different head coaches in Colorado — Bednar, Patrick Roy and Joe Sacco — and was largely tasked with running the team’s power play (which finished 30th in the NHL this year).

Farrish, 60, just wrapped his second year on the job with the Avs after coming over from Toronto. A veteran of nearly 30 years in coaching, Farrish was brought aboard by Roy, and brought “a wealth of experience and hockey knowledge to our organization.” A journeyman blueliner who playecd 430 games at the NHL level, Farrish ran the club’s defense last season.

Allaire, 57, has been coaching goalies at the NHL level for over 25 years, with previous stops in Montreal, Anaheim and Toronto. His ties to Roy ran deep — he mentored the former Avs coach with the Canadiens, and the pair won two Stanley Cups together (in 1986 and ’93). Allaire has been with the Avs for the last four years, on the heels of an acrimonious departure from Toronto.

Today’s shakeup is a significant one, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Bednar was essentially forced into retaining all of Roy’s staff following the latter’s shock resignation last August, and probably wants to bring in some of his own guys.

Sakic, meanwhile, had to make some sort of changes after the worst regular season in franchise history — and today’s could just be the tip of the iceberg.

Related: Avs president gives Sakic vote of confidence