Nino Niederreiter

Getty

‘I wish we wouldn’t have done that’: Wild owner regrets Martin Hanzal trade

6 Comments

In the first half of the regular season, the Minnesota Wild looked like a legit Stanley Cup contender, but they faded quickly down the stretch.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher tried to get his team back on the rails by making a splash on deadline day, so he landed Martin Hanzal, Ryan White and a fourth-round pick from Arizona for a first-round pick in 2017, a second-round pick in 2018, a conditional pick in 2019 and Grayson Downing.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, the deal didn’t exactly give them the shot in the arm they were hoping for, as they were bounced in the opening round of the playoffs by Jake Allen and the St. Louis Blues.

Looking back, owner Craig Leopold wishes his team hadn’t given up all those picks for Hanzal, who’s set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

“In hindsight, geez, I wish we wouldn’t have done that,” said Leipold, per the Minneapolis Tribune. “I supported that decision at the time, and I’m willing to live with it.”

Hanzal was far from terrible after joining the Wild (four goals, 13 points, 15:31 of average ice time in 20 games), but he just didn’t make a big enough impact to warrant giving up all those draft picks.

Those picks could have really come in handy right now. They could’ve used them to strike a deal with Vegas to make sure a player like Nino Niederreiter or Matt Dumba doesn’t get taken in the expansion draft, or they could have used them to entice another team to take an expensive contract with a no-move clause off their hands (i.e. Jason Pominville).

It’ll be interesting to see what Fletcher is able to pull this summer.

Related:

Wild GM is “all ears” for trade offers ahead of expansion draft

Wild GM is ‘all ears’ for trade offers ahead of expansion draft

Getty
9 Comments

A Sportsnet report that said Nino Niederreiter‘s name has “started circulating in trade circles” has brought renewed focus to the Minnesota Wild’s situation ahead of the expansion draft.

The Star Tribune’s Michael Russo had also heard that rumor, so he got in touch with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher to talk about it.

“Ultimately, I just don’t want this to be how we deal with our cap challenges and how to deal with our expansion challenges,” Fletcher told Russo. “That’s certainly a focus this summer, but I’d like the bigger focus to be, ‘How do we get better?’ … We need to get better and see what opportunities may be there, whether that’s internally, trade market, free agency, how do we get better and fill the holes we need to fill.”

There’s also been speculation about defenseman Matt Dumba, and for good reason. If the Wild only protect three defensemen, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon will be safe for sure, leaving only one spot for Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, and a few others.

Up front, Minnesota is obligated to protect Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and Jason Pominville due to their no-movement clauses, and they won’t want to lose Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Eric Staal, or Jason Zucker.

That’s seven forwards right there.

Perhaps they could trade Pominville to free up a protected spot, but they’d have to sweeten the deal for a team to take his contract on.

Which is probably why Niederreiter’s name has come up. The Wild could net a good return for him.

“I’ve had so many calls on a lot of our guys the last year,” Fletcher told Russo a few weeks ago. “We held on to everybody because we wanted to make a run. But if someone’s going to offer me a good deal right now, I’m all ears.”

Niederreiter, 24, is a pending restricted free agent coming off a 25-goal season.

Wild owner confirms Fletcher safe as GM

Getty
7 Comments

After a disappointing first-round playoff exit, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold has given GM Chuck Fletcher a vote of confidence.

Per the Star-Tribune, Leipold confirmed on Sunday that Fletcher’s job was safe, potentially to quiet speculation about the longtime GM’s job security in the wake of a disappointing finish.

But Leipold’s vote of confidence also provides an interesting backdrop for when Fletcher meets with the media this week.

There’s no denying that, after a 49-win and 106-point campaign, crashing out in five games to St. Louis — and to former head coach Mike Yeo — is unacceptable. But how Fletcher positions this will be telling. There’s a chance he could pin the Wild’s lack of success on the tremendous goaltending of Jake Allen, much like head coach Bruce Boudreau did. He could also argue Minnesota was, by nearly every metric, the better of the two teams over the course of the series, and chalk up the loss to a lack of puck luck.

But that won’t be easy.

This marks Minnesota’s second consecutive first-round exit, having been bounced in six games by Dallas last year. And it comes after Fletcher went big at the trade deadline, acquiring Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from Arizona in exchange for a bevy of draft picks.

“We’re just putting our chips in the middle of the table for this year,” Fletcher said at the time, per NHL.com. “We like our group and we think our players deserve the best chance possible to compete [and want to] see what we can do. Again, nothing’s promised and we know it will be tough, but I think our thought is we may as well take a swing and see how far we can go.”

More: Fletcher went all-in at the deadline, and now… this

At this stage, the GM has some serious questions to ask of his team. How much longer can things revolve around the aging core of captain Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter? All have been quality players during their time with the Wild, but two facts cannot be ignored: 1) Koivu just turned 34, while Parise and Suter turn 33 later this year, and 2) the trio has never made it past the second playoff round.

Interestingly, Leipold has suggested the current group might not be championship caliber. “I don’t know, they could surprise me,” he said in January. “But I don’t think we’ve got that type of team. We haven’t built it yet.”

And to be fair, the Wild do have building blocks in place for the future.

Four of Fletcher’s draftees starred on the international stage at the 2017 World Juniors — Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin — and it has to be exciting that a pair of young skaters, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, took significant leaps forward this season.

Granlund, 25, led the team in scoring with 69 points and emerged as one of the club’s most important players. Niederreiter, 24, posted career highs in points (57) and goals (25), suggesting he’s also ready to embrace a bigger role with more responsibility.

And to that end, Fletcher has huge decisions to make on both players, who are pending RFAs. The Wild don’t have a ton of financial flexibility, and it’s fair to suggest Granlund (who made $3M last season) and Niederreiter ($2.66M) will both need significant raises.

There’s a lot of work for Fletcher to do this summer.

But at least he’ll get a chance to do it.

Haula on another Wild playoff letdown: ‘We’re all sick of it’

Getty
14 Comments

The Minnesota Wild have tried a lot of different things and spent plenty of money since returning to the playoffs in 2012-13, but the story seems to end the same, unpleasant way.

In the past five playoff runs, they’ve never won more than a single series. They’ve now been bounced in the first round two years in a row.

Sure, they went down fighting. And, yes, Bruce Boudreau helped young stars rise and veterans find new life. But an early end to the postseason means that many will dismiss all of those positives in the grand scheme of things.

“It’s going to be a long offseason for sure,” Zach Parise said.

Indeed, the Wild swung for the fences, paying a big price for Martin Hanzal as the West seemed open. They were right about the conference being more ripe for the picking than any time since they became competitive again … but it seems that the Wild overestimated their chances at making a deep run.

Now they have to deal with that all-too-familiar empty feeling.

More on the Wild’s unsuccessful gamble here.

With key young players such as Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter needing new deals, Martin Hanzal ranking among veterans becoming UFAs and the expansion draft putting a quality player in danger of being plucked away, it’s likely that next year’s team could look different even if management stays in place.

If this was Minnesota’s big chance, then the bottom line is that they whiffed on it.

Bruce Boudreau speaks for us all after confusing goalie interference review

25 Comments

Bruce Boudreau’s frequently one of the most colorful coaches to watch during a big game … sometimes literally.*

He’s provided some entertaining moments of frustration, with his … frank reaction to a Mathew Dumba penalty ranking among the highlights of Game 5.

Whether you feel that Nino Niederreiter should have been called for goalie interference on a would-be goal or not, the Twitter consensus is that the call is becoming about as clear as what constitutes a catch in an NFL game.

With that in mind, Boudreau’s gesture spoke for us all after the tally was not allowed on Saturday:

Check out video above. It’s been a hectic third period, as the Blues aren’t out of the woods even after a nice Paul Stastny goal where he squeezed the puck through an unlikely window.

Here’s a shot of the interference in GIF form, too.

Even Kerry Fraser didn’t know which way to call the review, by the way. A bit of a mess for the NHL, eh.

(Oh, and the game is now tied 3-3, so check it out on NBC.)

* – Seriously, it gets a little worrisome when his face goes red. It’s not unlike Barry Trotz’s nervous eyebrow(s).