Ryan Suter

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

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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.

Ryan Ellis’ star turn continues for Predators in Game 4

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When you think about the great defensemen who’ve played for the Nashville Predators, you think of those who’ve left (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter) and those who picked up the torch (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi). Some might even remember Kimmo Timonen.

For some time, Ryan Ellis has been building his resume as an under-the-radar gem in Nashville. If he keeps going at this pace in the playoffs, he might just be considered another star.

Game 4 of Predators – St. Louis Blues was tied 0-0 for a long time, but Ellis broke through with a resounding tally, which you can watch above.

Ellis played a big role in limiting the Blues scoring, too. That was most dramatically true when he made this heads up play in backing up Pekka Rinne.

The Predators just won 2-1 to take a 3-1 series lead moments ago, and Ellis keeping his hot run going is a big reason why.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t just a playoff fluke run. He scored 16 goals and 38 points in 2016-17, putting him in the thick of things among top Predators producers.

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.”

Wild owner confirms Fletcher safe as GM

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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.

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

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The focus is naturally on Bruce Boudreau, the hard-luck head coach in the midst of another first-round nightmare.

But spare a few thoughts, too, for general manager Chuck Fletcher. He went all-in at the trade deadline, and now his Minnesota Wild are in danger of being swept by the St. Louis Blues.

The Wild, you’ll recall, sent a first-round draft pick and more to get forwards Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, both pending unrestricted free agents, from Arizona in February.

Watch Blues vs. Wild: Game 4 at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports app

“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.”

The Wild were 39-14-6 when the deal went down, so it’s hard to blame Fletcher for his thought process. But barring a miraculous comeback, Minnesota will fall to 2-5 in playoff series under his watch. He’s been on the job since 2009, and despite a healthy payroll that includes $196 million worth of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild have yet to get past the second round.

The good news for Fletcher is that owner Craig Leipold did not expect to win a Stanley Cup this year.

“I don’t know, they could surprise me,” Leipold said in January. “But I don’t think we’ve got that type of team. We haven’t built it yet.”

Fletcher also saw four of his draft picks show well at the World Juniors — a nice feather in the GM’s cap.

But there’s no denying that his team is on the verge of a massive letdown. Hiring Boudreau was supposed to get the Wild over the hump.

Instead, it’s looking like another early playoff exit for both men.

Related: Chuck Fletcher is under pressure