Chuck Fletcher

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Minnesota Wild GM says team has been “incredibly disappointing”

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It’s never a good sign when your general manager has to address the state of his floundering team two months into the season.

It’s even worse when lays it out ever-so bluntly.

“Incredibly disappointing,” Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told the Pioneer Press on Wednesday.

Ouch.

Fletcher’s comments come just two days after the Winnipeg Jets embarrassed their Central Division foes 7-2 — this after the Wild held a 2-0 lead in the first period — on Monday in Winnipeg.

The Wild’s start to this season is in stark contrast to how they finished the last one.
Minnesota was a dominant force last year, piling up 106 points to cross the regular season finish line in second place in the Western Conference.

A 12-game winning streak, like the one the Wild embarked on last year, or any sustained winning streak for that matter, seems like a pipe dream at the moment for the struggling Wild.

What’s going wrong?

Fletcher specifically called out his forward contingent on Wednesday.

“Until our forwards in particular start to play the game the right way, we will not win,” Fletcher said. “It’s somewhat surprising that Monday’s result hasn’t happened sooner. … We want to encourage our forwards to make plays when they have open ice or when they have an odd-man rush. We want creativity. We want skill. That said, when we’re through the neutral zone and there’s three or four defenders lined up, to think that we can make cute plays through them, I think we’ve seen the results.”

Truth be told, the Wild are 14th in the NHL in goals for with 71. Their goals-per-game is 13th at 2.96. They also own the fifth best power-play unit and ninth best penalty-killing squad heading into Wednesday’s action.

These aren’t the numbers of a team sitting second-last in the Central Division. The Wild are actually 6-3-1 in their past 10 games.

So what’s the real problem?

Consistency, for one.

The Wild have traded wins and losses, winning streaks and losing streaks, this season.

“We just have to get back to work, we have a way to go,” Matt Cullen said after Monday’s game. “I think we’d all agree we’re not where we need to be yet as a group. I think we all need to make a decision about how we’re playing. We’ve got to turn things around. We’ve got the pieces to do it.

“To play the way we did is unacceptable. It falls on all of us. When we’re playing well, we’re playing solid defensively and tonight we had some big breakdowns in our own end that turned the momentum and they cost us.”

Their possession numbers are very poor at 28th in the NHL. They’re 24th in shooting percentage.

Team defense is struggling, even when they’re winning. The Wild are allowing 3.04 goals per game, including 30 goals in their past seven games.

“That’s four-and-a-half goals a game,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after Monday’s loss. “If you’re going to do that, you can’t win in the NHL. It’s almost impossible for me to think you can get three shutouts in a row and seven games later you allow 30 goals. After those shutouts, we were third in the league defensively.”

Furthermore, Devan Dubnyk hasn’t looked like the same goaltender that won 40 games and posted a .923 save percentage a year ago (although he did string three straight shutouts and five straight wins together recently).

Sure, injuries haven’t helped.

Charlie Coyle only returned on Nov. 20 after missing 16 games with a fibula fracture. Nino Niederreiter missed six games ankle sprain, Mikael Granlund missed five with a groin issue and now Jared Spurgeon will miss some time with a groin strain of his own.

Zach Parise has missed all 24 games this season after microdiscectomy surgery in late October. But he’s getting there.

But it takes a team effort to get blown out 7-2. And it’s taken that same team effort to get to where the Wild are now, which is the dumps.

Maybe it wasn’t Mike Yeo’s fault after all.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Under Pressure: Devan Dubnyk

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With a new six-year $26 million deal in his back pocket, Devan Dubnyk is under pressure to prove last season’s heroics were no fluke.

The 29-year-old led the Wild, who were sitting 12th in the Western Conference at the time of his trade from Arizona, to a third consecutive playoff berth.

Dubnyk made 39 appearances with Minnesota, including 38 consecutive starts, finishing with a 27-9-2 record to go along with five shutouts, a 1.78 G.A.A. and a .936 save percentage.

“It was nothing crazy, nothing extravagant. I’m a pretty simple goalie the way I play,” Dubnyk told the Star Tribune at the time of his signing. “The way we played as a group, there weren’t any miracles happening out there. We were playing the right way and for myself it was just being simple and strong and keeping goals tight. I wasn’t doing back flips out there and doing stuff that I’m not capable of continuing to do.

“I’m only 29 years old. I’m fully planning on continuing to get better as I go here.”

His spectacular season won him the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and saw him finish third in voting for the Vezina Trophy.

Head coach Mike Yeo is expecting a similar performance this season from the veteran goaltender.

“I’m going to ask the same of him that we asked from him last year when we made the trade for him,” coach Mike Yeo told NHL.com. “Obviously his numbers were heroic. What he did was, looking back on it, may seem heroic, but we asked him not to come in and try to be a hero.

“We didn’t need him to be a savior for our team. We needed him to do his job really well and we knew that we had a group that could play a good game in front of him to give him the support that he needed. It clicked.”

Dubnyk led the Wild to a six-game upset of the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs stopping 66 of the final 68 shots he faced in the series. However, he went 0-4 with a 2.81 G.A.A. and a .901 save percentage in the four-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round.

“He’s entering the prime of his career. He’s had some good seasons (with the Edmonton Oilers) and had a great season this year,” GM Chuck Fletcher told the Star Tribune per NHL.com. “We’re not asking him to duplicate what he did this year every year. Maybe that’s not realistic, but we believe he can be a good goaltender in this league. He’s right at the stage of his career where he’s ready to take off.”

Related: Wild ’15-16 Outlook

Wild’s Backstrom, Vanek undergo surgery

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Any plans the Minnesota Wild had to buyout the final year of Niklas Backstrom’s contract have been put in jeopardy.

The goaltender underwent elbow surgery following the season.

“He had a procedure done at the end of the season to clean up a problem that happened earlier in the year,” Chuck Fletcher told Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “I honestly don’t know the full prognosis at this point, but it’s not a long-term thing and we’re hoping that he’ll be good to go in short order and healthy.”

With goaltender Devan Dubnyk likely headed for a new multi-year deal with Minnesota and Darcy Kuemper unable to go to the American Hockey League without clearing waivers, buying out Backstrom seems like a logical move.

Backstrom is owed $3.4 million for the 2015-16 season.

The NHL buyout period begins June 15 or 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Final (whichever is later) until June 30.

The 37-year-old appeared in 19 games for the Wild during the 2014-15 season posting a 5-7-3 record to go a long with a 3.04 G.A.A. and a .887 save percentage.

Forward Thomas Vanek underwent surgery in Philadelphia last week for a sports hernia. The 31-year-old is expected to require six weeks of recovery time.

“It bothered him for a lot of the second half,” Fletcher said. “We gave it some rest, but it didn’t seem to be getting better, so we opted for the surgical route. We expect him to be 100 percent by training camp.”

Vanek had 21 goals and 51 points in 80 regular season games. He was held to just four assists in 10 playoff games.

Wild extend Brodin: 6 years, $25 million

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The Minnesota Wild have signed Jonas Brodin to a six-year contract extension the club announced Sunday.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the deal is worth $25 million.

Brodin, 21, has appeared in 126 NHL games for the Wild scoring scoring 10 goals and 31 points.

The defenseman joined Minnesota as a 19-year-old in 2012-13 and was the league’s youngest blue liner at the time. He was named to the All-Rookie team following the season.

“We are very excited to get Jonas Brodin signed through the 2020-21 season,” said GM Chuck Fletcher in a statement. “He is one of the premier young defensemen in the NHL and has played a huge role on our team since entering the league as a 19-year-old. We’re confident that his game will continue to evolve in all areas and he will be a valuable part of our core for years to come.”

Brodin has an assist and a plus-5 rating through two games this season while averaging 22:25 in time on ice.

The Karlstad, Sweden native, who finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting in 2013,  was in the final year of his entry-level contract.

Brodin was Minnesota’s first-round selection (10th overall) at the 2011 NHL Draft.

Vanek, Stastny, Niskanen, Mitchell on Minnesota’s shopping list

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Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has a shopping list for free agency and it’s rather juicy.

Michael Russo of The Star Tribune reports the Wild have been in contact with the agents for forwards Thomas Vanek and Paul Stastny as well as defensemen Matt Niskanen and Willie Mitchell.

Chasing Vanek isn’t a surprise as we’ve heard about the mutual interest between the two for a while now. Russo says they may not be thinking long-term with the Austrian star forward.

Vanek, 30, the former Gophers star who lives in Stillwater, might have to consider a one- to three-year deal from the Wild if he wants to play at home in Minnesota.

The reason for that is because the Wild want to go heavily after Niskanen, another Minnesota native.

His breakout season with the Penguins has made him one of the hottest targets in free agency and he’d cure some power play ills for the Wild if he signed there.

The interest in Stastny makes sense because he’d give the Wild another solid player up the middle who can score as well as play strong defensively. Having him line up with Mikko Koivu as the top two centers would give them a very strong setup.

As for Mitchell, he’s a former member of the Wild and showed to be a strong contributor and mentor to younger blue liners like Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez with the Los Angeles Kings. With the host of young blue liners in the Wild’s stable, adding Mitchell would provide depth and a guy for others to learn from.