Minnesota Wild's Biggest Takeaways from the Start of Free Agency
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The Minnesota Wild have been busy reconstructing their roster for the 2012-13 season.
It is surprising that a team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08 a year ago and has a lot of talented young players would make as many dramatic moves as the Wild have in the offseason. After all, the most successful teams in the NHL tend to be the ones that have a core that remains intact for long periods of time.
Part of the shuffle was due to the reduction in the salary cap, which dropped to $64.3 million this year, and part of it may be the emphasis on getting the budding starters some serious playing time.
The deal that sent Justin Falk to the New York Rangers for Benn Ferriero appeared rather insignificant—Minnesota shipped away a 24-year-old defenseman that was not in its future plans for a depth forward that they did not tender.
Minnesota also let longtime Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard go and traded Devin Setoguchi to the Winnipeg Jets, a new division rival, for a second-round pick. This means that the 26-year-old Ferriero should get some significant playing time on the third line, with the option of possibly being a defensive forward on the second line.
Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher made another bold move during the draft, trading fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck to the New York Islanders for Nino Niederreiter and a third-rounder.
There is some speculation that the acquisition of Niederreiter, once considered a future cornerstone player on Long Island, made the mercurial Setoguchi expendable. Fletcher pretty much confirmed that by dealing Seto.
The move was not received well by the fans, who perceive Cooke as a dirty player. He has made an effort to clean up his act recently, however, and will give the Wild some additional grit on the grinder lines.
In order to assess where the Wild are, I will break down each move and explain what the team should do moving forward.
Falk for Ferriero and 2014 sixth-round pick
Not much to say here, really. Two depth players were swapped, and that’s about it.
Falk has size (6’5”, 215 pounds) and is young (24), but he was not part of the team’s future plans. His skating and positioning were suspect, and the team appears to have its defense rounded out.
Top prospect Mathew Dumba is likely to join recently re-signed Marco Scandella on the second pairing. Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin log the most minutes as the top two blueliners. Jared Spurgeon, who was also re-signed, will likely be a power-play specialist, playing alongside Suter in the first pairing.
Ferriero was not tendered and is no longer with the team.
Clutterbuck and a 2013 third-round pick for Niederreiter
My brother said he would personally riot in Minneapolis (jokingly) if the team traded Clutterbuck, and I’m sure that he is not the only person with those feelings.
Clutterbuck had a sweet ‘stache, absolutely annihilated opponents and as a third-rounder himself back in 2006 was one of the few value picks the Wild had before Fletcher came to town.
It’s hard to see a player entering his prime get traded away.
Clutterbuck is 25, but Niederreiter is the highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history (No. 5 in 2010) and could potentially be a franchise player in St. Paul. While there may be a few people bummed that their No. 22 sweaters look outdated now, those same fans will be rushing to get El Nino’s uniform soon enough.
Allowed to grow alongside three blue-chip forwards in their early 20s—Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund are all 21—Nino will thrive here in Minnesota.
Clutterbuck will be missed for sure, but Fletcher just pulled off a heist in acquiring Niederreiter. The 20-year-old forward was brought up far too early in New York, so his statistics look bad, but the Islanders are one of the most mismanaged organizations in hockey. Niederreiter will thrive under management in Minnesota.
This, by far, was Fletcher’s best move this year.
Setoguchi for a 2014 second-round pick and the Cooke signing
While Fletcher nailed the Niederreiter deal, he may have completely lost his mind with the Seto trade and Cooke signing.
Setoguchi, 26, is entering his prime, has scored 30 goals in a season and had chemistry with Heatley, Ferriero and Torrey Mitchell from his time in San Jose. He has the potential to be a superstar forward, but he's frustratingly streaky and could end up being an underachiever for his entire career.
I hate this trade because he is going to a team in the division.
Winnipeg might look wimpy now, but Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien are in their primes and Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian have great futures ahead of them. Assuming that Byfuglien doesn’t eat Setoguchi, or any of those other guys, the Jets have a solid core and may compete with the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Wild for division titles in the future.
It would be sad to see Setoguchi thrive at Minnesota’s expense.
The other problem is what Minnesota got in return.
There are great players that have been selected in the second round—Scandella and Zucker, for example—but those players are rarely ready to play an NHL game until two or three years after they are drafted. Setoguchi is ready to produce now.
They absolutely have to get good value with that pick. Absolutely.
Also, for this to work, Coyle, Zucker, Granlund and Niederreiter have to be ready to play big minutes next season. There is no true second-line center, and Heatley is the only veteran depth guy that can score, so all of those guys better be ready to play like stars. Coyle and Zucker have shown they can, but Granlund and Niederreiter have a lot to prove early in the season.
Finally, this Cooke thing could get ugly.
It’s one thing for a young player to have a sophomore slump or take a few years to get used to NHL hockey. It's another thing when a veteran player has a reputation of intentionally injuring people.
This looks like when Chris Simon arrived back in 2008. Simon was known as a dirty player in the league as a result of, among other things, two-handing Ryan Hollweg when he was a member of the Islanders. He was out of the league by 2009.
Cooke is known for delivering a headshot to oft-injured Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins, effectively ending his career. He had also received suspensions from hitting Artem Anisimov and Scott Walker in the head, running Fedor Tyutin in the back and elbowing Ryan McDonough. (A complete list can be found here, courtesy of CBC Sports).
In short, he was a dirty player. So dirty, in fact, that when his skate cut the Achilles tendon of reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, people in the Ottawa organization accused Cooke of intentionally injuring him and asked that he be banished from the league.
Cooke said that he was cleaning up his act long before the Karlsson incident and insisted that it was a mistake, but signing such a player comes with a lot of risk.
Minnesota has always prided itself on being a tough, gritty team, but there is a difference between tough players and players that intend to injure. The latter is a cowardly action that has no place in the game.
Trading a potential superstar and adding a player with Cooke’s past seem like two unnecessary risks for a general manager that is, or at least was, highly regarded in the Twin Cities.
Minnesota still needs to add another goaltender to take pressure off the aging Niklas Backstrom (35). Other than that, the team should be pretty set in terms of roster moves.
A strong training camp is a must. Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise need to develop chemistry, the second forward line and defensive pairing needs to be figured out, and all the young guys have to be ready to step up and produce in the NHL.
It should be an exciting season next year, especially with Chicago and St. Louis joining the division, but one that also tells us a lot about how well Fletcher can run a team.
CORRECTION: I have changed the article to reflect the fact that Ferriero was not tendered.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.
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