Minnesota Wild Must Rebuild

Austin LindbergCorrespondent INovember 19, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Owen Nolan #11 of the Minnesota Wild stretches during warm ups prior to his game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center on September 29, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There is a long way to go until this year's trade deadline of March 3, 2010.

But with the Winter Olympics, general managers around the league are going to have to do their homework earlier than usual to work around the Olympic break from Feb. 15-28.

The Minnesota Wild are amongst a handful of teams who look to be major players in that deadline. If the Wild are serious about moving forward with new head coach Todd Richards and new general manager Chuck Fletcher, they will be sellers come deadline day.

The Wild are ending their adjustment period to the new, open system of Richards. Wednesday's game was nearly error-free with regards to operating in the system. However, the team still could not generate any sort of bite or strike fear into Phoenix.

The Wild are sleepwalking through the 2009-10 NHL season because this is a team very much in transition. Gone are the days of the Jacques Lemaire defensive lockdown; his replacement implements a much more aggressive approach.

Although Lemaire is gone, the players that former GM Doug Risebrough pieced together to function in Lemaire's system remain—and they don't fit the new system.

In July, the Wild front office wanted to push for the playoffs.  

Fletcher was eager to put his stamp on the Wild and signed Martin Havlat to a six-year, $30 million contract to replace the departed Marian Gaborik. Just before the season, Fletcher signed veteran scorer Petr Sykora to add even more offensive support.

Nine games into the season, Fletcher sent the Wild's 2011 second-round draft pick and 2009 fourth-round pick Alexander Fallstrom to Boston for gritty goal scorer Chuck Kobasew.

Fletcher has done a lot of work to keep this team from having to start all over. However, his work has been for naught. The Wild sit second from the bottom in the Western Conference. Three weeks ago they showed signs of hope by winning four of five. They haven't won since.

It's admirable of Fletcher to try to make this team a contender right away. His waste-no-time attitude is a welcomed change of pace to Risebrough's. But continuing to mortgage the future in order to improve a poor team to mediocrity is what cost Risebrough his job.

The Wild in transition is a failing project; blowing the team up and starting over couldn't be that much worse. If the team wins 35 games in a transitional year and misses the playoffs by 12 points, is it any worse to trade assets, amass draft choices and prospects, win 25 games, and miss the playoffs by 22 points?

Owen Nolan, Eric Belanger, Kim Johnsson, and Marek Zidlicky will all be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and all four would be valuable assets to teams looking to make a push in the playoffs.

It's possible that the Wild could receive a first-round pick for Nolan or Johnsson depending on how the market plays out, but a realistic return for all four players should be a draft choice between the second and fourth rounds or respectable prospects.

If the Wild are going to get better anytime soon, they need to make wholesale changes as fast as possible. That means shedding payroll, trading assets, and amassing draft choices and prospects. This team lacks the talent and prospects to do much of anything in the next three to four years as it stands.

The sooner the Wild fall, the faster they will rise. They've experimented with mediocrity for the better part of a decade. If Fletcher fails to rebuild, he will follow that path of mediocrity for the foreseeable future.