In a move that was anticipated but dreaded by many Minnesota Wild fans, the team has re-signed center James Sheppard to a one-year contract worth $803,250, according to Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
I’ll be honest. I see the rationale behind this, but I’m still not happy about it.
Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher told Russo that Sheppard’s spot on the roster will not be assured, and that he will be given every opportunity to prove himself in training camp. Now, I know that I’ve been drinking Fletcher’s Kool-Aid ever since he was hired, but I’m also willing to look past the Fletcher-tinted glasses and call a spade a spade.
Do I want Sheppard to succeed?
Absolutely. His emergence would only be a good thing for the Wild.
When Pierre-Marc Bouchard went down with an injury last season, he was expected to step up into the second line center role.
But, he didn’t.
Then, when Kyle Brodziak and Andrew Ebbett began to find chemistry with the team’s second line, Sheppard was expected to step up into a solid checking line center role.
But, he didn’t.
And finally, when Eric Belanger was traded to the Washington Capitals, he was expected to take advantage of the extra ice time he would be getting and start to emerge.
You guessed it. He didn’t.
Now, with the team short on centers, this could potentially be a low-risk, high-reward type deal.
Sheppard is going to be given the opportunity to succeed. He’s going to be given looks at camp and, for the first time in his career, his spot on the roster isn’t necessarily guaranteed.
That is what Fletcher is hoping lights a fire under the young player.
But, what Fletcher told Russo is a first for someone speaking of Sheppard in a Wild sweater:
"If somebody can come in and beat him in camp, then maybe that forces our hand if we’re offered a terrific opportunity to get a different asset and he’s the price we have to pay, we’ll look at it. We’re not saying we’re giving him anything other than for us not to qualify him would be a poor decision from a hockey management standpoint.
"I mean, why wouldn’t you protect that asset, why wouldn’t you give him every chance to become a hockey player? It’s up to him. If somebody can knock him out in camp, great, the more competition the better. And maybe he comes in and is the player that people hoped he would be.
"Why wouldn’t we give him that opportunity to compete? Maybe he’s inspired by that and takes a step. I think James is a good person, I think he honestly wants to be a hockey player, and right now it’s about doing the rights things and committing himself to being that hockey player."
What I like about this is that Fletcher is laying out the future for Sheppard.
You want a spot on the roster? You earn it.
You don’t earn a spot? Don’t expect to be around for long.
The bottom line is that he’s a 22-year-old and he could very well be a “late bloomer,” so to speak.
He’s shown flashes here and there, but he’s never capitalized on them and, who knows—maybe this is what he needed to realize his potential.