Most of the opinion pieces about the "winners and losers of free agency" usually mention the Caps, Rangers, Flyers, Leafs, Sabres and other teams but usually fail to mention the fine work of the Minnesota Wild.
Under the watchful eye of GM Chuck Fletcher, the Wild have made significant offensive improvements at an extremely low price. Next season should be an extremely exciting one for a loyal fanbase in a state that has arguably the most passion for hockey in the United States.
Minnesota's management has thus far wisely avoided getting caught in the frenzy and overpaying for a player that would not bring a good return on their investment. In one of the best moves of free agency so far, the Wild unloaded the last year of Martin Havlat's contract onto the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Dany Heatley.
You can say what you want about Heatley's decline in numbers, but a change in scenery will probably do him good.
Heatley has shown that he can consistently score in the NHL and his 26 goals and 64 points represent an improvement on the 22 goals and 62 points that Havlat had with Minnesota last season.
Heatley seems to be the better player of the two and this trade is almost a no-brainer for a team that sometimes struggles to put the puck in the net. Even though the Wild lost Brent Burns, they got Devin Setoguchi, another capable scorer, in exchange.
Picking up Setoguchi gives the Wild a player who has scored more than 20 goals in each of the last three seasons and should be able to provide some useful secondary scoring. He can definitely provide secondary scoring and will benefit from working in a new system.
Heatley and Setoguchi could be penciled in for 50 goals combined next season, and 50 more goals might have helped the Wild sneak into the playoffs last season.
The Wild also picked up a useful penalty killing forward in center Darroll Powe, who can play center on the third or fourth line. He is a very gutsy player who skates well and could be a fan-favorite in Minnesota because of his physical play (led the Flyers with 196 hits last season).
Minnesota got Powe in exchange for a third-round pick, which is a very reasonable deal.
If the Wild can pick up some help in their own zone, I would say that they are definitely a lock for a run in the playoffs next year. I simply don't understand how they have been overlooked in many stories about free agency, especially considering the Heatley-Havlat deal, which seems to have completely left people's minds.
The Wild will be a force to be reckoned with next season, whether or not they make any further deals this offseason. The fact that they haven't been big spenders means they may not get the spotlight, but they should be counted as a "winner" in my mind.
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