Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Wild Justifiably Stands Pat at Deadline

When the NHL's annual trade deadline passed Monday afternoon, it wasn't terribly shocking that the Minnesota Wild did not make any changes to their NHL roster.

(The team did make one trade, sending minor-league goalie Anton Khudobin -- a guy they were going to lose in free agency this summer, anyway -- to Boston for two prospects.)

Fantasies around the Wild Kingdom had Minnesota making deals for guys like Ales Hemsky or Dustin Penner from Edmonton, or maybe even a steady veteran center ala Marty Reasoner.

Of course, fantasies don't often become reality in any walk of life, and hockey is no different. Logic dictated that Minnesota not make the bank-breaking, prospect-robbing kind of deal Los Angeles made for Penner.

Could Minnesota have gotten a draft pick or a fourth-liner for Chuck Kobasew? Sure, but what good would that have done?

Take it away, Russo.

I talk to execs in the league all year long, but especially recently. I started to really comprehend what the asking price was going to be for the most marginal of players. The bar was set with Mike Fisher for a first, but when you have so many teams fighting for a race, that leads to few sellers, which leads to inflated prices.

So I knew what the price would be and I knew what the Wild was 1) going to be willing to pay; 2) could even pay.

The Wild was not trading first- or second-round draft picks or prospects like Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker and Brett Bulmer for third-line centers like Marty Reasoner and fourth-line centers like Zenon Konopka or even rental top-6 wingers or guys like Brad Boyes, who has another year left on his deal at $4.5 million.

Some organizations are in a position to do that. The Wild is absolutely not.

I love how people paint Russo as an apologist for management. Three months ago, the other half of the fanbase wanted to skewer the NHL's best beat writer for being too damn negative.

Anyway, the Wild did the right thing Monday.

For Chuck Fletcher, he had a few choices on the table.

(Keep in mind that they didn't have the ability to spend an unlimited amount, because they're kind of tight against the salary cap, and they wanted to retain some flexibility for next year.)

The first option was to make a deal for a marginal center like Reasoner or the Islanders' Zenon Konopka. Russo notes -- and he'd know -- that the price was in the area of a second-round pick. That's what the Sabres gave up for a slumping Brad Boyes, a guy who went from 76 goals over a two-year span between 2007-2009 to 26 in the almost two full seasons since. Boyes is scheduled to make $4.5 million next season, so there's reason for Buffalo to pay a price, hoping he can make an impact after a change of scenery.

Giving up a second-round pick for a low-scoring, high-character center who is in his walk year isn't just borderline stupid. It's stupid. No reason for Fletcher to go there at that price.

Another option would have been to sell the farm (system) for Penner. The Kings gave up a highly-regarded defensive prospect and two draft picks, including their 2011 first-rounder. Minnesota isn't as rich with prospects as Los Angeles, so that would have been a steep price for Fletcher to pay, and it would have required him to pay Penner for another season at over $4 million.

Fletcher took the third option, which kept his team together without disruption. It also prevented him from adding any pieces, but that's okay.

As presently constructed, this team can make the playoffs. They're in a dogfight, as evidenced by their four-place fall (fifth to ninth) that was caused by going 1-2 over three games. It won't be easy for them, and it's hardly a slam-dunk they will make the tournament.

But if the closeness of the Western Conference tells you anything, it should tell you that the eight teams that make the playoffs will all have a shot. As long as you get in the tournament, it could be you with Lord Stanley come June.

The Wild might not be good enough to win the Cup, but Dustin Penner wasn't going to put them over the top. Neither was Marty Reasoner. Good players, yes, but not game-breakers come postseason time.

If they can get Guillaume Latendresse back, it could function like a deadline deal, given how long he's been out. Mikko Koivu is getting closer now, too.

Fans -- like me -- want to see the Wild make the playoffs. I don't have any doubt, though, that a trade wouldn't have really put them over the top, and it would have hampered their progress toward building a championship-caliber organization.

And if they deal big for Penner, but fail to win a Cup, then watch someone they give up become a star in Edmonton, there'd be hell to pay in Minnesota.

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