Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 NHL Draft: Brent Burns Trade Signals Real Change for Wild

In his blogging and an online chat prior to the NHL Entry Draft, Minneapolis Star Tribune ace Michael Russo made it clear. The Wild would look to trade defenseman Brent Burns, but it had to be a good deal, or they wouldn't take it.

This was especially true with the draft taking place in front of the home fans in St. Paul. General manager Chuck Fletcher isn't an idiot, and he didn't want to tick the home fans off. The previous season had already done plenty of that, after all.

As it turned out, Fletcher found a way to hit a home run, impressive considering that he was trading a player with one year left before he can walk, and he was not dealing from a position of strength. As Russo noted Friday night, Burns was the team's only tradeable asset, and Fletcher flipped him Friday for more than anyone could have expected.

The Wild traded Burns to San Jose -- along with a second-round pick in 2012 -- for forward Devin Setoguchi, college forward Charlie Coyle (the Sharks' first-round pick in 2010), and a first-round pick in 2011 (No. 28 overall, used on Saint John center Zack Phillips).

In essence, Fletcher moved a player he virtually had to trade (assuming he wasn't going to pay Burns around $5 million a season on a long-term deal), and he still was able to net a goal-scoring forward to put on his team full of pass-first players, along with two first-round picks (granted, one was a first-rounder last year, but it's not like Coyle isn't an important piece).

Setoguchi has proven he can score. He had 22 last season, and added seven more in 18 playoff games. On the Wild, he has the chance to become a star, because he immediately becomes the team's most dangerous scorer. No more second fiddle to guys like Heatley or Marleau (or up-and-coming Couture). He's the guy. And he's signed for three more years.

Coyle had a good season for Boston University, and you can expect him to play one more season there (this isn't a totally safe bet, because I heard from a few people last winter that felt he was ready to turn pro). He had 26 points in 37 games, not bad for a freshman. He also played very well for Team USA in the World Junior Championships. He'll use another year to add to his production while also adding to his bulk, making his body more NHL-ready.

Phillips was one of the better players left on the board when the Wild picked at No. 28. He was highly productive at Saint John, as the Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup. He has to work on his skating a little bit more, but there's no reason to think he won't be a candidate for the Wild roster in 2012 or 2013. I'd expect him to play in Saint John again this winter, before taking a shot at the Wild roster. If all else fails, he'll head to Houston, and that's hardly a bad place to go.

In the end, this is probably a frustrating day for a lot of Wild fans. I hate to continue invoking the name of Doug Risebrough, but let's face it. He didn't leave Fletcher much to work with. And look at what Fletcher has done in just two years. He's infused this organization with the young talent it so desperately lacked for so long. He's found a way to make the team younger, and the farm system younger, without having the kinds of seasons Edmonton just endured.

Now, after years of spinning its wheels, the Wild finally has a clear and obvious path. There is a plan in place, as opposed to random moves, bad contracts, and a franchise too willing to let players walk in free agency with no compensation.

It might not be exciting to think about another bottom ten finish in the final standings, but there's no way of saying this Wild team will be locked into that fate. Fletcher has just added a major piece that can help the franchise compete now. With no expensive moves expected in free agency, the Wild could simply add some role players and maybe more veteran presence to their NHL roster.

Don't make any mistake. Fletcher might have lost a good player, but he won this trade. And hopefully, he won over some fans as a result of making it.

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