Time will tell if Wild’s moves are worth itPublished 9:51am Thursday, July 11, 2013
It’s the dog days of summer, and NHL free agency has stolen the headlines by virtue of the fact that there’s little else going on in professional sports. The Wild have been more active than usual, and are hoping to further retool their roster after the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last offseason helped propel the team to its first playoff birth since 2008.
The excitement was short-lived, however, as the Wild were quickly dispatched by eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago in five games. I opined after the series that a major shakeup would be required to continue the momentum, lest we end up with another lukewarm, .500 season that has been the team’s bread and butter lately.
Enter GM Chuck Fletcher, who has overseen a video game-esque makeover of the roster over the past two years and is pulling out every trick in the book to improve the squad’s talent while staying underneath the salary cap. It’s never easy to chop dead wood in these circumstances, but Fletcher’s moves have brought a new vigor to the team.
Two veteran stalwarts, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen, were let go. Veteran enforcer Cal Clutterbuck was traded to the New York Islanders for Nino Niederreiter – a former No. 5 pick out of Switzerland who has franchise player potential. Clutterbuck has been one of the few recent Wild draft picks to actually pan out, so parting with him has understandably upset many fans.
Niederreiter, however, is an intriguing player that brings some potential and flare. Unfortunately, his arrival made Devin Setoguchi, another fan favorite, expendable, and he was promptly shipped off to the Winnipeg Jets for a draft pick.
The most controversial move was signing Matt Cooke, who was brought in ostensibly to toughen up a team that is perceived as being too soft. Cooke has had trouble in the past differentiating “physical” from “cheap,” and his reputation with Wild fans, who revile him from his days with division rival Vancouver, holds accordingly.
But at the end of the day, a player is only “cheap” if he plays dirty for the other team. The same people that hated Cooke before will likely be his biggest fans if he brings his game face to Minnesota. Anyone remember how long it took for Vikings faithful to change their mind about Brett Favre?
These major roster makeovers don’t always turn out as envisioned, however. Take the Minnesota Twins’ attempt in 2007 to infuse some life into the team by trading Matt Garza to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young. Delmon ended up being a bust, while Garza led the Rays to the World Series the following year.
The best case scenario for the Wild now becomes a substantial improvement upon their work in last year’s lockout shortened season – namely, competing for a division title and a higher playoff seed. The worst case scenario is that the new additions fail to cohere and the team flounders, spending one more season in “rebuilding mode” and gearing up to add another piece next offseason – when they can finally be rid of Dany Heatley’s bloated contract.