There are three things Minnesotans talk about (not including the understandable complaints regarding the struggles of being a Vikings, Twins and Timberwolves fan): fishing, the weather and Nick Leddy. If you’re asking who this "Nick Leddy" character is, it’s almost guaranteed you’ve been living under a rock the past five years or so.
The State of Hockey has an almost unnatural love for its homegrown talent – the casual fans give priority to drafting Minnesotans over real potential. However, in 2009 – Wild GM Chuck Fletcher’s first draft at the helm – there were a couple Minnesotans that certainly seemed to have real first round potential. Leddy, a smooth skating defender with offensive upside from Eden Prairie, was one, center Jordan Schroeder of Lakeville was the other. With a lack of talented young defensemen within the prospect pool, Fletcher pulled the trigger on Leddy at 16th overall, while Schroeder fell to the Canucks six picks later. Minnesota’s newest top prospect went on to star as teammates with Schroeder at the University of Minnesota later that fall, before both departed for the NHL after the 2009-10 season.
While Schroeder suited up for Vancouver, Leddy found himself with a new organization after being traded with veteran defenseman Kim Johnsson to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for former third overall pick Cam Barker. Barker would score just two goals and 12 points in 71 games with Minnesota, and Leddy has fared well with 20 goals and 93 points 258 career NHL games with Chicago. In short, it was arguably the worst trade in the history of the Wild. Fortunately for Fletcher, he can be allowed a mistake or two in an otherwise brilliant career as GM.
The problem – and it’s a big problem – is that he doesn’t get enough credit from a certain segment of the club’s fan base. In his tenure, Fletcher has taken a struggling franchise with absolutely zero prospect depth to new heights with exceptional drafting, shrewd dealing, absolutely mind-boggling signings and two straight playoff runs.
Yes, Minnesota could have used Leddy the past four years. However, the club has gotten by and even thrived without him. In addition to drafting high end defenders Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba and Gustav Olofsson, Fletcher signed Islanders castoff Jared Spurgeon, oversaw the development of current top-4 defenseman Marco Scandella and landed last year’s top undrafted collegiate free agent defender Christian Folin. Oh, yeah, he’s also made some waves on the trade and free agent markets, collecting Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle and signing premier players Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Thomas Vanek.
As anyone can see, Fletcher and the Wild have clearly moved on from Leddy. Unfortunately, part of the fan base can’t. With the Blackhawks struggling to get under the salary cap with an already crowded blue line, Leddy was on the chopping block for a while. Then, when news broke on Saturday that Chicago was close to a deal that would involve Leddy, mania ensued in the State of Hockey. After all, it’s only logical that Minnesota could use a young, Cup-winning defender like Leddy on the team – at least, that’s what someone tried to explain to me via Twitter.
Sure, he may be talented, and he may have won a Cup, but the ring on Leddy’s finger has nothing to do with him and everything to do with Chicago’s big guns up front, on the top two defensive pairings and in net. Held back by a logjam on defense, Leddy’s potential was capped in the Windy City. As Wild fans prayed and prayed for the stars to align Saturday, the young defender found himself shipped to Long Island, instead. Honestly, a fresh start with the Islanders is probably the best thing for him. He’ll get more playing time and a boost in offensive production on one of the Eastern Conference’s most intriguing teams of the season.
The fact is this: Minnesota is entering a very important season with the best roster the franchise has ever iced. Why are fans still bent out of shape over something as trivial as losing Nick Leddy? Do they not appreciate the team in front of them? Is there even any room for him on the blue line anymore? That’s a much easier question to answer – it’s an emphatic "no".
Led by 2012-13 Norris Finalist Suter, the club’s top-4 defensemen looked much clearer heading into training camp. Now, let’s just say the top-4 is looking more like a top-6. Spurgeon has developed into a legitimate NHL No. 2-3 defender, and has spent considerable time between Suter and Scandella on the first and second pairings, respectively. Then there’s Brodin, Suter’s defensive protégé and likely future replacement. Veteran bottom-pairing defenders Keith Ballard, Nate Prosser and bruiser Stu Bickel are all likely to make the team, but there are two new Sheriffs in town in Dumba and Folin.
As preseason comes to a close and preparations for Thursday’s opening night are underway, both young right-shot defenders have made a strong case to wear the Red, White and Green when the puck drops on the season. Dumba led all Wild defensemen in scoring this preseason, collecting four power play assists and scoring on a blistering slapper from the right circle in Saturday night’s 5-4 overtime win over St. Louis. The seventh overall pick in 2012, Dumba is still a little raw defensively, but the positives he brings to the table heavily out-weigh the negatives at this point. In a season or two, he’ll be giving Montreal's P.K. Subban a serious run for his money.
Then there’s Folin. At 6’3" and 215 pounds, he already has an ideal frame for an NHL defenseman, and leans more to the defensive side of the game. He’s big, physical and has the potential to be quite nasty in getting opposing forwards out of the kitchen. It also doesn’t hurt to have a heavy shot.
These are just the defensemen likely to make the roster. The farm team is also brimming with depth and talent, and we haven’t even taken the prospects playing in juniors and college into account. There’s just no room for another young defender, even Leddy.
So, why on Earth is a botched trade from four years ago still such a big issue? Because Minnesota pro sports teams are Minnesota pro sports teams and having something actually go right for a change is just so out of the ordinary that fans don’t know what to do with themselves. Granted, it’s just a theory belonging to a writer tired of the whole Leddy debate, but there’s probably a lot of truth to it, as well. Maybe it’s time Wild fans take a page from a recently popular Disney movie and, dare I say, just "Leddy go". After all, signing Schroeder this off-season is a nice consolation price, right?