With just 26 games remaining for the Wild in the 2014-15 NHL regular season, and just 6 left before the trade deadline, the trade talk is really heating up. As teams across the league assess their needs and try to decide whether or not they will be buyers or sellers come the March 2nd deadline, the Wild are among a small throng of organizations that will be looking to bolster their rosters for the final push to the post season. Chuck Fletcher has never been one pull the trigger on a massive deadline deal, and although it's not out of the realm of possibility, those kinds of deals are not often easy sells on the Wild's GM.
It's also worth keeping in mind Fletcher has probably less than a 1% chance of dealing his first round pick in this years draft, or any year for that matter. In fact, that 1% is probably a generous estimate. As Michael Russo mentioned during last nights broadcast, Fletcher was a part of the front office staff for the Florida Panthers that traded away a 1998 first round pick. That pick only turned into a first overall selection, which that year happened to be Vincent Lecavalier. No big loss for the Panthers there, right?
With the top half of the Wild roster pretty much etched in stone, it would be my guess the fireworks for the Wild this trade season won't be an elaborate show. What the Wild are looking to do is fill some injury holes and solidify the bottom defensive pairing. With the loss of Jason Zucker for the season as well as Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter for at least the next month, you could see Fletcher try to patch up the forward core in the coming weeks. The 3rd defensive pair has been shaky throughout much of the season, often with the interchangeable parts of Nate Prosser, Matt Dumba, Stu Bickel, and Justin Falk coming in and out of the lineup. The loss of Keith Ballard has also hurt the Wild's depth on the back end after he was targeted by Matt Martin of the Islanders back in early December.
With how the team has stepped up as of late, my concern with the offensive side of the puck isn't as strong as it was in say, December. This is not to say there is not a need to add some offensive depth. It's just when you have a team that relies so heavily on the likes of Ryan Suter who is averaging just under 30 minutes a game, the thought of completely running him through the ringer before we even get to the post season scares me quite a bit.
So lets take a look at a few names that Fletcher could be eyeballing on the blue line, if the price is right.
Petry's name has been floating around the Wilderness for quite some time now. The 27 year-old right shot defender will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and Craig MacTavish could be looking to move him in return of a 2nd round pick and a player. Petry has plenty of upside. He's solid in his own end and has a keen eye for breaking out of the defensive zone. Through 56 games this season, Petry has 3 goals coming off 80 shots on goal, and in a dismal squad in Edmonton is sporting a respectable 49.2 5v5 CF%.
At 6'3" and just weighing in around 200 lbs, size and physicality have been noted as flaws in his game, although with him getting older now he has started to show some physical presence on the ice in the past few seasons. His 73 points through 292 career games aren't exactly setting any records, but he really wouldn't be brought in as an offensive threat either. Part of my concern with Petry is purely the fact he's come up through the Oilers system. Who knows what sort of unholy bad habits he may have picked up in his 5 seasons in Edmonton. That, compounded with a lack of post-season experience are a few big question marks that surround Petry.
Petry can very likely be had if the price is right. With a cap hit this season of 3.075 million dollars, Petry slides right into the lineup with ease. He could likely be one of the more affordable D-men available GM's around the NHL would target as the deadline approaches, and seems to be the type of deal that would be right in Chuck Fletcher's wheelhouse. Not too flashy, and a low-risk move that could pay huge dividends for the Wild late in the season.
Sekera is likely going to be one of the more sought after defensive trade targets across the league. Visit just about any playoff hopeful NHL blog around and you will likely see this name embedded somewhere in their trade targets. The hype around Sekera is built up around his performance last season with the Carolina Hurricanes. In 74 games last season, Sekera notched 44 points in 11 goals and 33 assists. In his career he has averaged just under 20 minutes a game as a quality, left-shot, puck moving defender. While his point production last season is impressive, it's far removed from his career averages.
When looking into Sekera, the obvious stand-out statistic is the 44 points he racked up in the 2013-14 season. However, when you look past last season you struggle to find any sort of consistency to support that those numbers are anything more than an anomaly. His next best season point wise came during his days with the Buffalo Sabres, where in the 2010-11 season he put up 29 points off 3 goals and 26 assists in 76 games. If Sekera was brought into the organization, I would not depend on him to start producing a heavy dose of points. He also stands at just 6'0" tall, so his size isn't the type you'd expect to instill any kind of fear in the opposition.
This is not to infer that there isn't some good defensive qualities to picking up Sekera. While his point totals are slipping this season, he's also posted a 52.8 5v5 CF% on top of last years 51.4 5v5 CF%. He's been pretty solid paired with the good Justin Faulk in Carolina. With a 2.75 million dollar cap hit, Sekera won't break the piggy bank, yet the price to get him may be more that Chuck Fletcher is willing to part with. There will in all likelihood be a bidding war around this guy.
Well, he just signed a 4-year extension with the Ottawa Senators, so just forget that. You only get 1 Devin Setoguchi trade where the guy signs with a team and is traded before the ink dries. Sorry folks, we had our shot at this unicorn of a trade already.
It's like getting the old band back together isn't it? Michalek's name has started floating around the trade talks. The 32 year-old defender was picked up by the Wild after going undrafted in 2002. He would be part of a Calder Cup winning 2002-2003 Houston Aeros squad and would play just 22 games for the Wild in the 2003-2004 season. After the canceled 2004-2005 season he would find a new home with the Phoenix Coyotes where he would play for 5 seasons before moving to Pittsburgh to join the Penguins for a couple seasons, only to get traded right back to Phoenix where he has remained since. Michalek seems to be much more Chuck Fletchers type of trade over making some sort of a power grab at someone like Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The availability of Ekman-Larsson is in question, but the cost on a defensemen of his caliber would simply be too much for Fletcher to stomach, likely asking him to part with a very valuable 1st round pick as well as couple other valuable pieces. Michalek is a viable alternative who could fill the roll of a shut-down defensemen the Wild need for a fraction of the cost. He's not going to put up huge point totals, but he's got a big shot which could make him an asset on the power play and at 6'2" and 210 lbs he can get his big body in front of a lot of shots against. Through his 510 career NHL games, Michalek has blocked 1222 shots. Through 54 games this season, Michalek has also sported a 51.9 5v5 CF% to go with his 2 goals and 6 assists.
The knock on Michalek is he doesn't shoot enough, but we like to yell "SHOOOOOOOT" here already, maybe he'll give us an actual reason to do so. His career high for shots came back in the 2006-2007 season where he put 144 shots on goal, yet in the past 3 seasons he has failed to punch more than 78 pucks on net. Another issue that has been raised his that despite his decent size, he doesn't throw that weight around enough. In 2009-2010 he registered 80 hits, which is a career high for him, and it's also a mark he will likely beat this season if he stays healthy. With 73 hits in 56 games this season, he ins't on pace to eclipse that mark by any means, and playing physical may be a piece the Wild would desperately need if they make it to the playoffs against a bigger, tougher Western Conference.
Every trade season, there are plenty of targets out there prime for the plucking . These are just a few of the name Chuck Fletcher could be targeting to help bolster the defensive core for a final push for the post season. He could certainly go in any number of directions before the March 2nd deadline. Perhaps Fletcher wants to continue to help the Buffalo Sabres with their rebuild and target someone like Andrej Meszaros if he becomes available. Meszaros isn't having a great fancy stat season but has historically been pretty good. Maybe if the Philidelphia Flyers start to fall apart and become sellers in the next few weeks they make the likes of Michael Del Zotto available. I know a lot of folks around here were pretty high on him while he was a free agent last summer.
A lot of names are going to start circulating in the rumor mill as teams figure out just what they are going to try and do with their remaining season. As the buyers and sellers start to separate themselves from each other, more guys names will start cropping up. The Wild are in need of a solid defensemen to help anchor their bottom pair. I wouldn't expect GMCF to sit on his hands if he wants to give this team a legitimate shot at making some noise down the stretch.