The fanbase of the Minnesota Wild is in euphoria.
And why shouldn't they be? The Minnesota Wild made the playoffs, despite everything that went wrong the first half of this season. Despite the Wild's goaltending being atrocious for the first half. Despite mumps and norovirus ravaging the locker room. Despite a huge injury to Jason Zucker that could've thwarted the Wild's second-half hot streak. None of that matters now, since the final horn sounded in United Center last night.
The end of the regular season means that award speculation season in full swing. Most of the conversation revolves around Devan Dubnyk, whom many Wild fans are making a Vezina or Hart case for.
But I've noticed a growing swell of people who are suggesting that Chuck Fletcher should win the NHL's General Manager of the Year award. It's a case that seems totally bulletproof at first glance. Fletcher made what turned out to be the best trade of the season when he acquired Devan Dubnyk for a third-round pick less than three months ago. But Fletcher has more than that season-saving move on his resume: the acquisition of Chris Stewart has had a decidedly positive impact on the team, and Jordan "Not Jordyn" Leopold was a nice depth move.
Not only that, but the GM of the Year award usually appears to take some sort of general teambuilding into account, seeing as the last three winners were Bob Murray (Anaheim), Ray Shero (Pittsburgh, and hilariously, since fired), and Doug Armstrong (St. Louis). In that regard, Fletcher scores some points as well, bringing in Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter via trade, and of course, signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise 3 years ago.
So, it's not like this is an argument completely without merit, as I feel that Chuck Fletcher has generally done a good job with the Minnesota Wild, especially with locking in Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, and Charlie Coyle to sweetheart deals.
That said, this isn't his year to win the General Manager of the Year.
The crux of the argument for Fletcher as GM of the Year is that he saved the season with the Devan Dubnyk trade, and did it on the cheap, to boot. There's no denying this fact. But what gets ignored when that point is brought up is that the reason the Dubnyk trade had to be made was due largely to Fletcher's decision making.
While there were certainly things that were outside of his control (Harding's Multiple Sclerosis), Fletcher did himself no favors in locking up an aging Niklas Backstrom to a 3-year deal with a no-move clause. Betting on Darcy Kuemper to take over the net was also a huge loss. As a result, not only did Fletcher paint himself into a corner with his goaltending situation, but he also potentially ruined the development of a potential NHL starting goaltender.
Fletcher also intentionally went into this season without having addressed his team's depth on the blueline. Entering the season with an ineffective veteran (Keith Ballard, whose two-year contract was atrocious), two rookies (Mathew Dumba and Christian Folin) and two retreads (Nate Prosser and Justin Falk) competing for third-pairing minutes backfired heavily during the first part of the season, when none of those options proved to be effective. This resulted in taxing the Top-4 when the Wild were healthy, and exposing the Wild's goaltending when mumps hit.
I think it also bears mentioning that Chuck Fletcher's big offseason move, acquiring Thomas Vanek, hasn't worked out like many hoped it would. I'm not someone who gets upset by Vanek's "compete-level", and I think his scoring has been a lot better than many think, but even I'm disappointed that he isn't able to be trusted with more minutes than he currently gets. If you're going to view Vanek as a disappointment, then this has to be a strike against Fletcher's case for an award.
I think regardless of what you think the credentials for the award should be, there are more deserving candidates. Do you think the award should go to the GM who presided over the most surprisingly good team? David Poile in Nashville is probably the candidate for you. How about the guy who got his team over the top by making very savvy moves? Garth Snow got his Islanders into the playoffs on the strength of moves to steal Johnny Boychuk from Boston and Nick Leddy from Chicago. Both have emerged as top-tier defenders in Long Island. What about the GM with the most well-constructed team? It's hard to make an argument against Steve Yzerman, who has a team with young talent at every position.
This isn't to speak ill of Fletcher's job as General Manager of the Wild- as I said earlier, I think he's generally done a good job. But the moves that he made to save his team's season were almost entirely reactions to situations that he either created or exacerbated. His Wild came into the season with glaring flaws that he either couldn't or wouldn't address, and they almost derailed this season. Winning the lottery and catching the lightning-in-a-bottle known as Devan Dubnyk shouldn't cause us to ignore all of that while talking about Fletcher's merits for this award.