The Minnesota Wild have to be one of the most perplexing team in the NHL. It's fair to say they're a over-paid veteran heavy team that never really opened their Stanley Cup window. It's just as fair to say they're a team that has made the playoffs in four straight season in the NHL's toughest Division and are close to declaring themselves Contenders if not for the flaw of inconsistency.
So what is the truth? Most GMs in the NHL have to ask themselves a couple basic questions. Are we trying to win the Stanley Cup this season? Are we trying to be a playoff team above all else? Are we preparing to enter a rebuild? Chuck Fletcher has a more unique question that he's being asked.
How are you going to win a Stanley Cup with a team that you've built that is failing to do so but cannot be taken apart without dooming your franchise for the next 5 years. Bit dramatic? Perhaps.
The Wild have passed the point of No-Return.
They did so on July 4th, 2012 when they signed Parise and Suter declaring to the rest of the NHL that they're serious about winning and that they’re willing to bear the burden of their cap space hits provided a Stanley Cup is their to soothe them.
The real difficulty for the Minnesota Wild and General Manager Fletcher isn't can they win the Cup? It's can they afford to not try? The Wild have a stable of prospects that is thin at best with no expected stars. They're loaded with No-Movement Clauses with a League that is poised to Expand and with expansion comes a plundering of talent in the Expansion Draft that will hit teams that lost their flexibility hardest. They've signed two players to mega-million dollar deals that will stretch on for nearly a decade. Their Captain is 33 years old and under pressure. The highly-touted prospects of the early 2010s have managed to reach only meager expectations when compared to Divisional foes like Tarasenko, Panarin, and Klinberg. When feeling surrounded and ambushed you must attack through. Fletcher will need to steel his nerves and commit to icing the best possible team he can at nearly any price. He's already tied his fate to the Koivu/Parise/Suter era team.
The Minnesota Wild cannot afford a rebuild and must fear retreat more than advance.
To rebuild effectively in the NHL it requires a team to have assets to trade-off to acquire draft picks/prospects. The Wild have few if any that would garner 1st round picks. The Wild are loaded with veterans who are either overpaid, under-performing, have a no-trade clause, or in most cases have all 3 of these as in the case of Jason Pominville. The players that other teams covet are the exact players the Wild are in desperate need of. These are your Coyle, Niederreiter, and Spurgeon type players. You have to give to get and the Wild cannot accomplish either in their current state.
To best utilize these draft picks the team needs to draft in the Top 5 if not the Top 3 to acquire a talent that will radically alter your franchise. There are exceptions but make no mistake. Teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh with their soon to be 5 shared Stanley Cups did not get this way by drafting at 20-30 in the 1st round. The Minnesota Wild are simply too good of a team to receive a lottery draft pick. They will not barring a drastic series of injuries draft in the Top 5 anytime soon. So even if they managed to trade of the majority of this roster for picks the reality is that the Wild would not be drafting high enough to take advantage of these picks.
So once more unto the breach Mr. Fletcher.
A very creative and important offseason is fast approaching.