When Wild owner Craig Leipold introduced Chuck Fletcher as the second GM in team history one of the things he mentioned he wanted to try to rectify with Fletcher's hiring was what he perceived to be a "frustrating" lack of success in landing free agents by the prior regime.
“...Yes I have been disappointed. In the past I’ve been frustrated not knowing why those unrestricted free agents wouldn’t choose this as their home. We have everything to offer here. I think the system might have been something that held them back. I believe Chuck feels that way. Other [candidates] that came through felt that way so I think this is like the missing piece. They’ll look at us in a different light now and they’ll want to come play here.”
-Russo's Rants, 6/3/09
To that end, Fletcher was successful in UFA season, landing one of the top handful of offensive players on the market in Martin Havlat. One hopes this was seen as a "win" by Leipold.
Since the initial fury of UFA season has simmered down, Fletcher's rhetoric vis-a-vis tinkering with the lineup has shifted into a two-pronged space. On one hand, he has talked about being willing to wait for teams in cap trouble to have to get under the cap to make a big move. On the other hand, it has been reported that he's been active in talks with some of the best remaining players (e.g. Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora.)
This is not a contradiction. Well, maybe it is, but it's a contradiction that Wild fans seem to appreciate if for no other reason than the departure it represents from the M.O. of the prior GM - who let it be known that he was in on discussions with free agents, after they had signed somewhere else. Now, with the news of Sykora's arrival in Minnesota for a physical and then a "tryout" it seems like there's actual substance to those reports of Fletcher's activity.
And, again, one hopes the boss has taken notice.
Of particular interest is the fact that Sykora would have to take less money to play in Minnesota this season than he had on the table to play in the KHL. Sykora is not a 40-goal guy. He's a consistent 20-25 goal guy. On the Wild, that's easily 2nd line material, maybe even 1st line material. But that's beside the point. The point is that Sykora is among the most talented free agents available on the market right now, he wants to play in Minnesota (at least enough to get there, and on a "tryout" basis, in name anyway) and for less money than he'd receive elsewhere.
A player that wants to play for a specific team and is willing to sacrifice monetarily to do so? Are you sure we're not talking about the Red Wings here?
Okay, not quite, but when was the last time the Wild as a destination for a free agent could exist in the same sentence as the Red Wings in anything but a bad joke?
*UPDATE* Sykora signs for $1.6M for one year. This just makes the case that much stronger.
It's really a breath of fresh air to see things like this. It makes me really happy. There haven't been a ton of changes, but I feel like this team is in such a better place than they were last year in terms of talent. And next year there will be more changes. Continuious small steps in the right direction is all I ask for and that's exactly what Fletch is doing.
I agree, Ryan. I think the changes have been more subtle - as in a solidification of vision - and they've only been able to act on them in small increments so far. Long-term I'm bullish, even if that means suffering through some short-term pain.
You want to come to a location where you are supported. Until now, the only position that was supported in Minnesota was goalie. The new regime knows where the Wild ship of state should sail towards, and you're correct that there may be some stormy times ahead. But I, for one, would rather suffer thru the rough stretch than put up with more of DR's mediocrity. Even JL was fed up with it at the end; you could tell it in his comments to the media, especially in post-game press conferences where he would become more and more exasperated as the season dragged on.
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