Monday, August 8, 2011

Fletcher (Almost) Completely Free

by NiNY

With the weekend news that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had traded James Sheppard to (you guessed it) San Jose for a 3rd round pick, I immediately thought about Doug Risebrough.

More specifically, the job Riser did (or didn't do, as the case may be) in setting up the team that Fletcher inherited.

There was the lack of top-end scoring amid the murder of third and fourth-line muckers at forward. There was a fairly solid defense, anchored by Kim Johnsson, Brent Burns and Nick Schultz (with a little Marek Zidlicky thrown in for offense). There was Nik Backstrom and Josh Harding in goal.

Down in Houston there was.... well there just wasn't a hell of a lot. At least not a lot that projected to fill the more-gaping holes (e.g. top end scoring talent) already in the roster.

It couldn't have been a pretty sight to Fletcher, but, as it was his first kick at the NHL can as GM, he bucked up and stiff-upper-lipped it.

To be fair, Fletcher has made some knee-jerk moves that didn't really work out so well. Divesting 2nd round picks for the likes of Chuck Kobasew jumps immediately to mind. And, at first, he was not immune to the intoxicating powers of free agency, as the over-payment of Eric Nystrom indicates.

But even in Fletcher's early days there were signs that he isn't the same man that Riser is. Scoffing at the Rangers ridiculous offer for Derek Boogaard (RIP) was one such sign. Dealing with the impending Mikko Koivu contract issue well in advance of the danger zone (and eons before Riser would have) was another one.

And this summer he's come full-around to the realization that it's impossible to play for today and build for the future simultaneously. He has moved to address the lack of high-end offensive talent dramatically (albeit with youth) the past two off-seasons. He has been willing to admit mistakes and move to correct them. He has been pro-active. He has been crafty. He has not come out and chastised the fans for harboring unrealistic expectations.

And now, after shedding Sheppard, Fletcher is nearly free of the chains of Riser's failures that have imprisoned him since he started.

No, there isn't a Pittsburgh-like amount of top-end talent on the NHL roster yet. But, trading Andrew Brunette (respect) and Antti Miettinen (dos vydanya) for some combination of PM Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley is a major upgrade (on paper, anyway).

Riser's lack of first round success in harvesting top-end talent will likely be his longest-lasting blight on the franchise. But the kids are coming - and they look pretty good. Is there a chance a Jonas Brodin turns into a Cam Barker? Sure there is - you never really know at the draft. Is there a chance a Mikael Granlund turns into an Alexandre Daigle? Yes; same reasoning.

So we reserve final judgment until it's prudent to judge. But Fletcher has bought himself the one thing that Riser ultimately ran out of: patience from the fans. Which, given what we went through leading up to the end of Riser's tenure, was not something many of us were going to be willing to sell very cheaply, regardless of who replaced Riser.

But, for now, I'm calling it: the stink of Doug Risebrough is all-but dissipated from the Wild. And a new day, with new expecations, starts now.

It's your team, Chuck.

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