When the rumor was put out that Nick Schultz might be available, everyone surrounding the Minnesota Wild scoffed at the idea ... Except those truly in the know. Not only was he available, he was part of one of the biggest trades at the 2012 NHL trade deadline. That move would serve as the capstone for a busy Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota's general manager, and serve as the prime example of how to reinvent a defense in four days.
The relevant thoughts coming into the deadline were that Marek Zidlicky needed to be unloaded to rid the team of the distraction, Greg Zanon needed to be moved to capitalize on an expiring contract and Josh Harding needed to be moved to make room for Matt Hackett. Fletcher saw bigger issues, though, and had bigger plans for the team. By two o'clock Monday, Fletcher decided to get rid of three defensemen and still had a goalie log jam.
The Zidlicky trade has already been discussed -- bringing in Nick Palmieri, Kurtis Foster, Stephane Veilleux and a couple of picks was a coup for Fletcher. After hitting that home run, expectations were high for deadline day: The Wild should come out of the deadline loaded with picks and prospects, and the fans would be ready to call it another season because there's always next year.
The biggest news of the day looked like it would be that Brad Staubitz had been claimed off of re-entry waivers by the Montreal Canadiens. For a team well outside the playoffs, it was a curious move for the Habs, but one that alleviated the Wild of a player that played few minutes, had been demoted to the AHL, and had a penchant for taking bad penalties at the worst possible time. The Wild will remain on the hook for half his salary, but it does make Staubitz a problem for Habs fans to deal with instead of those of us in Minnesota.
As the deadline approached, however, the Edmonton Oilers' official Twitter account announced they had acquired Schultz for Tom Gilbert, an offensive-minded defenseman and Bloomington, Minn., native. After just shipping Zidlicky off, it was not a welcome move from most fans considering Minnesota traded the longest-tenured Wild member and a fan favorite in Schultz. The backlash was instant and, at times, brutal. The curious part was, though, that the same reaction flowed from the Oilers' fan base as well.
As Wild fans and players digested the move, a move the players learned of from media, the deadline passed to make anymore acquisitions ... except for those deals that had been faxed into the league but not formally processed. One of those post-deadline deals saw defenseman Greg Zanon sent to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Steven Kampfer, a young puck-moving defensive prospect.
And there it was. Completion. Fletcher had traded three defensemen straight out of the starting six in exchange for a list of mostly defensive players, some nice young prospects and a pick or two depending on how the season shakes out. The idea was to jump start an anemic blue line and get the lowest-producing defensive corps in the league to put some points on the board.
Whether or not the bold moves will work will be up to head coach Mike Yeo and the players. The moves have the potential to create some real changes in the performance on the ice, for better or worse and there's a distinct possibility of creating a rift between the players and the Wild brass.
The players wanted help, but the reaction suggests they did not want help at the cost of Schultz, one of their leaders on and off the ice.
The Wild play the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center. Gilbert will be in the lineup, while Kampfer will report to the Houston Aeros. The next few games will show a great deal about how the way the 2011-12 NHL season will end for the Wild. Bold moves by a General Manager desperate to get his team going will play a large part in what that ending looks like.
If it ends in playoffs, Fletcher looks like a genius. If it ends on the golf course, for the fourth straight year, it may leave a very bad taste in the mouths of fans and players alike.