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Fletcher: Not signing Havlat would have been big risk

Thursday, 07.02.2009 / 7:16 PM / 2009 NHL Offseason News

By John Kreiser - Columnist

Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher admits that signing forward Martin Havlat for six years was a risk. But to the rookie GM, not signing him would have been a bigger risk.

"He's a world-class talent," Fletcher said during a conference call Thursday, one day after signing Havlat and former Nashville defenseman Greg Zanon to contracts on the first day of free agency. "Obviously he's had some injuries. That's a risk. But there's risk in everything. To me, there was a much bigger risk in not doing this deal than in doing this deal. To have not done this deal, to me, would have been way riskier than doing the deal.

"Looking at Marty this season is a good indication of what he can do when he's healthy."

After two injury-filled seasons in Chicago, Havlat led the Blackhawks in scoring in 2008-09 with 77 points. But he found himself looking for a new team after the Hawks snapped up Marian Hossa only hours after free agency began. The Wild had an opening because high-scoring forward Marian Gaborik signed with the New York Rangers hours later.

Talk about a perfect match.

"He was a logical fit," Fletcher said of Havlat, who had played only 91 games in his first two seasons with the Hawks before staying healthy and putting up big numbers in '08-09. "He produced a lot offensively. He's a smart player defensively -- he's underrated in that regard. He's a responsible player. He makes solid decisions with and without the puck."

Perhaps most important to Fletcher was that Havlat wanted to come to Minnesota as much as the Wild wanted him.

"We received a call from (Havlat's agent) immediately at the start of the free-agent period," he said. "Marty made it clear to us, through (his agent) that he wanted to come to the Wild.

"He wanted to be here, and we gave him a long term -- a six-year contract. That's quite a commitment on our part. But what I appreciated in the negotiations was that they gave us a cap number we could work with in terms of continuing to add assets to this franchise. I think it’s a deal both parties are very happy with."

To Fletcher, who's been on the job only a few weeks after succeeding Doug Risebrough, the fact that Havlat was eager to come to Minnesota meant a lot.

"There were some good hockey players out there. There were certainly three or four offensive players that would have fit the bill well," he said. "Marty is 28 years old. He's an explosive skater, has tremendous offensive skills. He can score goals. He can make plays. He can play on the power play. He can kill penalties. He's responsible away from the puck. I truly believe his best years are ahead of him. It made an awful lot of sense for our situation.

"But in order to sign a player like Marty, there has to be mutual interest, and Marty really stepped up to the table. He wanted to be a member of our organization."

Havlat's history of injuries would make some teams uneasy. But to Fletcher, it was a risk he was willing to take.

"There's risk in everything," he said. "If you stand pat, that's a huge risk, too. We were comfortable with everything we heard, and the energy he showed in pursuing us was a very important factor as well.

"There's risk in signing him to a six-year deal, and there certainly, in my opinion, would have been a lot more risk in not signing him to the deal. At the end of the day, you have to make a decision, and we certainly felt very comfortable doing it."
"Obviously he's had some injuries. That's a risk. But there's risk in everything. To me, there was a much bigger risk in not doing this deal than in doing this deal. To have not done this deal, to me, would have been way riskier than doing the deal." -- Wild GM Chuck Fletcher

While the Wild will rely on Havlat to generate goals, they're counting on Zanon to keep pucks out of the net.

"He's a heart-and-soul player, a player who will block shots and finish checks, that will do whatever he has to do to defend and keep the puck out of his goal," Fletcher said of the 29-year-old, who was third in the NHL in blocked shots this past season while playing for Nashville. "He has high character level and terrific drive and passion for the game of hockey.

"I think he's an ideal fourth-fifth defenseman. He can kill penalties. There's a lot of things that attracted me to him. I don't think you can ever add enough high-character people. I think he's a player that every night you know what you're going to get from him. I think his teammates will appreciate him, and I think the fans will appreciate him."  

Fletcher said his summer shopping isn't done -- among the players he's talked to is Saku Koivu, older brother of Wild captain Mikko. But he said landing Havlat and Zanon will allow him to be a more cautious shopper.

"I think yesterday, I don't want to say took the pressure off," he said. "But we certainly filled two critical holes that may allow us to be more patient."

Quote of the Day

We don't know how long Carey will be out, but for us, it's business as usual.

— Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien on goaltender Carey Price, who is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury
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