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Wild retool defense for now and build for future

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL -- After a busy 72 hours, Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher reflected on the moves he made to completely reshape his defensive core.

Fletcher traded away 35-year-old Marek Zidlicky to New Jersey on Friday, then dealt two more veteran defensemen prior to Monday's trading deadline, sending Nick Schultz to Edmonton for Tom Gilbert and moving veteran Greg Zanon to Boston for youngster Steven Kampfer.

Tom Gilbert
Defense - MIN
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 17
SOG: 50 | +/-: -4
"Our ability to transition the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone is an area we wanted to improve," Fletcher said. "We feel we are better at that today."

Fletcher said he's been intrigued by the thought of adding Gilbert for several years, saying he first spoke with Oilers GM Steve Tambellini three summers ago. It's believed Gilbert's offensive abilities are what attracted the Wild to him in the first place, but Fletcher said he believes Gilbert has more to offer.

"He does have an offensive component, but I don't know that I'd characterize him purely as an offensive defenseman," Fletcher said. "I don't think that's fair to his talents. I think Tom is a strong puck-mover and certainly has the ability to contribute offensively, but I feel he has a very solid two-way game."

Bringing Gilbert to Minnesota came at a price, however, and Fletcher recognized that. Schultz was the franchise's leader in games played -- and as an alternate captain, was one of the most respected voices in the room.

"Nick Schultz represented the Minnesota Wild as well as any player could ever represent us, both on the ice and off," Fletcher said. "Popular teammate, great in the community, great family man and a very solid defensive defenseman, played very solid for us."

When told of the trade just after practice late Monday morning, Schultz and his teammates were in shock. In tears while on the phone with his wife, Schultz said moving on will be difficult to do.

"It's been fun," Schultz said. "This is a great place to play, great fans, great people. I've had great memories here. It's tough to go. This is all I know."


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Forward Cal Clutterbuck could hardly put the trade into words when he learned of it.

"He's what this organization is about. Has been for 10 years," he said.

The deal that sent Zanon to Boston came much later in the day, and players were no longer around to react to the news. One of Fletcher's first signings after becoming GM in Minnesota in 2009, Zanon was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end and he wasn't likely to re-sign with the Wild.

"Greg is a heart-and-soul player, blocked shots, physically competitive every night and gave us everything he had, every game he played," Fletcher said.

In return, the Wild got another puck-mover in Kampfer, who will play with Minnesota's AHL affiliate in Houston.

"He's a young guy, needs to play and get his confidence going," Fletcher said. "Definitely a guy that can help us with our depth this season and hopefully going forward, he can be a part of our group."

The trade of Zanon was not a shock to many, as his name had been rumored for weeks as one that could be attractive to teams looking for a veteran rental. Schultz's name had only been tossed around recently, with the more popular name being that of goaltender Josh Harding. Another player on an expiring contract, Harding was seen as a possibility for a team looking for more depth in goal, a position where the Wild are strong in the present, with Niklas Backstrom, and in the future, with the highly regarded Matt Hackett.

But Fletcher said he was never close to moving Harding and hasn't ruled out signing him this summer when he's a free agent.

Now armed with cap space and a deep prospect pool, a situation described as "the best we've ever been in," Fletcher said this summer could be a time when the Wild go looking for star power in an attempt to take the next step in the rebuilding process.

"At some point, we want to go out and add some top-end guys," Fletcher said. "If you look at our hockey team, we have a good core of players. Now we just need to go out and add some more.

"How soon we'll get there, I can't say. But that's the challenge. That's our next step as a franchise."

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