As the minutes crept closer to the end of the National Hockey League’s Trade Deadline Day, it seemed like the Minnesota Wild would quietly let the clock wind down without making a move. Then with the time lurking closer to the deadline the Wild acquired a pair of veterans, bolstering its depth in a succession of quick deals.
First, the Wild secured veteran defenseman and Minnesota native Jordan Leopold from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Justin Falk and a 2015 fifth-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Just a short time later, TSN’s Sportsnet broke the news that Minnesota had acquired forward Chris Stewart from the Buffalo Sabres for a 2017 second rounder. To Stewart. On live television.
It was just a typical afternoon on the National Hockey League’s Trade Deadline—a day that again saw the Wild make moves to bolster its roster for the final push of the regular season.
For the third consecutive year Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher found a dance partner at the deadline in the Sabres. Last season, he picked up Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick before the embargo. In 2013, the GM traded for Jason Pominville.
This go round, the deal came in just under the gun. Fletcher said that the organization sent the trade for Stewart into the League about three minutes before the deadline. Again, it was a busy day for the club’s architect, moments before speaking with the media, the GM plugged in his dying phone.
“It was an exciting day; these are fun days when you’re in management,” Fletcher said. “We feel we’re a better organization right now than we were this morning.”
This morning, Stewart was with a team that had no playoff aspirations. Joining the Wild is a chance to play for a postseason contender. The forward is on his way to Minnesota and ready to contribute in the tough Western Conference.
“I’m excited to get back into playoff contention,” Stewart said.
The wing knows the Western Conference well; he broke into the League as a member of the Colorado Avalanche and skated with the St. Louis Blues before being traded to Buffalo.
“It’s a more physical game in the West,” Stewart said. “Coming back to the West, that’s my kind of hockey.”
The 27-year-old wing brings size and grit up front for Minnesota. Playing in the rugged Central Division and after getting a chance to evaluate the lineup during the year, Fletcher thought the team could benefit from additional physicality.
“Probably one fair criticism you can level at is our lack of size,” Fletcher said. “Chris is a big, strong guy — certainly, a guy that brings a lot of toughness to our team. But yet, he’s a player that has contributed offensively, can play on the power play, can really shoot the puck, he’s willing to go to the net.
“We think with the type of players we have on the team, his skill set really compliments our group really well.”
On the blue line, Leopold returns to the State of Hockey after 12 NHL seasons and seven different destinations. Prior to turning pro, the Golden Valley native played his college puck at the University of Minnesota, where he was a four-year star. In his senior year, 2001-02, he led the Golden Gophers to the NCAA National Championship and earned the Hobey Baker Award, given to the best college player in the nation.
In one of the other touches that only happen at the trade deadline: Leopold’s daughter, Jordyn, sent a letter to the Wild coaches stumping for the club to trade for her father (Fletcher and the staff never actually saw it). The hand-written heartfelt note might be the cutest thing you’ll read today. Fletcher joked that he felt “tremendous pressure” to bring Leopold into the mix after seeing the message. Jordyn might have a future as an NHL player agent, or Fletcher joked, “Very good writer, in fact we may have an opening on our communications staff.” Hey, now.
The team made a final move before the deadline, acquiring forward Jared Knight from Boston in exchange for Zack Phillips. Sometimes, Fletcher said, a young player needs a change of scenery to jumpstart their careers, which is why the clubs swapped prospects. The Wild also reassigned Stephane Veilleux to Iowa of the American Hockey League to free up roster space for the newcomers.
As far as the impact today’s moves will have on the team, it looks as though both Stewart and Leopold will get a chance to make their Wild debuts tomorrow when the club hosts the Ottawa Senators at Xcel Energy Center. Fletcher said that Stewart would be in the lineup tomorrow. He added that Leopold is likely to make his Wild debut because defenseman Marco Scandella is questionable. He hopes the two will have an impact like earlier acquisitions, goaltender Devan Dubnyk and forward Sean Bergenheim.
“Being able to pick up Dubnyk in January and Bergenheim last week and now the additions we made today, it’s exciting,” Fletcher said. “I think we’re a better, deeper team. We have a lot of work to do, but hopefully this gives us the ammunition we need to win enough games down the stretch here.”