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Fletcher, Wild Make Deal to Protect Core Group

Haula, Tuch a steep price to pay, but defensive corps set to remain intact

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

LAS VEGAS -- Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said all along that his team was bound to lose a good player to the Vegas Golden Knights. Quite simply, there was no way around it.

Turns out, Fletcher and the Wild will lose two players to the NHL's newest franchise, but that was cost in order to keep the Golden Knights away from Minnesota's prized stable of defensemen as well as veteran centerman Eric Staal.

Vegas General Manager George McPhee announced on Wednesday that his team had signed Wild restricted free agent forward Erik Haula to a multi-year contract. The signing of Haula counts as Minnesota's player lost in the expansion draft process.

To grease the wheels on the deal, the Wild traded forward Alex Tuch, one of Minnesota's top prospects, to Vegas in exchange for a conditional third-round draft pick: a steep price to pay, but one Fletcher said was required.

"Alex is a kid we drafted. He had a very good year in the American League and to me, it looked like he was ready to break through and play on our club next year," Fletcher said. "I think it's an exciting opportunity for both of them to come to an expansion franchise and be a part of building something here. Clearly, two guys we drafted and developed and big losses to our franchises."

Tweet from @mnwild: �� #mnwild GM Chuck Fletcher talks about losing Erik Haula and Alex Tuch during the #VegasDraft.

With a bevy of protectable assets both up front and on the blue line, Fletcher efforted trade negotiations with Vegas all the way up until McPhee's self-imposed deadline late Monday. 

In addition to defensemen Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin, who were on the Wild's protected list, the trade allows Minnesota to continue forward with Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella in the fold. For much of the expansion process, it was believed the Wild could lose a quality defenseman for nothing. 

That won't be the case now.

"We knew we weren't going to be able to protect everybody. We tried to protect as many pieces as we can and I think, coming out of this, we're in pretty good shape," Fletcher said. "We have a real good defense core, we have a lot of depth up front; I think that helps us losing these two assets. We have good young players that have yet to hit the League, and we also have a lot of great young forwards on our team. Again, we knew we wouldn't come out of this unscathed, but we like our team and it's a good group going forward."

Fletcher was also faced with a numbers crunch up front. Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville were required protectees because of no-movement clauses in their contracts. That left four spots for a group that included Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, as well as Staal and Haula. 

Granlund, Niederreiter, Coyle and Zucker occupied those four spots on the protected list, leaving Staal, a long-time captain of the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota's second-best scorer last season, available for Vegas. 

The Wild desperately wanted to bring Staal back. Now it will, thanks to some shrewd maneuvering by Fletcher, who said he's had an agreement with Vegas for about a week to lay off Staal.

"I was able to talk to Eric early on, and I don't think Eric was ever in danger of not being with our club," Fletcher said. "We were comfortable with that."

Haula, a former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher, was Minnesota's seventh-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft (182nd overall). He debuted in the League during the 2013-14 season, scoring six goals and 15 points in 46 games that year.

He has increased his goal-scoring totals each season since, including a 15-goal campaign in 2016-17. In 266 career games with the Wild, the 26-year-old Haula scored 42 goals, had 47 assists and was a plus-33.

Tuch, Minnesota's first-round selection in the 2014 Draft (18th overall), made his professional hockey debut last season, scoring 18 goals and 37 points in 57 games with Iowa. He also skated in six games with Minnesota, making his NHL debut in Vancouver on Feb. 4. 

"Erik has been a big part of our team for a few years now and Alex Tuch was going to be a big part of our team," Fletcher said. "We've known for a while that we were going to lose a good asset or assets in this process and I think we did what I felt we had to keep, our defense core in particular, and also to protect a couple of our key forwards.

"We tried to manage the process the best we could. Vegas had a lot of leverage and I give George McPhee and [Vegas Assistant GM] Kelly McCrimmon credit; they got a couple good assets from us."

Granlund, Koivu leave Vegas empty handed

In conjunction with the expansion draft, the NHL also had its Awards show in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday. 

Granlund and Koivu were the only two Wild players up for League-wide awards, with Granlund a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy (most gentlemanly player) and Koivu up for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward).

Despite quality resumes -- especially for Koivu, long one of the NHL's best two-way players -- neither claimed an award.

Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron won the Selke, becoming the second player in history to win the award four times (Bob Gainey). 

Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau took home the Lady Byng.

Schedule for 2017-18 coming together

Earlier in the day on Wednesday, NHL teams also released the dates of their home openers for the 2017-18 season.

Minnesota's first game at Xcel Energy Center will be against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 14. 

The Wild will also serve as the home-opening opponent for two other clubs, including an Oct. 5 date with the Detroit Red Wings in what will be the first regular season game played at the new Little Caesars Arena.

Minnesota will play at the Carolina Hurricanes two nights later.

The full 82-game schedule will be released on Thursday.

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