Since he took the job as Minnesota Wild’s General Manager position last spring, Chuck Fletcher has shown a willingness to make deals. He completed a doozy on Friday afternoon, just minutes before the NHL-imposed Olympic break roster freeze took effect.
The Wild acquired defenseman Cam Barker from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Kim Johnsson, and last year’s first-round draft pick, Nick Leddy.
Barker, 23, has played 51 games for the Hawks this season, and scored four goals and 10 assists with a +7 rating. He is coming off his best season a year ago, when he posted six goals and 34 assists in 68 regular season games. He went on to register three goals and six assists in 17 games during last year’s playoffs.
Barker was selected with the third overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft behind Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Last year, he ranked tied for sixth among NHL defensemen in power play points with five goals and 24 assists.
While very talented, his ice time was limited due to playing behind the likes of Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Duncan Keith and Brent Sopel.
"He already scored 40 points in the League last year," said General Manager Chuck Fletcher. "There's about 20 defensemen every year that are capable of scoring 40 points in the League. We're very excited to acquire a player of his size, talent and youth."
Johnsson was due to become a free agent after this season, which arguably has been his best in Minnesota. He had registered six goals, which was his highest total in four seasons with the Wild.
"It's important to thank Kim Johnsson for all of his contributions to the Wild in the past four seasons," said Fletcher. "He logged a lot of minutes for us, and was a very important part of our team for a few years. Nick Leddy is a terrific, young prospect whose best days are ahead of him.
We feel we paid a significant price in acquiring Cam Barker, but we're very excited about it. It's not too often you get the opportunity to a acquire a 23-year-old defenseman who is 6-foot-3, can shoot the puck and play on the power play. And he's a young player that hasn't even entered the prime of his career."
Due to the salary cap issues in Chicago, Barker was well aware that something could happen regarding his future in the Windy City. He was still surprised, but happy about coming to Minnesota.
"I was happy when I found out I was headed to [Minnesota]," said Barker. "I think some of us in Chicago knew that sooner or later, some of us would have to be moved. In my case, it happened sooner."
Barker won't be a complete stranger in the Wild dressing room. In addition to having played the Wild four times this season, he's got two former Blackhawk teammates in Minnesota in Martin Havlat and Andrew Ebbett. He was also a teammate of Derek Boogaard in juniors, and is familiar with Guillaume Latendresse
from their days on Canada's World Junior Championship roster in 2005-2006.
"It's a great mix of players," he said of his new teammates. "They've got some veteran guys and some younger guys. I'm just looking to fit in and contribute right away, and I'm looking forward to that."
It’s been reported that the Wild has been making a concerted effort to re-sign Marek Zidlicky. If that happens, it was doubtful that the team would also be able to keep Johnsson beyond this year.
The big surprise is the inclusion of Leddy in the deal. The Eden Prairie native was selected in the first round last summer, and was considered a key building block for the team’s future. However, his freshman season at the University of Minnesota hasn’t gotten off to a great start. Early in the season, he suffered a fractured jaw. Since returning, he’s posted one goal and four assists since December 4.
"It's (tough)," admitted Fletcher when asked about giving up the rights to Leddy. "This is not a reflection on Nick at all, in the sense that we didn't feel he was going to be a good player, or we didn't feel he had value. This says the opposite in the fact that we were able to get a player like Barker for him. The only way you trade a player like Leddy is if you're acquiring a young player back."