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Wild's Approach To Start Of Offseason Measured

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

With all its chips in front of it in the weeks leading up to July 1, General Manager Chuck Fletcher sat with cards in hand, poker face and all, steadfast in not wanting to overplay said hand.

As free agency opened, and the Wild didn’t bet on its main assets, Fletcher proved his face wasn’t just a façade.

The Wild signed three players in the first hour of NHL free agency, five on the day. But the biggest move Minnesota and Fletcher may have made was the lack of a move, keeping its toes out of the trade market, which proved to be a busy one with two major moves made on June 30.

In terms of dollars and cents, the Wild added just under $5 million against its 2017-18 NHL cap.

"Free agency is the biggest misnomer in sports; there's certainly nothing free about it," Fletcher said Friday afternoon, hours after free agency opened. "A day like today is an opportunity to overpay pretty good players. I'd like to think we avoided that for the most part."

Instead, Fletcher and the Wild, a broken record in saying its current cast of characters could rebound from a disappointing 2015-16 season, marched to the beat of that drum.

"We were very well aware of what was available, and what wasn't," Fletcher said. "We made the right move with the information that we had right now."

Minnesota and Fletcher's highest-profile signing, Eric Staal, wasn't the biggest fish in the free agency pond, and didn't command the highest dollar amount, or term.

But when that pond isn't flush with trophy fish, and with plenty of fishermen with their lures in the water, it can become easy to let off too much of your line to reel one in.

"There are some good hockey players, and some good hockey players that were handsomely rewarded today around the league," Fletcher said. "With the exception of (Steven) Stamkos, who removed himself from the free agent market, there are no star players in this free agent group."

Though July 1 came in a frenzy — over $660 million committed on the first day of free agency all things told — it was June 30 that provided the real drama around the league.

On that day, Stamkos re-upped with the Tampa Bay Lightning for eight years; the Montreal Canadiens traded defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Shea Weber; and the Edmonton Oilers traded forward Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson.

With enough assets on its blue line to facilitate a trade, Fletcher said on multiple occasions the Wild could deal a defenseman, trading from a position of strength.

But now past the offseason's latest major hurdle, the Wild's defense corps is still intact, with the right move not presenting itself.

"I know Scott Stevens in particular and obviously Bruce (Boudreau) really wanted to get to know our young defensemen," Fletcher said. "I believe it's the strength of our team. We have great depth. Going forward we'll see how that works out, but it's a nice luxury to have. It certainly gives us options down the road."

There are different kinds of assets, from prospects, to NHL-ready players, and cap space.

Acquiring a player, through whatever avenue, comes at a cost. With 29 other shoppers in that late-June, early-July window, price tags can be driven up, whether it's salary demands, or trade requests.

The Wild is expecting good return from its current assets, while expecting its latest acquisitions, not the most expensive pieces moved on July 1, also provide value requisite for what it took to bring them to Minnesota.

"I'd like to think the deals we signed today were certainly very easy to justify on a production basis," Fletcher said.

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