Chuck Fletcher built the Wild team set to face his Flyers
PHILADELPHIA — Chuck Fletcher will sit in his perch at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday, Jan. 14, to watch a team he might know better than the one he’s currently charged with rebuilding.
Hired last month to fix the Philadelphia Flyers, Fletcher is still very much learning about the franchise made famous by the Broad Street Bullies in the mid-1970s. Their opponent Monday, he knows well; Fletcher largely built the Wild roster, and hired the guy coaching it, that will face off against the Flyers.
In St. Paul for nearly 10 years, Fletcher was the NHL’s sixth-longest tenured GM before being fired upon the conclusion of last season. The Wild earned a playoff berth in six consecutive seasons with Fletcher in charge but advanced to the second round only twice — winning just two games.
After a first-round, 4-1 series loss to Winnipeg, owner Craig Leipold replaced Fletcher with Paul Fenton, a longtime assistant GM for a Nashville team that advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016.
Neither Fletcher nor Fenton could be reached for comment.
As for Monday’s game, 18 of the 23 Wild players set to dress are holdovers from Fletcher’s time in the Twin Cities, not necessarily surprising because Fenton is getting his first real look at the core Fletcher believed would win a Stanley Cup.
No doubt the biggest move Fletcher made with the Wild, one that followed him for the rest of his tenure, was signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts in July 2012. Seen as a game-changer at the time, the deal produced little postseason success and a lot of salary cap issues.
There are other moves Fletcher can hang his hat on, such as trading for Devan Dubnyk, one of the NHL’s most consistent goaltenders and an all-star this season, for a third-round pick in January 2015. He also acquired mainstay Nino Niederreiter in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick.
Those trades will go down as highlights for Fletcher, as will him signing Eric Staal to three-year, $10.5 million contract, still viewed as one of the best bargains in the league.
But he also made mistakes, such as sending first-round draft pick Nick Leddy (and Kim Johnsson) to Chicago for Cam Baker, and trading potential hall of fame defenseman Brent Burns and a second-round pick to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick. He also whiffed in a few drafts, namely passing on Burnsville native Brock Boeser in favor of Joel Eriksson Ek.
All of those moves, the good and the bad, played a role in the Wild being back in a familiar situation at the midway point of this season, scratching and clawing for a playoff spot.
Fletcher kept the Wild competitive but couldn’t get them over the hump. That task now belongs to Fenton.