- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Three trades involving big names between the two clubs from June to August seem to be helping. The Wild and Sharks were a combined 16-7-4 heading into Thursday night's meeting between the two teams at HP Pavilion.
"This is the way deals should work," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told ESPN.com on Thursday.
"I truly believed both teams could benefit from these trades, and certainly early on it appears both teams have," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told us.
Let's review the moves:
• On June 24 before the first round of the NHL draft in Minnesota, the Wild sent star blueliner Brent Burns to San Jose in exchange for winger Devin Setoguchi, prospect Charlie Coyle and a key piece: a first-round pick that night (which became center Zach Phillips from Saint John of the QMJHL).
• On Aug. 7, Minnesota traded injured forward James Sheppard to San Jose in exchange for a third-round pick in 2013.
From San Jose's perspective, the moves were meant to inch the Sharks closer to a Stanley Cup after back-to-back conference finals appearances. In Burns, they acquired the marquee top-four blueliner they craved (one that's going to be around for a long time). In Havlat, they got a winger with more speed than Heatley, an element that was lacking last season. And although Havlat missed the first four games of the season with a shoulder injury, he is easing his way back into form.
"To get that type of defenseman at 26 is very rare, so that's why we felt we had to be aggressive," said Wilson.
So far, so good; the Sharks look locked and loaded for another spring run.
"You can't underestimate the roles of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture in all this, and our belief that they could take on bigger roles this season," said Wilson. "Plus, we added Michal Handzus for the third line, which was important."
The trades were a little trickier from Minnesota's perspective. The Wild were coming off another disappointing season, the third straight without a trip to the playoffs. Something big had to be done. The intent was to get better now, but also for the future. That was a more difficult challenge, but Fletcher pulled it off.
"I thought we were treading water, at best," Fletcher said of his frame of mind late last season. "In order to compete, both in the short and long term, we needed to make moves."
The Burns deal netted him a lot of future assets, plus an immediate impact winger in Setoguchi.
"By trading Brent Burns, who was clearly our most marketable commodity, and a great player, we got the opportunity to get three young, quality assets for one player, and we felt in our position we had no choice to make that deal," said Fletcher.
It surprised no one that the Wild traded Havlat; it was a move both the player and team were happy to support. The Czech winger just never fit in well in Minnesota, and after his agent publicly complained about his ice time under former coach Todd Richards last season, you knew his future with the Wild was in doubt. Heatley didn't have a strong postseason with the Sharks, so they were willing to move him if it meant upgrading their speed on the wings.
"It's not often you trade a 30-year-old All-Star, left shot, right-winger for a 30-year-old, left shot, right-winger," Fletcher said with a chuckle. "It was purely a hockey trade."
Heatley had balked at a trade to Edmonton a few years ago after asking for a trade out of Ottawa, but Fletcher knew the winger was OK with Minnesota.
"I had discussions with [Senators GM] Bryan Murray a few years ago about Heatley and there was never any suggestion at that point that it would be an issue if there were a trade with Minnesota,'' said Fletcher.
In the end, both clubs addressed their needs; and in a salary-cap era when trades are more difficult to pull off, hats off to both GMs for finding a way.
"I have great respect for Chuck," said Wilson. "He shared his position with us and what he was trying to accomplish. He was very open about it. These deals helped both organizations."
Heatley leads the Wild in scoring with 10 points (5-5) in 14 games.
"He's worked hard, he's a plus player, we're seeing a player that's getting more and more comfortable with each game and he's starting to get more and more scoring chances and starting to get more and more chemistry and cohesion with his linemates, which now are Mikko Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse," said Fletcher. "I fully expect once we get to the 20-25 game mark, he'll be an even more comfortable player than he is now.'"
Overall, however, the Wild still only rank 26th in the NHL in goals per game. Their winnings ways are largely from their second-best defensive record.
"We expect more and we need more from out top two lines on a consistent basis," said Fletcher. "The biggest issue so far has been the power play [ranked 25th]. I liked what I saw Tuesday night in Calgary, but our power play overall has been below average. We're going to need to score more goals to continue to compete with the best teams in the West. No question."
We are trained to look for winners and losers when teams make big trades, but the Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks may just be winners in the moves they made together this past offseason.