The Minnesota Wild have decided to not renew Chuck Fletcher’s contract as Vice President and General Manager, the team announced today. In a statement, owner Craig Leipold explained the decision:
I want to thank Chuck Fletcher for his substantial contributions to our franchise over the past nine years. Through his strong work ethic, integrity and vision, Chuck and his staff built a winning culture and a perennial playoff team. For all of that I am grateful. I feel it is time for a new approach aimed at delivering a Stanley Cup to the deserving fans of the State of Hockey. I wish Chuck and his family the very best going forward.
The team will immediately begin a search for a new general manager, but will have Brent Flahr serve in the role until one is found.
Fletcher has been with the Wild since 2009, when he was hired away from the Pittsburgh Penguins following their Stanley Cup victory. The son of legendary hockey executive Cliff Fletcher, Chuck has been noted as an exceptional manager over the years and has a long history of playoff appearances. The Wild have qualified for the postseason in six consecutive seasons, but have failed to get past the second round. That failure is likely why Fletcher is out of a job today, even with the combined 359-266-80 regular season record since he was hired.
One of the biggest contributing factors to Fletcher’s dismissal could be the trade he made at the 2017 deadline to acquire Martin Hanzal. The Wild had to send a heft package including a first-round pick for the oft-injured center, a deal that Leipold has publicly regretted since. Fletcher’s record in trades is certainly not perfect, but does include some outstanding moves for players who had been underwhelming for their previous teams.
In 2014 he used a third-round pick to acquire Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes, who despite his recent playoff struggles has been an elite goaltender for the Wild the last few seasons. He finished third in Vezina voting the season he was acquired, and has registered a .923 save percentage in 231 appearances for the Wild.
A year prior, he sent Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick to the New York Islanders for Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter had been a fifth-overall draft pick for the Islanders in 2010 but famously posted just a single point in 55 games during the 2011-12 season before spending the next full year in the minor leagues. He would immediately become a two-way force for the Wild after being acquired, while Clutterbuck had failed to eclipse the 25-point mark in any of his five seasons in New York.
Most notably for Fletcher though might be the work he did in the 2012 offseason, when he convinced both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to sign in free agency. The good friends earned identical 13-year, $98MM contracts that still have seven years remaining on them. At the time, they were seen as two superstar talents that could immediately make the Wild into Stanley Cup favorites. Though both of them have remained excellent players for the team, neither has been able to carry the team into the late rounds of the playoffs, meaning the contracts are becoming more and more troublesome.
Parise will be 34 when the 2018-19 season begins, while Suter’s birthday doesn’t come until midseason. Whoever replaces Fletcher in the Minnesota front office will have to deal with the two contracts, and even the thought of cap recapture penalties should they retire early.
Fletcher will be a sought after candidate for other jobs around the league, but it’s unclear where his ideal landing spot would be. We’ll have to wait and see if he’s given the keys to another franchise, or will have to join as a support member for the next chapter in his hockey career.