The Wild are up against a wall this offseason. They need to find a little cap space, which they would do by letting go of Dany Heatley using something called a compliance buyout, but they can’t do that because he had shoulder surgery and is on the isable list. They needed to find another way to stock their roster and to get their payroll down.
The team needed to make a decision on their restricted free agents, because many of them were worthwhile contributors, but their cost was prohibitive. One of those players was Cal Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck was a star of the team two years ago, but then the team started to add more skill players they started going towards a different style. Clutterbuck is more suited to a high energy grinding game. Sure, he scored a bunch of goals 2 years ago, but they were ugly and a product of a lot of ice time. His game is suited more perfectly for the Eastern Conference which tends to be more physical, as the Wild have reimagined their roster to fit with the Western Conference’s more wide open style.
The Wild wanted to flow a little bit better, and they intended to do that with their free agent acquisition from a year a go, Zack Parise, as well as with rookie Mikal Granlund. Granlund struggled and spent more time in the AHL than the Wild would have hoped, however, and beyond the first line, the scoring wasn’t as easy as anticipated.
All of these factors came together today at the draft as they sought a solution. The Wild wanting to do something with Clutterbuck, who is a better fit for the Eastern Conference anyways, wanting to boost their prospect pool despite not having a first round pick, wanting to bolster their skill offense and getting further away from the grinding possession game that has dominated their franchise since the team came to be. They also, perhaps, wanted to find someone to pair with Granlund down the road to help with his development.
At the same time on Long Island, the Islanders have a wealth of speedy skill forwards, but wanted to get more energy and get a little bit tougher after getting bounced by the Penguins in the playoffs during the spring. They had a top 5 pick from 2010 still playing in Bridgeport, their minor league franchise in Nino Niederreiter. A match made in heaven, the Islanders sent Niderreiter to Minnesota for Clutterbuck and a draft pick Now even though Mikael Granlund isn’t a sure thing to make the NHL roster next season, he will still be able to build chemistry with a linemate of the future, and the Wild was able to free up cap space and find a more apt home for Clutterbuck.
The initial reaction, for me, is this. Clutterbuck was a popular player in Minnesota, but his time as a useful hockey player within the Wild system had run out. Niederreiter scored 50 points last year with Bridgeport, and appears to be finding his game even though he struggled coming over from Switzerland initially. This is a great trade for Minnesota, and all the more impressive considering how up against the wall they were.