By: Dan Cole | KFAN.com
The NHL free agency market opened last Friday and Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has already made several questionable moves in an attempt to improve on a team that made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008.
Offseason changes began on draft day, when Fletcher dealt fan-favorite hit-master Cal Clutterbuck to the Islanders in exchange for young forward Nino Niederreiter.
The Wild also sent a third-round pick to New York in that deal.
Niederreiter was the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, indicating a high potential threshold, but he has yet to evolve into an NHL player. He's scored just three points in 64 games over two seasons with the Islanders, posting an abysmal minus-30 rating in those games.
Clutterbuck's departure leaves a void in toughness and grittiness for the Wild that Fletcher attempted to fill by signing long-time NHL bad boy Matt Cooke to a three-year deal on Friday.
Cooke has been a perennial pest for the Pittsburgh Penguins since signing with them prior to the 2008-09 season (he annoyed people for the Canucks and briefly for the Capitals before that) but has seen a rather sharp reduction in penalty minutes over the past two seasons.
He spent upwards of 100 minutes in the box for three straight years from 2008 to 2011, but saw those numbers decrease to 44 and 36 in the past two seasons, respectively.
He's also seen his point production increase slightly lately, possibly as a result of trying to play hockey rather than roller derby.
Fletcher says he and head coach Mike Yeo see Cooke as "an ideal third-line forward" and a possible mainstay on the penalty kill. Cooke won a Cup with the Pens back in '09, adding a wealth playoff experience to a team in dire need of it.
Earlier on Friday the Wild also signed Baudette, Minn., native Keith Ballard to a two-year deal. The 30-year-old defenseman is a former Golden Gopher blue-liner who spent the last three seasons with the Canucks, recording 16 points in 148 games in that span.
Other blue line activity for Minnesota included buying out Tom Gilbert last Wednesday, releasing him into free agency.
They did re-sign up-and-coming defenseman Jared Spurgeon to a three-year deal.
Lastly, Fletcher dealt winger Devin Setoguchi to Winnipeg on Friday in exchange for a second-round pick in next year's draft. Setoguchi tallied 27 points in 48 games with the Wild this season, creating another void with his absence -- this time in the area of offensive production.