NHL: Saku a longshot for Wild

One day after signing winger Martin Havlat to a six-year, $30 million deal, general manager Chuck Fletcher spent much of Thursday trying to fill another significant hole in the Wild's lineup.

One day after signing winger Martin Havlat to a six-year, $30 million deal, general manager Chuck Fletcher spent much of Thursday trying to fill another significant hole in the Wild's lineup.

Fletcher said "negotiations are ongoing with Saku" Koivu, the decorated older brother of Wild center Mikko Koivu.

But according to sources, the deal appeared to be heading south fast after the team felt Koivu-to-Minnesota was a lock Wednesday night.

"We've expressed some interest. I think a lot of teams have expressed interest," said Fletcher. "He's a great hockey player and there aren't a lot of centermen in the market place, so I'd be stunned if 10 or 15 teams haven't reached out to him by this point.

"I certainly sensed some interest (from Koivu), but there's a lot of good situations out there. Most teams in the league are thin at the center position."


Fletcher, who spoke with Mikko Koivu on Wednesday to ensure his comfort level in the Wild pursuing his brother, added the "ball's in (Saku's) court."

Agent Don Baizley reserved comment other than to say no decision's imminent.

Thin class

If the Wild aren't able to land Koivu, it's unlikely the team would sign another free-agent center. The free-agent center class was thin to begin with, and it's debatable anybody left could fill the No. 2 role.

"There's nobody of Saku's caliber out there," said Fletcher, adding he'd continue to work the trade market. "But it's difficult to acquire centermen. I'd be very comfortable going to camp with the players we have at center and we'd always have the ability to adjust later on."

Fletcher continued to talk to agents Thursday and would like to sign another defenseman and quality forward. But he doesn't mind waiting, too, in what should become a buyer's market.

"There's always uncertainty when you wait, but I'm just not sure that this is the year to get to your cap number on July 2," Fletcher said. "I think this year patience may be rewarded. . . . There are a couple more guys we've targeted. But if it doesn't work out, we're not going to jump on Plan B or C right away. I'd rather be patient than jump to a secondary tier and maybe miss out on a better player later on."

Havlat and Greg Zanon, whom Fletcher called a "heart-and-soul and ideal fourth-fifth defenseman," each called the Wild soon after free agency began Wednesday.


Remember, 365 days earlier, Marian Hossa and a host of other world-class players turned a blind eye to Minnesota despite Wild owner Craig Leipold's willingness to open up the vault.

"We received a call from (Havlat's agent) Allan Walsh almost immediately at the start of the free-agent period," Fletcher said. "Marty made it clear to us through Allan that he wanted to come to the Wild. I think that speaks volumes. He wanted to be here."

Still flexible

While the Wild undoubtedly made a big commitment on a six-year deal, Fletcher was appreciative that Havlat, an explosive skater and scorer, gave the Wild a cap number of $5 million that allows flexibility to make other moves.

Havlat's got a history of injuries, but Fletcher, after investigating his character and medical records, didn't fret.

"We felt comfortable with the term based on his age, based on his talent level, based on his track record and based on the cap number," Fletcher said. "He's had some injuries. That's the risk. There's risk in everything. To me, there was a much bigger risk not doing this deal than doing this deal.

"You stand pat, that's a huge risk too. We felt comfortable in everything we heard. The energy he showed in pursuing us was a very important factor."

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