Sid Hartman
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Not only should Chuck Fletcher be named the NHL general manager of the year, he might have made the best GM move of the decade to turn what looked like a lost Wild team into a Stanley Cup contender.

Think about this: On Jan. 14, the Wild was 18-19-5, had lost six consecutive games and was eight points out of the final wild-card spot and 12th out of 14 teams in the Western Conference.

Jan. 14 was the day Fletcher sent a third-round pick to Arizona for goaltender Devan Dubnyk. He started the next day, and the Wild defeated the Buffalo Sabres 7-0. Since the trade, the Wild is 24-6-2, has moved into the No. 1 wild-card spot in the West and is fifth overall in the conference with 91 points.

The current odds in Las Vegas, according to Bovada.com, have the Wild at 9-1 to win the Stanley Cup, tied for third in the NHL.

Fletcher was asked if he has ever seen a goaltender turn a team around like this.

"Not too often," he said. "Devan Dubnyk has been unbelievable for us. He's had just a tremendous season, starting back in Arizona and since we've acquired him. He has arguably played as well as any goaltender in the league. He has given us a chance to win every night, and because of that, I think the players that are playing in front of him have a lot of confidence and the players in front of him are playing very well. It's really a nice thing to see, and hopefully we can keep it going. But it has been a great story, no doubt."

Dubnyk is second in the league in goals-against average, at 2.07, and second in save percentage at .930 — he trails Montreal goaltender Carey Price in both categories — but that takes into account his time in Arizona and with the Wild. If you use his stats after his trade to Minnesota, he's the best goalie in hockey without question, with a 1.71 GAA in 32 games and a .938 save percentage.

But even Fletcher acknowledged that some of the work by a GM involves luck, and the Wild was looking at multiple goalies when it reached an agreement with Arizona for Dubnyk.

"There was a couple other goaltenders we were inquiring about just for different reasons," Fletcher said. "One guy wasn't available; another guy, the team wanted too much for. When we talked to Arizona, they were willing to do it. They had just gone through an ownership change, and I think [General Manager] Don Maloney was looking to pick up some draft picks and build towards the future, so Devan wasn't a critical component of what they were trying to do for this year. It made sense for them and it made sense for us, so once they were prepared to do the deal, we were prepared to do it as well."

A big question for Fletcher will be what the team decides to do at the end of the season when Dubnyk, who is making only $800,000 this season, becomes an unrestricted free agent.

"There's always some worries, for sure, any time a player is an unrestricted free agent," Fletcher said. "They hold the cards and they can decide what they want to do and what they want to try to pursue financially. Right now for us, we just want the focus to be on the team and on trying to win games. We worked so hard the last couple months to try and scratch and claw our way back into the playoff chase and at this time, that's all we're focused on. I think we've been a good fit for Devyn, and obviously Devyn has been a good fit for us. We're hopeful we can work it out at the end of the season."

More than one player

While Dubnyk has undoubtedly turned the Wild's season around, there have been other additions Fletcher points to for helping transform the team into a Stanley Cup contender.

"Around the time we acquired Devan, we promoted Matt Dumba from the minors and Matt has come in and played very, very well," Fletcher said about the rookie defenseman, who has 12 points in 50 games. "Mikael Granlund came back from injury about that same time, and sometimes these small additions can have a big impact. If you look at our team now, we're a four-line team and we have six defensemen that can play. I think getting Granlund back, getting Dumba, some of the players we picked up at the trade deadline, our depth is very, very good. We don't rely on our top players to just win us games. Everyone chips in. I really like the makeup of our team now, we have a lot of depth. It's nice when you don't have to rely on just Zach [Parise] or Mikko [Koivu] or Ryan Suter to win a game, and other guys can step up and win you a game. That's what we're getting right now."

Is Fletcher confident about reaching the playoffs?

"We have to win some games and keep playing well," he said. "If we win our share of games down the stretch here, nobody should be able to catch us. That's what we're focused on; just winning our games and playing well and just trying to keep this run going."

Jottings

Phillip Howard, a 5-11 quarterback from Cooper, recently received a football scholarship offer from the Gophers. Howard rushed for 622 yards on 102 attempts while throwing for 1,056 yards in eight games. He had nine rushing TDs and seven passing scores during his junior season. … Gophers football coach Jerry Kill said earlier this week that Brandon Lingen broke his collarbone. That's a tough break for a young tight end who was the Gophers' offensive freshman of the year last year and is expected to make a big impact for the Gophers next season. The good news is Lingen should be ready for the season opener.

• Good news for former Timberwolves assistant coach Eric Musselman: He will be a head coach again for the University of Nevada, which signed Musselman to a five-year deal Wednesday. Musselman, the son of former Wolves and Gophers head coach Bill Musselman, had been an assistant coach with LSU.

Zach LaVine is playing great basketball recently, starting six of seven games for the injury-depleted Wolves. After Wednesday night's 101-99 overtime loss to the Lakers, LaVine was averaging 17.0 points on 42.7 percent shooting over the past seven games, while also averaging 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists. He is also shooting 53.6 percent (15-for-28) on three-pointers in that stretch. … It has been a tough couple of years for Chase Budinger, who has battled knee injuries, but the Wolves forward is averaging 14.9 points on 52.6 percent shooting over his past seven games — he had 22 points off the bench against the Lakers — and is finally looking like the player the Wolves signed to a three-year, $15 million contract in 2013.

• Visiting Miami recently was former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who was Russell Wilson's backup in Seattle last year. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, however, told ESPN.com he expects Jackson back with Seattle.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com