Before watching his first game as general manager, Chuck Fletcher already had his mind made up regarding defenseman Ivan Provorov.
"I'm convinced he's a very good player,” Fletcher said after his introductory press conference Wednesday.
Fletcher undoubtedly understands how rare it is to find that anchor on the blue line. As GM of the Wild, he secured Ryan Suter on a 13-year, $98 million contract, locking him up until the age of 39.
Aside from determining Wayne Simmonds' future, another order of business high on Fletcher’s list of priorities is devising the framework of a deal with Provorov’s agent, Mark Gandler of International Sports Advisors. Gandler also represents Capitals defenseman Dimitry Orlov, who signed a six-year, $30 million contract on the day before free agency this past summer.
“I have a good relationship with the agency that represents [Provorov] and I'm sure we'll have some conversations and we'll just see how things go,” Fletcher said. “It's certainly not a project for this week, let's put it that way. I'll reach out to the agent this week, but it's not a project to get anything done right away."
Former GM Ron Hextall had just started to lay out the foundation with Provorov’s entry-level deal expiring at the end of the season. The two sides spoke “probably 10 to 15 times” going back to last summer, Hextall said, but neither side felt comfortable throwing out a number as it pertains to the cap.
“We worked at Provy all summer — three months on and off and we couldn’t come to middle ground," Hextall said. "It was absolutely no animosity."
Fletcher may be better off waiting as long as possible. Provorov has struggled to minimize turnovers in the defensive end of the ice in the first two months of the season, and his current projection of six goals and 28 points would be a sharp drop-off from the league-leading 17 goals among defensemen and 41 points he scored in his sophomore season.
All of which has left the hockey world wondering if these looming negotiations have affected Provorov’s performance on the ice. Both Hextall and Fletcher couldn’t say for certain.
“I don’t know. That’s a hard one to figure out because you see other guys,” Hextall said. “I don’t think so. Provy is really strong mentally. If I had to pick one guy on our team that I didn’t think would be affected by this, he’d be the first guy."
"I don't know whether that is or not, but it's not unusual to see young players have outside things affect them and affect play,” Fletcher said. “Whether that's true with Ivan, I don't know, but we'll get to know him.”
When I caught up with Provorov earlier this week, he believed his pending (restricted) free agency hadn't had any bearing on his performance.
“It’s not hard for me,” Provorov said. “I wasn’t really getting involved. I love hockey for everything it brings. When I came back here, I was just happy to be back with the boys and get the season going. Whatever happens, happens — and it happens for a reason. But I love playing here.”
Sources tell me that if anything has bothered Provorov, it has been two-fold: Differing opinions with former assistant coach Gord Murphy, and secondly, not having anyone outside the organization to confide in with his immediate family all living in Russia.
Even with Provorov’s degree of maturity, sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s still just a 21-year-old kid living independently on foreign soil while battling through a rough offseason, which included his recovery from a Grade 3 shoulder separation.
Provorov will eventually figure out the hockey side, while Fletcher and Provorov’s agent will hammer out the financial side.
It’s all a reminder that it just takes a little bit of time.
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