September 07, 2010
In June, Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher signed center James Sheppard(notes) to a one-year, $803,250 contract. This was after a season in which the 22-year-old former No. 9 overall pick (2006) scored six points in 64 games and skated to a minus-14 for the second consecutive season.
Fletcher told the Star Tribune that Sheppard "lost his confidence" last season, but that the Wild weren't giving up on him ... yet:
"If somebody can come in and beat him in camp, then maybe that forces our hand if we're offered a terrific opportunity to get a different asset and he's the price we have to pay, we'll look at it. [...]
"If somebody can knock him out in camp, great, the more competition the better. And maybe he comes in and is the player that people hoped he would be. Why wouldn't we give him that opportunity to compete? Maybe he's inspired by that and takes a step."
Unfortunately, he won't be taking a step for a while without crutches: Michael Russo of the Star Tribune confirmed with Wild coach Todd Richards on Tuesday that Sheppard was in an ATV accident on Monday in Vail, Colo., suffering an injury to his kneecap that required surgery and will require up to four months of rehab.
(Yes, an ATV; traditionally the safest of all of Earth's forms of vehicular transportation ...)
Two ways to look at this. First, it delays any decision to fish or cut bait with Sheppard, because he won't be available until December at the earliest. But his absence also could seal his fate with the franchise, considering free-agent signee John Madden(notes) and prospects Casey Wellman(notes) and Cody Almond(notes) are going to be competing for time at the pivot.
It's a bummer. Everyone likes a redemption story, and Sheppard had a chance to write one at Wild camp. He's become a popular pariah for Minnesota fans; although with all of Fletcher's talk about focus and effort, there's no question he's brought some of that on himself.
His career is at a crossroads in Minnesota; and there it will stay until he's healthy.