With the Wild atop the Western Conference and the playoffs a near certainty, Wild fans have now set their sights on the trade deadline in two weeks to ponder additions to the team.
They probably shouldn't get their hopes up.
Many things would suggest that this would be an optimal season for the Wild to make a splashy deadline deal, and it's not a terrible idea. Giles Ferrell wrote a few weeks back that the West is bad, and he's right. It would make a ton of sense for the Wild to push a lot of chips in; they're playing really well and could theoretically make a deep playoff run while the rest of the West works through their relative struggles. If the Wild could add a big scorer specifically at the deadline, it could make a huge difference.
Problem is, they really can't for several reasons:
1. The Cap
The biggest reason why the Wild won't be able to make a big deadline deal is their tightness to the cap. Currently, the Wild are $1.7M under the cap, which certainly would make acquiring a depth piece possible.
But acquiring a well-paid top-six forward? Not so much.
Furthermore, the situation doesn't look much better next season if they were to inquire about a player that ISN'T on an expiring contract. The Wild already have $60 million committed for next season against a cap that doesn't figure to go up much from the $73 million it sits at this season. That leaves roughly $13 million to sign Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder, Christian Folin, Gustav Olofsson, Mike Reilly -- all of which are RFAs -- as well as finding a backup goaltender not named Alex Stalock.
The counter would be that this is where Chuck Fletcher needs to put his thinking cap on and come up with something wildly creative. Jason Pomiville has a 20-team no-trade list for this season, so that's much easier said than done. Shedding any other salary falls into two categories: A) Probably don't want to trade that player right now (Koviu) or B) No really enough salary/return to make a difference (Stewart/Haula). Dealing Marco Scandella is an interesting proposition because of his cap his and relative importance to this team right now, but losing defensive depth during this season, especially with the expansion draft looming probably isn't the best idea either.
Not wanting to move that player at this time (Mikko Koivu)
Not really enough salary/return to make a difference (Chris Stewart/Haula)
Dealing Marco Scandella is an interesting proposition because of his cap his and relative importance to this team right now, but losing defensive depth during this season, especially with the expansion draft looming probably isn't the best idea either.
2. The Chemistry
It might be a mythical, silly thing to some, and a crucial, all-important thing to others, but there's definitely some good chemistry going on with this team right now. Tossing in a random new guy to the room may just offset things just a tad, and this team feels like its wary of messing with such a good thing. Michael Russo wrote recently about the team not wanting to mess with its chemistry, and if something like is leaving the room, that means it's a legitimate concern for the Wild brass.
The counter argument to this is that the lines are juggled on a near-nightly basis, and having depth on forward lines is crucial to the playoffs. While that's all correct, acquiring a top-nine forward is tricky for this team right now -- especially if they're not getting a top-of-the-class type of scorer -- because who, at this point, do they demote? Typical low-hanging fruit Pominville has been red-hot recently, and the players who are struggling -- like Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle -- are hardly the types that you want playing fewer minutes.
The one moving piece is Alex Tuch, given Coyle playing center and Haula centering the fourth line, which seems to be working well enough.
3. The Cupboard
While the prospect pool the Wild have to pick from is hardly empty, it's actually pretty crucial to their long-term success. While it'd be easy to deal Joel Eriksson Ek or Luke Kunin right now and never notice them gone on this team, the disparity in age on the current Wild roster may give Fletcher some pause. It's always a question of 'win-now' versus the future of the deal when buying at the deadline, but the Wild very much need these prospects, and may need them very soon, given the age and contract status of Koivu and Pominville, the wear and tear on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and also the impending expansion draft.
While it still seems like a good time to push their chips in, it's still a hard sell to trade one of the Wild's top prospects, given the incredible success they're having right now -- as highlighted by their incredible collective World Juniors showing.
Would the Wild miss trading away a player like Jordan Greenway? Maybe, maybe not. But it's a tough thing to see him succeeding down the line, especially if this team doesn't make a deep playoff run.
Would Wild fans like to see a splashy deadline deal? Of course. But in all likelihood, there will probably be a minor deal or two involving some third- or fourth-line forward types or a depth veteran defenseman, versus a deal worthy of a Red and Yellow Dodge Viper parade.
Could Fletcher pull off a surprise move? Absolutely. But at the same time, let's just not hold our breath, either.
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