Most trade deadline sellers end up making deals to take their lumps and make their team worse in the present to get better in the long term. Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin has precious few avenues to do that this season.
Let's run down those trade candidates super quick. There's Marc-Andre Fleury, who has to waive his no-move clause for Minnesota to trade him. Then you have playoff-tested veteran Pat Maroon, but he's on the shelf for the next several weeks. The Wild could move gritty fourth-liners Brandon Duhaime or Connor Dewar, perhaps? And if anyone wants Jon Merrill for playoff depth, sure, he's tradable.
That's just about it. If the Wild want to get pretty nutty and ambitious, they could perhaps flip Jake Middleton. Barring any team DNA-altering moves, though, we're at the limits of our imagination.
How much future value is coming back for these players? The Wild gave up a second-rounder (with a condition to bump it up to a first, which wasn't met) to the Chicago Blackhawks for Fleury's services. In this goalie-needy market, they should be able to break even there. Middleton might be able to bring back a second-rounder to the right team. Everyone else, we're likely talking Round 3 or deeper.
Instead of looking towards the far-off future, then, why not try selling and getting better now? That brings us to young Arthur Kaliyev's situation in LA.
The Los Angeles Kings drafted Kaliyev in 2019 in the second round as part of the vaunted American class that included Jack Hughes, Matt Boldy, Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, Jake Sanderson, Cam York, Thomas Harley, Spencer Knight, and more. Perhaps Kaliyev isn't a franchise building block like those other players. But with 13 goals and 28 points in 56 games last season, it seemed like they had something to work with.
He didn't take any kind of step this year and was in Todd McLellan's doghouse this season. He's played in only 38 games this season, getting healthy scratched through much of January and posting just six goals and 14 points. Maybe he gets another shot with McLellan getting fired over the break and interim coach Jim Hiller stepping in. Still, his name has been out there, and it's possible GM Rob Blake still wants to move on.
If so, Kaliyev represents the kind of post-hype sleeper acquisition we at Hockey Wilderness would urge the Wild to take a shot on. The 22-year-old still has some upside left on him, and he checks a few boxes that Minnesota should desperately want to tick off its shopping list.
The goaltending is arguably the first thing you look at when asking what is wrong with Minnesota this season. Filip Gustavsson and Marc-Andre Fleury going from third in the NHL with a .914 save percentage last year to 26th (.893) is the perfect kindling for a collapse. But as poor as they've been from a goal-prevention standpoint, we can't overlook that the Wild are still very bad at generating offense.
Shooting 9.3% (eighth in the NHL) has been the saving grace for a 5-on-5 offense that is painfully boring to watch on a nightly basis. Bill Guerin might embrace this style, saying, "We're not a pretty team," but working hard isn't leading to many scoring chances. Minnesota currently is generating 2.28 goals per hour at 5-on-5, ahead of only the Chicago Blackhawks. It might be time to consider getting prettier when the San Jose Sharks are more of an offensive powerhouse than you.
Kaliyev won't solve that problem on his own, of course. Still, you have to start somewhere, and Kaliyev brings a shooter's mentality to the table that's sorely missing in St. Paul. Even in a down season, he's shooting 8.78 times per hour at 5-on-5, which would rank behind only Joel Eriksson Ek (10.38) among Wild forwards with 100-plus minutes. No one else is shooting above 8.0 times per hour.
His propensity to shoot can also be a weapon on the power play for a team desperately in need of depth on the man advantage. Over the past three seasons, Kaliyev shoots 17.5 times per hour on the power play, tied with Jonathan Marchessault for 16th among 192 forwards with 300-plus power play minutes. We're talking more shots per hour than Connor McDavid (17.4) and Auston Matthews (17.3) and sneakily into Kirill Kaprizov territory (17.9). Not surprisingly, his 3.01 goals per hour is tied for 16th in that time with a guy you might have heard of: Steven Stamkos.
Even if Minnesota doesn't touch their top power play after a Kaliyev trade, he'd be a breath of fresh air on the second unit. On Friday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Wild iced a second power play unit of Marco Rossi, Ryan Hartman, Freddy Gaudreau, Marcus Johansson, and Jonas Brodin. They have 7 goals combined (1.07 per hour) on 83 shots (12.8 per hour) in 390 minutes. That unit has needed a triggerman for each of the past two seasons, at least.
As encouraging as his individual stats are, Kaliyev has also shown a significant positive impact on LA's scoring chance creation. The Kings register 0.29 more expected goals per hour with him on the ice at 5-on-5 than without, the most on the team. It also translates to a 0.30 bump in actual goals per hour with Kaliyev on the ice, which is behind only Quinton Byfield, Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, and Trevor Moore among Kings forwards.
We're not even talking about a player that's been a defensive liability. So if Los Angeles is looking to grit it up before the playoffs, why not take advantage of that by trying to send Duhaime and perhaps a pick (Duhaime is a pending UFA, while Kaliyev is entering team-controlled RFAs status) to upgrade with skill at forward right now?
The hurdles involved with that would depend on what LA thought of Duhaime (or Maroon, or Dewar, or another depth forward) and what Guerin thinks of Kaliyev. If an old-school hockey guy like Rob Blake isn't keen on Kaliyev, is that going to make him a Guerin Guy? Judging from trading Calen Addison earlier this season and trade rumors surrounding Marco Rossi last summer, Guerin doesn't appear too patient with younger players.
But if the Wild can pivot to a "prettier" team in pursuit of more goals (which, again, they sure could use), Kaliyev offers a great low-risk, medium-reward player to do so with. It might not quite be Minnesota's identity. But then again, that identity has gotten them where, exactly? A change might look good on them.
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