The Minnesota Wild's 5-0 win over the New York Islanders couldn't stop them from entering Tuesday stuck firmly in 13th place in the Western Conference. Forget the fact that they're six points out of a playoff spot; they need to make up a three-point gap to even sit in 12th place. With less than two months to go until the trade deadline, Minnesota is a clear seller, at least to everyone but their GM.
Or, they would be, except they're in the unenviable position of having nothing to sell. The Wild roster is, in a word, unmovable. Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Marcus Johansson, Alex Goligoski, and Ryan Hartman all have full no-move clauses, meaning the Wild can't trade them or send them to the minors without their permission. Marcus Johansson also has a full no-trade clause, meaning he can veto any trade.
Beyond that, many other Wild veterans also have a large degree of control over their destinies. Zach Bogosian has a 21-team no-trade list. Patrick Maroon can veto trades to 16 teams, Freddy Gaudreau has 15 teams on his no-trade list, and Mats Zuccarello has a 10-team no-trade list.
So when the sharks are circling the reeling Wild, it makes sense for them to pursue the big-ticket but movable names. Top centers are also in short supply and high demand. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, to see people throw Joel Eriksson Ek's out there.
At least it is if you listen to Vancouver-based radio, where any Eriksson Ek rumors have seemed to originate. The Vancouver Canucks are on top of the Western Conference with 61 points and are looking to shore up their center depth. Anyone in Minnesota knows just how much value he'd provide the Canucks.
If he were for sale, that is. Thankfully, Elliotte Friedman squashed these rumors on Monday's episode of his 32 Thoughts podcast. "Eriksson Ek -- I don't buy that one," Friedman said bluntly about him being a trade target. "I don't see any reason why Minnesota would do that. It would really surprise me."
There are no untouchable players in the NHL, of course. Connor McDavid's probably getting traded tomorrow if the Chicago Blackhawks offer Connor Bedard's Entry-Level Contract salary straight-up for him. But sometimes you have to look at trade proposals and go, come on, that's not happening. Within the realistic possibilities for an Eriksson Ek trade, such a move would likely go down as a blunder.
The reasons Eriksson Ek would be an attractive trade candidate are the exact same reasons it would be foolish for Minnesota to trade him. First, there's his play on the ice. Even having cooled down with just one goal and seven points in his last 16 games before Monday's two-goal outburst, Eriksson Ek is still on pace for a 32-goal, 57-point season. He has a very good shot at breaking the 30-goal barrier for the first time in his career and the 60-point mark for the second year in a row.
Teams covet that kind of offensive punch from a top-six center in general. Still, when you add his defense, you suddenly have a player who is Minnesota's answer to Ryan O'Reilly or Sean Couturier. In terms of Evolving-Hockey's Standings Points Above Replacement, his all-around value makes him a top-25 center in the NHL and a top-50 forward dating back to the 2020-21 season. His 85 goals are also tied with Matt Duchene and Claude Giroux for 54th among forwards over that time, besting the likes of top-line centers Tomas Hertl, Tim Stutzle, Anze Kopitar, and Nick Suzuki.
You can argue over whether he's a true No. 1 center on a contender or not. But wherever you fall on that, he's a top-six center on a bonafide Stanley Cup contender, especially given how he's shown up in the playoffs lately. (When he isn't putting his body on the line to gut out a broken leg, that is.)
Under normal circumstances, even the dire ones the Wild face, there are only three good reasons to trade such a player:
- The player is reaching the end of a contract you don't expect to extend.
- The player will be far outside their prime by the next time your team can expect to compete.
- The player wants out.
As far as we can tell, Eriksson Ek meets none of these criteria. Eriksson Ek doesn't only have five years remaining on his contract after this season. He has five years remaining that are a miracle to have on the books. Eriksson Ek's cap hit is just $5.25 million for a top-six, borderline top-line center. That's absurd. We live in a world where Mark Scheifele, Bo Horvat, and Pierre-Luc Dubois -- three players at or below Eriksson Ek's level -- make $8.5 million against the cap. Meanwhile, the Wild have Eriksson Ek locked up for less money than the Detroit Red Wings gave Andrew Copp two summers ago.
Eriksson Ek turns 27 in two weeks, meaning his contract will carry him through age 32. Generally speaking, people believe Minnesota's window to compete starts once they free up the worst of their cap hell in 2025-26, Eriksson Ek's age-29 season. Ek won't be in his absolute prime. But big, strong, two-way centers at Eriksson Ek's level have a decent track record. Kopitar is still a point-per-game player at 36, O'Reilly's still going strong at 32, and even an injury that kept Couturier out for two full seasons can't stop him from having a productive age-31 season.
Locally, Eriksson Ek's predecessor, Mikko Koivu, gave Minnesota strong seasons through age 34. It feels safe for a team to take their chances with Eriksson Ek in his late 20s to early 30s, at least at that price point.
Especially when you remember how hard it is to replace a player like Eriksson Ek. If it were easy, Minnesota likely wouldn't have taken a swing on Charlie Stramel in the 2023 Draft, hoping to uncover the elusive big, strong, two-way center. Even with signs of life lately, Minnesota's not expecting Stramel to hold down that Eriksson Ek spot anytime soon.
What if the Wild got a prospect back for Eriksson Ek? Say Vancouver's top potential and former teammate of Minnesota first-rounder Liam Öhgren, Jonathan Lekkerimäki. Are they really setting themselves up for more future success?
It's easy to focus on financial savings with ELCs, but team control is as big a deal as a league-mandated deflated salary for a prospect's first NHL seasons. Any prospect Minnesota would get back would be under team control for seven years. That's just two more years than the Wild have with Eriksson Ek right now. And you have a good idea of what you're getting out of those five years with Eriksson Ek. Someone like Lekkerimäki is a complete wild card by comparison.
So if you keep seeing Eriksson Ek's name crop up in trade rumors, especially among radio hosts who aren't super-plugged in with teams around the NHL, you can breathe a sigh of relief and move on with your day. The reason you can do it is very simple: It doesn't make any sense for the Wild to move on from Eriksson Ek.
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