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  • Marco Rossi Is the Best Trade Deadline Upgrade the Wild Can Make

    Joe Bouley

    The messaging from the Minnesota Wild this past week was a full-rink press on how the Wild might do next-to-nothing come the trade deadline. However, it's debatable whether the front office truly likes the look of the team going into the postseason. Even though Minnesota's depth has been in question recently, they have succeeded with their current center group. More importantly, the Wild's recent losses to the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers shone a spotlight on other issues than at forward. 


    Minnesota’s defense has been ravaged by injury most of the season. First, Jared Spurgeon missed significant time with a lower-body injury. He's already sustained one re-aggravation of the injury. One awkward fall or tweak could cause the Wild to be without their captain in the playoffs. Jonas Brodin blocked a shot with his hand and missed time, after being in COVID protocol. He’s simply too valuable to the team to lose. He consistently shuts down opposing scoring chances and repeatedly saves his goalie’s bacon.


    Now it’s Matt Dumba’s turn on the Injured List. Dumba has been taking on more minutes this season as he and Brodin have been deployed like a No. 1 pairing much of the season. Dumba leads the Wild with 10.7 Zone Exits per hour. He carries it out with possession 74.6% of the time, which is right around the leaders of the team. Spurgeon leads the team controlling possession on 77.2% of his exits. 


    Each time a defenseman is lost, another one gets exposed. Jordie Benn has been replacement-level for most of the season. However, since Dumba has been out of the line-up, Benn has been, well, not good. Benn is being exposed for his lack of speed and inability to move the puck out of the zone. It’s clearly a skill he doesn’t have, and the Wild predicate their offense on doing that. That part of the game dries up when Benn is in.


    Benn lost the trust of his coach to the point that they tried to put him next to Spurgeon to help carry his play. It backfired against Florida and his time on ice ended up barely over 13:00. To not address the lack of depth on defense going into the playoffs would be a huge missed opportunity to enhance this team.


    Likewise for the goaltending. Cam Talbot hasn’t been great most of the season aside from a couple of small stretches. As this season has progressed, he’s given off more 2016-17 Devan Dubnyk vibes than anyone should be comfortable with. While Kaapo Kahkonen looks like he’s back on his game, can the Wild now put faith into a young netminder who's just now reclaiming his confidence?


    The Wild have other areas that need fortification at the trade deadline than help up front. By calling up Marco Rossi from Iowa to enhance the forward group, they can find ways to improve in other areas as well.


    One of the biggest reasons the GM, media, and fans alike have been tepid about trading is this idea of messing with the team’s chemistry. Kirill Kaprizov has strong chemistry with Mats Zuccarello. Kevin Fiala looks to be developing the same sort of rhythm with Matt Boldy. The "Security Blanket" line is a line where all three forwards feed off each other. The Wild have a good thing going, so why disrupt the aura of the locker room? 


    By all accounts, Minnesota has a stronger room than in years past. Obviously, the Wild shouldn’t look to bring in the wrong player as part of a trade. But all signs point to the team not allowing the addition of one player to destroy the spirit of the room. 


    The Wild can avoid all of that nonsense by calling up Rossi. He’s a guy who has been with the organization since training camp. He knows the room and they know him. They also know that his production in the AHL could help elevate the group down the stretch and into the playoffs. 


    Rossi is a simple addition to the current roster, and the Wild don’t have to worry about it disrupting the locker room. Plus, this move continues to promote the culture the GM and captains have already cultivated. If they are so worried about outside personnel causing issues via trade, what better way to reinforce the lineup than with a guy that earned it by paying his dues in Iowa? Rossi fits exactly what the Wild needs for now without any of the baggage perceived in acquiring a splashy outsider.


    Bill Guerin spoke with The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun last week and expressed his approach to the coming trade deadline as “patient.” He’s not going to part with his first-round pick this season if he doesn’t need to. Guerin also won’t be backed into a corner to pay over and above to get a rental player who isn’t going to be in Minnesota long-term plans.


    Prudence is fine, especially with their cap hell kicking into gear next season. And ultimately, Guerin will want to give his head scout Judd Brackett as many darts at the draft board to continue adding to their deep prospect pool.


    However, it's debatable if any prospect drafted from now to 2024 can make an impact in time to help Minnesota's cap woes. That doesn’t mean those picks are just expendable. Brackett has been a drafting machine so far, and disrupting that makes little sense for the Wild at this point in their reboot. 


    If the Wild aren’t going to ship off picks in a trade, they may as well take themselves out of any deal for a Claude Giroux or Joe Pavelski. And there certainly isn’t any justification to send picks away for a 13th forward or depth option. Surrendering anything for, say, Chris Tierney is inexcusable.


    Calling up Rossi to Minnesota allows Guerin to keep all of his picks and their draft-and-develop machine intact. The Wild weren’t active at the deadline last season because the market was full of underwhelming options. The market is much better this season, but if they're still balking at prices, Rossi can boost the roster for free.


    The single biggest motivation for not calling up Rossi is his status as a 19-year-old (as of Sept. 15) on an entry-level contract. Because of this, if Rossi plays fewer than nine games this season, his contract will slide to next season. It means that his contract won’t expire until the same summer that the worst of the buyout penalties fall off. 


    That’s a pretty large incentive, and perhaps the only reason why Rossi isn’t in Minnesota already. We've seen these shenanigans before with what the Minnesota Twins did with Byron Buxton. By manipulating his service time, the Twins got an extra year of team control and ways to keep costs low. 


    It’s no different with the Rossi and the Wild. They clearly expect Rossi to be a good player for them, and with that will come a large payday on his next contract. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be so worried about his next deal. 


    However, the Wild have a player ready to make the jump and help them contend now. Not calling him up to help this team that’s this deep and talented is being pennywise and pound-foolish.


    That said, the Wild’s cap crunch is going to be a very real thing. It makes sense to save where they can. However, that lack of salary cap space is already going to force Guerin’s hand this summer to offload or lose players that they can ill-afford to. Bringing up or burying Rossi doesn't make any of this different three seasons from now. 


    But Guerin has time on his side when it comes to Rossi’s new deal. He has time to figure it all out, and the latitude from ownership to do exactly that. Not to mention, if he can deliver a Stanley Cup to Minnesota now, he’ll have another decade tacked on to execute whatever grand plan he wants. When it comes down to it, Rossi isn’t in St. Paul now for purely monetary reasons. He deserves a chance to show that he can help the team now, not just in the future.


    Simply put, calling up Rossi is the right call to make as the team heads into the trade deadline. It’s the only decision that dodges many of the perils of any trade that can be conjured up. It also rewards Rossi’s fantastic rookie season in the AHL and keeps the team continuity intact. Guerin is already signaling that he isn’t prepared to make a trade to better the team. Yet, the teams the Wild are going to face in the playoffs will, and will be better for it.


    Calling the kid up allows the Wild to make a free upgrade while allowing them the flexibility to make the right move if the opportunity arises. It makes too much sense to not do it. Guerin should keep an eye on 2024-25 and be prepared for what's coming. But for now, doing that at the expense of a Cup run just isn't acceptable for the best Wild team we've ever seen.

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