Every NHL season, the turn of the calendar into the New Year signals the beginning of trade deadline chatter. The famed Winter Classic is over, and all eyes look towards the second half of the season and the playoff push that accompanies it. Even with the deadline delayed by a month due to the late start to the season, trade rumors are swirling in the State of Hockey. The Minnesota Wild unexpectedly find themselves as a potential contender. Yet some of the discussion around what general manager Bill Guerin should or shouldn’t do is misplaced.
For the better part of two months, when the media has questioned Guerin on his thoughts of potentially adding a rental player ahead of the deadline, he has repeatedly cited the thriving locker room chemistry. He points to the new leadership group he installed, and his reluctance to tinker with it. While the first-time GM has proudly lauded his team for their willingness to check egos at the door and put winning first, he hasn't held back in his opinion on disrupting locker room chemistry.
“I do (weigh that factor),” Guerin mentioned to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun just two weeks ago when pressed on the topic. “They have great chemistry, and they’ve worked at it. They’ve built something really strong in that room. You know what? You got to be careful because you don’t want to disrupt that.”
While many fans and pundits agree with this sentiment, it's hard to see how great locker room chemistry is ever a good excuse to not add quality players at the deadline. Sure, fans still have the harsh memory of the Wild adding Martin Hanzal and Ryan White in 2017, and it still stings. Yet this year’s version of the Wild has proven how vastly different they are from the 2019 team that lost to the St. Louis Blues in five games.
Much has been said, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, about the sudden change in locker room chemistry since the Wild moved on from their old leadership group consisting of Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, and Mikko Koivu. It’s no secret the locker room now is much more accepting of new faces, young or old. We know of their attempts to encourage all players to have a voice, not just those with the required NHL service time. For that reason, management shouldn’t shy away from adding talent and depth to this version of the Wild. History proves it’s a good idea.
When looking at contenders in the past decade, a common theme is a willingness to add at the deadline. GMs trust their leadership core to accept the new faces to bolster their talent and depth. Recently, no organization has been more aggressive at the trade deadline than the always-contending Vegas Golden Knights. They've boasted about their locker room chemistry since its inception, branding themselves a team of misfits. Therefore, they see their tight-knit locker room as a reason to add at the deadline, not to be hesitant.
In only four seasons, the Knights have added depth players like Nick Cousins, Mattias Janmark, and Tomas Tatar. At the same time, they're never scared to add stars like Mark Stone, Robin Lehner, and Alec Martinez. While they have yet to win the Stanley Cup, Vegas has appeared in one and reached the Conference Finals twice during that span.
But what about teams that have won the Stanley Cup? Two of the most consistent teams of the past decade have been the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. Both have won multiple Cups and are competitive every year.
The Lightning famously constructed one of the best shutdown lines ever at the 2020 deadline before the start of their back-to-back Stanley Cup runs. They acquired Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow a week apart from each other. It took a first-round pick to acquire each winger, but when inserted onto a line with center Yanni Gourde, the result was possibly the most dominant line of the past two postseasons. Adding both players knocked two players from the depth chart. Still, GM Julien BriseBois didn’t worry about it affecting team chemistry with the steady leadership of Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Ryan McDonagh in place.
The last team to win back-to-back Cups before Tampa was the Pittsburgh Penguins, with Sidney Crosby leading the room. In consecutive Cup runs, GM Jim Rutherford consistently added to his roster, trusting his team's chemistry to remain solid in adding the likes of Justin Schultz, Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey. Bill Guerin was an assistant GM there at the time.
Stanley Cup contenders rarely look at their locker rooms in February and March and worry about disrupting the team chemistry. Instead, they view it as a golden opportunity to add significant pieces to the roster who thrive because of that chemistry. Guerin has seen this first hand, both as a GM and player. If the trade deadline passes and the Wild stay pat with their current lineup, the reasoning to do so shouldn’t involve Guerin standing at a podium citing his concerns about disrupting the room.
The Wild’s management, coaches, and players have a right to be proud of the chemistry they have built this year. They often mention it as a crucial ingredient to their success. By not adding to the roster at the trade deadline, though, their actions -- or inactions in this case -- would be speaking louder than their words.
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