The Minnesota Wild are on a three-game winning streak now that they are as healthy as they can reasonably expect to be. It's hard to make up ground in NHL playoff races, but the Wild went from being nine points back of a playoff spot to four points behind the eighth-place Nashville Predators. They can cut that lead to two tonight when the two Central Division rivals square off.
Is it real, or are we talking about a dead cat bounce? It doesn't matter. Well, it does, but not to the people making decisions about the team's direction. If Bill Guerin was thinking of buying pieces via trade even though the Wild are nine points out in January, you can best believe he's going in that direction when four (or, perhaps tomorrow, two) points back. It's Playoff Season.
Armed with about $7.5 million of LTIR cap space from Jared Spurgeon's injury, the previously handcuffed Guerin now has some house money burning a hole in his pockets. Now he just needs something to spend it on.
It's hard to imagine any spending being wise. If the Wild manage to hold onto that second Wild Card spot, that currently means a first-round date with the Vancouver Canucks, who are red-hot and explosive this season. It could also mean a match-up with the Winnipeg Jets, a tough road for the Wild, given how they've treated superstar Kirill Kaprizov. Or, hey, what about the Dallas Stars, who are 9-2-2 against the Wild these past two seasons, out-scoring them 54-27 along the way?
Doing anything to improve this team in the short term doesn't just seem futile and doesn't just cost the Wild a shot at a game-breaking talent in the draft. It's throwing good money after bad.
Let's say Guerin can flip a third-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Matt Dumba. You can say a third-round pick isn't really all that valuable, and maybe it's not. Except when it is, of course. Remember red-hot prospect Riley Heidt? The only reason he wasn't a third-rounder in last year's draft was because the Wild took him with the final pick of the second round. His teammate, Koehn Ziemmer, was a third-round pick (78th overall). Since then, Ziemmer's been productive when healthy, posting 11 goals and 31 points in 20 WHL games this season.
It's a needle that seems impossible to thread. How can the Wild address a legitimate need without sacrificing the future? Our most brilliant and attractive scientists at Hockey Wilderness were working on this question. But then, the NHL Network delivered us the answer.
Eureka! The NHL Network throwing out half-cocked, HFBoards-style trade proposals that won't ever happen somehow managed to reveal the path forward. For accessibility, let's list out their proposal:
Is this specific trade possible? It's tough to say. How satisfied is Marc-Andre Fleury with his Stanley Cup count? Is he hungry enough to waive his no-move clause to play in Edmonton? That's a huge question. With Jesper Wallstedt struggling in Iowa and Filip Gustavsson already spending time on the injury list this season, how ready is Minnesota to part with a Hall of Famer in Fleury? Is Edmonton unhappy enough with Broberg to flip him for a rental?
Whether or not it's realistic to swap these particular assets for each other isn't really the point. The thing the Wild should zero in on is that Broberg is the perfect trade target to suit their needs for now and in the future.
Things haven't worked out for Broberg in the NHL, but the things that made him a former No. 8 overall pick in 2019 (four picks before Matt Boldy) are apparent. He's a 6'3" smooth-skating defenseman from Sweden. Where he's from shouldn't matter, we suppose, but anything that underlines a comparison to Jonas Brodin registers on our radar.
Despite having just 11 points in 79 NHL games (including zero in 10 games this season), his AHL numbers are very strong. In 60 games over three seasons, Broberg has seven goals and 42 points. His 0.70 points per game in the AHL from ages 20 to 22 compare well to defensemen like Torey Krug (0.71 points per game), Tyson Barrie (0.69), and Timothy Liljegren (0.67) at that point in their careers, according to Elite Prospects. With a goal and 15 points for the Bakersfield Condors in 22 games, he's a top-20 AHL defenseman in points per game today.
Is it inevitable that will translate to the NHL? No, it's not, or Broberg would be an important part of a contending team this season. That doesn't mean he can't be, though. Last season, Broberg looked well on his way to being that. Broberg was a positive both on Edmonton's goal-scoring and prevention in a bit under 600 minutes last season, where he managed to be worth 2.5 Standings Points Above Replacement (or SPAR) for the Oilers.
The possibility of getting him back to that level is worth betting on, especially when you look at the state of the Wild's defense. Currently, their only positive SPAR players are Brock Faber (3.0), Brodin (1.7), and Zach Bogosian (0.9). That's it. Everyone else is at or below replacement level. That means even if Broberg plays only at the level of an average AHL call-up, he's an upgrade for now.
Then there's the upside for more. The odds Broberg lives up to his No. 8 overall draft status are slim. But if he doesn't cost a No. 8 overall pick or the equivalent, that's Edmonton's problem, not any other team's. If the Wild trade for someone like Broberg, they won't need to bother themselves dwelling on what he isn't. The only thing that matters is what he can do well and whether that can help the team.
Say what you will about Chuck Fletcher as a GM, but this kind of post-hype sleeper trade used to be something the Wild excelled at during his tenure. The legendary Nino Niederreiter for Cal Clutterbuck trade stands out as the Ur example, but there were other savvy pickups. Acquiring former top prospect Guillaume Latendresse from the Montreal Canadiens worked out until concussions wrecked his career. Heck, Fletcher even got some decent miles out of former first-round bust Jordan Schroeder.
While we've talked a lot about Broberg, that's not the only name they can focus on. The Athletic's NHL Trade Board 3.0 has the Columbus Blue Jackets' Adam Boqvist as being available. While they list him as a "somewhat distressed asset" due to him often being out of the lineup for the Blue Jackets (of all teams), Boqvist still intrigues.
Boqvist was once a top prospect (No. 8 overall in 2018). While he's older than Broberg, he also has a decent NHL track record. His 22 goals and 82 points in 193 games aren't anything to sneeze at, and neither is his 4.8 career SPAR entering this season. We even have enough sample size to see where he might be headed in his career. Evolving-Hockey has a list of similar skaters to Boqvist based on his previous three seasons:
Count us as interested. Matt Dumba, Noah Dobson, and Thomas Chabot are his top three comparables, and that's a good collection of names. Combine that with solid production and numbers from Boqvist, and a change of scenery could unlock him, at least as a solid third-pairing offensive option behind Faber and Bogosian this season.
The drawback (and likely the reason the Blue Jackets are out on him) is the defensive side of the puck. From the 2019-20 to 2022-23 seasons, Boqvist rates as one of the 10 worst defensemen at even-strength, which chips away at his value. If the Wild recently traded Calen Addison, are they that excited to get another defenseman who has defensive warts?
Why not? While Addison didn't drive offense at even-strength, Boqvist was very, very good at it over the past four seasons. Evolving-Hockey rates his even-strength offense as 25th in the NHL over his first four seasons, which has him in the range of former Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns and Norris runner-up John Carlson. The offense is worth the trade-off, especially to a team desperate for puck-moving defensemen whose depth defensemen are already poor defensively.
That's how the Wild can thread the needle. They could trade a third-round pick for a Dumba-type player. Maybe it would help. But trading a third-round pick for the equivalent of a young Matt Dumba? Or being able to bring in an NHL-ready defenseman that could be Jonas Brodin-lite for minimal assets? Balancing the needs of right now and the needs of the future, that's the good stuff.
All data via Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.
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