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  • The Wild Need To Take A Step Back To Move Forward

    Image courtesy of Matt Blewett-USA Today Sports
    Aaron Heckmann

    At the trade deadline, the Minnesota Wild went as “all in” as they could under their current cap restraints. The organization brought in lightning-fast Marcus Johansson, sneaky Gustav Nyquist, and former 67-point offensive defenseman John Klingberg

    Bill Guerin deserves an “A” on his trade deadline report card, considering he worked without the ability to add future money at the deadline. Guerin did what he could, and it paid off. Johansson scored 18 points in 20 games during the regular season and scored twice more in the postseason. Klingberg had a tough finish to the regular season, but he played much better in the playoffs. Nyquist showed signs of his prime self at times.

    But ultimately, it didn’t work. The acquisitions weren’t enough to help them get over the hump and to the second round for just the fourth time in franchise history. And, no, the Joel Eriksson Ek injury wasn’t completely to blame for the early exit. Once again, the Wild lacked the talent and roster to make a real push.

    Minnesota's experiment to see if they could truly compete in the playoffs over the next few years with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter's dead cap hits flopped. Therefore, the show needs to be canceled. It’s time for the organization to be realistic take a step back for the next two years before they can spend fully to the cap. Let’s be clear: Taking a shot this year was worth it. They needed to see what they could do with these twin albatrosses. But the Wild aren’t going to make a run in the next two years.

    And this postseason proved it. 

    At first it's hard to understand why the Wild would waste at least two more years of Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy’s prime years, plus two more seasons of top defenseman Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin’s dwindling peak years. 

    But Kaprizov and Boldy didn’t show up when it mattered. However, for the record, Minnesota's superstar finished as one of their best forwards despite failing to find the back of the net. Furthermore, Spurgeon didn't show up in the playoffs, which has become a trend recently. Heck, even the always reliable Brodin didn’t play like his usual self.

    I'm not arguing that the Wild should rebuild or tank. But there shouldn’t be such an emphasis on trying to win in the playoffs. Maybe drafting higher and adding to their top prospect pool over the next two years wouldn't be such a bad thing. Plus, if the Wild are building for the 2025-26 season, they will still have the final two years of Kaprizov’s contract to sell him on the direction the franchise is heading.

    Most importantly, it’s time for the Wild to insert their young players and prospects into the lineup permanently. They should find a way to financially tender a qualifying offer to Sam Steel and see what he can do for another year. Marco Rossi and Calen Addison need to be on their roster next season, and it’s time to end the notion that these prospects need to be completely polished or “ready” before having a permanent spot.

    Addison had some issues at even strength, and he needs to be more than a power play specialist. But the Wild shouldn’t trade him, especially when his value is at an all-time low. Plus, the Wild need his shot and offensive talent – especially for their power play, which proved to again be one of the culprits in the playoffs. It’s also true that Rossi, who never got a real chance in the top-6, didn’t flourish this season in Minnesota. Having him marinate in the AHL was probably the right move, but that can’t happen next year.

    This is where change needs to happen, though. If the Wild are willing to take a step back and allow these young players to transition to the NHL, rather than blocking them due to the desire to win, it will set them up better three years down the road when they will start to see more of their prospect pool at the NHL level.

    But the more important question is: Why can’t these young players struggle as they’re adjusting to the NHL level? Not every prospect is going to be as complete and ready as Brock Faber is. He was one of the best defensemen in the nation this past NCAA college season. The 20-year-old played out of his mind with the Wild, and they controlled 55.53% of the expected goal share at 5-on-5 in the playoffs when the Maple Grove product had been on the ice. The Wild didn’t concede a goal with Faber on the ice in the combined eight games he played in between the regular season and playoffs, either. Most prospects can’t do that as soon and as impactful as he did.

    The Wild should also insert Sammy Walker and Adam Beckman into the lineup full-time next season. The duo produced only three points combined in 21 games during call-ups this season, but actually played well and showcased their potential. It’s time for them to get a real opportunity. 

    Plus, you never know. Maybe Minnesota's young talent could actually keep them competitive over the next two years. Either way, the Wild need to prioritize giving their young players and prospects NHL experience.

    It’s perfect timing for this plan, too, because the dead cap increases over the next two seasons. So, filling the roster with cheap deals will be crucial with Minnesota's contract to-do list this summer, including RFA goaltender Filip Gustavsson. Regardless, it’s time for the Wild to give their young players a shot and be fine if it means taking a step back instead of adding a few more first-round exits to their unflattering resume.

    All Data Via Natural Stat Trick.

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    The Minnesota Wild hopefully advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2024. The Minnesota Wild need to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs between 2025-2027

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    Furthermore, Spurgeon didn't show up in the playoffs, which has become a trend recently. Heck, even the always reliable Brodin didn’t play like his usual self.

    I am glad someone else has noticed this too. Spurgeon has had a great run with us, and he's an inspiring story. He is undervalued at his current salary and is still playing healthy and at a high level. Could he help us get a piece we need? Spurgeon plays #1D on this team and would be considered a 1st pairing guy in the NHL. Yet, when it comes to playoffs, he looks more like a 2nd pairing guy. I think his numbers will bare that out.

    He's not getting any younger, and he's still very useful. I'm just wondering if a team a little closer to the cup could use Spurgeon as a 2nd pairing guy? I'm sure we could find a win-win scenario where Spurgeon can help another franchise while we are kind of in neutral for a couple of years. 


    Most importantly, it’s time for the Wild to insert their young players and prospects into the lineup permanently. They should find a way to financially tender a qualifying offer to Sam Steel and see what he can do for another year. Marco Rossi and Calen Addison need to be on their roster next season, and it’s time to end the notion that these prospects need to be completely polished or “ready” before having a permanent spot.

    Steel and Addison will not need much to be qualified. Honestly, I don't think Steel earned much in the way of a raise, and should probably be thrilled just to be on an N roster. Addison may be a trouble spot. Looking at his body language late in the season, he looked more like a poster boy for Southwest Airlines in their "Want to get away" advertising slogan. I'm not sure he even wants to be here anymore. This is a guy who might go the offersheet route. Or, he might be open if Shooter asks him about a trade.

    But the real meat in this statement is the end, bring up the prospects! How is the best way to do this? Would it be best to have a shuttle running from St. Paul to Des Moines, where the kids get somewhat sheltered minutes in St. Paul, yet extended minutes in Des Moines? Take what they've learned in St. Paul and apply them to their A game? Or is it best to get promoted and stay there? And then comes the big question, will Evason even play them? 

    I have found that having extra players around generally means those that are playing at the higher level play harder because they can see who's behind them. The Wild like to carry rosters of 22. Many of the kids don't require waivers to go up and down. While this may not be an optimal way of doing things for the kids, it can be explained in training camp that they will get turns and tastes of the NHL this season but their growth needs both places. 

    Also, who is coaching the A team? Is an NHL assistant higher up the chain than an AHL head? Would someone like Bob Woods be a good candidate to be a head coach in Iowa? Would Darby Hendrickson? It is very obvious that the big Wild need new assistants/associates on the bench. Would Bombadir or McCleod be coaching candidates? Or even Hendricks? 

    Evason's job is to win. The players' job is to win. I think that Shooter can instruct Evason to win by playing the young guys more. I think his willingness to do that helped him get the job over BB to start with. He's proven himself to be an excellent regular season coach. Now we need him to buy into the development side of the kids and go back to his AHL teaching roots.  

    In the A, Hicketts, Mermis, Baddock and Chaffee may be gone. Fogarty and Petan have 1 year left.  The rest are the kids right now. I'd rather use the kids as depth call ups at this point. Generally, you need some older guys to show the younger guys how. Or, you can use some NHL calibre coaches to do the same. 

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