The Minnesota Wild, like every other team in the NHL, face the unpleasant truth that they will lose a player to the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft. Some teams may even lose more than that if they make deals with Vegas GM George McPhee. Most everyone assumes that the Wild will be losing a defenseman as the team’s relative wealth of legitimate Top 4 defensemen means at least one or two will be left unprotected at the draft.
Assuming the Wild take the protection scheme of 7 forwards and 3 defensemen, they will only have two protection slots on which to make a decision as Ryan Suter’s no movement clause requires him to be protected. The second protection slot should absolutely be spent on Jared Spurgeon, as he is arguably the best defensemen on the team (something that will become more apparent down below). This leaves a single slot to assign to one of Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, and Marco Scandella. For the most part, everyone has assumed that this was really a two horse race between Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba as they’re younger, have more advantageous contracts, and have higher ceilings than Scandella. Also contributing to this conclusion was Scandella’s lackluster year following recovering from surgery during the offseason.
While the arguments in favor of protecting Brodin and Dumba have been discussed in great detail all over the hockey world, Scandella’s playoff performance and overall career numbers suggest that perhaps he may deserve protection over his teammates.
Scandella is One of the Wild’s Best Offensive Defensemen
To start, take a look at the HERO charts for the Wild’s Top 5 defensemen:
The bottom left slider scales show goals/60, assists/60, and points/60. Below that is the rundown of how the skater compares to the rest of the league at his position using percentiles. For example, Ryan Suter is the 100th percentile in ice team across the league as he has lead all defensemen in TOI over the past three years.
Spurgeon should stand out not just for how strong his overall game is (top third in the league by all measures shown in the chart) but also for his very strong offensive numbers. Seriously, he’s better than 80% of the players at his position in points/60.
Second best on the Wild in terms of offense scoring (as measured by points/60)? Scandella. He might not generate shots at as high of a rate as Dumba, but his better shots conceded numbers pretty much makes their overall impact to shot numbers a wash. Where Scandella does clearly beat Dumba is in assists/60 and he isn’t far behind Dumba in goals/60 either. As a result, Scandella actually has the second best points/60 for Wild blueliners. The rest of the Wild’s defensive corps is well far back of Spurgeon, Scandella, and Dumba. On a team that depends as much as it does on scoring by committee, Scandella is an important contributor from the back end.
Scandella’s Surgery Makes This Past Season Difficult to Judge
Scandella suffered a hernia last season and had surgery to repair the issue during the offseason. This disrupted his normal training regimin and it is clear that this damaged his performance this season. Yet, Scandella managed to eventually get back on track towards the end of the season and during the playoffs was at times the most noticeable of the Wild’s blueliners (in a good way). This isn’t to claim that Scandella’s poor regular season should be ignored, but that it is highly likely that this latest season represents the low end of what the Wild can expect from Scandella on his current contract. Considering is good offensive numbers and the size and toughness he brings to the back end, this past season should not be the only marker used to judge Scandella’s value to the team.
Making a Trade with Vegas Will Likely Hurt More Than Help
Every GM is going to try and make a deal with McPhee to sway him towards/away from a particular player. For the Wild, the idea being kicked around is Chuck Fletcher making a trade to protect both Dumba and Brodin by trading them assets or Erik Haula for McPhee to select Scandella during the expansion draft. If Fletcher can pull off that deal, and the assets are not one of the prospects the Wild is pinning its future on (Joel Eriksson Ek, Kirill Kaprizov, Luke Kunin, and Jordan Greenway), then a deal will probably work out just fine for the Wild.
However, as I pointed out in an earlier article, McPhee is coming to the negotiating table with all the advantages. He will get to select a player from every team, has a wide open cap situation, and can pick and choose with whom he wishes to deal. Across the table from him are 30 GMs, all facing the certainty of losing a player, all competing with one another for McPhee’s attention, most dealing with cap issues, and a few will likely be facing the risk of losing their jobs next season. In order to stand out from the crowd, GMs will probably be forced to offer more than what would be considered a fair value to their own club.
Fletcher needs to avoid that trap. Brodin and Dumba are valuable young defensemen who are both still trending upwards in their development. Neither of them, however, are the lynch pin of the Wild’s future success. Scandella and the combination of other player(s), prospect(s), or pick(s) can quickly reach a level that is more important to the Wild than Brodin or Dumba individually. Most discussions of the expansion draft conveniently ignore the likely heavy opportunity cost involved with making a deal with McPhee. Fletcher cannot afford to make that same mistake.
Scandella may have had a down year when the rest of the defensive corps improved under the guidance of Scott Stevens. It was frustrating to see and makes it easy to underappreciate what Scandella can be for the team. A healthy offseason and a fresh start next season will do much to help Wild fans vexing about the blueliner. The Wild should hold onto Scandella.