The NHL trade deadline is just over two months away and no, it isn’t too early to think about it. Next thing you know, after the two-week period of rescheduled games in February, and a little run of games in Canada, the Wild and GM Bill Guerin will be staring at just a few weeks remaining to make their final moves before the likely appearance in the post-season.
It’s a scary thing to not be totally prepared, so we’re here to take a step back and think through some options that this team has, before we even get into the nasty waters of trade rumors.
Let’s not waste any of your time, here are the options:
The easiest — and most lazy — path that Minnesota can head down is simply sticking with the roster that they have. And it might even be the smartest option! This all depends on whether or not the Wild view themselves as contenders or not. We can be so deep down the rabbit hole and think that they are on their way to engaging in a decade-long fight for the Stanley Cup, but it is really up to them, for how they view their chances.
Optimistically, the status quo isn’t truly that old. Matt Boldy has made this team much more dynamic offensively, and we haven’t even seen what a fully healthy lineup with the rookie involved in it looks like. They still have some of the most defensively-sound players in the entire league, while also being able to score goals out of their asses at times (currently third in goals for per game). Add in the fact that they could even improve if Rossi makes a jump later into the season, and potentially plays in the playoffs, without the contractual concern, and this team is still really damn good.
Could they add some more center depth? Yes. Would that potentially ruin the chemistry with Ryan Hartman on the top line, all for the sake of the team looking good on paper? That can also be a possibility.
This is the year that will be the most interesting in the near future, and there’s one main reason why.
Utilizing Single-Year Cap Space
While this option is mostly utilized by teams that are purposely tanking, or in the middle of a rebuild, the Wild have this rare opportunity that can pass them by if they don’t want to go down the other roads. They can act as a middle-man for some of the more large-scale trades, due to this one year of extra cap space during the Suter/Parise Buyout Era, and nab some extra draft picks for Judd Brackett to work his magic on in July.
As of Thursday, the Wild will likely have over $15 million to work with at the trade deadline. That is a massive amount of room to play with if some big-money player like Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux and his $8.25-million cap hit gets sent somewhere else. Keeping half of that, for a capped-out team like the Colorado Avalanche, would be a massive deal for them. While you’re helping other teams get better around you (okay, so maybe not the Avs but an Eastern Conference team can work) it is also a long-term play to benefit the future of this team. Just dipping your toes in the waters of negotiation.
Selling Off Extra Parts
Again, this depends on what the team internally views itself as, and this is the unlikeliest path out of the bunch.
The Wild have some upcoming unrestricted free agents: Nick Bjugstad, Nico Sturm, Victor Rask, Alex Goligoski (sort of), and Jordie Benn. Theoretically, they could try and nab any future assets for these players, but that is without the context needed for this Minnesota team. Bjugstad is a hometown guy that re-upped with the team almost immediately, so the team and player love the situation they are in any way. Sturm is basically the best fourth-line center you can ask for and surely will get signed to a multi-year deal before he hits the open market. The Wild have reportedly already tried to trade Rask for this entire season, even spanning back into the summer; so that’s a no-go. Goligoski will likely sign an extension, but that’s still to be seen (and they kind of need him). And for Jordie Benn, I’m not sure any playoff team is desperate for a 6/7 physical-but-slow defenseman.
That’s a lot of explaining to basically determine that this isn’t happening. And this isn’t even considering the potential change behind-the-scenes when it comes to taking players away from this roster and how it can affect morale.
Acquiring A “Safe Rental”
While getting rid of a dude or two is unlikely, I think this is what is eventually going to happen. The Wild are good, and good enough to think that they can win a playoff series or two, but I don’t think they want to spend the required future assets it takes to get any of the massive “big names” unless they will stick around for a little bit longer.
There are enough interesting names as you scroll down the list of potential rentals: Joe Pavelski, Claude Giroux, Bryan Rust, Jeff Carter, Max Domi, etc. But those might be just too expensive for Guerin’s taste. Would he rather opt for the depth adds like a Tyler Ennis, or a Calle Jarnkrok? Maybe! Those players are good and most likely won’t be sticking around beyond the playoff run.
If anything, bringing in more talent can do some wonders in the locker room as well — rewarding these current players for the incredible job they have done to outperform any previously existing expectation.
Going All-In, Baby
Screw everything that is sensible or cautious. The Minnesota Wild are good and have some players playing out of their fucking minds right now. Just push in all your chips, dive in head-first, or do whatever other analogy you want for the trade deadline — go get the big names and don’t look back.
This is obviously the most fun, but also incredibly stressful. Should they even think of trading Rossi or Boldy? No. Should they maybe throw Calen Addison’s or Adam Beckman’s name out there to see if they get to nab a Giroux, Pavelski, or Letang? Maybe! Some rentals can go extremely well and be the difference for some teams making it beyond just a one-and-done post-season. There is going to be some stiff competition for those players, but the Wild at least have the assets to try and make this year even more worth it in the end.
Whether Guerin is up for some gambling, it’s still to be determined. He got plenty of it in the Pittsburgh Penguins front office and has already pulled off some moves that have worked in Minnesota’s favor so far. Maybe he’s feeling lucky.
It’s going to be a wild couple of months.
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