With the trade deadline fast approaching, we will be taking a closer look at the situation for each team over the coming weeks. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs? As we continue with the Central Division, here is a look at the Minnesota Wild.
First-year GM Paul Fenton said it himself today that the Wild “can’t trade draft picks” this year due to their lack of depth in the pipeline. Yet, did they not just trade a fifth-round pick for defenseman Brad Hunt a few days ago? Fenton’s message is clear that the team is worried about their lack of youth on the NHL roster and few elite prospects in the system. He surely does not intend for Minnesota to be a “buyer” in the traditional sense this year. However, there is no reason to think that all of the Wild’s draft picks and prospects are off the table.
Minnesota has quietly won eight of their past twelve games and, while the myriad other teams competing for the final spot in the Central Division or a wild card berth continue to struggle to make up ground, the Wild have pulled away with a three-point lead over the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. There are still many games left, but Minnesota is starting to differentiate themselves as a legitimate playoff team. With that status comes a need to strengthen the roster and address problem areas – especially the 24th-ranked offense – to make the most of a postseason opportunity. Perhaps Fenton and company can succeed in those goals with pure hockey trades, but odds are the team will warm up to moving more late picks or middling prospects if that’s what it takes.
26-21-3, third in the Central Division
Deadline Cap Space
$11.87MM of full-season cap hit, 0/3 used salary cap retention slots, 47/50 contracts per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2019: MIN 1st, MIN 2nd, MIN 3rd, MIN or WAS 5th*, MIN 6th, MIN 7th
2020: MIN 1st, MIN 2nd, MIN 3rd, MIN 4th, MIN 5th, MIN 6th, MIN 7th
* – Wild owe the Vegas Golden Knights the better of their two 2019 fifth-round picks in return for Brad Hunt
If you believe what Fenton says, then the Wild will be unwilling to move their best trade capital this deadline season. While he namely is talking about high draft picks, that likely also includes top prospects like forwards Kirill Kaprizov, Luke Kunin, and Ivan Lodnia, defenseman Filip Johansson, and goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen. The recent emergence of Jordan Greenway at the NHL level also makes him untouchable. If a team is looking to land a top young player for their rental at the deadline, they likely won’t find one from Minnesota.
However, Fenton’s willingness to make hockey trades – one-for-one player swaps – opens up many other possibilities. 26-year-old forward Charlie Coyle has long been a fixture on the trade block and this could be the year that the Wild finally move the two-way contributor and his team-friendly contract. The other roster forward that could garner considerable attention is 22-year-old Joel Eriksson Ek, who just can’t seem to find his way at the NHL level and could use a change of scenery. With defenseman Mathew Dumba potentially sidelined for the season, Minnesota would be hard-pressed to remain a factor in the Western Conference playoff race while also trading away any of their blue line regulars. However, AHLers Louie Belpedio and Carson Soucy could be intriguing options for rebuilding teams.
Outside of the pro ranks, some other prospects who could be on the move include Providence College forward Brandon Duhaime or London Knights defenseman Jacob Golden, but the Wild will likely be hesitant to move younger prospects if they don’t have to.
With every win, the Wild become less and less likely to entertain any offers for their own impending free agents. In what is already a buyer’s market, Minnesota is unlikely to get great value for their UFA’s and would be better served to hold on to them, whether that’s star veteran Eric Staal or valued depth like forward Eric Fehr, defenseman Nate Prosser, and goaltender Alex Stalock. One piece that could move is current third-string goaltender Andrew Hammond, if a contending team is willing to pay for depth in net.
1) Scoring Winger: To Fenton’s credit, he has addressed many of Minnesota’s needs already, adding Hunt to improve defensive depth, trading for Victor Rask to add another capable center, and even grabbing Pontus Aberg to help improve scoring. However, the slumping Rask and unproven Aberg alone are not going to turn around one the league’s least impressive offenses, especially with Nino Niederreiter now gone. Outside of Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund, no Wild forward has wowed offensively this season. The team needs to add another goal-scoring forward, preferably a winger, and they need to do it this year if they want to compete with other contenders in the postseason. If Fenton wants to make long-term hockey trades, he could look at adding someone like the Los Angeles Kings’ Tyler Toffoli or the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider in a deal for a player like Eriksson Ek. If he comes around to the idea of an affordable rental, the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello may be a better option, while the Ottawa Senators’ Ryan Dzingel or the Detroit Red Wings’ Gustav Nyquist could also be fits. It will all depend on the asking price. If they can add two scoring wingers, even better.
2) Draft Picks: One thing is certain – Fenton’s assessment of the team’s pipeline is not wrong. The Wild lack almost any prospects who realistically project to be top NHL players and desperately need to reload the system with some talent. When it comes to moving pieces around, especially if they do opt to trade away impending free agents, Minnesota would be wise to continue to protect their own high draft picks while trying to add more valuable picks along the way.