Here’s the road Wild should take as NHL trading deadline nears
There’s about a month left before the NHL trade deadline, plenty of time for this recalibrated Wild team to make a move that improves its chances of winning a playoff series, or two, or four.
The Wild reached the All-Star break with 58 points, 14 behind their club-high 113 points last season. Their offense has taken a hit, mostly because they’re missing Kevin Fiala (traded to Los Angeles in June). But some observers, including this one, think they might be better built for the playoffs, when the ice shrinks under the playoff spotlight, than a year ago.
They are bigger and better defensively. And they should consider doubling their workforce next month.
With some Wild players heading to Cabo San Lucas for the All-Star break — the same place, coincidentally, some Vikings players traveled to this week — the team is positioning itself to be tough once the playoffs of the Stanley Cup arrivals.
General manager Bill Guerin and the Wild’s front office face a choice as the deadline approaches: bolster the offense or bolster the defense.
After averaging 3.8 goals per game last season, the Wild are down to 3.1 this season. Defensively, they allowed 138 goals, ninth-fewest in the league. The Wild were outscored 19-5 in four playoff losses to St. Louis last season. Their current goalkeeping tandem, Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson, makes it unlikely to happen again.
They’re also a bit bigger with the addition of confirmed clobberer Ryan Reaves, which makes opponents think twice about pulling shenanigans with Kirill Kaprizov or other Wild forwards. This was an early-season deal that was due to be completed after a slow start, and Guerin deserves a stab at identifying a problem and fixing it quickly. The better move would have been to simply re-sign brawler Nic Deslauriers, an addition at last season’s trade deadline, but Chuck Fletcher slipped a four-year contract offer under his nose to play in Philadelphia, an offer at which he could not resist.
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The defense was not a wall. There has always been a high risk/high reward side to Matt Dumba’s game, but recent poor play has earned him a healthy elimination for two games. Ryan Hartman’s penalty streak tested the penalty kill more than coach Dean Evason liked, making it a healthy elimination as well. Is it time to add another defender to the squad? Should they wait for Brock Faber after the Gophers season ends?
But what about another goalscorer? The hope was that the players would step up and soften Fiala’s 85-point loss. This does not happen.
Matt Boldy has a lot of potential and the Wild smartly signed him for a contract extension. But there was a drop in production from Hartman, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno that more than made up for Boldy’s 36 points. Injuries and availability also played a role in this decline.
Some fans dream of landing Patrick Kane, who earns $10.5 million in the final year of his contract with Chicago. At 34, he still has something to offer offensively and would likely be boosted by escaping the Blackhawks. He would likely need a first-round pick on any package. Guerin will not give up a first choice for a rental player. Then there’s the question of absorbing the cost of Kane the rest of this season and the next, if he was willing to stay. Any trade for a score will likely require a first round and will also focus on the payroll. That is problematic.
Instead, the Wild should be looking to get even bigger before the deadline, having struggled with such teams in the past. Dumba, Calen Addison and Alex Goligoski are undersized. Would someone like Canucks defenseman Luke Schenn tick that box? Inexpensive and a free agent after this season, Schenn might not cost a lot of capital to acquire.
This season for the Wild hasn’t been as successful as it was a year ago, but this group is playing a brand of hockey that might be better suited once the Stanley Cup playoffs roll around. The Wild should accentuate their strength and muscle up even more.