The Minnesota Wild subtly added some decent depth players on Day 1 of NHL free agency, which saw John Tavares land with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ryan O’Reilly be traded to the St. Louis Blues.
Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr are both veteran centers who can hold down a fourth-line role. Last season Hendricks scored 13 points in 60 games for the Winnipeg Jets, while Fehr produced four points in 18 games for the San Jose Sharks.
Former Montreal Canadien and Dalls Star defenseman Greg Pateryn, who played 20 minutes per game last season, should provide solid third-pair play and give the Wild some depth if there is an injury within the top four.
The Wild also signed goalie Andrew Hammond and forward JT Brown.
Minnesota’s first moves in the Paul Fenton era filled needs, but hardly moved the needle. And as far as free agency goes, it will be nearly impossible to make a game-changing signing at this point considering, well, there are no game-changers on the market.
It appears Rick Nash will retire and it would be stunning if Joe Thornton landed anywhere but San Jose, so that leaves the free agent market with:
It’s even tough to find anyone hovering under the radar. Maybe Shawn Matthias could bounce back. Maybe Shane Prince is better than most teams think. Maybe there’s something there with Tomas Jurco. Or even Nail Yakupov.
Aside from taking fliers on long shots, free agency more or less came and went for the Wild.
The Restricted Free Agent market is more attractive, but few teams use offer sheets. Following the signing of Tavares, it’s possible a team could price out the Leafs on talented forward William Nylander.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Wild have $9.9 million to work with. Of course, Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker are also RFAs. Signing them and giving an offer sheet to Nylander would be tough to achieve unless the Wild made another move.
That brings us to the trade market.
The players who can be moved and also have trade value are: Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Nino Niederreiter and Jonas Brodin.
Considering they have all shown flashes at one time or another, you can see why former GM Chuck Fletcher chose not to pull the trigger. But the Wild’s first-round out last season should have been the final straw for this core group.
And things aren’t getting easier. The Blues’ acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly should increase their chances at returning to the postseason. In the Pacific, Arizona is improving and Edmonton has a chance to bounce back with Connor McDavid, plus the Sharks re-signed Evander Kane and the Kings added Ilya Kovalchuk.
So what players might be available? Which player(s) should the Wild attempt to move first?
Take Dumba off the table first. In terms of Wild even-strength goals produced while on ice per 60 minutes, Dumba ranks No. 1 or 2 on the team in every season he’s been in the NHL. Last year Dumba ranked sixth in the NHL in on-ice goals for. Even with an increase in responsibility, Dumba has never been on the wrong side of the scoreboard. He’s been on ice for 139 goals for and only 104 against over the last two seasons.
Certainly there are mistakes and defensive shortcomings, but it’s clear that Dumba’s offensive impact is making much more of a different chance his defensive problems. In today’s NHL in which high-flying blue liners are very valuable, moving Dumba would be a mistake.
Everyone else should be on the table. Zucker is coming off a career high in goals, whic not only points toward likely regression, it means his value is the highest it will ever be. In the playoffs, he has four goals in 31 games.
Niederreiter is the Wild’s best possession player, ranking No. 1 on the team in Shots For Percentage, but he’s rarely been a difference maker in the postseason, scoring just one playoff goal since 2014-15.
Granlund was able to repeat his breakout 2016-17 season with 67 points in 77 games last year. While he’s also disappeared in the postseason recently, the return would have to be through the roof to deal a player with 136 points over the last two seasons whose cap hit is only $5.75 million.
That leaves the two most tradable players, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin.
Coyle’s frustrating inconsistency makes him a candidate for relocation, but his size and skill combination still has value on the market. Brodin is a good player, however, defensive-minded defensemen are routinely overvalued in the NHL.
Who could the Wild target with their group of assets?
TSN’s “Trade Bait” has a number of eye-catching names that could change the DNA of the Wild lineup.
The biggest fish on the market is Erik Karlsson.
While it seems impossible, there aren’t many teams that could package as much value into a trade as the Wild. Under Fletcher, Minnesota sat on the sidelines as other teams acquired PK Subban, Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall in trades. It doesn’t appear likely, but Karlsson would be the franchise-altering player the Wild need to get over the playoff hump.
There are always players who surprisingly come on the market. Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl signed a massive contract that the Oilers might be willing to move. The Islanders could bail on Jordan Eberle now that Lou is in charge. Matt Duchene might also be dealt.
If the Wild don’t make a big trade, they will still have a competitive team. Some of the up-and-coming players like Jordan Greenway will help give the roster the depth it lacked last season, but for the fan base, it won’t feel like much was accomplished.