Buy or sell? That is the big question for a lot of bubble teams as the trade deadline approaches. GMs begin to contemplate their chances of making it to the biggest of dances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and sit with their professional scouting councils facing white boards full of names. Lengthy meetings and heated debates become routine as player personnel becomes the hot topic; players who can help the team are identified and expendable assets are considered.
As a fan, hockey enthusiast and hobby analyst I am on board that the Wild need to look at the future of its team, but yet need to fill some seriously damning holes and make improvements. The big question is how much do we sell and how much do we buy? The Wild finally has a very respectable prospect pool, filled with an assortment of talent from the potential elite playmaking of Mikael Granlund to the steady, almost sure thing decision making of Jonas Brodin. Buying too much runs the big risk of what became the downfall of the Doug Risebrough era and another period of prospect drought. Becoming too much of a seller puts the team into complete rebuild status, making pretty much all of Chuck Fletcher’s bold moves a vain effort and putting almost 100% of the weight of the franchise on young, unproven shoulders. The answer is this: do both, carefully. Sell to buy, buy to sell.
Thus I present to you the current holes in the Minnesota Wild, and some potential (and yes, possibly a little erratic, but nonetheless possible) solutions along with how to buy them without breaking the bank.
More after the jump!
Let’s start with identifying the major holes in our Minnesota Wild:
1) Offense, plain and simple. As of publication date, the Wild are 28th in the league in goals for and 8th in the league in goals against. What does that create? A -12 goal differential. You don’t have to be Ken Hitchcock to know this is not a trait of a winning hockey team.
2) A mobile, puck-moving defenseman who doesn’t completely suck at defense. Let’s face it, Marek Zidlicky is out along with all $4 mil that comes with him. To think we can rest the first pass and the first play of the rush on Jared Spurgeon (though he has impressed) is simply foolish.
3) An All Situations Top Pairing Defenseman. Yes you have to give in order to get but let’s face it: losing Brent Burns really, really hurt the Wild. Sure you can make the argument he isn’t exactly stealing the show in San Jose, but you can always imagine what he’d still be doing in the X.
4) A vocal, inspiring and effective locker room presence. Mike Yeo can do it, I believe in him. But no coach can lead a team. It takes effective leaders on the ice and in the room. Koivu is a great Captain, but even he needs some support and with how much youth is on t his team, who truly do need somebody they fear AND respect.
Now let’s cover what we have:
1) A great pool of prospect forwards. You consider Granlund, Haula, Bulmer, Phillips, Coyle and Zucker and you have six forwards who are projected to be top 6. That’s two strong playmakers in Granlund and Haula, two power forwards in Coyle and Bulmer and two guys with great all around offensive instinct in Zucker and Phillips.
2) A bland, yet plentiful, mix of defenders. Marco Scandella is an all-situations prospect. We have enough defensively conscious, yet barely visible second to third pairing guys to make an entire defensive corp. We have a savvy offensive veteran in Marek Zidlicky (SALE). Top that off with a rather intriguing Jonas Brodin.
3) Goalies. Niklas Backstrom is good. So good he looks great in any sweater to a GM and none can deny that. Josh Harding is also good, young and ready to start in net. Matt Hackett has a future, no doubt there, but even he gets nervous every time Darcy Kuemper gets a start in Houston. Top that off with impressive overseas performances by Dennis Endras in Finland and (I bet you forgot about this guy) Johan Gustafsson in Sweden.
4) Aftermarket parts. Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cullen are both effective and relatively unimpressive centers who are truly a foot deep but a mile wide in most aspects of the game. Brad Staubitz is certainly a tough, stand-up and mediocre enforcer. Guillaume Letandresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are on the shelf, but strong performances in a return give them table pull. Trading in recent years has left the Wild with a few spare draft picks as well.
OK! Now for a few potential and unconventional blockbuster targets (some are hot off the rumor mill, some not so much) the Wild can zero in on by the deadline or in the off-season along with what can be given away without completely breaking the bank and have a serious benefit for the future of the Wild.
That’s right, I included Zach Parise in a post about trading. The fact is simple, Parise is an elite offensive talent and the Wild could seriously use some more star power on its top line. Most Minnesota hockey fans are aware Parise is not only a Minnesotan, but a hockey powerhouse Shattuck-Saint Mary’s alumni, played at the neighboring University of North Dakota and has stated publicly he may test the market. It’s a bit doubted at this point he’ll be available on the block, but one has to wonder what is on Lou Lamoriello’s mind for the future of his net with Martin Brodeur slowly decaying. Niklas Backstrom waiving his no-trade clause or the rights to re-signing Josh Harding could sway a decision. The rights to signing the elite prospect Mikael Granlund could be enticing enough for the soon-to-be rebuilding Devils. The Wild will have more than enough cash to sign him as a UFA.
Inter-Division deadline trade? C’mon, don’t act like it’s never happened. *COUGH* DWAYNE ROLOSON *COUGH* Yes, Ryan Whitney is protected by a no-trade clause, but Edmonton is in full make-over mode and nobody except for the young guns should be considered protected. If Whitney is looking for a contender he may definitely jump ship. He has a year left on his contract of $4 mil. Whitney has plenty of offensive upside with good numbers to back it up. Defensively he’s no slouch, if not a bit unspectacular, but the fact remains he’s trusted in all situations. He can eat minutes and has proven in Edmonton his talents can shine without much support. Hardcore Minnesota High School Hockey fans who remember Tommy Gilbert may agree that Gilbert is truly not that amazing in terms of skills. His shot is decent. He can pass well. Good skater, no doubt, but does nothing particularly great. So how does he manage to put up 30+ points per season? The answer is simple and those hardcore fans might agree: Tommy Gilbert can play a simple and effective game at full speed. Like Whitney, Gilbert can play effectively in any situation and is not hampered by a no-trade clause. Both cost a curiously fateful $4 million a year (Zidlcky?), with 2 seasons left on Gilbert’s contract and one more on Whitney’s. A straight up money for money trade for Zidlicky may be effective if Edmonton wants some more veteran presence on their blue line (the familiar Andy Sutton is the only defenseman over 30). If Edmonton wants to continue the youth movement, Marco Scandella could be included in a trade if Chuck Fletcher is particularly confident in either Whitney or Gilbert.
Two “yes” factors here… YES I’m aware this is the third Minnesotan in a row on this list and YES, I am aware Carolina is looking more towards rebuilding, but the re-signing of Tim Gleason proves they at least think they are only a few changes away from a successful club. Most of Carolina’s needs are up front and have a fairly good foundation of players at the blue line. If the Cane’s management particularly believe in a very good and promising Justin Faulk (no, not ours) or Bobby Sanguinetti, Jamie McBain could be negotiable. The Canes could welcome Zidlicky’s experience and offensive abilities to replace a good-as-gone Jaroslav Spacek and much like the aforementioned, adding Scandella softens losing one of your better defensive prospects. McBain is also a player who brings ability on both ends and particular talent offensively. While the jury is out on whether he’s a top pairing guy or not, the fact is there are plenty of indications saying he can eat minutes and be very effective. To address Carolina’s shortcomings up front, Charlie Coyle would be a welcome addition with Jason Zucker or Brett Bulmer being a options if they need somebody more immediately available. If either return and have particularly promising performances, Guillaume Letandresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are also viable bait. To me, a guy like McBain is worth giving up a second round pick to sweeten a package deal.
Indeed Shane Doan is notorious for being loyal to the Jets-turned-Coyotes organization, but he is not signed yet, which makes him fair game for making phone calls. If Doan is at all willing to waive his no-trade clause to help a bubble team truly contend or is still unsigned by the off-season, he is worth a shot so long as he remains for (most likely) the remainder of his career. The Wild are a team full of young guys who need guidance and Shane Doan is notorious for his on and off-ice leadership. While Koivu is the “quiet leader,” Doan is a guy who isn’t afraid to voice his opinions, guide the young guys by more than just example and even spark a fire under a young rookie’s seat (without swearing of course, Doan is a devout Christian). A guy like Doan is just what a young coach like Mike Yeo needs to truly inspire his team. Shane Doan may not be the answer to getting Minnesota the Stanley Cup, but the fact he could contribute greatly to developing the young foundation that is the Wild in the upcoming years could be as valuable as any prime-aged superstar. Returns for Doan would most likely mean a guy like Charlie Coyle being moved to ensure Phoenix has another star-potential power forward in their pipeline. A healthy Letandresse may be the foundation of a deal as well as two-way stalwarts Brodziak and Cullen to round Phoenix out. Phoenix lacks goaltending so dealing Backstrom or Harding becomes a very viable option.
Yup, I also said Ryan Suter and trade deadline in the same sentence! Nashville would love to hold on Suter, but would be insane to keep him over Shea Weber, who will be one of the highest paid players by the 2012-2013 NHL season. If Nashville is at all going to consider moving Suter, immediate dividends up front will be necessary, along with at least a defensive replacement. The price Minnesota would pay for a guy like Suter would indeed be high, but would without a doubt solidify the defense for the future when you think of him paired with a guy like Nick Schultz. The reaped rewards would make the pain of shipping off a guy like Scandella a pin prick. Package him with any middle pairing defenseman you care to name and a forward who can potentially make a difference in Nashville such as a healthy Latendresse or Bouchard or even a high value prospect such as Zucker or Bulmer. Suter is easily worth a first-round pick when you consider his long term value.
So there you have it Wild fans. Some bold, blockbuster and franchise changing moves that may not exactly be brewing in the headlines, but are nonetheless at least possible and allow the Wild to sell assets with value while obtaining players that give the Wild’s future just as bright, if not brighter hope to be a contender.