The date was February 27th, 2012. On the NHL calendar, it was trade deadline day. The Wild were in the midst of a terrible slump, that had them sitting fourth in the division and twelfth in the conference, after sitting with the best record in the NHL just two months earlier.
That morning, General Manager Chuck Fletcher shipped the franchise's leader in games played, defenseman Nick Schultz to the Edmonton Oilers for Tom Gilbert, a more offensive minded defenseman, who also happened to be a Minnesota native.
Gilbert came in, and instantly became the top blueliner on a unit that was gravely lacking offense. In his 20 games with the Wild to close out the season, Gilbert notched five assists, while averaging 27 minutes (35 shifts) per game. He was the offensive defenseman, the Wild sorely needed.
Then came the 2013 season. Ryan Suter was brought in, demoting Gilbert to the second defensive pairing. He was still getting power play time, but only on the second unit. His ice time went down eight minutes, giving him just over 19 per game.
Gilbert only registered 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) in 43 games. Six of those thirteen points came in the team's first seven games.He went through a terrible drought in March and April, going 12 games without a point.
Defensively, he was just a mess. He obviously was not brought here for his play in the defensive zone (if we did, hanging on to Nick Schultz would of been the better option). He was often caught flat footed or out of position from chasing the puck around, resulting in a opposition goal. Chicago carved him up rather nicely in the postseason, but luckily he only finished with a -2 rating in those five games.
Now, we move forward into the offseason heading towards the 2013-14 season. Gilbert has one year left on his contract, with a $4 million cap hit. The Wild have just a bit under $7.5 million in cap space, and several UFAs and RFAs that they would like to bring back.
The main priority for Fletcher this offseason should once again, be defense (keeping in mind the team is without a starting goaltender heading into free agency too). Right now, the Stanley Cup Final includes two teams (Bruins and Blackhawks), who have arguably the two top defensive units in the league. The Wild's top pairing of Suter and Jonas Brodin is one of the best in the league, but after them, its anyone's guess. The team needs another top four defenseman, preferably one who is a bit more defensive minded. Tom Gilbert does not fit that need.
Should the Wild be unable/unwilling to buyout Dany Heatley, Gilbert become option #2 for a compliance buyout. Teams only have this summer or the next one, to use their two compliance buyouts. There is no other viable candidates on the roster than Heatley or Gilbert. There won't be a need to use them next summer, because there are only nine players on the team, under contract (unless you want to buyout Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, or Suter).
Obviously, the ideal situation would be to hang on to Tom Gilbert and see how he can rebound from a poor 2013 season. But, with the cap situation, it may not happen like that.
If Dany Heatley isn't bought out, be prepared to see the Bloomington native, Gilbert, sent packing.