Protecting the Cage

Hannah Foslien

Trying to find another defenseman so that Ryan Suter's minutes can be spread out over the other pairings.

The Wild winning streak of four games was snapped by the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night in a game that the Wild outshot the Avs 27-17, but still lost 4-2. During the four-game win streak, the Wild, although allowing 40 shots on goal twice in that stretch, did a much better job of keeping the puck out of their net. Success in those games was mostly because of stellar goaltending performances by Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom. The other was the Wild limiting the Grade-A  scoring chances and keeping most of those 40 shots to the perimeter.

Former Minnesota Golden Gopher, co-host of Wild Fanline, and co-host of the Saturday morning "Beyond the Pond" hockey-centric radio show on FM 100.3 KFAN, Pat Micheletti talked about the need for the Wild to find another defenseman. He insisted that finding another solid defensive defenseman was more important than finding a forward for the remainder of this season. Pointing to the 30-plus minutes that Ryan Suter consistently plays, he wonders if the long minutes come with the lack of trust of the bottom four defensive pairings to be on the ice to help balance out Suter's minutes. Micheletti also pointed to the mostly inconsistent play of Minnesota-native Keith Ballard, who can do some good things on the ice, but then makes some serious mistakes that end up in the back of the net.

I was curious to see which defensemen that are out there that could be available through trade. First let us dissect the roster as it stands today.

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Clayton Stoner - Keith Ballard

Extra: Nate Prosser, Jonathon Blum

Other defensemen in the system: Steven Kampfer, Matt Dumba (who was sent back to the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL), and Tyler Cuma.

Personally, I think neither of those options in the system does much of solving any issue facing the team and that includes Matt Dumba. What the Wild are in need of is a solid, stay-at-home style defenseman to help lock down the fort that can move the puck quickly and accurately up to the forwards.

Some think that Blum, having played 93 games in the NHL, can be that defenseman. When he played for the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League, he put up a career best 66 points in the '08-'09 season. Each time he has gone up a level his production has fallen off. In his parts of three seasons with the Nashville Predators, he has only score 22 points, and was a minus-7 in the NHL.

Steven Kampfer has also played in the NHL, playing 61 games between the Boston Bruins and the Wild. His is currently in Des Moines playing for the Iowa Wild, but there must be something with his game that the Wild brass don't like. He lacks the size of a typical defenseman and needs to improve his play when he doesn't have the puck.

Tyler Cuma seems like he's been in the Wild system for eons. Drafted in 2008, Cuma made his NHL debut in the 2010-2011 season when the injuries piled up for the Wild. He played one game did not do anything outside of taking a minor penalty.

One defenseman rumored to be available is Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers. For some, the asking price is just too much in return. The 23-year old kid has been in Alain Vigneault's dog house all season. The former 20th overall pick of the 2008 entry draft is 6'0" tall and 195 pounds. He's compiled 120 points (24g - 94a) in his four year career. Rumor has it, that Rangers' GM Glen Sather is looking for a top-4 defenseman and picks in a trade for Del Zotto. Del Zotto is making $2.55 million this season and is due to become a Restricted Free Agent this offseason.

In Winnipeg, the Jets may be looking to move Dustin Byfuglien. He is currently ranked third among defensemen in the league with 35 points, is a minus-17, and is averaging 1.15 penalty minutes a game. He was left off Team USA because of he is viewed as a defensive liability. His minus-17 this season on a bad Jets team is very apparent. Although, if you're willing to take the (really) bad with the good, his offensive prowess is something that could be beneficial for a Wild team still looking for more and more offense from its blue liners.

Bob McKenzie of TSN believes that Toronto Maple Leafs' GM Dave Nonis may be looking to move defenceman Jake Gardiner. The Deephaven, Minnesota native was drafted 17th overall in 2008 by Anaheim. Gardiner has 13 points (2g - 11a) in 44 games this season. He is also only a minus-4 in his career 131 games with only 28 PIM. Nonis is looking for a blockbuster trade, according to McKenzie, and will likely depend on if the Maple Leafs decided to stay with Randy Carlyle as their head coach long term.

The defensive reinforcements for the Wild still may be a few years away yet, as Matt Dumba was sent back and Gustav Olofsson is still playing college hockey. Both Dumba and Olofsson are still unknown commodities but are projecting to be top-4 NHL defensemen. It just may take a few more years of development. Other players that look promising for defense are: John Draeger, Michigan St., Daniel Gunnarsson, Lulea-SHL, and Carson Soucy, UM-Duluth.

Because these kids, all while promising, are development projects still, the Wild looking at adding another defenseman may be legitimate. The inability of the bottom pairing to connect good outlet passes has hurt this team. It leads to turnovers and extended time running around the defensive zone which all leads to goals against and losses. Many Wild fans want that big, bruising dopey defenseman that is a physical threat, but size has no correlation to being good. The defensemen that are good, physical, and have size are extremely tough to find let, alone acquire.

Hopefully the Wild are in a position to be buyers at the trade deadline. Hopefully, the Wild can get healthy and put it all together.  There may be something to Pat Micheletti's argument of shoring up the D before the offense. Hopefully, Chuck Fletcher can make something happen that makes sense for the Wild.

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