In the past few days, Minnesota Wild General Manager has likely been on the phone, non-stop. Looking at the scuttlebutt, we know that Minnesota has serious interest in Thomas Vanek and Willie Mitchell, and are sniffing around Matt Niskanen. On the draft front, the Wild are attempting to gain a second-round pick in the draft. One way to go about it might be trading down from the 18th spot in the draft.
It also appears that the Minnesota Wild are looking to shop Kyle Brodziak at the draft. Maybe he'd bring back a the second-round pick the Wild are looking for. Could they be looking to bring back an NHL player for a trade? Or is it mostly about moving the 3 million dollar salary (2,833,000 cap hit) for a player that might be the fourth-line center?
I don't know what Brodziak would fetch in a trade, so given a big return, I could be swayed on this opinion. But I feel that trading Brodziak would be a mistake. I think Brodziak has more value than what the Wild would get back in a trade, particularly in the short term.
It's true that Kyle Brodziak is poised to enter the season as the fourth-line center. Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund are entrenched as the center of the top two lines, and that's not a spot for the more defensive Brodziak, anyway. What's pushing Brodziak down the depth chart is the emergence of Erik Haula. Haula's only been up for 59 games, including playoffs, but he's sure made an impression.
In the regular season, Haula pulled mostly 4th line duty, getting 15 points in 46 games while averaging a tick more than 10 minutes a game, showing good possession numbers as Mike Yeo eased him into the league. By the last two weeks of the regular season, he was clocking more than 14 minutes a game, scoring 3 goals and 4 assists down the stretch.
But that was just a warm-up for the playoffs. Haula broke out in the series against the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring 3 goals, 2 assists, was second on the team in shots per 60 minutes, and generally wreaked havoc with his speed. His offensive production was especially impressive considering that had the second-toughest zone-start assignments of any Wild player.
If the Wild expects Haula to be able to sustain that level of play through the season, they absolutely should be looking to have Haula over Brodziak on the depth chart. And it's not hard to see why Fletcher could see a 3 million dollar fourth-line center as an expendable asset.
Part of the Wild's success in the postseason was their depth. The Wild had three solid lines throughout the postseason, and even got good production out of Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick skating with Brodziak on the fourth line.
With Koivu, Granlund, Haula, and Brodziak, the Minnesota Wild have the strength down the middle to be able to roll four lines during the regular season. Forget the fact that the Wild are going to have more than 20 million in cap space which they can use to upgrade their team. Let's look at what the Wild could put on the ice if they only signed their own players.
Yeah, there's room for improvement in there, but provided Keränen and Bulmer end up being credible NHL players, that's four legitimate lines that the Wild can run. Remember- any acquisition in Free Agency or via a trade would be able to move a Charlie Coyle or Nino Niederreiter down to the third line, creating a stronger bottom-six.
Remove Brodziak from that equation, and the Wild lose out on a proven center. Not only would this loss of depth compromise the ability for the Wild to roll four lines, but leave the Wild vulnerable to injuries. Koivu has missed at least 10 games in 3 of the last 4 years, and Granlund had two concussions last season. Take one of those guys out of the lineup, and Haula could move up into a scoring role, and probably do it credibly. But all of a sudden, you'd only have two proven NHL centers.
Can whatever the Wild get back in a trade be able to provide the Wild with a similar contribution next season? I'm not going to rule out the possibility, but if my (speculative and unfounded) hunch is correct, the Wild are looking to flip him to get that second round pick. That's definitely not going to be something that pays off with any immediate return, and may never provide the value that one season of Brodziak can provide. The Wild would have to impress with that second-round pick to get my endorsement.
I've no illusions about Brodziak. He's a flawed player with obvious limitations, primarily, his poor offensive skills. But he's shown to be able to do a credible job, taking on penalty-killing duties and tough even strength assignments. That's a heck of a fourth-line center, and even though he's owed 3 million dollars he's not an asset to be cast aside lightly. For a Wild team that's goal this offseason should be to become a Stanley Cup contender, keeping that kind of depth on the roster is likely more valuable than the return and cap space trading him would provide.