The trade deadline is upon us, and the biggest question in the Wilderness is also the most obvious one: What are the Wild going to do? At the beginning of the year, it was suggested that they should sell, sell, sell. Get rid of Cullen. Get rid of Setoguchi. Get rid of Bouchard. It's funny what winning does, though, as the Wild's trade talk has decreased to the point that the only name the Wild have been connected to thus far is Ryan Clowe. And even that was kind of a surprise.
There are three major reasons it's been quiet. Firstly, as we've touched on, the team is winning. They're third in the Conference seeding, as well as having amassed the third highest point total in the Conference.They're not in a rush to be sellers, they like the chemistry of the team thus far, and it would take a collapse for them to miss the playoffs.
The second reason is that the Wild are intent on managing their salary cap, for now, and for the long-term. The Wild have the third smallest amount of cap room this season (~1.4 million, per CapGeek), which, with 13 games remaining, would be enough room for one deadline-type acquisition, but perhaps will require for some creativity to get more than one. Long-term is what looms, though. With Koivu, Parise, and Suter locked down for a very long time, the Wild will want to avoid getting in a cap hell by the time guys like Brodin, Granlund, Coyle, and Zucker will start entering their second deals. For example, it's possible that the rumored Ryan Clowe trade may come with a 5 year, 25 million dollar extension. This could have some significant opportunity cost down the road.
But the third reason is the cost. Not in money, but prospects. The Wild's system has spent the year being ranked consistently as one of the 3 best organizations in the game. There's more to it than the NHL guys in Brodin and Coyle. There are three guys in the AHL who've had cups of coffee in the NHL (and could still contribute this year) in Granlund, Zucker, and Johan Larsson. Marco Scandella, Zack Phillips, and Brett Bulmer have had struggles this year, but they're not done as prospects yet. In Juniors, there's first round pick Mathew Dumba, as well as Raphael Bussieres and Tyler Graovac, who both have improved their stock this season. In college, Erik Haula and Mario Lucia are worth getting exciting about. In net, Hackett and Kuemper aren't alone in the "Good Goalie Prospect" pile, as Johan Gustaffson is shining overseas, playing against men. It's a deep crop that gets better with every time a Tyler Graovac, or a Daniel Gunnarsson emerges.
There's a reason that prospects are considered the lifeblood of an organization. They provide good depth, are cheap, and allow a great deal of flexibility in team building. Part of that flexibility is the ability to let an expiring contract walk. Pierre-Marc Bouchard will be let go at the end of the year, as he'll be easily replaced, if not upgraded in the top-6 by Mikael Granlund. The Wild will now have the leverage with Matt Cullen, whose grit/skill role could be given to Johan Larsson.
But another part of that flexibility that prospects provide is the ability to use them as currency to upgrade the current team, in the short or long-term. They have the currency. Should Fletcher use it?
The Case Against Trading Prospects
I can assume that a lot of Wild fans, who've been relying on the youth movement for hope from Granlund's drafting to July 4th, would be reticent to dip into the prospect pool for prospects, and there are good reasons for that. First of all, this is the first time in Wild history that they've had an elite prospect pool, and it's hard to sacrifice that young, deep pipeline for the present. Also, if you mess up a trade, you could end up looking bad for years. Look at how bad the Cam Barker trade was. Imagine that instead of Leddy, you trade a guy who becomes a star. Blegh.
There's also the possibility is that a trade acquisition is going to have a limited impact. Say the Wild trade a prospect and a pick for Ryan Clowe. He's going to play in 13 games, and whatever playoff games the Wild play. Those 13 games are games which may not matter all that much, the Wild's playoff chances are currently excellent, so it's very likely that Clowe is only going to have an impact for the playoff run*. Unless he's instrumental in a deep playoff run, something like that may not be worth the price.
*Re-signing a player is a nice bonus, but that should only be counted as a factor in a trade in a sign-and trade situation. At least in my opinion.
The Case For Trading Prospects
Pavol Demitra for Patrick O'Sullivan and the 17th overall pick.
This is perhaps the best trade in during the reign of the Anti-Fletch. On draft day, 2006, he sealed the deal on this swap. O'Sullivan at the time was perhaps the Wild's best prospect (or at least #2, behind Pouliot), having destroyed the AHL to the tune of 47 goals and 93 points. The 17th pick was used on Trevor Lewis, who had a good year in the USHL. It was a trade I very much disliked at the time.
Today, Trevor Lewis is a good bottom-6 guy for Los Angeles, and Patrick O'Sullivan is either close to, or completely out of hockey.
Pavol Demitra, on the other hand, played two years for the Wild, putting up 118 points in 139 games, as the Wild enjoyed two trips to the playoffs. You can't exactly say the Wild got the short end of the stick.
I'm not saying that the Wild have a bunch of O'Sullivans, but the fact remains that some of these guys, and maybe some of the guys who are being highly touted, aren't going to be what we hope they can become. Especially in situations where you can improve your team both now and in the long-term, getting guaranteed production immediately can often be the wisest choice, even if it comes with a higher price tag.
I don't like the idea of the Wild spending big at the trade deadline. The expectations aren't high enough to necessitate such a move- I still doubt anyone thinks the Wild are legitimate Cup contenders at this time, and most of what's on the block are either rentals (like Clowe), or under-performers with large cap hits (see Jason Pominville).
I think a bigger move could be made during the offseason. Bobby Ryan is a name that's seemingly always on the trade block, isn't he what we hope Charlie Coyle will be, if not better? P.K. Subban will be entering the final year of his new deal next year, less than a year after him being on the short end of a bitter contract negotiation. Wouldn't having a guy like that on the blue line be worth trading for, even if the cost is Mathew Dumba, a first, and maybe a bit more? (Just spitballing with the names, here. Neither of those guys are currently on the trading block, are guaranteed to be on the trading block, or have had much connection to the Minnesota Wild.)
The Wild should be looking to spend from their prospect pool, but should save their currency until it comes time to land a young star with the production to match. Maybe the right deal is out there now, but if not, they've got a team that's clicking, and the inside track on a playoff spot. They can wait.
What do you think, Wilderness?