We recently learned that Chuck Fletcher was part of an ongoing conversation with Jarmo Kekalainen regarding the situation and availability of Ryan Johansen. Though the two sides were not able to strike a deal, we learned that Fletcher was looking to improve the Wild down the middle. It's no secret that the pivot has been the Wild's weakest position, and the attempt to improve the team is a welcome action. In the midst of the conversation with Columbus, the Wild were able to re-sign Jared Spurgeon to a 4 year contract extension, but during that announcement Fletcher made some comments alluding to the team's ability to deal from their defensive core, a position of strength, to make a trade. While Mikko Koivu is having a renaissance year and Mikael Granlund has been heating up, the team still lacks a top-flight offensive Center and with Johansen off of the board, we take a look at some other names that could be available via trade that the Wild may covet.
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
Age: 26, 6'1" 200lbs Shoots: L. 4 years (including this year), $6M AAV remaining
With the Sharks sitting at 6th place in the Pacific and 7 points out of a wild card spot, changes may abound in San Jose. They have been a perennial playoff team, but like so many others in the West have struggled in the playoffs. This year has started as a challenge for the Sharks, and several players could become available if things don't turn around pretty soon. One player whose name has come up in the offseason is Logan Couture, a true and proven 1C that could net a big return. Couture fits the description the Wild are looking for as a big-bodied proven scorer that can feed talented wings and play some defense. Couture is a cornerstone player for the Sharks, and it would be and even bigger coup in San Jose to trade him as it was for Columbus to trade Johansen. The money would be hard for the Wild to work out as it would need to trade away a matching salary to make things work. It would be tough, but possible to pull off.
Trade Chip Conversation Starter: NHL Defender + Prospect + 2nd round pick
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
Age: 22, 6'0" 189lbs Shoots: L. 6 years, $6M AAV remaining
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has perhaps been the name most mentioned post-Johansen trade. The Oilers continue to be mired in the Pacific basement and desperately lack quality in their defensive ranks, which makes them a natural trading partner for the Wild. Hopkins is of similar size to Couture and has been centering Edmonton's top line while Connor McDavid recovers from his injury. McDavid is set to return ahead of schedule soon, which makes Hopkins more expendable, especially considering the play of up-and-coming Leon Draisatl (more on him in a minute). Things that complicate this situation are the length and AAV of Hopkins' contract and the glut of other forwards with a bunch of trade value in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Draisatl. The Oilers have tons of assets to acquire defense, so they may get some very good offers for any member of that group. Hopkins also hasn't fully blossomed and at this point in his career is marginally better than Granlund, so the Wild would have to be convinced that Hopkins is the 1C of the future to pursue him and take on his contract. The cost could be lower as Hopkins has not proven himself like Couture or Johansen, and would likely match the market for Johansen. However, RNH is not as valuable as Johansen.
Trade Chip Conversation Starter: NHL Defender
Age: 28, 6'0" 191lbs Shoots: R. 3 years, $4.7M AAV remaining
Bryan Little isn't a name you hear a ton about, but he is quietly a very good center for a struggling Winnipeg team. Changes are in the air in Winnipeg with Dustin Byfuglien likely on his way to a new club following the season and expiration of his contract. Big Buff could very well be moved before the deadline and create a need for a defensemen, which will make the Wild a good trade partner, even though the teams are in the same division. Little is a bit older and smaller than most of the rest of this group, but is also more affordable and could be more easily retained in Minnesota beyond his current contract.
Trade Chip Conversation Starter: NHL Defender OR Prospect(s) + pick
Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs
Age: 26, 6'0" 188lbs Shoots: L. This year, $4.1M AAV remaining
Kadri is a name that has been bandied about amongst the Wilderness for a couple of years, though not with much urgency. Toronto is a team in the middle of changing its identity with new head coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello. They are steadily improving as the year moves on and are currently 5 points out of the Wild Card spot. However, as Kadri is in the final year of his contract, he might make sense to move. The Leafs have a very high salary for a down year and may look to shift some off of the books. But that would also make the trade a challenge for the Wild, who have barely over $1M left to spend on the cap. Toronto would likely have to retain some salary here, and that probably isn't going to happen. This also answers nothing about the future for the Wild as this would be strictly a rental. This trade possibility opens up if the Wild find a way to shed some salary
Trade Chip Conversation Starter: 2nd round pick OR Prospect + lower pick
All HERO charts from Own the Puck
Leon Draisatl, Edmonton Oilers
Age: 20, 6'1" 214lbs Shoots: L. 2 years, $925k AAV remaining
As mentioned above, the Wild and Oilers are a good match to make a trade. Leon Draisatl has been somewhat of a revelation in Edmonton since becoming a regular in the absence of Connor McDavid. He has actually produced at a higher rate than McDavid while earning his way amongst the league-leaders in P/60. He has also been able to drive possession and is now playing nearly 20 minutes per night. As you can tell from the lack of HERO chart, it is a very small sample size, but at age 20, Draisatl projects to be a legitimate 1C for many years to come, and he will have a hard time doing that playing behind McDavid. His performance this season has likely earned him the "untouchable" label. However, Edmonton could be smart to attempt to trade him now to maximize his value. He is definitely a prime candidate for regression, and they have plenty of other players to back-log the center position. In doing so, the Oilers could capitalize on the lesson Tyler Seguin has taught the league and demand a king's ransom for an unproven player that looks to be an absolutely elite player in the future. This could be a big risk for a team willing to pay that type of price, but could also work out as well as Seguin has for Dallas.
Trade Chip Conversation Starter: NHL Defender + Prospect + Pick(s)
Draisatl's NHL Stats:
Several other big-name pivots could be available as a rental player should their teams fold toward the trade deadline, but their likely cost in terms of both salary cap and and required trade chips could be prohibitive. Those names are: Steven Stamkos, David Backes and Eric Staal. I doubt the Wild would truly have any interest in those players because of the associated cost.
While there are a couple of attractive names out there, none of the deals look to be a perfect fit for the Wild at this time. They are already bound by the salary cap and still need to pay Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba, so the Wild would have to find a way to move a big salary to make most of these trades possible. This certainly will have an impact on how the Wild proceed into the offseason and make decisions about who can be retained and who might be bought out. But unfortunately during this season, none of these trades are likely and we should expect to see very little activity around the trade deadline, unless Chuck Fletcher does what Chuck Fletcher does and trades a pick for a rental. Which might not be all that bad considering the GM's history with draft selections. But the move to put the Wild over the top won't likely come until the season is over.