According to this article, around 174 million Americans will go shopping over Thanksgiving weekend. They’ll spend billions of dollars on everything from electronics to clothing to even automobiles. In the hockey world, it’ll be just another day for all thirty-one general managers. Unfortunately, there’s no Black Friday discount for William Nylander. But while shopping malls get packed and unruly, let’s talk about what the Wild should go shopping for if Paul Fenton were to decide it is time to make a deal.
A right-shot forward (please!)
As any Wild fan is probably well aware, the Wild only have three right-shot forwards currently with the team. Two of those, Eric Fehr and J.T. Brown, are fourth line players, making Charlie Coyle the only righty who belongs in the top nine. Coyle has produced a modest 11 points through his first 22 games which leaves a bit to be desired. Additionally, the Wild have Luke Kunin who, according to this interview with Iowa Wild GM Tom Kurvers over at The Athletic, has not been playing at the level the Wild have hoped for down in the AHL. And while the Wild could choose to swap him with the underperforming Joel Eriksson Ek, there’s also not a spot open for him unless somebody gets hurt or is moved. Even with a call-up of Kunin, that would leave the team with just two right-handed forwards, so it seems safe to assume GMPF is looking for a way to add one.
Who are a few potentially available right-shot right-wings? Thanks to a recent “who’s available?” post series on The Athletic, we have a long list of players that are thought to be available. One of the most attractive options is Philadelphia Flyers right-wing Wayne Simmonds. Playing in the last year of a contract that carries a $3.975 million cap hit, Simmonds is expected to be available especially with the Flyers currently near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. He currently has nine goals through his 21 games and has reached at least 24 goals in each of his past five seasons. He is a point producer and a big, physical player that the Wild could use. Additionally, his cap hit wouldn’t take that much work to fit on the current Wild roster, especially if the Wild were to move a left-shot playing on the right wing (a la Nino Niederreiter).
A couple more intriguing options are also from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: right wingers Bryan Rust and Daniel Sprong of the Penguins. Rust is in the first year of a four year contract carrying a $3.5 million cap hit. He is off to a slow start with only one goal and five points through his first 20 games, but he averaged over a half point per game in both of the past two years. It’s possible a change of scenery could give him a jump start. Rust is currently playing on the 4th line for the Pens due to an abundance of talented wingers, which could be contributing to his low point total. It could also mean the Penguins would be particularly interested in moving him and freeing some cap space.
Sprong is also an intriguing option. The 21 year old is in his third season in the NHL, but only has 40 career games and 9 career points to his name. He is no longer waivers exempt, and he’s being used as a healthy scratch while the Penguins consider how to proceed. He is also in the first year of a two year deal that carries a $750k cap hit. He has long been considered a talented prospect with a potentially bright future but has not been able to put it together yet. But at just 21 years of age, there is reason to think that he has time to turn things around. A change of scenery could be just what he needs to get going. While taking a chance on a guy like Sprong would certainly be worth it for a handful of teams, it would be a risky decision for a team with post season expectations to give a top-nine spot to such an unknown quantity. A risk like this becomes more doable if Joel Eriksson Ek either gets going or is replaced. The two have similar points-per-game production, and the Wild have been able to win games with JEEK in the lineup regularly, so they could presumably continue to win games if they added Sprong and were getting more production from Eriksson Ek’s spot.
Without a doubt, a right-handed shot is one of the biggest spots the Wild should look to add at. It’s arguably the only position they really need to do something at. But if we’re being greedy (and really, isn’t that what Black Friday is all about?), where else could the Wild look to add?
Third Line Center
Since Jordan Greenway’s improvement since his brief trip to Iowa (7 points in 12 games), the biggest hole in the top nine has been Joel Eriksson Ek and that third line center spot. If Luke Kunin is deemed not ready and the Wild turn to a trade for an improvement, one option would be the New York Ranger’s Kevin Hayes. Identified as someone who could be available, the left-shot center is in the final year of a deal that comes with a $5.175 million cap hit. A bit expensive for a third line player and potentially difficult to find a way to add to the Wild roster, but the Wild could find a way to make it work if someone else is moved or if the Rangers cover some of the hit. He has topped 40 points in three of his four seasons, and is on pace to approach 60 this season (5-9—14 through 22 games). He could help the Wild get more out of their third line players.
Another option could be Derick Brassard. Another member of the Penguins, their third line center has not really fit in with the team since he was traded over from Ottawa last season. He carries a cap hit of only $3 million thanks to the Senators covering part of it in that trade. Another lefty, Brassard has topped 45 points in four of his previous five seasons, and he has six points through his first eleven games this year (he has also missed time due to injury).
So if the Wild were to start shopping around for additions, what positions and which players would you like to see the team go after?