Wednesday night, Wild GM Paul Fenton indicated which direction he wants to go at this year’s trade deadline: for the first time in several years, the Wild will be sellers. Charlie Coyle was dealt to Boston in return for Ryan Donato and a condition draft pick. While it is unclear how many players Fenton might move, it seems likely that he is not done, and there are several players that could also find themselves on new teams by Monday’s trade deadline at 2 PM CT. So let’s take a look at players that could be moved, where they could go, and what they might bring back.
A year ago, it might have been hard to imagine the Wild trading Eric Staal. It also would have been a little hard to imagine he would be having this type of season. While it was always unlikely for him to repeat last season’s 42 goals and 76 points, his 17 goals and 39 points through 60 games have left a bit to be desired. His three points for the month of February also could have some teams concerned. Some teams will be cautious about adding a player in the middle of that type of cold streak. And even if teams are still interested, it will certainly lower the return. Three years ago, the Hurricanes moved him for two second round picks and a prospect taken in the third round of the most recent draft. He was also having a down season that year and in the middle of a cold streak when traded, so his current trade value is likely similar. If the Wild decide to move Staal (and depending on who they get back), the team could slide either Ryan Donato or Luke Kunin to the center position.
From one center named Eric to another, Eric Fehr is another name that could garner some attention if the Wild make him available. Limited to just five goals and five assists across 51 games while missing some time with an injury, Fehr has not had an overly impressive season, but that does not mean teams might not be interested. He can be a solid depth player and an asset on the penalty kill. He would also be an upgrade over the current fourth-line center for several teams, including the Bruins, Blue Jackets, Sharks, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Golden Knights, and Capitals. His $1 million cap hit should also be easy enough for most teams to swallow. He fit in well with the Sharks last year after being traded at the deadline, meaning they might look to bring him back. It cost only a 2020 seventh round pick to acquire him a year ago, but his price was probably diminished after being sent to the AHL. Still, Wild fans should not expect more than a late round pick if Fehr gets moved.
Other Pending UFAs?
In addition to Staal and Fehr, Matt Hendricks, Brad Hunt, and Anthony Bitetto are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. There are three more pending UFAs currently in Iowa who have appeared in games for the Wild this season (Nate Prosser, Matt Bartkowski, and Matt Read) but it seems unlikely any of those three would generate any demand or a return at the deadline. The same can probably be said for both Matt Hendricks and Anthony Bitetto. Hendricks has appeared in just 22 games this reason, registering just two assists during that time. Unless there is a team desperate to acquire a physical player like Hendricks, he probably will not be going anywhere. Bitetto is likely also staying put. The Predators thought lowly enough of his trade value that they did not bother looking for a partner, instead exposing him to waivers and losing him for nothing. And with nine games for the Wild under his belt, zero points, a minus-two, and overall not terribly impressive play, he has not done anything to improve his value. If either is moved, expect a deal similar to the one the Wild used to acquire Hunt from Vegas earlier this year: the Wild could acquire a sixth-round pick while giving up a seventh. It is not unreasonable to think Brad Hunt could go somewhere. After all, he was already traded once this season and he has looked alright in a Wild uniform. Potentially interested teams would probably want to see more of Hunt in a traditional defense role before acquiring him, and if he’s moved, it will again be for something of minimal value.
The fact that both of Paul Fenton’s major trades this season (Nino for Rask & Coyle for Donato) have brought back players ready to be immediately inserted into the NHL lineup suggests that he is not looking to blow things up and rebuild completely. It also suggests he is not willing to entirely pass on this season. It is hard to know for sure what his plan is for the team, but it seems like he his plan might involve some short-term “retooling” and trying to compete again next season. If that’s the case, I am not sure I would expect to see too many players under team control beyond this year moved. That being said, both Nino and Coyle had at least one year left under contract after this one, so it is not impossible that additional players with term could go. But it definitely does not feel like Fenton is going to sell everyone and start over. The way the team responded to the Coyle trade in Thursday night’s game against the Rangers (admittedly, a sample size of just one) shows that this team still has at least a little left in the tank. If he does choose to move other players, someone like Jonas Brodin possible, expect Fenton to try to bring back NHL-ready pieces as opposed to just a package of picks.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com