The NHL trade deadline came and went on Monday afternoon without the Minnesota Wild making a single trade. The only in-season trade was an early move which swapped Greg Pateryn for Ian Cole, a move which saved Colorado space against the cap and benefitted the Wild’s third defensive pairing greatly. Between that move, the Jason Zucker trade (which netted Calen Addison and a first-round pick), and the various swaps that Guerin made at the draft, it appears that he has been able to correctly appraise the state of the team and make moves that strengthen the team’s future.
It also points to Guerin’s confidence in patiently utilizing the draft to acquire talent. I support this strategy as the primary method of building a franchise, and Guerin’s picks this year inspired confidence that he’s capable of doing so better than the average NHL GM. The only way to further augment this strategy is to acquire more picks. Even for teams which have an edge in grading and selecting talent in the draft, owning a high volume of picks is crucial. The NHL draft is a lot like two rookie dart players going toe-to-toe in a bar: having more darts (picks) to throw at the board is going to help a hell of a lot more than anything else.
Given his success in the trade market and at the drafting table, I wonder why Guerin did decide to stand pat at the deadline. I’d like to preface the rest of the article by saying I wouldn’t trust most NHL general managers to make a move in this situation, and so I’m writing this from a place of belief in the Wild’s management. Having said that, what comes next will sound a bit like a hit piece on GMBG, which is not my intent.
While Minnesota is nearly a lock for the playoffs and likely draws a friendly opponent in the first round, nobody thinks this is a Stanley Cup roster — it’s a Cinderella story at best. MoneyPuck.com gives the Wild a 99% chance to make the playoffs, but only the 15th best odds in the league (1.9%) to win the cup — lower than the current Vegas Odds of Matt Ryan winning the 2021 NFL MVP award (40-to-1). Winning the cup isn’t everything, but even a Wild appearance in the Conference Final is only 12% likely per MoneyPuck.
That doesn’t normally mean that the Wild should be blow it up and be wholesale sellers — getting into the playoffs is an accomplishment, and you never know what could happen. NHL playoff series are essentially coin flips. The reason that the Wild should have executed a light sale at the deadline lies in their roster construction — with six full-time NHLers on expiring contracts, likely only one of whom will return due to cap constraints, the Wild kept the remaining five of those players to bet on this year’s playoff run — again, a 2% chance to win the Stanley Cup (for reference, the chance of a random team winning the cup at the beginning of the season, out of 31 teams, is 3.2%).
I love watching this team, and I want more than anything for them to bring a Cup to the State of Hockey — it’s one of the greatest travesties in sports that we don’t have one yet. But the likely truth is that it just isn’t happening this year.
I don’t think that any of Nick Bonino, Nick Bjugstad, and Brad Hunt would be the difference in that hypothetical playoff run either. These were the three pieces that I felt the Wild could most easily part with when I wrote a more detailed argument in favor of a light sale on the subject a few days before the deadline.
The replacements at forward are Luke Johnson, Kyle Rau, and Gerry Mayhew. On defense, we would replace Hunt with Dakota Mermis and Matt Bartkowski. For a depth center or a seventh defenseman, is it even that much of a drop-off? Furthermore, Sturm is weirdly in the dog house some nights too, so half of the time you’re not even using an extra taxi-squad forward in this hypothetical post-trade lineup — you’re just forced to plug in Sturm.
Once you make the playoffs, which is extremely likely even after potentially losing a piece or two, Matt Boldy and Calen Addison become the replacements rather than the taxi squad guys. They can join the big boy in the playoffs club as black aces without affecting the salary cap.
I understand the logic of standing pat at the deadline, so I don’t intend to make this the Bill Guerin diss track. He looked better in the NHL than I do in my beer league; but if that were the attitude with which fans approached hockey moves, all we would ever do is mindlessly support the club they’ve selected out of some zealous tribalism. In terms of bringing a cup to Minnesota in the next five to ten years, I think that a few extra picks in this draft move the needle more than the depth forwards that are walking away at the end of this season. But I desperately, desperately hope that they prove me wrong in the coming months.
Especially now that they’re all we’ve got.