As we start to slowly creep into the season that is not filled with sunshine and rest and relaxation, the hockey world is churning away at figuring out future rosters. Back from the August summer vacation where barely any hockey transactions were made, the Minnesota Wild started to clear up their picture of the lineup on Wednesday.
In a move that sent defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and his $2.25-million cap hit for one more year to the Anaheim Ducks in return for nothing at all, the Wild are letting some players play for roster spots and don’t want to be caught with their pants around their ankles when a young player is clearly not getting enough opportunity.
Or, as Wild GM Bill Guerin likes to put it...
“This was a tough one because he had a great year last year and played very well for us,” Guerin said after the trade was official. “But we need some more cap space. We felt we had maybe one too many defensemen, and we don’t want to put guys in positions where they’re not playing or not playing enough.”
This is clearly mentioning 22-year-old blueliner Calen Addison, as someone that lit up the AHL and got a sliver of a larger opportunity, playing depth minutes for 15 NHL games last year. Before this move, there were seven NHL-level defensemen on the roster — the logjam of logjams — but now with Kulikov gone and Jon Merrill starting the season healing up from an injury, Addison has all the room he wants to come and claim his spot. According to Guerin, the youngster will still need to play well enough to take it because there are other names in the depths.
“Addison has to push to make the team,” Guerin said. “We have Andrej Sustr, who played mainly in the NHL last year. Don’t forget about Goligoski. We have quite a few good defensemen, and our top four is real strong.”
Sustr was a free agent acquisition earlier this summer, and as someone that is a 6-foot-7 defenseman that played on the Ducks last year, he could be someone that head coach Dean Evason wants as a bottom-pairing guy. Unlike the Jordie Benn signing last year, Sustr coming in doesn’t feel like someone blocking Addison’s path, rather as just a safety net in case of more injuries and if Evason wants to dress seven blueliners for some reason.
Aside from the easy lay-up that is letting Addison get his fair share of big league games this fall, getting rid of Kulikov also cleared up some cap space. Even with Addison, Marco Rossi, and Sam Steel on the roster, the Wild have just over $4 million in cap space, if Merrill and/or Jordan Greenway don’t go on injured reserve. That’s enough to play around with and potentially make a trade in the near future.
Guerin felt the #mnwild had one too many defenseman, says Addison must still push to make the team and this gives #mnwild flexibility capwise to make trade either before camp or in season if they’re in need of external improvement— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) August 31, 2022
While it is an option for Guerin, it would be more so just keeping a finger on the pulse of the league for anyone desperate to make a move. As of writing, there are 10 teams in the league that are above the $82.5-million cap ceiling and have less than 23 players available to them — the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins are above the cap as well, but have 24 players on their 23-man roster, making it an easy choice to get under the cap.
Now, while we do mostly agree that the current Wild roster is basically set in stone and it wouldn’t make sense to add more players to an already-full lineup, taking advantage of teams that need to make a move for cap reasons is what Guerin can do. Just look at what the Seattle Kraken did in acquiring Oliver Bjorkstrand — a very, very good top-six winger — from the Columbus Blue Jackets for basically a handful of mid-round picks. That’s taking advantage and using that space.
It would not make any sense to trade for a player that is just taking someone like Frederick Gaudreau’s spot, that is just like Frederick Gaudreau — but upgrading one spot in the lineup could do a world of wonders for a team whose offensive depth just seemed to vanish in the playoffs earlier this year. And with Matt Boldy needing a new contract this summer, there needs to be a clear plan for any addition not to be on a long contract.
So, who is that player? We could throw out a bunch of names of forwards that are on teams over the cap ceiling that have one year left on their deal, for people to just suddenly get excited about potentially acquiring, so let’s do exactly that. Alex Killorn, Evgeni Dadonov, Patric Hornqvist, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, James van Riemsdyk, Alex Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall — wow look at those names. Would they be any better in Minnesota next season than someone like Tyson Jost or Gaudreau? Who’s to say, but we do love some transactions.
If anything, this trade provides immense flexibility. Whether it is options to promote deserving players from the minors, or make an upgrade now or at the deadline — the $4-million in cap space could mean acquiring a player that has upwards of a $9-million cap hit at the deadline without needing salary retention — it just creates more and loosens up the roster a little bit.
Only good news, really.