The 2020 offseason allowed Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin to finally solidify his own blueprint for the team. Several long-time faces were traded as part of the team’s culture reset.
Following a disappointing season, which included owning the NHL’s worst record two months into the 2019-2020 campaign and a swift play-in round elimination, Guerin emphasized the need for change and accountability. He immediately went to work to put his plan in motion.
With his first big move being the midseason trade of forward Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a package centered around defensive prospect Calen Addison, the other significant moves came months later as the team prepped for 2020-21.
With the team hoping to return to the postseason with a more balanced lineup between veterans and emerging talent, this article checks in on the former Wild players on their new teams.
In 13 games for the Buffalo Sabres, Staal has three goals and two assists. As the team struggles to find consistency (5-7-2), Staal has had trouble with turnovers and is currently a minus-7.
The 36-year-old scored 19 goals and 28 assists in 69 games for the Wild last season. Considered a fan favourite and respected veteran, Staal was surprisingly traded to Buffalo for forward Marcus Johansson on Sept. 16 as the first major move of Guerin’s offseason.
Staal is being relied on to provide centre depth and leadership for a Sabres team hoping to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
Acquiring the veteran centre was one of several moves by new Sabres’ GM Kevyn Adams as he tries to build a playoff calibre roster around captain Jack Eichel.
“The fact that I was fortunate enough to sit next to Eric in the locker room and we won a Stanley Cup together, I know what he’s all about,” said Adams to The Athletic’s Michael Russo in August. (from ‘Russo: ‘There definitely have to be changes’: Bill Guerin braces for big Wild offseason’ The Athletic, 08/10/2020)
Initially, Staal was signed by the Wild in the 2016 offseason. After two inconsistent campaigns during his last years with the Carolina Hurricanes and as a trade-deadline rental for the New York Rangers, he experienced a career resurgence with Minnesota. In four seasons with the Wild, Staal scored 240 points in 311 games and was an All-Star twice (2018 and 2020).
The 34-year-old goalie has played six games (four starts) for the San Jose Sharks this season. Dubnyk has yet to earn a win and currently has a record of 0-3-1 with a .917 save percentage (SV%) and 2.17 goals against average (GAA). After years of being the Wild’s undisputed no.1 in net, Dubnyk is sharing net duties with Martin Jones.
Initially, Dubnyk was acquired in the offseason to build a tandem with Jones, as the Sharks hope to return to relevancy after being one of the worst teams in the league last season. The team is currently 6-7-2 and in last place of the West Division.
With Alex Stalock starting in the play-in round and Dubnyk’s inconsistent season (12-15-2 with a .890 SV%, 3.35 GAA), the long-time starter was deemed expendable. Dubnyk and a 2022 seventh-round pick were traded on Oct. 5 for San Jose’s 2022 fifth-round pick. The Wild retained 50% of the final year ($2.16 million of Dubnyk’s contract.
After bouncing around the league, the veteran goalie was acquired by the Wild from the Arizona Coyotes for a third-round pick in 2015 (Brendan Warren). Dubnyk helped lead the Wild to four consecutive playoff appearances while appearing in three All-Star games (2016, 2017, 2019) and finished third in Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in Hart Trophy voting in 2015.
The 23-year-old forward has two goals and one assist in 12 games with the Nashville Predators, who are struggling with a 6-10-0 record and are second to last in the Central Division.
The Wild traded Kunin as a restricted free agent with a 2020 fourth-round pick (Adam Wilsby) to the Predators for centre Nick Bonino, a 2020 second-round pick (Marat Khusnutdinov) and a 2020 third-round pick (traded to Detroit – Eemil Viro). Viewed as a potential top-six forward who can slot in on the left side or centre by Preds’ GM David Poile, the Preds signed Kunin to a bridge deal at $2.3 million annually for two years.
Kunin is currently slotted as the team’s centre on the top line with wingers Filip Forsberg and former Wild teammate Mikael Granlund. In his final year with Minnesota last season, Kunin had 15 goals and 16 assists in 63 games and two goals in four play-in round games.
Kunin was originally the 15th overall in the 2016 Draft by the Wild. He made his NHL debut in the 2017-2018 season after two years with the University of Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA’s Big Ten Conference.
The 24-year-old winger is currently on the Sharks’ third line with forwards Patrick Marleau and John Leonard. Donato has three goals and five assists in 15 games for the Sharks so far this season. The Wild traded the winger to San Jose on Oct. 5 for a 2021 third-round pick.
Last season for the Wild, Donato recorded 14 goals and nine assists in 62 games, along with two games played (no points) in the play-in round.
The Wild hoped Donato would develop into be a long-term fixture in the top-six; however, inconsistent play and being passed over on the depth chart made the winger expendable.
The Sharks are hoping with increased minutes and more offensive chances that Donato can reach the potential he showed early in his career with the Harvard Crimson in the NCAA. Donato and a conditional 2019 fifth-round pick were originally acquired from the Boston Bruins for forward Charlie Coyle on Feb. 20, 2019.
Trading away Kunin and Donato were surprising, especially given their ages and the Wild having one of the older rosters in the league.
The Staal and Dubnyk trades were the focal points of Guerin’s retooling that kickstarted a more rapid transition from former GM Paul Fenton’s blueprint to the one we see being implemented today.
The 2020-21 roster continues to rely on the new leadership group headed by captain Jared Spurgeon, the returns from the offseason trades, and the emerging young talent centered around rookie Kirill Kaprizov.
Sports journalist covering the Minnesota Wild. Currently completing a journalism degree in Toronto, Canada.