Daniel Winnik has a new home.
The Minnesota Wild announced Wednesday that the 32-year-old veteran forward has signed a 1-year, $660,000 contract after agreeing to a professional try-out with the team. Winnik was an unrestricted free agent after the Washington Capitals let him walk this offseason.
Winnik played in five preseason games for Minnesota, amassing one assist and 15 shots on goal. His signing is a good move by Chuck Fletcher, and Winnik’s presence in the lineup will greatly benefit the Wild.
A Veteran Presence
Entering training camp, head coach Bruce Boudreau was excited to have Winnik, believing that the veteran forward had a good chance to make the team.
“I firmly believe we got the best free agent tryout guy out there. He’s going to push guys to play better,” said Boudreau at the Wild’s training camp on opening day.
Winnik is the definition of a journeyman — since beginning his career with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007, he’s played 717 games for seven teams over the past 10 seasons. He has never been a big offensive contributor — he owns 76 goals and 228 points — but he’s a solid depth forward who plays hard and has enough offense to contribute on the scoresheet, tallying 25 points in 72 games with the Capitals last season.
The reason for giving Winnik a tryout is obvious: the Wild are concerned about depth. While the team has plenty of solid players in their lineup, there are some with injury concerns.
Tyler Ennis has been injured a few times the last two seasons in Buffalo, one of which was a concussion that kept him out for 3 months. Zach Parise is the Wild’s biggest band-aid boy, missing significant time over the last several years with all sorts of injuries. In fact, Parise is currently out due to ongoing back issues. In addition, Matt Cullen is 40-years old and his play could see a big drop off this season.
If these trends continue, or another key piece gets injured, Winnik can act as a great fill-in. However, the Wild already have plenty of depth on their roster. Where would he fit in the Wild lineup?
Finding A Fit
The most obvious spot for Winnik is the fourth line. He can be compared to similar depth players on the roster such as Chris Stewart and Marcus Foligno. Examining these players from a few different perspectives demonstrates that Winnik is an upgrade.
From a purely offensive perspective, Winnik’s 25 points last season were better than Stewart’s 21 and Foligno’s 23, although just barely. On the advanced stats side of things, Winnik is also an upgrade, again only slightly. According to Hockey Reference, Winnik had a 49.6 Corsi For percentage last season, which was better than both Foligno (47.3) and Stewart (40.5).
Looking at these numbers, although Foligno is comparable to Winnik, Stewart is far less effective at controlling the puck and generating offence. For this reason, Winnik should take Stewart’s spot in the lineup.
Winnik also adds something that neither of those teammates does — elite penalty killing. Winnik is well-known around the league for his elite play when a man down. Last season, the Wild were ranked eighth in the league with 83% of their penalties killed. However, they lost several players this offseason, including defenseman Marco Scandella, which will hurt them on the kill. If they hope to maintain that number, bringing in Winnik certainly helps.
The WIld also managed to sign him for dirt cheap. With the Wild in a cap crunch — less than $1 million left on the books prior to signing Winnik — he had to take the offer, even if he wanted more money.
Winnik is an excellent player that the Wild should be happy to have on board. He provides valuable contributions that make him an upgrade over other bottom-six players. If somebody disappoints or injury strikes, Winnik can step in and immediately make a big contribution to the team.