August will mark two years since Bill Guerin became the general manager of the Minnesota Wild. He has dealt with almost everything that comes with the job so far, which includes the NHL Entry Draft, free agency, and the trade market. Not only that but he has done all of this in an unprecedented time like no other as the pandemic has even made the job more interesting for a new general manager. However, he will come face to face with his biggest task yet — maneuvering through the Seattle Expansion Draft.
Compiling a list of protected players will be a slippery slope and a high mountain to climb. It is paramount that the protection list is manufactured with precision and attention to detail. There are a lot that hangs in the balance including the future and no perspective can be unvisited.
Revisiting the Vegas Expansion Draft
There is no doubt that the Wild felt the repercussions of their risky business deal that took place in the summer of 2017 during the Vegas Expansion Draft. In order to protect a few of their core players including Eric Staal and young sharp-shooting defenseman Matt Dumba, the Wild took the high-risk move in dealing multiple future assets to their counterpart to protect those respective players.
The Wild sent a pair of wingers to Vegas, including prospect Alex Tuch and Erik Haula. It most definitely backfired on the Wild as both were able to break out and experience their full potential in Vegas’ inaugural season. The magical season for Vegas was another example of a missed opportunity for the Wild.
Tuch has become a fixture in Vegas and the 24-year-old looks poised to become an elite winger. He has definitely sold the Golden Knights on his scoring ability and will be an important part of their core for years to come. The Wild didn’t see Haula making a significant stride, which is why he was sent to Vegas. The Wild’s motives and intentions were good, but the deal ended up becoming a disaster, albeit the breakouts for the two wingers were completely unexpected in the Wild’s defense.
Lessons were certainly learned and the Wild have a chance to redeem themselves in the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft. It certainly feels that making a side deal is more catastrophic than simply realizing that the roster will be without one good player for the future.
Rules & Exempt Players
To refresh your memory, let’s review some of the rules for the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft. First and foremost, all players who have a no-movement clause (NMC) are exempt and can’t be taken unless they waive it. Therefore, they must be protected by their team. Likewise, all first and second year NHL players along with unsigned draft choices will be exempt from selection and also won’t need protection.
The critical decision is which direction the Wild will want to go. Every team has the option of either protecting eight skaters and a goaltender or seven forwards, three defenseman, and a goaltender.
The most notable players that don’t need to be protected on the Wild include Kirill Kaprizov (F), Marco Rossi (F), Adam Beckman (F), Alexander Khovanov (F), and Calen Addison (D).
Seattle Expansion Draft: The Wild’s Protection List
The Wild are fortunately in a good spot for the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft. While they are certainly going to lose a good player, it will not be as detrimental as the 2017 robbery the Golden Knights facilitated if they make the right decisions, of course. Likewise, there are many different elements in the lengthy process that need to be evaluated.
I believe the Wild will choose the seven forwards, three defenseman, and a goaltender option.
F – Zach Parise (NMC)
Parise’s NMC prohibits him from being selected in the draft and he will have to be placed on the protected list. The former first-round pick still has a lot of game left in the tank. He recorded 25 goals, 21 assists, and 46 points in 69 games in the 2019-20 campaign. He almost was traded to the New York Islanders according to Michael Russo of The Athletic, but the trade fell through. (from ‘Wild’s Zach Parise trade talks with Isles break apart at deadline (UPDATE),’ The Athletic, 02/24/2020) It doesn’t appear the trade will be revisited as of now. He was able to remain healthy last season, which is essential for the veteran with an injury-riddled past. While he has struggled this season, there is no flexibility when it comes to protecting or exposing him.
F – Mats Zuccarello (NMC)
This was former Wild general manager Paul Fenton’s free-agent splash. Fenton signed Zuccarello to a five-year contract in free-agency. Similar to Parise, he can’t be taken in the draft due to his NMC. Zuccarello just came off his first season with the Wild where he accumulated 15 goals, 22 assists, and 37 points in 65 games. While he was somewhat productive, it was underwhelming due to the high hopes.
Zuccarello has been a revelation this season after returning from an offseason surgery. He has three goals, eight assists, and 11 points in eight games this season. He has really flourished this season on a line with budding star Kirill Kaprizov and center Victor Rask.
F – Kevin Fiala
The one-for-one trade including Mikael Granlund and Kevin Fiala — executed under former Wild general manager Paul Fenton — was a huge win for the organization. It has actually been one of the big reasons why this re-tool might be so effective. Fiala was the Wild’s best forward in 2019-20 and there is no doubt he makes the protection list. He had a career year where he notched 23 goals, 31 assists, and 54 points in 64 games. He is definitely a ‘”game-breaker” that Fenton said he was following the trade. He has had a slow start to the season, but has shown a lot of very positive signs.
F – Joel Eriksson Ek
Joel Eriksson Ek is one of the best defensive centers in the NHL. According to Evolving-Hockey, he ranked fourth among centers in even-strength defense. Likewise, he was seventh in expected goals against per hour among centers too. The Wild have witnessed him break out this season and bring his offensive game to the next level. He is still playing elite defensively, but he has brought his offensive game to the next level. The Wild don’t have much depth down the middle, despite a draft-day steal in Rossi, so keeping a young defensive center is crucial for the future.
F – Jordan Greenway
The Wild have witnessed Jordan Greenway finally breakout this season. He looks like a completely different player poised to be a top-six winger. Similar to Eriksson Ek, he’s been a strong defensive forward lacking offensively until now. The 24-year-old winger has three goals, 12 assists, and 15 points so far this season. He’s molding himself into a strong two-way winger. The Wild also get the physicality element out of him, too. Greenway has forced the Wild’s hand with his strong season so far and will ultimately be protected.
F – Marcus Foligno
The Wild re-signed Foligno to a three-year contract that pays him $3.1 million annually. It will keep him in Minnesota through the 2023-24 season. He is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL and a phenomenal forechecker. He also brings the grit and physicality elements the Wild have lacked. He had 11 goals, 14 assists, and a career-high 25 points last season.
So far this season, he’s on the verge of a career year. He already has six goals, five assists, and 11 points in 17 games. He’s been a strong two-way presence and has been very physical with a team-leading 45 hits. There is no doubt he will be protected.
F – Ryan Hartman
Ryan Hartman was acquired through free-agency by former Minnesota Wild GM Paul Fenton. It was a phenomenal addition and he has exceeded all expectations with the Wild. He’s been a strong bottom-six forward, specifically defensively. So far this season, the 26-year-old winger has three goals, six assists, and nine points in 19 games. While he certainly shouldn’t be protected, it will depend if the Wild can afford to pay him his next contract since he is arbitration-eligible.
D – Ryan Suter (NMC)
Suter still has four years remaining on the massive contract he signed along with Parise after this season. His game is still strong and he’s a very good veteran presence on the Wild’s blue line. Likewise, he is a power-play specialist and provides defensive stability. He can’t be taken because he has an NMC.
D – Jared Spurgeon (NMC)
Spurgeon is playing his first season of his newly signed seven-year contract extension that keeps him in Minnesota through the 2026-27 season. He truly is the ideal NHL defenseman. He’s an elite two-way force and does all the little things right.
He is a top-10 defenseman in the NHL and it is no surprise the Wild locked him up for the future. He’s a smooth skater and is always in the right positioning which is one of his biggest qualities. He has a full NMC, which prohibits him from being taken.
D – Jonas Brodin (NMC)
Brodin is arguably the best defensive defenseman in the NHL. He ranked second among all NHL defensemen in even-strength defense last season. Furthermore, he ranked first among all NHL defensemen in expected goals against per hour last season. He just signed a seven-year contract extension with a full NMC, which means he will not be available for Seattle to select in the draft. It wouldn’t matter anyways because the Wild would protect him regardless. Brodin is a type of player that every team would dream to have.
G – Kaapo Kahkonen
Kahkonen won the goaltender of the year award in the AHL in 2019-20. He looks to be the Wild’s goaltending future and has displayed that so far this season. He has a .915 save percentage in 12 games this season. He provides the Wild a calming presence between the pipes and has already displayed he can be a legitimate NHL starter.
Replacing Hartman: Making the Case For the Final Spot
One interesting facet for the Wild in the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft is to figure out what to do about Hartman. There is no doubt that he would be one of the protected forwards, but the issue is that he is arbitration-eligible this summer and needs a contract extension. After extending Foligno, the Wild will have to decide if they can afford to re-sign Hartman knowing it will be a more lucrative contract assuming it goes to arbitration. The Wild have three key players they need to re-sign this summer including Kaprizov, Fiala, and Eriksson Ek.
If the Wild ultimately decide to expose Hartman because his next contract will be too expensive, there are a couple different options for the final forward protection spot. The front runner for that spot as of now would be rookie Nico Sturm who has had a strong start to the season despite his lack of point production. Another option is Victor Rask who has had a pleasant start to the season.
The other element to think about is that the Wild have Marcus Johansson, Nick Bjugstad, and Nick Bonino all on the final years of their contracts. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them all depart after underwhelming seasons, which means the Wild are likely going to have to find a player in free agency. If Matt Dumba gets moved before then, there is a strong possibility that a center or forward is part of the return. Either of these situations could produce the final forward protection spot if the Wild were to expose Hartman.
What Do the Wild Do About Matt Dumba?
The truth is that it doesn’t make sense for the Wild to protect defenseman Matt Dumba. They already have Calen Addison in the pipeline and there is a good chance that he makes the roster next season out of training camp. The 20-year-old defensive prospect makes Dumba expendable. They, of course, don’t want to lose the polarizing defenseman for nothing, but it doesn’t justify exposing Jordan Greenway who has legitimate top-six upside.
Even if the Wild can’t get a top-six center in return for Dumba, they should trade him before the Seattle Expansion Draft. The 26-year-old right-shot defenseman with offensive upside is not a player that should be exposed. The worst case scenario is the Wild trade Dumba in a trade with futures rather than getting a center in return. Given Dumba’s age, contract term, and offensive upside, the Wild should at minimum get a first-round pick and top forward prospect in return.
The Verdict: Who Does Seattle Take?
The notably exposed players would include Dumba (D), Johansson (F), Bonino (F), Bjugstad (F), Rask (F), Carson Soucy (D) and Cam Talbot (G).
Assuming Matt Dumba is traded before the Seattle Expansion Draft in order to protect Greenway, I think Carson Soucy is the logical option for Seattle to select. Soucy was a very big surprise in the 2019-20 season. The 26-year-old defenseman recorded seven goals, seven assists, and 14 points in 55 games during his rookie season with the Wild. He averaged just over 15 minutes on the third pair, but he has second-pairing upside and could be a reliable option for Seattle.
It also might attract Seattle that he has two years remaining at $2.75 million annually. Before Soucy signed his three-year extension, there were a lot of teams that were interested in him. The former fifth-round pick is known for his strong defensive play but can be an offensive contributor too.
I think his term, affordability, and versatility will be three factors that will catch Seattle’s eyes. He would be a great addition to Seattle’s defensive core and could help for years to come.
All Data and Information Via Evolving-Hockey, CapFriendly and Hockey-Reference
Aaron Heckmann is a journalism & broadcasting student. He covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage’s 10krinks. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.