Next 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 thus far, which includes the NHL Entry Draft, free agency, and the trade market. 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 is 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 to 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.
Who Should the Wild Protect in the Upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft?
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. Likewise, there are many different elements in the lengthy process that need to be evaluated.
Everything points to Matt Dumba not being traded this offseason and that he will play for the Wild next season. This changes the landscape of the Wild’s protection list plan as they are more likely to go the route of protecting eight skaters versus the standard seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender.
It is important to note that all of the Wild’s top prospects are exempt including Kirill Kaprizov, Marco Rossi, Adam Beckman, Calden Addison, and Alexander Kohovanov among others.
F – Zach Parise (NMC)
Parise’s no-movement clause 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 this year. 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 this season, which is essential for the veteran with an injury-riddled past.
F – Mats Zuccarello (NMC)
This was former Wild general manager Paul Fenton’s free-agent splash. He signed Zuccarello to a five-year contract extension. Similar to Parise, he can’t be taken in the draft due to his no-movement clause. 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.
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 Wild. 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.”
F – Joel Eriksson Ek
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.
He is similar to Anthony Cirelli, but he has less offensive ability. The Wild don’t have much depth down the middle, despite a draft-day steal in Marco Rossi, so keeping a young defensive center is crucial for the future.
D – Ryan Suter (NMC)
Suter still has five years remaining on the massive contract he signed along with Parise. 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 a no-movement clause.
D – Jared Spurgeon (NMC)
Spurgeon signed a seven-year contract extension that will come into effect next season. He just came off another impressive year on the first pair with Suter. According to Evolving-Hockey, he has led the Wild in wins above replacement over the past two seasons. He is not able to be taken due to his no-movement clause.
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. Furthermore, he ranked first among all NHL defensemen in expected goals against per hour. He just signed a seven-year contract extension with a full no-movement clause which means he will not be available for Seattle to select in the draft.
D – Matt Dumba
Dumba still hasn’t fully recovered from his pectoral injury that happened two years ago this December. It is easy to notice that he isn’t the same Dumba that led all NHL defensemen in goals before his season-ending injury. The Wild haven’t been able to facilitate a trade because of the underwhelming offers. While all of this is true, the 26-year-old has immense potential. According to Evolving-Hockey, he was above average in goals for per average and expected goals for per hour. He is also a right-shot defenseman, which is usually a hot commodity on the market, so the Wild could always trade him after the draft.
G – Kaapo Kahkonen
Kahkonen won the goaltender of the year award in the AHL and could be the Wild’s goaltending solution for the future. He was called up to the NHL and played five games with the Wild this season. He went 3-1-1 and posted a .913 save percentage. He signed a two-year contract extension — the second season will be a one-way contract where he will split time with Cam Talbot. He should play a considerable number of games in the 2021-22 season.
Assuming no Wild veterans waive their no-movement clause for the purpose of the Expansion Draft, it is a no brainer who the Wild will protect if they go the eight skaters route displayed above. The only question is whether they will take this option or the traditional seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender. There is an argument for either way.
There is also a possibility that the Wild trade Matt Dumba at the NHL Trade Deadline or right before the Seattle Expansion Draft in order to protect those seven forwards. If the Wild were to go that route, the team would likely protect Jordan Greenway, Marcus Foligno, and Ryan Hartman unless they were to get a center for Dumba.
Who Does Seattle Take?
The notably exposed players would include Greenway (F), Foligno (F), Hartman (F), Marcus Johansson (F), Nick Bonino (F), Nick Bjugstad (F), Victor Rask (F), Carson Soucy (D) and Cam Talbot (G).
There are a ton of possibilities, but I think Seattle selects Soucy or Greenway. It also depends on how other teams construct their protection lists. For Seattle, it will depend on position and organizational need.
Soucy was a very big surprise this 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.
Soucy just signed a three-year contract extension that is worth $2.75 million annually. The NHLer surprised everyone with a fantastic training camp that helped get a spot in the starting lineup. He is a solid third-pairing defenseman with possible top-four upside.
The former fifth-round pick is more known for his defensive play. He was above average in the 2019-20 campaign in expected goals against per hour and Corsi against per hour. He was strong in suppressing shot quality and shot quantity.
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. While Soucy is a very good possibility, I think Greenway is the other player to watch that has just as good of a chance of being taken.
Similar to Soucy, he just signed a multi-year extension. His two-year contract is worth $2.1 million annually. Greenway’s stature could be a reason he is selected — likewise, he had a career-high 95 hits. The 23-year-old notched eight goals, 20 assists, and 28 points in 67 games in the 2019-20 campaign.
There is more to Greenway than just his size; he is a superior defensive player and was one of the best defensive players in the league among forwards. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him taken given his size, and he is defensively sound.
Greenway had a career year in 2019-20 when examining his underlying numbers. He was above average offensively and defensively despite it not translating to the score sheet. He was notably above average in Corsi for and Corsi against. He is a good puck possession player who is able to control and suppress shots while he is on the ice. Furthermore, he was above average in expected goals against per hour. He did a superior job at controlling scoring chances, specifically high-quality shots.
These two players are the best options for Seattle to take in the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft. There are so many logistics still involved and it will depend on which route the Wild choose to go. The most important thing is that they already struck out once, don’t let it happen a second time.
All Data and Information Via Evolving-Hockey, CapFriendly and Hockey-Reference