The Minnesota Wild were big buyers during the summer free agency period signing top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to huge contracts. Through 30 games of the 2013 NHL season Chuck Fletcher’s team have shown enough to suggest that the GM should be looking to add a little at the NHL trade deadline in just over one week’s time.
Minnesota hasn’t featured in the playoffs since the 2007-08 and won’t be interested in missing out for a fifth straight year after the summer’s big investment. The Wild are sitting pretty comfortably in the standings right now with 38 points. They are two points behind the Vancouver Canucks for the Northwest division lead with two games in hand and are six points clear of ninth place with 18 games left to play.
That six-point gap should be enough to spark Fletcher into making a move or two to improve the depth of this line-up. Depth could be crucial over a couple of very busy months at the end of the season and in a postseason where the Wild might have the opportunity to make a run.
The rumor mill has been very quiet when it comes to the Minnesota Wild over the past couple of weeks. It seems extremely unlikely that any of the team’s veteran pending free agents will be traded away, but no names have been significantly linked as acquisitions either. [Montreal Canadiens Trade Deadline: Who? What? Where?]
A cautious approach to this year’s NHL trade deadline is certainly justifiable from Fletcher’s perspective. He made a big long-term investment this summer, the team’s younger players are getting playing time and contributing right now, and the GM will have one eye on making sure his roster for next season is under the new salary cap.
However, it seems illogical to ignore the possibility of acquiring a rental or two to give the team a better chance of reaching the postseason and possibly enhancing their chances of making a run. The Wild seem to have the prospect and draft pick depth to play with after being ranked as having the NHL’s best prospect pool by Hockey Future’s Magazine.
Managing in the NHL is a constant balancing act between aggressively pursuing team needs and avoiding giving up too much that is going to damage the long-term plan for building the franchise. Fletcher hasn’t been shy about pursuing players aggressively in the offseason, but he hasn’t really been in a position to be aggressive at an NHL trade deadline before and it will be interesting to see how he approaches it.
Here’s a list of five players that ‘fit’ this Minnesota Wild roster. There were just two credentials considered for compiling this list. Firstly, will the player be a good addition to the line-up. Secondly, only players set to become free agents this summer were considered. It’s hard to imagine this team taking on another contract for the 2013-14 season.
Mark Streit or Lubomir Visnovsky
These two players count as one because they are essentially very similar acquisitions in terms of age, contract expiration and skill set. Ryan Suter is second on the team with 26 points and plays a crucial role starting the offense in transition and on the power-play.
However, besides Suter, the Wild haven’t received too much offense from their blue-line. Jared Spurgeon and Tom Gilbert each have just nine points.
Streit and Visnovsky both bring experience, offensive punch and power-play support. Streit has 16 points in 32 games, while Visnosky has nine points in 20 games. Both players should play better in a more focused defensive system and both players have been regular 50-point scorers regularly during their careers.
Streit or Visnovsky could help provide the offensive boost that the Wild probably still needs, they would add experience and will ease some of the ice time pressure on Suter.
Another way of looking at the Wild defense is to suggest that Suter, Gilbert and Spurgeon should handle offensive and power-play duties and the blue line would be better bolstered by the addition of defensive grit. This could also be a benefit if the likes of Streit and Visnovsky cost too much money.
O’Byrne is a physical defender who can effective defensively and on the penalty kill if used in the right situation. He would probably be an upgrade over Justin Falk or even Clayton Stoner in the short-term and at worst he adds depth for the playoff run.
O’Byrne is pretty cheap and there’s reason to believe that he might be available since he is the only blue liner on Colorado’s roster out of nine used so far in 2013 who will be a free agent this summer.
Lydman has fallen a little out of favor in Anaheim, at least in terms of ice time. The 35-year old certainly isn’t the player who was so important to the Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres from 2000-2010. Lydman has noticeably lost a step over the past two seasons and general his physical attributes have let him down.
Lydman could be pretty serviceable for the Minnesota Wild as a solid veteran blue liner on the bottom pairing. He would add experience to a defensive corps that doesn’t have many combined playoff games, he probably wouldn’t cost much in a trade and he is a pending free agent.
It may seem unlikely that Lydman would become available given the Ducks’ position in the Western conference standings, but it may just be the case that Lydman becomes the odd man out if GM Bob Murray decides to reconfigure his blue line before the NHL trade deadline.
The Columbus Blue Jackets may have given themselves enough hope of a playoff place to hang onto Vinny Prospal after 12 straight games with a point. They may even be planning on re-signing him for another season as they surprisingly did last year. Prospal clearly has some attachment to Columbus as a franchise.
However, if the 38-year old does become available then the Wild should seriously considering giving up a third round pick or equal value for his rental services. Prospal is an experienced player, who can help a power-play and is under-rated as a pretty useful complementary offensive piece.
The fact that Prospal is somehow lead the Blue Jackets in the 2013 season with nine goals and 18 points says a lot about how effective the veteran can be and still is.
The direction that the San Jose Sharks are likely to take with under-achieving and pending UFA Clowe is unclear. The physical winger has shown that he can bring a terrific all-round skill set and he has a pretty decent playoff record with 18 goals and 45 points in 68 playoff games.
San Jose shipped out Douglas Murray earlier this week and it seems that the Sharks are ready to start making moves as they try and solve their long-term under-performing issues.
Clowe would probably be the costliest of the players on the list in terms of trade price. However, at the age of 30, there is the possibility that he could figure into Minnesota’s longer-term plans, especially if they decide to use a compliance buyout on Dany Heatley this offseason. Clowe is the type of player that any team would like to have in its line-up. He brings intangibles, offensive punch and grit.
Based on the information available right now, it seems likely that the Wild will stand pat at the deadline and simply trust that they still make the playoffs. The NHL trade deadline marketplace remains unclear with so few teams, if any, completely out of contention for playoff spots. Still, the opportunity to add reasonably cheap experience and depth isn’t one that Fletcher should pass up too easily.