The NHL trade deadline is quickly approaching on March 21, and the Minnesota Wild could be among the teams looking to make a deal over the next month or so. The Wild currently sit second in the Central Division, 11 points back of the first-place Colorado Avalanche with three games in hand. While that’s a fairly big deficit to make up, anything can happen in the world of sports, especially if Minnesota can find some help via the trade market.
One team that general manager Bill Guerin might want to forge a deal with is the Ottawa Senators. Even though the Senators have several young, promising players in their system, they’re still a ways away from being a contending team and will likely be sellers at this year’s deadline. Taking that into account, there are certainly a few players under Ottawa’s control that could help Minnesota go on a potentially deep playoff run.
Here’s a look at three Senators players that the Wild should target ahead of the trade deadline.
1. Nick Paul
A pending unrestricted free agent, Nick Paul was open to signing an extension with the Senators in January. However, that still hasn’t come to fruition, and it’s looking like the 26-year-old could be moved at the deadline. If that’s the case, Guerin should do what he can to acquire him from Ottawa as soon as possible.
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Paul has been a consistent bottom-six player over the last few seasons. He had exactly 20 points in each of the two previous campaigns and has 15 points in 46 games in the 2021-22 season. Aside from the occasional offensive contribution, the Mississauga, Ontario native isn’t one to shy away from the physical aspects of the game, tallying 55 hits and 33 blocked shots while averaging a career-high 17:24 time on ice (TOI).
Bringing in Paul won’t instantly turn the Wild into a guaranteed Stanley Cup winner, but he can give them extra depth to help with a deep playoff run. Minnesota has been bit by the injury bug this season, and everyone knows the importance of a healthy roster come the postseason. Paul’s versatility to play multiple forward positions makes him an even more attractive option for whenever an injury arises.
It likely won’t cost too much to get the job done. Paul’s cap hit for the season is only $1.35 million, so Minnesota doesn’t need to offload a big contract to make the salaries match. While the Wild don’t own any major trade pieces and don’t have many excess prospects, a second or third-round pick plus a future selection could be enough to get the job done. Many teams will likely call Senators general manager Pierre Dorion to inquire about Paul, so it’d be wiser for Guerin to pull off a deal sooner than later.
2. Chris Tierney
One position that the Wild could use more depth is at center. Yes, Ryan Hartman is having a breakout season, and Frederick Gaudreau has been playing some great hockey recently, but fans might be unsure if that latter can maintain that production for the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.
There’s also Joel Eriksson Ek, and while he’s playing well this season too, his development didn’t take as big of a jump as management had hoped. Mix in the fact that Minnesota’s centers have battled injury throughout the campaign, and it’s easy to see why someone like Chris Tierney could help the situation.
Senators fans have grown frustrated with Tierney over recent seasons. After a 48-point campaign in his first season in 2018-19, his production has decreased with each passing year. Tierney is in the last year of his contract, and with a $3.5 million cap hit, he could be attractive for Guerin and the Wild.
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Even if his production isn’t what it once was, Tierney still has 14 points in 40 games on a Senators team that spent most of the first half of the campaign in the NHL’s basement. His advanced stats also show that a change in scenery could help him rebound. His 0.6 goals per 60 minutes is the highest rating he’s had since becoming a Senator, and his 52.4 percent Corsi rating is also the best of his career.
It might only take a couple of draft picks to pry Tierney away from the Senators after the season he’s had. Minnesota might also be able to convince Ottawa to retain some of his salary, though that might cost a lower-tier prospect like former second-round pick Marat Khusnutdinov.
3. Zach Sanford
The Senators acquired rugged forward Zach Sanford from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Logan Brown and a fourth-round back in September 2021. The hope was for Sanford to get back to his 2019-20 production level, which saw him average 0.28 goals per game (or 22 goals in an 82-game schedule). Unfortunately, the 27-year-old veteran has failed to meet expectations and could be out the door ahead of the trade deadline due to him becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
With that said, there are reasons that the Wild should inquire about him. For starters, Sanford fits in perfectly on Minnesota penalty kill whenever he’s needed. He has a good mix of grit and skill that’s beneficial on the man advantage, resulting in his teams boasting a .923 save percentage (SV%) when he’s killed a penalty over the last four seasons.
Sanford is also the type of depth player who can do it all for the Wild. Whether they need him to stick to the two bottom lines or move up occasionally due to injury, he’s more than comfortable handling the task on his best nights. He also isn’t afraid to throw the body around judging by his 99 hits, while his 38 blocked shots prove that he’s willing to put himself in harm’s way for the benefit of his teammates.
Another positive is that his even-strength goals and points per 60 minutes (0.8 and 1.3, respectively) are improvements over last year’s rates. Playing for a contender like the Wild could continue that trend, and it isn’t unfathomable to imagine him bouncing back to his 2019-20 production under head coach Dean Evason. Sanford’s cap hit is also only $2 million, which makes him affordable both in terms of finances and trade value. It won’t cost Guerin that much at all to add some much needed-depth, especially for a player with a Stanley Cup ring.
At the end of the day, Guerin made it clear last year that he didn’t want to go all out at the trade deadline, and that’ll likely be the case again this season. Fortunately, the Senators have some great, cheaper options that could help the Wild go on a deep playoff run. Minnesota has a road game scheduled against Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 22, which will give Guerin and co. a great opportunity to scout ahead of a potential trade.