Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin may have just perfectly executed a retool on the fly. The acquisitions of Nick Bjugstad from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Marcus Johansson from the Buffalo Sabres, and Nick Bonino from the Nashville Predators could change the landscape of the Wild’s near future. It could change the team’s perspective on the NHL trade deadline, plans for the Seattle Expansion Draft, and the outlook of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
The Wild are now set to utilize the trade deadline to fast-forward the retool. All three players came to Minnesota because they needed a change of scenery. Likewise, they all are on the last season of their respective deals and could be among the assets the Wild can pitch at the trade deadline to contenders.
The players themselves could dictate the Wild’s plans as well, depending on their level of play. If the change of scenery benefits them and leads to a productive season, they could be valuable assets at the deadline. Eric Staal resurrected his career in Minnesota, so never say never. If the Wild have incoming calls that involve draft picks at the deadline, it would be hard for them to pass.
The Wild have enough depth that they could afford to sell at the deadline and still attempt to make a playoff run. This next season is a transition from a retool to the beginning of the team’s next window. Guerin has been fixing the chaos that former GM Paul Fenton left after his dismissal.
It is very important that the Wild weaponize their offseason deals in the form of cap space, roster flexibility, and assets. They already hold two first-round picks in next year’s NHL Draft. If the Wild could garner additional selections, it would significantly progress their retool.
Selling At the Deadline
The Wild selling at the deadline will be heavily dependent on where they’re located in the standings. They may be able to sell at the deadline and still compete for a playoff spot courtesy of their superior defensive core and extensive depth.
There are still several unanswered questions about next year’s deadline and what the market will be like. The demand for players is also in question, but there is no doubt the Wild could accumulate several more high round selections in next year’s NHL Draft.
If the Wild were to retain the maximum 50 percent of their respective cap hits, it would make Johansson, Bonino, and Bjugstad affordable. This could catch the other team’s eyes. This all still depends on the Wild’s position and how the players perform up to the deadline.
All three players would be around $2 million or lower which would be extremely desirable for a team that lacks the cap space but would like to add several more depth pieces ahead of the playoffs.
Weaponizing Cap Space
The Wild have an opportunity to weaponize their cap space. The departures of Bjugstad, Johansson, and Bonino will leave the Wild with an abundance of cap space that can be utilized for the future. The three of them combined have a cap hit of $10.65 million. While it remains possible that one or all could re-sign, it is highly unlikely that Guerin doesn’t take advantage of deals at the deadline.
He has clearly displayed the desire to accumulate draft picks, which was evident in the draft-day trade that sent Luke Kunin to Nashville in order to move up in the draft. The departures will allow the Wild to allocate the money elsewhere while also adding draft capital that benefits their prospect pipeline and therefore, their future.
The Wild have several high-profile players and depth players to extend next summer. Both Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov will be restricted free agents and will be looking for an extension. They will also have to extend Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, and Joel Eriksson Ek.
It is no secret the Wild lack a No. 1 center, so using this cap space for that positional need is paramount. While Guerin is probably setting himself up to have more cap space for extensions, he could find a No. 1 center via trade or free agency. The free agency pool is dry at center next summer in terms of top-six centers, but there are several strong options including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Phillip Danault. He could use this cap space to strike a deal with a counterpart. Matt Dumba would likely be apart of a package for a center via trade.
Roster Flexibility & Preparing For The Future
If the Wild do indeed move the three newcomers — Johansson, Bonino, and Bjugstad — they will have a lot of roster flexibility going into the 2021 offseason. This opens up room for a variety of different moves including depth signings from free agency and bringing youngsters up from the Iowa Wild like Nico Sturm who likely lost his roster spot next season with the newest acquisitions this offseason.
The Wild should be very well-equipped for next year’s NHL Entry Draft. They can continue to stockpile assets at this year’s deadline and help prepare for a very strong roster in the 2021-22 season that will hopefully have the Wild hosting the Winter Classic, which was recently postponed due to COVID-19.
Aaron Heckmann covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.