The Minnesota Wild shocked the hockey world when they announced that veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were both being bought out of the four years remaining on their identical contracts. The buyouts really do change the offseason as it affects not only a potential Matt Dumba trade but also provides expansion draft relief.
Now that Dumba will be protected in the upcoming expansion draft, Minnesota won’t be forced to trade him in order to avoid losing him for nothing. This gives the Wild much-needed leverage in a future deal. There is no doubt that there were teams interested in him, but Minnesota didn’t have any leverage as teams could point out the fact that Dumba wasn’t going to be protected. Now, they will have plenty of suitors for the defenseman, but they will hold the cards.
The reality is that Dumba will be traded at some point in the future. Whether it’s a deal for a center or to get some financial relief in a trade for futures (picks/prospects), the Wild won’t have the cap space to re-sign him when his contract is up following the 2022-23 season, especially with Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin being locked up long-term.
Perhaps Dumba remains on the team going into next season with the hope of a strong season that could elevate his trade value. The recent Duncan Keith trade speaks volumes as the Blackhawks were able to get a young defenseman and draft pick for an aging 37-year-old defenseman, who is visibly on the decline. The truth is that Dumba won’t be traded until there is an offer with fair compensation for his services.
Seattle Expansion Relief
The original belief was that the Wild were going to have an expansion draft dilemma. They were going to be forced to make a decision between protecting eight skaters (in order to protect Dumba) or the standard route of seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender (in order to protect forwards Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno). That has been altered as the buyouts now open up a protection slot at defense for Dumba.
Protected Forwards: Mats Zuccarello (NMC), Joel Eriksson Ek, Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman & Nico Sturm
Protected Defensemen: Jared Spurgeon (NMC), Jonas Brodin (NMC) & Matt Dumba
Protected Goalie: Cam Talbot
These buyouts now make it very clear who will be exposed. The Kraken will choose from Carson Soucy, Victor Rask, Nick Bjugstad, and whichever goaltender is exposed.
Should the Wild protect Talbot or Kahkonen?
This is the biggest question at hand because Kahkonen could possibly be the goalie of the future, but there is some legitimate doubt and concern whether he has the potential to be a starter. Some signs have indicated the team might not have confidence in the 24-year-old. He is one year removed from being named the AHL Goalie of the Year, yet he was never given a chance in the bubble despite goaltending being the obvious weakness of the team.
Another signal was when the Wild traded Jason Zucker to the Penguins last year. According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, Bill Guerin reportedly tried to acquire goaltender Tristian Jarry at some point in the original Zucker trade during his first season as GM (Examining the Wild’s options: What to do about a complicated goalie situation?, The Athletic, 08/24/2020). It’s hard to believe that happens if they really thought Kahkonen was the goalie of the future.
The fact is that Kahkonen has had growing pains and was below-average in his rookie season. It’s probably better to protect Talbot who had a strong season. Neither goalie will likely be picked by the Kraken as there are several better options at their disposal.
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The Wild were always going to lose a good player, so they’re in good shape. If Soucy is plucked by the Kraken, it would open up nearly $3 million in cap space, which is very significant given the financial landscape. His cap hit is a bit pricey for a third-pair defenseman on a team that has so much invested into their defensive core. Sure, it creates some concerns on the backend, but the organization will be leaning on their prospects anyways. If the Wild lose Kahkonen, I don’t think that’s the end of the world.
Here’s the biggest question – would the Kraken consider either taking on the final year of Victor Rask (plus an incentive) or Nick Bjugstad because the expansion draft is defensemen heavy, and there aren’t a lot of options down the middle? It sure will be interesting to see if anything of this nature could materialize.
There are definitely some good things that have come as a result of the buyouts, including more leverage in a future trade including Dumba, expansion relief, and cap space this summer. On the other hand, the financial commitment to pay two bought-out players for eight more seasons is a huge concern, especially with the cap not expecting to rise for several years.
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.