Bill Guerin has dramatically changed the Minnesota Wild roster at the trade deadline and this offseason and is setting the table for an active offseason next year.
Since his first significant trade, Bill Guerin has been building this Minnesota Wild franchise for the future. This offseason he reinforced that moving Eric Staal, neglecting to resign Mikko Koivu, and moving youthful talent for expiring contracts and additional draft picks.
From last year’s roster, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Luke Kunin, Ryan Donato, Alex Galchenyuk, Devan Dubnyk, and Nick Seeler are all on new teams. Nick Seeler frankly lost his job to Carson Soucy, and while he was a fan favorite, he wasn’t that significant to the team. However, everyone else, in different capacities, were fairly important for the team.
Of the more established Minnesota Wild veterans, Eric Staal had 19 goals and 28 assists for 47 points, 3rd most on the team. Jason Zucker, who was traded mid-season, still managed to score 14 goals and 15 assists for 29 points in 45 games with Minnesota, 8th highest on the team. Devan Dubnyk was spectacular early in his time with Minnesota, but his play continually declined over the last several seasons.
The Captain, Mikko Koivu was relegated to the 4th line, but his contribution to the Wild franchise is well documented. He was told he wouldn’t be brought back as a player, and he left in Free Agency. For the first time in his NHL career, Mikko Koivu will don a jersey that doesn’t have the Minnesota Wild logo.
Of the shorter tenured Wild players, Ryan Donato was one of the most efficient scoring forwards on the roster, with 14 goals only averaging 10:38 of ice time. Galchenyuk averaged .5 pts per game with Minnesota in the regular season and seemingly played himself into a new contract. His postseason play was less than spectacular.
The most surprising move, Luke Kunin was traded this offseason, despite a career year. With 15 goals and 16 assists, he had 31 points. Advanced stats show that when Luke Kunin was on the ice, the Wild were consistently outshot, but did it not feel like that was almost intentional?
Kunin consistently played with Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek or Foligno and Eriksson Ek, both stout defensive lines, designed to limit dangerous shots and whether the storm.
So why all this change? Bill Guerin has seen and knows success. He was a part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams as a player and two Stanley Cup-winning teams as a member of the Front Office. Wild fans had been calling for significant change for some time. They’re tired of the same song and dance, first-round exits, and mediocrity. Guerin is building this team to surpass that.
Let’s look at his moves.
The writing was on the wall when Paul Fenton signed Mats Zuccarello. Kirill Kaprizov was in the final year of his KHL contract and was eligible to sign with Minnesota after the contract expired. One winger had to go.
Guerin, knowing the Penguins prospect pool well because of his time in Pittsburgh’s front office, received a premium prospect in Calen Addison, an offensive-minded defenseman and a first-round draft pick. Despite a decent quasi-tryout with Minnesota in the regular season, it looks like the Wild won’t be retaining Galchenyuk. It seems he was acquired to balance the Cap Hit.
Bill Guerin, trading with Pittsburgh again, was willing to take on 50% of Nick Bjugstad’s $4.1M contract (Cap Hit of $2.05M for one season), essentially for free. Bjugstad has to play 70 games next season (who knows if we have a full season) or score 35 points for Pittsburgh to get the 7th round draft pick.
It isn’t like a 7th round draft pick hasn’t become a great NHLer before, but it’s incredibly rare. At the time, it was a rather puzzling acquisition, but the picture begins to come together when all is said and done.
The first trade not with Pittsburgh, Wild fans were shocked by this move. Staal had been one of the more productive forwards for several seasons and a locker room favorite (BEST OF THE YEAR) but was getting long into his career. Johansson signed fresh in Buffalo last season and had a disaster year, much like many Sabres players, but only had one year left on his contract.
This was the second expiring contract that Guerin acquired. Not yet a trend, but it’s something to keep a note of.
I’ve grouped the Donato and Dubnyk trade as both happened the same day and with San Jose.
The Wild goaltending last season was atrocious. Various analytical models had the Wild goaltending tandem as the worst in the league. Guerin knew that had to be addressed. Shipping Dubnyk out at 50% salary retained and a 7th round pick two drafts from now, for a 5th in the next draft, is perfectly fine. Dubnyk’s contract expires after next season and isn’t a burden for one year.
It was disappointing to see Ryan Donato leave. He was an efficient forward for the Wild who simply got buried in the lineup. Just like how the Wild had to trade Zucker to create space for Kirill Kaprizov due to the Mats Zuccarello signing, Ryan Donato fell victim to the depth chart. His value wasn’t being utilized here, and rather than have his cap hit burden the Wild, Guerin got draft capital for him.
On the second day of the draft, Luke Kunin was dealt for Nick Bonino and two draft picks in the 2020 draft: a 2nd round pick and a 3rd round pick. Luke Kunin was due for a new contract and rather than commit to money and term to a player who just had his best season in his career. Guerin shipped Kunin with a 4th round pick for a package that included Nick Bonino.
Nick Bonino makes $4.1M for only one more season. Now it’s a trend. Guerin has several players on expiring contracts this upcoming season which opens up ample cap space for the next offseason. With the RFAs and UFAs needing new contracts next season, plus the Dubnyk salary retention expiring, the Wild will have just under $26M in cap space to work with.
Of the RFA contracts expiring, Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov will almost certainly be re-signed, Joel Eriksson Ek will likely be re-signed unless Guerin is absolutely wowed in a trade for the young center. Ryan Hartman might be allowed to walk, who knows.
Of the UFA contracts, much less is certain. Marcus Johansson, Nick Bonino, Marcus Foligno, Nick Bjugstad, Greg Pateryn, and Brad Hunt all expire. As of now, the only player I truly expect would get a new contract with the Minnesota Wild would be Marcus Foligno. Is there a situation that Bill Guerin received several expiring contracts to fire sell at the deadline next season if the Wild are struggling?
More from Gone Puck Wild
- Defenseman Matt Dumba signs one-year contract with Arizona
- Minnesota Wild reach agreement with Brandon Duhaime on one-year contract
- Minnesota Wild receive mixed grades for picks in NHL Entry Draft
- Minnesota Wild draft heavy on centers and home-state selections
- Minnesota Wild open regular season at home against Stanley Cup Finalist
The rental market isn’t overwhelming. Taylor Hall could be had if the Sabres are struggling again. Otherwise, most everyone else has very heavy cap hits, trade protection, or on contending teams. New Jersey could have some options with Ryan Murray and Kyle Palmeri.
There could even be a situation that the Wild trade Foligno at the deadline with full intention to sign him in the offseason, much like what was rumored to occur if Paul Fenton had traded Eric Staal to the Boston Bruins.
Bill Guerin has given himself ample runway to be able to re-sign the RFAs Kevin Fiala, Kirill Kaprizov, and Joel Eriksson Ek, and the UFA Marcus Foligno if Guerin wants to, but also sufficient cap space to take on big contracts in a trade or make a splash in free agency.
With a starting goalie now signed for the next three seasons, the defense secured for the long haul, the real need is in the forward group, specifically the Center group. There aren’t world-beating UFA Centers available in the next offseason, but who knows where teams are? Maybe the Wild can be active in big trades.
Florida GM Bill Zito says he won’t move Barkov this season, who knows where they’re at next year? The same could be said for Buffalo’s Jack Eichel. He desperately wants to win now, can the Sabres deliver? If Guerin is willing to be extra patient, Mika Zibanejad expires in 2021-2022, so does Sean Couturier.
Bill Guerin seems to be preparing to acquire ample draft capital and have plenty of cap space available. It might not be explicitly labeled a rebuild, but Guerin has certainly restructured the trajectory of the Wild. Now, he has to utilize it properly.