ST. PAUL -- There might not be a team in the NHL more impacted by the expansion draft than the Wild. They lost two good players in 2017 when the Vegas Golden Knights came into the league, and they will lose at least one good player on July 21 when the Seattle Kraken fill out their roster.
Will current general manager Bill Guerin make a side deal to dictate which player the Wild lose in the expansion draft?
That might not be the best idea. Remember, former general manager Chuck Fletcher traded top prospect Alex Tuch to the Golden Knights under the guise that they selected Erik Haula in the expansion draft. Though that accomplished the goal of keeping the Wild’s blue line intact, Haula went on to score 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) for the Golden Knights in their inaugural season, and Tuch has developed into a face of the Vegas franchise.
Maybe the Wild should simply accept the fact they are going to lose one good player this time around. Better than making it worse by losing two.
Logistically, there are a couple of options for the Wild before they have to submit their protection list on July 17. They can 1) protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or 2) protect eight skaters and one goaltender.
There are pros and cons to both options.
If the Wild choose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, for example, they would essentially guarantee that gritty wingers Marcus Foligno or Jordan Greenway are on their roster next season. But that would leave star defenseman Matt Dumba exposed since fellow defensemen Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin have no-movement clauses in their contracts, and thus, need to be protected by rule.
These are the types of things Guerin and the rest of the Wild front office will be discussing at length this week. In the meantime, here’s a list of players the Wild could lose in the expansion draft, ranked in order of which would hurt the most.
5. Nico Sturm
On the surface, losing Nico Sturm might not seem like a big deal. He’s been a depth player throughout his career to this point, and while he boasts top-notch speed, his hands leave something to be desired. The reason this would hurt is because Sturm projects as a solid two-way player moving forward. He already has proven capable of playing a shutdown role and he flashed a scoring touch last season with 11 goals. Would he take the next step if given a bigger role on the Kraken? It’s certainly possible.
4. Jordan Greenway
This would hurt because Greenway looked to take the next step last season. He finally embraced his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame and ended up leading the Wild with 26 assists. But Greenway’s consistency was still somewhat of an issue, as it has been throughout his career. Maybe the Wild would feel comfortable rolling the dice and leaving him exposed if it meant keeping someone else safe in the expansion draft. That would be a risky move to say considering Greenway is only 24 years old and looks like he has a lot of room to grow.
3. Either goaltender
No matter what the Wild do, they are going to have to expose either starting goaltender Cam Talbot or backup Kaapo Kahkonen. On the surface, protecting Talbot seems like a no-brainer because, well, he’s much better. But exposing Kahkonen might end up being a mistake because of his potential. He’s still only 24 years old, and while he struggled mightily down the stretch last season, there’s reason to believe he will be a No. 1 goaltender down the road. If Kahkonen is available in the expansion draft, the Kraken might decide he’s someone worth building around as they form their first roster. On the flip side, if the Wild chose to protect Kahkonen, there’s a very good chance the Kraken would take Talbot, an established veteran who would provide a sense of calm in the crease.
2. Marcus Foligno
This would hurt the Wild off the ice more than on the ice because Foligno might be the most popular player on the team. He has become a vocal leader in the locker room — he was a dark horse to be named captain last offseason — and is more than willing to drop the gloves at a moment’s notice to stick up for a teammate. Add in the fact that Foligno has developed into a solid two-way player on the ice, and losing him would be devastating to the overall makeup of the Wild. If he is left exposed for some reason, it’s not hard to imagine the Kraken selecting him and making him the first captain in franchise history.
1. Matt Dumba
This was always going to be the answer as Dumba has more potential than any other player on this list. His slap shot alone unlocks a different dimension in the Wild offense, and that doesn’t even take into account his skating ability. It’s also worth noting that Dumba has steadily improved his defensive skills over the course of his career. While it feels like he’s been in the NHL forever, Dumba is only 26 years old, meaning he still has the better part of a decade to grow into a star. If Dumba is left exposed, and the Kraken decide to take him, he would instantly become a top-tier player on that team. How would the Wild feel watching a dynamic blue liner star for another team? Does the name Brent Burns ring a bell?