Dane Mizutani: Wild GM Bill Guerin needs to take another big swing at trade deadline
Last year, the team acquired goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. What will they do this season?
ST. PAUL -- It’s been roughly a year since Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin took his biggest swing to date.
On March 21, 2022, the Wild were preparing for an important game against the Vegas Golden Knights when Guerin made a blockbuster trade to acquire future hall of famer Marc-Andre Fleury from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.
As far as Guerin was concerned, the Wild were legitimate Stanley Cup contenders at the time, and Fleury’s presence both on and off the ice bolstered their chances of winning it all. A couple of months later, the Wild bowed to the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs.
Some might view Guerin’s aggressiveness as a misstep because of the end result. They’re wrong. Frankly, as long as Kirill Kaprizov is on the roster, the Wild should be doing everything in their power to compete for the Stanley Cup on an annual basis.
Which is why Guerin needs to take another big swing at some point before Friday’s trade deadline.
Though the skeptics have cautioned against trading away significant pieces because they don’t think the Wild can actually win the Stanley Cup this season, the counterpoint would be that the Western Conference appears to be as wide open as it has been in recent memory.
After falling out of the playoffs a couple of weeks ago, the Wild (32-21-6, 70 points) followed it up with a 5-1-2 stretch and suddenly find themselves within striking distance of both the Dallas Stars (30-16-12, 72 points) and the Winnipeg Jets (35-23-1, 71 points) in the Central Division. That’s how quickly things can change in the NHL, where consistency is extremely elusive.
The way the Wild have so impressively responded in the face of adversity should be enough to turn Guerin into a buyer this week. Patrick Kane? Timo Meier? Brock Boeser? All options should be considered, despite the fact that the asking price would almost certainly be exorbitant.
It’s worth noting that Kane and Meier are rentals, and thus, the Wild would likely lose them for nothing this offseason. As for Boeser, he has term left on his contract, which means the Wild would need to move some money around to be able to afford his $6.65 million cap hit for the foreseeable future.
None of those obstacles should deter the Wild from making a splash at the trade deadline, especially considering they have been banking cap space for much of this season for this very purpose.
If the past couple of weeks are any indication, the Wild have some of the pieces in place to succeed in the playoffs. They have been defending at a high level and have been getting stellar play from Fleury and Filip Gustavsson between the pipes.
The biggest problem for the Wild to this point, somewhat shockingly, has been putting the puck in the back of the net. After finishing among the best scoring teams in the league last season with 208 goals at 5-on-5, the Wild rank 30th this season with 96. Not ideal. Essentially, if an opposing team neutralizes Kaprizov, the Wild don’t have much of an answer.
Looking beyond Kaprizov, who leads the Wild with 68 points (34 goals, 34 assists), best bud Mats Zuccarello is the next highest scorer with 56 points (26 goals, 30 assists). That both players skate on the same line speaks to how top heavy the Wild are up front.
Now imagine adding someone like Kane, Meier, or Boeser to the mix. All have proven to be elite scorers throughout their respective careers. Not only would it help fortify the top half of the lineup, and, in turn, the bottom half of the lineup, it would help unlock Matt Boldy, who hasn’t been able to find a rhythm this season with 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists).
In the past, Guerin has gone on record saying he doesn’t want to move high draft picks or top prospects at the trade deadline. That could be an issue considering it would likely cost both a high draft pick and a top prospect to acquire Kane, Meier, or Boeser. It raises the question: Why should the Wild continue to build for the future when it wouldn’t take much for them to realistically contend in the present?
That’s something Guerin should be asking himself this week as he contemplates his biggest swing to date.
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