The Minnesota Wild are fighting for their playoff lives in the Western Conference as they are trying to stave off teams such as Phoenix, Calgary, Colorado, and Dallas who are hot on the Wild’s heels. With over $10 million in cap space and phenomenal prospects such as Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, and Jonas Brodin to name a few, the Minnesota Wild will be buyers and sellers when the deadline rolls around.
What do the Wild need to stay in contention in the West?
1.) A Top-Four Defenseman
It is no secret that the Wild have been struggling without Brent Burns after an off-season trade sent the top d-man to San Jose. In the early part of the season it looked as though Marco Scandella, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, and Jared Spurgeon would be able to shoulder the defensive work and provide a patch-work solution to the loss of Burns.
However, after the first half of the 2011-2012 NHL season came to a close, the wheels came off the Wild’s defense. While Marek Zidlicky regressed, Marco Scandella was demoted to the Houston Aeros of the AHL and it was illustrated that Zanon’s main purpose on any team would be as a skilled shot blocker. Even though Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon have been holding down the fort for the Wild recently, they can’t be expected to continue their solid play for prolonged periods of time.
Some defensemen that the Wild may look toward acquiring are the Lightning’s Pavel Kubina, Carlo Colaiacovo of the St. Louis Blues, Hal Gill of the Canadiens, Bryan Allen of the Carolina Hurricanes, or maybe even Kyle Quincey of the Avalanche.
2.) Top-Six Forward(s) (Left Wing/Right Wing)
The continued absence of Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard leaves the Wild without two of their top six forwards. Mikko Koivu’s return to the lineup will be greatly welcomed, but the team needs help at left and right wing as players such as Nick Johnson and Carson McMillan cannot be counted on for consistent offensive production.
Some players that the Wild might consider targeting are Tuomo Ruutu of the Hurricanes, Ryan Malone of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Ales Hemsky of the Edmonton Oilers. All of these players can provide a boost to the Minnesota lineup as they would come with experience and would certainly be upgrades to newbies such as McMillan and Johnson.
However, the Minnesota Wild will probably try to refrain from making any big splashes that can have an adverse impact on the team’s future.
First and foremost, the return of Mikko Koivu will add some much needed depth to the Wild as the Finnish center is the epitome of the player that fits into head coach Mike Yeo’s system. Whoever the Wild decide to target must be able to play solid two-way hockey as the team looks for offensive contributions from the whole lineup rather than relying on one player to carry the team’s offense.
On the other hand, GM Chuck Fletcher has been diligently stockpiling the Minnesota Wild with young and promising talent. Names such as Granlund, Coyle, Zucker, Phillips, Brodin, Larsson, and Gustafsson are among the players that are highly regarded as the future of the Minnesota Wild and are highly valued by the organization. Dealing any one of the aforementioned prospects will probably cost the GM on the other line a pretty penny.
Any Minnesota Wild prospect that participated in the World Junior Hockey Championship will be a high commodity and teams looking to acquire any of the Wild’s six contestants should net Minnesota a juicy return. It is unlikely that Chuck Fletcher will trade away up and coming talent such as Granlund, Coyle, and Brodin, but stranger things have happened.
Will certain players be a tough sell for Minnesota?
1.) Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky might be tough sells for the Minnesota Wild as the two players have shown diminished production this season. Zanon excels at shot blocking but isn’t really much of a threat elsewhere. In contrast, Marek Zidlicky is 35 years old and has one year at $4 Million left on his contract, something that might make him extremely unattractive to teams, especially with his decreased offensive production and sub-par +/- rating. Zanon and Zidlicky are two players that the Wild will most likely shop at this year’s deadline, but receiving anything but a low-end draft pick for either of the two should not be expected.
2.) On the other hand, Josh Harding might not be that tough of a sell for the Wild. Harding will undoubtedly garner a lot of interest from teams looking to strengthen their goaltending situation. While Harding might be a hot topic for other teams, it is unknown if the Wild will be willing to part ways with Harding. Matt Hackett has gotten NHL games under his belt in some pressure packed situations, but he has only contributed a small sample size which makes it hard to judge what he could possibly bring by backing up Niklas Backstrom.
Niklas Backstrom has delivered solid play during his tenure in Minnesota, but there are questions surrounding his long-term health, especially since he suffered another groin injury this season. Trading away Josh Harding would give Backstrom an increased workload for the rest of the season and with the Wild fighting for playoff positioning it might not be the best idea to disband a goalie tandem that has kept Minnesota afloat for most of the season.
With the NHL Trade Deadline less than three weeks away, the Minnesota Wild will probably be looking to get rid of players such as Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon. The Wild will most likely be in the market for a top four defenseman or a top six forward as the loss of Brent Burns and the continued absence of Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard have decimated the team’s lineup. While it is unlikely that the Wild dip into their prospect pool and shop some of their young talent, one can surmise that the Wild will make some sort of a move that will bolster the team’s defense of offense.