The Wild are just too deep to make this simple. Unless they’re crafty they’ll end up exposing at least one valuable forward as well as a quality defenseman, and they’re understandably the target of much trade talk as the expansion draft approaches.
Minnesota has eight regularly-used forwards eligible for the draft and three other RFAs – one their top scorer, another their fourth-best, and the last just .013 face-off success percentage points behind perennial league-leader Mikko Koivu.
Three have no movement clauses – Zach Parise, Koivu, and Jason Pominville. Ironically, Parise ($7.5M-plus) and Pominville ($5.6M) would be decent candidates to expose with their big cap hits and declining production. There have been rumors about a Pominville buyout, costing $8.7M in cap space spread over four years, and his 47-point 2016-17 departing.
The other five include 65-point comeback story Eric Staal, emerging power forward Charlie Coyle on the heels of a 56-point campaign, and Jason Zucker. Raised in Las Vegas he’d make a great expansion story but he also makes an effective left wing skating with Koivu and Mikael Granlund on their top scoring trio. Zucker’s 22 goals, 25 assists and 47 total points last year were all career highs.
Rounding out the group are aggressive right wing Chris Stewart who led the team with 94 PIM on top of 13 goals, and 6-5, 212-pound fourth-line center Tyler Graovac who had a difficult first extensive NHL season. Both will be exposed.
So that leaves six of eight ideally protected. They can add one more.
As for the RFAs, there’s too much talent at stake to risk losing either of them, Granlund or Nino Niederreiter, with inkless handshake agreements to ignore the Golden Knights’ riches. Center Erik Haula likely remains unsigned or goes exposed.
Granlund far surpassed career highs with 26 goals, 43 assists and 69 points, leading last year’s Wild in each category but goals, finishing second to Staal’s 28. Niederreiter’s 25 goals was third-best, and his eight power play goals was tops with Granlund’s seven coming in second. His 25 G, 32 A, 57 P line was all career highs. Niederreiter also led the team with 120 hits and is a possession metrics star.
Minnesota doesn’t want to lose either, particularly for nothing.
So who to expose out of those eight? I suppose Zucker, but… seriously? They have to figure out a way to get something for these guys instead of giving Vegas something big to keep them. Or buy out/beg Pominville.
This is the dilemma opponents keep calling Wild GM Chuck Fletcher about hoping for a desperate bargain deal. For now, their best strategy is to field offers and see if one floors them. Minnesota might include a coveted defenseman since their blue line crew faces a similar predicament.
Clearly they need to protect the maximum seven forwards. That leaves three defenseman spots. Top dog Ryan Suter has a NMC. Diminutive Jared Spurgeon is a staple, finishing 2016-17 with a plus-33, 10 goals and 38 points. He stays.
Marco Scandella has three more years with a $4M annual cap hit. He’s a good shutdown defender, but coming off a four-goal, nine-assist year with so-so peripherals he’s exposed.
It comes down to Jonas Brodin versus Matt Dumba. There are convincing, lengthy arguments for each, but ultimately former first rounder Dumba, following a career-high of 34 points and 20:20 average TOI carries more value.
I’m thinking Dumba fetches a first round pick in a pre-expansion draft deal. Including Zucker, Niederreiter, or another of their forwards (Pominville with his consent?) would reel a heftier haul. Should a deal not go down, Minnesota regrettably exposes Brodin who thrived in Coach Bruce Boudreau’s system, having a hugely positive defensive influence on teammates while totaling a career-best 25 points.
Predicted protected players with cap hits
Charlie Coyle – $3.2M through 2020
Mikael Granlund – restricted free agent
Mikko Koivu (NMC) – $6.75M through 2018
Nino Niederreiter – restricted free agent
Zach Parise (NMC) – $7,538,462 through 2025
Jason Pominville (NMC) – $5.6M through 2019
Eric Staal – $3.5M through 2019
Matt Dumba – $2.55M through 2018
Jared Spurgeon – $5,187,500 through 2020
Ryan Suter (NMC) – $7,538,462 through 2025
Devan Dubnyk – $4,333,333 through 2021
Top two options on who they would most likely lose.
Zucker and Brodin.
If Minnesota were to make a trade with Vegas to select/not select a player, who would it be and why?
A toss-up between the Zucker and Brodin. They’re both way too good to let go for nothing, and equally worth fighting and burning up the phones for.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KWcrosscheck