Wild General Manager Bill Guerin has ripped open the Minnesota Wild offseason like tearing off a Band-Aid. He swung a low-risk trade to acquire Nick Bjugstad, re-signed defenseman Jonas Brodin and has reportedly told Mikko Koivu that he isn’t returning all within a matter of a few days. Now he’s traded Eric Staal to the Buffalo Sabres for Marcus Johansson.
“If I don’t make moves, we’re just going to stay the same. And that’s not the idea,” Guerin proclaimed. This may be one of the more important seasons in recent Wild history and with the moves he’s already made, this is his chance to make this team his own. With the trade of Staal, he’s making a statement that it’s time to let the kids take over.
Staal was signed by Chuck Fletcher in the summer of 2016 when Staal was coming off a personal worst season. Signed to a cheap three-year contract, he stabilized the Wild roster and allowed players like Mikael Granlund to move to the wing. Staal’s insertion put players in roles that more optimally fit their skill sets. It worked immediately in 2016-17 when the Wild were a top team in the Western Conference. The productivity continued in his second season when he tied a franchise record with 42 goals.
OF COURSE STAAL WAS TRADED
That Staal is on the move is not a surprise. Teams in the Wild’s position aren’t typically in the mood to commit to a 36-year-old center. He was sought after before the 2019 trade deadline, and teams were kicking the tires on him at the deadline this season. With Minnesota jumping into the offseason with both feet, Guerin only needed the right trade partner. He finally found one in Buffalo.
The issue isn’t that Staal was finally traded. The problem people are finding with the trade has more to do with what the Wild got in return. Johansson isn’t the top line center that fans have been hoping for — he may not even be a center. And this move doesn’t seem to make the Wild better for the present.
Where Staal seems to excel in offensive metrics, he isn’t great defensively. It was felt this year, especially when he was tasked with taking defensive zone faceoffs. Johansson isn’t going to provide the level of offense that Staal is capable of producing. What Johansson seems to have is less of the extremes on either end of the ice, and is more of an even-keeled, middle-of-the-road forward.
Ultimately, Staal for Johansson is quite a ways away from the first-round pick that was rumored to be available a year ago. Staal’s three-year contract was coming due and Paul Fenton had a trade with Boston on the table for Staal. The trade was for Sean Kuraly, a fourth-line center, and the Bruins’ 2019 first-round selection. Guerin pulling off a Fenton-esque “hockey trade” at this juncture doesn’t move the needle for people wanting futures.
Fewer Trade Chips In Hand
Which brings up another point: Staal was one of the few remaining trade chips Guerin had at his disposal. Presumably the 36 year old Staal was still worth something significant. After Guerin locked up Brodin, there aren’t many tradeable assets remaining on the team. Outside of Matt Dumba, who is arguably the top trade bait on the Wild, there’s Marcus Foligno and Joel Eriksson Ek. Unless Guerin has an appetite for tapping into guys like Ryan Donato, or pending restricted free agents Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin, there’s not much there to acquire a top center.
In reality, Guerin is going to do his damnedest to acquire a top center. Whether or not he can make the moves to obtain one remain to be seen. What is apparent, though, is Guerin is not waiting for the locker room to improve. He is changing the voices, the leadership and the culture in the room with each move. Only the future holds the answers on if these moves are correct for the Wild.