Timing is everything when it comes to trading.
Sometimes that timing comes down to the situation a trade partner is in. Perhaps they’re desperately in need of a particular position, or are in a cap crunch, or soured on a star. Other times, timing comes down to a general manager making a judgment on their own player, particularly young ones. Is this player a part of The Future or not? If the answer is “Yes,” keep them and avoid making a regrettable move. If not, it’s best to act before others arrive at the same conclusion.
Guerin showed that perfect timing last fall with Luke Kunin. The 22-year-old former first-round pick coming off a season where he scored 31 points in 63 games. Some front offices would’ve held onto him, hoping for a breakout. Guerin didn’t, seeing that he played wing — where Minnesota had a surplus — and decided he wasn’t part of the future. Kunin was traded for a second-round pick.
Charlie Coyle is an example of what can happen when you take too long to make that decision. Coyle got red hot in 2016, scoring 11 goals in an 18-game stretch while looking like a power forward. If Minnesota had made a move, it could have received a young scorer like 2013 No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin.
Instead, the Wild doubled down on Coyle, ignoring that he still took barely two shots per game. His value never got higher, and three years later, he was finally traded. The return? The already-departed Ryan Donato and a fifth-round pick.
On the other hand, there’s also a risk in moving on from a player too early — look at Alex Tuch. These are the questions Guerin must wrestle with now that a decision involving Greenway is looming.
Is Greenway Part of the Future?
In another timeline, Greenway is an example of a player traded too soon. Guerin and the Wild were frustrated with his level of play. Many expected him, not Kunin, to be on the trade block because of that. Instead, Guerin kept him, challenging him to take the game more seriously.
Greenway appears to have done exactly that, having a breakout season with 21 points in 34 games — a 50-point pace. Had he received that wake-up call via a trade, Minnesota would regret the day Guerin moved on.
But does that mean Greenway is part of the team’s long-term future?
It’s a tough call. He’s got a combination of size and speed that almost no one in the NHL has. Combine that with his production, and replacing Greenway’s exact skill set would seem difficult. Perhaps impossible.
And yet, a skeptic could look at Greenway’s production and wonder whether it’s sustainable. His power forward build often doesn’t translate to a power forward shot profile. He averages just 0.53 individual expected goals per hour at 5-on-5, which ranks ninth on the Wild. He’s fine at passing but doesn’t generate high-danger passes with regularity. Is that a recipe for regular 50-point seasons?
That question matters less for Greenway now, when he makes just $2.1 million against the cap. It’ll matter a great deal more in summer 2022 when that deal expires. Will Minnesota be able to afford his next deal, especially if the salary cap remains flat? Will they want to, with Matt Boldy and Adam Beckman knocking on the door at wing?
Guerin’s best served making that decision now, while Greenway’s value is at its peak.
Strike While the Iron’s Hot
When we did our Wild Trade Value Rankings at 10K Rinks last week, Greenway came in third. His unique skill set fuels this, but other factors would make him very attractive to suitors.
The first is his youth. Greenway just turned 24, and his production has gone up in each of his three seasons. If you’re a believer in him — especially if you think you can unlock his power forward potential — it’s easy to convince yourself he’s a long-term fit in an organization.
His contract status is also attractive to any contenders looking to add at the deadline. Nineteen of the NHL’s 31 teams are within $1 million of the salary cap, including 12 playoff teams. Greenway’s $2.1 million cap hit is going to be much more moveable than higher-salaried rentals. Teams facing a cap crunch next year will also appreciate the extra year of cost control.
These factors could start diminishing as soon as this offseason, even if Greenway more or less keeps up his production. A team acquiring him will have one less playoff run with him before he’s up for a payday. And if he doesn’t finish the season strong, then teams may decide his early-season success was a fluke. If Guerin decides to strike, he’s likely to get the maximum return now.
This is also happening when the Wild are in the midst of another expansion pickle. Most have assumed that the Wild would protect eight skaters in the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft. Greenway’s breakout has made that more complicated.
Should Minnesota protect eight skaters, they’d do so to keep Matt Dumba on their team and their top-4 defense intact. This would mean their protected forwards would likely include Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello (whose no-move clauses protect them automatically), and likely Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek.
This would forwards like Greenway, Marcus Foligno, Nico Sturm, and Ryan Hartman exposed. The Athletic’s Michael Russo has hinted that Minnesota could decide to protect seven forwards, and expose Dumba, perhaps hoping to get his $6 million cap hit off the books.
Minnesota’s strength in recent seasons has been their blue line, and Dumba has been a massive part of that. He and his defensive partner Jonas Brodin have controlled 57.7% of the expected goal share at 5-on-5, the best on Minnesota by a fair margin. Dumba’s improved his defense, and while his offense isn’t where it was two or three years ago, he’s still scoring at a 14-goal 82-game pace. He’s clearly a top-pairing-caliber defenseman.
That’s significantly more valuable to the Wild than the would-be exposed forwards, who are all but locked into Minnesota’s bottom-6. Unless the cap situation is truly untenable, it makes little sense to let Dumba go, particularly for nothing.
If Guerin decides to keep his defense intact, trading Greenway now can help get ahead of the expansion crunch. If Greenway can return a high draft pick or top prospect, those problems largely disappear. Is Seattle itching to draft a 30-year-old third-liner in Foligno? It’s possible, but even if that happens, that beats losing a 27-year-old top-pairing defenseman, and again, more forwards are on the way.
It’s a tough call, but expansion, the flat cap and the need to maximize value mean that Guerin has to make this decision now. Is Greenway a part of his vision of Minnesota’s future? We’ll start to find out in the next 12 days.