For perhaps the first time in franchise history, the Minnesota Wild are legitimate cup Stanley Cup contenders this year. Sure, the Wild has been a consistent playoff team for the better part of the last decade, but the expectations have never been higher. They are led by an ever-reliable defense corps, Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov‘s sensational partnership, an impenetrable shutdown line, and budding chemistry between Kevin Fiala and Matt Boldy.
Last year, Bill Guerin stood pat on deadline day. It made sense, given the asking prices around the league. And honestly, the roster wasn’t close to looking like the contender it does now. However, this year the time is right for Guerin to make a splash near the deadline. With the dead cap from the Parise and Suter buyouts clouding the cap situation for the next three seasons, they might not get a better shot anytime soon. That’s a recipe for pushing all your chips on the table. But he’ll have to do so diligently and make sure any trades don’t restrict their cap space further.
If there’s a glaring need for this Wild team, it’s likely an upgrade for Freddy Gaudreau’s place on the depth chart. Ryan Hartman and Joel Eriksson Ek have solidified themselves as Minnesota’s top two centers, and their lines probably won’t change soon. That leaves Gaudreau, who has played most of the year stapled to Fiala on the third line. Gaudreau is not a terrible player, he’s got some skill and is exceptional defensively. And because the Wild have him under contract at $1.2 million through next season, he could assume Nico Sturm’s role on the fourth line should Sturm earn a payday elsewhere this summer.
The issue with Gaudreau is that he is just not offensively capable enough to play between Boldy and Fiala. Since Boldy made his NHL debut in Boston earlier this month, he and Fiala have combined for 17 points in eight games. Boldy unlocked a new level to Fiala’s game, one that was missing for the first few months of the season. At one point, it seemed inevitable that Fiala would be a casualty of the cap crunch. That could still be true, but he’s proven to be incredibly valuable to Minnesota since being paired with Boldy. The focus now should be finding someone who can play between Boldy and Fiala, rather than someone to play in place of Fiala.
So, which deadline option works best for Minnesota? Claude Giroux and Tomas Hertl could work as rental options, but neither seems too likely. One name that Minnesota reportedly has interest in is Vancouver’s J.T. Miller. As The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun wrote last week, the new Vancouver Canucks administration will have to make some big decisions in the coming months, and Miller’s future is one of them.
Miller, 28, isn’t a rental. He has one year left on his contract at $5.25 million. With 44 points in 42 games played, he’s one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise disastrous season in Vancouver. They could move him if they wanted to make a big splash. To add even more fuel to the fire, Bruce Boudreau called out Miller’s effort in overtime of Saturday’s loss to the Calgary Flames. The Canucks don’t have to move Miller, but the new administration may want a clean slate with a younger core.
Miller will probably have several suitors, but Minnesota could be one of few teams to assemble an appealing package for Miller. What would that package look like? Well, it probably starts with at least a first-round pick (or two) plus two younger pieces. Assuming that Boldy, Jesper Wallstedt, and Marco Rossi are off the table, that would leave players like Calen Addison, Carson Lambos, Marat Khusnutdinov, and Adam Beckman as potential pieces moving the other way. Connor Dewar and Sturm are possible options if the request is for roster players.
But is that worth it for Minnesota? Miller is a clear upgrade over Gaudreau, at least offensively. He would probably be dynamite with Boldy and Fiala. The issue is that Minnesota will need all the entry-level contract help they can get as they navigate the next three years of cap hell. Is it worth giving up a haul for less than two full seasons of Miller?
If Guerin truly feels that this year is their best shot at winning a Cup, you’d imagine they’ll heavily explore their options. If he trusts the development of the aforementioned prospects, he may want to look at cheaper options to bolster the top-nine.
The Wild are exceptional this year. There are some holes, as with most NHL teams. Finding someone to get the best out of Boldy and Fiala will be priority No. 1 as the NHL season heads down the stretch. The price has to be right, though. If the price for Miller (or someone like Hertl or Giroux) is too high for Guerin, he may just want to wait until Rossi is ready for a full-time role with the team.
The other option would be to promote Rossi immediately and let him grow his game playing with two special players in Fiala and Boldy. That would be more cost-effective, but Wild management seems insistent on letting Rossi’s entry-level contract slide until next year. Rossi has proven he’s already too good for Iowa, it’s probably not the worst idea to give him more of an extended shot with the big club. Either way, Guerin has made calculated moves his entire tenure. Whatever deal he does or doesn’t make will be what his staff believes is best for the team.