For years, the Minnesota Wild’s defensive core consisted of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba. Buying out Suter was Minnesota’s first move to break up this long-standing group, and the Wild were a better team for it. The season has not started yet, and as the Dmitry Kulikov trade highlights, a lot can still happen. As it stands now, though, it seems as if Minnesota’s defense to start the season will look like this:
The new core won’t last for nearly as long as the last one because the Wild may look to shake things up again very soon. They have tons of talented defenseman prospects with Brock Faber, Carson Lambos, Ryan O’Rourke, Jack Peart, and Daemon Hunt just behind Addison on the organizational depth chart. At least a few of these players will be ready for NHL spots sooner than later.
With about $13 million in dead cap space, which has already cost them Kevin Fiala, many expect the Wild to take a step back next season. If they do, they may wind up sellers by the trade deadline. Long-standing players such as Spurgeon or Brodin won’t likely be moving at the trade deadline under any circumstance. But Dumba could be.
Dumba is in the final year of his contract, and trade talks are nothing new to him. The Wild’s defense core can’t last forever, and Bill Guerin may choose to capitalize on Dumba’s trade value while he still can. Faber’s impending arrival may also be motivation to trade Dumba at the deadline. If he looks NHL-ready after the college season, Guerin may want to get him in a Wild sweater right away.
That’s no guarantee, of course. Guerin could easily decide to keep Dumba as a part of his plans for a while. Perhaps the defense stays healthy enough to lock Faber out. Heck, Guerin could sign Dumba to a small extension and leave Faber to develop in Iowa. Remember, he did this with Matt Boldy two years ago.
Another option could be to fill the bottom defensive pair with prospects instead of third-pair caliber players. For years, the Wild have filled out the bottom pair with a revolving door of defensive defensemen like Kulikov and Merrill. With their abundance of quality defenseman prospects, it may be time to swap out these spots. If the Wild are able to change this over in the near future, they will also save much-needed salary cap space. Paying a player on an entry-level contract is often cheaper than a veteran defenseman that wants more money.
Playing prospects on the third-pair could also work because of the way Dean Evason cycles through his lineup. At 5-on-5 play, Evason divided the time on ice pretty evenly among the three pairs. That would mean the young players on the third pair would get adequate playing time. They would not be buried in the lineup as seen in years past. Addison is lined up to take that spot this year, and this could be a great test to see how well this works. If he gets enough playing time and is able to continue to develop, players like Faber, Hunt, and O’Rourke can follow that path.
Still, not much will change at the top, outside of a possible Dumba trade. It’s doubtful that we will see Spurgeon or Brodin being moved any time soon. They are both under long-term contracts with No-Move Clauses, and the front office loves them. However, when the Wild exit cap hell in the 2025-26 season, these highly touted prospects will hopefully be NHL-ready
If they begin to show their age, Guerin may have no choice but to reduce their minutes or trade them to open their spots for the youngsters. It will all come down to how these defensive prospects progress through the system. However, that’s pretty far off in the future.
As for the here and now, this is a crucial season for Addison as he tries to earn an everyday spot in the NHL. Middleton must also prove he can be one of the better big-bodied defensemen in the league. Goligoski and Merrill are under pressure as the sixth and seventh defensemen, as their spots will be in jeopardy soon. Wild fans hoping for a Stanley Cup should enjoy seeing this competition because everyone will push everyone else to be the best they can be.