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Vetoing Five Moves the Wild Made In 2021-22

Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s anything extremely online hockey stats people love, it’s Twitter. Twitter was the crucible in which most of our modern understanding of the game was forged. And like the public square of Ye Olde Tymes, it also serves as a forum to further the noble pursuit of hockey analytics and, of course, talk a lot of smack along the way.

Now, you may ask: What’s the best Hockey Twitter Tweet of all time? Friends, that’s already been determined via an extensive voting process. (Spoiler: It’s this one about Mark Donk). But there are plenty more classics that deserve some love. One of them is this Tweet from Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy:

Is it an example of the cockiness that rubs traditional hockey men the wrong way? You bet. But is it true? For someone like McCurdy, probably! Even seven years later, GMs often find themselves unable to avoid obvious pitfalls. Look at Chuck Fletcher, a pioneer of adding statheads to the front office. Still, he traded a first-round pick for the worst defenseman in the NHL. In 2021! And then extended him!

Bill Guerin‘s front office has done well to avoid major blunders. Though, that is subject to change depending on how the pending Kevin Fiala trade and the bold Ryan Suter/Zach Parise buyouts work out. But hey, that’s for next year. What about this past year, though? Was there room for improvement?

We think so. That isn’t meant to be taken as an application for the McCurdy position in St. Paul. But we’re going over the five decisions where we would have said, Don’t do that to Guerin and Co.

Aug. 21: Signing Jordie Benn, One Year, $900K

The Wild surprised many people by signing Benn to a late-summer deal. The idea was to bring in competition for prospect Calen Addison and solidify depth along the blueline. Instead, Benn blocked Addison, and coach Dean Evason rarely trusted him.

Benn played only 39 games, most of which came after a rash of injuries to the right side from late November through January. To his credit, he played admirably, if not spectacularly. But once the Wild got healthy, he had a bad stretch that led Evason to bench him for over a month.

Worse yet, when Matt Dumba got injured in April, the coaches deferred to Benn over Addison — despite some strong performances from Addison, a top prospect, in his limited NHL time. It was a wasted opportunity to see what he could do in Dumba’s role. And for what? Five hundred eighty-five minutes of underwhelming play from Benn?

Guerin insists that prospects “earn” their jobs, but Addison would’ve been a better option with significantly more upside and may have actually helped the power play. Speaking of all that, let’s move on to…

Jan. 9: Reassigning Marco Rossi to the AHL

Look, we’ve made this argument several times. But here’s the part where we get to say: We told you so.

In sending Rossi to Iowa after two NHL games, they bet they could make a deep run with their center group without having to burn a year of his contract. Whether you think preserving the first year of Rossi’s ELC was the right move or not, the gamble failed.

Ryan Hartman had five assists in the postseason but still somehow felt much less visible than in the regular season. Freddy Gaudreau couldn’t keep his regular-season chemistry with Fiala and Matt Boldy going into the playoffs.

Would giving Rossi 40 NHL games to prepare for the playoffs while rewarding him for a brilliant first half in Iowa, have changed the season outcome? We can’t know that. But we definitely know what didn’t work, and the results from a similar center group the year before means this was far from unforeseeable.

Jan. 11: Extending Jon Merrill, Three Years, $3.6M

This veto could’ve gone to the Alex Goligoski extension, which will keep the Minnesota native in a Wild uniform until he’s 38. But, say what you want about Goligoski’s flaws at this stage in his career, he was reasonably productive last year. There was also an off-ice reason to extend him, to honor what The Athletic’s Michael Russo reported as a “gentleman’s agreement” to do so.

So instead, we’ll go with the extension Guerin gave Merrill. It’s not that Merrill played poorly, but more that there was little need to extend him for three years.

Merrill had a bizarre year, driving offense decently but ranking in the 36th percentile defensively. He may go back to his low-event, defensively-stingy self next year, but would you bet on that for three years? Especially with a third-pairing defenseman, which teams can easily replace affordably. Guerin should know this, as that’s exactly how he got Merrill in the first place.

Now, the Wild have five defensemen (Merrill, Goligoski, Jonas Brodin, Jake Middleton, Dmitry Kulikov) on the left side. Even if one player moves, that’s still a logjam. And Minnesota can’t move Merrill to the right side without further blocking Addison. Holding off on that extension would’ve been the smarter play. If they had, they’d still have the option to bring Merrill back or freed-up resources to extend Middleton.

March 19: Trading For Nicolas Deslauriers

The Wild added Deslauriers, flipping a third-round pick to the Anaheim Ducks to rent him down the stretch. Minnesota wanted to add a heavyweight to take the pressure to fight off Marcus Foligno. The goal to prevent Foligno from fighting was reasonable. But Deslauriers didn’t add much else with his play, costing Minnesota 1.6 standings points in 20 games.

He didn’t even really add much in the way of fighting. He only fought three times, and the teams he sent a message to were the eighth-seed Nashville Predators and two non-playoff teams in the Vancouver Canucks and Philadelphia Flyers.

Foligno hardly became a pacifist after the Deslauriers trade, either. In the previously mentioned Nashville and Vancouver games, Foligno fought Luke Schenn and Mark Borowiecki before Deslauriers did. That leaves just one game where Deslauriers fought in Foligno’s place.

Then in the playoffs, Deslauriers made zero impact, either in terms of dictating the play or even the physicality. Brayden Schenn still ran around taking shots at players like Kaprizov, which is the exact scenario from which a player like Deslauriers is supposed to deter opponents. Forget that Deslauriers has a track record of bad play, the move failed in terms of its own bar for success.

A third-round pick isn’t exactly an irreplaceable asset. Still, it’s hard to see this move as anything but throwing a draft pick in the trash.

May 12: Starting Cam Talbot

Coaching moves don’t really fall under the domain of front-office decisions. Or at least, they don’t often. However, it sounds like the front office collaborated with Evason in the decision to ride Marc-Andre Fleury through Games 1-5. It sparked controversy, though looking at the numbers, you can see why they went in that direction.

Even if you advocated for Talbot getting a try in the series, most should be able to agree that time sure wasn’t in an elimination game. The move went about as horribly as it could have. Talbot gave up a 40-foot goal to Nick Leddy 15 minutes into the game, and it was over. The team sagged, and Talbot couldn’t keep them in the game, surrendering three more goals in the second period.

There was a lot of good that happened this season. At times, it seemed Minnesota played every card right, and the regular-season success bears that out. Still, there are reasons Minnesota couldn’t get it done in the postseason, and there are things they did to make the offseason tougher.

No front office can expect perfection, but there were some unforced errors that were obvious at the time. And as the buyout cap hits take their toll, Guerin’s Wild must learn from their mistakes and clean up those unforced errors as much as possible.

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