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What Does Minnesota's Free Agent Silence Reveal About Their Offseason Plans?

Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild either have something up their sleeve, or they’re making a poor judgment call.

According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, the Wild are working the trade market for a forward. Theoretically, they don’t need to add anyone with Marco Rossi‘s arrival filling the last empty forward spot in the lineup. But an offseason injury could sideline Jordan Greenway to start the season. Speaking of injuries decimating the Wild, they surely had to learn that having insurance is never a bad thing last postseason.

So after trading Kevin Fiala and Cam Talbot and extending Jake Middleton, adding a forward is Minnesota’s final piece of business. Yet the Wild haven’t made a one-way free agent signing despite having the cap space ($4 million) to do so after the Talbot trade opened up additional money.

There are still multiple intriguing players left on the market. If the Wild want to add some offensive flare, Evan Rodrigues and Sonny Milano were worth 2.0 and 1.3 wins last season, respectively. Conversely, Zach Aston-Reese, Tyler Motte, and Johan Larsson fit the bill as defensive-minded penalty killers. Sam Steel and Daniel Sprong are also two other depth names floating around.

While there’s nothing wrong with the Wild remaining patient, it’s puzzling that they’re potentially willing to spend assets in a trade. Even though they have one of the top prospect pools in the league, there’s no reason to add a depth forward via trade when quality players remain unsigned.

That is unless the Wild are trying to acquire a player who can play at the top of the lineup, of course. Fiala’s departure left a void on the second line, so there’s a spot for a top-six addition. Adding a forward to the top-six will be challenging, though, given their current financial situation. It almost certainly would require money going back the other way.

Publicly, Guerin has pointed to internal options all summer long to fill Fiala’s production. Whether Tyson Jost or Freddy Gaudreau¬†will solidify the second line with Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi, we don’t know. We also don’t know whether, privately, the answer is that neither will.

As for the trade market, there are plenty of players who should spark the Wild’s interest. 10K Rinks flirted with the idea of acquiring Conor Garland, an underrated even-strength producer. Trading for Garland is perfectly reasonable, with the Vancouver Canucks needing to add to their blue line. There’s Martin Necas, a 23-year-old versatile forward with the Carolina Hurricanes who could use a change of scenery. Or the Wild could inquire about Alex Killorn, who is in the final year of his deal with the cap-strapped Tampa Bay Lightning.

If Minnesota is trying to target a top-of-the-lineup player, they might be forced to think outside the box. If acquiring a top-six forward like Garland isn’t possible, they could try and find a Ryan Hartman-type player. Hartman doesn’t have the pure skill of a traditional top-six forward, but he does have the ability to produce like one with the right linemates and deployment. Jesse Puljujarvi in Edmonton, Alexander Kerfoot in Toronto, or even Alexander Wennberg in Seattle could flourish in an elevated role in the top-six like Hartman did.

What if the New Jersey Devils traded pending UFA Tomas Tatar, whose production has declined in the past two years after a 60-point campaign in 2019-20? Tatar wouldn’t be expensive to acquire, and the Wild could try to get him to be Eric Staal 2.0. Anthony Beauvillier and Kasperi Kapanen are two intriguing options at wing, too.

Of course, the Wild could just throw Jost on the second line. But if they felt comfortable doing so, they might not be looking to the trade market for help offensively.

Bill Guerin has done a great job in Minnesota, but some of his smaller moves have been shortsighted, and it could be limiting them now. For example, re-signing Alex Goligoski and Jon Merrill doesn’t look good now. Considering the cheap contracts Danton Heinen ($1 million) and Ryan Donato ($1.2 million) signed, the free agent market is clearly in the teams’ favor. Therefore, there shouldn’t be any excuses that a player like Milano or Rodrigues is too expensive. If Wild are searching for a depth forward on the trade market, that’s a misstep by the brass with legitimate options still left in free agency available essentially for free.

All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Hockey-Reference and CapFriendly

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