Initially we didn’t plan on taking a look at the Minnesota Wild as sellers considering the fact they still occupy a wild card spot in the West, but noted Big Boy Hockey lover Pierre LeBrun dropped some knowledge on TSN last night that changed our minds:
“Interesting 24 hours in Minnesota. My colleague Mike Russo of the Athletic revealing that owner Craig Leipold had a sit down meeting with GM Paul Fenton and in which he said do what you got to do to retool this team if that’s what you wish to do, despite the fact the Minnesota Wild are in a playoff race. Reminds [me] of St. Louis a year ago that traded Stastny when they were in a playoff spot. So here we go. Core players such as Coyle, Granlund, Zucker, Brodin all potentially in play, either before the deadline or in the off-season. But the guy to really keep an eye on is Eric Staal, of course because he’s a pending UFA. He doesn’t want to go anywhere, he has a 10-team modified no-trade clause, but it’s a good one. It’s a 10-team list that we’re told is vastly populated with all the obvious contenders and I’m not convinced that he’d want to waive, we’ll see.”
Anyway, the Wild have a number of interesting players listed there, and a couple more that didn’t make LeBrun’s short list that are certainly worth discussing, so let’s do that now.
Who the Leafs should want
Let’s start with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter…
Ha! Could you imagine? For what it’s worth, Suter is outstanding and Parise is back to playing like he’s worth at least 2/3rds of what he’s getting, but both are still under contract for six years beyond this one. And a fun fact, these contracts are completely buyout proof. So yeah. Unless, the Wild are willing to retain some salary on Suter, I can’t imagine a world in which any deal would be entertained, and since they are looking to “retool” instead of rebuild, the extent of the tear down probably means Parise, Koivu, and Suter are Wild until they retire.
Moving on to tangible acquisitions…
The beginning of the Leafs wish list probably should start with Jared Spurgeon, who fits the bill nicely as a top pairing defenseman with a right shot. His $5.19M contract might be a challenge cap wise next season, but that’s the price you pay for a WAR hero and darling of underlying stats. At 29 it’s quite possible that Spurgeon’s age puts him outside of the core group for the retooling and Paul Fenton could be open to the significant return that Spurgeon would bring.
While Spurgeon would be the ideal option, Jonas Brodin was listed as available by LeBrun, and what he lacks in shooting right, he makes up for a friendly $4.17M contract and being aged 25. If the plan is to go with quality defenders regardless of which side they shoot from Brodin is solid option, albeit not in the same class as Spurgeon.
Forward like Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, and Mikael Granlund are certainly intriguing and worth considering, but would only see the Leafs potentially pursuing them in the event a trade involving Brodin or Spurgeon was pushed bigger. I will also mention Matt Dumba’s name here, although I can’t imagine why a retooling team would move on from him, but it would be silly for the Leafs to not at least ask.
Eric Staal is the name we’re going to hear a lot of in the next 10 days. He’s got the size, skill, physicality, leadership, and experience that make it impossible to ignore that he’s available at the deadline. While he hasn’t exactly been a favourite of Toronto fans over the years, for many he’s probably one of those “love him if he played for your team” kind of players. He’s also a guy that Babcock has coached at the Olympics, for what that’s worth, and I’m sure that Staal is on Babcock’s wish list, although expensive rentals are scary.
At the other end of the spectrum the Wild have a very affordable rental that the Leafs should be all over, assuming that Mike Babcock would be willing to play him and that’s Brad Hunt.
Hunt has been a low usage/sheltered defender who has put up solid numbers in his time on ice, but you really don’t want to see used beyond the third pairing. Think of Hunt as an older version of Justin Holl, but one who occasionally gets put into games. Personally, I’d see Hunt/Ozhiganov being a home/road platoon as 6th defensemen heading down the stretch and into the playoffs for Babcock, allowing him to exploit line match ups to some degree. Anyway, Hunt doesn’t make much, and isn’t a big ticket acquisition, you could potentially try to shuffle deck chairs and deal Minnesota native Justin Holl for him.
What the Wild Should Want
If they are retooling fast, the quick turnaround players for the Leafs usually start with Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen, two players the Leafs shouldn’t really be considering trading at the deadline, unless Dubas has some critical contract intel on them already. They are also probably interested in some other key futures like Liljegren and Sandin, as well as the 2020 1st round pick, and if the Leafs are asking for Spurgeon, it’s pretty fair that the Wild ask for any of these players as well, although it would be nice to see things dialed back. It seems like any deal with the Wild would have to involve at least one piece that would make us cringe to see depart, and at this point Liljegren or the 2020 1st might be the best options.
I mean if they start tearing down their roster to reboot, there’s always the possibility that Nikita Zaitsev could find his way there in the shuffle, but if we’re not desperately trying to hold out hope that some team will take Zaitsev and we look at this situation reasonably, a team that is already in $15M deep thanks to Suter and Parise isn’t going long term with Zaitsev as well.
Likelihood of a deal
Well, I’d have to imagine that some real work will be put in on seeing what’s available from the Wild blueline, and even if nothing happens in the next ten days, I wouldn’t be surprised if the courting process carries on throughout the summer or until the Leafs feel comfortable with their right side D.
Brad Hunt is the low hanging fruit here, and he makes sense on a Dubas team, but maybe not a Babcock one. There is also the issue of how many defensemen do the Leafs need heading into the playoffs with Ozhiganov, Holl, Rosen, Marincin, and Borgman already looking for their chance to play.
It seems like a good match can be found between these two teams, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it explored. The risk averse side of me might prefer they hook up in the summer, but if the Wild are satisfied with what they accomplish without moving major pieces out, it could be too late and acting when the opportunity is there seems to be lost on a lot of NHL GMs.