One of my favorite hockey movies of all time delivered this gem of a quote, "if you don't play this game with a big heart and a big bag of knuckles then you don't got dinky doo." Mike Meyers delivered that line in Mystery, Alaska when he played Donnie Shulzhoffer, the Don Cherry / Barry Melrose-esque intermission hockey analyst. As the games get tougher, the theory is the teams that advance and succeed in the post season have enough players who play an effective physical game. A bit of a nagging complaint about the Minnesota has been a lack of toughness and that opponents were able to take liberties against the 'soft' Wild team without any fear of reprisal. Perhaps that explains the Wild's move on Wednesday to trade defenseman Brian Connelly to the Chicago Blackhawks for left wing Brad Winchester.
Connelly, the former Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars star was small offensively gifted defenseman that provided quality minutes for Minnesota's American Hockey League affiliates in Houston and Iowa respectively. He had 10 goals, 61 assists in 84 games with Minnesota's AHL teams. Connelly never got a chance to play for the Wild in the regular season despite a few call ups where he was a healthy scratch. He'll be returning to play for a Rockford Ice Hogs squad he was a offensive workhorse for 3 seasons. That will likely mean more ice time for Jonathon Blum in Iowa who will have to pick up the slack as the Wild's offensive defenseman. So what does Brad Winchester bring to the Wild?
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Brad Winchester, 32 brings size at 6'5", 230lbs and toughness. He served as a policeman for St. Louis, San Jose, Edmonton, Dallas and Anaheim; playing in 390 NHL games since 2006-07. Prior to that he was playing for the University of Wisconsin, where he was an intimidating power forward. Its the role he has preferred to play at the minor league level as his 16 goals and 30 points for the Rockford Ice Hogs attests to. Winchester will be looked to give the Wild that needed measure of physical accountability that has been lacking. It also of course means that Mike Rupp has been deemed incapable of providing such services. Considering the Wild are paying Rupp $1.5 million per season that's an expensive healthy scratch to have around. Winchester is more mobile and while maybe not a giant upgrade in toughness the fact he still can move pretty well makes him more serviceable than Rupp. Rupp had lost at least a step or two and was a giant liability almost everytime he was on the ice this season.
Winchester will likely play on the 4th line along with Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell. I think overall this was a smart player for the Wild who basically traded a minor league workhorse for an NHL-calibre 4th liner. The Wild didn't toss away any prospects or draft choices as it often has in its deadline deals. No Nick Leddy trade this time. At least not yet.
Now will this be the only trade we see? Tough to say, but the Wild certainly still have some needs. With Niklas Backstrom still battling lingering abdominal pain, and Josh Harding's multiple sclerosis still making him unavailable that leaves the goaltending workload on the young shoulders of Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper has played reasonably well but the thought was that he was just a temporary fill in until Harding or Backstrom were healthy enough to return. Now he could very well be expected to carry the team through the rest of the regular season as well as the playoffs. If Harding and Backstrom are unable to be that backup, the Wild need to sign one. There had been 'rumors' floating around that the Wild had interest in Buffalo's Ryan Miller but those rumors were quickly shot down by the team's front office. It seems a bit extreme the Wild would dispense with the draft picks and or prospects to land Miller. Another option is Anheim's Viktor Fasth, but I can't imagine the Ducks would give up Fasth for a bargain price. Fasth is 2-2-1 with a goals against average of 2.95.
The Wild's goaltending injuries prompted the team to sign John Curry to an NHL contract. Curry has been playing very well for the Iowa Wild, going 7-5-2 on the season with a team that does not provide a lot of goal support. Sound familiar? The Shoreview, Minnesota-native has 2.08 goals against and an impressive .935 save percentage. Maybe he's good enough to be Kuemper's backup? Curry has just 4 NHL starts to his credit during his days in the Pittsburgh Penguins' organization but that's far less experience than the goaltender he's backing up. So the ideal solution would be to bring in an experienced goaltender.
The sexy move would be for the Wild to add some more scoring help in its top 6 but I don't think the Wild have the assets to parlay and I don't believe they want to dispatch another 1st round pick and prospects like they did a season ago with the trade for Jason Pominville. The truth is the Wild do not have as many young assets to part with as they did a year ago, and do you really wish to part with those assets for what could be a rental player like Mike Cammalleri, Thomas Vanek or Matt Moulson when they'll be available as unrestricted free agents this summer? I know I'd rather keep Minnesota's assets intact and then make a splash this summer.