In what has been a season overshadowed by injuries and streaky play, the Wild limped into the trade deadline. Paul Fenton, in his first year as general manager, was determined to not just rest on his laurels as trading season heated up.
For better or for worse, he has now made his mark on this team. While he stayed largely quiet during the off-season, partially due to the cap crunch he inherited, he has already dealt away a decent chunk of former GM Chuck Fletcher’s “Young Core”.
Social media’s response has been generally mixed, with a large and vocal contingency collectively saying “about time”. All in all, Fenton’s initial trade deadline is a mixed bag that trends towards disappointing from my perspective.
Without further ado, here’s a rundown of the deals Fenton has pulled off.
Trade with Anaheim:
Justin Kloos (F) for Pontus Åberg (F)
The first “big” move of this Trade season happened back on January 16th, with the Wild dealing former Gophers star Justin Kloos to Anaheim for Pontus Åberg. This trade really should have been Fenton’s “tell” for how this initial trading season would go, showing his proclivity for players he helped bring in while he was an assistant in Nashville.
Åberg was initially drafted in the 2nd round by the Predators back in 2012, and while his amateur numbers justified his draft position, he has struggled a bit adapting to the North American game. With three seasons in the American League and another three in the big leagues (with now four teams), his scoring numbers aren’t much to write home about (40 points in 114 NHL games). For a player that isn’t very big, he needs to contribute more or he will always be a quick bus ride to Iowa.
On the other hand, the Wild only gave up Kloos, an even smaller player that went undrafted. While he’s put up “alright” numbers in the AHL, his lack of size means that he will be overlooked in most NHL systems.
Winner: Wild, but only slightly
Trade with Carolina:
Victor Rask (F) for Nino Niederreiter (F)
Let the head-scratchers begin! Anyone who has watched the Wild since they dealt away fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck for enigmatic former first-round pick Nino Niederreiter back in 2013 would be able to tell you that when Nino is playing well, he is one of the best players on the ice. Unfortunately, there’s a “but” to that statement, in that he’s unbelievably streaky.
While he never developed into a true top-6 player, he would likely be one of the best bottom-6 guys on any team. His value coming as a guy that will be in that 50 point range, and play a hard-nosed game. However, between last year and the beginning of this year, not only was he not putting up points, his physicality had dropped off the map. While Nino had flaws, he was not without value, and on a team lacking any real depth, having Nino around was not a bad thing
In return for Nino comes Victor Rask. A defensive forward in the truest sense. A poor man’s Mikko Koivu. In 4 full seasons in Carolina, he hasn’t cracked 50 points. I’m not going to belabor how much of a non-scorer Rask is, as I’m sure he has value, I just fail to understand where he fits on a team that will have Koivu for at least another season. If the plan is for Rask to be the centerpiece of the new “young core” in a post-Koivu world, color me unimpressed. Rask is at best a good bottom-6 center that can play on the PK.
Without the context of existing team makeup, this would be a reasonable deal: bottom-6 forward for bottom-6 forward. Given the Wild’s needs however, this just doesn’t make sense.
Trade with Vegas:
2019 Conditional 5th Round Pick for Brad Hunt (D) & 2019 6th Round Pick
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t put a ton of value in late round picks, so moving around a 5th for a 6th and getting some defensive help, particularly after losing Dumba for a majority of the season, doesn’t seem like a bad move.
Hunt went to Bemidji State, which helps fulfill the “Gosh Darn It He’s Almost Minnesotan” quotient, and he’s spent time in Nashville, which is apparently also important to Fenton. For most of his NHL career, he’s been flotsam, splitting time between the AHL and sitting in NHL press boxes. He got a bit of a career boost getting picked up by Vegas, but still was a healthy scratch for large chunks of the Golden Knights inaugural season, being buried in their depth chart when the rest of the defensive corps were healthy.
When he gets to play, he can make things happen, particularly on the power play. The Wild are only on the hook for the rest of the year and he’s a good enough placeholder for Matt Dumba, while he recovers from the pec injury. Dropping from one late round to the next for a depth rental seems like a safe bet.
Trade with Boston:
Charlie Coyle for Ryan Donato (F) & 2019 Conditional 5th Round Pick
We’re four games into the Post-Coyle era, so it’s easy to say that Donato has been a huge pick-up. The kid has six points in four games (1 G, 5 A), and the Wild has won every game he’s played in. That’s great and all, but this deal is more about who we traded away than about who we got in return.
Charlie Coyle, the main piece of Chuck Fletcher’s failed Brent Burns trade, came to Minnesota packaged with Devin Setoguchi and what would turn out to be a wasted first round draft pick in Zack Phillips. Coyle, despite all of his physical potential, never fully realized that potential. Instead of using his imposing physical presence to crowd the net, he preferred to traipse around the perimeter, wasting the gift that was given to him.
Luckily, there are still GMs out there that think Charlie can harness that big body and use it how it was meant, but I think most Wild fans had come to terms with the fact that he had peaked, and it was time for him to be moved.
Ryan Donato might not be the perfect pickup, but he checks off a lot of things on my list: young (turns 23 in April), cheap (in just his first full pro season) and with some upside (Top scorer at Harvard in his last collegiate season, went to Frozen four in his sophmore year). To get a draft pick with him (even though it’s crap shoot late rounder) is just icing on the cake.
Trade with Winnipeg:
Matt Hendricks (F) for 2020 7th Round Pick
Obviously I don’t think this is really a significant deal, as I’ve already established that a late round draft pick is unlikely to produce the next Erik Haula, and I think trading Hendricks was just a get-rid-of salary move, I do want to take note of one thing I find odd about this move: it’s with a divisional opponent that we’re ostensibly in a playoff race against. Either we’re in rebuild mode, which pilfering draft picks from divisional opponents makes sense, or we’re in “go for it” mode, where we don’t try to help out our closest rivals. This is not a rebuild move, and definitely not a win-it-all move, so I find it curious, and think it helps paint the confusing picture that Fenton is giving us.
Winner: Jets, but only slightly
Trade with Nashville:
Mikael Granlund (F) for Kevin Fiala (F)
Full disclosure: I own a Granny sweater. I’m a fan. With that, I was prepared for the reality that he could be traded, if there was a move out there that made sense. This move makes absolutely no sense.
First off I’ll point out that Fenton is again dealing with a division rival, a tactic that I find distasteful outside of cases where we’re in a spot to ruin their future. Secondly, this is the acquisition of another player drafted under Fenton’s watch in Nashville. How long before he completes his Nashesota Wild team?
So many Wild fans had grown tired of Granlund’s tendency to pass-first, which is humorous, considering that was pretty much his modus operandi when the Wild drafted him (155 goals and 231 assists before being drafted). He was a talented playmaker on a team without scorers, and if the front office was unwilling to surround him with scoring talent, it made no sense to keep him. So who do you target in a trade?
I’m not certain what options were out there, but Kevin Fiala is not the right answer. Fiala’s ceiling is lower than where Granlund currently is and his amateur pedigree isn’t nearly at the level where Mikael’s was at. The Wild get cheaper, they get younger, but their potential is not improved one iota on this deal. These players are so similar, style-wise, that to overcome the talent gap between the two, I would expect something else from Nashville. As an even swap, it’s obvious that Fenton got fleeced by his old boss, David Poile.
Eric Staal (F) for 2 years @ $3.25 Million AAV
While the deal isn’t long, and he’s being retained for relatively little money, he’s not putting up the points he did last year, and odds are this downward trend will continue, which will likely end up hurting us particularly in that final year. To boot there’s also a modified no trade clause, which could make moving him later on more challenging.
Winner: Eric Staal
No Deal: Calgary
Jason Zucker (F) for ????
This might’ve been the biggest deal/no-deal of the whole trade deadline. Multiple sources (Russo, Pierre LeBrun, Darren Dreger) have all stated that a deal to send Zucker to Calgary was basically done, but for whatever reason, failed to be consummated. Allegedly, Flames GM Brad Treliving was “white hot” over what appears to be either a timing or technical issue that stopped the deal from going through.
Zucker has a modified no-trade clause that goes into effect next season, so if you’re going to try and move him, moving him now would probably be easiest. His contract expires in his 30s, and if you’re looking to rebuild, he’s not a bad player to bridge from era-to-era, but who actually understands what Fenton is trying to do.
Based on how the rest of this trade season has gone, I’m happy that nothing went through, as it would have probably been a one-for-one trade that would’ve sent someone like Sam Bennett or Michael Frolik to the Wild in return. Yawn.
So are we rebuilding? Not really. Are we making moves to give it a run this year? Get real. Mostly, we’re doing the same thing we’ve done at the deadline for years now, we’re treading water. The season ticket holder is too valuable to package up all the junk we’ve got sitting around and spike the season, so we’re either going to barely miss the playoffs, or lose yet another first round match-up. None of these moves change our odds, and none of them really improve us in 2020 and beyond. Our prospect cupboard is bare, and now we’ve got some cap space that will likely be used in the off-season to pick up another over-priced 30 year-old that isn’t the dynamic scorer we need. He’ll help us get to more first round losses, and at this point, it seems like we need to just be happy about that.