Yesterday I wrote an article about ‘buyers remorse’ in regard to the Minnesota Wild giving defenseman Jonas Brodin a 7-year, $42 million contract extension with the first four years of that deal having a full no movement clause. Well apparently, buyers remorse certainly wasn’t in Wild General Manager Bill Guerin‘s mind as he pulled the trigger the very next day by swapping out 35-year old center Eric Staal for 29-year old Marcus Johansson. Johansson can play on either wing or at center which at least as right now seems to be his destination. But don’t write that in pen or permanent marker, if we’ve learned anything in the last two days is that every thing should be written lightly in pencil.
After the Minnesota Wild were eliminated in their play in series by the Vancouver Canucks, I think it probably confirmed in Guerin’s mind the necessity to get younger and faster. It was impossible not to notice how much slower the Wild were as a team than most of the other teams in the post-season. Staal was in the twilight of his career and even though he always earned top marks for making himself physically prepared, it was tough not to notice how he seemed to get fatigued as the season wore on.
Either way, Eric Staal was arguably one of the best free agent signings in Minnesota Wild history as he had 111 goals, 240 points in 311 games. Last season, he still had a respectable 19 goals, 47 points in 66 games. Its a big reason why the Wild fanbase did not exactly embrace the move. Staal had rejuvenated his career with the Wild and was making a fairly affordable $3.5 million per season and had just one more year left on his deal. Johansson also has one year left on his contract that pays him $4.5 million so there goes a little bit more of that cap space which has now been whittled down to $11.97 milion according to Cap Friendly.
So what does Johansson bring to the table? He brings a little more speed and a little less size. He did not have a great year with the Sabres last season, as he had just 9 goals, 30 points in 60 games and was a -12. And when you look a bit deeper, it looks even more troubling as the Wild are his 5th team in 4 years after leaving Washington to have short stints in New Jersey, Boston and Buffalo respectively. He also was just 40.1% on his draws last year and it was even worse in the few seasons before it where he was winning faceoffs at a 32% clip.
Offensively, he has never scored even 25 goals in a season and it has been since 2016 that he had over 20. Even Staal, an older player was almost money for at least 20 goals in any given season so its hard to see how Johansson makes the team more potent offensively than it already was. So why make the move player for player?
“If I don’t make moves, we’re just going to stay the same, and that’s not the idea.” ~ Wild GM Bill Guerin on the Johansson trade
My guess is the team didn’t want to part with any other assets, especially draft picks or prospects. I think Guerin probably felt that Johansson might be able to be more comfortable playing his game with two highly skilled wingers if he does indeed end up on line with Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov. And if it worked with Staal to rekindle his career perhaps the same thing can happen with Johansson.
The Wild added Nick Bjugstad from Pittsburgh for a conditional 7th round pick which is another sort of reclamation project. Obviously the hope is that with a change of scenery and with two players on one-year ‘prove it’ deals they will raise their game and Minnesota will benefit from that motivated situation. It would also appear, at least at this point that it will be an open audition for Johansson, Bjugstad, Joel Eriksson Ek, Victor Rask and Nico Sturm to battle it out for the 4 center spots on the team.
Many felt that Rask would be an obvious buyout, but Guerin shot down that notion today when he told the Athletic‘s Michael Russo, “need to get him more playing time. He’s a very, very capable center.” Fair enough, I am willing to give him a shot since when he did get the chance to be in the Wild line up he seemed to have a knack for scoring a clutch goal. Where that may be in the Wild lineup is anyone’s guess but one would think he’d be just as motivated as anyone to prove he’s worthy of more ice time and opportunity.
With the Minnesota Wild moving on from Mikko Koivu, and the Staal trade the team will look very different than it has the past 4 years and if you read Guerin’s quote from above that is very intentional. Will the team keep making moves? Maybe, maybe not, but they’ve already started the transformation up front. The team will be younger for sure, whether its faster is somewhat up for debate.
The move certainly makes one wonder whether this collection of experiments will make Bill Guerin look like a genius or like a goat. But no one can say he was going to wait and keep the club the same and hope for different results. Even if these roster moves sort of blows up in his face and the Wild have rough season, it may help the club continue to build with quality found in the draft.
Admittedly I have been clamoring for change for years and now that it seems to be happening I can’t really find much reason to complain. Afterall, beggars can’t be choosers. Even yesterday with Brodin’s extension I criticized the team for cementing veterans into the roster, I think with the rapid-fire nature of these moves, more and more fans are simply going to sit back relax, make some popcorn and watch what happens next.
What do you think of the move to trade Staal for Johansson? Let us know on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below.