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Zulgad: Wild general manager makes wise decision by standing pat at trade deadline

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild
Apr 7, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov (97) celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche in the second period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Guerin could have worked to obtain a center to help a Minnesota Wild team that has had a successful season and appears headed for the playoffs. Guerin could have made a play for a rental, such as winger Nick Foligno, in order to provide another veteran presence. Instead, the Wild general manager did nothing as the NHL trade deadline passed on Monday afternoon.

For that, Guerin deserves kudos.

Guerin might want to win more than anyone in the Wild organization — he was on two Stanley Cup winning teams as a player and two more as an executive with the Penguins — but he also has made it clear that he has a plan. That plan does not include shortcuts or quick fixes.

So with the Wild sitting in third place with 51 points in the West Division, and having lost back-to-back games at fourth-place St. Louis (44 points), Guerin did not follow the path of former Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and trade draft picks or prospects for immediate help. “We’re just not in a position right now to be using the assets that we have for rentals,” Guerin said. “I think our day will come. But with how well our team’s performed, the chemistry that we have on our team, I don’t feel the need for it today.”

Guerin’s talk about chemistry isn’t lip service. It might be one of the most important things he’s doing in turning around the franchise. In his one season as the Wild’s general manager, Paul Fenton began the process of making necessary changes that would alter the chemistry in the locker room. Guerin, who spent time as a captain during his 18-year NHL career, took some time to make his own judgments before continuing what Fenton had started.

Gone were guys like Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal and Devan Dubnyk. Guerin added forward Nick Bonino and defenseman Ian Cole, who were on the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup winning teams that Guerin was involved in helping to build. Bonino and Cole aren’t great players, but they are solid on the ice and have the type of presence in the locker room that the Wild lacked in previous seasons. These are the types of guys you want rookie superstar Kirill Kaprivoz and talented winger Kevin Fiala to see on a daily basis.

That’s likely why Guerin had some reservations about throwing an unknown into the mix of his current chemistry experiment.

Former Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who does work with NHL Radio, brought up how Fletcher’s trade for center Martin Hanzal at the 2017 deadline altered the team’s chemistry. Boudreau said the move didn’t sit well with Erik Haula, whose playing time was impacted by the addition of Hanzal, and that it also wasn’t popular in the room when some of winger Chris Stewart’s time was taken by Ryan White. The trade cost the Wild a first-round pick in 2017 and a second-round pick in 2018, along with a prospect and a conditional pick in the 2019 draft.

Hanzal had four goals and 13 points in 20 regular-season games with the Wild and one goal in five playoff games as the Wild were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the first round. What appeared to be a big-impact move ended up backfiring.

Guerin also had financial considerations in mind as the deadline approached. The Wild have a few key contracts to deal with this offseason and the NHL salary cap is likely to remain flat ($81.5 million) for the foreseeable future. The Wild would love to get Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek, both restricted free agents, signed to multi-year deals, and Kaprizov is in a position to be signed to a long-term contract. Ryan Hartman, a valuable contributor, also is a restricted free agent.

That would have made adding a center like Calgary’s Sam Bennett more challenging, considering he also will be eligible for restricted free agency. Bennett was traded to the Florida Panthers for a 2022 second-round pick and a prospect.

Guerin’s inaction at the deadline is almost certainly not a sign of things to come. The expectation is that he will spend the offseason working on adding a top six center and a decision will have to be made about the fact the Wild will lose a good player to Seattle in the expansion draft. The Wild also could have 2020 first-round center Marco Rosso and 2019 first-round winger Matthew Boldy on their opening night roster.

As for this season, the Wild stand to get valuable playoff experience (especially Kaprizov) and might even have a chance to upset the Vegas Golden Knights, if they end up meeting. The Colorado Avalanche have to be the favorite to come out of the West Division. The good news is by sticking to his blueprint, Guerin is putting the Wild in position to become a sustainable favorite and not just be a flash in the pan.