The NHL trade deadline arrives a month from today (March 21), meaning Wild general manager Bill Guerin has some decisions to make.
The assumption has been that Guerin will pursue a center if he’s going to make a move. Some names that would help the Wild, but wouldn’t come for cheap, include Claude Giroux (has a full no-trade clause), J.T. Miller, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. Any of those four would be immediately plugged into one of the Wild’s first two lines.
But if the price tag for an upgrade at center is too high — and that might be the case — Guerin isn’t likely to make a move for a player who is not considered a significant upgrade. It would make little sense to mess with the locker room chemistry that Guerin and coach Dean Evason have worked to build and replacing Frederick Gaudreau just to say you made a move isn’t this GM’s style.
Guerin also isn’t going to mortgage the future. But if he can’t deal for a center, that doesn’t mean no trade will happen as the Wild pursue a deep playoff run before spending three years in salary cap hell.
Guerin could consider attempting to upgrade at goaltender or try to find a big defenseman who can move the puck. When healthy the Wild has a solid blueline but the recent absence of Matt Dumba, and the struggles of Jordie Benn and Alex Goligoski, have shown that depth could be an issue. The team seemed to take a positive step in Sunday’s 7-3 victory at Edmonton as Benn was scratched and Calen Addison returned from the AHL to replace him.
Addison’s speed and skill enables him to better fit into what the Wild wants to do than Benn, so that change should remain permanent. The goaltending situation is interesting. Kaapo Kahkonen has been a steady presence (2.56 goals-against average and .921 saves percentage in 19 games), but veteran Cam Talbot (2.91 GAA), .911 saves percentage in 30 games) has posted some traditional and advanced numbers that are concerning.
Talbot is the Wild’s No. 1 goalie and would be expected to be the main guy in the playoffs. Guerin and Evason have praised his play, especially in important moments, so there doesn’t appear to be any lack of support. Kahkonen and Talbot have been used in a rotation of late, although Talbot did start the back-to-back losses to Winnipeg and Florida. He wasn’t the reason they lost those games, but he also didn’t make the big stops you’d like to see.
Is Talbot in a slump or are his season-long stats a cause for concern? It’s been suggested here and elsewhere that Guerin might want to make a call to Chicago to check on the availability of 37-year-old goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The Flower started all seven games for Vegas last season in its first-round victory over the Wild and has plenty of postseason experience during what what will be a Hall of Fame career.
Here’s a Trade Bait list from TSN that has some of the top players who could be on the move between now and March 21.
- One issue that could change the Vikings’ plans when it comes to Kirk Cousins’ future in Minnesota is his contract. There was a report last week that Cousins has no intention of taking a pay cut in order to help the Vikings from a salary-cap standpoint and that he will be looking for somewhere around $40 million in 2023. Cousins is entering the last season of his contract and has a base salary of $35 million with a cap hit of $45 million. That’s 21.5 percent of the Vikings’ cap number for 2022. Ideally, Cousins would take a bit less in the coming seasons so the Vikings could get more free agent help around him and retain some of their players. But with the cap going up again next season, he wants to continue to cash in. At some point, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah might realize the best play would be to move Cousins to QB desperate team, just like the Vikings signed him as a QB desperate team in 2018.
- There is buzz that the Carolina Panthers have called the Vikings inquiring about Cousins. Doesn’t mean Cousins will be moved, but Cousins’ name figures to get tossed around at the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine. The issue for any team, including the Vikings, will be his contract demands. Don’t forget that Cousins’ name also came up in some offseason conversations last year around this time.
- Tight end Tyler Conklin, who played 81 percent of the Vikings’ offensive snaps this season and had a career-best 61 catches for 593 yards with three touchdowns, will be an unrestricted free agent on March 16 and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him land elsewhere. Irv Smith, Jr., who missed this season because of a knee injury, will be expected to assume the starting role at tight end and new coach Kevin O’Connell likes to use one tight end, one running back and three wide receiver sets. Conklin likely would be promised more playing time elsewhere.
- Some guy named Zulgad wrote a column for Minnesota Hockey Magazine about the Wild’s goaltending situation and whether they should target Fleury.
- There was an interesting nugget in Chris Tomasson’s Sunday story on O’Connell in the Pioneer Press. Turns out O’Connell trained players in preparation for the NFL draft at one point and ended up working with 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2015 by Tennessee. Mariota will be a free agent after spending the past two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders. Could O’Connell have interest in the Vikings signing Mariota as Cousins’ backup, or replacement if he is traded?