Trade deadline day is a time of excitement and anxiety for players, teams and fan bases all across the NHL landscape. For players it means having that fear your phone will suddenly ring or if a coach pulls you aside.
You can imagine your heart skipping a beat as you attempt to brace yourself for what is coming next. Fans may wait with nervous anticipation, but for the most part they have it pretty easy. They won’t be the ones uprooting their lives and moving to another club in another part of North America.
Minnesota Wild General Manager Bill Guerin told his team at the beginning of the year ‘its about fucking winning” and today’s moves reflect that approach. In fact, Guerin might as well have added “right now!” at the end of that statement.
Case in point, the Wild traded for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from the Chicago Blackhawks for a conditional 2nd round pick in 2022 which could turn into a 1st round pick if Minnesota earns at least 4 wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Seems like a fair price for a veteran goaltender who has lots of Stanley Cup playoff experience.
It is the kind of move you make if you want to avoid being a one-&-done in the playoffs. No doubt, this news has to be a punch to the gut to incumbent starter Cam Talbot who has won his last five starts with the team.
Goals against average are pretty close between Fleury (2.95) and Talbot (2.92) but this would also allow the Wild to rotate between the two with confidence. At least in theory that sounds plausible they both might be better not having to shoulder all of the starts on their own.
Sources say Marc-Andre Fleury was asked about the #mnwild 2-3 days ago and agreed to waive if a deal could be worked out because he believes the Wild are a contender. Fleury had a “very, very short list.”
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) March 21, 2022
Of course, the trade for Fleury meant the Minnesota Wild had to make other moves to make room for its new goaltender. Wild shipped backup goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen and a 5th round pick in 2022 to San Jose for 26-year old stay-at-home defenseman Jacob Middleton.
Middleton brings size, snarl (and a wicked mustache) and a defensively responsible game where he was a +3 in 45 games playing on a pairing with Erik Karlsson. Perhaps this could mean he will be paired with team captain Jared Spurgeon, which would theoretically demote a struggling Alex Goligoski to the 3rd pair alongside Jon Merrill or Dmitry Kulikov.
He is set to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and made $725K according to CapFriendly, so this could be a bit of an audition for the Stratford, Ontario-native. Middleton was 6th on the Sharks in hits with 89 this season which would be 1st for Minnesota whose top ‘hitter’ on its blueline currently is Kulikov with 70.
A few days before, the Wild traded a 3rd round pick in 2022 to the Anaheim Ducks for 6’1″, 220lbs winger Nicolas Deslauriers. When asked by reporters what his skill set was, Deslauriers deadpanned, “what skill set?” 31-year old Deslauriers has 90 penalty minutes and has been in 10 fights this season so its pretty obvious what his role will be.
He also can kill penalties and he led the Ducks with 210 hits which should give Minnesota some more size and sandpaper to use on the 4th line. Being man-handled in games against the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames is certainly being addressed with the acquisitions of Deslauriers and Middleton.
Dean Evason can use Deslauriers to ease some of the penalty killing workload on players like Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway in addition to taking on the responsibility of being a protector for Wild’s skill players.
Toss in the earlier trade for Tyson Jost, Wild management has made significant roster adjustments going into the homestretch of the NHL season adding speed, skill, penalty killing, toughness and confidence between the pipes.
For the Minnesota Wild, these moves are all about winning now. Next year, the team will need to re-evaluate its goaltender situation and one would think it would have to be pretty awkward if Talbot returns next season after what transpired today.
This summer was going to be a time of change regardless of today’s moves, but certainly the team is banking on having a longer playoff run while they still have offensive aces like Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov still in the lineup.
Because next year it appears highly improbable that will still be the case.
If we have learned anything about Wild General Manager Bill Guerin since he arrived in August of 2019, he’s not afraid to make big changes. From the twin buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter this summer, he hasn’t been afraid to make the tough choices that he feels are necessary to improve the path of this team. The footprint he has made on this organization has been immense.
Pundits were quick to point out that Guerin won a Stanley Cup with Marc-Andre Fleury both as a teammate and as an Assistant GM in his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. One would think that would make him uniquely qualified to understand the character and personality Fleury would bring to the Wild locker room.
Guerin obviously felt the team needed to restore some trust in the crease and wanted to add that Stanley Cup winning pedigree to a lineup that has not had a lot of post-season success.
Like Guerin said from the start, “its about fucking winning” and only time will tell if these moves help the team do just that where it counts the most, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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