Minnesota GM Making Some Wild Moves


The Minnesota Wild sure are hard to figure out. They’re hot and cold like a tap as they’re usually either in the middle of some sort of winning streak or losing skid. They headed into the All-Star break with three wins on the trot and were clinging to the last playoff spot in the Central Division. But who knows what the enigmatic Wild bunch will do once they resume play.

They’re contenders one day and pretenders the next with wins again some of the league’s tougher sides and defeats against the dregs. They can be brilliant on the road and brutal at home. At one point this season the Wild caught fire and won 10 out of 12 contests and they’ve also mailed it in during stretches by falling in 13 out of 19 games.

To be honest, the team’s success is due to its defensive record as its goals-against average is top-10 in the NHL while its goal scoring prowess is bottom-10. To top things off, the penalty-killing is top-5 and the power-play is ranked 12th. You’d think these stats would result in something better than a 26-21-3 record, but that’s not the case.

The big names are still the key performers in Minnesota with Devan Dubnyk in net, Matt Dumba on the blue line and Eric Staal and Zach Parise up front. But even they have had their ups and downs as Dubnyk and Staal have been somewhat inconsistent and Dumba’s on the shelf with an injury. Thankfully, Parise’s been steady all season along with rearguards Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter.

General manager Paul Fenton realizes just how fickle his squad’s been and definitely hasn’t sat on his hands lately. He’s made several moves to try and steady the ship down the stretch run. The team’s first-year GM kicked off the flurry of moves by sending 25-year-old center Justin Kloos to the Anaheim Ducks for 25-year-old Swedish winger Pontus Aberg. Kloos was playing in the minors while Aberg had 11 goals and 19 points out west in 37 games this season.

The next player to be jettisoned was 26-year-old Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for 25-year-old center Victor Rask. That trade came after a trio of losses and at first glance it didn’t look to be a wise decision since Niederreiter proceeded to light up the lamp in Carolina with four goals in his first four outings with his new team. Rask came over with just one goal and six points on the season in 26 outings while Niederreiter had nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points in 46 games with the Wild. However, Fenton saved $1.25 million a year in salary.

That questionable deal didn’t deter Fenton though as blue liner Brad Hunt was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights before the break along with a sixth-round draft choice in return for a fifth round draft pick, both in 2019. The 30-year-old Hunt has posted two goals and five assists in 14 games with Vegas this year and has 209 points in 287 AHL contests. He obviously has an offensive gift, but is a free agent at the end of the season. With Hunt arriving in Minnesota, Louie Belpedio was sent down to the AHL’s Iowa Wild.

Fenton continued to wheel and deal at the end of January by shipping out 25-year-old Ryan Murphy to the New Jersey Devils for fellow defenseman Michael Kapla, a 24 year old. This was basically a minor leaguer for minor leaguer, though as Kapla was playing in the AHL with the Binghamton Devils and Murphy had played just two games with Minnesota this season.

During the All-Star Break Fenton also decided to try his luck on the waiver wire and picked up Nashville Predators’ defenseman Anthony Bitetto. The 28-year-old had appeared in just 18 games with Nashville this season and posted three assists. He’s 6-feet-1-inch tall, weighs 210 lbs and isn’t afraid to use his body for blocking shots and laying opponents out with body checks.

In the meantime, Fenton solidified his backup goaltending position for the next few years by signing hometown player Alex Stalock to a three-year contract extension. The GM didn’t have to spend much either as it cost him just $2.35 million a season for an average of $785,000 a year. The 31-year-old Stalock has a 6-5 record so far this season with an 89.4 save percentage along with a goals-against average of 2.92. He’s not bad with the puck either as he chipped in with a pair of assists.

Stalock’s in his eighth NHL season and third in Minnesota and has also played with the San Jose Sharks at the NHL level. He’s 41-35-11 in his big-league career with a 2.55 goals-against average and a 90.9 save percentage. He also has five shutouts kin his 106 regular-season games. Stalock’s appeared in four postseason contests with a stellar GAA of 1.82 and a save percentage of 93.1

With the Wild being on the brink of a playoff spot the team’s fans may see some more moves between now and the Feb. 25th NHL trade deadline. The buying or selling will depend on how close they are to clinching a postseason position. If they’re out of the running by then we may see Fenton offer the 34-year-old Staal to bidders. The veteran forward is due for unrestricted free agency in the summer and his solid two-way play and playoff experience could attract a contender.

Thirty-three year-old center Eric Fehr is also a free agent at the end of the season and is well known around the league for his penalty-killing and faceoff skills and could be on the move.

Predicting what an NHL general manager is going to do next is like guessing tomorrow night’s lottery numbers though. Nobody really has a clue. But don’t be surprised if Fenton decided to pull the trigger on more moves before the trade deadline comes and goes.

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