Minnesota Wild: What to do with the defense next season

With the NHL’s March 5th trade deadline quickly approaching, the Minnesota Wild sits in a difficult spot as they sit several points behind the elites of the conference. It is nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly what teams will be looking for upgrades in the offseason, but it is certain that the blue line will be altered prior to next season.

There are several areas in which the Wild could use an upgrade, and the most pressing is to make a change in the lower portion of their defense. The top couple of defensemen are set up well for the future with the likes of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin at the helm. Jared Spurgeon plays his role in the middle pairing well and should continue to get better with age.

Beyond this point, the Wild have some interesting decisions to make with Marco Scandella and Clayton Stoner. Neither player will blow you away with their savviness but they could be considered average in their respective ways. Scandella has shown at times his ability to jump in to the play and impact the game offensively, but overall he hasn’t shown the defensive consistency the Wild would like to see. Only being 23 is advantageous for Scandella and he needs to become more rounded in order remain with the team. Stoner has been able to stay in the lineup due to his ability to be the blue line enforcer, but has almost been nonexistent offensively; tallying just 4 assists all season. With Stoner scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, he should not be resigned.

Keith Ballard and Nate Prosser have both been very inconsistent throughout the year. Ballard has not been the defensive presence that the Wild had hoped for after signing him this summer. He is simply a serviceable defenseman who will likely never move above the final pair in the rotation. Unless he can turn things around, my prediction is that he will play out his contract next season and they will let him walk. Prosser, on the other hand, has stepped up his game in recent weeks. After starting the season as a consistent scratch, he has found his way into the rotation more often recently. He acts well as a 6th or 7th defenseman who can step in at the blue line. Unless his game takes a turn for the worst after the Olympic break, he should be rewarded with a new contract.

Edmonton Oilers

Nick Schultz may be a candidate to return to the Wild in the offseason (Photo Credit: Edmonton Sun)

Beyond what is seen at the NHL level, the Wild possess several players who are capable of stepping up to the big club and seizing a regular spot on the blue line next year. Matt Dumba will be an interesting player to watch in the coming years. He didn’t quite live up to the hype that he entered with this season, although he is only 19. He currently remains in the Canadian major junior ranks because he isn’t eligible to play in the AHL yet. It may be wise for him to play a more reasonable role with the Iowa Wild next season instead of thrusting him into the spotlight with Minnesota next year. Jon Blum is a candidate to play a more significant role in the NHL next season. If he establishes himself throughout the remainder of this year, look for him to be rotated into the lineup more often next season.

Finally, it would be wise of GM Chuck Fletcher to sign a responsible defensive-minded defenseman this offseason. A name that comes to mind is one that is familiar to Wild fans. Nick Schultz, currently playing for the Edmonton Oilers, is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this year and would fit well in Minnesota’s system. He spent over a decade with the Wild and would be within their budget.

  • GerDevine

    I’m curious as to how much you’ve watched Nick Schultz play since he went to Edmonton. He’s been absolutely terrible. He has been a healthy scratch behind AHLers at times. The only reason he plays is because Smid got traded. He’s slow, he can’t pass and, at 31, he’s unlikely to suddenly get good again. Edmonton fans can’t wait to be rid of him.

    Also, I think you’re way underselling Scandella. He’s been phenomenal this season after a rough start, playing fairly tough minutes and he’s still only 23.

  • gopherpuck3

    Why do we need more stay at home defenseman when the Wild are in the Top 5 in the Western Conference in goals against? The problem with this team is the lack of offensive defenseman. Suter moves the puck well, Brodin has his moments, but is still young. Those 2 need to be split up to even out more of the d-core and have more offense at the blue line on more than 1 line. Spurgeon is a good offensive d-man, but after that, the Wild have nothing. If you look at the top teams in the league, what do they all have in common? Besides star players, they have defensivemen who can move the puck and join the rush. The Wild have consistently been near the bottom in d-men points every year since the franchise began. Bringing back Schultz would be a waste of time and a waste of a contract. The biggest mistake Fletcher made was trading Nick Leddy and getting Cam Barker in return. What we need is a guy like Alex Goligoski, Justin Faulk (Carolina Hurricanes), Paul Martin, etc. Of course none of those guys are available, but those are the type of d-men we need, not Nick Schultz! Jake Gardiner or Dimitryi Kulikov would be great fits for the Wild, but I doubt we will spend the money on them since Vanek seems to be the target this offseason. Backstrom and Heatley will be gone, so that will free up some cap space.

    • Mnstorm99

      You make some good points. I am actually not sure what this teams problems are, but if you look at the roster they SEEM to have those defensemen who can move the puck (Suter, Ballard, Spurgeon, Scandella, Brodin), and not much in terms of the stay at home type. Is it the goaltending that is keeping the puck out of the net? Is it a lot of talented two way forwards? All of this combined seems to be reasons why the Wild are set up well defensively. I agree with the Leddy trade, that was terrible. Also, I agree that pursuing Vanek is key this offseason.

      • Kirby Horgan

        Also the system the Wild play.. Not nearly as aggressive as other teams. Maybe it’s the way they are coaching the team and the defense aren’t asked to jump in to the play. I just think they are one defenseman away from being set up REALLY well for the future given how young they are on the back end. Leddy could have been that guy.. Unfortunate trade.

  • Mnstorm99

    Should have never traded away Schultz in the first place. Trading away a solid stay at home Defenseman for an average at best offensive defensman was a bad move in the first place. That trade is Fletchers biggest black eye.

    • Kirby Horgan

      That or the Nick Leddy trade.. Tom Gilbert is doing much better in Florida this season. He really didn’t have anywhere to go but up after the way he finished with the Wild.

    • GerDevine

      Schultz in 2014: Scratched by the Oilers.

      Gilbert in 2014: 1/2 of one of the best pairings in the entire league.

      Yep, totally lost that trade.

      • Kirby Horgan

        Tom Gilbert and Brian Campbell… Really? One of the best pairings in the league? How about Chara and Hamilton/Boychuk? Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester? Ekman-Larsson and Michalek? Keith and Seabrook? Subban and Markov when they were together? I could keep going..

        Yep, totally one of the best pairings in the league

      • Mnstorm99

        Campbell/Gilbert is one of the best pairings in the league? Hmmm, ok.
        I will give you the scratch factor, for this season. But Schultz was consistently a +/- leader on the team, while Gilbert gives up too many chances, and he never showed his offensive upside to me.
        I still beleive the Wild lost that trade.

        • GerDevine

          +/- means nothing. Besides, Schultz was a -4 and a -8 in the two seasons before he was traded.

          Campbell and Gilbert play on a terrible team and yet have scored over 50 points between them. Gilbert is 11th in the league in P/60 at even strength. They’re both around the top 20 in the league in puck possession stats. They’ve been excellent. There aren’t that many other pairings in the league performing as well as they have in a difficult situation.

          Schultz can barely make the Oilers, who have probably the worst defence in the league.