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.
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.