By Craig Schroepfer, WCCO Radio
Going into the NHL trade deadline, the Minnesota Wild weren’t thought to be very active. Holding on to the first wild-card seed in the Western Conference, Minnesota should be a playoff team if they continue to play as they have since Jan. 1. If anything, the thought was the Wild would address the goal-tending situation and that would probably be it.
Minnesota did that and then some.
The Wild made two trades at the deadline, getting Ilya Bryzgalov from Edmonton and acquiring Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick from Buffalo. What impact do these moves have on the roster going forward? Let’s start in goal.
The acquisition of Bryzgalov from Edmonton strengthens a position for Minnesota that has seemed snake bitten over the last year and a half.
Last spring, Niklas Backstrom got hurt in a pre-game warmup before the first play-off game versus Chicago, pressing Josh Harding into action. Harding, who is battling MS, played well for the Wild throughout the series before eventually being beaten by the Blackhawks in five games.
Harding claimed the starting job at the beginning of the season and looked like the best story in the NHL, going 18-7-3 with a goals against average of 1.65 and a save percentage of .933. However Harding hasn’t played since Dec. 31, and looks unlikely to return this season.
As for Backstrom, he was diagnosed with a sports hernia last spring and has been unable to overcome it so far this season. Because of this, Darcy Kuemper was given the chance in net and has made the most of his opportunity.
Kuemper on the year is 11-3-2 with a GAA of 2.19 and a save percentage of .924. He has started the last 15 games for Minnesota, winning ten of them. However, with 20 games left in the season and four nights with back-to-back games, the Wild can’t afford to do what they did with Backstrom last year and ride Kuemper straight into the playoffs.
This is where Bryzgalov comes in.
The acquisition gives Minnesota a player they know can give Kuemper a night off to rest and keep him fresh for the playoff push. In Bryzgalov, the Wild are getting a goaltender who won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, while sharing the crease with Jean-Sebastian Giguere.
Bryzgalov then went to Phoenix and helped lead the Coyotes to the playoffs in 2010 and 2011.
As for Bryzgalov’s stint in Philadelphia over the last two seasons, I wouldn’t worry too much about it if I’m a Wild fan. There is no tougher place in the NHL to play goal than for the Flyers. Philadelphia has been trying to find the next Bernie Parent since 1979. Most goaltenders that end up with the Flyers wilt under pressure before being run out of town.
In Minnesota, Bryzgalov won’t be under the microscope like he was in Philly, and he will have a better group of defenseman playing in front of them. All Bryzgalov has to do is provide quality starts when Kuemper has the night off and give the Wild a chance to win.
Over the last two months, Kuemper has earned the right to be the starting goaltender for the rest of the season. There was no need to go after Martin Brodeur or Ryan Miller. Acquiring Bryzgalov for a 4th-round pick will do just fine.
Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick
I’ll be honest; I wasn’t expecting to pick up these two players from Buffalo Wednesday. But when word leaked out that forward Torrey Mitchell wanted to be traded (something Mitchell has denied), it opened the door for Minnesota to get another forward. And they couldn’t have done better with whom they acquired.
In Moulson, the Wild get a player who reached the 30-goal mark each season from 2009-2012, and had 15 goals in the lockout shortened season of 2013. Splitting time between the Islanders and Buffalo this season, Moulson already has 17 goals on the season. It’s no secret that Minnesota could use another forward who can score goals, and Moulson should provide that and fit in nicely as a top six forward.
Moulson is a free agent at the end of the season, so right now this shapes up as a rental. However if he plays well over the next 20 games and into the playoffs, there is a good chance Moulson could resign with the Wild this off-season.
As for McCormick, he is your classic definition of a pest. McCormick plays with a lot of grit and an edge, very similar to Matt Cooke. While he doesn’t fit the definition of a goon, McCormick has been known to drop the gloves from time to time. His job on the ice will be to provide a spark to the checking line, and keep opponents honest if they try anything rough with any of the Wild players.
All it cost to get these two players from Buffalo was a checking-line forward in Mitchell, and two second-round draft picks. Also by sending Mitchell to the Sabres, the Wild save $1.9 million in cap space, which could come in handy during free agency this summer. This is a trade that, if offered, you can’t say “yes” to fast enough.
By making these trades, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher says the time to win is now. The Wild still have a tough road as they need to survive the next 20 games to clinch a playoff spot. If Minnesota gets in, there are five quality teams ahead of them in the standings – one of whom the Wild are certain to face in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
These trades make Minnesota a deeper and better team as the playoffs approach. If the Wild get into the postseason and win in the first round, I wouldn’t be surprised if a deep play-off run is in the cards.