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Judd Zulgad

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GM Bill Guerin’s shrewd deadline maneuvers boosts Wild’s depth and offensive potential with an eye toward the postseason

New Wild defenseman John Klingberg leaves former Minnesota forward Zach Parise in his wake as the long-time Dallas Star looks for an outlet in a Jan. 18, 2020 meeting at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Bill Guerin made no promises on Tuesday as he discussed the acquisitions of wingers Marcus Johansson and Gustav Nyquist. “I can never promise if I’m done or not done,” Guerin said when asked if he expected to make more moves before Friday’s trade deadline.

Turns out the Wild general manager wasn’t even close to being done.

Newly-acquired Wild forward Gustav Nyquist wins a puck battle with now teammate Jared Spurgeon as a member of the Detroit Red Wings in an April 4. 2015 game at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Jonny Watkins)

Guerin made three more trades before the 2 p.m. deadline. Winger Jordan Greenway was dealt to Buffalo for a second-round pick in this year’s draft and a fifth-round selection in 2024, and Oskar Sundqvist, who can play center and wing, was acquired from Detroit for a fourth-round selection in 2023.

Those two moves weren’t surprising. The third one, which was reported just after the deadline had passed, was a stunner. The Wild acquired veteran defenseman John Klingberg from the Anaheim Ducks for Andrej Sustr, a 2025 fourth-round pick, and the rights to 2019 sixth-round selection Nikita Nesterenko (Boston College). The Ducks also retained 50 percent of Klingberg’s $7 million cap hit.

Guerin acknowledged even he was surprised by the amount of activity. “I did not think we would get this busy,” he said. “I told my wife that this morning and she called B.S. I guess she knows me better than anybody. I think we got a lot accomplished today. I think we’re better today than we were yesterday and that’s the idea.”

The Klingberg acquisition means coach Dean Evason is going to have some decisions to make on the blue line, especially when Jonas Brodin returns from injury. Klingberg’s skill set could mean that Calen Addison, who has ended up in Evason’s doghouse this season because of his play in his own zone, could be making a return to the press box. Veteran Alex Goligoski also could be the odd man out.

The 30-year-old Klingberg spent his first eight seasons as a standout defenseman in Dallas before signing a one-year contract with the Ducks in July. He had eight goals and 24 points in 50 games with the Ducks and was minus-28 on one of the NHL’s worst teams. Klingberg is considered a defensive liability — and his performance this season was a major disappointment — but the Wild are willing to take a risk and hope he returns to the form that led to a 47-point season in 74 games with the Stars in 2021-22.

Winger Kirill Kaprizov has been a one-man show on offense for the Wild of late — he scored both goals in a 2-1 win on Thursday in Vancouver — and Klingberg’s ability to move the puck from the back end should help the Wild’s transition game. Klingberg also is likely to quarterback the first power-play unit, replacing Addison in that spot.

The Wild’s average of 2.77 goals per game puts them 26th among 32 NHL teams. However, Minnesota is fifth in the NHL in goals against, giving up only 2.66. In winning seven of their past eight, and getting at least a point in each, the Wild have averaged only 2.25 goals per game. Take out the shootout goals the Wild was credited with to secure victories in two of those games and the Wild have 16 goals in that time. Kaprizov has eight of them.

Somebody else, anybody, needs to create offense.

“The blue line has been great,” Guerin said. “Not that our guys don’t move the puck well now, but it’s just that natural offensive instinct, that natural offensive ability (that Klingberg will bring). We like to defend first, but when there’s a play to be made he’s the type of guy that really can make a high-level offensive play.”

Jordan Greenway, seen here in a March 26, 2022 game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, is taking his grinding, defensive game to Buffalo after the trade deadline dust settled. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Guerin’s activity at the deadline shouldn’t be confused with a desperation that he had to rebuild the roster. Despite having plenty of salary-cap room as the deadline approached, the Wild will be back in cap hell starting in the offseason and will remain there through 2024-25 because of the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Guerin knew what he was getting into the day he decided to jettison the pair, so there is no attempt at a pity party coming from the GM.

What Guerin tried to do this week was give his defensive-first team a bit of a boost with some offensive pieces that he will have the ability to move on from when the season ends. Johansson, who spent the shortened 2020-21 season with the Wild before moving to Seattle, is playing on a one-year contract, while Sundqvist and Nyquist (who is currently injured) are in the final seasons of their multi-year deals. All are rentals, but also come at reasonable prices.

Greenway’s departure is addition by subtraction. The fact the Wild received a high pick (which originally belonged to Vegas) in what is considered a deep draft is a big win for Guerin.

The Wild once had high hopes for Greenway but the 2015 second-round selection never consistently used his 6-foot-6, 231-pound frame to his advantage. He was sidelined in training camp and for the early part of the season after having shoulder surgery and things went downhill from there. Greenway was scratched from a January game after showing up late and eventually received a talking to from Guerin about his play.

Greenway, 26, had only two goals and seven points in 45 games this season. His assist in Tuesday’s win over the Islanders broke a 21-game pointless streak and his last goal came on New Year’s Eve in St. Louis. 

The 28-year-old Sundqvist, whose size (6-3, 220 pounds) will help replace Greenway’s, had seven goals and 21 points in 52 games this season with the Red Wings. He has played in 340 career NHL games and has 116 points in eight seasons with the Penguins, Blues and Red Wings and also has 10 points, including four goals, in 36 playoff games.

The Wild deserved some sort of boost, considering their 76 points put them three behind first place Dallas in the Central Division and the Western Conference as the deadline arrived. Minnesota was three points ahead of third-place Colorado, the defending Stanley Cup champion and the team the Wild would face if the postseason began today. 

But Guerin wanted to be careful not to go overboard with his support because the Wild were only four points up on Winnipeg, which holds the second and final wild card spot in the conference.

Joel Eriksson-Ek and Jonas Brodin look on as fellow Swede and new Wild teammate Oskar Sundqvist fires a shot for the St. louis Blues in a Feb. 24, 2019 game at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

Guerin made it clear as the deadline neared that he wasn’t going to trade his first-round pick in this year’s draft, or any of his top prospects. He knows that once the Wild emerge from their salary-cap issues, which could happen sooner than expected if the cap increases in the next two seasons, a prospect pool that was voted the best in the NHL by The Athletic could put the organization in a spot to make a run at its first Stanley Cup.

Mortgaging that future for a team that Evason has molded into a shut down unit that would make Jacques Lemaire proud, would not have been wise. Guerin, after all, had high hopes last season after acquiring goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and others at the trade deadline. That Wild team had a franchise-record 113 points — and a far more dynamic offense — and was bounced in the opening round for the sixth time in its past six tries.

The Wild is hoping to end that stretch, and win their first playoff series since 2015, this spring. Guerin’s moves this past week appeared to increase the chances of that happening. “We’re committed,” Guerin said when asked what he hoped these moves showed his team. “Our owner, Craig Leipold, is committed and he’s providing us with the financial backing that it takes to get better. We’re serious. We’re serious about winning.”

Just not at the expense of harming a bright future.

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Mackey and Judd podcast and also Judd’s Hockey Show for SKOR North. Judd covered the Vikings from 2005 to 2010 for the Star Tribune before joining SKOR North.

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