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John Shipley: Wild have few trade options, but maybe Bill Guerin will surprise us

In 2006-07, the Minnesota Wild finished the regular season on a 12-1-1 run to secure the Western Conference’s seventh and penultimate playoff spot. That’s a heck of a run, 25 of 28 total possible points.

It also helped that the Wild started the season winners of 10 of their first 12 games, earning them 20 points by Nov. 2. You can do the math on what happened in between.

The point is, it matters how a team starts a season. As Wild coach John Hynes said back on Feb. 23, “It helps when you can put points in the bank early,” a roundabout way of pointing out that the Wild didn’t — 5-10-4 when he was hired to replace Dean Evason on Nov. 28.

Some holes are too deep to climb out of, especially for a team that started the season with little margin for error or injury, a roster dominated by long-term contracts and $14.7 million worth of dead salary cap space, part of the penalty for buying out the contracts of former star players Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

The Wild begin a two-game, back-to-back road trip on Thursday in Arizona at least eight points out of the eighth and final playoff position in the West. It’s not officially over, but with the NHL trade deadline here on Friday afternoon, Wild GM Bill Guerin has little choice but to work ahead on a 2023-24 team that will hold many of the same challenges as this one (such as that $14.7 million in dead space).

To get any major lifting done this week, the general manager will have to get creative. The Wild have a few veterans due for unrestricted free agency at season’s end — the typical asset that gets swapped for draft picks or prospects this time of year — but injuries and no-trade clauses have limited that already-shallow well.

Pat Maroon, a veteran wing who will be a UFA at season’s end, has won three Stanley Cups but is rehabbing from back surgery. Marc-Andre Fleury, another pending UFA with three Stanley Cup wins, is unlikely to waive his no-trade to spend the final months of what might be his last NHL season with a new team.

Veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian is the Wild’s best pending UFA asset, but the Wild are interested in extending his contract. A Stanley Cup winger acquired from Tampa Bay for a seventh-round draft pick on Nov. 8, he has helped prop up a shaky blue line that got only 16 games from Jared Spurgeon this season. Only 33, Bogosian lives here in the offseason, and Guerin has shown a willingness to wrap up reliable veterans for the right terms.

That leaves go-go winger Brandon Duhaime and Maroon as the pending UFAs likely to go. Duhaime has been a reliable checker all season. He plays hard and can skate, but he isn’t a reliable points-getter — four goals and eight points in 62 games. He could help a better team. So could Maroon if he’s healthy.

Maroon, 35, has been productive for stretches while playing up and down the lineup and is a big body who doesn’t mind a scrap. And while he remains on injured reserve, the Wild traded from Gustav Nyquist last season when he was on IR with a shoulder injury in Columbus. Nyquist played in only three regular-season games for Minnesota but had a goal and four assists, and he has been a good player for Nashville this season, 16-35–51 in 61 games.

The Wild would probably send highly skilled Marcus Johansson elsewhere in a heartbeat, but he has a no-trade clause on a two-year deal that expires after next season. And even if he were open to waiving it, he’s hurt, injured early in last Saturday’s 3-1 loss at St. Louis.

Connor Dewar has been a reliable fourth-line center all season, and has a career-high nine goals in 56 games. He’ll be a restricted free agent next season looking for a raise on his $800,000 salary. The Wild might be able to swap him for a decent draft pick, but he has been loads better than any minor-league forward the Wild have recalled this season.

Guerin has proven himself a savvy trader. He got Brock Faber and a first-round pick for Kevin Fiala in July 2023. This season, he bailed on Calen Addison (one goal, minus-18 for Los Angeles) for a prospect and a draft pick, and got two useful players by sending seventh-round picks to Tampa Bay for Bogosian and Maroon.

The problem, of course, is the myriad no-movement and no-trade clauses that make players such as Johansson, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Hartman and Freddy Gaudreau, players that could help postseason teams and fetch good returns, all but unmovable. All can help Minnesota next season, but all but Zuccarello need to be better.

Could Guerin, deep into talks with other suitors, somehow swing a surprising deal that includes one of those players? Yeah. Unlikely, but yeah. Could he trade Filip Gustavsson and re-sign Marc-Andre Fleury, still effective at 39, for another year to tutor young goaltender Jesper Wallstedt? It’s a risk, but maybe.

It’s not shaping up as an exciting trade deadline for the Wild, but Guerin has shown he’ll take a risk — such as buying out Parise and Suter — if he thinks it will make the team immediately better.

Briefly

The Wild waived forwards Vinni Lettieri and Jake Lucchini on Tuesday, perhaps a signal the team expects prospect Marat Khusnutdinov to arrive this week. The center signed a two-year, two-way contract on Feb. 28.

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