The Minnesota Wild are six deep, at least, on their talented blue line, but can't protect all of those defenceman in next June's expansion draft.
That's where the conversation must begin when you examine the expansion draft outlook for the Wild. Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Christian Folin, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba are all quality NHL blueliners in my books, but as many as three of them will likely be exposed to the new Vegas franchise next June. Suter is among four players on the team with no-movement clauses -- along with Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu-- who must be protected (unless the players agree to waive them) as per the memo that the league sent to all 31 teams last month.
And so the question for the Wild is which format better serves their interests, protecting 7-3-1 (seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie) or 8-1 (eight skaters and a goalie)? The 8-1 format would allow them to protect more than three defencemen. But, on the flip side, that would expose some forwards they don't want to lose. Are they willing to potentially lose Nino Niederreiter, for example, in exchange for protecting an extra defenceman?
It's a tough call. But I think the Wild will be better served going with the 7-3-1 format. If that's the case, which three defencemen will they protect? Suter and Spurgeon, for sure -- which leaves one spot left. Do they go with Dumba, Scandella, Brodin or Folin? Oh man. It's so hard to choose. I'd probably go with Dumba because he's the youngest, at 22, and his ceiling as an offensive, right-handed defenceman makes him a valuable asset.
Either way, the Wild are going to lose a decent player -- which is why, if I'm Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher, I might take the bull by the horns as the draft nears and ask Vegas GM George McPhee directly which Wild player he wants and then try to negotiate a trade rather than play the guessing game. It wouldn't hurt to try, anyway.
I also think Fletcher might consider having a conversation with Pominville about potentially waiving his no-movement clause for the purpose of exposure in the expansion draft. The 34-year-old has two more years left on his deal after this season at a $5.6 million cap hit. I doubt Vegas would be interested in him, so the sales pitch from Fletcher to Pominville would be: "If you allow yourself to be exposed, you're not going anywhere anyway, but it would allow us to protect another good player and thus make our team better." It's the kind of conversation GMs should be having with veteran players around the league ahead of the June expansion draft.
If the Wild can convince Pominville to waive his clause, they're looking at protecting Parise, Koivu, Niederreiter, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund. And then the final debate would be over either Jason Zucker or Erik Haula, I imagine.
It's worth noting that Zucker is from Las Vegas. When I spoke with last week it was clear that he's very excited that his hometown is getting an NHL team. It has also crossed in mind, obviously, what the expansion draft could potentially mean for him. Zucker married a Minnesota native and their life is there now, so I think there's no question the 24-year-old would rather stay put. But if he ends up in Vegas, clearly that wouldn't be a bad Plan B either.
And if would there be there any cache in grabbing a homegrown product for the Las Vegas GM? Probably. But the most attractive asset for McPhee as he builds his team the other hand, when you look at the Wild defencemen available, that's got to be .
So again, this presents a situation in which McPhee and Fletcher seem destined to chat after the season to see what works best for both of them.
As for the four players who must meet exposure criteria, the Wild easily will have the one defenceman and two forwards to expose. They currently don't have a goalie they would slot there, however, as both Darcy Kuemper and Alex Stalock are pending unrestricted free agents. All it will take to solve that problem is for the Wild to re-sign one of them and then expose him. The thing is, Kuemper is a solid netminder who may want to see what's out there this summer in terms of a No. 1 job, so Stalock is the more likely candidate to be re-signed if only to satisfy Minnesota's expansion-draft needs.