In acquiring centre Martin Hanzal, the Minnesota Wild are going all in trying to win the Stanley Cup this season.
The Wild traded a 2017 first-round pick, 2018 second-round pick and conditional 2019 fourth-round pick and minor leaguer Grayson Downing to the Arizona Coyotes for Hanzal, forward Ryan White and a 2017 fourth-round pick. It's a hefty price for the 30-year-old pending unrestricted free agent but one the Wild are willing to pay ahead of Wednesday's NHL trade deadline.
"We're just putting our chips in the middle of the table for this year," Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher said on a conference call Sunday night. "We like our group, and we think our players deserve the best chance possible to compete and see what we can do."
The Wild lead the Central Division and Western Conference with 84 points and are even more formidable with Hanzal, the Czech who has 16 goals and 10 assists in 51 games this season and 313 points in 608 NHL games, all with the Coyotes. That 2019 fourth-round pick becomes a third-rounder if Minnesota wins one playoff round this spring and a second-rounder if it wins reaches the West final.
With Mikko Koivu, Erik Haula and Hanzal down the middle, the Wild are a Cup contender in their first season under coach Bruce Boudreau.
"Hopefully, it poses matchup problems for opposing teams," Fletcher said. "I hope we're a hard team to play against."
The Wild didn't give up any of their prospects or current roster players, but Arizona continued to build toward its future by stockpiling draft picks. GM John Chayka said he has worked "tirelessly" on a Hanzal deal since Christmas and was glad to get picks in the next three drafts.
"Minnesota clearly stepped up," Chayka said. "Obviously, I can assure you that this was the top price in the market for Martin Hanzal. As it should be because I think it gives the Minnesota Wild the best chance to win a Stanley Cup."
Hanzal was considered one of the top rental players available and the top rental forward, hence his value being higher than the price the Los Angeles Kings paid for pending free-agent goaltender Ben Bishop in their deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. White, who turns 29 next month, has seven goals and six assists in 46 games this season, and can also be a free agent this summer.
"They're both unrestricted free agents, so when you come to the point where we're at — not making the playoffs — we have to continue to build," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said on Fox Sports Arizona's game broadcast Sunday night.
Hanzal is the Wild's big prize, and Fletcher said he doesn't feel pressure to make another move. Fletcher wanted to acquire the 6-foot-6 playmaker but also keep him away from competitors in the Western Conference.
"He's an extremely tough player to play against," Fletcher said. "He makes you earn every inch of the ice when you play against him. He's a guy that can contribute offensively. He can win faceoffs. He can play both specialty teams. We thought he was the top rental forward on the market."
Hanzal was so respected that Coyotes captain Shane Doan said on Fox Sports Arizona that "you just don't get it" why he was traded. Chayka said that was an expression of frustration from the veteran winger who could also be dealt to a contender.
"There's been some thoughts towards what would another opportunity look like with the last year — potential last year — of his career to take a run at a Stanley Cup," Chayka said about Doan. "I think that's natural for him to have some of those thoughts. He hasn't come to me and said, 'Look I want to pursue other opportunities,' and that's where we're at."
Hanzal has several years left, but the Coyotes decided to move on by giving him a chance to win this year. The Wild have the three-time Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on their heels in the Central, and Fletcher knew it before making this trade.
"Clearly in the West, to me they're always a team you have to go through," Fletcher said about the Blackhawks. "The focus was just on improving our depth. ... We have a lot of players we think can play, but it's a little bit more unproven, the depth, and if you run into injuries down the stretch here, I thought we could really thin out up front. This was a way of obviously providing more depth, obviously giving Bruce a lot of versatility with respect to what he wants to do with the lineup."