ST PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild have raved all season about their chemistry, as much of an asset for them as Kirill Kaprizov's deft scoring touch, the size of their second line or their newly created veteran goaltending tandem.
General manager Bill Guerin believed in the team's intangible strength enough to take a big swing at upgrading the roster right before the trade deadline. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was the headliner acquisition, and Guerin didn't flinch at the price of a premium draft pick.
“It’s because of what these guys have done all year — the way that they’ve played and the way that they’ve changed things around here. This is a credit to them,” Guerin said Monday after the Fleury deal with Chicago was done, the last of four trades the Wild made over the last week.
The Wild, who are tied with Nashville for second place in the Central Division with two games in hand on the Predators, traded a conditional first-round pick to the Blackhawks for Fleury.
If Minnesota reaches the Western Conference finals and Fleury is the winning goalie of record in four or more games over the first and second rounds combined, Chicago will get a first-rounder. If neither of those conditions are met, the pick for the Blackhawks will be a second-rounder instead. The Blackhawks also agreed to retain half of the remaining portion of Fleury's salary.
“You have to give up something to get something. There’s a price to pay, no matter what level. We traded away some really good guys and guys who did some good things for the team. It’s tough,” Guerin said. “But we got good guys in return, and we’re ready to move on and see what we can do.”
The Wild also traded goalie Kaapo Kahkonen and a fifth-round draft pick to San Jose for defenseman Jacob Middleton. They sent a third-round pick in the 2023 draft to Anaheim for forward Nicolas Deslauriers. They also dealt center Nico Sturm to Colorado for center Tyson Jost.
Once the Fleury news broke to punctuate this particularly busy stretch, Wild players were buzzing about not only the toughness and experience added to their lineup but what the moves said about management's faith in their postseason potential.
“Billy saw we were a piece or two away from really being contenders, and we went out there and did his job. Now we have to go out there and do ours. He’s brought in the right pieces that we’ve needed,” said goalie Cam Talbot, who stood to lose the most with the arrival of Fleury, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion.
The Wild, who are fourth in the NHL with an average of 3.66 goals per game, are well behind prohibitive Western Conference favorite Colorado. They're 20th in goals allowed in the league, and their special teams have been average at best this season.
There was no reason, though, for Guerin to wait for a better time to seize a contending window.
The buyouts of former cornerstones Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will soon become major roster-building hindrances — counting more than $12.7 million in combined dead money against Minnesota's salary cap next season and more than $14.7 million in each of the two ensuing years — so there's no guarantee that future opportunities will be as welcoming.
“The leadership is tight,” Deslauriers said. “It’s overwhelming, to be honest with you.”
Watch more of Minnesota sports:
Watch the latest sports videos - from high school hockey to the Minnesota Vikings and everything in between - in our YouTube playlist: