It's trade season in the National Hockey League and there may be one team looking to sell that has peaked just about everyone's interest.
According to a breaking news report from Minnesota Wild insider Mike Russo of The Athletic, over half the league has shown up to the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota today to watch the Minnesota Wild take on the St. Louis Blues. Russo reports that a whopping total of 19 scouts are in attendance for this game with those 19 scouts representing 17 different teams from around the league, a truly staggering number even for a game ahead of the National Hockey League's trade deadline for the 2018 - 2019 regular season. As Russo sarcastically puts it I'm sure they are there "because it's always beautiful in Minnesota in mid February."
Now in theory the scouts could be there to take a long hard look at both of these organizations, however I feel like it's a pretty safe bet to suggest that the Wild are the team likely getting all of the action right now. The Blues have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the past several weeks and I do not see a world in which the Blues become sellers at the deadline unless the wheels completely fall off that roster. The Wild on the other hand have been struggling and with no less than 4 teams within just 3 points of them in the standings there's little doubt in my mind that newly appointed general manager Paul Fenton has, at the very least, pondered the possibility of being a seller at the deadline.
The 'Wild have a number of rather obvious assets that could be moved as deadline trading chips and with some of the talk around the team lately there is even the possibility of some truly major shake ups. Perhaps the most obviously expendable asset on the Wild roster comes in the form of 34 year old veteran forward Eric Staal. Not only is Staal still quite capable, he has 17 goals and 20 assists for 37 points in 57 games, but he also brings a ton of intangibles to the table including his experience and his leadership skills honed from years of leading the Carolina Hurricanes as their captain. At a cap hit of $3.5 million this season Staal is also comes at a very manageable number which would make him a prime target for a rental. The one hiccup here for Paul Fenton might be the fact that Staal can submit a 10 team no trade list which would limit the options for the Wild general manager.
The juiciest story here however might revolve around the current form of veteran goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk has struggled badly since the All-Star break and although he has not been the only factor his very poor play has played a major role in the Wild occupying the position they currently do. Head coach Bruce Boudreau even hinted that the matter was so serious this week that the general manager would be involved in the discussions about what to do next.
“It’ll be a conversation that the coaches and the goalie coach have tomorrow and the GM and we’ll see what transpires," said Boudreau after the loss. "There’s a couple things. One, we’re not blind. We saw how they went in, but the other thing that bothers me is we do this all the time. We get them down and you don’t get that killer instinct and you stop playing and you try to defend all the time and it’s a losing way to play."
One thing that could certainly attract this level of interest from so many teams could very well be the possibility of a very good goaltender being made available. Dubnyk would not be a rental either, he has 2 more years on his current deal after this one, and at a very reasonable cap hit of just $4.33 million per season he would bring back a lot of value for Fenton to work with. That is of course purely speculation on my part but I don't think 19 scouts including New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero all showed up today for nothing.