Although Wild brass has been engaged in trade talk leading up to the leaguewide deadline that hits Monday, little change — if any — has seemed like a potential outcome.
Management has praised the team’s depth and felt the group is trending in the right direction amid a surge that now has it vying for a Central Division top-three berth. Those are signs that can make a case for leaving the roster alone, but minimal cap space appeared to make maneuvering a challenge.
It’s still possible this holds true and the Wild takes a less-is-more approach, but after placing winger Chris Stewart on waivers Sunday, the team has created more wiggle room to potentially be active before the trade window closes at 2 p.m. Twin Cities time.
“Putting him on waivers I think gives him a good chance of getting claimed and getting a chance to play more regularly than he was playing for us, which will be good for him,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “And from our standpoint, it’ll clear some cap space that may allow us flexibility, too.”
The decision to waive Stewart, who had dropped into the 13th forward slot as a healthy scratch 15 times, could pan out in several ways.
He could get claimed by another team, a definite possibility considering his credentials. The 30-year-old is experienced and provides scoring.
Before exposing Stewart to the waiver wire, the Wild tried to trade him and while it was unable to broker a deal, Fletcher believes Stewart could generate interest. This is also a pickup that wouldn’t require the acquiring team to send an asset to the Wild.
If Stewart clears, the Wild could still work to facilitate a trade. The team would also have the option of keeping him on the roster or assigning him to the American Hockey League, which would open up cap space and also give Stewart the chance to play regularly while keeping him in the system as insurance.
While waiving Stewart was not directly related to a potential trade, the relief from his $1.15 million cap hit could be just the hurdle the Wild needs to clear to swing a deal; with Stewart on the roster Sunday, the team had barely more than $151,000 in cap space, according to capfriendly.com.
That extra cushion could also come in handy if the Wild wants to recall a player from the minors like forward Luke Kunin or eventually prospect Jordan Greenway, when he turns pro after finishing up his college career.
This move, though, is also about Stewart and the chance to allow him to play more elsewhere. Although he was a regular in 2016-17, the beginning of his second stint with the franchise, Stewart had skated in only 47 games this season — chipping in nine goals and 13 points — and was a healthy scratch eight times in the previous 11 games before Sunday. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
“He’s played great for us,” said Fletcher, who explained the decision wasn’t an easy one. “He had a two-year deal, and he scored a lot of goals. He’s done well in the shootout for us. He obviously provides a veteran presence, toughness and a very popular player in the room. But going forward, I think his role was going to be reduced.”
Stewart was also a leader, professing support for his teammates while he was kept out of the lineup — an attitude that no doubt stoked that in-house popularity. And that professionalism was also on display Sunday, coach Bruce Boudreau said, when Stewart received news he was hitting the waiver wire.
“We’re hoping for the best for him,” Boudreau said. “You always hope good things happen to good people.”
Defenseman Jonas Brodin skated Sunday morning with the team for the first time since he was sidelined Feb. 7 after undergoing surgery to repair his fractured left hand.
The team hopes Brodin returns this week, but he’ll be evaluated Monday to gain more clarity on a timeline. Brodin was expected to be out three to four weeks, and the three-week mark is Wednesday.
“He said he feels very good,” Boudreau said.