Victor Rask had an encouraging debut for the Wild on Saturday, collecting an assist and hitting the post in a 2-1 victory over Columbus.
It was probably more what Wild General Manager Paul Fenton had in mind in terms of response when he said Thursday — after trading the popular Nino Niederreiter for Rask, but before the Wild lost 3-0 to Anaheim without Rask — that he was trying to put players on “alert.”
Overall, though, the trade probably should be viewed like this: While nobody should be giving up on this season given the Wild is still in the playoff mix, Fenton is and should be keeping at least one eye on 2019-20 and beyond.
Trading a wing with just nine goals in 46 games is hardly a give-up move, but a one-for-one swap for Rask does seem like a head-scratcher if we only evaluate it in the short-term.
Both players are about the same age and their play has declined since signing long-term contracts, but Rask’s drop is particularly acute both in terms of ice time (12 minutes a game) and production (one goal) this season before the trade.
And Rask is a center — a spot at which the Wild has reasonable depth at the moment with Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Joel Eriksson Ek.
But Staal is notable as the only relatively high-priced Wild player ($3.5 million) whose contract expires after this season. Rask is a built-in replacement, and it doesn’t hurt that his $4 million cap hit is $1.25 million less than Niederreiter’s for each of the next three seasons.
Per Cap Friendly, the Wild already has $68 million committed to next year’s salary cap — and that’s before spending on a backup goalie (Alex Stalock is a free agent) or adding depth at forward and defense, let alone spending on impact players.
Commissioner Gary Bettman recently said he expects the cap to be around $83 million next season (a $3.5 million increase from this year). Not having to shop for an impact center — as long as Rask is still that — and saving more than a million dollars on the cap will help next season and beyond.
And after next season, Koivu will be a free agent — along with Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jared Spurgeon, among high-impact players. Without Rask, that center depth suddenly could be pretty thin depending on how Fenton values those longtime Wild players.
• Much has been made about Kirk Cousins’ fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal signed with the Vikings last offseason and whether he proved worthy of that big deal this season.
Value is relative, but in a couple of years the total amount of the contract probably won’t seem so absurd. Case in point: An ESPN report suggested Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes could be in line for a $200 million contract when he becomes eligible in 2020.
• The Twins’ free agent acquisition of pitcher Martin Perez, even on a one-year contract, was a bit of a head-scratcher. Even at his best, he’s a low-strikeout pitcher who allows a lot of baserunners.
• It wasn’t pretty, but the Gophers men’s basketball team’s 65-64 win over Penn State on Saturday was important. Five of Minnesota’s next nine games are against ranked Big Ten opponents, starting with Tuesday at No. 2 Michigan.
That’s a daunting challenge or an opportunity, depending on how you look at it. Either way, starting it with a 4-3 conference record and a little confidence is a lot nicer than 3-4 after two bad losses.