Phil Kessel reportedly vetoed a potential trade to the Wild, one that would have sent Jason Zucker to the Penguins.
Everything about this looks bad for the Wild with one exception: The end result, because the trade didn't happen.
First, it doesn't look good that Kessel wouldn't agree to the deal. Sure, he has that power since the Wild reportedly isn't on his list of eight teams he would agree to be traded to, but those lists are malleable.
If the conventional thinking was that Kessel's local connections — playing for the Gophers and being tight with Ryan Suter — would sway him, the state of the Wild appears to have trumped that. If you were a 31-year-old goal scorer used to winning Stanley Cups, is this really the team you would want to join? Probably not, which doesn't look good for the Wild, even if it's true.
Second, the Wild has been VERY close to trading Zucker twice now — once to Calgary at last year's deadline and now this.
It's no secret Minnesota has been trying to move Zucker before his 10-team no-trade list kicks takes effect in July. And if the Wild really still is able to deal Zucker before then for fair value, those two publicized swings and misses won't really matter.
But this is pretty awkward for now — and will become even more awkward if the Wild doesn't find a suitable trade partner for Zucker and decides to keep him.
Third, what exactly is the plan here? I'm fine with the idea of trading Zucker if you're not sold on his long-term production compared to his long-term contract (four more years, cap hit of $5.5 million per year).
But GM Paul Fenton took a couple positive steps to try to make the Wild younger and more nimble at the trade deadline. This team needs youth and speed. It probably needs to spend another year or two out of the playoffs to truly replenish its talent pool and give young players a chance to develop.
That seems to be the trajectory the Wild is on right now, and it's a smart one. There are seldom shortcuts out of mediocrity; maybe the Wild could make a few short-term moves to compete for a low playoff seed next season, but that's not the path to sustained success.
Trading Zucker, 27, for Kessel, 31 — speed and relative youth for a veteran goal-scorer — is a head-scratching move. Kessel might make the Wild points better next season, but this isn't a team positioned to win now.
And including Victor Rask and Jack Johnson as part of the swap, parameters reported by The Athletic, only serves to admit that the trade for Rask last year was a mistake while adding Johnson's equally onerous contract.
Tanking in the NHL is difficult, and it would be a tough sell in St. Paul. That's probably not the Wild's preferred course. But neither is staying just good enough to miss out on high-impact draft picks.
The only good news in all of this is that Kessel, either out of stubbornness, his own best interest or a little of both, saved Fenton from himself. Maybe now he can make a proper trade with Zucker to shed some more salary and get young, cheap talent — similar to the deal that sent Charlie Coyle to the Bruins for Ryan Donato.