How the Wild looked when the team started the season will be awfully similar to the way the group is set up to finish it after management didn’t make any trades Monday before the deadline passed.
But Wild brass was in talks to pull off a significant deal — one that would have shaken up this season’s roster and changed the entire direction of the franchise.
The Wild explored the possibility of trading Zach Parise — in the eighth season of his 13-year, $98 million contract — and there were reported discussions with the New York Islanders that included veteran forward Andrew Ladd as part of the swap.
Since nothing was finalized before the 2 p.m. trade window closed, the 35-year-old winger remains with the Wild as one of the faces of the team and a key factor in a playoff push that picks back up Tuesday against Columbus.
What the near-trade also did was emphasize just how receptive first-year General Manager Bill Guerin is to change, an openness that makes Parise’s future in Minnesota seem unclear.
“Zach and I have a good relationship,” Guerin said. “We’ve talked over the last week about certain possibilities. We were both completely up front with each other and honest with what was going on or feelings or anything like that.
“The fact that nothing happened today is fine. This is something that we’re just looking forward on now. Zach’s a big part of the Minnesota Wild and he’s going to be, and we’re excited to still have him.”
Guerin and Parise had several conversations leading up the deadline, including about whether Parise would forgo the no-movement clause in his contract.
Although Guerin didn’t specify whether Parise gave him the green light, he was rumored to have agreed to waive the clause; same with Ladd, who has a no-trade clause. Ladd has three seasons remaining on a seven-year, $38.5 million deal. A two-time Stanley Cup champion, the 34-year-old suffered a torn ACL last year and has spent most of this season in the minors.
Still, a transaction like this would be complex and probably too intricate to complete last minute.
Aside from the lengthy term left on Parise’s contract and the hefty cap hit at approximately $7.5 million, there’s also the threat of a cap recapture penalty if Parise doesn’t play out the deal. This was a rule added to the current collective bargaining agreement to ding teams who signed players to front-loaded contracts such as the ones the Wild awarded Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter as free agents in 2012.
“A lot of deals get complicated,” Guerin said. “If this one was to happen, it would’ve been no different.”
Parise leads the Wild with 21 goals this season and played in his 1,000th NHL game on Feb. 7. He has the third-most goals (188) and points (373) in franchise history while ranking second in game-winning goals (35) and first in power play goals (68).
Those accolades, along with his local ties, have made him one of the most memorable players to ever wear a Wild sweater. After growing up in Bloomington, the son of former North Star J.P. Parise went on to captain New Jersey to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final before joining the Wild. Lou Lamoriello, GM of the Devils when Parise was there, is now GM of the Islanders.
Parise’s return home, coupled with the addition of Suter, was supposed to close the gap on a Stanley Cup, but during six ensuing playoff appearances, the furthest the team advanced was to the second round. Last year, it missed out completely and this season the Wild is five points out of a playoff spot with 21 games to go.
After the deadline passed, Guerin talked to Parise and said the two would reconnect later. Parise didn’t address the media after practice Monday but spoke at the end of last season about being concerned if the team was headed for a rebuild considering his age.
“He seemed to be in a good spot,” Guerin said. “He’s a professional, and [Tuesday] night I would expect nothing but the usual Zach Parise effort we see every night.”
Asked why he’d want to cut ties with a player like Parise, Guerin said, “There are always a number of things involved in a situation like this, and I think at this time the best thing to do is keep those in-house.”
He also didn’t say whether he’d restart talks with the Islanders this offseason, but Guerin did make it clear seeds planted at the deadline can develop in the summer.
“There are certain moves that just require more time and a little more detail,” he explained. “Sometimes you want to get through a season with a player and revisit it. You’re not unhappy with him, but you could see the potential return you could get so you revisit it.”
Although he didn’t make any moves, Guerin did receive calls Monday.
Ultimately, he stuck to his plan to not scramble the roster just for the sake of it; nothing presented to him made sense for the Wild in his mind. He acknowledged the team needing help up the middle but said he’d address that area at another time.
“Our guys are signed,” said Guerin, who mentioned he wasn’t disappointment by the lack of trades. “We’re real happy with our players, and on any given night we’ve proven we can beat anybody. So, there was no need to get super aggressive and just try to make something happen.”
Despite no new faces, the Wild is poised to roll out a different lineup Tuesday that has Alex Galchenyuk getting a look at center; he’s played mostly at wing since arriving from Pittsburgh in the Jason Zucker trade on Feb. 10.
And call-up Gerald Mayhew is set to join Eric Staal and Kevin Fiala on the top line.
“The players that we stuck with I’m extremely happy about, and I expect the same effort,” Guerin said. “I expect the same results. We’re in a good spot right now to try to grab one of the last playoff spots, and that’s what we expect — that type of effort to try to get one of those.”
This roster is structured like the ones the Wild has counted on in recent years; not only is Parise sticking around, but so is captain Mikko Koivu after he told Guerin on Saturday he wouldn’t waive his no-movement clause.
“I’m actually kind of excited to see what this group can do,” Guerin said. “I’ve said all along that they’re getting an opportunity, a longer leash. We felt we made our move a couple weeks ago with the Zucker trade, and now ball’s in their court and see how they do.”
But Guerin doesn’t seem to be afraid of evolution.
It was on his radar Monday, and it could be on his agenda down the road.
“My job is to improve this team each and every year whether you miss, you make it, or you go all the way,” Guerin said. “You have to be better the next year. We’ll see what the future holds for that.”