In an attempt to bolster its Stanley Cup chances with the team about to embark on the stretch run of its most impressive season to date, the Wild sent a haul of draft picks to the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday night for arguably the top rental forward on the trade market.
The Wild dealt its 2017 first-round pick, 2018 second-round pick, a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick that could become as high as a second-rounder and minor league center Grayson Downing to Arizona for Martin Hanzal, a solid two-way center, rugged forward Ryan White and a 2017 fourth-round pick.
“We’re just putting our chips in the middle of the table for this year,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “We think our players deserve the best chance possible to compete [for the Stanley Cup].”
With the Wild’s young core intact and prospects Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, Kirill Kaprizov and Alex Tuch in the pipeline, the Wild could stomach trading so many draft picks for two players with expiring contracts. But it didn’t want to trade any top prospects.
This is the second time in Fletcher’s tenure he has traded a first-round pick (2013 to Buffalo in the Jason Pominville deal), but this year’s draft is not considered a strong one, especially where the Wild hoped to be picking.
“It’s not fun trading picks. I don’t take it lightly,” Fletcher said. “You can’t do this all the time. No question we paid a price.”
The Wild’s lead in the West and Central Division is down to one point with three games in hand. If the Wild wins one playoff round, the 2019 pick becomes a third-rounder. If the Wild wins at least two rounds, the pick becomes a second. As injury insurance, Hanzal must play 50 percent of the Wild’s playoff games for Minnesota to lose the 2019 pick.
In order for the Wild to afford the $3.1 million cap hit of Hanzal, the Coyotes are picking up 50 percent of his salary.
Hanzal, 30, whose 16 goals this season tie his career high, ranks eighth in Coyotes/Jets history with 608 games, 13th with 117 goals and 14th with 313 points.
“He’s an extremely tough player to play against,” Fletcher said. “He’s a big, strong centerman, he plays a heavy game, he makes you earn every inch of the ice when you play against him. He’s a guy that can contribute offensively, he can win faceoffs, he can play both specialty teams. We thought he was the top rental forward on the market.”
The 2005 17th overall pick ranks sixth in the NHL this season in faceoff winning percentage (.560).
“It’s been a good 10 years, but I’m really looking forward to being in the playoffs and stepping on the ice to help Minnesota,” Hanzal told Coyotes reporters.
If healthy, the Wild will now enter the cutthroat Western Conference playoffs with Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Hanzal and Erik Haula up the middle.
“Hopefully it poses matchup problems for opposing teams,” Fletcher said. “The fact we didn’t subtract anybody from our NHL roster I think is a statement to our group that we believe in them.”
After an hourlong practice Sunday night, coach Bruce Boudreau at least feigned unawareness of the trade, saying he didn’t know what was going on because Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr were locked in a room.
In that room, the execs were finalizing the deal with Coyotes GM John Chayka.
The Wild, 4-2-1 on an eight-game homestand that ends Monday, begins a stretch of 23 games in the final 41 days of the season with back-to-back games against Los Angeles and at Winnipeg.
Hanzal and White are expected to debut Monday, Hanzal likely at third-line center and White at fourth-line right wing.
Boudreau will discuss the Wild’s moves for the first time Monday morning, but Hanzal’s arrival will allow the Wild to keep Charlie Coyle at right wing.
It’ll also potentially move Haula down to fourth-line center, unless he eventually plays wing. White could bump speedy Jordan Schroeder initially from the lineup.
White, 28, a former junior star, has morphed into a rugged center and right wing. He’ll join his fourth team. He has scored seven goals and 13 points in 46 games this season with 70 penalty minutes. He has 29 goals and 29 assists in 294 career games with 433 penalty minutes. He’s solid in the faceoff circle from the right side and likely will begin at right wing for the Wild.