Look, most of us thought Kirill Kaprizov would inject some life into the Wild. Instead, Kaprizov delivered beyond just about the wildest expectations for the Wild, basically from the start of his Calder-winning campaign in 2020-21.
Could rising rookie Matt Boldy raise the Wild’s ceiling in his own right?
Sure, it’s silly to jump to too many conclusions after 13 games with Boldy. That said, it’s also silly just how great Boldy’s been for the Wild, right from the start.
If Boldy keeps this up for the Wild, he might even force himself into Calder Trophy discussions. Generating a hat trick (plus an assist) on Monday really put an exclamation point on Boldy’s bold beginning.
In just 13 games, Matt Boldy is currently 3rd among rookies in average GAR/xGAR. I'm not sure I can remember a rookie having a start like this in the ~4 years our site has existed. pic.twitter.com/Cm5Uq9rZrN
— EvolvingWild (@EvolvingWild) February 15, 2022
So, let’s take a look at the Wild’s rise this season, particularly since Boldy joined the lineup in January. From there, let’s ask: should the Wild go all-in as buyers at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline?
The most explosive Wild offense ever has been even hotter lately
Despite carrying that Wild moniker, Minnesota’s latest NHL franchise hasn’t exactly been known for high-octane, white-knuckle offense. Back in December, it was noted that the Wild have only averaged 3+ goals during five seasons.
At that time, averaging 3.68 goals per game represented uncharted territory. Yet, instead of cooling off, the Wild have only raise the temperature.
- Since Boldy’s Jan. 6 debut, the Wild have averaged 4.15 goals per game. That’s second only to the perturbingly potent Panthers (4.64!). The Wild managed an 11-1-1 record during that span.
- Such a surge pushed their numbers to an even higher level. Overall, the Wild average 3.8 goals per game, trailing only the Panthers (4.09) and Avalanche (4). There’s a significant gap between the Wild and everyone else, starting with the fourth-place Maple Leafs (3.59).
- They’ve been able to maintain sound defense, too. While their 2.84 goals allowed per game ranks middle-of-the-pack, the Wild have outscored opponents by almost a goal per game on average.
It seems like this team is incrementally climbing toward a pretty optimal combination of potent offense and competent defense. Check out this Hockey Viz map to see how they’re still stout in their own zone:
Owning basically all of the high-danger areas and forcing a ton of point shots? Yeah, that’s the ticket.
To be clear, power play numbers are especially vulnerable to cold and hot streaks. That said, there’s some promise in the Wild’s power play shooting to 31.4% in the 13 games since Boldy joined the ranks.
My guess is that both Boldy and the Wild are almost inevitably going to cool off. But if that drop is subtle, rather than drastic, than both the rookie and his team could be extremely dangerous.
Why this is probably the right year for the Wild to buy at the NHL trade deadline
Over at The Athletic, Michael Russo broke down numerous aspects of the Wild trade deadline situation in fantastic detail (sub required). It’s worth your time, especially if you’re a Wild fan.
Russo rummages through trade clauses for potential deadline targets, and wonders how moves might affect chemistry.
There are plenty of valid considerations, but in the bigger picture, it sure feels like there’s a big, neon light flashing “Buy!”
[Wild won’t find much discouragement in PHT’s latest Power Rankings]
Most pressingly, the bills really kick in for the Ryan Suter/Zach Parise buyouts starting next season. To review, the combined salary cap costs look like this, via Cap Friendly:
2021-22: $4,743,588 million
2022-23: $12,743,588 million
2023-24: $14,743,588 million
2024-25: $14,743,588 million
If the Wild salary cap situation and this hot streak don’t already prompt trade deadline spending, the potential targets should make the difference. The Wild could really use another quality center, and there are a few who could be had.
- The Sharks may re-sign Tomas Hertl. Frankly, they probably should just trade him. In that event, he’d be a splendid, maybe even tide-turning trade deadline rental for the Wild.
- Joe Pavelski is mesmerizingly malleable. Need a center? He still appears viable at that position, but he can also slide to RW. He can score without corrupting the Wild’s defensive vision. In fact, he was my choice for the 2021 Selke Trophy. Though he wouldn’t quite fill that bill this season, Pavelski’s a tremendous two-way player.
- Russo makes a valid point that Claude Giroux hasn’t spent much time at center lately. Still, it’s valid that he has plenty of experience at that position. Maybe he’d still be an upgrade there, particularly if he’s insulated with quality wingers?
Check out these multi-season RAPM charts from Evolving Hockey, and you may conclude that both Giroux and Pavelski might even be a bit underrated this deep into their careers:
My guess is that the price would be steeper for J.T. Miller … maybe too steep for the Wild. But he’s another versatile forward who could boost an already worthy Wild team.
Sometimes slow and steady gives way to a smart gamble
Some might point out that, even with an upgrade, the Wild may fall short of the Avalanche’s peerless talent. Fair, but you never know what will happen — or, really, who you might face — in this league’s playoffs. The Avalanche looked nigh-unbeatable last season, too.
Yes, the Wild can find ways to talk themselves out of being NHL trade deadline buyers. Under normal circumstances, they’d often be taking a sober viewpoint.
Yet, thanks to the Parise/Suter buyouts and a jump in expectations, there may never be a better time than now. The Wild should seize the day, and the NHL trade deadline.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.