With Fleury trade, Wild boldly aim to fix biggest weakness

With the Marc-Andre Fleury trade, the Wild boldly aim to address their most glaring weakness: goaltending. If everything comes together, Fleury could truly be the missing piece for this Wild team … at least in the present.

While that’s a big “if,” it all makes a lot of sense for Minnesota.

Let’s dive into the ins and outs of the Wild landing Fleury in that trade, moving on from Kaapo Kähkönen, and the push-and-pull between the present and future.

Fleury trade upgrades Wild’s goaltending — on paper

Scan your memories and think of the last time there was a high-profile trade deadline move for a goalie. Who comes to mind? Maybe Ryan Miller? Then try to think of the last goalie moved this late in a season who actually paid off for the team that landed them.

The phrase “goalies are voodoo” gets thrown around a lot for good reason. Even in the most stable circumstances, a goalie’s highs and lows can be wildly unpredictable. Just about any player isn’t guaranteed to transition seamlessly to a new team, but that turbulence could be even tougher for a goalie to manage.

And let’s not forget: few goalies experience the extremes Marc-Andre Fleury represents year-to-year.

[PHT’s 2022 NHL Trade Deadline Live Blog]

For much of this season, it’s been fascinating to wonder what the Wild could accomplish with above-average goaltending. At times, the Cam Talbot – Kaapo Kähkönen pairing survived, yet rarely thrived. Lately, they’ve struggled deeply, and now Kähkönen is out of the mix.

With an explosive offense and a deep defense, the Wild provide Fleury with an opportunity to succeed.

This Hockey Viz heat map captures just how well the Wild insulate their goalies, expertly limiting high-danger chances:

There’s the elevator pitch: “Put the reigning Vezina Trophy winner behind one of the best defensive structures in the league.” It certainly could work like gangbusters, and as a pending UFA, Fleury doesn’t lack for motivation.

(He also can’t be thrilled to experience such turbulence in his career, overall.)

That said, it’s worth noting that Marc-Andre Fleury struggled this season. Fascinatingly, it may not be totally accurate to pin all of those struggles on the Blackhawks, either. The team’s quietly made serious strides structurally, especially since Derek King took over.

So, yes, there are a number of reasons why the excitement of the Fleury trade may not translate to the sort of results the Wild are seeking.

Why it still makes sense on plenty of levels

While we addressed certain quibbles, the Fleury trade almost becomes a no-brainer for the Wild when you dig into context.

For one thing, Fleury is likely to be some level of an improvement over the Wild’s previous goaltending options. Despite being 37, it’s not that difficult to imagine a rebound. (And, hey, it might help to go from a bad team to a good-to-great one.)

[Track all the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline moves]

The price also isn’t too steep. While Bill Guerin pointed out that draft picks could be absolutely crucial as the Wild ready for a salary cap crunch, the conditions virtually guarantee that if Fleury costs a first-rounder, it’ll be worth it. If not, the Wild lose a second-rounder.

Don’t dismiss the argument for peace of mind, either. If this doesn’t work out, that stinks. But it would have been a lot worse if the Wild simply ignored a glaring weakness.

That’s especially true because, to some extent, the Wild had little choice but to go bold at the trade deadline. Things will get much tougher once the price spikes for the the Ryan Suter/Zach Parise buyouts.

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

While you never know, that situation makes it tougher to picture Fleury remaining with the Wild after this season. Even if he did, he’s 37, and Cam Talbot’s 34 (and under contract next season).

By trading away 25-year-old Kähkönen, the Wild’s future looks cloudier in net.

Really, though, the Wild are justified in taking a “cross that bridge when we get to it” approach. There’s simply no time better than the present (even acknowledging the presence of Central Division superpower Colorado).

A busy trade deadline for the Wild, even beyond Fleury

To review, the Wild made a lot of trade deadline moves. Most of them pale in comparison to the MAF deal, but still:

  • Again, moving on from Kähkönen could end up being a significant decision.
  • That trade landed the Wild a solid depth defenseman in Jacob Middleton.

Some of the Wild’s other trades can provide decent material for debates.

  • On the other hand, the Wild extracted impressive value in getting a second-rounder for Jack McBain, who was going to walk as a free agent.

Again, the Fleury trade looms over those other moves, but it’s intriguing that the Wild provided other bits to chew on. “The Flower” boosts an already-exciting team to a must-watch. We’ll have to wait and see if he provides a clear upgrade in net, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”