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.

Scroll Down For: