Two trades between two teams, hours apart. In each case, the deal appeared to mean something very different for each side.
The San Jose Sharks? They’re refusing to acknowledge the idea that they need a rebuild. It’s not something GM Doug Wilson has ever had to experience. Since he took over as GM in 2003-04, his team has missed the playoffs twice in 16 seasons, and never consecutively. One of those misses came this season, and the Sharks could at least partially blame that on some bad luck, as the likes of Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson sustained major injuries. Also to blame: goaltender Martin Jones stopping pucks at league-worst rate for a second consecutive season.
So, fine: whether we agree or not that these Sharks, with many core players deep into their 30s, still have some fight left in them, it’s at least clear what Wilson’s intentions are.
The first trade Monday: sending a 2021 third-round draft pick to the Minnesota Wild for center Ryan Donato. The second: sending a 2022 fifth-round selection to the Wild for goaltender Devan Dubnyk and a 2022 seventh-rounder. The Wild retain half Dubnyk’s cap hit, totalling $2,166,666.
Donato is a respectable bet-hedge acquisition, established as a viable NHLer but also not necessarily devoid of upside at 24. He managed 18 goals in 84 games as a member of the Wild while averaging just 11:55 of ice time. He had his role slashed significantly this past season but arrives on a San Jose team that should give him a much larger opportunity. Depth was one thing Minnesota had going for it, whereas the Sharks are desperate for forward depth after a season in which many AHL-grade talents were forced up the lineup.
As for Dubnyk? The plan is clear from the Sharks’ perspective. They badly need a proven goaltender to push Jones if he continues to struggle. It wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see the pair deployed in an open competition next season. It does not appear the Sharks will buy out Jones, as that would have them paying him for eight more seasons. Another reason to keep him around: it’s not even a guarantee Dubnyk is an upgrade. From his resurgent 2014-15 season through 2018-19, he was second in the NHL in starts, third in wins and sixth in shutouts, but that outstanding career resurgence ended this past season. His .890 save percentage was his lowest since 2009-10, his first season in the league. Among 53 goalies who logged at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Jones ranked dead last in goals saved above average per 60, but Dubnyk was third last. It’s possible serious health problems involving Dubnyk’s wife were the cause of his down year, as they did force him away from the team for multiple periods of time, but it’s also possible Dubnyk was merely declining at 34.
It’s thus not a given that the Dubnyk trade actually fixes the Sharks’ goaltending, but it’s not a surprise to see Wilson pursuing this idea. He’s trying to patch holes for a team that has one of the lowest-graded farm systems in the league and holds the final pick of the first round in Tuesday’s draft. There isn’t a lot of young help coming down the prospect pipeline, and Wilson prides himself on trying to put a Cup contender on the ice every year. It’s one of the things that endears him to veteran players and keeps them re-signing in San Jose so often and for so long.
But what about Minnesota’s side of both trades? It appears the swaps are financially motivated and that GM Bill Guerin is clearing the deck for something bigger. Donato took up $1.9 million in cap space and was clearly not part of the Wild’s long-term plans, having spent the last two games of their post-season as a healthy scratch. Per The Athletic’s Wild beat writer, Michael Russo, it was cheaper to trade Dubnyk than buy him out, even when retaining half Dubnyk’s salary, so it was a logical enough move for Guerin to trade Dubnyk.
After completing the two trades Monday and also re-signing breakout blueliner Carson Soucy to a three-year deal, the Wild now have $12.57 million in cap space freed up with an impressive 19 players under contract already. Even factoring in deals for RFAs Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin, there’s room on the books now for a significant acquisition. It’s likely Guerin will chase a goaltender.
The Wild could give Alex Stalock and Kaapo Kahkonen a chance to roll as a tandem next season, but a particularly fertile goaltending market offers many viable upgrades this summer. The UFA market includes viable starters Braden Holtby and Jacob Markstrom, not to mention a potential rental in Corey Crawford should he choose not to re-sign with the Chicago Blackhawks at a discount. The trade market could be even more robust. The Wild have already been linked to the uber-experienced Marc-Andre Fleury, while the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Murray is on the block, as is one half of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ tandem of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. The Wild could also chase a cheaper veteran option coming off a great season such as Cam Talbot or Anton Khudobin and use the leftover money to pursue help at another position. They still don’t have a top-end center to play with Kevin Fiala or promising rookie Kirill Kaprizov, for instance. It would make sense to pursue someone like the Montreal Canadiens’ Max Domi.
Whatever happens, it’s clear Guerin isn’t done. When addressing media after his trades Monday, he implied he’d be busy working the phones in the days to come. Stay tuned.