Even with money to spend in the year-end budget, the Wild are looking for short-term help that doesn’t cost high-end assets.
That’s exactly what they achieved in a pair of deals on Tuesday, repurchasing Marcus Johansson and bring in the injured Gustav Nyquist for draft picks.
The Wild sent Washington a 2024 third-round pick for Johansson and landed Nyquist from Columbus for a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft; The Blue Jackets retain half of Nyquist’s contract.
Both players have expiring contracts.
“I think these two players are what we lacked, what we needed, and that’s that they’re both very talented guys,” General Manager Bill Guerin so. “They’re excellent skaters and I think they’re going to give us just that natural ability out there. They’re both effortless skaters and just great hockey sense that can make plays.
“I think we could really use it.”
This is Johansson’s second stint with the Wild in three seasons. He was here for the abbreviated 2021 schedule after the Wild traded Erik Staal to add Johansson from Buffalo. Johansson had six goals and eight assists while missing some time with injury, including being knocked out of the playoffs with a broken arm.
Guerin called Johansson a “good fit” with versatility: He can play center and wing, and Guerin considered Johansson the likely placement on the second power-play unit. The 32-year-old scored 13 goals with the Capitals in 60 games this season. A veteran of 13 seasons and more than 800 games, Johansson also has 43 points in 103 playoff games.
Johansson was expected to arrive in Minnesota Tuesday night and work out with the team on Wednesday.
When Nyquist will join the Wild is less clear. He is on the sidelines with a shoulder injury sustained in January. The Blue Jackets announced that Nyquist was expected to be out for the rest of the season, but Guerin said that was not the case.
“He was a player we were interested (in) from way back,” said Guerin, who believed Nyquist would have deserved a bigger return had he been healthy. “Getting the phone call that he’d been injured was kind of a letdown, but we’re willing to take a chance and talk to him, he’s feeling good. We’ve still got some time to get him back to being a healthy player, but it’s a chance we were willing to take.
“He’s a veteran, so he knows his body. He knows what he has to do, and so we’re confident it will work.”
Guerin has a timeline in mind for when Nyquist could return, but declined to reveal it; he also did not specify where Nyquist is in recovery.
The pick Columbus got is the fifth rounder the Wild secured last week from Boston when they kept part of Dmitry Orlov contract. Nyquist, 33, is on injured reserve.
“We have to do our job here and get to the playoffs,” Guerin said. “It’s going to give Gus the best chance to come in here and make an impact.”
In 48 games before the injury, Nyquist had 10 goals and 12 assists. He had 18 goals last season. The lefty has played 700 career games, is a four-time 20-goal scorer and has 21 points in 65 playoff contests.
“He’s extremely fast,” Guerin said. “Very good hockey sense. Has the ability to make plays. I think his skating and hockey sense have really contributed to a lot of his success in the league.”
After taking on the remainder of Johansson’s one-year, $1.1 million deal and half of what remains on Nyquist’s four-year, $22 million contract, the Wild are projected to have about $7 million in cap space on Friday when the NHL – trade deadline is expiring, according to capfriendly.com.
If they trade more, expect the same criteria as those transactions.
“We will not deviate from our plan,” Guerin said.
Kirill Kaprizov was a force in the third period Sunday, his two goals chipping away at the Wild’s deficit against Columbus in an eye-popping display of skill and determination.
But before completing a natural hat trick in overtime, the icing on the cake of a 3-2 comeback by the Wild, Kaprizov would actually take himself off the ice.
Nearly two minutes into the extra session, the Wild and Blue Jackets were about to square off toward a neutral zone when Kaprizov, who was in the middle of a shift, said the team needed a line change for a “faceoff guy.”
“And I said, ‘No, we need you out there,'” coach Dean Evason recalled.
The Wild kept Kaprizov in action because if Columbus won possession of the puck, the Wild would not be able to get Kaprizov back in the game. Evason explained this to Kaprizov, who understood, but the interaction spoke volumes for the superstar’s attitude.
“(He) didn’t think about Kirill Kaprizov in that situation,” Evason said. “He thought about the Minnesota Wild and what was best for the Minnesota Wild, which he felt would be best to win the faceoff. That’s why he is who he is.”
Up for grabs
That far back, the Wild were from first place in the Central Division on February 10, the team barely in playoff position. Even on February 16, they were 10 points off the top spot.
But after a four-game winning streak and five wins overall in the next six games, the Wild made up enough ground to close that gap to just a touch of points and join the hunt for the No. 1 seed, which also has Dallas, Colo. and Winnipeg.
“When things don’t go your way and things don’t go as planned, you just do what you can to survive kind of thing,” Marcus Foligno so. “I just feel like we have a lot of great characters in this room where we just battled back. We’ve won close games.
“At the end of the day, it’s about getting two points. But with the Central, pitting us against Dallas and Winnipeg and Colorado, I can see why we’re fighting for first place right now.”
Although the Wild will not play the Stars again in the regular season, they will face the Jets and Avalanche.
The Wild will be in Winnipeg next Wednesday and in Colorado on March 29 before hosting the Jets on April 11 at the Xcel Energy Center. They are 2-0 against Winnipeg and 0-2 against Colorado.
“You just want to be the top of your division no matter what,” Foligno said. “That’s our mentality, to be No. 1. Right now we have a chance to move up there.”