Mikael Granlund was the epitome of youth, quickness and talent when he joined the Wild.
Now, almost nine years later, those same attributes are the reason why the team cut ties with the center/wing — trading him to Nashville for that same blend in up-and-comer Kevin Fiala before the NHL trade deadline expired Monday, another retooling chapter in General Manager Paul Fenton’s first year at the helm.
The Wild also sent veteran Matt Hendricks to Winnipeg for a 2020 seventh-round draft pick and re-signed center Eric Staal to a two-year, $6.5 million deal.
“That’s what I was brought here for, to make some changes, to make some changes to the culture,” Fenton said, “and today was another opportunity to do something about it.”
Shortly before the 2 p.m. trading window closed and while his fiancée, Emmi, was in labor, Granlund became an ex-Wild wing after parts of seven seasons — a partnership that began with so much promise since his crafty playmaking style was buzzed about as soon as the Wild drafted him ninth overall in 2010.
Granlund exceeded 20 goals twice and set career highs with 26 goals and 69 points in 2016-17, when he was nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player. This season, he had 15 goals, and his 49 points ranked second only to Zach Parise.
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But at 27 (as of Tuesday) and with only one season remaining on a three-year, $17.25 million contract, the team was looking to fulfill its younger, faster objectives, and Granlund was the trade-off — a cost that also creates more cap space for the Wild since Fiala is a restricted free agent this summer.
Granlund totaled 93 goals, 224 assists and 317 points in 461 regular-season games. He is fourth in Wild history in assists and sixth in points.
“I have nothing but respect for his talent level, for the way that he’s played,” Fenton said. “… It’s a controllable asset that we have with Fiala, and that’s the positive part of it is it gives us more flexibility. Since [owner] Craig [Leipold] came here, it’s been a cap team. It’s been a team that’s not afraid to go after and do things. For me, it gives me some opportunities to maybe shop in a different way.”
Fenton said he had been working on a Granlund deal for a while and discussed him with several teams. He did not ask the Predators to include a draft pick.
“This is fair-market value,” Fenton said. “This is a hockey trade.”
Generating more skill and speed off the rush is a target for Fenton, and he used both of those characteristics to describe Fiala.
The 22-year-old winger, who was drafted 11th overall in 2014, has 10 goals and 32 points in 64 games this season but scored 23 in 2017-18 in his return from a broken leg. He is expected to make his Wild debut Tuesday at Winnipeg.
“He’s electric,” Fenton said, mentioning Fiala was “thrilled” when he heard of the trade. “He’s got the ability to be the game-breaker, which is the thing that I find the most exciting. … He can game-break both ways. But for me, I’m willing to take the chance that he’s going to be the game-breaker in the positive sense for us.”
Who takes Granlund’s spot up the middle is unclear, with Fenton leaving the decision up to coach Bruce Boudreau while also noting youngsters Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin and Ryan Donato as having the ability to handle it. All three were assigned to the American Hockey League at the deadline and then recalled, paper moves that make them eligible for the AHL playoffs.
The Wild moved out another center option in Hendricks, reuniting him with his former team in the Jets after the 37-year-old’s role shrunk (two assists in just 22 games), but it retained Staal — for this season and beyond — after Staal’s agent, Rick Curran, and Fenton chatted Monday.
Staal’s new deal contains a modified no-trade clause.
While much of the team’s maneuvering Monday affected its future, Fenton said he did keep the team’s current state in mind and believes the group has the potential to make the playoffs. He did explore other moves but only executed what made the most sense now.
And after the departures of longtime fixtures like Granlund and forwards Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle, it seems likely the revisions will continue.
“I like the team that we are putting together and changing,” Fenton said. “I’m not done. None of us are done, by any means. Things happen all the way through. Our team can change all the way through to next season, but for right now we’re in pretty good shape.”