TAMPA, Fla. – Jared Spurgeon tried.
He really did it.
In an injury-plagued season, the Minnesota Wild captain has exhausted all his options, in terms of treatment, for back and hip problems that president and general manager Bill Guerin said have persisted for months. But on Thursday, Minnesota finally announced what had become inevitable: Spurgeon's season was over, with separate back and hip surgeries scheduled.
Spurgeon will be back by September, so he will be ready for next season, but “no one is as frustrated as him,” Guerin said.
“Mentally, it's been a really tough year, for sure,” Spurgeon said. The athlete. “I've been struggling with injuries for a while, and the injections and treatment haven't been helping. So I'm excited to fix things and feel healthy again.
Spurgeon is already on long-term injured reserve, so the Wild are able to go over the salary cap with their $7.575 million hit. Guerin would likely explore acquiring a defenseman now without giving up top assets (such as a first-round pick) in return. It would make sense for the incoming defenseman to be a pending unrestricted free agent so the Wild don't have to re-sign him and could flip the player back before the March 8 trade deadline if he turns sellers. Minnesota has lost nine of its last 11 games after losing to Tampa Bay on Thursday and is eight points away from a wild-card spot.
The Wild don't want to blow up all their cap space on one player because they'll need some of Spurgeon's LTIR room for minor league call-ups and young players currently on the roster.
Guerin said the commercial market is an option he will explore.
“We have a lot of defensemen here,” Guerin said. “We have six guys playing well right now, and two in the stands who played well and contributed. Whether we use that (trade market) or not is TBD. We'll see. We can. I just don't know yet.”
The Wild's third pair currently is Dakota Mermis and rookie Damon Hunt, both left-handed shooters. The two “guys in the stands” are veteran defenders Alex Goligoski (who has played over 1,000 games) and John Merrill. You have to wonder what they're thinking with Guerin indicating he could explore trading for a D-man as they spend the last few games in the press box.
The problem the Wild will likely find in the market is that there aren't a lot of great options, especially at the price point Guerin is willing to pay (he's not interested in dealing first-round picks, and a second-round pick would also be difficult to deal with). So, Sean Walker is going to be very expensive, and same with Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin.
One of the more interesting names is a familiar one: Matt Dumba. The former longtime Wild defenseman checks a lot of boxes as a pending UFA with a not-bad cap hit ($3.9 million) and with familiarity with the team and area. However, the Coyotes are ahead of the Wild in the standings and are in contention for a spot in the playoffs, so they may not even be sellers. Wouldn't it be something if the same Minnesota defenseman has been struggling for action for years to suddenly be too expensive for the Wild in a deal?
Marco Scandella, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound left-handed shot, could be available and is an option. So it could be the Predators' Alexandre Carrier, someone coach John Heinz should be aware of. Eric Johnson, 35, another right shot, is a pending UFA with the Sabres.
Guerin won't be exclusively looking for the right shot, and said facing a player with a short stint isn't out of the question. For now, he has to decide if he's comfortable trading for a third pair of Mermis and Hunt (or bringing back Merrill/Goligoski).
Mermes' poor turnovers on his blue line quickly led to the Lightning's third goal of Thursday's game.
“Mermis has been here most of the year and played really well,” Gerin said. “He's competing hard and working hard. Hunt has a good opportunity here, a really good opportunity. I think he's in really good shape. There's a balance here between throwing him to the wolves. He's earned the call-up and time here in Minnesota. If he keeps doing what he's doing and is as good as he can be “It was, maybe this is our answer.”
If Guerin is going to make a move, it stands to reason that it would come sooner rather than later. They could use help to stave off this latest slide, and it would give the Wild time to move that lease on the March 8 deadline if they are in sell-side mode.
What this also means is a continued massive workload for Calder Trophy candidate Brock Faber, who will also take Spurgeon's place at the top of the power play unit.
“What Jared Spurgeon does for us day and night is not easy to do,” Guerin said. “Not everyone can do it. But it's an opportunity for men to show they can step up.”
It's fair to have some concerns about Spurgeon's injury history, especially for a player his size (5-9, 166 pounds) and age (34 years old). But Guerin believes Spurgeon will fully recover and be ready to move on after a five-month recovery period.
“For his overall safety, we can't continue to put him there,” Gerin said. “He's more frustrated than anyone. He takes his role seriously, and when we had a tough time, it got to Jared. He's a good leader and a good guy. His teammates love him. It's unfortunate. But we have to do what's right for him.”
Wild's teammates felt bad for Spurgeon, knowing how much he wanted to return this season. They know they will lose a key voice and leader in the room, not to mention a top defenseman. But as Faber puts it: “It's disgusting and it's terrible, but at the same time, we have to step it up.”
It remains to be seen if Guerin will come out and get help on the blue line. It's up to the team to show management that it's worth it by staying within striking distance of a playoff spot, especially in the final five games before the All-Star break and bye week.
“It's solid, isn't it?” Faber said. “The people in the locker room are the important people. None of the outside noise or what anyone says. It's about us. It's about the fight. It's a long year. There's still time for us to step it up. Obviously we're running out of breath. But no one is in “This locker room is losing hope or belief. We know we can win hockey games. It's just about doing that every night. That's what we're trying to find.”
(Photo: Steve Chambers/Getty Images)
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