TAMPA, Fla. – Jared Spurgeon tried.
He really did.
In a season filled with injuries, the Minnesota Wild captain has exhausted all avenues when it comes to treating back and hip problems that president and general manager Bill Guerin said have lingered for months. But on Thursday, Minnesota finally announced what had become inevitable: Spurgeon's season is over and he faces separate back and hip surgeries.
Guerin said Spurgeon will be back in September so he's ready for next season, but “nobody's as frustrated as him.”
“It was definitely a really tough year mentally,” Spurgeon told The Athletic. “I've been struggling with the injuries for a while and injections and treatments haven't helped. So I’m looking forward to getting things sorted out and feeling healthy again.”
Spurgeon is already on long-term injured reserve, allowing the Wild to exceed the salary cap by his $7.575 million hit. Guerin will likely now consider signing a defenseman without giving up top assets (such as a first-round pick) in return. It would make sense for the new defenseman to be an unrestricted free agent, so the Wild wouldn't have to re-sign him and could potentially re-sign the player before the March 8 trade deadline if they become sellers. Minnesota has lost nine of its last 11 games after a loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday and is eight points out of a wild-card spot.
The Wild don't want to blow up all the cap space on a player, as they need some of Spurgeon's LTIR room for minor league call-ups and minor leaguers currently on the roster.
Guerin said the trade market is an option he will explore.
“We have a lot of defenders here,” Guerin said. “We have six guys playing well at the moment, two guys in the stands who have played well and contributed. Whether we use this (trade market) or not is still unclear. We will see. We could. I just don’t know yet.”
The Wild's third pairing is currently Dakota Mermis and rookie Daemon Hunt, both left guards. The two “guys in the stands” are veteran defensemen Alex Goligoski (who has played over 1,000 games) and Jon Merrill. One has to wonder what they're thinking when Guerin hints that he might consider a trade for a D-man while 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 many great options, especially at the price Guerin is willing to pay (he's not interested in dealing out first-round picks, and it would also be difficult to do). deal second-rounder). So Sean Walker will be too expensive, and the same goes for Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin.
One of the more interesting names is familiar: Matt Dumba. The former longtime Wild defenseman checks many boxes as a prospective UFA player with a good cap hit ($3.9 million) and familiarity with the team and region. However, the Coyotes are ahead of the Wild in the standings and fighting for a playoff spot, so they might not even be a sell. And wouldn't it be special if the same defenseman that Minnesota had trouble moving for years suddenly became too expensive for the Wild in a deal?
Marco Scandella, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound left-shot, could be available and is an option. That could also be Alexandre Carrier of the Predators, someone coach John Hynes should be familiar with. Erik Johnson, 35, another right-back, is with the Sabers in the UFA.
Guerin wouldn't be exclusively looking for a real shot and said signing a player with some playing time wasn't out of the question. For now, he has to decide whether he'll be happy with a third pair of Mermis and Hunt (or reinstate Merrill/Goligoski).
Mermis' poor turnover at his own blue line quickly led to the Lightning's third goal of Thursday's game.
“Mermis was here most of the year and played really well,” Guerin said. “He just competes hard and works his ass off. Hunt gets a good chance here, a really good chance. I think he's doing really well. There's a balance here between throwing him to the wolves. He earned his call-up and playing time here in Minnesota. If he keeps doing what he’s doing and is as good as he has been, maybe that’s our answer?”
If Guerin wants to make a move, it would make sense for it to come sooner rather than later. They could use the help to prevent this recent decline, and it would give the Wild time to potentially move that rental to the March 8 deadline if they are in selling mode.
It also means Calder Trophy candidate Brock Faber, who will also take Spurgeon's spot on the top power play unit, will continue to endure enormous workloads.
“What Jared Spurgeon does for us night after night is not easy,” Guerin said. “Not everyone can do that. But it’s an opportunity for the boys to show that they can improve.”
It's legitimate to have concerns about Spurgeon's injury history, especially for a player his size (5-9, 166 pounds) and age (34). But Guerin believes Spurgeon will make a full recovery and be good to go after a five-month recovery.
“For his overall well-being, we cannot continue to leave him out there,” Guerin said. “He’s more frustrated than anyone. He takes his role seriously and when we go through a difficult time, it weighs on Jared. He is such a good captain and a good guy. Teammates love him. It's unfortunate. But we have to do what’s right for him.”
Wild teammates felt sorry for Spurgeon, knowing how badly he wanted to return this season. They know they will lose an important voice and leader in the room, not to mention a top defenseman. But as Faber put it: “It sucks and it sucks, but at the same time we need to make it more intense.”
Whether Guerin goes out and gets help on the blue line remains to be seen. It's up to the team to show management 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 holds together, doesn’t it?” said Faber. “The guys in this locker room are the guys that matter. None of the outside noise or what anyone says. It's about us. It's about fighting. It's a long year. We still have time to intensify it. Obviously we assume so. But no one in this locker room is losing hope or faith. We know we can win hockey games. It's just a matter of doing this every night. That’s what we’re trying to find.”
(Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)