If Bill Guerin was handed a to-do list on his first day on the job as Minnesota Wild GM, somewhere near the top would have been locking up pending unrestricted free agent Jared Spurgeon. And little more than three weeks into his tenure, and not long after putting the finishing touches on a new deal for restricted free agent Kevin Fiala, Guerin can officially cross the Spurgeon extension off the list.
On Saturday, the Wild announced that Spurgeon has put pen to paper on a seven-year, $53-million extension that, barring another major signing at some point in the offing, stands to make the 29-year-old rearguard Minnesota’s highest-paid player when the extension kicks in. Spurgeon’s $7.575-million next season is roughly $40,000 more than the Wild’s current highest-paid players, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who came to the franchise in July 2012 on matching 13-year, $98-million deals ($7.538 AAV).
The contract itself is a sensible one of the Wild and a quite nice bit of business for Guerin. While the mindset among some is to avoid sinking money and term into veteran players, Spurgeon is one of those who seems to be of the fine-wine variety, which is to say he’s getting better with age. A steady defender almost from the moment he entered the league, Spurgeon has really come into his own over the past few campaigns, even garnering the attention of Norris Trophy voters in recent campaigns, landing on a handful of ballots across the past three seasons.
Spurgeon’s done everything to put himself in the Norris conversation, too. While sometimes overlooked or overshadowed by Suter, with whom Spurgeon has often skated, his statistics speak volumes about his value to the Wild blueline. Not only does he produce offensively – he registered 14 goals and 43 points last season, both of which were career-best marks – but Spurgeon has remarkable underlying numbers. There are 176 defensemen who have played at least 2,000 minutes at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons, and Spurgeon’s Corsi percentage (51.1) ranks 53rd, shots percentage (52.8) ranks 28th, goals percentage (52.5) ranks 52nd and expected goals percentage (56.5) ranks second. The latter is in large part a result a league-best 59.5 high-danger chance percentage and third-best 55.7 scoring chance percentage.
And given that level of defensive prowess and that his payday isn’t entirely based on his ability to produce big numbers, Spurgeon is hardly a high-risk signing on a long-term deal. Chances are he can provide full value throughout the lifespan of the deal.
Inking Spurgeon to a long-term pact is about more than locking in an integral part of the present-day roster, however. It’s also about setting the foundation, buying some time and really starting the process of moving the Wild forward.
While there’s an argument to be made that Spurgeon would have netted an excellent return for the Wild if Minnesota was looking to sell come the deadline, it also would have left a glaring hole on the blueline that’s not soon to be filled. Matt Dumba is really rounding into form and Suter seems destined to log massive minutes well into his late-30s, but Spurgeon completes a top-end trio that ensures the blueline won't be a major concern for the next several seasons. That's beneficial for a couple of reasons.
First, there’s little in the way of standout NHL talent on the horizon, particularly on the blueline. In The Hockey News’ Future Watch 2019, not one of Minnesota’s defense prospects cracked the top 100, and while Louis Belpedio was ranked second among the team’s up-and-comers, he’s less a sure thing than he is a potential diamond in the rough. In that sense, Spurgeon’s signing buys Guerin time that can be used to replenish the system and give prospects time to season without having to rush them into the big league to plug a hole. That's not to mention that when the times comes that those players do graduate to the NHL, Spurgeon can help shepherd them along. Certainly, a diminutive defender who was a sixth-round pick and grew into a top-pairing blueliner has some wisdom to pass along.
The other benefit is that with the blueline shored up with Suter, Dumba and now Spurgeon, who was the biggest UFA concern facing the Wild, Guerin can focus his efforts elsewhere knowing that his defense corps won't need immediate attention. That's valuable at a time when there are other areas of concern. Of course, it's not just on the blueline that prospects need to be added. There's a need for young talent up front, as well. There's also a pressing need for talent, period, on the attack. The Wild finished with the league’s fourth-fewest goals last season. So, with Spurgeon inked and the defensive foundation settled, Guerin can turn his attention in free agency to offense. In addition, Guerin can begin looking at the other pending free agents and those whose contracts will expire in the near future, players such as Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal and Jonas Brodin, and determine who stays and who goes at a time when the Wild need something of a roster refresh.
Make no mistake, Guerin still has his work cut out for him in Minnesota. The Wild have been mired in the middle, plagued by post-season failures and last season's excruciating miss. The Spurgeon signing is a good first step for Guerin, though, and now we wait to see what comes next.
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