When Freddy Gaudreau seemingly inked his five-year deal from the bench during Thursday night’s regular season finale, Twitter took off with the hot takes. While many see it as a steal, at just $2.1 million per year, others seem worried about the last few years of the contract being played in his mid-30s. But that’s a contract discussion we can hash out in 2026.
There’s a much more pressing contract discussion to be had. One more immediate than that of Gaudreau and even further exacerbated by the center’s extension.
Can the Wild afford a potential extension for young goaltending phenom Filip Gustavsson now? Or maybe better put, has the “Gus Bus” chartered his way out of Minnesota with his stellar play this year?
Let’s start with the cap situation and work from there. With the Gaudreau extension, the Wild now have roughly $73.3 million in committed NHL contracts next year (for this exercise Brock Faber was counted, Nic Petan was not), which includes the nearly $15 million in dead cap from the Parise and Suter Buyouts. All assumptions are the cap will increase by a million dollars up to $83.5 million in 2023-24.
This leaves general manager Bill Guerin with approximately $10.16 million in cap space this summer. Seems manageable, until you realize that limited money must cover, at minimum, five forwards, one defenseman, and a goalie to fill out the roster. Yikes.
Back to Gustavsson. His play this year has merited an extension. And the Wild desperately want to return with the same tandem next year, allowing for prized prospect Jesper Wallstedt to play one more year with AHL Iowa before jumping to the NHL following Marc-Andre Fleury’s anticipated retirement.
However, it seems Gustavsson and his agents aren’t looking to give Guerin a break on this one. Michael Russo of The Athletic has reported numerous times Guerin and Gustavsson’s agent planned to meet right after teammate Matt Boldy was extended in January. Whether they met or not, it is quite obvious the Swedish netminder is looking to capitalize on his breakout season.
As he should. Gustavsson is only 24 years old, but the season he’s had ranks up there with the best in franchise history, finishing second in the NHL in both save percentage (.931) and Goals Against Average (2.10).
After re-writing the record books, how will we be able to predict what Gustavsson's next contract looks likes? Well, we can look at recent and similar Restricted Free Agent netminders who received bridge deals. Once we do, we see those compareables suggest his cap hit will about $1-2 million more than the front office probably hoped for before the season started.
Before the 2021-22 season, the Philadelphia Flyers signed former second-round pick Carter Hart to a three-year bridge deal with a $3.98-million AAV. While Hart’s status as a top prospect likely played into his extension, his play on the ice turned a few heads at the time. After all, he snagged an impressive AAV for a guy who had just finished his worst season as a pro, with a miserable .877 save percentage.
We saw another highly regarded prospect get a similar bridge deal this summer. The Florida Panthers inked their former first-round draft pick, Spencer Knight, to a three-year deal worth $4.5 million annually. Again, there's a favorable comparison for Gustavsson’s agents to point to this offseason. Sure, Knight’s pedigree as a first-round pick carries some weight, but he had only played in 36 games in his career at that point with very mixed results on a very good Panthers team. (However, it should be noted that there appear to be bigger things going on in Knight's life than hockey, which may have affected his play).
Meanwhile, Gustavsson will have played in 66 games when his contract is signed. As a former second-round pick with a career Goals Saved Above Expected that far exceeds these comparables, his camp has the grounding to stand firm and tell Guerin their client’s AAV deserves to start with a four. Maybe even more.
Let’s compare Gustavsson side-by-side to these two recent RFA goalies' bridge deals:
It’s hard to walk away from looking at that and argue Gustavsson deserves to be paid well this offseason. This brings us back to the question of whether the Wild can actually afford Gustavsson this summer.
If Minnesota extends Gustavsson at even three years with a bargain $4-million AAV, it will leave the Wild with $5,356,412 in cap space to sign six players to round out their roster. Meaning, all six remaining players on the roster will need to average out to have sub-$900,000 cap hits. Of course, younger players such as Marco Rossi and Adam Beckman would be easy fill-ins. But Brandon Duhaime would likely be gone. As would Marcus Johansson – likely.
Very little money could be moved out to create space. Marcus Foligno’s $3.1 million stands out, but Guerin would rather trade his own son than Foligno, it seems. Alex Goligoski’s $2 million could be moved, but replacing him with an ELC contract would only create a little over a million in space. It’s extremely tight no matter which way you dissect it. And remember, that’s if Gustavsson takes a haircut on his deal.
Is that a winning roster for the Wild next year? One where multiple players the likes of Sam Steel are comprising the bottom-six? While the Wild anticipate still having a strong defensive core and improvements from young players such as Boldy and Rossi, it leaves little room for setbacks.
Or are the Wild better off maintaining strength and depth in their roster by trading Gustavsson this summer when his value is at its peak? What sort of return could they fetch from a contending team who feels they are just a capable goalie away and would salivate at a cost-controlled, young goaltender? It sure becomes tantalizing researching potential returns from the likes of the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, or even the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Could this all be for moot? Possibly. Gustavsson could find himself with less leverage than we think, or he could ultimately decide to take less to stay in Minnesota. But it’s important to note just how crucial his contract will be for Guerin to figure out immediately after their first-round exit, uh, I mean, a deep playoff run. If a Gustavsson extension is not announced shortly into the off-season, Wild fans need to buckle up for a bumpy ride.
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