The Minnesota Wild's No. 1 priority heading into this critical offseason is handing out extensions to their restricted free agents, including Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala, and Joel Eriksson Ek.
The cap space is likely to remain stagnant in the coming seasons, making these extensions more difficult due to the financial landscape. The three are projected to make nearly $18 million combined, which feels like a pretty conservative estimate.
Here is the projected breakdown according to Evolving-Hockey:
Kaprizov: 5 years, $7,738,000
Fiala: 5 years, $6,111,000
Eriksson Ek: 2 years, $3,672,000
The Wild have roughly $20 million in cap space to utilize this summer with Marco Rossi, Matt Boldy, and Calen Addison inserted into the projected roster next season and with the retained salary in the Devan Dubnyk trade coming off the books. As shown above, most of that money will be allocated to the three contracts.
The objective this offseason will not only be re-signing their key restricted free agents and creating a supporting cast around them that will take this roster to the next level. This summer might be one of the biggest offseasons since the Wild's inception.
Even with all three notable prospects expected to make the leap to the NHL next season, Minnesota will inevitably experience some cap issues if they don't make any adjustments. Therefore, the brass needs to shed some money to ensure the team has improved this offseason and can be more effective around their young stars.
Here are some possible cost-cutting measures:
1. Matt Dumba Trade/Expansion Selection
The biggest way to shed some money is to trade Matt Dumba or allow him to be taken in the Seattle Expansion Draft. If traded, it could get the Wild a third first-round selection in this year's draft and free up $6 million, which shouldn't be undervalued. The fact of the matter is that they will not be able to keep Dumba long-term when his contract comes to an end anyways.
The Wild have nearly $32 million invested into their defensive core, which doesn't take into account Jonas Brodin's seven-year contract extension that will give him roughly $2 million more annually starting next season. Right now, just over 39 percent of the Wild's cap goes to their defense, the highest in the NHL.
Calen Addison arrived in the Jason Zucker trade, and he is poised to be a top-four defenseman and power-play quarterback in the future. This should lessen the pain of losing Dumba. The Wild need to invest less into their defense and more into their forwards. Otherwise, they'll look like the Nashville Predators, a team with an elite defensive core and strong goaltending tandem but doesn't have enough offensive firepower. There is no reason the Wild can't remain a strong defensive team with their big three and Addison and Carson Soucy to round out the backend.
Moving Dumba would open up $6 million in cap space which could then be used for a center or a supporting cast player.
2. Move Zach Parise
After a significant dip in production and healthy scratches, the relationship between the Wild and Parise is rocky. A buyout would do virtually nothing for the Wild, which means trading him is the only other option.
It was hard enough to find a trade partner a year ago. Imagine what it would be like this summer after everything that has transpired.
Parise intends to play next season with the Wild organization, and that is probably the best option unless they can find a trade partner. He can still be a capable fourth-liner. After a problematic first half, his underlying numbers did improve in the second half despite being scratched. Although he watched Games 1, 2, and 3 from the press box in the postseason, he notched three points in four games after being inserted into the lineup.
While this is certainly an option, it is probably not very realistic.
3. Trade or Buy-Out Victor Rask
One of the obvious ways that Bill Guerin can shed money is to buy out or trade Rask. A buyout seems unlikely given Guerin's recent comments on the center. However, a buyout would only cost $1,333,334 over the next two years. Not only would the Wild save money, but it also opens up a roster spot.
They could also try shopping him around. The question would be how expensive it would be to surrender assets such as a draft pick. It is definitely something that should be considered, especially if they retained a small portion of his salary to get it done.
If Rask is on the opening night roster in 2021-22, it wouldn't be the end of the world. He could be used as a reliable fourth-line center. But he's stretched as a top-six center, an issue that became more problematic as the season progressed.
4. Allow Ian Cole To Walk To FA
The Wild have shown interest in re-signing pending UFA's Nick Bonino and Ian Cole. Unless Cole, who made $3.5 million last season, is willing to take a $1.5 million pay cut, it would be smart to allow him to walk to free agency. There is no doubt that he brings many intangibles, including his Stanley Cup-winning pedigree, but his season was vastly overhyped.
Aside from his physical presence and intangibles, he really didn't provide much value, especially at 5-on-5. The Wild controlled 41.72 percent of shot attempts and 47.74 percent of expected goals with Cole on the ice -- worst among Wild defensemen. Overall, he was average and didn't justify any significant money, especially since the Wild could replace him from within.
In terms of value, bringing Brad Hunt back at league minimum would be a more effective use of money than Cole at, say, $2.5 million. Even if they weren't in a cap crunch, it might be more strategic for the Wild to re-sign Hunt at the league minimum, given he has proven to be capable on the third pair.
The team's future rests on Guerin's ability to navigate around all the moving parts this offseason, which includes maneuvering around the Seattle Expansion Draft. If he's able to address the center position and improve around the margins, the additions of Rossi, Boldy, and Addison should give the Wild a lift next season.
All Data & Information Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference & CapFriendly.
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