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  • How Strong Is the Wild's Core?

    Image courtesy of © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
    Mikki Tuohy

    Most of the offseason chatter surrounding the Minnesota Wild is about the free agents they could sign. With so many contracts expiring, fans seem to have a sense of urgency. While everyone waits for news of a new player they’ve signed, let’s keep in mind the core players that the Wild already has under contract. The salary cap is obviously an issue, but Minnesota has been strategic about who they sign to longer contracts, and it’s strengthened the core of the team.

    Minnesota’s longest contract belongs to Matt Boldy. He made big news with the seven-year, $49 million deal he signed in January. Boldy’s superstar skills and his young age (22) mean he’s probably got much more untapped potential. There will be growing pains, as we learned in the playoffs. But there will also be times of amazing playmaking, like the 14-goal, 21-point performance he put up in the 15 games following Kirill Kaprizov's injury.

    Joel Eriksson Ek, 26, has six more years left on his contract and is one of the most important players on the team due to his jack-of-all-trades playstyle. Not only does Eriksson Ek play on both special teams as well as being one of the first players tapped to play 3-on-3 during overtime, but he’s also maturing into a great center. While his faceoff percentage started in the low 40s early in his career, it was 49.4% last year. That still isn’t great, but he’s shown steady improvement. In his 7 NHL seasons, Eriksson Ek has improved his faceoff percentage every year. 

    When Freddy Gaudreau signed a five-year extension this season, there were mixed reviews. Sometimes it’s hard to see Gaudreau's contributions because he’s a quiet player. But that’s the point. The roles he takes on are usually overshadowed by Boldy’s flashy play. While everyone watches Boldy set up around the net, Gaudreau plays an important defensive game that goes unnoticed. The same can’t be said about shootouts. Gaudreau emerged last year as the team’s ringer, much to everyone’s surprise. His contribution to the team has steadily grown thanks to his dependable consistency.

    Jonas Brodin has Minnesota’s other five-year contract. It isn’t hard to see why he’s a core player. One of the best shutdown defenders in the league, Brodin can keep up with even some of the fastest forwards even while skating backward. Combine that with his outstanding ability to read plays, and he’s one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. The Wild have five more years with him. While he may be playing with a new partner next season, it shouldn’t affect his game.

    The team captain, Jared Spurgeon, has four years left on his deal. While broadcasters tend to focus on his small stature, he plays a significant role in the top defensive pairing and the locker room. Spurgeon is a strong defensive player who usually quarterbacks one of the power play units. He’s also a great role model, showing that hard work can negate some of the knocks a player can get for things such as short stature.

    Kaprizov owns the shortest-term deal within the core group of players. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Kaprizov will be team-shopping after this contract expires, but it is a shorter-term deal to get through the salary cap crunch with a bigger deal waiting for him on the other side. And does there even need to be an explanation as to why he’s an essential part of the Wild’s core? If there does, just watch one of his highlight reels.

    The Wild have signed these six players at least through the 2025-26 season. They represent a strong core that Bill Guerin is using as his foundation while he builds out the team. Two superstar goal-scorers, two jack-of-all-trade centers, and two of the best defensemen make up the roster’s long-term nucleus. Minnesota’s core is incredibly strong and will continue to be if they continue to give out long-term contracts to important players.

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    Headline needs fixing.  "How Weak is the Wild's Core."  Start there.  The Wild's rock-solid tradition of disappearing in post-season play proves the team is two levels down from contention.  Wild get drubbed in the first round by teams that then get drubbed in the second round by the teams that win the Cup.  The Cup winners have guys like Tkachuk and Stone.  Their blue line crews are  BIG and skilled.  These guys should wear capes and shine Bat Signals onto the clouds.  The Wild have a long, long, long way to go.  Add another "long" to that.  Not even close.  Fold-a-matic.  

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    In a word, NO, the core is not good enough. 

    I think what we 1st have to do is define what the core is: the foundational pieces of the team. It looks like Mikki's definition of this core is Boldy, Ek, Gaudreau, Brodin, Spurgeon and of course Kaprizov. For 2023, I think you can consider this pretty accurate, though, I wouldn't put Gaudreau in the core and I think Spurgeon is the most likely to drop off. But, should we agree on 6 players, or should it be more?

    As a group, these guys have overachieved. I'd say last season, we found out just how important Eriksson Ek is to this group. If there was an irreplaceable guy, he was it. There were no answers when he got hurt. 

    But, what will this "core" look like in '25-26? I think this is the more important question. I'd have to say that Boldy, Kaprizov, Eriksson Ek, and Brodin are definitely in that group. I think there is a center missing. Faber might be a candidate. And I would include a goalie that looks like either Goose2 or The Wall, or maybe even both? That missing center might be drafted this year. Or, that missing center could be a big free agent signing of, say, a Leon Draisaitl?

    Are there other candidates? I'd say Carson Lambos is a candidate. Marco Rossi could be a candidate, much depends on this offseason. But, my bet is that Danila Yurov will also be on this list. 

    After the core, we've got a bunch of glue guys who could be nominated, but those guys are our main performers in our prospect pool. Could we turn 2 or 3 of those guys into 1 core guy? I think that is the challenge for Guerin this offseason. 

    We've seen that CBJ, Philly, LA, and NJ are not sitting around waiting for the draft. I think Shooter's got to shoot and start swinging some changes. I think this was a real important year for internal evaluations, and I'm fully on board with an "In With The New, Out With The Old" approach to reconstructing this roster. 

    One thing's for sure, if Eriksson Ek goes down again, we've got to have an answer!

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    I think this article points out an important aspect of why the Wild have been successful in the regular season... and most likely why players enjoy their time in Minny as well as the reason why we probably won't have to do a complete roster makeover.  Historically speaking I would include Dumba.  Hopefully BG finds a way to sign Dumba.  

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    I would like to see the Wild enter the postseason healthy one of these years. We'd have a much better look at the core then.

    Multiple people indicating the core is weak, but had Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek been 100% going into the playoffs, everything would likely have a different feel to it. The team was without it's #1 defensive center and 3rd highest goal scorer. Eriksson Ek has been one of their best playoff performers in the past.

    And Kaprizov was on the ice, but clearly wasn't near close to his best form. Boldy is young and should be improving. If they can finish top 8, I'd really like to see this team healthy next year when the playoffs begin.

    Missing $14M in cap space, you would expect the Wild to lag behind some other teams. These core guys are solid, but the Wild should be adding better players around them in 2 years to help during the playoff push.

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