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  • The Wild Need To Rebuild But Can't

    Image courtesy of Jerome Miron-USA Today Sports
    Tony Abbott

    Let's face it: 2023 was the Minnesota Wild's best shot.

    Well, maybe that's not true. 2022 was their best shot, coming off a season with 113 points and their last year of Kevin Fiala. But after they dropped that opportunity in six playoff games, 2023 was the next best thing.

    Minnesota lost Fiala. But as a consolation prize, they solved their biggest weakness in goaltending. Filip Gustavsson arrived, and his .930 goaltending helped the sometimes-limping (metaphorically and physically) Wild into the playoffs. 

    Now, after a nearly-identical six-game field trip for Minnesota to see what playoff hockey looks like before going home for the spring, we can confidently say this team's best shot isn't next year. And it's not the year after that. It's sad to say, but once that all happens, it's rebuild time.

    That might seem like an overreaction, since you can point to things that went wrong, like the ill-timed injury to Joel Eriksson Ek. Maybe you can talk yourself into thinking all the Wild need is another kick at the playoff can and some health. But the fact is, a lot of things went really right for this league-mandated shoestring-budget team. Stuff they just can't count on happening again.

    Like Gustavsson's .930 goaltending, for example. Gustavsson can be very good next year, don't get us wrong. But only four goalies in history have had that kind of season twice. Could he still be a .920 goalie, even? Absolutely. But we just saw in the playoffs what happens when this team gets .920 goaltending: they went 2-3 against the Dallas Stars with Gustavsson in net.

    The Wild are already working with small margins, and next year's team will almost certainly be a step back in talent. Not only does the torture machine known as the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts ratchet up to nearly $15 million of dead cap hit, second contracts for Matt Boldy ($7 million cap hit next year) and the unsigned, but surely well-compensated Gustavsson digs into that flexibility further.

    That small but significant wiggle room that general manager Bill Guerin enjoyed was used to bring in key contributors in the second half to bolster a floundering offense. Marcus Johansson turned out to give the Wild the best stretch of hockey he's played in five years, maybe even for the rest of his career. Gustav Nyquist came off the injured list and put up 10 points in nine games.

    Those moves turned out great, and better than they'd likely produced if they came back next year. That's if they come back, with such a tight salary cap situation. There's also no ability to do such a trade-deadline makeover next year, either. 

    Minnesota can't try to run it back. It's not going to work. They're going to need massive leaps from a prospect pool the Guerin/Dean Evason combination doesn't look ready to trust. They'll need another great year from Gustavsson. The Wild showed their roster construction under the buyout weight is a Jenga tower of health, and you simply can't count on everyone being healthy for the playoffs.

    These are prime conditions for a rebuild. There's even an obvious target date to come out of it. In summer of 2025, approximately $13 million of those buyout penalties come off the books, and they can have the breathing room to fill out a roster. Take two years off, focus on development, don't worry about wins and losses, and get this team ready for the 2025-26 season.

    There's just one problem there, and he wears the No. 97.

    Minnesota's long-term plan depends on Kirill Kaprizov. It just does. Nobody in the NHL wins without a major star player, and Kaprizov is arguably the only one to come to St. Paul in 20-plus years of existence. The hope is the Matt Boldys, Marco Rossis, Jesper Wallstedts, and more will fill out the roster and compliment Kaprizov into a long-term contender.

    The Wild need Kaprizov to extend his contract to have that light at the end of the tunnel, and a rebuild is probably the worst way to go about it. Free agents in the NHL have different priorities. Some value winning above all else, some take the money, and others prioritize playing near home.

    Minnesota will have the money to throw at Kaprizov, but so will a lot of other teams. It's possible that by the time Kaprizov controls his desitny with a full no-move clause in July 2024, he'll have had five years to develop ties to Minnesota. Will it be enough to keep him in the State of Hockey? Maybe, and maybe not. We have no way of knowing now.

    It's fair to expect that Kaprizov will want to win, though. And he hasn't done that in three years in Minnesota. You can give him grief, perhaps, for this postseason and against the Vegas Golden Knights two years ago. But last year, he had a once-in-a-career postseason, and the Wild couldn't build a good enough team for it to translate into anything.

    It's hard to see his outlook being any better on this team's chances to win after two seasons of mediocrity or rebuilding. He'll be 28 in two years, heading into the last year of his contract. Is he going to be sold enough on the plan to commit to the end of his productive years in St. Paul? It's at least a question.

    So, what are the Wild to do? Run it back, and likely frustrate Kaprizov because he has to carry a team that doesn't have the ability to help him out? Or rebuild, and ask him to spend two prime years as a Rick Nash-type on a theoretically on-the-rise but losing team, only to risk losing him just as you're planning on getting momentum?

    The circumstances say the Wild are a rebuilding team. Kaprizov's presence means they have a win-now window. The two are at odds with each other, if not completely irreconcilable.

    On paper, the solution to make this make sense is to trade Kaprizov. Without him, there's no short-term pull to be good. Boldy and Eriksson Ek are building blocks under contract long-term. The rest of the roster is mostly made of solid veterans you could flip for a good price, at least on paper. 

    But that is also a future too terrible to contemplate.

    It's virtually impossible to "win" trades where you're sending away a star player. Those packages never quite get the haul the player in their prime is worth. Look at the Jack Eichel trade. Even with his injury, we're talking about a center who was a top-10, arguably top-5 player at his position, in his prime. Eichel is proving it in the playoffs with Vegas now.

    The Eichel package gave the Buffalo Sabres Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and a first-round pick that became Noah Östlund. All nice players; Tuch in particular is underrated. But none of them are going to become a franchise centerpiece.

    Jakob Chychrun is another player that comes to mind. The Arizona Coyotes asked for the world for a young, cost-controlled No. 1 defenseman. They ended up with a top-5 protected pick (admittedly, a good asset) and two second-rounders.

    Even the Fiala trade, which is working out reasonably well, is looking light on Fiala-caliber players. Brock Faber looked fantastic for his age in the playoffs, but what is his destiny? Is it a No. 1 defenseman? Or is it more of a Jonas Brodin-type, who is brilliant in his own way, a necessary component of a good team, but not quite as impactful as a Fiala-type scorer?

    On top of that, how do you sell your fan base on hope when, three, four, or five years after finally getting the best player in your franchise's history, he's gone? What plan exists after that? He is the plan. There's no reason to believe the Wild can just get another Kaprizov. You might as well move this team to Houston and start a new franchise over again in 20 years. I hear those expansion drafts are real friendly nowadays.

    Last year at this time, we said it only got harder from here. The heat's cranked up tenfold now. The Wild enter their next two years with no playoff series wins in their last eight years, a whole lot of questions, and no elegant solutions. It stinks, because the fans deserve so much better. But the next two years run the risk of being bleaker than even the most devastating playoff losses.

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    Tony, barring BG being a miracle worker and finding stars that will play for peanuts I just don't see where they can do anything else but try to rebuild. Getting rid of players that didn't produce compared to what they were payed and introducing young guys (aka rebuild) is about all they can do. Trying to rerun this years team for another first round exit isn't going to help nor would it placate KK97. Maybe redoing the coaching staff would be able to regain momentum but that is a lot to bet on.

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    I don't think the Wild needs to consider trading Kaprizov. That would likely push back their ability to be competitive by a few more years. Also, don't know that it's fair to say, "last year, he had a once-in-a-career postseason." 

    He had a nice playoffs in 2022, but I believe he could have a few like that in his career.

    The Wild certainly could trade Kaprizov, and some key defensemen, to bottom out the roster and hope for a couple top 10 picks, but it just pushes back how soon you can expect them to be competitive. I suppose they might be able to get a young star that hasn't quite blossomed along with some picks, and maybe not push out their plans to return to being competitive too far. Still don't think Guerin would consider that route.

    I doubt Eriksson Ek and Boldy want to struggle through a couple losing seasons on long-term contracts and not see the playoffs for a while.

    Also, the Fiala trade returned Faber and Ohgren, not just Faber. Ohgren is suggested to be an Eriksson Ek style of player. Ohgren had a somewhat modest regular season, which I've heard may have been impacted by an injury he was playing through. I believe he's leading his veteran team in playoff goals, at age 19, and is 3rd in playoff points.

    Faber has played in 2 regular season games and 6 playoff games. So far, his skating looks fantastic and opponents have failed to record even 1 goal against his line in 127 minutes of NHL ice time. Faber's already showing excellent NHL ability, and Ohgren might be a key player for the Wild in 25-26, when this team is ready to really compete.

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    They can it’ll just take a few years.  Time to bite the bullet is now.

    Clean out the coaching staff and hire Spencer Carbery as the new head coach.

    Clean out Zuccarello, Folgino, Fleury, and this will unpopular, but Spurgeon.  Sign Gustavsson and a decent center for the first line.  Move Hartman to a wing.  Let guys like Rossi, Beckman, and Addison play.

    Take your lumps for a year and two, get some high draft picks, and hope the young guys develop and the Russians make it over.  You can potentially have something special and sustainable in 2-3 years while hanging onto Kaprisov, Boldy, and Ek.

    Honestly, at this point, continuing to run this thing back year after year fits the definition of insanity.  Make some bold moves.  If it came down to it, I’d rather blow it up completely and trade Kaprisov and Ek for hauls rather continue this crap show with Dean at the helm.

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    The Wild could make the playoffs again, or be sellers with a Moose, a Grizzle, and a Norwegian Hobbit plus a Flower to trade. Now I don’t think you’d get a bunch of 1sts but you’d get some picks I bet.

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    I don't feel like the Wild are (I refuse 100% to use "is" as I think the Wild are a team rather than the Wild is a singular entity, lol) past their best chances or needing a rebuild.

    I think the Wild are in the middle of a build, but a build which has been severely hampered by the brutal and unfair penalties from the buyouts. The poorly run NHL chose to make an example out of the Wild and I'm still not over it. Crippling a franchise with a devoted and important fanbase is despicable.

    Anyway, all that aside, the Wild need to get results from their prospects. I follow baseball closer than hockey and the pattern of re-building is somewhat similar. The Wild are operating like a small market MLB team right now, and they can be successful that way, they just have a lot less room for mistakes and they need their depth players to perform. The biggest difference between hockey and baseball is a single player can make or break a team. The Wild have a true superstar in Kaprizov. I think Kaprizov and Eriksson-Ek are just as good as the Koivu and Gaborik combination was, though it was super short lived. Having both Kaprizov likely not 100% and Eriksoon-Ek literally trying to play with a broken leg hurt the Wild immensely. It's night and day.

    Now is the time to find out how the Wild prospects can play. If they don't pan out, the Wild are probably going nowhere and will need to rebuild again. If the Wild do well with development and Kaprizov and Eriksson-Ek stay healthy, they'll be more dangerous next year than this year regardless of whether or not our netminder stats take a little step back.

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    20 hours ago, Beast said:

    Clean out the coaching staff and hire Spencer Carbery as the new head coach.

    Who is Spencer Carbery? This is a name I wasn't familiar with.

    Spencer Carbery had a career in lower level hockey as a player.  I think he reached the E level where he topped out. He became the youngest head coach in the E when he took over the SC Stingrays at 29. He has made his way up the rankings, head coaching in the OHL, and is an assistant coach in Toronto under my favorite: Sheldon Keefe.

    I haven't seen his coaching record, but enough people have seen him and keep promoting him. I'm not sure I'm convinced he's ready yet for an N head job, but it is an interesting thought. Carbery is only 42 years old. I wouldn't mind a young head coach, but we had that in Richards and Yeo and it didn't end well. 

    Is Carbery simply another starter coach? He doesn't have a track record as a trophy coach. Will Carbery make adjustments on the fly? Does he value analytics and speed and skill? I don't know, Keefe did but just won his 1st playoff series in the N.  

    Beast, have you got any more on him?

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    19 hours ago, bean5302 said:

    the Wild need to get results from their prospects. I follow baseball closer than hockey and the pattern of re-building is somewhat similar. The Wild are operating like a small market MLB team right now, and they can be successful that way, they just have a lot less room for mistakes and they need their depth players to perform.

    This is a strong comparison. With the difference being that the Wild, due to a hard cap, can only spend to $15m of the cap height, they must choose to have value contracts and lock up their young stars. We see this in Kaprizov, Ek, Boldy, Brodin, Spurgeon. 

    Now, how to get value:

    1. Find players who just need a chance and aren't getting it in their current situation.
    2. Youth, these guys are always cheaper, though unproven.
    3. Find an undrafted superstar in another league.

    Guerin has done a good job with #1. Hartman, Gustavsson, Gaudreau, and taking a chance on Steel are good. He also took chances on Jost and Pitlick, though they didn't work out. He identified and swapped guys who weren't going to resign here getting something for them.

    Duhaime, Dewar, Shaw, Faber, Addison represent the youth. He is disciplined to not promoting players full time that aren't ready yet. He believes players need confidence over hard lessons.  He believes in A development. Many of these guys are close but not ready yet.

    We just haven't found the next Artemi Panarin yet. It might also be nice to find the next Niklas Backstrom. 

    Now, the crux of the article is about a rebuild, and the need for it. I find this interesting, because I believe we are knee deep in the middle of it. Rebuilds generally take 5 years from the beginning to the end. Our rebuilt players aren't here yet, at least most of them. Not all of them we can see, since they're not in the A. But the rebuild started with the buyouts.

    We are still in stage 1 of this plan, where it's about accumulating assets. The last 2 drafts have seen us with multiple 1st round picks. This draft sees us with 1 1st & 2 2nds. What is missing in our prospect pool are true Cs. Some teams have these, and are missing Ds and Ws. I believe we need to identify those teams, and pay what they need to receive what we need. 

    Stage 2 is very close to being implemented. This is the transition stage where the prospects become players and then have to learn to win. Since the playoffs are still very important to the 1 guy who matters for Shooter, I believe stage 2 will be more like a trickle than wholesale changes. What wouldn't surprise me is to see us using the Zucker Freeway a lot more next season. We still have a lot of placeholders which will need to be replaced, but these guys are still better than the guys slated to replace them. 

    Stage 3 will be the completion of the transition, with the young guys having learned what it takes to win in the N. This is where I see this organization at '25-26. Some players will be rewarded for their play. Kaprizov will likely get resigned in this window. We will also have money to spend on holes we may have, and, the salary cap will have exploded upwards for all franchises.  I expect our new defenders to be in place here, as well as the battery of Goose2/The Wall, and most of our new forwards to be ready. Can we pluck a highly rated UFA center at this time? Draisaitl becomes a UFA.

    Rebuild does not equal tank, as many people seem to think. Rebuild means completely overhauling the roster. It happened at a very good time for the organization as OCL wanted playoff invitations. If Brackett was right about his picks in the Covid era and we are one of the few organizations that drafted well during that time, regardless of where we picked, we could be in line for a very, very good team at that point. 

    As for now, we will role out a similar team to last season, filling in placeholders who have left, trading away pieces that don't fit. Like Beast, I would seriously look at trading out Zuccarello in this final year. I would look at moving, at this point in time, an underpaid Spurgeon, and I'd look to see what interest Foligno has around the league. I'd also use Addison's upside in a trade to acquire something we don't have, centers.

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    I agree with that pretty much everything you said Mnfan, with exception of getting rid of Spurgeon. He’s the team captain, brings a lot to the chemistry of the group and if they pay any attention (looking at you Addison) he can help our young defensemen develop immensely (I have a sense Faber is going to really benefit from paying with him). 

    I would like to see if we can bundle a 1st and Addison for a really solid C prospect, or make the same trade to move up the in the draft to get one. We majorly need help in that area. Will Rossi pan out? He might at this point, but we can’t count on it too much right now.

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