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  • Nick Bjugstad's Return is More Than a "One of Us" Signing

    Drew Cove

    It was the signing Minnesota Wild fans were waiting for all offseason.


    No, not Kirill Kaprizov. No, not Kevin Fiala. Not even Joel Eriksson Ek.


    While he isn't the flashiest player on the Wild by any stretch of the imagination, Nick Bjugstad is back on the team for another year. The Minnesota native is making less money than he did last year. After the Wild paid half of his $4 million salary last year, he is back for a one-year deal worth $900,000, according to CapFriendly.com.


    This signing isn't just a "keep the local guy here because it will sell a few tickets"-type move. Although he doesn't make the biggest impact on the scoresheet, Bjugstad has a versatile presence on a Wild team that looks increasingly in need of value to fill out the roster.

    Middle six, here we come

    Bjugstad wasn't brought back to be the solution at the center position if the sub-million-dollar deal didn't already give that one away. He was brought in to continue filling a hole in the middle-six, be it at center or on wing, depending on what is needed. He spent time at both positions last season, so he will be counted on again on a roster that could be far more shallow than last year.


    Even with Nico Sturm still in the mix, Marcus Johansson and Nick Bonino's departure leave a void. Bjugstad has a great opportunity to take the space that either Johansson or Bonino occupied much of the past year, albeit at a much cheaper rate. Given those players combined for an $8.6 million cap hit in 2020-21, Bjugstad's rate is a bit more manageable given what the coaching staff can expect from him.


    Bjugstad has proven he can be more than just a fill-in. He arguably shouldn't be shunned to a bottom-line role to play 10-ish minutes per night against the other teams' grinders. As a flexible middle-six option, he can slot up when needed while also providing exceptional value as a third-line player, regardless of position.


    According to Corey Sznajder's 2021 NHL Season Workbook, Bjugstad is more apt to shoot than pass. Being a big body who can make his own offense will be key in a lesser role, especially on a team looking for secondary offensive options. When it comes to offense in transition, he was roughly average in the NHL last season, better than Eriksson Ek and Mats Zuccarello.

    Wherefore art thou, Bonino?

    Even with all of Bjugstad's merits, why not bring Bonino back instead? It is a valid and defensible question, given what Bonino provided to the team last year.


    Bonino had quite a year for the Wild, given what they acquired him to do. He had 26 points in 55 games despite playing an average of fewer than 15 minutes per game. He was also an effective penalty killer and blocked 50 shots, more than any other Wild forward. Additionally, he was the only Minnesota center with more than 250 faceoffs taken to be above 50 percent on the season.


    With that type of production as a shutdown center down in the lineup, it would make sense the Wild might want to bring him back. Unfortunately, that likely isn't going to happen given Minnesota's cap constraints.

    Dollar bills

    The Wild have just under $16 million left in cap space, and they need to sign seven more players to the NHL roster.


    When Kaprizov receives roughly half of that and Fiala could take up a sizable portion of the remaining $8 million, how do the Wild sign five players with virtually no money? The roster will have some inevitable shakeups by the time that situation is resolved, but it means that they can't pay market value for lower-end players right now.


    Bonino may have played his way out of Minnesota's price range, which is basically anything above a veteran's minimum-type contract and more than one year of term. There's no doubt the Wild would benefit from his services, but the reality of the team's roster makeup and cap situation made Bjugstad the best option to bring back to fill a versatile center position.


    Minnesota is banking that Bjugstad can take up some of those habits that Bonino excelled at with the lower price tag.


    Stats courtesy of HockeyReference.com unless otherwise noted.

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