As the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter contract buyouts sink their teeth into Bill Guerin and the Minnesota Wild’s wallet, 2023 is pivotal for many players seeking new contracts. For example, Ryan Hartman, Marcus Foligno, and Brandon Duhaime will be unrestricted free agents at the beginning of the offseason.
Hartman has been a polarizing player for the Wild since he signed as a free agent in 2019. He posted 42 points in 120 games during his first two seasons in Minnesota. But Hartman put on a show for the State of Hockey in the 2021-22 season. He netted 34 goals and assisted on 31, tallying a career-best 65 points. That more than doubled his career-best 31 points with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2016-17 season. In addition to his scoring onslaught, this would be the first and only year of his NHL career that Hartman would appear in all 82 games.
But Hartman wasn’t as productive last season as in 2021-22. Dean Evason made multiple lineup changes at the beginning of the 2022-23 season. Hartman slid down the roster, struggling early on in the season when the Wild removed him from the top line with Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov. Hartman sustained a shoulder injury during an October 30 fight in Chicago, leading him to miss almost two months of the season. He returned to the lineup after healing.
However, Hartman had a smaller role and didn’t play on the first line. He would even enter “Dean’s Doghouse,” earning himself a healthy scratch in a January exhibition against the Philadelphia Flyers due to Hartman’s consistent trips to the penalty box, where he committed 34 penalties total in just the 59 games he played last season.
In February, Evason reunited Hartman with Kaprizov and Zuccarello on the top line, hoping to rekindle some of Hartman’s scoring ability. The Wild were among the worst teams in the NHL in 5-on-5 scoring throughout the 2022-23 season. However, Hartman took advantage of being on the first line. He tied for the lead in playoff points for the Wild in their first-round series loss to the Dallas Stars.
Still, the best chance for Ryan Hartman to earn a second contract may not be at center. Minnesota has multiple center prospects in line to play major minutes in the coming seasons, most notably Marco Rossi. The Wild will expect the former first-round center to break out and earn a top-6 spot. If Rossi takes a top-6 center spot, and Matt Boldy, Marcus Johansson, and Joel Eriksson Ek man the second line, there really is only room for Hartman in the top-6 if Minnesota is to let Zuccarello walk.
They may not re-sign Hartman, considering he is 28 years old and due a pay raise that may be out of Minnesota’s budget. Any deal north of $3 million average annual value, which Hartman arguably deserves, could be an unrealistic option for Minnesota. Even then, would the Wild want to commit significant money to Hartman? He’s suffered injuries and has occasionally been a reckless player. Would they want him to continue playing on the top line with one of the most electrifying players in hockey?
While it’s unlikely that the Wild would pay Hartman and make him the first-line right wing, it’s still an interesting thought. Hartman has chemistry with Kirill Kaprizov and can produce points when needed. He also brings grit to whatever line he plays on. Giving Hartman the freedom to skate as he sees fit without the responsibility of taking face-offs is an intriguing thought. In a perfect world, he can recreate his 2021-22 campaign. However, it’s not realistically feasible for the Wild to do this with all of the prospects in line, the financial obligation, and the inconsistency that Hartman has shown over the years.
All in all, the only true case for a Hartman extension is Rossi completely flopping. Hartman would also have to take much less money to stay in Minnesota instead of taking more money elsewhere for what would likely be a more significant role he deserves. Hartman seems to be more of a “win-now” player than one that fits what the Wild are building toward with their prospect pool, and that is perfectly fine.
But the best option isn’t necessarily to let him go just because some young kids might be looking to earn their spot in the next couple of seasons. Sammy Walker, Liam Öhgren, and Danila Yurov are all extremely promising prospects with a great chance of making a legitimate impact on the future of the Wild. Still, Guerin has made it obvious that he’s not one to operate solely based on a hope and a dream, and all three of those names being what Wild fans expect them to be is purely a hope.
The thought that Minnesota has an elite prospect pool with the next generation of Wild hockey almost overflowing within it is very comforting, but that meat is still marinating. Guerin wants to win now. Of course, he understands that his best odds to go deep and win multiple playoff series don’t come until the latter half of the 2020s. But Guerin is still going to search for ways to keep his hockey club competitive in the present. He may run out of patience with Rossi and choose to sign Hartman, knowing what he has in him. Hartman may have a lower ceiling than Rossi, but he’s a proven NHL player who’s played on Minnesota’s top line.
Wild fans want this prospect pool to give the club a tremendous next 10-15 years of hockey. But they have to consider all options to remain competitive in case something foils Plan A, and Hartman seems to be the best example of that. If Guerin is satisfied with what his prospects and younger players do this season, he can let Hartman go. But if Guerin doesn’t think he’s seen enough and remains committed to a win-now attitude, he must make Hartman a competitive offer. Either way, Ryan Hartman is playing for big money and knows the only way is to earn it.