Next summer will be a challenging offseason for the Minnesota Wild. With significant cap penalties on the horizon, the organization will have to move money out after becoming a Stanley Cup contender.
That's why there's an argument for adding a rental center such as Claude Giroux or J.T. Miller this season at the trade deadline since the window could close. Likewise, it makes sense given the Wild refuse to add top center prospect Marco Rossi to the mix despite adding Matt Boldy to the roster.
The problem is that the price to add a rental center will be expensive. With the Wild's pipeline among the best in the league, there's an argument to be made that the organization should stand pat. That's understandably risky, though. If their Stanley Cup aspirations fall short, it will be a missed opportunity.
Many fans seem to have decided that the Wild will not contend in the next three years. But what if Minnesota actually can continue to contend throughout the cap-strapped years? In that case, the Wild can save prospects and draft capital and still attempt to make noise in the postseason this year.
Another thing to consider is that the Wild have been a top-five team (with a .720 points percentage) this season despite the depleted lineup. The roster can still contend, even without the addition of a rental center. The team has two dominant lines but can roll all four lines, especially with Kevin Fiala and Boldy's chemistry. The Wild have a strong defensive core and an emerging 1-2 punch in goal to complement that.
However, is contending over the next three years realistic?
It's essential to identify the players who may depart or become a cap casualty. Victor Rask's $4 million cap hit will come off the books, which will help. That won't be enough to cover the cap penalties, though. That leaves Fiala and Matt Dumba vulnerable to trade. With Calen Addison poised to make the team next season and Fiala's instant chemistry with Boldy, it makes the most sense to move Dumba.
With that noted, here's what next season's lineup could look like:
There will be a few lineup changes. But the forward lineup remains relatively the same for the most part. Fiala signs an extension worth $7 million annually, and Dean Evason could pair him with Boldy and Rossi. That keeps the Wild's two dominant lines intact with Jordan Greenway's three-year extension.
Brandon Duhaime and Connor Dewar remain on the fourth line with Nico Sturm, who re-signs at $1.5 annually in this exercise. Freddy Gaudreau is traded or used as an extra forward unless Sturm departs to free agency or Minnesota plays Dewar in the AHL.
On defense, Alex Goligoski signs at $3 million annually and stays alongside Jared Spurgeon. Addison takes Dumba's spot on the second pair alongside Jonas Brodin. And the fantastic duo of Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill remains intact.
Cam Talbot has one more year on his deal, and Kaapo Kahkonen signs at $2 million annually, which may be more than what he will end up getting.
The total for the lineup is roughly $67 million, and the cap penalties next season put the Wild right under $80 million, so there is still a little bit of flexibility.
Minnesota's roster remains the same, aside from the subtraction of Dumba. That’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t make or break the Wild’s playoff chances. Addison has quietly had fantastic underlying numbers during call-ups, so there's optimism he can fill Dumba's spot.
The Wild have signed their top players through the three years of cap problems in this scenario. That means that the only thing Minnesota has to worry about is extending their depth players. Boldy needs a new contract for the 2023-24 season*, and Mats Zuccarello's deal comes off the books in 2024-25, freeing $6 million in cap space.
When Talbot's contract ends after the 2022-23 campaign, Kahkonen could take over as the No. 1 goalie. He may be ready for it, considering his growth this season.
Minnesota is not the first team to face cap troubles, and teams often figure out how to keep their best players. For example, Kevin Labanc signed a 1-year, $1 million to help the San Jose Sharks with their cap issues.
It's worth noting that Kaprizov and Fiala are 24 and 25, respectively. They're just scratching the surface of their potential right now. Rossi, Boldy and Addison are poised to be full-time NHLers next season, too, which will make the Wild even younger and more dangerous.
Sure, there's also the possibility that there could be regression from a veteran like Zuccarello. But that doesn't seem likely considering he's having a career year.
There is no doubt that the buyout penalties will restrict the Wild's flexibility over the next three years. But they've set themselves up to have success and remain contenders. With a solid core in place and help on the way from the farm system, there's just enough cap room to field a competitive team.
*An earlier version of the story said that Boldy would need a new contract in the 2024-25 season. We regret the error.
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