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  • Trying to Find Clarity in Paul Fenton's Plan

    Giles Ferrell

    Monday morning at 11 am Central Time, the free agency bell will ring and the 31 NHL teams will be allowed to sign free agents to their roster.


    The Minnesota Wild are expected to be active when the free agent market officially opens as they are reportedly going to sign wingers Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman to multi-year contracts.



    Both deals are expected to help Minnesota's struggling forward corps which went belly up in the second half of the season as the Wild were last in goals scored in that time.


    With the expected deals to come down on Monday morning/afternoon, there is a common question that needs to be asked of general manager Paul Fenton: What is the plan?


    Fenton previously expressed an interest in making the Wild younger and more skilled, which is definitely the way to go given the NHL has become a young person's league and the Wild boasted the oldest roster in the league last season. Hartman, 24, fits that bill of getting younger and more skilled but Zuccarello, who will be 32 when the 2019-20 season opens, does not.



    Since breaking into the NHL full-time back in 2013-14, Zuccarello has been a consistent 40-plus-point scorer as he has put up six consecutive seasons of 40 or more points. Clearly, his offensive abilities are a need on the Wild as he has been an offensively sound player in his career. But is signing him to a five-year contract at the age of 32 going to help matters for Minnesota down the line once their young players are needing new contracts? Probably not.


    [caption id=attachment_51997" align="alignnone" width="1590]zuccarello-war.png WAR chart via Evolving-Hockey.com[/caption]


    Hartman is coming off an uneven year in which he scored 26 points between Nashville and Philadelphia, but he has been a consistent 10-plus goal and 25-plus point producer and would be a welcomed addition as a right shot to Minnesota's middle six. Again, an area that is a sign of concern for the Wild heading into next season.



    Minnesota is not crushing itself cap-wise with these moves, as they still will have a decent amount of cap space going into the season. That includes projected contracts given to restricted free agents Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek, who are key players for the Wild heading into the next season.


    The signing of Hartman makes sense and will be considered a value buy for the Wild on Canada Day. However, Zuccarello's signing still brings more questions than it does answers. The 5-foot-8 Norwegian forward is not a top line star, age will be a concern moving forward and this will no doubt impact those young players on the Wild roster seeking premium minutes.


    So what does this mean?


    Does Fenton feel his young players -- Jordan Greenway, Ryan Donato, Luke Kunin, Eriksson Ek and Fiala -- are not going to be able to handle those premium minutes and produce? Is Fenton simply just trying to put a roster on the ice that can break back into the postseason next year from pressure by ownership? Does he actually have a plan or is he just winging it?




    As you can see in the projected lineup above -- via Michael Russo of The Athletic -- the Wild will have to create some roster spots for the impending arrival of Zuccarello and Hartman. And again, Zuccarello at the very least will knock down Fiala and/or Donato down the lineup. It could even result with Kunin and/or Greenway starting the season in Iowa.


    One would have thought that a trade would have come before the open of free agency to free up some space, but it has not happened as of yet. The lack of moves could be blamed on the decrease in the cap from what was originally projected -- $83 million down to $81.5 million -- and some insiders have said more deals could come after July 1 once teams truly know where they are cap-wise.


    But don't bet on it, as the NHL departs for their Canadian cottages on July 2.


    Questions, questions, questions. More questions than answers are being raised of Fenton and the Wild with the expected signings on Monday afternoon.


    Is there a plan? As of right now, the plan remains up in the air.


    When will there be some clarity to the plan? Who knows.


    Buckle up, because clarity on that plan might not come for a while.



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