As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look toward the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The third batch of Offseason Primers moves to the Western Conference, featuring Central Division teams. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the offseason for the Minnesota Wild.
Minnesota Wild Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
General manager Bill Guerin will have a relatively easy go of it in his first full offseason as the Wild’s head of the front office. Minnesota does have quite a few fringe players that are on expiring deals, but no truly large deals need to be negotiated. In terms of Guerin’s veterans, Mikko Koivu, Alex Galchenyuk, Kyle Rau, Matt Bartkowski, J.T. Brown, Colton Beck, Sam Anas, and Michael Liambas are unrestricted free agents. Carson Soucy is a Group Six UFA.
Looking at Minnesota’s restricted free agent lot, Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Mat Robson, Nico Sturm, Kaapo Kahkonen, Brennan Mennell, Hunter Warner, Louis Belpedio, and Stepan Falkovsky are all in need of new deals.
Salary Cap Outlook
Minnesota enters the 2020 offseason with an average amount of cap space, perfectly in line with their average skill level. Per the team’s CapFriendly page, Guerin has $16.20 million to maneuver around this offseason. It’s enough for the team to re-sign whoever they wish, and potentially may still be able to add in free agency as well.
As the Wild’s major free agents are mostly developing players, and due to the fact that they have a healthy cap cushion, it’s unlikely that Minnesota sees any major departures from the squad this offseason. While Guerin may choose to do some wheeling and dealing, it’s unlikely there will be any major free agent departures from the team.
Picked at 15th overall back in 2016, Kunin is on his way to becoming a bona fide top-six forward for this Wild team. After bouncing up and down between the big club and the AHL’s Iowa Wild the previous two seasons, Kunin stuck with the Wild full-time this year. He certainly didn’t look out of place, either, scoring 15 goals and 31 points on an offensively-challenged Wild squad. It’s a sign of things to come, as Kunin is still only 22 and is nowhere close to reaching his ceiling.
Since Kunin hasn’t entered his prime yet, it makes sense that Minnesota would want to give a short-term bridge deal instead of investing long term. Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) predicts that Kunin will receive a three-year deal valued at $2.57 million per season. Minnesota would be left with $13.63 million in cap space.
Greenway is another young piece who’s beginning to demonstrate his NHL readiness. Picked 50th overall in 2015, Greenway now has two full NHL seasons under his belt, and saw his offensive production increase this season despite a decrease in games played. He was a positive possession player for the Wild as well and has played everywhere in the team’s lineup. Not even counting his scoring potential, his versatility alone is a reason to retain him.
So retain him they will. Evolving-Hockey’s tool projects a two-year deal similar to Kunin’s, earning Greenway $2.2 million a season. Guerin hypothetically still has $11.43 million in cap room to work with.
If the 37-year-old Koivu chooses to continue his NHL career, it won’t be with any other team. After a 15-year NHL career, the 2017 Selke Trophy nominee is in the middle of a sharp decline in play. While he’s not the consistent 50-point talent he used to be, Koivu is completely serviceable as a fourth-line centre, as he demonstrated this past season. While he posted only four goals, Koivu still was good enough for 21 points in 55 games while seeing the lowest ice-time of his career since his rookie season.
If Koivu wants to continue playing, Minnesota will make room for him for one more year. Evolving-Hockey says that Koivu can expect to earn around $2.02 million on a one-year deal, leaving the Wild with $9.41 million.
Despite a career-worst season, Galchenyuk seemed to revitalize himself after a mid-season trade to Minnesota. Posting seven points in 14 games, he seemed to fit in better with the Wild’s system and has since expressed his desire to stay in Minnesota. His overall decline in play this season benefits the Wild in the big picture, as they’ll be able to offer him less money.
Minnesota is likely interested in retaining Galchenyuk, as, over a full season, he was on pace for more than 40 points for the squad. Since he’d come so cheaply, that kind of production would also come with potentially incredible value. Evolving-Hockey projects a one-year, $1.99 million deal. Minnesota would still be left with $7.42 million in cap space.
A fifth-round pick all the way back in 2013, Soucy exploded out of nowhere to become an impact player on the team this season. Playing in 55 games this year, his first full NHL season at the age of 25, Soucy posted 14 points and was one of the Wild’s best defensive players. While Soucy will likely never be anything more than a bottom-pairing piece, he’s still cheap and quality depth, which is never bad to have around.
Evolving-Hockey projects he’ll be a cheap re-sign, predicting a three-year deal valued at $1.66 million a season. Minnesota would have $5.76 million to play with in free agency.
Potential Free Agent Additions
The Wild could be a very different looking team next season. They’re already getting the addition of Kirill Kaprizov from Russia, who looks to be an immediate impact player. They also have the ability to target another scoring punch in free agency.
In a weird twist of fate, Minnesota could look into reacquiring former draft pick and University of Minnesota alum Erik Haula. Haula played 266 games for the Wild over four seasons but was snatched from the team in order to be a part of the inaugural Vegas Golden Knights squad.
Now a full-fledged veteran at 29 years old and seven seasons of experience, Haula could bring an improved game to a Wild team that struggles to score. While it’s unrealistic to expect a near-30-goal campaign like he posted a few seasons ago with Vegas, Haula is still a versatile middle-six forward who can play any position and should net at least 30 points for an anemic Wild offence.
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