The Minnesota Wild currently owe $55.8 million to 17 players in 2013-14. With the salary cap reducing to $64.3 million next season, they are going to have to be economically efficient in their spending.
While the team has plenty of firepower with a strong top line (Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville) along with three young guns (Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund), they would be wise to re-sign Matt Cullen, a player that has had a positive influence on both winger Devin Setoguchi and Zucker.
Outside of that, they are pretty good at forward.
The Wild need defensive depth. While Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin look like they will be the team’s top pairing for years to come, there is some question as to who can secure the ice when Suter and Brodin are off of it. Tom Gilbert, 30, is aging, and there is not much experience after him.
Minnesota also needs to address the goaltending situation. Niklas Backstrom is a free agent, Josh Harding has multiple sclerosis and Darcy Kuemper, 23, is a project.
The following is a sales pitch to players that the Wild would be interested in signing. Keep in mind that expensive players or guys that play a position that already is filled are not included. Free agents that played in St. Paul last year, however, are included in this list.
All salaries and free-agent statuses are from CapGeek.com.
Previous team: Phoenix Coyotes
Previous salary: $2 million
Smith is not going to get the kind of defense he got in the desert, but the Wild have always been known as a defense-oriented squad and his numbers should not drop significantly in transition.
Minnesota needs a reliable goaltender, and Smith is probably the best available one on the market right now.
First of all, Suter and Brodin will be standing in front of Smith for most of the game, so pucks won’t be coming in from good angles usually. As long as the Wild shore up their depth, and they probably will, Smith’s job isn’t all that difficult.
The team just needs somebody it can rely on, and Smith has been reliable so far.
Previous team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Previous salary: $2.5 million
A longtime San Jose Shark, Murray is a cheap, experienced option for the Wild to plug in while they wait for their young defenseman to come of age. He’s big, burly and hungry to win, a perfect recipe for this job description.
This team is built to win now…or at least soon. Murray will provide some punishment in his own end and keep teams from scoring when the Suter/Brodin tandem is off the ice while giving himself a chance to win the Stanley Cup if he signs a multi-year deal.
Previous team: Detroit Red Wings
Previous salary: $2.875 million
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m shocked Ian White is still under 30. For some reason it seems like he’s been playing for longer than that. Maybe I’m confusing him with Colin White or maybe my hard drive is scratched (or both), but whatever it is, White is 28, in his prime and could be a nice little pickup for the Wild.
Again, the Wild don't need top-end guys—they have that. They need some experienced blueliners to lock down when Suter and Brodin take a breather. White fits the bill.
White doesn’t need to be more than he is. Yes, he’s in his prime and yes, he’s played on good teams, but nobody is asking him to go and play with Suter. He can either play with Gilbert or be paired with an up-and-coming player. He’s cheap and could be a short-term solution until the younger guys become reliable.
Previous team: St. Louis Blues
Previous salary: $3 million
Leopold has been a journeyman defenseman his entire career, but he remains in the NHL because of his defensive capabilities. He did have a pair of 10-goal seasons with the Sabres, but now he’s more of a second-line, two-way defenseman.
That’s a good fit for Minnesota, however, and it would be worth it to sign a relatively cheap defenseman in the offseason.
Minnesota is home for Leopold, who won a Hobey Baker award as a member of the Golden Gophers in 2002. He’s made his rounds in the NHL—Calgary, Colorado, Calgary again, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis—and things would come full circle for him if he joined fellow Minnesotan Tom Gilbert on the second defensive pair.
Previous team: Florida Panthers
Previous salary: $3.1 million
Weiss is a longtime captain in South Florida and would join a team full of leadership figures in Minnesota.
Not only that, but he would be liberated from the sports cesspool that is the Miami area. Like Nathan Horton (Boston) and Michael Frolik (Chicago) before him, Weiss may thrive with a move to a more sports-oriented city with a significantly more talented team.
Hey, it’s not Miami. People show up to sporting events here. Not only that, but you get to play on a team with plenty of established stars, as well as young guys that are on the rise.
This team needs a second-line center, and that could be Mr. Weiss if he signs long-term in Minnesota.
Previous team: Los Angeles Kings
Previous salary: $3.4 million
Scuds is a winner. Simple as that.
He won the Stanley Cup in 2009 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins and then got a sip out of Lord Stanley’s chalice when the Los Angeles Kings won it all in 2012. He’s never going to be a name-brand player that sells sweaters, but he’ll lock down defensively and take care of business when Suter and Brodin are off the ice.
Minnesota needs winners in its locker room, and Scuderi fits the bill.
This team is close to Stanley Cup contention. Zach Parise, Suter and Koivu are all among the best in the game and young guys like Brodin, Coyle and Zucker are going to be around for a long time. As soon as the young guys step up, and many of them have already, this machine will start churning out playoff run after playoff run.
Scuderi can sign here knowing this team is capable of winning it all.
Previous team: Minnesota Wild
Previous salary: $3.5 million
Zucker and Setoguchi play better with this guy, and that alone is reason enough to bring him back next season.
Zucker is a puck hound, Parise Lite essentially, that is on track to being a superstar in Minnesota. Anything that can help this man should be done.
Setoguchi, 26, is in his prime and is capable of being a big-time scorer in this league. He goes through major droughts, however, and needs somebody to reboot his system when it freezes up.
Someone like, well, Cullen.
Not only is this a familiar locker room, same facility and similar coaches, but this is home for Mr. Cullen.
The Virginia, Minn. native can finish his career out in the Land of 10,000 Lakes if he re-signs with the Wild in the offseason. His services are still needed, and he can hold his head high knowing he went out on top in front of fans that absolutely love him and his game.
Previous team: Anaheim Ducks
Previous salary: $3.8 million
If Cullen does not re-sign with the Wild, Minnesota should target Saku Koivu.
He is an experienced center that should provide the same leadership qualities Cullen did, offering guidance to young guys like Zucker, Coyle and Granlund and even players that might need a shot in the arm like Setoguchi and Bouchard (if he is re-signed).
Koivu…Koivu…why does that sound familiar?
Oh yeah, because your brother Mikko is on the team. Both players are leaders and improve the players around them. Nothing would be more special than for the quintessential Wild player, Koivu, to get to play with his brother in the final years and, hey, it’s always nice to have an older center to help the young wingers out.
Previous team: Vancouver Canucks
Previous salary: $4 million
The longtime Buffalo Sabre joined the Dallas Stars at the beginning of last season and was eventually dealt to the Vancouver Canucks.
It seems silly to add another center to Minnesota’s roster, but pivots also profile as wingers. Roy is in his prime and spent most of his formative years as a hockey player in Buffalo’s system, meaning he will not have too much trouble adjusting to coach Mike Yeo’s system in the Twin Cities.
Ignore Yoda, Mr. Roy. You do not need to unlearn what you have learned. Instead, just do what you did in Buffalo with a better team in Minnesota. You’ll fit in just fine, and the Wild could use some offensive depth.
It’s not a big change and you can thrive here in a somewhat familiar setting.
Previous team: Minnesota Wild
Previous salary: $4.08 million
Unfortunately, due to multiple injuries, including a concussion that kept him off the ice for over a year, Bouchard has not lived up to the billing of a first-rounder. He’s still a fast skater that can make plays and find the twine, though, and he's in the prime of his career.
Like with Backstrom, the Wild should lock him up to a three-year deal at a discounted price and keep him in Minnesota for his good years.
Bouchard may not be a Wild lifer like Backstrom, but wise organizations keep the players they draft, especially in the early rounds, in their organizations for a long time (or at least get some value for them).
Especially with the emergence of Zucker, Coyle and hopefully Granlund, Bouchard’s role on the team may be diminishing a bit. But all three of those players are young and Bouchard has the potential to get some time on the second line if Cullen is not re-signed, allowing him to play with two young, talented players.
His home is in Minnesota, and that’s where he should stay for the time being.
Previous team: Minnesota Wild
Previous salary: $6 million
Minnesota should try to retain Backstrom at a discounted price. He has thrived in the Wild system, is familiar with the people in the locker room and knows that he is not going to make as much as he did last year.
Not to sound like a broken record, but Backstrom will not have to meet a whole new set of teammates, play in a different locker room and learn a different system. Everything will be familiar. He can sign a two- or three-year deal and retire having played in a hockey-crazy city for his entire career.