Well, it’s taken a lot longer than I’d expected, but here we are—part five of my five-part season in review.
I’ve looked at the season on a whole—the forwards, the defense, the goaltenders, the management—and now it’s time to take a look ahead to what this off season could bring.
The Wild has a long shopping list for this offseason and not a whole lot of money to shop with. They currently have 17 players under contract and have restricted free agents with Guillaume Latendresse and Josh Harding yet to sign.
Their shopping list will likely include another defensive player and at least one more forward, but likely two just to be safe.
So, let’s look at what the team needs.
The first need the team will try to address will be another stay-at-home, shutdown defensive player. With six defensive players under contract and approximately $16.6 million allotted to these defensive players it’s hard to believe that the Wild will go out and spend on a top-flight free agent blue liner.
What I can see, however, is the Wild spending anywhere between $1 and $2 million on a defensive player who is reliable, but not flashy—someone who they can pair with their more aggressive offensive and defensive players.
The problem is that there aren’t too many players available with that description for that price tag.
Possible Targets: Milan Jurcina, Brett Lebda, Kurtis Foster
Another need the team desperately needs is a second-line center.
The Wild do already have someone within their organization they are hoping will fit this bill in Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
The big question about Butch, however, is his health. While he has been cleared to begin light exercising, Bouchard is still experiencing many post-concussion symptoms. With that being the case, I would expect the Wild to pursue a center looking to spend between $2 and $4 million on him.
With the impending departure of Mike Modano from Dallas, there are a few that are hoping for a nostalgic end to the former North Star’s career. In my opinion, that would be a huge mistake for the Wild.
While Modano would be a significant upgrade from James Sheppard, the fact remains that he’s 41-years-old, and his production has decreased significantly over the past few seasons.
What they do need is a gritty, skilled center to play on their second line between Latendresse and Martin Havlat.
Possible Targets: Matthew Lombardi, Mike Comrie, Brendan Morrison, Chris Higgins
Another player the Wild will likely look towards is a forward to replace the likes of Andrew Ebbett, Owen Nolan, and Derek Boogaard, all of whom will likely leave in free agency.
There are a lot of in this year’s free-agent market, so the Wild won’t have to pay a lot for these players, but these players are going to be invaluable to them in the future. General manager Chuck Fletcher knows this.
With the trade for Brad Staubitz, Fletcher has gotten some of this toughness but judging from how both the Ducks and the Penguins were built—make no mistake that those teams had his fingerprints all over them—he’s not done with this.
Possible Targets: Adam Burish, Raffi Torres, Colby Armstrong, Evgeny Artyukhin
Finally, I’d look for the Wild to take a shot at trying to acquire another top-six forward, probably a winger.
It won’t be any flashy signing like Ilya Kovalchuk—unless Fletcher can work some serious cap magic—but there is a definite need for a player that can score consistently to play alongside Andrew Brunette and Mikko Koivu on the team’s first line.
Again, I would expect the team to go after someone in the two to four million dollar range for this, as it’s going to need to make sense both economically as well as for the team on a whole.
Possible Targets: Marek Svatos, Alexander Frolov, Slava Kozlov, Alexei Ponikarovsky
Whatever the Wild does, there is going to be a sense of excitement surrounding the team come July 1. It’s Christmas in July for NHL fans and fans in Minnesota are hoping the Wild come out on top.