The Wild will most likely be saying goodbye to most of their Unrestricted Free Agents this offseason: a group that includes longtime backup goaltender Josh Harding and forwards Chuck Kobasew, Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette.
With a front office focused on developing young talent, you can bet that GM Chuck Fletcher would rather make room for this season's standout Houston Aeros, than spend important cap dollars on retaining a lineup that has missed the playoffs three seasons in a row.
The two main questions surrounding free agency are, 1) who is important enough to be offered a new contract? and 2) what youngsters will be locked up to start playing in the NHL?
Chuck Kobasew wont be offered a new contract by the Wild
Chuck Kobasew, former first-round pick and perennial 20-goal scorer, was traded to Minnesota in October 2009. GM Chuck Fletcher's first major move, Kobasew was exchanged for bruiser Craig Weller, the rights to Alexander Fallstrom and this summer's second-round pick.
Brought in to provide goals for a goal-starved team and mix up Doug Risebrough's old lineup, Kobasew was constantly fighting injuries and healthy scratches, playing 42 games in 2009-10 and 63 in 2010-11.
Scoring only nine goals in each of those two seasons and always bouncing between lines and never breaking 16 points, Kobasew never paid the dividends his trade sought.
With plenty of decently sized, offensively adequate youngsters waiting in Houston, Chuck Kobasew is likely as good as gone,
Wont be back, will destroy another city,
A Doug Risebrough signing, Antti Miettinen's time in Minnesota is likely over.
Miettinen was in a tough spot during his time with the Wild. He spent the majority of his time playing on the top line with Andrew Brunette and fellow Finn Mikko Koivu.
Many fans felt that Miettinen was not fit for a top-line role, only breaking the 20-goal mark once in his three seasons with the team.
If premier set up men like Koivu and Brunette couldn't make him at least a 30-goal scorer, as the impatient fans insist, no one can.
And while I think a true, young goal scorer is the only person who should be parked next to Koivu, Miettinen is a solid depth player and would be a good teammate if signed for a bargain.
Regardless, it's my belief that the two sides will part ways this summer.
It would be painful to lose Andrew Brunette, another Koivu linemate, longtime fan favorite, and 20-goal scorer.
However, the most painful loss would be his veteran presence in the locker room, infectious work ethic, and behind the net play second to none.
His age slowly catching up to him, Brunette would be forced into a more secondary role on the team if re-signed, probably with large power play minutes.
The organization will try and get him re-signed, but a major threat is that he'll leave to join a Cup contender to get his ring before he retires.
John Madden will resign in Minnesota or retire.
Another veteran depth player, John Madden signed a one-year deal with the team last August.
Brought in as a bottom six center and PK specialist, Madden fit well with the defensive stalwarts of the team and chipped in offensively more than expected (13 goals, 25 points).
The Star Tribune's Mike Russo has reported several times that Madden and his family have decided to make Minnesota their permanent home. If he isn't offered a new contract here, he'll just retire and settle.
If Madden can be re-signed at a bargain price like last summer's, it would be hard to say no, but there are several forwards in the AHL who could be vying for a developing bottom-six spot.
Harding will be leaving the team.
Longtime back up of Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding was at one time thought to be major trade bait as a starting goaltender.
An injury at the start of this season, coupled with the second year of a treasure trove of free agent goaltenders and a wealth of goalies in the Wild’s system, Harding will most likely be let go.
Jose Theodore will be on the Wilds want list, but will be a starter elsewhere.
Jose Theodore was nothing less than a steal for the Wild this season; signed in September, Theodore proved again that he is starting goalie material.
Minnesota would love to have him back another year so that the young goalies in the system can develop in Houston; however, most likely he will leave and play for someone who'll give him the starting position he deserves.
Young Mikko Koivu
While it can clearly be seen that many of the Wild's NHL level players will be departing, another interesting group of free agents are the RFA prospects that helped lead the Aeros to the Calder Cup Finals this season.
Casey Wellman: retained, plays out of camp?
Casey Wellman was at the center of a recruitment circus as a college free agent in 2009-10. A call up throughout his season, Wellman has shown some scoring promise with the club and has shined in Houston.
He was a clutch goal scorer for the Aeros in the Calder Cup playoffs this year and will be looking at playing for the Wild out of training camp this upcoming season.
As a developing centerman, much of his playing time rests on whether John Madden returns as a bottom six forward next season.
Longtime Clutterbuck linemate?
Colton Gillies is a saved prospect. Under Doug Risebrough, Gillies was thrown onto the Xcel Energy Center ice during the 2008-09 season.
With seven points in 45 games, the "sink or swim" mentality of management nearly ruined his game and confidence and he was sent back to Houston.
After some seasoning in Houston, Gillies is starting to bloom into the power forward that was first expected when he joined the club.
Playing a key role in the Aeros march to the Calder Cup Finals, Gillies is expected to compete for a starting spot with the Wild coming out of training camp.
With his play style, size, and game, he'll most likely be parked on a line with Cal Clutterbuck, an exciting prospect for all the fans,