NHL Free Agency: Minnesota Wild Signs Matt Cullen and Eric Nystrom

Blake BenzelCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2010

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 16:  Matt Cullen #7 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena on April 16, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Penguins defeated the Senators  2-1.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Day one of the official off season is in the books and, boy, was it a doozy for the Wild.

Two players, two needs filled, and the general manager already saying that the team might be done? Man, that’s got to be a good day at the office.

Before I get into the players the Wild signed, let’s look at that last statement—the Wild might be done with free agency.

First of all, the all-seeing, all-knowing Mike Russo said that Fletcher was comfortable with the six defensemen that the team has.

That means that he’s also comfortable with either Nate Prosser or Marco Scandella being the team’s number seven d-men.

So, let’s look at this.

Fletcher is comfortable with their number six defenseman being an injury-prone rookie and the other option being either a rookie defenseman with three NHL games under his belt or another with none?

I don’t buy it—at least not for someone who is as in depth about his planning as Fletcher.

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Here’s the deal. Stoner definitely deserves a shot to show what he’s got, especially with his impressive cup of coffee with the team last season.

But Prosser and Scandella? You can’t tell me that they’d be better served playing 25-35 games in the NHL than playing a full schedule in the AHL.

So what does that add up to?

Maybe a restricted free agent is allowed to go to free agency, maybe a veteran defenseman. Who knows. But the fact is that it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Wild aren’t done.

But enough with my ramblings about the status of their free agency period—on to the signings at hand.

First and foremost, there’s Matt Cullen.

This was the player that the Wild wanted heading into free agency, and they certainly got him.

He’s fast, he’s gritty, he’s skilled—in other words, he’s everything that the team wanted from Andrew Ebbett, only with more offensive upside.

The 33-year old center from Virginia, Minnesota has scored 15-plus goals five times in his career and has scored 40-plus points seven times, including the last five seasons.

He plays a solid two-way game, he can play the point on the power play and he’s played in 63-plus playoff games and won the Stanley Cup, which is something that no one else on the Wild’s roster can claim.

What’s even better is that he can win face offs.

Following Cullen was gritty forward, Eric Nystrom.

Nystrom is young at 27 years old and he’s a character player that can hit. Fletcher has stressed that he wants the team to get younger, faster, and stronger, and Nystrom did just that.

I’m a little concerned with the amount of money that the Wild spent on Nystrom, but as Russo said, Nystrom is in the prime of his career, which is why Fletcher was likely willing to commit the term and money that he did.

Nystrom comes to the Wild having scored a career high 11 goals and 18 points last season for Calgary.

Now I don’t mean to be cynical about the signing, but I’m really not crazy about it.

The good news is that both Fletcher and Nystrom feel like he hasn’t quite tapped into his offensive potential, of which he obviously has some (he scored 32 points in 38 games for the Michigan Wolverines in his last season of college hockey).

So where do he signings of Cullen and Nystrom leave the Wild?

The Wild have about $3.5 million in cap room left, without the eventual re-signing of Josh Harding.

In other words, they could very well be done.

So with those signings, this is what the Wild’s depth chart could look like:

Andrew Brunette/Mikko Koivu/Pierre-Marc Bouchard (if healthy)
Guillaume Latendresse/Matt Cullen/Martin Havlat
Chuck Kobasew/Kyle Brodziak/Antti Miettinen
Eric Nystrom/James Sheppard/Cal Clutterbuck

Extras: Casey Wellman, Cody Almond, Colton Gillies

Greg Zanon/Marek Zidlicky
Brent Burns/Nick Schultz
Cam Barker/Clayton Stoner

Extras: Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella

Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding

When you look at it, this is a team that is looking more and more like they could be competitive this season.

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