ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild put a lot of work into summer projects the past two years. This time, they’re on track for a little less activity.
Some key restricted free agents need new contracts to be retained. Another scorer would be a big help for the forward lines.
The goalie situation, of course, remains in flux. Following the franchise’s deepest advancement in the playoffs in more than a decade, though, there are fewer holes.
In 2012, the Wild were the stars of the NHL off-season by signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. In 2013, they had to shed several high-salaried veterans to create more space under the cap and on the roster for ready-to-contribute prospects.
“I just feel that this year there’s not the sense of urgency that we have had in past seasons, that we have to add certain pieces in order to be more competitive,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said Monday. He added: “This year I think we can be a little bit more patient.”
With the draft set for Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia and unrestricted free agency starting three days later, the NHL marketplace is set up for the flurry.
“I think you’ll see a lot of movement this year. It’s not a particularly strong free-agent class. I think teams will look to potentially fill their needs via the trade route,” Fletcher said.
Whether that includes the Wild, well, that’s difficult to predict at this point. Fletcher said he’s been fielding more calls than he’s been making.
“We either have players right in their prime that are key contributors on our team, or young players that are just starting their career that we’re really not that excited about moving. We don’t have a lot of players in that 25 to 29-year-old age class that seem to be the prime trade candidates in a lot of cases,” Fletcher said.
That doesn’t mean goalie Niklas Backstrom or centre Kyle Brodziak, for example, wouldn’t be dealt if the Wild were to find a partner.
Backstrom is on track to be ready for training camp Sept. 18 after his latest midsection surgery. He has two more years left on his contract, and Brodziak has one.
Dumping some salary would give the Wild more flexibility to pursue a high-priced unrestricted free agent, with Thomas Vanek the primary focus of outside speculation. The former University of Minnesota standout played for three teams in 2013-14, lastly with Montreal.
Darcy Kuemper played his way into the starting goalie spot and is one of four restricted free agents the Wild will probably re-sign. Forwards Nino Niederreiter, Justin Fontaine and Jason Zucker are the others.
Most of the unrestricted free agents will probably be let go, including goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, forwards Dany Heatley and Matt Moulson. Forward Cody McCormick and defencemen Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser are also in this category, without any guarantee the Wild would be their highest or favourite bidder. Fletcher declined to speak about any interest or not in any of them specifically.
“I think some of those guys will move on at this point. They’re aware of where we’re at,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher traded Cal Clutterbuck for Niederreiter the day of the draft last year. He dealt Brent Burns for Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle on draft day 2011. He acquired Brodziak in that scenario in 2009.
This time, the Wild don’t have a second-round pick, due to the trade for Moulson, so they’d be less interested in parting with their first-round pick, 18th overall.
“Historically we haven’t been a team that’s ever been confused with the Edmonton Oilers circa ’83-’85,” Fletcher said. “If we could add a little bit more offence without sacrificing our defensive structure we’d like to do that.”