Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Minnesota.
By far, Minnesota has been the most difficult forecast to put together so far. The Wild have some eyebrow-raising long-term contracts on the book and it’s hard to guess whether those deals will go the distance or not. Minnesota needs to move them before 2023-24, but no-trade clauses and the sheer size of the deals will make it difficult. And will Kaprizov finally come over and play for the Wild? His latest KHL contract runs out at the end of April, but new GM Bill Guerin has work to do. In general, there is a ton of uncertainty here and every prospect needs to max out for this to work.
The defense corps is in much the same shape as the forwards. How ageless is Suter going to be in five years? Or will the Wild find a buyer for his big contract before that? Dumba will be the star, but he might be on an island. None of the prospects are sure things and Johansson in particular needs to rebound from a tough 2018-19 campaign to get back on track. Having said that, Menell was a nice find as an undrafted junior player out of WHL Lethbridge.
While Devan Dubnyk is the here and now, he’ll be 37 in five years. His current contract runs out in the summer of 2021, meaning that even if he hasn’t retired by 2023-24, he may very well be with a different team. Backup Alex Stalock is only one year younger than Dubnyk, so ditto for him. In their absence, we turn to the future, where Kahkonen and Jones will vie for the crease in Minnesota. Kahkonen just got through a decent first AHL season after playing well in Finland, while Jones was only drafted this past summer - so he’s got time to grow. Nevertheless, they will challenge each other for minutes in five years.
Overall, new GM Guerin has a lot to unpack as he takes over the reins in Minnesota. Parise, Suter and Zuccarello are all under contract until at least 2023-24 and those are the Wild’s three biggest contracts right now. A rebuild is necessary, but as the forecasted depth chart indicates, more talent is needed. There is too much up in the air right now at every position. If Guerin can make headway on that, he will indeed earn his stripes as a GM and maybe he can get this franchise to become a contender instead of a team that is sometimes good, sometimes just OK.
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