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NHL Off-Season Outlook: Minnesota Wild

The Wild had a strong regular season in 2021-22, but had nothing to show for it. How will they fare in 2022-23?
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This is the newest file in THN.com’s ongoing breakdowns of the off-season plans for each NHL team. On this day, we’re looking at the Minnesota Wild.

2021-22 Record: 53-22-7
Finish In The Central Division: 2nd
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $4.3 million
Restricted Free Agents: None
Unrestricted Free Agents: None

What Minnesota Has: A full lineup of players under contract; a veteran goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury; an above-average defense corps; one of the game’s best goal-scorers in Kirill Kaprizov; solid forward depth on the second and third lines; one of the league’s best pools of prospects

What Minnesota Needs: A replacement for traded star winger Kevin Fiala; a better backup netminder than Filip Gustavsson; salary cap space over the long term; an injection of youth on their blueline

What’s Realistic For Minnesota Next Season: The Wild had a strong regular season in 2021-22, but were disposed of with relative ease by St. Louis in the first round, continuing a streak of not making it past the second round of the post-season since the 2002-03 campaign. GM Bill Guerin pushed a lot of his chips behind the team last year knowing full well his decision to buy out the contracts of former stars Ryan Suter and Zach Parise would bring a day of reckoning salary-cap-wise. That day has arrived, with Minnesota having a dead cap hit of $12.7 million this coming season, and $14.7 million in each of the following two seasons.

That is one of the reasons Guerin was all but forced to trade 33-goal-scorer Kevin Fiala, and why the Wild are going to be hamstrung when it comes to bringing in new talent for the foreseeable future. It may have made hockey sense to move on from Parise and Suter, but it was questionable from a cap perspective, and now we’re seeing why that is. Guerin had to bend over backward just to bring back a semblance of the roster he had last season – spending $3.5 million per year on a two-year deal for star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury – and though he has $4.3 million in cap space this season, he’s got star defenseman Matt Dumba coming up on the final season of his contract before becoming a UFA next summer, and up-and-coming winger Matt Boldy will be an RFA after this coming season. In short, Guerin’s costs are only going to go up, and again, that’s just to maintain the status quo.

Small wonder, then, that expectations for Minnesota are falling. They’re going to be challenged by the Blues for second spot in the Central, and as for their playoff aspirations – well, let’s just say it’s difficult for many people to see them being good enough and deep enough to beat the Stanley Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche anytime soon. More likely is a small slide down the Central standings, and another early exit in the post-season.

If that sounds harsh, it’s because the downside of the gamble Guerin took is a harsh one indeed. If he had’ve hung on to Parise and/or Suter, he may have eventually found a taker for their cap space; indeed, the sad-sack Arizona Coyotes or tank-arrific Chicago Blackhawks may have acquired them in exchange for draft picks and prospects. That sounds like a far better solution today, especially given that Minnesota has many talented young players in the system. Instead, Guerin chose the quicker solution, and now the team has to pay the price for it.

The Wild have enough talent to make the playoffs still, but are they Cup frontrunners? No. Are they even frontrunners to get out of their own division in the playoffs? No. That’s what should disturb Minnesota fans the most: they sacrifice their cap flexibility for years to come with a quick fix, and now have zilch to show for it.

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