Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin set up the 2021 Trade Deadline to be a seller. After an eventful offseason, it appeared the plan would be to flip the pending unrestricted free agents for draft capital to help bolster their prospect pool. There were five pending UFAs the Wild could have moved at the deadline, but that never occurred in order to keep them for a playoff run.
This leaves the question as to what the odds are that each pending UFA gets a contract extension. Nick Bjugstad, Marcus Johansson, Nick Bonino, Ian Cole, and Brad Hunt are all on the last year of their respective deals which makes this situation very complex with the Seattle Expansion Draft looming and the Wild’s cap crunch due to a plethora of contract extensions for the youth.
Contract Extension Odds: The Wild’s depth down the middle is thin which is the reason why Bjugstad most likely has the highest odds to re-sign with the team. There are many factors that will affect this outcome including how Marco Rossi is feeling in the fall and if they trade Matt Dumba this offseason because of his Seattle Expansion implications. The latter is important to note because if they acquire a center in return, it will significantly decrease the chance Bjugstad gets an extension.
Pros: The biggest pro for extending Bjugstad would be the fact it would be cost-effective. His lack of point production likely hinders him from getting any substantial deal and means they could get him for a number that justifies spending the money in a cap-strapped environment. Another reason why it might be worth it is the fact he can play wing as well which gives the Wild roster flexibility. Furthermore, his underlying numbers have been respectable, he’s making an impact despite it not translating to the score sheet.
Cons: The biggest con – which isn’t against Bjugstad – is the fact that the Wild would have to move an additional player even taking into account the other pending unrestricted free agents go to free agency given they have to open a spot up for Rossi and Boldy. Another con will be if they want to spend any kind of money on a third-line center in this flat cap environment, it all depends on the cost. It would also be nice to see him score more which he hasn’t been able to do.
Contract Extension Odds: The other pending free agent that has a legitimate chance of re-signing is Cole. Elliotte Friedman mentioned the possibility of an extension for Cole and I highlighted that in one of the latest Wild News & Rumors. Again, some of this will depend on the result of the Seattle Expansion Draft. If Dumba is traded before then, Soucy will most likely be taken which means they will have to sign one defenseman.
Pros: Since coming to the Wild in the trade with the Colorado Avalanche, Cole has fit in nicely and has brought stability to the third-pairing alongside Soucy. His physical presence has been a nice addition. While it would be nice if he hit more, he has the aggressiveness that the Wild lacks.
It is also a benefit to have his Stanley Cup-winning pedigree and veteran leadership. The other pro is that it shouldn’t be too expensive to extend him given he hasn’t produced a ton in terms of point production.
Cons: The issue with Cole is that his numbers haven’t exactly been good and that is a cause for concern because he’s already 32 and his best days are likely behind him. Any contract extension for the veteran defender should be with the upmost caution. His shot share of 40 percent and expected goal share of 45.56 percent which both rank last among Wild defensemen aside from Hunt who has been a healthy scratch for most of the season.
He has just 4 points in 38 games and hasn’t fully utilized his physical presence. I am not sure giving him an extension – unless it is a one-year deal – is the best idea going forward.
Contract Extension Odds: The Hunt situation is a tough one to gauge and how the Wild deal with it will be very interesting going forward. He hasn’t been able to draw in the lineup very much this season which has kept him to just 11 games due to the trade that brought Cole over here from Colorado. The Seattle Expansion Draft could cause the Wild to re-sign him if Soucy is indeed taken.
Pros: The biggest case for Hunt is that he will likely be very cheap to extend and could be a respectable third-pairing defenseman for the Wild next season if they choose to move on from Cole. He had 19 points in 59 games last season and is a power play specialist that was a key piece to their man advantage in the 2019-20 campaign.
Cons: The only con against him is that he’s almost 33 and isn’t playing much this season which makes next season questionable. One would have to wonder if the Wild aren’t content with Hunt on the third pair with Soucy.
Contract Extension Odds: Bonino has the second-lowest odds among the Wild’s pending free agents to get an extension. This just wouldn’t make sense in my opinion because there really isn’t a roster spot open for him next season without subsequently making a move to free up a spot for him.
Pros: Like Cole, he has the Stanley Cup-winning pedigree and veteran leadership which are intangibles that can’t go unnoticed.
The main reason they would bring Bonino back would be his excellence in the faceoff circle. He has won 52.3 percent of his draws in the dot which has saved the Wild in this regard. Likewise, he has been a strong defensive center which is an asset.
Cons: He has been poor offensively this season – in terms of point production and underlying numbers – which is really what the Wild need from him. The defensive aspect is respectable, but they already have several top defensive forwards and need more offensive complementary players.
Contract Extension Odds: There is basically zero chance – borderline impossible – Johansson gets an extension. With the additions of Boldy and Rossi at the NHL level, the top three lines are basically set with the exception of a top-six center if that priority can be checked off this summer.
Pros: He has the reputation and the experience of being a top-six winger that just hasn’t come to fruition with the Wild this season.
Cons: The 30-year-old veteran is on the wrong side of 30 and hasn’t done much this season in any facet of the game. He has been poor in terms of his underlying numbers and point production. The stylistic fit just wasn’t isn’t here and it has become evident this season.
The Verdict: Who Should Get an Extension?
There is no doubt that the Seattle Expansion Draft and the possibility of acquiring a top-six center will have a big impact on if any pending free agents get a new deal.
If I was Bill Guerin, the only two I would consider extending would be Bjugstad and Hunt. I think Hunt could provide roughly the same value as Cole on a cheaper deal. This cost effective move would help with the extensions the Wild have this summer.
Aaron Heckmann is a journalism & broadcasting student. He covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage’s 10krinks. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.