The Minnesota Wild entered the 2013-14 NHL season seeking to take step forward in their pursuit of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. A lockout shortened season saw a return to the playoffs for the Wild only to be dispatched in the first round with ease by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. The narrative from the Owner down to the front office, coaching staff, and players was this season would either prove the Wild to be capable of competing for a cup or changes would be swift.
Wild Owner Leipold Spends the Money to Build the Brand not to Buy a Championship
The reigning theme from outside of the State of Hockey whether it be media or analysts has been that the Wild has attempted to purchase a championship with the contracts given to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. I think anytime a team dips into the free agent market to sign a player or let alone two on a max contract 13 year agreement it will always come with a certain amount of healthy scrutiny but the idea that these two players coming to Minnesota was just a cash grab is just absurd.
Craig Leipold the owner of the Wild and his general manager Chuck Fletcher implemented and executed an aggressive rebuild of not only the NHL roster but the entire organizational prospect pool since their arrival to the State of Hockey. Fletcher set out to acquire as much young talented as he cold amass given the limited resources at his disposal upon the ouster of the previous regime. In stockpiling all of this young dynamic talent, there is no better way to insulate their development and acclimation to the National Hockey League than have Parise & Suter in place to lead them by example. Build a winning brand of hockey in Minnesota is the reason Leipold and Fletcher signed Parise and Suter to matching deals. To infer that it was an attempt to buy a championship is reckless and laughable.
Fletcher’s most visible strength as a first time general manager has been his ability to see well beyond the present when maneuvering in trade talks and as result the core group of young players he has collected during his first 5 years on the job has graduated to the NHL level. This young core for the Wild is the reason it can compete with any team in the NHL and why they were able to miraculously defeat the Colorado Avalanche in the first round and nearly took control against the Blackhawks in the second round.
With the Wild’s season again ending at the hands of the Blackhawks this time in the second round in a more competitive manner it certainly feels like this franchise is entering a window of being in contention for the Stanley Cup for several years to come. What a difference a year makes right? The true difference is that the young core of players Fletcher has worked so hard to bring into the fold just proved they are able to play in important roles and elevated minutes on hockey’s biggest stage.
What this means for Wild fans is the pursuit of former Gopher Thomas Vanek this summer as an unrestricted free agent is most likely no longer a priority or a reasonable course of action given the emergence of Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, Justin Fontaine, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Darcy Kuemper, and even Christian Folin. All of those young players I listed will be playing in either Top 9 forward roles or Top6 pairings next season and will require new contracts this offseason or the next.
Significant Salary Cap Space for Fletcher this Offseason
While the Wild will enter this offseason with nearly $22 Million dollars in cap space, I have a feeling that Fletcher and his front office staff will emerge from their organization meeting in the first week of June with an offseason plan that will not include a major financial long term commitment to Vanek or the other top unrestricted free agent Matt Niskanen also a Minnesota native.
@dangle48 @TonyDeanTHW last fall while on the air with me and @1500ESPNJudd Lou Nanne guaranteed Vanek is indeed coming and everyone knows.
— Jeff Dubay (@jeffdubay) May 21, 2014
I think it is far more realistic to expect any major roster move by Fletcher to come via trade either at the draft where he seems to love to maneuver or this summer once full information is known on the makeup of their roster headed into training camp. I am not definitively closing the door on Fletcher coming to an agreement with Vanek this summer I just think the emergence of the young core has changed the needs and priorities of the Wild.
I think Vanek has desired to return to Minnesota to continue his NHL career once his destination was of his choosing but for that to happen now it would mean taking a deal that leave potentially a ton of money and years on the table and this being Vanek’s last opportunity to extract a huge payday I am not sure he will be able to pass it up to come home.
I have to say Thank You I am extremely grateful for the overwhelming response to my #Vanek offering http://t.co/KjV0JLjJid #HotTake haha Bzz
— Tony Dean (MNWild) (@TonyDeanTHW) May 21, 2014
The Wild certainly has areas of need on their current roster to be addressed via free agency and probably trades this offseason to continue their trajectory but I will dig deeper into that as we get closer to the draft and free agency. I hope Wild fans can see that although a major splash may not occur this offseason it doesn’t mean a return to mediocrity is on the way either.