Thinking Ahead: A Look at Minnesota’s Free Agents

A week ago, the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Minnesota Wild in four games. Although the Wild played stellar hockey for the last three months of the season, this series against Chicago revealed Minnesota has some real issues that need to be addressed in the offseason.

The Minnesota Wild is composed of a lot of talented players, but not all of them fit well with this team. Now in the offseason, Chuck Fletcher will face the difficult task of sorting through players and deciding who stays and who goes. Unrestricted free agents will be the first order of business.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

Sean Bergenheim:

The former Florida Panther was acquired in January with the hope he’d give Minnesota some extra offense. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Sean Bergenheim was picked up from the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline. The 31-year-old Finn is set to become a free agent. (Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)
Sean Bergenheim was picked up from the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline. The 31-year-old Finn is set to become an unrestricted free agent. (Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)

Shortly after playing on the top line his first few games, Bergenheim was demoted to the fourth line before becoming a healthy scratch for most of the remainder of the season. In 17 games with the Wild, Bergenheim scored one goal, zero assists and was a -4. Not quite the offensive production Fletcher and Yeo were hoping for, I would assume.

The Finn was also expected to provide playoff experience, but ended up playing only three games and not really making much of a difference. If I had to make a guess, I wouldn’t expect to see Bergenheim back in a Wild sweater come September.

Kyle Brodziak:

In his sixth season with Minnesota, Kyle Brodziak continued to fulfill his role of part fourth-line grinder, part scorer. Brodziak might have originally been acquired to provide the Wild with offense, but over the past couple of years, he’s found his role grinding on the fourth line instead.

Now that might not sound all that impressive, but Brodziak does his job well, and it seems he’s a valuable piece of this team. He’s obviously not that 20- or 30-goal scorer the Wild still needs, but not every player on a team can be that.

I’d think Brodziak will be back if the Wild can sign him to a short-term deal. While looking for offense, Fletcher can’t forget teams need to be physical to win, as well.

Chris Stewart:

Stewart made his presence in Minnesota known soon after Fletcher picked him up in January. The former Sabre made a big impression playing alongside Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu, and he finished the season with three goals and eight assists.

Although he didn’t bring as much offense as expected, Stewart brought some much-needed grit for a good price. His playoff experience was cut short by an upper-body injury, but I think Stewart was a valuable asset for Minnesota. If Stewart isn’t resigned, Fletcher most definitely needs to find someone else to bring a that physical style of play. Offense is important, but the Wild will suffer without any toughness in the lineup.

Josh Harding:

Oh, Josh Harding. What started out as a feel-good story last year seems to be a thing of the past. Harding suffered a broken foot at the beginning of the season, was sent down to the Iowa Wild and faced multiple other set-backs after that. It seems the Wild won’t have to worry about deciding whether to resign Harding; the Masterton Trophy winner is expected to retire this summer.

Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher
Josh Harding was incredible for the Minnesota Wild last season, but complications with MS, and numerous other injuries have kept him sidelined. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

Nate Prosser:

The Wild parted with Prosser after the end of last season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens again this year.

Minnesota has a lot of up-and-coming young defensive talent, namely Christian Folin. I would think Fletcher would focus on growing players like Folin and Dumba instead of bringing back Prosser.

Devan Dubnyk:

Minnesota needs to get Dubnyk signed as soon as possible, and the two parties have shown mutual interest in a contract. I know some of you still think Dubnyk is a fluke, but he’s a far better option than Niklas Backstrom, at least in my opinion.

As far as Backstrom goes, the Wild have to find a way to trade him or buy him out.

Keith Ballard:

After suffering a nasty injury back in December, Ballard is most likely retiring this offseason. The Minnesota native suffered three facial fractures and a concussion and hasn’t played since December 9.

Jordan Leopold:

Out of all the Wild players that have ever been acquired at the trade deadline, this guy probably has the best story. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read that here.

Apart from his daughter’s letter – which went viral almost instantly – Leopold didn’t make his presence in Minnesota very conspicuous. Although, maybe that’s the sign of a good defenseman. If the Wild resign Leopold, he’s obviously not going to be that top defender. However, Minnesota could use a veteran presence on defense, especially if Ballard retires. There’s nothing wrong with having talented young players like Spurgeon, Dumba, Brodin and Scandella, but having someone with years of experience could be great for these guys in the long-run.

Leopold would be inexpensive and offer that experience, so I could easily see him staying in Minnesota, at least for a year or so.

Ryan Carter:

Carter was initially picked up to give the Wild a bit more depth, and he did that to an extent, but not to the point where it really made a difference. He bounced around between being a healthy scratch and a fourth-line grinder, scoring three goals and 10 assists.

Carter is never going to be that offensive player the Wild desperately need; that’s clear. He could stick around short-term, though. He reminds me of another Brodziak and just seems rather expendable, so who knows if the Wild are going to want to invest in him when they have so many other priorities. This one could go either way.

Restricted Free Agents:

Mikael Granlund is the only member of the Wild's group of core, young players that has not yet signed a contract extension. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)
Mikael Granlund is the only member of the Wild’s group of core, young players that has not yet signed a contract extension. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

On top of all the unrestricted free agents, Minnesota also has to keep in mind it has multiple restricted free agents that need to be taken care of sooner, rather than later. Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Christian Folin, John Blum and Michael Keranen are all restricted free agents.

Chuck Fletcher has lots of choices to make in the near future. Hopefully those choices will lead the Minnesota Wild to another successful season next year, and maybe they’ll even be able to beat the Blackhawks.