The challenge that is the offseason has begun full steam for the Minnesota Wild. With many teams still entrenched in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Wild are already starting a long journey that will be crucial to the team’s future success.
GM Chuck Fletcher has already hinted in his end-of-season press conference that adding forward help will be a priority for the Wild this summer. According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, Fletcher‘s quick assessment of the forward group is that he thinks “we probably need another player or two to help up front.”
This narrative has not changed since January when the Wild tried to acquire Ryan Johansen but were unsuccessful. Many thought the trade deadline would have yielded a trade for a top-six forward, but Fletcher did not pull the trigger most likely due to price tags being too high for the players he was looking to acquire. This offseason however with free-agency in play and a trade still possible, the odds of pulling in that badly needed scoring forward certainly has increased.
Looking at the free agent pool and players that look to be moved via trade, the Wild have lots of options for “help up front”. With a total of $12 million to sign all free agents (including current roster RFAs and UFAs), this offseason offers more salary cap options than years before. As Fletcher puts it “Our cap situation is much better this year. We’re just looking to improve our team. Whatever we need to do to improve our team, we’ll do.” So which available forwards could help improve the Wild forwards corps the most?
Fletcher: "we have much more flexibility" than last summer to upgrade talent on roster #mnwild
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) April 28, 2016
The former Gopher and St. Paul native becomes a UFA this offseason and looks to cash in on his 22 goal season. The Islanders have tried to secure his services long-term during the regular season but have been unable to do so. Apparently Okposo is looking to test his value in free agency, which based on his current cap hit of $2.8 million per season could be somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 to $7 million per season.
The Wild can pay that price tag, but it would mean possible sacrifices in some of the current roster free-agents who would be re-signed. A buyout of Thomas Vanek would yield $5 million in cap space and almost pay outright for Okposo. Still with some good prioritization and maybe even some trades, the Wild might be able to pull off an Okposo signing without buying out Vanek. Additionally, Okposo could be motivated to give the Wild a bit of a discount to play at home so his price tag for the Wild could be on the lower end of his projected salary range.
The market for Okposo will be strong. Next to Steven Stamkos he could be the most coveted UFA this offseason. Not to mention the Islanders have plenty of cap room to re-sign him, and the rest of the NHL will have their pocketbooks out.
At the trade deadline, it was widely thought as a foregone conclusion that the scoring-challenged Wild would look to add the former Edmonton number one overall pick via a trade. Nuge offers the Wild a young strong center they need with a scoring touch to the tune of about 20 goals a season. The Oilers were and are defensively challenged, and the Wild can offer a quality blueliner to help their situation. Alas Fletcher did not pull the trigger on a trade at the deadline most likely because GM Peter Chiarelli’s price tag was too much.
Fast-forward to this offseason and the words out of Edmonton are that Chiarelli is still looking to shake-up his team. A deal for Nugent-Hopkins most definitely could get done at a price that might be cheaper than it was at the deadline. His cap hit of $6 million per season seems high, but compare that with whatever salary gets traded to the Oilers the overall cost to the Wild could be a bit lower than that. Bottom line though is that the cap impact of a Nugent-Hopkins trade would be almost identical to that of signing Okposo.
Another hometown possibility is Minneapolis native and Minnesota State alum David Backes. Backes is a five-time 20 goal scorer to include one season which he got over 30 goals, and is tough on both sides of the puck. A perennial Selke candidate, he would be exactly what the Wild need to free up Granlund and Coyle to play the wing full-time and concentrate on scoring while offering a scoring touch himself.
The Blues are heading into a very tough offseason with big choices to be made. Backes is a UFA with a current cap hit of $4.5 million per season, and will be looking for a little bump in pay. At the age of 32, Backes will be looking to sign for money and years that will cover him until his retirement. The Wild can offer both with the current cash situation as previously described, and the fact that high price contracts like Vanek , Koivu, and Pominville begin to fall off over the next four years and should accommodate a longer deal with Backes.
There are many more options out there for the Wild to add to their forward ranks, but these three options are the best fits. With increased salary room and the will to make a shake-up, Fletcher could make the room to sign or trade for some impact forward talent. With the July 1st start of free-agency quickly approaching, the Wild will be looking hard at all options and hopefully have their strategy ready to execute. Fletcher himself explains it best himself “I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year. It’s going to give us more options.” Let’s hope more options means they are good options.
Danny Lambert has been covering the Minnesota Wild for some time now, and is back again as contributor to THW staff. A native Minnesotan he’s always had his eye on the State of Hockey and is proud to write and represent such a great market and fans. Follow him on Twitter at @dannylambert17