The NHL’s free agency period is right around the corner, and the Minnesota Wild have a busy offseason ahead of them. They will rely on the market as well as the 2022 NHL Entry Draft to help flesh out the roster. It’s not going to be easy, though, as the Wild have several players to re-sign with limited cap space due to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s buyouts.
In other words, general manager Bill Guerin won’t likely be a major player in free agency this year. Instead, it’s more likely that the Wild target cheaper veteran players to fill out any remaining roster spots. Having said that, here’s a look at three low-cost free agents for the Wild to target this summer.
1. Vladislav Namestnikov, C/LW/RW
As it stands, the Wild have 10 forwards signed for the 2022-23 NHL season, leaving room for a player like Vladislav Namestnikov. The versatile Russian forward is coming off a productive campaign split between the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars that saw him find the back of the net 16 times while adding 14 assists in 75 games.
Namestnikov can add some offensive upside to the Wild’s bottom-six group while also having the ability to move up whenever injuries occur. He’s now scored at least 16 goals in two of the last three seasons, proving that he can still be effective as he reaches his 30s. On top of that, the 29-year-old can play any of the three forward positions, allowing head coach Dean Evason to move him around as he sees fit.
Another valuable asset that the 2011 first-round pick brings to the table is his contribution to the penalty kill. He’s played at least 88 short-handed minutes in each of the last four seasons and isn’t afraid to use his body or block a shot if it means breaking up the opposition’s power play. Considering that underachieving special teams led to the Wild’s downfall, it makes sense to find help in a player like Namestnikov.
At the end of the day, the Wild can get a lot of value out of a cheaper player like Namestnikov. The only time his cap hit exceeded $2 million was during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, and he likely won’t command anything near that unless a team massively overpays. With a chance to play with fellow Russian Kirill Kaprizov and help the Wild reach contender status, a Namestnikov looks promising for both sides.
2. Jay Beagle, C
One of the Wild’s biggest struggles in recent years has been their inability to consistently win faceoffs. The team had a 47.6% faceoff percentage in 2021-22, and while successfully winning draws doesn’t equate to championships (the Colorado Avalanche won 47.3% of their draws in the regular season), Minnesota should strive to be better than their no. 27 rank.
If they want to have more success in the dot in 2022-23, Jay Beagle might be their guy. The 36-year-old has been known as a faceoff specialist since he stepped foot in the league, and that didn’t change last season. Averaging 13:47 of ice time over 33 games for the Arizona Coyotes, Beagle finished with a 57.1% success rate on 464 draws. That would’ve been the best faceoff rating in Minnesota last season.
Something that also helps Beagle stand out over other veteran free-agent centers is that he brings a Stanley Cup ring to the table. He scored two goals and six assists over 22 games during the Washington Capitals’ 2017-18 championship run, which is the type of experience the Wild could use in their locker room.
The best part about Beagle, besides his faceoff ability, is the fact that he likely won’t command that much money at this stage of his career. The last contract he signed was a four-year, $12 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks, but he’s unlikely to see that amount again following last season’s performance. If Guerin and the Wild can snag the Calgary, Alberta native on a veteran minimum contract or something close to it, the fanbase should be happy. At the end of the day, Beagle won’t wow fans, but he’s the type of hardworking role player that most championship-winning teams need.
3. Casey DeSmith, G
One of the biggest issues that the Wild must deal with this offseason is the status of free-agent goaltender Marc-André Fleury. Although the organization would love to bring the three-time Stanley Cup champion back on a team-friendly deal, $7.3 million in cap space doesn’t exactly give the team enough money to bring him back and flesh out the roster. If Minnesota parts ways with either Fleury or Cam Talbot, it makes all the sense in the world for them to pursue a goaltender like Casey DeSmith in free agency.
DeSmith played solid behind Tristan Jarry with the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, posting an 11-6-5 record in 26 games (24 starts), along with a .914 save percentage (SV%), 2.79 goals-against average (GAA), and three shutouts. It certainly wasn’t the flashiest goaltending season, but it further proved that the 30-year-old is still a solid backup.
Another positive thing about DeSmith is that he isn’t afraid to play a decent chunk of games, having suited up in at least 24 contests in two of the last three seasons. Talbot hasn’t played more than 48 games in a campaign since 2017-18 (67), so the Wild could use a reliable backup like DeSmith. Even if Minnesota brings back Fleury and moves on from Talbot, it’s still an option worth exploring.
DeSmith carried a $1.25 million cap hit during the 2021-22 NHL season and will likely be looking for a pay bump; however, it’s tough to see that exceeding the $2 to $2.5 million range. The Wild are fortunate that Talbot is only on the books for just over $3.6 million. As much as fans can’t wait to see Swedish goaltending rookie Jesper Wallstedt manning an NHL crease, he could use some seasoning by spending the year with Iowa in the American Hockey League while DeSmith handles backup duties for a year or two.
Wild Have Options Despite Cap Constrictions
The Wild might not have the most cap space to spend in free agency, but they have several cheaper options available to fill in their roster holes. Namestnikov, Beagle, and DeSmith aren’t the biggest names available, but they’re all affordable and what the team needs to remain competitive. If Guerin can land even one or two of them this summer, the Wild will be a better team for it come this fall.
As a lifelong hockey fan and recent Master of Journalism graduate, it’s always been my dream to write about the sport. That’s why you can find me here on THW covering the Minnesota Wild! You may also see my work on FanDuel, the Ottawa Citizen, and various sports betting sites. Follow me on Twitter @devplat!