The 2021-22 NHL season has been going better than anyone could’ve ever expected for the Minnesota Wild. While the race in the Central Division is tight, the Wild are currently leading the division with a 19-8-2 record, good for 40 points. However, even though the Wild are exceeding expectations and the team is playing well, it doesn’t mean that every player will return next season. Whether it’s at the trade deadline or in the offseason, players will be moved or let go of as Minnesota will need to pay some of its pending free agents. Here’s a look at three Wild players who probably won’t return for the 2022-23 NHL season.
1. Victor Rask
It’s hard to find a recent player who’s had a more disappointing tenure with the Wild than Victor Rask. Minnesota acquired him from the Carolina Hurricanes back in January 2019 in a one-for-one swap for Nino Niederreiter. At the time, it seemed like a good move. The Wild needed help down the middle, and Rask had 163 points in 339 games with the Hurricanes (0.48 points per game). Nobody could’ve predicted that his production was going to fall off as hard as it.
Since the 2018-19 season, Rask has just 21 goals and 27 assists in 139 games with the Wild. While his shooting percentage is better with the Wild than it was with the Hurricanes, he just isn’t taking enough shots to be a consistent offensive threat. He has been better this season, recording nine points in the 19 games that he has played in, but that isn’t exactly amazing production for someone being paid $4 million this season.
Keeping that in mind, Rask is about to hit free agency this coming offseason. If he’s looking to make around $4 million again, it’s highly unlikely that the Wild will be interested in retaining his services. Minnesota needs to lockdown their younger players, and management can’t risk spending more money than they have to. Unless Rask is willing to take a pay cut, there’s a good chance that he’ll be in a new jersey next season.
2. Nick Bjugstad
Once a multi-time 40-point player, Nick Bjugstad is another forward who’s had his fair share of struggles in Minnesota. A career plagued with injuries has caused the 29-year-old to put up just 21 points in 70 games with the Wild, which translates to 0.3 points per game (P/G). Considering that he was averaging 0.47 P/G before arriving in town, it’s easy to see how that’s a pretty substantial drop-off.
The 2021-22 NHL season has been particularly underwhelming for the veteran. While he’s had his best campaign when it comes to faceoff win percentage (52.0 percent), he’s struggled offensively with just four goals and is without an assist in 26 games. Bjugstad is also a minus player (-4) for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign. Obviously, plus/minus ratings don’t tell you everything, but it’s clear that he’s on the overall decline.
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Bjugstad’s cap hit sits at $900,000, and the Wild could probably bring him back on another cheap deal next season, but that doesn’t mean that they should. With promising young forwards like Marco Rossi, Adam Beckman and Mason Shaw playing in the minors, Minnesota has several options who need a roster spot over the veteran. Some fans have a soft spot for Bjugstad since he’s a home-state boy, but he doesn’t really have a future on the team.
3. Kevin Fiala
Kevin Fiala is another player that has had his ups and downs this season. After scoring at least 20 goals in back-to-back campaigns, he’s netted just four in 29 games this season. If he continues at this pace, he’s projected to finish with just 11 goals in 82 games, which would be his lowest total since his rookie year in 2016-17.
Additionally, Fiala has already been involved in trade rumors this season, making his future in Minnesota quite cloudy. The 25-year-old pending restricted free agent (RFA) carries a cap hit of $5.1 million this season. If he continues on his current pace, it’s highly unlikely that the Wild will want to pay him that much again, especially with 10 roster players hitting free agency and only $16 million to spend.
If the Wild don’t see a future with Fiala, the team should try and get at least one NHL player back for him. He’s still young and has the potential to score 20 to 30 goals any given season, but a change of scenery might be what he needs to get there. Whether it’s an in-season trade this year or a sign-and-trade deal during the offseason, Minnesota can’t afford to let him go for prospects or even picks via an offer sheet.
Keeping that in mind, there’s also the chance that Fiala turns things around and has a monster finish to the current season. He just needs to find that same confidence that led to him tallying 43 goals in 114 games over the two previous seasons. If that doesn’t happen, though, the Wild need to start considering finding his replacement as soon as possible.
4. Jordan Greenway
A second-round selection at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Jordan Greenway was a player that the Wild had high hopes for. After all, he’s a 6-foot-6, 227-pound forward who should have no issues pushing others around with his frame. Unfortunately, Greenway doesn’t always play that way, leading to fans becoming frustrated with his inconsistent physicality. It certainly didn’t help that he was scoreless with just three assists in his first 17 games of the season. He has four goals and two assists in the eight games since then, but that’s much too small of a sample size to say that the pending RFA will be back next year.
Another problem with Greenway is that he doesn’t do that good of a job at creating offense. For example, even though he has five assists on the year, each of them is a secondary assist. He’s the only Wild player aside from Bjugstad who doesn’t have a primary assist, which isn’t a good look. Greenway is also at two goals below expected, the second-lowest mark on the team, and his 34 percent of blocked shots is the second-highest rating on the team.
Nevertheless, Greenway still does have the rest of the season to turn things around. He currently has a relatively cheap cap hit at $2.1 million, and he’s worth re-signing if he does want to take a team-friendly deal. If he wants more than that, Minnesota will look at options to move him elsewhere if possible. The hope is that since he’s only 24 years old, he can find his game sooner than later.
Wild Still Have Time
Ideally, the Wild should handle at least one of these players’ futures sometime this season. The good news is that they do have time. This season’s trade deadline doesn’t occur until March 21, which gives the team about three months to work things out. It would do wonders for the team if one of the above players could start realizing their true potential. But until that happens, all Wild fans can do is sit and wait.
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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!