Only a few teams remain in the 2020 Playoffs, and we are a couple of weeks away from awarding the Stanley Cup. That means, free agency opens in less than a month.
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The Minnesota Wild are straddling the line between playoff contender and rebuilding. They finished the 2019-20 season on a high note with a competitive series against the Vancouver Canucks in the Qualifying Round. With young talent and veteran leadership, they have a chance to improve on another postseason appearance, and they can use free agency as a way to continue to build.
How Much Can They Do?
Given the $81.5 million flat salary cap that will remain in the NHL for the forseeable future. The Wild have close to $12 million in cap space this offseason. That said, they have two unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and four notable restricted free agents (RFAs). The key UFA is Alex Galchenyuk whose previous contract had an AAV of $4.9 million, but he is likely to take a pay cut after a down season. The Wild now have a little more cap space after they announced they will not re-sign longtime captain Mikko Koivu.
RFAs Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Nico Strum and goaltending prospect Kaapo Kahkonen will all receive raises, but none of their contracts will be astronomically high. It is fair to presume that Wild GM Bill Guerin would like to head into Oct. 9 with enough dough to bring at least one player that will make a difference in the lineup.
After trading Eric Staal to the Buffalo Sabres, the veteran-scoring role is open in the Twin Cites. The addition of a player like Ilya Kovalchuk would provide that sort of production.
The beginning of the 2019-20 season was not the best for Kovalchuk, as he was bought out by the Los Angeles Kings. However, he earned a fresh start with the Montreal Canadiens who signed him in January. He scored 13 points in 22 games with the Canadiens before he was traded to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline.
While Kovalchuk is no longer a star player, he can still be a viable asset, especially on a team with a depleted offence like the Wild. His shot is still lethal and he can help on the power play. With extended playing time, Kovalchuk could be successful in the twilight of his career.
The Canadiens only signed for the league minimum. While he has shown he is worth more, his value is no more than $3 million.
Brassard has never been in the spotlight but he has always been an important piece of any lineup. A key depth centre who can score is exactly what the Wild are looking for.
Last season with the New York Islanders, Brassard scored 32 points in 66 games, his most productive season since the 2017-18 season. After losing centres Staal and Koivu, the Wild need another quality player in the faceoff circle. Brassard had one of his best seasons on the dot, winning over 55% of his faceoffs last season.
The Wild have an experienced centre in Joel Eriksson Ek, but quality centres who can play at both ends of the rink are hard to come by (from Secret to Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek’s success? ‘He’s pretty annoying to play against’,’ Duluth News Tribune, 07/22/2020). Guerin should take a run at the 13-year veteran.
Brassard was given a one-year, $1.2 million deal with the Islanders. It is hard to say whether or not his stock has risen since then, but his new deal should not rise above the $4 million mark.
Acquired by the Vegas Golden Knights during the expansion draft, Tomas Nosek may be on the outside looking in on a cap-strapped Golden Knights team. He has never been a big scorer since making the full-time jump to the NHL but he is another depth forward that the Wild can utilize.
Nosek has yet to eclipse the 20-point mark in his first three seasons in Las Vegas but has been a vital piece of their lineup. Last season, he averaged a little over 11 minutes a night, which is roughly his career average. With increased playing time, his numbers could rise, and he would have that sort of opportunity with the Wild.
Nosek was only making $1 million with the Golden Knights. If he receives a raise, it should be no more than $2 million per season.
Heading into the 2019-20 campaign, Shattenkirk seemed to be trending downward. After two mediocre seasons with the New York Rangers, he signed a one-year, $1.75-million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, which prompted a bounce-back year while playing in a reduced role, with eight goals and 26 assists in 70 games. He was on pace to reach the 40-point mark for the first time since 2016-17.
Shattenkirk has also been a key player in the playoffs for the Lightning. In 20 games, he has nine points, and he has been an excellent blueliner alongside Victor Hedman.
With the Wild, he could continue to play that supporting role. With defencemen like Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon locked up long-term, Shattenkirk could be brought in as a viable member of the Wild’s d-core. He would be a responsible player in his own zone while contributing offensively.
An increased salary would be in order for the former Boston Terrier. A fair estimate would be roughly in the $4 million range.
Bringing back the longtime fan-favourite would be beneficial for the Wild. After six-and-a-half seasons in Minnesota, former GM Paul Fenton traded Granlund to the Nashville Predators where he only scored 35 points in 79 regular-season games, including three points in 10 playoff games.
The Wild needs more scoring, and returning to the team that drafted him could provide Granlund with the spark he needs to be a top-end player. He would fit right back into the Wild’s top-six. Minnesota signed him to deal with an AAV of $5.75 million in 2017. While his stock was high at the time, his diminished stats will bring that number down, making him an affordable option for the Wild.
If Guerin wants to improve the Wild roster, he will have to bring in higher-end talent, and these five players could be exactly what they need.
I’m a broadcast journalist from West Michigan, with an incredible passion for the game of hockey. After playing in goal for 16 years, I realized that my time on the ice was up, and chose a slightly different path working in the media. It is just as demanding, just a little less physical.