As the 2022-23 season-opening rosters have been submitted and are made public, it may come as a surprise to some fans to see the Minnesota Wild, with their $12.7 million in dead money from the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts, sitting pretty with $3.29 million available in cap space. A grand total of 13 teams will start the season above the $82.5 million salary cap on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), and a further four teams do not have enough space remaining to call up another player should they face an injury.
The Wild on the other hand have the most wiggle room in their budget of any team that made the 2022 Playoffs, with the eighth most cap space of the 32 teams. They are also returning with a roster that remains largely the same as the one that gave them a new team record in points in a single season. How have they managed to pull this off and can they keep it up moving forward?
Wild Actually Still Benefiting From Buyout
When the announcement was made that the contracts of Parise and Suter would be bought out, the consequences were a massive short-term gain, but a burden in the long-term. The identical 13-year contracts worth $98 million ($7.54 million average annual value) signed way back in 2012 still had four years remaining when they were bought out, meaning eventually there would be a penalty to the Wild’s salary cap when comparing it to the cost of having the players rostered.
In the first year, which was last season, the Wild actually benefited by having $10.34 million more in cap space than if they still had Parise and Suter in the lineup. That allowed them to sign Kevin Fiala for another year and gave them the space required to make sure Joel Eriksson Ek and superstar Kirill Kaprizov would be around for years to come. It also meant that they had an extra two spots to protect players from the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, as teams were required to protect players with no-move clauses, which Parise and Suter both had.
While that dead cap number jumps to $12.7 million this season, that still provides the Wild with an extra $2.3 million compared to if Parise and Suter were still on the roster. If you consider Marco Rossi as the replacement for Parise, and Calen Addison as the replacement for Suter, their combined entry-level contracts (ELCs) only take up $1.66 million. I consider that a double win: starting two young players that could become stars instead of aging veterans, and they still have a net positive of $600,000.
Salary Cap Increase Lines up Nicely
The next two years are the penultimate years of the buyout where the total dead cap hit for the Wild will be $14.7 million, a hefty sum of money for sure, but still less than if the Wild had Parise and Suter on the team. Sure, there may have been other ways to dispose of their contracts, but in an era where money is king, the cost to trade massive contracts (if they even waived their no-move clause) is substantial and likely would’ve seen the Wild parting with multiple high draft picks.
Luckily for the Wild, the recently stagnant salary cap has been reported as potentially rising considerably over the next three seasons. Next season will be the most difficult year, as the cap is only expected to rise by $1 million and some big names are due for new contracts; like Matt Boldy, Calen Addison, and Matt Dumba. The next season, however; there is an expected jump of $4 million, easing the blow slightly. Even better will be the 2025-26 season, when another $4 million jump is expected, along with the buyout penalties being reduced to just $1.7 million.
Bridge Deals & ELCs Are Vital Moving Forward
So the Wild are in a great position heading into the 2022-23 season, but how do they continue to stay there? The key is going to be replacing some key large contracts with younger players on ELCs, and signing expiring players to short-term bridge deals until they make it through the tough years.
Fortunately for the Wild, they have one of the best prospect pools in the entire NHL, meaning they have a stable of good, young players on ELCs that can slide into roster spots and mitigate the damage incurred. Unfortunately for some current players, that means they will have to go, as is likely the case with Dumba. His $6 million AAV can be replaced by a number of talented young prospects like Carson Lambos, Ryan O’Rourke, or Brock Faber for less than $900,000. That $5.1 million in savings will be sorely needed to sign players elsewhere.
It also means that a couple of their future stars, namely Boldy and Addison, will likely be asked to sign short-term deals at a lower cost with a long-term deal being available after the Suter-Parise buyout penalties expire. While signing for less money seems like a major ask of the young players, it also provides them with the opportunity to show how valuable they are to the team, and cash in on a long-term deal afterwards.
Wild Knew What They Were Doing
The biggest note to all of this is that the Wild as a team were aware of what they were doing when they decided to go through with the buyouts of Suter and Parise. They want to win just as much as the fans do, and after looking at all of their options, decided this was the path that led to the most success, and so far it has. The 2021-22 season was spectacular and there is no reason to believe it can’t be repeated or even bettered in 2022-23. The plan is in place to navigate the worst of the buyouts, and so far they are doing an excellent job.