Wild’s Quiet Free Agency Could Hurt Offense in 2021-22

The Minnesota Wild were somewhat active during the first few days of the NHL’s free agency, not in big ways but enough to impact their roster. The biggest moves were made on defense with the forward moves lacking a bit. They did make one move in regards to forwards by signing center Frédérick Gaudreau.

Despite the move to get Gaudreau, the Wild seem to be needing a bit more in the forward department. They still have yet to sign Kirill Kaprizov or Kevin Fiala, their two main wings that they rely on for a lot of their scoring. Fiala may be signed sooner rather than later, with the Wild deciding to bring the matter to arbitration. They also bought out Zach Parise’s contract, so that is one more wing they are missing.

Making a Move

Apart from those issues that will eventually sort themselves out prior to the season starting, the Wild filled out their defense and filled one spot on offense. As stated before, they did add some center depth by signing Gaudreau. He’s spent four seasons in the NHL so far, three with the Nashville Predators and one with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On both of those teams, he spent time behind centers like Ryan Johansen, Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Teddy Blueger, and Evan Rodrigues. He’s been steadily improving his faceoff percentage over the last few seasons as well as gaining more points over that time. With the Wild, he may be able to turn a corner and come out as a top center. He’s been overshadowed quite a bit in his career and with the Wild — he’ll have room to make a name for himself.

With the Wild losing Nick Bonino during free agency, they needed to sign another center and that’s where Gaudreau came in. Most of his points are assists, so he’s a player that can carry the puck and dish it off at the right time to an open waiting teammate, something the Wild could utilize with wings like Fiala and Kaprizov.

As the video shows, Gaudreau is a very heads-up player who analyzes and sees plays unfold. He jumps into the play and creates turnovers that lead to goals. He may not have a lot of points at the moment, but he has the potential to have many more with the right linemates.

A Look at the Roster

At 28 years old, he’s on the older side compared to the rest of the Wild’s centers. Looking at the roster currently, the team is actually quite loaded with eight players listed at that position. Some of them are able to play wing while players like Nick Bjugstad and Joel Eriksson Ek are predominately centers.

It’s believed that Eriksson Ek would be expected to take the number one center spot with Gaudreau right behind him. The second spot could go to either Bjugstad or Gaudreau, but Bjugstad can really bounce around any place. He’s capable of working on a line with pretty much anyone. There’s also the possibility that the new center, Gaudreau, could be bounced around even on the top line until they find out the best spot he fits in.

Head coach Dean Evason has shown he likes to switch lines up now and then, especially if he thinks he can find a better fit than what he currently has. He’s one that is not afraid to change it up to get results, even if that means making up some rather unorthodox pairings.

Work Remains… or Does It?

The Wild may have added another veteran center, but they still have quite a bit of work to do before they’re ready for the season. They made a move in filing arbitration with Fiala but Kaprizov is yet to be signed. If they can get those two figured out, they have the majority of their roster already settled.

Kirill Kaprizov Minnesota Wild
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Wild still have to work out whether they will have a prospect like Matt Boldy fill that last wing spot or if they’ll fill it with someone else. According to an interview done with coach Evason by The Athletic‘s Michael Russo on if Boldy or Marco Rossi could join the roster this season, Evason said, “Absolutely, That’s what we want. We want that competitive nature. If you’re coming to a National Hockey League camp, you better be prepared to make the team.” (from ‘Wild’s Dean Evason on dramatic roster changes, Boldy and Rossi making the team; plus Fiala’s rare arbitration’, The Athletic NHL, 08/03/21)

So, it seems the Wild may have more figured out than they originally let on. Time will tell whether Boldy or Rossi gets to fill out that last spot or if they both make it. One of the greatest things about the Wild’s roster is it went from being one of the oldest to gravitating towards the youthful side in a short amount of time. They are by no means the youngest team in the NHL, but they’ve taken a step or two towards it and it’s okay not to be the very youngest — having experience is just as important as youthfulness.

What They Should Have Done

Clearly, the Wild needed to add some defensemen after losing Ryan Suter, Ian Cole, and Carson Soucy, which they did just that by signing four new names to the roster during free agency. What they didn’t do was sign a top winger to take Parise’s spot. As stated before, it’s very possible that Rossi or Boldy could fill that last spot if they prove themselves worthy.

However, if they don’t prove to be ready just yet, the Wild should have signed another forward, or not have signed Gaudreau. In all respect to Gaudreau, he wasn’t the first name that came to mind when the Wild were in the market for a center. Granted, his price tag was one they couldn’t pass up and there weren’t a lot of big-name centers up for grabs, but they could have nabbed a younger center who has more points, like Alexander Wennberg who recently signed with the Seattle Kraken.

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Otherwise, there were two former Wild centers that could have made a reappearance in their lineup — Erik Haula and Mikael Granlund were both available at the start of free agency, but it’s hard to say if they would have been affordable. Their price tags were somewhat high, but the number of points they can bring to the lineup and their experience is quite valuable. They also had some unfinished business with the Wild — Haula was plucked away by the Vegas Golden Knights during their expansion draft, and Granlund was traded away back in 2019 for Fiala by former general manager Paul Fenton.

Mikael Granlund Nashville Predators
Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Fiala has thrived for the Wild, but Granlund was also playing well for the team before he left. With the possibility of having both of them on the same team and maybe the same line, they could have a scoring powerhouse if they had the right chemistry.

Time Will Tell/Author’s Thoughts

As said before, Gaudreau could end up being exactly what the Wild need. Sometimes the decisions of general managers don’t make sense to us as fans and we all have our own ideas as to how to build a team. However, I have trust in the process, and even if going after Gaudreau didn’t seem to fit for me, I’ll be open-minded and see where he lands. Sometimes it’s difficult to see where a team is headed, but a lot of times it’s worth the wait — hopefully this one is as well.

Do you think the Wild made a good signing with Gaudreau or did you have a list of your own? Let us know in the comment section below.