Earlier today the Minnesota Wild put Eric Nystrom on waivers. This move comes as a bit of surprise, if for no other reason than most people just accepted that he was on the team. As was already stated elsewhere, this is not a move to save cap space. Combined with other moves during the offseason and training camp, Chuck Fletcher has made it clear the Wild are going younger.
This fact is not a surprise to Wild fans. The extent to which they are going younger may be a surprise, and I think it is a welcome one. For the last few years the Wild have been trying to patch together enough talent to squeeze into the playoffs through minor trades and minor free agent signings to fill holes instead of letting the youth have a chance. Players like Chuck Kobasew, John Madden, Andrew Brunette, and Matt Cullen were brought in with varying degrees of success. Some of this was no doubt by necessity. The prospect pool for the Wild has been very weak.
But the prospects are getting better. It seems clear that Fletcher has decided it’s time to see what some of them can do. Can Matt Kassian fill the role of Brad Staubitz? Brett Bulmer and Colton Gillies could be replacements for Nystrom. At least to start the season Marco Scandella gets a chance to see what he can do on the blue line. Throughout the year we’ll no doubt see players like Casey Wellman, Nate Prosser, and Cody Almond (once he recovers from injury) get their chances as injuries and ineffectiveness strike the NHLers.
It’s clear that Nystrom was not in the future plans for this team. I would guess Staubitz is not, either, and should be concerned that he may not have a roster spot when his suspension is over. Players like Guillame Latendresse, Kyle Brodziak, Greg Zanon, and Mike Lundin are in the last year of their contracts. They are likely competing with the prospects for a spot on next year’s team.
Then next year Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, and Zack Phillips can get their shots. More than likely not all will stick immediately, but that is a talented group of prospects coming in. Having a year of experience with Kassian, Bulmer, Gillies, and Scandella (amongst others) will only be beneficial in building a team next year that could be very competitive.
Even the most optimistic Wild fan realizes this year is not likely to end with a deep playoff run. Expectations for this team are middle of the pack, fighting to squeeze into the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed. Parting ways with players like Nystrom, who aren’t in your plans for next year is smart. His spot is filled by a younger prospect without damaging this year’s team, while building a stronger foundation for next year.
Good luck to Eric Nystrom wherever he lands.