Well, Free Agency is coming up and the Wild may have put themselves in an ideal spot to land some premier talent as it moves forward to become a contender. By pulling off a game 7 thriller against a much more higher powered Colorado and a game 7 heartbreak against the pseudo-Dynasty Blackhawks, the Wild proved to every single pending Free Agent they are a legitimate Cup Contender. Add that to a pool of young talent including a couple potential elites and a permanent footing of superstars Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu and you have a very attractive team for anybody looking for a winner.
The Wild will undoubtedly look to sign some high talent and will have the cash to spend on it. But before we look at the targets, let's look at the four factors I believe the Wild need to consider for their FA acquisition(s):
1) Superstar Catalyst: The Wild may have superstar power already, but need a final piece to put it all together. The Wild's top six did plenty of shuffling last season with different combinations achieving different results. Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund was the most obvious result of a good combination, while Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise didn't exactly disappoint but didn't click as hoped either. GM Chuck Fletcher will undoubtedly look for a piece that will continue to allow Mike Yeo to flex his lines but keep the offense scoring.
2) Veteran Presence: Last season the Wild had seven players under the age of 25 contribute significant time, many playing significant minutes. Fletcher will most definitely look to acquire a veteran with some leadership skills to help guide the Wild's young talent pool. This will especially be important in acquiring a defenseman, with Keith Ballard being the oldest defenseman at the age of 30.
3) Playmaker or Scorer: The Wild may have a classic case that signing a 20 goal, 40 assist player who can dish the puck and be creative may create more offense than a guy who came off a 40 goal, 20 assist season. The fact of the matter is, the Wild are short on pure playmakers. Koivu and Granlund are as pure of playmakers as they come but it somewhat ends there. Parise and Pominville showed their duties under Yeo are to hit the net. While Power Forwards Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle can definitely dish the puck down low, neither are creative, nor nifty.
4) Future Assets: The Wild's biggest attraction other than a deep playoff run, are its vast amount of young talent. With several players on entry level deals or still on RFA status, the Wild need to plan to have available cap to spend in the next 2-3 years. The Wild have enough cap to sign two elite players, but doing so puts the ability to sign Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula to future deals at risk.
My Top 3 Targets:
1) Thomas Vanek LW/RW: Vanek has obviously been on the Wild's radar for quite some time and nothing has really changed except it may not be a given anymore. Bringing in Vanek would obviously be for a long-term deal that would most likely take Vanek into his late 30's and garnering a salary along of the lines of Dany Heatley's just recently departed $7.5 million cap hit.
The idea of Vanek in a Wild sweater is indeed quite appealing for plenty of reasons. He's nearly a guarantee on 30 goals per season and plenty capable of hitting 40 with a capable playmaker on his line, scoring a career high of 43 in Buffalo in 2007 with Daniel Briere dishing him the biscuit. It's no secret Vanek is great friends with Jason Pominville. The intrigue of reuniting the two with a very Danny Briere-esque player like Mikael Granlund may be just too tempting to turn down. Let's not forget to mention, he already has a permanent residence in Stillwater, MN.
Of course, there are plenty of criticisms against jumping into the Vanek deal. The biggest being the knock that he's hardly played like his 40 goal seasons in Buffalo and a very disappointing performance in the recent playoffs with Montreal. Vanek's career resume will invalidate any argument that a poor playoff performance should result in a lower salary. But Vanek's time with the Islanders should prove that he is capable of elite numbers with a great supporting cast. And as for his poor playoff performance, it seems everyone forgot that the entire team played pretty poorly and Montreal's top six forwards outside of Max Pacioretty definitely lacked star power.
2) Paul Stastny C/LW: The Colorado Avalanche will be looking to re-sign Stastny, but with 3 permanent fixtures at Center already aboard, they will likely be asking Stastny to take either a pay cut, reduction in playing time, a permanent move to the wing, or possibly all three. Stastny has already told the Avalanche he won't begin negotiations until June 20. Stastny could very well test the market and land himself a deal that would pay him an elite player salary that Colorado may not be willing to pay, but the Wild would be happy to give.
The addition of Stastny would be a welcome addition at C, with Kyle Brodziak falling well short of offensive expectations. The Wild have plenty of offensively capable forwards to roll three capable scoring lines. Adding one more playmaking center into the Wild's mix may be the answer to the Wild's offensive woes. Add that to the fact that Stastny is capable of playing on the wing, and has done so in the past, the addition of Stastny makes a great flex option for Mike Yeo.
The biggest risk for Stastny comes with the price for what the buyer may end up getting. Stastny was once heralded as a player capable of breaking 82 pt mark. His resume and age will most definitely get him an elite-player deal. Stastny, however, has shown a declining trend in his statlines. While Stastny hit the 60 point mark last season, the last time he reached that mark was in 2010 when he hit his highest point total at 79. Paying upwards of a $7 million cap hit for a 2nd line talent for a long term deal would be less than desirable for a Cup-Contending team needing a little more depth.
3) Matt Niskanen D: The Wild will look to add an experienced defenseman this off-season who can be a permanent fixture to the Wild's top four defensemen and will fill Powerplay as well as Penalty Kill time. The Wild are in desperate need to bolster their defensive corp, with the bulk being raw, unproven talent. Niskanen could prove to be a valuable asset on more than just the scoresheet and could be counted on to assist in the development of younger prospects such as Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Christian Folin and Jonathon Blum.
An addition of Niskanen gives a solid boost offensively to the Wild's blue line. Niskanen proved that with talented support, he can be a 40 pt defenseman from the blue line. Niskanen would add a much needed point shot, powerplay quarterbacking ability and a mobile puck rush, the exact thing the likes of Keith Ballard were unable to provide but were expected. An addition of Niskanen likely brings the departure to Ballard and possibly, with a long-term deal, that of Scandella or Spurgeon.
The risks associated with Niskanen are he is hardly a sure thing. Niskanen just hit the 40 point mark for the first time in his career, and that was with the ultra powered Penguins. Inconsistency has been the biggest mark against Niskanen. Paying Niskanen a 5-year deal worth $20-25 million could backfire quickly if Niskanen reverts to his 2011-2012 campaign numbers.
Other Potential Targets:
Ryan Callahan RW: The likeliness of the Wild seriously pursuing a RW, especially one who is shoots right, is relatively low considering the current depth chart. But Callahan is a very attractive option who provides something the Wild could really use; grit, tenacity and leadership. With the Wild as young as they are, it certainly doesn't hurt to add a veteran NHLer who is able to score goals as well as back check. Zach Parise would certainly enjoy having someone else who plays 110% every single shift.
Jarome Iginla RW: Another RW, right handed shot that would stack up the depth chart but the Wild would be glad to have. Iginla at this point would absolutely love to be a part of a winner, with his age certainly getting up there at 36. Iginla would be an outstanding role model for guys like Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter, who both play a very similar game. Even at his current age, Iginla is capable of scoring 30 goals and is a great veteran presence on any team in the league.
Dan Boyle D: With the Wild's defensive corp being so young, an aged, declining veteran defenseman is a welcome addition, if even for a year or two. Boyle is looking for a 2 year deal and the likeliness of re-signing in San Jose is low. Even at 37, Boyle can still rush the puck, quarterback a powerplay and put up respectable point totals. The development of Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba would be a primary assignment. A Cup contender also has got to be in Boyle's list of teams to sign with.
Ryan Whitney D: Even though Whitney played a significant portion of last season with the AHL, Whitney is a low-cost, high reward option for the Wild. At this point, Whitney is a veteran defenseman with a track record for being able to put up some very respectable numbers. A one-year deal would be fairly easy to accomplish with Whitney, with the possibility of re-signing if all goes well. A Cup contending team with low expectations may be just what Whitney needs to return to form as a top four defenseman. That is, so long as his health stays up to par.
Andrei Markov D: Markov has made it fairly clear he wants to return and finish his career with Montreal, but in the event Montreal decides to pass on the veteran top-pairing defenseman, the Wild may have a great option. Markov has always been an offensive weapon but his hockey sense and effortless skating ability may make him a great addition to help put Jonas Brodin back on the track to eliteness. And of course, it never hurts to add a veteran to the Wild's Defensive Corp.
Mike Cammalleri LW: The Wild will most likely want to add a LW, or at least a left handed shot come UFA time. Mike Cammalleri will be looking at a reduced deal from his $6 million cap hit from his last contract due to a declined performance in the last four years. Cammelleri has yet to show his ability to play at a 30 goal pace as he did in Calgary, but a short term deal at a reduced salary may be a great option if the Wild are looking to get a steal.
Ryan Miller G: The idea of landing Ryan Miller looks great on paper but doesn't come with challenges. Despite that, Miller would be a great addition to the Wild. Miller's biggest concern going forward with signing with a team is to go to a Cup contender, which the Wild proved they are. Even with Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper as #1 goaltender options, none are sure things. Backstrom is most definitely declining to back up status. Harding is playing the best hockey of his career but his multiple sclerosis makes him a wild card. Darcy Kuemper is indeed talented, but is young and unproven. At 33, Miller has a few years left to win a Cup and creates a definite #1 with options to slide in in the even he is injured. The addition of Miller means the departure of at least one of those assets, and more challenges arise in the fact the Wild have plenty of young talent to re-sign. But a strong #1 goaltender is undoubtedly pivotal to a championship team.