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Minnesota Wild Restricted Free Agents - Who Stays, Who Goes?

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Is this the year Wellman makes the jump to the NHL full time?
Is this the year Wellman makes the jump to the NHL full time?

Restricted free agency is always a little tricky to deal with. The players hate it, because it limits their options a bit. The teams like it because they get to keep their young talent around and get compensated if that talent is signed away from them. Fans love it because it keeps thier favorite young players around for as long as possible.

With an extremely complicated system in place to define the RFA process, the NHL has made sure players are not lost to the teams that drafted and developed them. Sometimes, however, the RFA system bites a team as well. Take, for example, James Sheppard. The Wild are likely done with him, but he is still an RFA. Do they not qualify him and let him walk? Do they qualify him and keep him around, despite adding very little to the organizational value?

No one wants to let an RFA walk away. It is a sign of failure for both sides, and failure is not easily admitted in the NHL. Sometimes, even though it is for the best, it still won't happen. 

Since most of the RFAs are in Houston, we invited our favorite Aeros expert, Heather Galindo to join us on this discussion. If you don't know her, you probably aren't paying attention, but she writes for many outlets including the ever popular Ms. Conduct blog and The Third Intermission

With that, make the jump for a look at the 2011 restricted free agents for the Minnesota Wild. Who stays? Who goes? 

Casey Wellman, C

Current NHL Cap Hit: $1.35 million
Age: 23

JS: Likely our future 3rd liner, maybe gets a shot on the 2nd line this year, or if Granlund moves to wing, next year too.
Verdict: I think Welly signs at least 2 years, close to 1 million per year.

Elise: Wellman has shown a lot of promise and has played fairly well up with the big club. With Fletcher bringing him in so recently, and the push to go younger and deeper (and more attention to college kids), I think Wellman gets a few more years to see how he develops and what he can do.
Verdict: signed

Bryan: Wellman was a workhorse in Houston. His development is coming along nicely and he will compete hard for a spot on the NHL roster next season. Chuck Fletcher didn't sign him to leave him in the AHL forever. He had a great season, worked his tail off and helped the team reach the Calder Cup Finals.
Verdict: Re-signed, for three years near the qualifying offer.

Heather: Super talented Wellman is super talented, but he's going to have to either get tougher and more durable, or more slippery. He's good at finding those little open spaces, so he's a great partner with linemates who are a little more hard nosed and can get in there and muck the puck out to him.  So get him healthy, get him linemates with good vision and hockey sense, and he'll make some magic. He's also quite cute. 
Verdict: Sign the little bugger, but don't back the Brinks truck up yet.

Nathan: A highly prized college free agent, the time for Wellman to perform is now. This is the season that may make or break his career with the Wild. It's entirely too early to give up on Wellman, but the biggest question will be around where he fits in the system. Does he become a second line center, get special teams and big minutes or does he end up with the grinders, never able to see his potential as an offensive threat? We've seen the things of which Casey Wellman is capable, but it's time for him to prove that this is his shot.
Verdict: Re-signed, for three years near the qualifying offer.

Jeff Penner, D

Current NHL Cap Hit: $1.208 million
Age: 24


Elise: Haven't seen him play enough to give a good opinion on him

Bryan: Penner was brought over in the trade that sent Anton Khudobin to the Bruins organization. He may be the only piece that has any chance of seeing time in the Wild organization as Mikko Lehtonen seems to be content to stay in Europe. Penner was brought in late, and didn't see much time with the Aeros, but they'll keep him around. He'll be needed when two or three Aeros make the big team off the blue line.
Verdict: Re-signed for two years at the qualifying offer.

Heather: One of the nicest sets of hands I've seen on a defenseman. I'm actually not sure why he's a defenseman, honestly. I haven't seen him a ton but he seems to have okay but not amazing hockey sense. Have to pair him with a good stay at home d-man because he seems to like to go to the net.
Verdict: You got rid of our other best offensive d-man, so you better freaking sign him.

Nathan: I know nothing about him, but with Maxim Noreau gone, the team still needs depth in Houston.
Verdict: Re-signed at the qualifying offer.

Colton Gillies, LW

Current NHL Cap Hit: $1.041 million
Age: 22

JS: No way Fletch lets him go, he grew into a good player this year and I think he cracks the lineup this year.
Verdict: 2-3 years, 1.2 million per year.

Elise: Gillies may not be a superstar, but he was still the Wild's first round draft pick. He seemed to develop nicely under Mike Yeo and I would be very surprised if the Wild didn't give him a new contract. He could still learn a lot down in the AHL, but it's nice to see him working hard and learning.
Verdict: signed

Bryan: Gillies is an almost lock to make the NHL this year, and it should have been his first NHL season. Instead, the old regime destroyed the kid's confidence and let him fail for a year. Typical. Now, however, Gillies has had some time in Houston and is ready to try again. He will likely be a third or fourth liner, and expectations need to be tempered for the former first round pick. He's not going anywhere, and hopefully he shows he can be an NHLer.
Verdict: re-signed for two years, near qualifying offer

Heather: I don't think anybody loves to play hockey more than this kid. He grew a lot under Yeo and it's time for him to become a full-time NHLer under Yeo. The main thing he needs to develop is the fortitude to consistently go to the net with abandon. He does it for streaks and then loses his intensity, which is understandable. His best style of play is one that will really grind a kid down. Also, he's such a tender-hearted guy, you can't help but love him.
Verdict: Pay the kid and then promote him.

Nathan: Were it not for Doug Risebrough being an idiot, this should have been the year Colton Gillies came into camp with his first real shot to make the NHL at the end of it. However, many Wild fans have become jaded on Mr. Gillies because they saw a kid who wasn't ready for the NHL, but who was thrown into the mix, then into the press box. Gillies hasn't exactly blossomed into an offensive threat, but as a bottom six center, Gillies has the opportunity to finally be an NHL regular, especially as the team gets younger.
Verdict: re-signed for two years, near qualifying offer

Jarod Palmer, D F

Current NHL Cap Hit: $803K
Age: 25

JS: 1 year, at the minimum

Elise: Haven't seen him play enough to give a good opinion on him

Bryan: Update, 1:49 PM - I am an idiot, and trusted the wrong site to tell me what position he plays. I obviously do not know enough about him to intelligently make the call, but I think he sticks around nonetheless. 
Verdict: Re-signed, qualifying offer, two years

Heather: Palms has a knack for the net and he's got good speed. He's a versatile player who takes care of his own end but fits nicely in a 3rd line type of role in Yeo's system, because his speed allows him to take advantage of the turnovers he can create.
Verdict: Not sure he's ready for the show, but he's got upside we haven't yet seen. Sign him.

Nathan: I'm a bit confused by the "D" next to his name, as I've only ever seen him play as a center. He's a kid with great wheels, good hands, a mind for the game, offensive talent and at 25 is coming into his prime. It's time for Palmer to either be one of the first guys called up or he'll likely end up nothing more than a cup of coffee guy.
Verdict: Re-signed at the qualifying offer

Justin Falk, D

Current NHL Cap Hit: $742K
Age: 22

JS: Needs to have more fight in him if he wants his shot in the NHL, but I can't see the Wild letting him go when he's so close.
Verdict: 1-2 years, 800-900k per year

Elise: Haven't seen Falk play as much as I would have liked, but he's a part of the deep defensive prospect core the Wild have. He still needs seasoning in the AHL, but is worth keeping. I'd like to see him take some big strides next year.
Verdict: signed

Bryan: If you think Falk is going to be allowed to walk, you need a tox screen. Despite a ignominious departure, Falk is a big defenseman that will challenge for an NHL roster spot this season. If he is returned to Houston, he will be one of the first injury call ups. We may have filleted him for his lack of physical play, but Mike Yeo had some time with him. Count on a big year for Falk.
Verdict: re-signed, 2 years a bit above qualifying

Heather: Oh poor beleaguered Falker. He's mind-blowingly inconsistent, but I just feel like one of these days, it's going to click for him and he's going to be really really good. Because when he's on, he's... well... really really good. But when he's off? Just don't even look at it. It's a train wreck. 
Verdict: He's a project but a worthwhile one. Keeper!

Nathan: Justin Falk's demotion last season for rectal cranial inversion aside, this is a kid with a big body who can learn to be a physical presence on a team with undersized defensemen. He'll be around until he proves he can't be trusted.
Verdict: re-signed, 2 years a bit above qualifying

Patrick O`Sullivan, C

Current NHL Cap Hit: $2.925 million
Age: 26

JS: He did amazingly in the AHL, but if he re-signs, it'll be because he has a chance to come back into the NHL, because I can't see him sign to stay in the A all season.
Verdict: 1 year, 850K

Elise: O'Sullivan was a chance to try something that didn't work out. It was fun for a year to see if O'Sullivan could break back into the NHL and make an impact, but without a lot of harm to the Wild if he didn't. Whether or not he's retained, in my opinion, depends on the numbers. He provides good AHL depth, but if he wants NHL numbers then there are others available.
Verdict: sign, if the right amount

Bryan: POS is a story is futility. Not so much of anyone in particular, but of the situation. He can't seem to keep his head in the game in the NHL, but he is clearly too good for the AHL. The Wild will almost certainly qualify him after the season he had after going to Houston, but there is no guarantee he reports. Could be time for him to explore the money ion Europe, and he might fit better over there. What I would like is for him to find somewhere he fits and commit 100%
Verdict: qualified, not signed, leaves for Europe

Heather: I don't understand how he's an RFA at 26 with 311 NHL games under his belt... but regardless, I wouldn't bring him back. He's extremely talented but too inconsistent. He will be amazing in Europe.
Verdict: Pass.

Nathan: See: Case, Head
Verdict: Qualified, not signed

James Sheppard, C

Current NHL Cap Hit: $803K
Age: 23
Lone RFA at the NHL level

JS: Once again a question mark on his head. His ATV accident may have cost him his chance to prove himself worthy, but trying the same contract as last year won't hurt, he surely learned his lesson.

Elise: I think I know Nathan's answer to this, but here's mine. Sheppard is an awkward situation. It's hard to say how he'll come back next year after the injury and criticism. He's been given many chances before to prove himself, some people are sick of it and he's running out of chances. That being said, it's hard to give up on a 9th overall draft pick. I would like to see him get a 1-year contract to see if he can get it all together finally and show the development expected, and then re-evaluate.
Verdict: signed (barely)

Bryan: Ah, Shep. It would only be fitting for Chuck Fletcher to buy you a plane ticket to anywhere but here. After having his development destroyed by the former regime, he was given one last chance and he blew it by injuring himself. If it were me, with my bitter, sarcastic view on life, I'd tell him to take a hike. This is also why I am not an NHL GM. A quirk in the RFA system will likely save his career for now. Due to a little used clause, he'll be qualified, and offered a two-way deal. He will, of course, jump all over that. Hopefully the time he needed in Houston when he was 18 will help him now that he is 23. 
Verdict: re-signed, 1 year, at the qualifying offer

Nathan: F.J.S.
Verdict: I'll help him pack