Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Darcy Kuemper, Nino Niederreiter, Marco Scandella, and Jared Spurgeon will all likely open next season with the Minnesota Wild. They will also all be under the age of 25 at that point. We're not even counting guys like Jason Zucker, Mathew Dumba, or Christian Folin, who are in the minors right now, and could see time with Minnesota.
There are also big contracts on the team right now. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have 7.5 million dollar cap hits until they're 37 and the next lockout gives them some sort of amnesty buyout. Jason Pominville will count for 5.5 million against the cap for the next 5 years. Mikko Koivu will make 6.75 million for the next 4.
The large amount of young players with the Wild, as well as the long-term cap hits of some veterans are making some leery of going outside the organization for help. Where mid-season, signing a big-ticket free agent or two like Thomas Vanek, Matt Niskanen, or Matt Moulson seemed really appealing to a lot of Wild fans, that sentiment is not to be found anywhere now.
Really, this attitude can be summed up by Kelly:
And yes, General Manager Chuck Fletcher will need to be very careful with their cap situation so that they don't lose players that they expect to be a part of their core long-term.
But the Minnesota Wild can not let this need get in the way of what should be this team's short-term objective: Win now.
The Minnesota Wild have taken a big step from last year, when they dominated a weaker Avalanche team in the first round, and then went toe-to-toe with the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. It was a really fun run for the Wild that swept Minnesota up in excitement, but in the end the Wild couldn't get it done.
Part of this excitement was that Minnesota's exciting young players emerged in the playoffs, carrying the team at points. Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter each scored overtime goals. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella provided fantastic defense throughout the postseason, and Erik Haula dazzled Wild fans with his speed.
Yet, despite this, the Wild were missing something. And we don't quite know what that missing piece is. Do they need another Top-4 caliber defenseman? How about a goalie- one the Wild can undoubtedly count on? Or do they need to find a sniper somewhere? Do the Wild have guys in-house that can fill those spots?
The Wild will likely have to improve in some fashion in order to truly become Cup contenders, and as Brodin showed us during this season, you can't count on your young guys to get better each and every year. It's likely that it will take an acquisition outside of the organization in order to get the Wild to the next level of contention.
This is the time that the Wild need to start competing for a Stanley Cup, not waiting 2-3 years for "the kids" to reach their full potential. Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter, and Mikko Koivu will all be over 30 next season, where declining production is a reality for just about any NHLer. It may not be a steep, Dany Heatley-esque decline. But it's entirely likely that we'll be seeing the last 2-4 years most, if not all, of these players will be bona-fide #1 options for an NHL team.
This, combined with the fact that as the years progress, their young players will continue to get more and more expensive, means that the Wild's sweet spot for contention is now. Their old players aren't yet too old. The Wild's young players are all going to be cost-controlled, and will fit on the roster along with another contract. Quite simply, the Wild are now able to get the most bang for their salary cap buck.
The fear that there will come a time that the Wild will have to part with one of their young players shouldn't be paralyzing. There may indeed come a time when the Wild are forced to trade a player like Jason Zucker or Justin Fontaine. They may even have to give up something that hurts badly, like an Erik Haula or a Charlie Coyle.
But this kind of thing happens to a lot of teams. They're forced to make choices about who will be a part of the core long-term, and they act accordingly. And this doesn't have to mean doom and gloom, either.. The 2009-10 Blackhawks could serve as a template for the Wild.
The Blackhawks had just won the Stanley Cup, and guys like Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane were in line for big raises. With Brian Campbell, Cristobal Huet, and Marian Hossa on their roster, the Hawks weren't going to be able to keep everyone they liked. They got only one more year of Antti Niemi before losing him to the Sharks in Free Agency. They traded Kris Versteeg to Toronto. It wasn't feasible for them to keep everyone they wanted- even playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien, who was traded to Atlanta. Chicago suffered for a while.
But three years later? Through good drafting, and smart decisions, the Blackhawks again lifted the Stanley Cup. This was mainly due to them replenishing their system with more, cheap young players like Bryan Bickell, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Viktor Stallberg, Nick Leddy, and Corey Crawford.
It will have to be the same thing for the Wild. The Wild will have to make smart decisions. They'll have to draft well. And Fletcher knows it, saying to Michael Russo last week:
"Cap space is not malleable. Once you use it, it’s gone. We have to make sure we preserve enough of it to keep the kids we want to keep, and I think that’ll have a major impact in what we do this summer."
Emphasis on "Keep the kids we want to keep." The Wild will not be able to keep all of their young players, almost regardless of what they do or don't do this offseason. The part that Wild fans need to worry about is whether the Wild will retain the correct ones.
Please keep checking in on Hockey Wilderness, where we will have draft coverage, and highlight trade targets for the Minnesota Wild throughout the summer.