We've all (hopefully) by now seen an off-season to-do list for the Wild. Some of the items on those lists- like re-signing coaching staff- are easy. Hopefully, within a week, we'll learn that Mike Yeo has a new deal. Some are about as complicated as they get- the Josh Harding Situation, for one.
When you break down these to-do lists, there are a few large categories. I'm going to take a look at each category in preparation for a series of articles about possible trade-targets that we at Hockey Wilderness are going to start tomorrow.
Resign Some Folks
This includes, but is not limited to: Coaching Staff, Restricted Free Agents, and Unrestricted Free Agents.There is a handy-dandy contract chart HERE in case you're curious about someone's contract. This is where I've garnered my information from.
It is pretty widely agreed that the Coaching Staff has earned extensions for their contracts. With a few puzzling decisions and deficiencies, Yeo and team did quite well this year. If puzzling decisions, like not sitting Heatley when he was an anchor, like insisting on playing Prosser and Stoner, continue to be made, Yeo might have to go. The other big question mark for this squad is special teams: the Wild's power play was atrocious, and the penalty kill wasn't much better. The Wild had a negative +/- on 5-on-3 power plays, and while that stat isn't reliable for much... ouch. Those need to be fixed for next season. If they continue to be thorns in the Wild's collective side, Yeo might have to go.
Restricted Free Agents
The RFA's for this offseason are: Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Justin Fontaine, Jonathan Blum, Darcy Kuemper, Tyler Cuma, Kris Foucalt, and Josh Caron. Of those, the only ones who saw significant time at the big club this season are: Kuemper, Niederreiter, Fontaine, and (arguably) Zucker. Kuemper is a guy we want to keep, as is Nino.
Zucker is a little more complex- he has his fans and detractors. The long and short of it is: he probably deserves another chance at the big club after getting healthy. That said, his defensive shortcomings do not sit well with Yeo, nor with the Wild's defense-centric system. He certainly has potential, but he needs to show that he can be relied upon before the Wild keep him permanently. Zucker is also a guy who the Wild could move in a trade offer if they wanted to.
Blum is a guy who could very well fill in on our blue line. He played very sheltered minutes this year, but he showed a lot of promise, and he showed offensive abilities which we could really use in the Wild's defensive corps. Christian Folin also could fill in, and he is already contracted through next year.
The last guy on this list is Justin Fontaine. Fontaine has shown a lot of potential over the last season, and most think he has a place on the Wild. I agree. He may need to be moved to bring someone else in. That wouldn't be ideal, but depending on who he's traded for, it could end up being in the best interest of the Wild.
Everyone else on this list, I couldn't pick out of a lineup of 2, so I won't comment on them. I haven't caught any Iowa games this year, but I know they struggled (to say the least). I'll leave them for someone else who knows more to comment.
Unrestricted Free Agents
The UFA's for this offseason are: Dany Heatley, Matt Moulson, Mike Rupp, Cody McCormick, Jake Dowell, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser, Ilya Bryzgalov, and John Curry. Of those, Moulson,, McCormick, Rupp, Blum, Prosser, Stoner, Bryz, and Curry played with the big club.
Some of these folks are easy to take care of: Dowell, McMillan, Winchester, etc. all should either be in the AHL or let go (again... don't know nearly enough of them to comment intelligently). Rupp will probably retire, which takes care of him. Heatley will also be gone, whether signed by another team or simply into retirement. This is good news.
Stoner and Prosser are certainly not the skill-level of guys who we want at the big club. Ger posted a great article breaking down why they should be let go. There are certainly those who believe we should keep one or both as bottom-pairing defenseman. There are those who think Stoner brings a 'grit' that we need on the blue line. Personally, I think we have better options out there, either via UFA or trade. I would love to see both these guys gone next year.
Bryzgalov and Curry are caught up in the goalie carousel that The Noogie covered recently. For all his shortcomings, I think Bryz could be a great addition to the team, and I prefer him over Backstrom. However, Backstrom is contracted for another 2 years, so moving becomes problematic. On the latest HW Podcast the guys talk about some possibilities at goalie. I think the Wild need to move Backstrom, even if that means eating some of his contract. Buying him out to make room for someone else isn't outside the realm of possibilities also. He has had health issues for two seasons, is getting older, and didn't look good even when he was healthy this year. Harding is fantastic, but the chances of him being good-to-go are slim-to-none. He has one year left, so we may as well ride that out, as a healthy Harding is dominant in the goalie game. Kuemper and Gustafsson are our guys for the future, so let's get them as much playing time as possible over the course of the next season.
Goalies Goalies Everywhere
This is a big mess, and there's already a great article written about it, so I won't go into this too much more. Suffice to say: we need to get this figured out. As I said before, I'm in favor of moving Backstrom, and rolling through the season with Kuemper and Bryz, assuming Harding drops out due to his situation. If he's in through the whole season, even better, get Kuemper some quality time in the AHL with Gustafsson backing him up down there. I'm not a fan of the idea that's been floated of having 3 goalies on the roster the whole season, though I fear that's where we're headed.
This is the other major area of concern for the Wild. The Wild struggled all year to put the puck in the net, and it ended up burning them in the playoffs, when they couldn't score on an uninterested Blackhawk team, even when they had controlled possession the majority of the time. Thomas Vanek is a name you're all probably familiar with, as it has been widely speculated that he'll be coming to the Wild this offseason.
There are a few flies in the "Vanek" ointment; his dropping production this postseason may be a cause for concern (or it could drive the price down). The question of whether we need someone who plays so similarly to Matt Moulson- particularly if we re-sign Moulson. Another question is whether we want to give an aging player a big contract, which Vanek is expected to want. One of the worst things the Wild could do is sign someone to a Heatley-esque contract that forces the team to shill out money to a player who helps the team more in the press box than on the ice.
Look to the Future
In addition to the Free Agents this year, Some of the Wild's most important younger players will soon become Free Agents, restricted- or non-. This includes Charlie Coyle, Mickael Granlund, and Erik Haula. The Wild need to bear in mind the contracts that these players will warrant, or pay the price of losing them. Some have also speculated that Coyle might be a moveable piece in a trade for another younger player.
Trades: Who do we Target?
There are a number of other offensive (and defensive) players the Wild might target for trade in order to improve. We at Hockey Wilderness will be covering a number of trade targets in the coming weeks, so stand by for some rosterbation, and fun.
This season was exciting, and if the Wild attack their to-do list with efficiency and fervor, there's no reason to think next season will be anything but better.