Current projected cap space: $2.168 million
2015-16 record: 38-33-11 87 pts
For the Minnesota Wild, the 2015-16 season turned out to be one of the more interesting ones on record. They finished the season with 87 points, which astonishingly was good enough to earn them a playoff spot. Of course, it wouldn't be a Wild season without a near back-breaking slump in the heart of winter either, cue the sad trombone.
The 2015-16 slump was a little different though. This time it would cost Mike Yeo his job, marking the first "exit" for the Wild for our little rundown here. Mike Yeo coached for the Wild for 4 seasons, plus 55 games in his 5th season behind the bench before the team's sour performance called for a change. He led the team to 3 consecutive playoff berths, and they would ultimately make the playoffs after his firing as well.
I know a lot of people questioned the call to fire him. He's a likable guy, and when the team played his system they were extremely tough to beat. Unfortunately, he could not find a consistent effort from the squad, and that is what cost him the job. Yeo of course, landed on his feet. He's the "Head Coach in waiting" for the St. Louis Blues now, and only awaits either the Blues patent-pending Mike Yeo mid-season implosion or Ken Hitchcock’s contract coming to an end after the Blues finish hockey in the 2016-17 season for him to take the reigns, officially.
Of course, it wasn't just Yeo who found an untimely exit with the Wild. Thomas Vanek drew the short straw this season, and his contract was bought out. That will cost the Wild $1.5 million against the salary cap this season, along with $1 million in the final year of Matt Cooke's buyout, and will cost the Wild $2.5 million in the 2017-18 season. Vanek finished last season 7th on the team in points, registering 41 points off 18 goals and 23 assists. Wild fans did expect more out of Vanek in his tenure with the Wild, but his inability to live up to the hype is what ultimately cost him his job in Minnesota. Vanek was scooped up by the Detroit Red Wings where he signed a 1-year contract worth $2.6 million and, as a bonus, he gets to play with Steve Ott!
While Vanek might be the most recognizable name leaving the team this season, the Wild have a laundry list of players who are sitting in limbo right now, UFA's waiting patiently for any team to come calling. Most popular among those guys, around these parts at least, is probably University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog Justin Fontaine.
Fontaine saw his production value dwindle over his 3 seasons in a Wild sweater. In 197 career NHL games, Fonzy scored 27 goals along with 41 assists, with 13 of his goals coming in his 2013-14 rookie season. Fontaine may still find a home here in Minnesota when it's all said and done. With Matt Cullen finally re-signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Wild may now see fit to give him a call.
Ryan Carter is another UFA out there waiting for a new home in the NHL. Carter is a rare breed, in that he actually made his NHL debut in the playoffs for the Anaheim Ducks, playing in 4 games in the 2006-07 playoffs. He's a veteran of 10 regular seasons in the NHL, playing in 473 career games while scoring 41 goals and 52 assists. Carter was always good in the faceoff dot, and played some tough bottom 6 minutes for the Wild. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Wild could look to bring the 33 year old White Bear Lake native back, but the chances don't look great after the Wild's big offseason acquisition.
There are a few guys you can pretty much count on not returning to the Wild, who are still floating out there in UFA land. David Jones, Chris Porter and Jarret Stoll are all still available to the
highest first bidder. David Jones, of course, came over in the trade that sent longtime Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom to the Calgary Flames. He scored a pair of goals in his 16 games with the Wild last season, but he was basically brought in to keep the team's contract compliant. Jarret Stoll was popular with Wild fans in a "What the hell are you doing here?" kind of way. He was claimed off waivers when the New York Rangers realized their mistake early last season. Chris Porter was also a waiver claim for the Wild when he failed to land a roster spot with the Philadelphia Flyers last season. In 61 games he pulled in 4 goals with 3 assists.
The Wild did manage to bring a few guys into the organization as well this summer. Patrick Cannone is a career AHL forward who went undrafted and spent the last 3 seasons with the St. Louis Blues AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. In his 348 AHL games, Cannone has registered 80 goals and 123 assists. It's no big secret the Iowa Wild need a lot of help. With several draftees coming into the fold this season, Cannone will provide more forward depth which the team desperately needs.
They also added a little defensive depth this summer with the signing of Victor Bartley. Bartley, you may recall, was involved in the trade which sent John Scott to Montreal, and out of the All-Star game, or so the NHL hoped. That certainly backfired horribly for the league. Bartley has some NHL experience, playing mostly with the Nashville Predators before landing in Montreal through a convoluted system of trades. In 121 NHL games he has scored just 1 goal and has 22 assists to his name.
The Wild did re-sign Darcy Kuemper this summer, but also brought in another netminder in Alex Stalock. Stalock has spent most of his career with the San Jose Sharks organization before being traded to Toronto at the trade deadline last season. In his small sampling of 62 NHL games (46 starts), Stalock boasts a .911 Sv% and a 2.37 GAA to go with his 24-19-7 record. Stalock is a St. Paul native who attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He's a bit undersized in terms of today's goalies, standing at 6 feet and tipping the scales at around 185 lbs. He'll be competing for a starting gig in Iowa and a likely call-up should something happen to Devan Dubnyk or Kuemper.
Chris Stewart is also coming back into the fold. Maybe you remember him from his time with the Wild in the 2014-15 season. We knew Stewart for just 20 games that season when he came over via a trade with the Buffalo Sabres. Stewart is a veteran of 8 seasons who has a scoring touch, but has yet to find that consistently at the NHL level. He scored 28 goals in the 2009-10 season, and again in the 2010-11 season, but hasn't been able to find that goal scoring prowess since. In 519 career NHL games Stewart has pocketed 137 goals and 147 assists. He spent last season playing for the Ducks, but a broken jaw would limit him to just 56 games.
Last, but not least, would be the Wild's biggest offseason get. Eric Staal signed a 3-year $10.5 million contract with the Wild this summer and has been thrust into the number 1 center role on the roster. Staal spent the better part of 12 seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, but was traded to the New York Rangers just before the trade deadline last season. He will be 32 in October, and barring any big injuries will play in his 1000th career NHL game this season. With 929 regular season games behind him, he's scored 325 goals with 456 assists. The 5-time 30 goal scorer hasn't seen numbers like that since the 2010-11 season, and has seen his in-game minutes dwindle as he's advanced his career.
The Wild are notorious for bringing in big names who are looking to find their game again, but it hasn't worked out too well for them yet. He'll be starting between Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle who can hopefully help him reignite whatever fire he had that has started to fade with time. Over his career he's won 48.7% of his faceoffs, but that number is misleading as he's only gotten better in that department with age, having won over 52% of his draws since the 2011-12 season. We'll see soon how this latest big name experiment pans out for the Wild.
Eric Staal might be the biggest new player to be taking to the ice this season, but the biggest move by far has to be the hiring of Bruce Boudreau as the new Head Coach. Boudreau has coached 9 seasons in the NHL with a record of 681-409-192 to his name. The 2007-08 Jack Adams winner coached the Washington Capitals to 4 straight division titles before being fired early in his 5th season. He was almost immediately scooped up by the Anaheim Ducks where after finishing off the season in 5th place, he brought 4 straight division titles to the Ducks.
Boudreau was ultimately fired from Anaheim after the Ducks failed to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs last season. Expectations were exceedingly high for that squad and the brass felt it was time to move on. Boudreau is known for getting the most out of his offense, but he needed someone to hone the defensive side of the puck. Enter legendary NHL defenseman Scott Stevens. Stevens was a 22-year veteran of the game, starting his career for the Washington Capitals, taking a season with the St. Louis Blues, and then moving on to finish the final 13 years of his playing career with the New Jersey Devils. When his career was all said and done, he had played in 1635 regular season games, 233 playoff games, and the winner of 3 Stanley Cups.
A lot has changed for the Minnesota Wild over this summer. From players to coaches, the team is bound to look very different come this October. There's not much in what they've done that you shouldn't like. Boudreau is a great coach, and with Stevens coaching the defensive side of things, the tandem should help solidify both ends of the ice. The core of the team is still intact, so there's no reason to believe they won't be successful. While they may still lack that elite scoring forward, the hope is the new coaching staff can get some extra miles out of all the players. It's going to be an exciting year of hockey for Wild fans with all the new faces around, and maybe, just maybe, the mid-season curse will be broken and the Wild can step up in the standing a few spots in an extremely difficult division.