The Minnesota Wild made their first free agent acquisition since July 1st, returning Ryan Carter to Minnesota for a Professional Tryout (PTO). Carter has spent the last two seasons in Minnesota, where he accumulated 10 goals and 25 points while playing fourth-line minutes.
The Wild signed Carter last season to a one-year contract for the league minimum, hoping to cheaply replace Kyle Brodziak, their long-time penalty kill specialist. This was a reasonable signing, as Carter had a track record of being elite at suppressing shots while shorthanded.
This ended up backfiring. His penalty killing slipped last season (along with the rest of the team), and unlike Brodziak, Carter wasn't capable of effectively playing a regular shift. He was one of the worst players in the league at 5-on-5 play, controlling under 40% shot attempts and providing little scoring.
This is a problem, because Wild coach Bruce Boudreau specifically doesn't want players like Carter. Speaking with the Star Tribune at the Minnesota State Fair, he said "I'd like to have a 4th line... that you could put out against anyone and not have to worry about getting them off the ice in a hurry." The way to do that isn't to add the 3rd-worst possession player in the league.
This isn't a bad move by the Wild, necessarily. Much as there's no such thing as a bad one-year deal, there's definitely no such thing as a bad PTO. There's no monetary commitment from the team, nor is there the guarantee of a roster spot.
But it's disappointing that the Wild didn't aspire to anything higher this offseason. They had an opportunity to cheaply get Matt Cullen earlier this offseason, and passed. Cullen is not only a superior player to Carter on the penalty kill, but Cullen can take a regular shifts, provide scoring, and win faceoffs. Not to mention, a one-year, $1 million deal for Cullen offers plenty of flexibility in it's own right.
But even without Cullen, there are still plenty of veteran options available that have more upside. Cody Hodgson is 26 and only two years removed from a 20-goal, 44-point season. Jiri Tlusty is 28 and has a track record of decent goal-scoring. Brad Boyes is a right-handed shot whose speciality is giving teams production on the cheap.
Sure, these aren't players who are going to be world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination. But if you hit on one of them, you have a decent depth player who can move up and down the lineup. What's the best-case scenario with Ryan Carter? A good penalty killer who you can maybe tread water with for 10 minutes a night.
The Wild were a thin team last season, and unless multiple prospects are NHL-ready, they're poised to be thin yet again. The Wild have had three months to address their depth issues, and have opted to stand pat. Bringing back one of their more ineffective players from last season isn't a solution, and it inspires little confidence the Wild's front office is truly committed to bolstering the bottom of their roster.