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Guerin says team will be active in free agency, trades

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The Wild GM reflects on Carson Soucy being selected by the Seattle Kraken.

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Erin Loughrey/NHLI via Getty Images

The entire NHL got shaken up a little bit last night, as the Seattle Kraken unveiled the first roster (sort of) and who will be in the lineup during their first game (maybe).

With some trades expected to come in the next dozen or so hours, the roster might not be a final one, but can be a jumbled piece of assets that will eventually have a core of players willing to be competitive in the terrible Pacific Division. But right now, the Kraken have a group of players and one of them is now former Minnesota Wild defenseman Carson Soucy.

By selecting Soucy, the Kraken got a very solid depth defenseman that is on the cheap — two years remaining with just a $2.75-million cap hit for a mobile two-way defender is one hell of a bargain and some cost certainty that front offices drool over in this flat-cap world.

“It obviously stings,” Wild GM Bill Guerin said on Wednesday night after Seattle’s picks were announced. “Carson’s a great kid…a player that we saw a lot of value in. His progression over the last couple years was fantastic. When I first got here, we had him pegged for Iowa. He took a job. He stole a job. He kept getting better and better. It’s unfortunate, but those are the rules.

“Obviously it hurts our depth. We’ve got some work to do and we’ve got to fill some spots.”

With Soucy now gone, the Wild will need to replace him, and a lot of other pieces. Only three defensemen are actually signed to contracts on their NHL roster, and even counting restricted free agents Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, Minnesota only has 10 forwards. There are plenty of holes to fill.

“We’re going to have to be active in free agency. We could be active in the trade market. There are a lot of things we could do,” Guerin said. “We understand where we are right now, and we have some flexibility.”

The Wild have a brief window of cap space. The buyouts of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise gives them an extra $10 million to play with this summer, but then that amount of saving shrinks up quickly, inflating to just a couple million in the following three seasons. Any move they make in the next couple months has to have the caveat of the cap crunch barreling towards them in just a year from now.

Currently, even if it’s for a brief moment, Minnesota has approximately $29 million in cap space to fill out their roster. That includes the future contracts of Kaprizov and Fiala, signing at least two more forwards (or promoting rookies that will be on entry-level deals) and signing at least three more defensemen to deals. Even if right-handed rookie Calen Addison makes the squad, they will need depth and that can include RFA Brennan Menell making his way back to Minnesota after a year of playing extremely well in the KHL.

“But we want to continue to do things that work for us,” Guerin said. “We aren’t just going to jump at anything. I think forward depth-wise we’re in a really good spot. We’ve got some younger players that can push for roster spots this year. Not guaranteed. They’ve got to push. And that’s kind of where we are. We’ll see what comes across my desk. Like I always say, if it makes sense, we’ll do it. We’re not going to be overaggressive or too patient. We’ll do what we feel is right.”

Guerin has proved already in his short time with the Wild that he is patient when it comes to moves, but he isn’t afraid to jostle anything up. In his first year, he’s traded away young players like Ryan Donato and Luke Kunin, and brought in more established help like Nick Bjugstad, while keeping a keen eye on players that fit, like acquiring Ian Cole early last season.

“To me, to focus on a good fit team-wise is really important. Not just the way you shoot or how you play, you have to fit into our structure and how we’re going to play, too,” Guerin said. “So there’s a lot of things that come into play.”

Guerin might not be alluding to it directly, but the Wild still reportedly remain in talks with the Buffalo Sabres about acquiring top center Jack Eichel. But according to Michael Russo, the price still remains extremely high and the Wild will need all that prospect capital to soften the blow of the upcoming cap doom. Especially considering that no team has received Eichel’s medical records yet, despite the main conflict between the center and his team being over a potential alternative surgery to heal a neck injury.

Whatever happens to their NHL roster, they also have to concern themselves with the 2021 NHL Draft coming up quickly this weekend. The Wild have two first-round picks (Pittsburgh’s was acquired in the Jason Zucker trade) and when asked about moving any of them or potentially trading up or down, Guerin made it sound like he’s just going to have a laissez-faire approach.

“We’re not going to chase anything, that’s for sure,” Guerin said when asking about potentially moving up or down. “We’re very comfortable where we are. To have two first-round picks this year is a good position to be in.”

There will be some Guys and Dudes available for the Wild with both picks, which should keep it interesting, but they also have their own young NHLers to worry about re-signing. On the Kaprizov and Fiala negotiations, the Wild GM keeps a positive attitude, and makes it known that there’s no rush in things like these.

“The lines of communication are open, and we’re working towards it,” Guerin said. “I’m not worried about. I know that this is just a process, so I feel good about it.”