The Minnesota Wild are trying to be competitive without handing the reins to the youth. While they are accepting that prospects and youngsters are their future, they’re not going to just place spots in the lineup in their lap and go “here, do whatever you want,” just not quite yet. Wild GM Bill Guerin made it clear that there is talent in their prospect pool with the likes of Marco Rossi, Matt Boldy, and Calen Addison, but they’re going to have to earn their spots in training camp.
So with Jon Merrill signed — making it six veteran defensemen — and some other depth pieces like Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad sticking around, the phenoms are going to have to battle it out in September. And even with the Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala contracts eventually happening (please), there remains one final forward spot in the lineup and also the extra 13th forward spot that is usually utilized by Minnesota.
So are there any forwards left in free agency for the Wild to sign and create more competition for Rossi and Boldy? There are a couple interesting names that they should be able to fit under the cap.
Ritchie is my personal favorite of the bunch and one that is probably not going to happen, because the salary cap is stupid.
At just 25 years old, Ritchie went unqualified by the Boston Bruins and is suddenly a rare, young unrestricted free agent that is Actually Good.
While impacting even-strength offense very well, he isn’t a negative factor on the other end of the ice and certainly utilizes his body — something that basically every Wild fan would scream and shake over. He finished his year in Boston with 15 goals and 26 points through 56 games while averaging just over 15 minutes a game. Ritchie is just such a Minnesota player.
Evolving-Hockey projects his new contract with a different team as a three-year deal that comes in and around a $3.5-million AAV. While it’s a hefty deal for where the Wild are headed in terms of their cap crunch, he’s going to be in his prime for the majority of that contract and deals that good are kind of too tantalizing to pass up. A dude that can certainly play in your middle-six, basically be a very good one at that, for no assets but some cap space that you were going to use on someone else that isn’t as good. His contract projection has a 17 percent chance of being a one-year deal (compared to 27 percent at three years) and if that happens, the projected cap hit is $2.3 million — a much more containable number.
Ritchie is basically a better Jordan Greenway, to be honest, and would come at a similar cap hit. It just depends on Guerin and how much more he’s willing to add to this forward lineup. He’s not a center, but he is still better than a decent amount of forwards that the Wild currently have.
I’m going to be busy dreaming of Dumba and Ritchie bashing bodies around if this happens.
Once a highly sought after UFA, Bozak has come back to earth at the age of 35 and is just looking for a depth spot, I imagine. Even if his previous contract had a cap hit of $5 million, I highly doubt he’s going to get anything more than a one-year deal around a million bucks. Evolving-Hockey agrees with me — pegging him for a one-year, $1.268-million deal as the most likely outcome in their contract projections.
He’s not the offensive top-line center that he once was with the Toronto Maple Leafs next to Phil Kessel, but he’s still capable of producing some points as he had 17 in 31 games last year for the St. Louis Blues, while averaging 14:54 TOI.
Probably the best option when it comes to depth centers if the Wild are really looking to add someone down the middle. He’s even had a 55.7 percent faceoff win rate during his last two seasons — not bad!
This is a pure depth option that might just end up in Iowa. Travis Boyd, a 27-year-old FROM NEARBY HOPKINS, MINNESOTA, is a defense-first center that has previously won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals before spending some time around Toronto and the Vancouver Canucks. He has always had solid underlying on-ice numbers and is simply just a good bottom-six forward.
The Wild do have a lot of those, and some that provide more offense, but if you’re looking to not have Kyle Rau as the 13th forward, Boyd might be Guerin’s guy for league minimum.
Another homecoming that was previously rumored mid-season Stepan is in the twilight of his career, so it just seems like a nice story for him to come home after a long rollercoaster career. He didn’t have the best help on a giant cap hit while with the Ottawa Senators, but give him some capable linemates like a Nico Sturm or a Nick Bjugstad and let him go Wild.
He can still drive play on a line and everything kind of just checks off: cheap, veteran, from Minnesota, somewhat good.
Evolving-Hockey has Stepan’s most likely contract projection as just one year at a cap hit just slightly over a million bucks. Not a bad option that is totally capable of being buried in the AHL ($1.075 million is the maximum) if he really shits the bed.
If the Wild don’t add anyone else, then it might signal at least one open spot for a rookie forward or a veteran depth player like Rau to be there until they are all warmed up in Iowa. Either way makes sense, but there’s still NHL talent available for free, so why not?