Bill Guerin is trying to build a winning culture. I get it. He did it by clearing out the locker room so that Kirill Kaprizov’s transition to the NHL goes a lot smoother and that everyone is getting along. You are having trouble signing your top star and it’s almost training camp. What would be horrible for this franchise is to lose your top star to the KHL. Even if he wants to play in the NHL you can never predict the future. Kaprizov deserves to get paid, but you don’t want to overspend. With the team being in salary cap hell for the next 4 years Guerin needs to make sure his plans are well thought out and that he can benefit the players and the team financially. If we’re going to win everyone needs to be on the same page. That means leaving egos at the door. So what does this all mean? How can we build a Cup contending team to compete THIS season while managing dead cap space? Here’s how I approached the situation. I’m going to explain all of my moves thoroughly so everyone gets what I’m trying to do. Not going to create a long introduction because from my past posts you get the point. So let’s get into it.
Cap space A: $13,114,745
What to do first?
Sign Kirill Kaprizov to a 4-year contract worth $8,500,000 AAV
Why this deal? After 4 years the Wild will only have $1,666,666 in dead cap which means they will have more finances to pay the money Kaprizov wants. The team will have ELC’s and expiring contracts to deal with. So Guerin needs to enlighten and convince Kaprizov and his agent about this route. A 4-year deal which he will become a UFA or in year 3 they can begin contract extension talks. No clauses until his next contract. Let’s get a simple deal done. 4 years may not be popular to fans, but it’s the best we can do at the moment.
Cap space B: $4,614,745
Let trade for Tomas Hertl, but we aren’t going to keep him
Tomas Hertl will be a UFA in 2021-2022 which means he will be looking for a big payday. Kevin Fiala is going to be a RFA and we want to be able to keep him around. I get that keeping a center like Hertl is important and shipping out Fiala would be the next move since we can’t keep both. What if Hertl doesn’t want to sign here? It would be a big disappointment if we lose Hertl in free agency because a team with more cap space will snag him up. Also the trade would be a waste as well. So how about we benefit another team by executing a 3-way trade. We use Hertl to trade for a 1C. No, it’s not Jack Eichel, but someone who has won a Cup before and is more than capable of playing the 1C position.
Trade for Hertl
SJS receives C Nico Sturm, C Victor Rask, LW Matt Boldy, a 2022 1st, and LW/C Adam Beckman. MIN receives C Tomas Hertl and a 2022 4th round pick
Cap space C: $3,714,745
Trade for Evgeny Kuznetsov. He may be controversial, but he competes and is more than willing to show Guerin he can lead this team to a Stanley Cup
So I say controversial because Kuznetsov has had some off-ice issues such as being suspended back in 2019 by the IIHF for testing positive for cocaine. Guerin is trying to bring in players who bring leadership and don’t have character issues. Well breaking news. We all have character issues. We can't pretend we're all perfect. I don't think he's a locker room cancer. He's a capable leader and proven winner. We all have had character issues in our lives. So you can't tell me anything. He wants to win and will bring a winning attitude. Kuznetsov took ownership and responsibility. I don’t think he’s a bad person or trying to be a bad influence. He needs to be around someone who will put his head on straight instead of being around toxic people. Also you never know what’s going on in a person’s life until they tell you. Guerin is someone who is admired and respected around the league. He can have a sit-down with Kuznetsov to make sure they’re on the same page and is all in on winning. He could get Kuznetsov to open up about any personal problems he’s dealing with so that they can work towards a solution. We all have character problems. ALL OF US! We need to stop being a judgmental world.
Also this is Kuznetsov. Elite top line center, but had a down season. He finished with 29 points in 41 games. That would’ve been 58 points in 82 games when played a full season. So it’s not the end of the world or Kuznetsov producing at an elite level. He needs a resurgence. He's 29. So he’s still in his prime. 4 more years of Kuznetsov will be suitable for the Wild for them to compete for a Cup. Also when he’s off the books there will be more money for us to sign Kaprizov, and he will likely demand what Artemi Panarin is making right now for the New York Rangers at $11,642,857. He will likely get $11M-$12M. At this point we’ll need to be mindful of expiring contracts and make sure pricey contracts like Kuznetsov at least have term so we have less things to worry about financially. This previous season he finished with 52 points in 63 games. 82 game stretch would’ve been 68 points in 82 games. The year the Capitals won the Cup he registered 83 points in 79 games. So he’s a proven point producer worth his salary. He needs a better setting and mentor. He’s a bounce back candidate. Playing with fellow countryman Kaprizov on the top line will motivate Kaprizov to be better than before. Once Kuznetsov is off the books Rossi takes over as our 1C.
MIN trades C Tomas Hertl for C Evgeny Kuznetsov. WSH retains $1,000,000 of his contract.
Cap space D: $2,539,745
Remove Joseph Cramarossa and Kyle Rau contracts ($1,450,000)
Cap space E: $3,989,745
Insert Marco Rossi and Calen Addison contracts ($1,689,167)
Cap space F: $2,300,578
Matt Dumba to the Montreal Canadiens for Jonathan Drouin revisited
Montreal receives Matt Dumba and Dmitry Kulikov and Minnesota receives Jonathan Drouin and Ben Chairot
Why this trade?
Montreal will welcome Dumba to the Habs. Weber and Petry are older and can they repeat their success for the Habs to make another run? They could use someone like Dumba who can be their successor and change the dynamic of their locker room. Someone like Alexander Romanov will be pleased to play with a talent like Dumba. They just signed David Savard too who shores up their right side. Imagine a right side of Weber/Dumba/Savard with Petry playing on his off wing. Also Romanov is another left shot. Joel Edmundsson is a solid 3rd pairing defender with size. This is a much more exciting blueline coming into this season for Montreal. They signed Mike Hoffman and Cole Caufield is looking to win rookie of the year. They got good depth on the wing already and they are nearly set at center.
Kulikov doesn’t have an expiring contract, but Chairot does which would benefit the Wild because they need all the expiring contracts they can get. I know Guerin already signed him, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t make a move. Thinking about when Fiala, Greenway, and Kahkonen reach the RFA status. We got bigger fish to fry. Also, I believe Chairot brings more of an edge to the blueline that the Wild are missing. We aren’t talking about production, but his energy, leadership, and physicality. He’s a big body at 6’3’', 225 pounds opposed to Kulikov who’s only 6’1’’, 204 pounds. He brings a physical edge, but Chairot is at a different level. He will clear the net thanks to his very strong frame. His job will be to protect the net and keep forwards to the perimeter. He’s a solid two-way player too. He won’t be relied upon for production, but he can skate and set up some nice plays from time to time. He also has a big shot from the point and he should use it more often. He has an expiring $3,500,000 contract.
Drouin will bring an edge to the top-6. He has speed to burn with the offensive skills to back it up. His game-to-game consistency has affected his value of an elite top-6 forward. He has playoff experience and has produced. With Fiala needing a linemate who is of his caliber Drouin is a perfect fit. Now you insert Rossi as their center staple? Drouin’s highest production is 53 points. That’s top-6 worthy. He's not much of a goal scorer, but a high-end playmaking winger. Fiala has a better shot and is the better goal scorer. This is the Fiala we need. Drouin will have a playmaking role and this will take some weight off of Rossi. He has two high-end wingers and he gets to stabilize this line thanks to his two-way presence. Drouin needs a bounce back year. Rossi needs a good rookie year. Fiala needs competent linemates which will maximize him! This will help Drouin gain offensive consistency. Drouin isn’t just a one-dimensional player. He works hard. He loves to use his speed to create turnovers on the forecheck and the neutral zone. Once you lose the puck you better hope you can catch him.
Cap hit G: $1,550,578 (without a 13th forward and 7th defenseman)
What will the opening night roster look like?
Mats Zuccarello – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Kirill Kaprizov
Jonathan Drouin – Marco Rossi – Kevin Fiala
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno
Nick Bjugstad – Frederick Gaudreau – Ryan Hartman
Vying for spots: Brandon Duhaime, Alexander Khovanov, Mason Shaw, Damien Giroux, Will Bitten, Mitchell Chaffee, Nick Swaney, Connor Dewar, and Ivan Lodnia. Guerin might sign someone to a PTO. Thinking of players like Nikita Gusev who played with Kaprizov in the Olympics when they won a Gold medal. He might take a pay cut to win and play with his pal. Michael Frolik, Alex Steen, and Alex Chaisson are other names that come to mind. Who wants to compete with Bjugstad and Gaudreau for a roster spot? This training camp should be super competitive. Increase your depth. See what the kids can do!
Alex Goligoski – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Calen Addison
Ben Chairot – Jon Merill
Vying for spots: Dakota Mermis, Joe Hicketts, and Ryan O’Rourke. PTO names come to mind such as Nate Prosser, Braydon Coburn, and Zdeno Chara.
Forward Line 1
Let’s discuss how this line would operate if together. We’ve seen how magical both Kaprizov and Zuccarello are together. Now you insert Kuznetsov between them who is a huge upgrade over Rask. Watch this line take over the NHL. This line oozes so much creativity and speed. Watch the production soar. Kaprizov is going to be the pure goal scorer on this line. He has the shot for it. His release is the best on this team and arguably has one of the better shots in the league outside of Alexander Ovechkin. Kaprizov receiving passes left and right will have him create scoring opportunities thanks to his eye for the net. Sure, his distribution of the puck is next to none on this team and will set up goals for the other two, but his role will be burying the puck. Expect 50-60+ goals. Not kidding. 27 goals playing mainly with Rask? You are with Kuznetsov who is one of the better passers in the NHL. Zuccarello is also a good passer as well. This line will confuse teams and give them headaches. You won’t know how to defend them. This line will compete with top lines like the Nathan MacKinnon line. This line could be the best in the West if everyone clicks and they should. Kuznetsov will provide lots of speed and creativity. He’s a lethal transition player. He can either get behind the defense himself and beat the goalie clean or use his high-end vision to find an open man in a better scoring spot. It’s hard to contain him. Kaprizov will love for Kuznetsov to set him up and open up space. This might encourage Zuccarello to shoot more as well. Zuccarello will still be a playmaking winger, but he gets an opportunity to find the net more like I said before making this a true top line. You won’t know who to defend. All 3 players can carry the puck through the neutral zone with no problem. BOOM!
Forward Line 2
Here comes the depth people. We don’t have one line anymore. Here’s another dynamic line who could blow the league right out of the water. So much creativity, speed, and skill. Not to mention competitiveness. Fiala won’t have to worry about doing everything anymore. He has the center and a winger who can complement his style of game. Finally has younger talent to play with. Fiala’s shot is his best asset. We always knew it had 30 goal upside, but there’s no doubt he can hit 40 because he has the linemates for it. They can feed him passes to set him up. Much like the top line. Fiala is good finding the back of the net. Drouin is good at creating breakaways because of his ability to make difficult cross-ice passes. He’s an elite puck mover. Or he can find Fiala in a spot where no one is paying attention and he beats the goalie backdoor. Drouin is going to create a lot of trouble for opposing teams defenders because of his speed. He always keeps his feet moving. Rossi will be a staple between these two. He will help orchestrate offense because he can. You have 3 players knowing how to do so. Rossi’s transition to the NHL should go smoother now because we already have a 1C and scoring support. So he doesn’t have to worry about being a savior right away. Drouin playing with a center like Rossi will help elevate him because of his drive and work ethic. Should make Rossi a faster player in the future. Once this line gels you got yourself an entertaining dynamic line who will contribute if the top line can’t do so.
Forward Line 3
The GREEF line stays together and Foligno will be wearing the A. They will be instructing the bottom-6 by shutting down opposing teams top lines and star players. They will offer scoring support as well which will make this Wild team a true contender. The depth is spreading you see? We have our secondary players who will have a significant role in both defensive execution and scoring. Greenway led the team in assists. Eriksson Ek finished 3rd in goals with 19. Foligno showed how important of a player and leader he is on a playoff team. He finished tied for 4th in goals with 11. Only Zuccarello and Sturm had 11. You need these kind of players to win. They will also keep the puck in the other teams end too. It’s going to be very exciting to see this line work while having our top two lines scoring. We never saw that this previous season. Teams will hate facing this line and we will enjoy watching them do so. If we can get Greenway to play with an edge and a killer instinct this Wild team will be even deeper and tougher to play against.
Forward Line 4
Even though it’s a small sample size Gaudreau finishing with 10 points in 19 games for the Penguins just shows he’s capable of providing scoring depth. Don’t expect him to do a whole lot when it comes to producing points, but he’s capable of contributing on both ends of the ice. We shouldn’t be looking at that though. Gaudreau is a playoff performer. 6 points in 14 games isn’t mind blowing, but it shows he can turn things up when everything matters. That’s the kind of scoring depth we need. Gaudreau plays the game with tons of heart and can back it up with some skill and speed. He drives the net a lot and isn’t afraid of the physical play. Hartman will be able to click with Gaudreau because he’s a pesty player who gets under your skin while working hard and providing some offense. He can play either position which will make this line too versatile. Bjugstad can play either wing and center. This bottom-6 could be one of the best in the NHL. They will do what the GREEF line does, but will have heavier defensive minutes. Bjugstad needs to play his size and play to his strengths by being around the net a lot. Also this line should do damage on the forecheck and create turnovers not to mention finish body checks. This line will be just as tough as the 3rd line.
Defensive Pair 1
I’m trying to establish balance. This pairing's job is to provide leadership to the group as well as supporting in all situations. I'm not too caught up in production, but I need effort and contribution. I don't expect high numbers, but if they catch fire and pucks go in then you have a solid top pair. They are more than capable of moving the puck up the ice.
Defensive Pair 2
Brodin will be mentoring Addison. Addison will have the offensive freedom to do whatever he wants because Brodin will cover for him. Addison however isn't Dumba. Addison is more reliant on defense. He may be a smaller body, but offers lots of agility and puck moving ability. Can also shoot from the point even if his shot isn't a bomb slapper like Dumba's. He can do more with the puck and not make costly mistakes. So this pairing potentially do wonders. If Addison continues his progression as he translates to the NHL then expect the Wild to be better on the blueline.
Defensive Pair 3
Chairot and Merill will be in charge of the physical play and taking away chances in the slot. Merill dives a lot to keep pucks out of the net. That shows you how determine he is to win games. Chairot is more of the puck mover than he is. Merill will be more of the stay-at-home defender who plays with tons of heart. This pairing won’t do much offensively, but when it comes down to keeping the puck out of the net and making guys pay for getting in front of the net they will do just that. Both are big and play with sandpaper.
Now we see a Cup worthy team. You have a superstar up front in Kaprizov and wingers to support his offense. You have a strong group of centers led by Kuznetsov. The team has depth in Iowa as well. You have a mixture of hard work and grit while being backed up with tons of scoring skill. You have a blueline capable of contributing on both ends backed up by leadership. You have goaltending that is now a strength of this team as well. Kahkonen will need to rise up! The #1 spot is yours for the taking because Talbot isn’t getting younger. Also imagine this team when Jesper Wallstedt comes up and we have an awesome duo in Kahkonen and Wallstedt. Also players like Marat Khusnutdinov, Carson Lambos, Ryan O'Rourke, and even Jack Peart will eventually join the team. Looks like we have ourselves a true Stanley Cup contender.