With Cam Talbot shipped off to the Ottawa Senators, the Minnesota Wild are still in a bit of a salary cap crunch heading into free agency.
Not as dire of a situation as it was, the Wild have gone from having a little over $1.4 million — hardly enough to anything in free agency — to space totaling approximately $4.3 million per CapFriendly. While barely enough to lock down any of the premiere names available like Johnny Gaudreau or Nazem Kadri, it does provide GM Bill Guerin with some wiggle room. He'll have the opportunity to flesh out the bottom-six group of Tyson Jost, Brandon Duhaime, Frederick Gaudreau and Matt Boldy.
There is a need for help on the powerplay and to add one or two more valuable players to that group, barring any immediate promotion from the Iowa Wild's group that includes standouts Adam Beckman and Marco Rossi, the NHL roster currently has 11 forwards under contract.
So who is available, and who is the best fit?
All contract numbers use Evolving Hockey's projections as they tend to be eerily accurate.
So you find yourself with a couple of roster spots and a pocket full of spending money heading into free agency. What's the best thing to do in that situation?
Blow the entire budget on some fancy veteran looking for a contending team?
Absolutely not. The best plan is for some free agency dumpster diving. Rummaging around the refuse of NHL players to try and find a diamond in the rough. A low-risk, high-reward situation that can squeeze the most out of your couple of a million.
It's important to remember that the Wild won't put themselves up against the cap ceiling with any transaction. Hence, a $3 million AAV is the highest we can go on this hypothetical signing.
Let's look at some guys.
Danton Heinen - LW ($2,195,000/2 years)
Fresh off of an 18-goal, 33-point season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Heinen is destined to land on his fourth team in four seasons. Initially drafted by the Boston Bruins, the 27-year-old has been relatively productive in the NHL, with career averages around last season's production. He's speedy, a relentless forechecker — bound to please head coach Dean Evason — and can generate shots (his 138 were sixth amongst forwards on the Penguins last year).
He's not a contributor on special teams, as he hasn't seen consistent powerplay time since his rookie season with Boston, nor has he been given an opportunity as a penalty killer. Maybe that's just untapped potential.
Ondrej Kase ($1,305,000/1 Year)
A 26-year-old restricted free agent, who wasn't tendered a qualifying offer by his team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kase is the poster boy for missed potential because of injuries. The Czech native produce points at a great rate, ranking amongst names like Jordan Eberle and Rickard Rakell with 2.16 points per 60 minutes for the last five seasons. He can be a valuable member of any power kill as — much like Heinen — his foot speed is a weapon.
His fault lies in his ability to stay healthy. Kase hasn't played an entire season of NHL hockey in six seasons, never logging more than 66 games. Concussions have been an issue. It might be worth the risk for a 26-year-old that was on pace for 23 goals and 44 points last season.
Mason Marchment ($2,456,000/3 years)
A vital member of the Florida Panthers' elite offense that brute-forced their way to the top of the league with 337 goals, Marchment is a salary cap casualty that the Panthers would no doubt want to keep on the team.
Playing primarily with Sam Reinhart and Anton Lundell, the trio crushed their opponent to the tune of a 69 xGF% (Expected Goals For) according to Evolving-Hockey.com. The 27-year-old wasn't just producing in expected production, as he notched 18 goals and 47 points in a measly 54 games. He is by far the most productive player on this list, which is why he may be at a higher cost than the Wild would be comfortable with.
He has an extremely short track record, having only played 91 career NHL games in total, but has been productive at whatever level he's played. He's an attractive option, but it would be wise to be cautious about his ability to produce without someone like Sam Reinhart or Sasha Barkov on the ice with him.
Sonny Milano ($2,657,000/3 years), Sam Steel ($1,292,000/1 year)
With Ryan Getzlaf retired, the Anaheim Ducks seem fully intent on hitting the reset button with enthusiasm. They've reportedly been shopping goaltender franchise goaltender John Gibson, but what has tipped their hand is deciding not to tender a qualifying offer to a couple of their younger players, including the goal scorer in one of the most incredible goals of the last decade.
TREVOR ZEGRAS WHAT? @tzegras11 pic.twitter.com/JXjGfAitSs— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) December 8, 2021
Milano, 27 and Steel, 24, were once projected to be key members of whatever on-the-fly rebuild the Ducks had going on in years past.
Steel was a first-round pick back in 2016 and immediately looked productive in his few showings at the NHL level. But as is a theme for many guys on this list, injuries have held him back, and he hasn't developed much. In his first 22 games with the Ducks as a 20-year-old, he tallied 11 points, averaging almost 15 minutes of time on ice. This past season, that ice time dipped to approximately 12 minutes and tallied only 20 points in 66 games.
Milano showed chemistry with wunderkind Trevor Zegras, but much like Steel, the organization's faith in him to take any meaningful steps forward waned. With 34 points in 66 games last year, his production was much better than Steel's, and so is his defense.
Both these ex-Ducks are intriguing options, and it's a wonder the organization cut bait on them quite this quickly.
Nico Sturm ($2,374,000/4 years)
He knows the system? Familiarity with the organization and management? Does this count for anything?
It would be a shock to see this happen, as both Evason and Guerin seemed pretty indifferent about Sturm at the end of his tenure with the team, but crazier things have happened. Besides, it would be nice to see a plot of "trade player at the deadline, re-sign in offseason" finally come to fruition.
What player do you think would be the perfect addition for the Wild?