Wild need good offseasonMINNEAPOLIS (AP) — On Saturday, the Wild closed one of the more disjointed years in their history, playing the 82nd game of a season that featured their third coach in four years, a climb to the top of the NHL standings in December, and a prolonged slide triggered by the team dressing a club-record 47 players.
By: Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — On Saturday, the Wild closed one of the more disjointed years in their history, playing the 82nd game of a season that featured their third coach in four years, a climb to the top of the NHL standings in December, and a prolonged slide triggered by the team dressing a club-record 47 players.
The end result was the same as the past three seasons: The Wild will be at home when the NHL playoffs start this week. But once the postseason wraps up, the team will begin what could be one of the most eventful offseasons in its 12-year history.
The team is projected to have almost $19 million available under the salary cap (though the final figure will depend on how the NHL adjusts its cap for 2012-13). And a slew of prospects — most notably 2010 first-round draft pick Mikael Granlund — are expected to join the system. The Wild will have another lottery pick, and they’ll have the ability to aggressively pursue big-ticket free agents such as New Jersey’s Zach Parise or Nashville’s Ryan Suter — though they certainly won’t be alone there.
There’s plenty of optimism inside the team’s offices, so much so that general manager Chuck Fletcher soon could receive a short contract extension, according to a person familiar with the team’s thinking.
It could be a different story next year if the team isn’t in the playoffs or showing significant growth. But the Wild head into next season expecting to be healthier, younger and better.
“That’s going to be the exciting thing about training camp next year: it’s going to be like Christmas morning,” Fletcher said. “You’re going to come in, and you’re not quite going to know what you’re going to get. There’ll be some pleasant surprises. There may be a couple disappointments. But over time, we’re very confident a lot of these young players will make a positive impact on our NHL roster.”
As the Wild wrap up the 2011-12 season, here’s a brief look at how their roster could look next fall:
Who’s coming back
The Wild have 11 players under one-way contracts for next year, and at least seven of their forward spots seem spoken for. Coach Mike Yeo has credited Mikko Koivu’s return for much of the Wild’s resurgence in the past two weeks, and he’ll be healthy after missing 27 games.
Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi are signed through 2013-14, and the Wild are optimistic about both players; each is the kind of player who needs a playmaking center to set him up, and the effect of Koivu being out was pronounced for both of them. Wild officials expect both players could score five or six more goals next season than they did this season.
Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak also return, and could be on a third line together if the Wild add a forward or two. Matt Cullen and Darroll Powe are under contract as well, and Jason Zucker will be fighting for a roster spot on an entry-level deal.
On defense, the Wild have just two players on one-way deals: Tom Gilbert and Nate Prosser. But they’re optimistic about the development they’ve seen from Marco Scandella, who has been one of their best defensemen in the last month of the season, and they’ll get Jared Spurgeon back from a concussion. Steven Kampfer also will be pushing for a spot.
Who’s coming in
This is the big question about the offseason: Fletcher has said he expects as many as a half-dozen prospects to join the organization, and it’s likely the Wild will have Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Brett Bulmer, Zack Phillips and Jonas Brodin, though Granlund and Coyle seem more likely to make the team than others.
“Nobody’s going to be put on our team next year,” Fletcher said. “I want to make that very clear. We’re not going to put any young players on our team — and that includes even guys like Marco Scandella. They’re going to have to earn it.”
The Wild will find out April 10 where they’ll pick in the NHL draft, but they might end up selecting too low to get one of the four players at the top of the draft board: Russian forwards Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko, Canadian defenseman Ryan Murray and Swedish forward Filip Forsberg.
“I don’t know that there is a superstar in this year’s draft,” Fletcher said. “I think there are a lot of good players at the top end of this draft, and some of them may have the potential to be very good. Time will tell.”
The thing on many fans’ minds, of course, is free agency. It’s no secret the Wild will make a push for Parise, if he gets to the open market, but a person familiar with the situation expects the team will be one of about 20 teams going after the Faribault, Minn., native.
Suter, too, will be one of the team’s top targets, but the University of Wisconsin product also should have a big market. Washington forward Alexander Semin, Los Angeles forward Dustin Penner, Philadelphia defenseman Matt Carle and Carolina defenseman Bryan Allen also could draw the Wild’s interest.
Who’s in limbo
One factor worth watching will be the health of forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse, who missed a combined 111 games because of concussions.
Bouchard hasn’t played since Jan. 4 and is still dealing with concussion symptoms, Fletcher said, though the general manager added Bouchard’s symptoms aren’t as severe as what he’s had in the past. But with his concussion history, it’s tough to know when — or if — the 27-year-old will return.
And Latendresse, who had been seeing a specialist in Atlanta, is symptom-free, but he will be a restricted free agent this summer.
“His challenge now is to get back in shape,” Fletcher said. “We’ll have to sit down and talk to him this summer and see what fit there might be for him and for us. At this point, we want to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy and working to get back in good shape.”
The Wild also will have to make a decision on Erik Christensen, whom they acquired from the Rangers in a Feb. 3 trade. Christensen scored six goals in his final 14 games and gave the team a boost in shootouts but looked lost for five weeks before that.
Goaltender Josh Harding will be an unrestricted free agent, though he could find more money elsewhere, especially if the Wild believe promising rookie Matt Hackett is ready to back up Niklas Backstrom.