ST. PAUL -- At least Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin has a sense of humor. Some people in his situation wouldn’t have handled the question with such grace.
Asked about free agency during the broadcast of the 2021 NHL draft last weekend, Guerin quipped, “We’re going to have to be active. We barely have any defensemen.”
He’s not wrong. After buying out veteran star Ryan Suter earlier this month, then losing Carson Soucy to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, the Wild suddenly lack depth at a position that long has been their calling card.
Everyone in the league knows the Wild need to add some extra bodies to the blue line. Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba currently are the only defensemen under contract. That will be the No. 1 priority when free agency opens at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
That said, the Wild also need to reload up front. They aren’t bringing back veteran winger Marcus Johansson. and it sounds like veteran center Nick Bonino is going to be too expensive. Oh, and they also bought out veteran star Zach Parise.
Who will the Wild target when free agency opens up? Let’s take a look.
Why it makes sense: This is pretty much an open secret at this point. The 35-year-old Goligoski reportedly is going to sign with the Wild as soon as he’s allowed to do so. While it won’t be the splashiest signing if indeed it happens, it would fill the biggest need on the roster. It’s easy to envision Goligoski playing on the top pairing alongside Spurgeon next season. He’s solid in both zones, and he put up 22 points (3 goals, 19 assists) in 56 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season. There’s also a local connection; he’s from Grand Rapids, Minn., and played for the University of Minnesota. That always helps.
Why it makes sense: Could the Wild really add another Foligno to the mix? It’s certainly possible. The 33-year-old Foligno brings a little bit of everything to the table as a hard-nosed player who has proven capable of scoring when given the opportunity. He’s ready to test free agency for the first time in his career, and it sounds like Minnesota might offer the best fit. Not only would he fill a valuable bottom half of the lineup — or perhaps the top half of the lineup in a pinch — he would get to play with his younger brother Marcus for the first time his NHL career. For the Wild, that brotherly connection might be enough to tip the scales in their favor.
Why it makes sense: Think of this as a low-risk, high-reward signing if the Wild can make it happen. The 27-year-old McCabe suffered a serious knee injury back in February and there’s a chance he might not be ready for the start of next season. That will likely hurt his value heading into free agency. Still, he boasts a lot of upside as physical defenseman, which happens to be what the Wild need right now. This is a move that could pay off big a couple of seasons down the road. The only problem is some other teams might be thinking the same thing when it comes to McCabe.
Why it makes sense: Remember the role Bonino filled last season? The 31-year-old Stepan could do much the same next season. Though he’s no longer the dynamic player he was early in his career, Stepan would bring some valuable experience to the bottom half of the lineup. Also, he hails from Hastings and reportedly wants to play closer to home next season. You can’t get any closer to home than the Wild.
Why it makes sense: This move is a no-brainer for the Wild. If only it were that easy. The 32-year-old Cole is going to test free agency after playing a vital role on the blue line last season. That much was clear based on talking to Guerin over the weekend. That said, if Cole can’t get the type of money he wants on the open market, there’s a very good chance he ends up back with the Wild. As Guerin said, “I’ll never close the door on him. I don’t know if it’ll work out or not, but I’ve got a ton of respect for that guy. He’s a good teammate and a good friend.”