Eyes on the Dollar: Minnesota Wild

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:52 am by Cam Lewis

The Minnesota Wild are one of those teams that aren’t exactly in cap hell, but they’re dangling on the edge of it. As of right now, they’re pressed right up against the cap thanks to a handful of their core players owning massive free agent deals. In the next couple of years, the Wild will need to figure out new contracts for Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Jared Spurgeon, and Matt Dumba among others, meaning they’ll have to make some difficult decisions regarding some expensive veteran players with declining production. 

OFFSEASON RECAP

  • Bought out Matt Cooke’s contract, which will have a $0.500 million cap hit for two more seasons. 
  • Signed Mike Reilly to a two year entry level contract. 
  • Signed Nate Prosser to a a two year contract with a $0.625 million cap hit. 
  • Signed Ryan Carter to a one year, $0.625 million contract. 
  • Signed Jared Knight to a one year, $0.716 million contract. 
  • Signed Mikael Granlund to a two year contract with a $3.0 million cap hit.
  • Signed Devan Dubnyk to a six year contract with a $4.33 million cap hit. 
  • Signed Christian Folin to a two year contract with a $0.725 million cap hit. 
  • Signed Tyson Strachan to a one year, $0.650 million contract. 
  • Signed Erik Haula to two year contract with a $1.0 million cap hit. 
  • Signed Zac Dalpe to a one year, $0.600 million contract.
  • Signed Ruslan Fedetenko to a one year, $0.600 million contract. 
  • IN: Mike Reilly, Tyson Strachan.
  • OUT: Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Sean Bergenheim, Chris Stewart, Keith Ballard, Jordan Leopold. 

FORWARDS

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The Wild, despite their history of being a boring and defensive oriented team, were right in the middle of the pack in terms of the goals scored last season. Had it not have been for terrible success on the power play, the actually may have been one of the league’s elite offensively. At even strength, the Wild’s offensive numbers are impressive. They’re right in the middle in terms of Corsi and Fenwick For, but the league’s sixth best even strength shooting percentage resulted in them boasting fourth most goals for per 60 minutes at 2.53. The only teams who produced better at even strength were Tampa Bay, Dallas, and the Rangers. Like I said, though, it was the power play that kicked Minnesota in the head last year. They managed just a 15.85 power play percentage, good for only 39 goals, which was fifth worst in the league. 

Even though the narrative surrounding the Wild suggests that they have a bunch of overpaid, underachieving forwards — that isn’t really the case. Their forwards produce at an elite level at even strength, they play a solid possession game, and contribute to a strong overall team defence. When looking up and down Minnesota’s cap sheet, it appears they aren’t exactly getting great bang for their buck with some of their highly paid forwards because only Zach Parise eclipsed 60 points, but with the way the team has produced at even strength, it’s hard to complain. 

With that being said, even if the Wild aren’t getting enough out of guys like Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek offensively, they aren’t going to be crippling the team too far into the future. Vanek is set to become a UFA in 2018, and Koivu a year later, so if we continue to see a decline in their production, the Wild can cut ties. The one forward their committed too for a really, really long time is Zach Parise, who’s signed until 2024. Obviously that contract is going to be hideous when he falls into the twilight of his career, but that’s not going to be a problem for another five or six years because Parise is only 30-years old. The main concern for the Wild over the next couple of offseasons will be figuring out ways to fit extensions for their young forwards into their cap picture. Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Justin Fontaine, Erik Haula, and Jason Zucker will all need new contracts in the next couple years, and with Parise, Koivu, Pomminville, and Coyle making a roughly a combined $22.5 million, they’ll have to be careful with the way they hand out contracts. 

DEFENCEMEN AND GOALTENDERS 

Speaking of dealing with new contracts, the Wild are going to have to hand out new RFA deals to both Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon this summer, and Mike Reilly and Christian Folin the following year. Outside of those four, a good chunk of the Wild’s defensive core is set for the long-term, as Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, and Marco Scandella are all locked up until at least 2020. My guess is that Dumba and Spurgeon are the most important priorities for the Wild, while Prosser can easily be replaced through free agency, or through a prospect taking on a larger role on the team. 

Spurgeon will be coming off a three year deal with an annual cap hit of $2.667 million this summer, and will certainly be looking for a raise as any mid to long term deal will begin to eat up UFA years. He’s developed into a valuable player on the blue line for the Wild, producing at a fair clip offensively while managing to suppress chances at a level superior to every other defenceman on the Wild aside from Suter and Prosser. Dumba, on the other hand, will be coming off his entry level deal and will likely warrant a bridge contract because he hasn’t established himself in the league yet. Last season, which has his first full season in NHL, he averaged roughly 15 minutes of ice time a game while facing relatively weak opposing competition and heavy offensive zone starts. He’s only 21-years old, so the Wild won’t have to worry about handing him a hefty contract for quite some time. 

The big question mark for the Wild heading into the season, and moving forward long-term, really, was what to do with diamond-in-the-rough goaltender Devan Dubnyk. After bouncing around the league for a couple years, Dubnyk finally hit his stride in Minnesota, managing an incredible 0.936 save percentage over 39 games, good enough to give him some love in Vezina Trophy voting. Obviously this is a pretty small sample size, and we’ve seen goalies get hot many, many times before and fall off the face of the planet a year later, but the Wild gabled on Dubnyk and signed him to a six-year deal with a $4.33 million cap hit. 

If he does keep it up and maintains his place as an elite goalie, this is an absolute steal. If he doesn’t, and he settles in as an average goaltender, the Wild don’t really have anything to complain about, because there are 21 goalies in the league with a higher cap hit than him this season. In order for this deal to be bad, Dubnyk would need to perform below his career average over his five seasons with the Oilers, in which he managed a 0.910 save percentage and a 2.88 goals against average. Since the Wild are a strong defensive and possession team, I’m sure Dubnyk will be able to put up a performance that at least matches what he accomplished with the horrific Oilers squads he played on. 

CONCLUSION 

Even though the Wild have built a good chunk of their core through free agency, signing the likes of Thomas Vanek, Zach Parise, and Ryan Suter to big contracts over the past few seasons, their cap situation really isn’t in as bad of shape as you would expect. You can certainly argue that they aren’t getting enough out of Vanek and Koivu, who make a combined $13.25 million a season, those contracts will both be off the shelf by 2018. The only players they have signed beyond 2020 are Parise, Suter, and Jonas Brodin, giving them quite a bit of cap flexibility in the not so distant future to sign the up and coming pieces of their core. 

In two years, the Wild will need to sign Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Christian Folin, and Erik Haula to new deals, while Matt Dumba and Jarden Spurgeon need new contracts this summer. This shouldn’t be too difficult, as Niklas Backstrom’s $3.417 million comes off the shelf at the end of the season, and the $6.5 million salary owed to Vanek comes to an end at the end of the 2016-17 season. Ultimately, the Wild will need to make decisions on which players stay and which ones don’t, because they can’t pay all of Spurgeon, Dumba, Folin, and whoever else the money they’re likely going to command when they’re already paying Suter, Brodin, and Marco Scandella more than $16 million combined. Same goes for their forwards, as signing Niederreiter, Granlund, and Zucker to longer term deals may result in Koivu or Vanek being booted out, especially as their play declines with age. 

STATS COURTESY OF HOCKEY REFERENCE