Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher had a busier offseason than one would have expected him to have with most roster spots filled by returning players. In addition to signing free agents from outside the organization, which will come in part 2, he had to work his magic in the draft while re-signing his own restricted free agents and re-signing his head coach.
The longterm welfare of the team always begins from within. The moves made before free agency begins every July 1 are the ones that build longterm success or failure.
Re-sign Mike Yeo (May 31)
The Story: Fletcher and Mike Yeo agreed to a multi-year contract extension. His previous contract was set to expire on June 30, but the two sides worked out a deal to keep the three-year head coach in Minnesota. The deal begins this coming season and runs through the 2016-17 season.
The Reaction: This was neither surprising nor shocking. Terms of the deal were not released, but Yeo is the youngest coach in the NHL, more than five years younger than any other head coach in the league. Yeo grew as a coach last season. It showed last season, when he took some responsibilities away from veterans and allowed the young stars to elevate their game.
Draft Alex Tuch in first round (June 27)
The Story: The Wild had opportunities to trade back in the first and add more picks, but the team chose to stand pat and select forward Alex Tuch with the 18th selection. Tuch, a 6-foot-4-inch, 218-pound Syracuse, NY native, played last season for the United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. and is committed to play collegiately for the Boston College Eagles beginning this fall.
The Reaction: Tuch is a huge, power forward type of player that will be able to score goals around the net. Given his size and offensive skill set, he probably should have been taken earlier. The Wild benefit from a draft class with a large pool of second tier draft picks.
Draft seven more in second through seven rounds (June 28)
The Story: The Wild selected defenseman Louis Belpedio (third round from the Tampa Bay Lightning), goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen (fourth), defenseman Tanner Faith (fifth), defenseman Pontus Sjalin (sixth from the Ottawa Senators), center Chase Lang (sixth from the New York Rangers), center Reid Duke (sixth), and center Pavel Jenys (seventh) during the second day of the NHL draft.
The Reaction: The Wild went off the board of most experts and may have reached on several picks with some more recognizable names available. The Wild have a good track record at the draft so time will tell before judging the draft class, but they get an immediate grade above average because they obviously stuck to their board.
Qualifying Five RFAs (June 30)
The Story: The Wild tendered qualifying offers to goaltender Darcy Kuemper, defenseman Jonathon Blum, left wing Jason Zucker and right wings Justin Fontaine and Nino Niederreiter. They did not make qualifying offers to defensemen Josh Caron and Tyler Cuma and left wing Kristopher Foucault.
The Reation: The Wild did the obvious and tendered the restricted free agents on the NHL roster and did not for the players on AHL roster. The only partial surprise was Cuma, but he has not been able to crack the NHL roster and it continued to get less likely that he would be able to do so with the Wild with each passing season. There are plenty of teams in the NHL with less depth on the blue line than the Wild. He should have a better opportunity elsewhere. The five players tendered offers have produced at the NHL level and should be fixtures in the Wild lineup next season.
Re-sign Jonathon Blum (July 11)
The Story: The Wild and Jonathon Blum agreed to terms on a one-year contract. The terms of the contract were not released by the team. He played 25 games last season in Minnesota and 54 in Iowa. He filled in on the third pairing when needed on the NHL roster last season.
The Reaction: Blum is in line to permanently fill the right defenseman position on the third pairing in the NHL next season. He is a solid player that can play at both ends of the ice. The downside is that he is not a big, physical defenseman, which the Minnesota team needs this season. Barring a trade, he is one of six defenseman pencilled on to the NHL roster.
Re-sign Jason Zucker (July 15)
The Story: The Wild and Jason Zucker agreed to terms on a two-year contract. The contract includes a two-way contract in 2014-15 and one-way in 2015-16. Zucker played 21 games in Minnesota last season and 22 in Iowa. He missed the last 23 games after having what was deemed minor surgery during the Olympic break in February.
The Reaction: Zucker is a fan favorite and young player with speed and a sniper’s mentality. He is a shoot-first guy that can score from anywhere on the ice. He hasn’t been able to put it all together yet at the NHL level, but should get the first opportunity to claim one of the 12 forward spots on the roster. If he can’t win one this season, he will provide depth and would be one of the first call-ups if the need arises.
Re-sign John Curry (July 17)
The Story: The Wild and John Curry agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way contract. The 30-year-old Shorewood, Minn. native played two games last season in Minnesota and 19 in Iowa.
The Reaction: The Wild need goaltending depth with Josh Harding’s illness along with Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper’s assorted injuries last season. Curry played well in his two appearances, including a huge 43-save performance against the St. Louis Blues. Best case scenario for the Wild is that he spends the season in Iowa as Johan Gustafsson’s backup.