The Minnesota Wild figure to be mildly active when free agency opens on Tuesday. The NHL’s new meeting period, in which teams can talk to agents of unrestricted free agents, has revealed that the Wild are at least interested in the big names.
The salary cap has been set at $69 million. According to capgeek.com, the Wild has $49,075,256 allocated to 17 players and has an overage penalty from bonuses last season of $700,000. That leaves the team with $19,924,744 worth of cap space to spend on their restricted free agents - Jonathon Blum, Justin Fontaine, Darcy Kuemper, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker - and unrestricted free agents. The remaining in-house free agents are becoming less likely to return to Minnesota next season.
Restricted free agent defensemen Josh Caron and Tyler Cuma were never likely to be offered a qualifying offer. Caron never seemed to fit into the Wild’s future plan and Cuma has become buried on the depth chart after suffering several injuries throughout his career.
The only possible returning defensive unrestricted free agent is Clayton Stoner. After a couple of very good playoff series, he appears set to test the market. If he gets a more lucrative offer elsewhere and leaves, the Wild need to replace his size and physicality on the blue line.
Reports have surfaced that the Wild are reaching out to Willie Mitchell, who was acquired by the Wild during the 2000-01 season and later traded during the 2005-06 season. He is not an overly physical defenseman, but fills the big and defensively strong need.
The Wild have also reached out to Virginia, Minn. native Matt Niskanen. The 27-year-old former Minnesota-Duluth star is likely to be the most coveted free agent defenseman after setting career-highs in goals (10) and assists (36) as well as recording two goals and seven assists in 13 playoff games.
If the Wild miss on all three - Mitchell, Niskanen and Stoner, than five names to watch are Sheldon Brookbank, Andrej Meszaros, Douglas Murray, Brooks Orpik and Kyle Quincey. They all could be signed to shorter term contracts as bridge players before the top prospects are ready to make an impact in the NHL.
Meszaros and Quincey are the youngest of the five free agents at 28-years-old. They could get a four or five year contract, but neither will be among the most sought after players. They have their flaws, but have the skills to be quality second or third pairing defensemen.
Brookbank is going to give a team nothing offensively (seven goals and 37 assists in 351 NHL games), but will not be pushed around. He is not a liability, despite having an enforcer-type attitude.
Murray is coming off a down season for the Montreal Canadiens with just two assists in 53 games and no points in three playoff games. He is a big, physical player and could be signed to a short-term prove it deal.
Orpik is a proven, physical defensive defenseman that is kind of flying under the radar as free agency approaches. He is one of the better blue liners on the market, but according to Will DePaoli of Inside Pittsburgh Sports, only four to five teams inquired about him just before the draft.
The goaltending position appears to be getting clearer while remaining murky. Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper are all likely to be on the Wild’s roster. The team would like to move Backstrom because of his recent injury history. They also would to have more certainty with Harding, but his illness is not going to go away and he appears set on continuing his hockey career. The Wild will not pursue any free agent goaltender unless they can move Backstrom and/or Harding. Any move the Wild make before will be a minor league depth move.