When Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold met with the media last Monday following his dismissal of Chuck Fletcher, he said he believed this team had the potential — with some tweaks — that it could win the Stanley Cup in the next three to four years.
After three straight and four of six playoff exits in the first round, Leipold’s statement probably seems a bit ambitious to Wild fans. To many, there probably needs to be major tweaks to push this team over the top. Not just a few small tweaks.
If you look a bit closer at the Wild roster, their contracts and the team’s prospect pipeline, you find the Wild’s window to be a bit exaggerated by their owner.
The window to win is only one to two years.
Center Depth Will Be Questionable
Staal, 33, is coming off a franchise record 42 goal season but is entering the final year of his three-year, $10.5 million contract. After the two seasons Staal has had — especially considering his age — one would think that would make him a candidate for a contract extension. But if the new Wild general manager decides to shop Staal on the trade market — he only has a list of 10 teams he can not be traded to — and get some assets in return for him, that would be a blow to the Wild’s center depth.
Koivu, 35, now enters the two-year contract that he signed prior to this past season. At the time, the Koivu extension seemed like a good idea given the season he had in 2016-17. But after the 2017-18 year in which Koivu looked like a step had been lost, you just wonder how good he can be over the next two years. Sure, he is still elite defensively, which would make him more suited for a third-line center role. But it appears he will still be at least a No. 2 center over that time, which is a concern given how he looked in 2017-18.
After Staal and Koivu, the Wild have 2015 first round pick Joel Eriksson Ek — who did not have a strong 2017-18 season. His play picked up in the final third of the year, but his body of play has not cried out increase his minutes quite yet. Beyond Eriksson Ek, there is no big prospect coming at center, and Luke Kunin — who could be seen as a wing now — is coming off a significant ACL injury.
Granlund/Spurgeon Two Years Away From Being UFAs
It is entirely likely that both could be in Minnesota beyond that time with contract extensions. But what if things go sour over the next two years? Both could look to cash in on UFA contracts elsewhere while also getting a chance at more playoff success.
Both could also generate a decent return in trades, which is what you would like to do if things go badly over the next two seasons and you start to sweat the fact that they might not want to return. But trading either, or both, would probably fall into a ‘rebuild’ mode, something Leipold seemingly has no interest in.
Parise & Suter
Don’t say you weren’t. You were.
At the time, the mentality was that Minnesota has a great chance to win in the front end of those contracts to counteract for the back end when the players will be older and take up a high chunk of salary cap space.
Well, it is now six seasons into those deals.
Minnesota has yet to get out of the first round of the playoffs four of those six seasons, with only one of those years getting a win in round two. It is approaching a critical time in the timeline of both contracts as both players are now 33 years old with seven years remaining.
Parise is coming off a season in which he underwent a pretty significant back operation in October. He did return halfway through the season and looked to be showing signs of his younger self as he tallied 10 goals for Minnesota in March. His postseason was cut short following a fractured sternum in Game Three and he was forced to miss the remaining two games.
As encouraging as Parise’s play at the end of the season was, injuries — mainly the back — remain a big part of the concern with him moving forward.
For Suter, there was no concern with him and injuries until he fractured his fibula and talus bone when he went into the end boards in Dallas.
The injury has left Suter unable to put any weight on the leg for four months following an operation to repair the breaks. There are also some questions about if Suter will be returning in the near future, as he was told a player in a different sport would probably be retiring.
That is, to put it mildly, not good.
Devan Dubnyk Is Also Getting Up There In Age
It is hard to believe, but the six-year contract that Devan Dubnyk signed following the 2015 season is halfway to completion.
The Wild have gotten tremendous value from Dubnyk through the first three seasons, as he ranks towards the top of most major goalie categories during that span. When you are the 20th highest-paid goaltender — in terms of AAV — in the league, yeah, that’s incredible value.
But to begin next season Dubnyk will be 32 years old.
Sure, goalies are a bit different on the age curve in the NHL but being on the wrong side of 30 is never a good thing. Minnesota has missed out on Dubnyk’s solid postseason outings the past two seasons and will need to cash in on his play soon before age kicks in.
Oh, and by the way, the Wild really don’t have a goalie prospect in the pipeline for when this contract runs out…
An Empty Prospect Pipeline
Speaking of that prospect pipeline. Minnesota is in real tough shape.
With Kunin and Jordan Greenway getting their first taste of the NHL this season, they were the last in the top tier prospects that Minnesota had coming up the pipeline. If you are looking at what Minnesota has now, there is not much to hang your hat on except for Kirill Kaprizov — who is still at least two years away from coming over.
As said above goaltending is a huge concern as the only real prospect the Wild have, Kaapo Kahkonen, doesn’t appear to be on the verge of signing before the June 1 deadline of this year which leaves the Wild painfully thin at the position.
The incoming general manager will have to do some work to repair the prospect pipeline, and as mentioned last week, it will have to be a top priority. But for now, no big prospects on the way means the Wild really need to win now because reinforcements will not be on the way for a few years.
If you made it all the way through and did not take a run for the ol’ liquor chest, good on you.
What makes all this concerning is that Leipold believes there is a three- to four-year window for the Wild to win. That window is much smaller than that. He has also made it abundantly clear that the new general manager — with interviews still taking place this week — will not be doing a rebuild of this team but will just be making tweaks to the roster.
Why is that concerning?
Because if this team does not make a significant postseason run in the next one to two years, they very well could fall off and miss the playoffs the two years after that. And if that happens, we will be circling around as a new general manager search will be taking place.
Not exactly a pretty timeline for a team that still has sky-high aspirations…