Priorities have changed for the Minnesota Wild. It’s time to declare the Parise-Suter era is officially over. Those words are not going to be easily chewed upon by Wild owner Craig Leipold. It’s a tougher swallow when one realizes the money shelled out to both players. The dream of those two along with a young, up-and-coming core leading to deep playoff runs and a potential Stanley Cup is all but dead.
The reality is that the Wild must force Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to take a backseat approach to this latest iteration of the franchise. Moving out from underneath the twin $98 million contracts is not going to be an easy task. It’s one that, if a trade deal is struck, will end up haunting this team. Cap recapture is a real thing, and the Wild desperately needs both players to reach the finish line of their contracts — now with five years remaining.
As soon as Paul Fenton dug into the young core of players like Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle that Chuck Fletcher assembled, the window with Parise and Suter slammed shut. Kevin Fiala, Kirill Kaprizov and the next crop of prospects will have to carry this team forward.
With the presupposition of the Wild taking a shortcut to the rebuild with Suter and Parise, the Wild must exercise patience and shrewdness this time around. Making the playoffs shouldn’t be the priority next season. Should the Wild perform well enough to make the postseason organically, it should be allowed to happen. However, Guerin cannot go chasing a playoff berth.
That means that if a trade involving a real No. 1 center isn’t there, don’t force a move. It means that the Wild shouldn’t be overly active in free agency this offseason. It also means that letting contracts expire rather than buying out must occur.
For any of that to happen, the urgency within the organization to win must temporarily be placed on the back-burner.
It also means the Wild, for next season, will largely look the same.
Mikko Koivu and Alex Galchenyuk come off the books this year. Devan Dubnyk, Eric Staal, Greg Pateryn and Brad Hunt are all set to expire after next season. That kind of roster space and cap flexibility makes the Wild a serious player in next summer’s (fall’s?) free agent frenzy. It also means they can take on more salary in blockbuster-type deals.
Aside from holding on to the Wild’s restricted free agents, allowing contracts to expire relieves the long-standing logjam on the roster. It’ll allow the Wild to call-up a goaltender and give the other more playing time in Iowa. No one knows how prospects like Alexander Khovanov, Adam Beckman and Matt Boldy will translate to the NHL. The openings on the roster, however, will give the Wild a chance to see what those prospects can or can’t do.
Minnesota hasn’t had that kind of flexibility since 2011.
Guerin needs to communicate his plan and execute it. Fans can be patient if they can see a clear path to getting better. Fenton’s plan was to get younger and faster. His moves were confusing and short-sighted at best. No doubt the Fiala trade worked out. But that was a trade for a player with which he was familiar. The trade for Victor Rask was short-sighted. Finally, the Zuccarello deal contradicted the plan he said he was trying to execute. The key for Guerin is to exercise some restraint these next couple seasons. By bringing prospects up and getting old contracts off the books, it’s the most sure-fire way to get younger more quickly.
That won’t be an easy task with who his owner is. A GM needs to manage expectations with fans. Most importantly, for the Wild, their GM will need to manage expectations with Leipold. He needs to be completely on-board for any sort of retool that requires some patience.
A rebuild, a retool or a tweaking, whatever you want to call it, takes time. With Parise and Suter on the roster, there’s an added bit of complexity. There are five seasons remaining on the big money contracts. Those two are also 36 years old and on the last legs of their career. It’s no longer their team. The Wild is better served to use patience and shrewdness in the final five seasons rather than milk every last drop out of the deals.