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Will the Wild Pursue Anyone in Free Agency?

Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the 2022 Unrestricted Free Agent class got much more interesting. A flurry of qualifying offers, or lack thereof, stole the headlines Monday.

First, the Chicago Blackhawks did not tender Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik despite some productive stints with the team. Then it was others like Ondrej Kase, Victor Mete, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who were not tendered qualifying offers by their respective teams either.

Whether it was teams pressed against the flat cap or looking to tear down their roster completely, some quality players were not tendered qualifying offers, making an already decent free-agent class even better.

It was a quiet day for the Minnesota Wild, though. They tendered qualifying offers to Iowa forwards Mitchell Chaffee and Nick Swaney and did not make offers to Fedor Gordeev and Dereck Baribeau.

With just $1.43 million in cap space and three roster spots left, Minnesota would appear to be in for a quiet rest of the summer. That is unless Bill Guerin has something up his sleeve that we’re not yet privy to.

You don’t get the sense that Minnesota is finished yet, either. There’s still a logjam of defensemen, with Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov, Jon Merrill, and the NHL-ready Calen Addison all vying for bottom-pairing minutes.

There’s also the delicate situation with Cam Talbot, who doesn’t seem too happy with the Marc-Andre Fleury extension.

Then there’s the extremely delicate situation of Kirill Kaprizov’s status as he was denied access to the United States twice. This situation, in particular, could significantly alter the Wild’s offseason plans, as the reach of this situation spans well outside the NHL’s control.

The bottom line is that Minnesota is far from finished this offseason.

Let’s say that Guerin strikes a deal for Kulikov, Dumba, Talbot, or even someone like Tyson Jost to free up some cap space. Would taking a shot at one of the several free-agent forwards with upside be a worthwhile pursuit? Guerin has a track record of finding cost-effective forwards from the scraps of free agency, so probably. If that were to happen, what young forwards would be worth the chance?

Sonny Milano

In terms of like-for-like Fiala replacements on the market, Milano is probably the closest to that. Milano didn’t receive a qualifying offer from a Ducks team that probably has its eyes set on the Connor Bedard sweepstakes next year.

The 26-year-old had a career year this past season, tallying 34 points while posting some impressive underlying numbers. If Minnesota is looking for someone that can replicate Fiala’s production while also replicating the skill set he brought to the table, Milano is their guy.

Milano’s analytics are good. He ranks particularly high in chance assist creation and high danger setups. He also transitions play well, creating zone entries and chances off the rush at an impressive rate.

The biggest knock on him is that he’s not a goalscorer, nor is he a volume shooter. His primary focus is setting his teammates up; however, his lack of a proven goalscoring record is a genuine concern. He also has only 83 points in 197 career NHL games, so it’s not like he’s guaranteed success wherever he goes.

Evolving Hockey projects his most likely contract as three years, with $2.657 million AAV. Surely the fact that he’s an unrestricted free agent will kick that price up a bit, but this is still relatively cheap for a player with as much upside as Milano.

It’s unlikely, but could Guerin see Milano as someone who can contribute to the “Fiala by committee” strategy? Likely not, but he’s certainly an option if Minnesota wants to make a splash.

Danton Heinen

Less flashy of a target than Milano, the cap-strapped Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t extend Heinen a qualifying offer, allowing him to test free agency.

Heinen tallied 33 points last season playing various roles in the Penguins lineup. He’s a strong play-driver with an underrated bit of skill to him. He’s also versatile and can play all across the lineup.

Guerin’s connection to Pittsburgh makes Heinen an interesting name to keep an eye on. Whether it’s  Goligoski, Fleury, or even Freddy Gaudreau, Guerin is not afraid to target players he’s familiar with. Heinen arrived in Pittsburgh well after Guerin left for Minnesota, but the relationship between the two clubs remains.

Projected for two years at just over $2.3 million, Heinen could be a cheap stop-gap in the bottom six until players like Chaffee and Swaney are ready to be full-time contributors.

Evgeny Svechnikov

Svechnikov is a lot less flashy than Milano and Heinen. The 19th overall pick in the star-studded 2015 NHL Draft failed to latch on in Detroit, opening the door for a strong season with the Winnipeg Jets last year. They didn’t qualify him, though, allowing the 25-year-old to head to market.

There are a few reasons to like Svechnikov. First off, he played well above replacement level for Winnipeg last year. So well that Winnipeg fans are confused by the fact he went untendered.

There’s also the Russian component to it all. Svechnikov is the same age and nationality as Kaprizov. Assuming everything works out and Kaprizov is in the opening day lineup, having another Russian in the room for him to confide in may not be such a bad idea.

On the ice, the Wild would be getting a young player with draft pedigree that slowly showed signs of turning the corner on his career this last season. In over 339 minutes together, the line of Svechnikov, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Kyle Connor controlled 53.4% of the expected goals and outscored opponents 16–14.

Svechnikov would be much cheaper than either Milano or Heinen, which could make him the most worthwhile free-agent target for Minnesota. Evolving Hockey has him projected $850k for a one-year term and just over $1 million for two-plus years. He plays up and down the lineup, suppresses chances against at a solid rate, and still has plenty left in the tank.

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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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