The Minnesota Wild weren’t left with any alternatives. After the Wild traded 85-point star Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings in the offseason trade, coupled with Minnesota’s even-strength scoring woes this season, it was paramount to ensure budding star Matt Boldy was here to stay.
That’s why the organization handed the 21-year-old a seven-year extension with the team’s third-highest average-annual-value ($7 million). Minnesota could have opted to do a bridge deal, but it made more sense to lock down their young core piece long-term. The Wild now have a clearer financial picture for the next few years, rather than having to allot cap room for a future Boldy mega-deal. After all, he and Kirill Kaprizov are the two talented youngsters the Wild want to build their next forward core around.
However, the extension makes filling next year’s roster that much more challenging. The Wild are left with roughly $9 million to spend, according to CapFriendly. Minnesota won’t re-sign Matt Dumba, so Freddy Gaudreau and Ryan Reaves are the only two UFAs they have to make a decision on. But the Wild have five RFA’s. Sam Steel, Brandon Duhaime, and Mason Shaw at forward. Additionally, there’s Calen Addison on defense and goalie Filip Gustavsson.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the Wild are in trouble and that the roster will take a hit. So it’s increasingly more likely that Jordan Greenway will be traded, which gives Minnesota $12 million to work with him off the books. No, it’s not just because Greenway overslept, missed meetings, and was eventually healthy scratched after putting the team in a bind on a back-to-back.
The 25-year-old is simply not worth his $3 million salary when the Wild could use that for two depth forwards instead. The two things that have kept him in Minnesota this long — his 6’6″ frame and role on the GREEF line — will eventually come to an end for a player who has two goals and three primary points in 31 games.
Where does this leave the Wild with everyone else assuming Greenway is off the books, and there’s $12 million to spend? Let’s take a look.
The Case For: Gustavsson is one of the Wild’s biggest surprises this season, with an 11-7-1 record and a .922 save percentage at the NHL All-Star Break. The 24-year-old has saved 8.8 goals above expected through his first 18 starts, which ranks 16th league-wide.
The Swede has emerged as a legitimate 1B goaltender who the Wild can depend on, and he could be a solid 1-2 punch in net with Jesper Wallstedt, who could potentially be ready for the 2024-25 campaign. Until then, he and Marc-Andre Fleury have performed exactly how the Wild’s staunch defensive team needed them to play.
The Case Against: There’s no valid reason for not re-signing him. Penny-pinching isn’t going to benefit the Wild here.
Verdict: Re-signed in the $2-2.5 million range.
The Case For: After showing promising signs in his NHL stints between 2020 and 2022, Addison has done a good job transitioning into an NHL role this year. The rookie blueliner has 24 points in 47 games this season, and it’s clear he can play a top-four role. With the anticipated departure of Dumba this summer, the Wild need Addison’s release from the point, as he’s the only defender at the NHL level who has the potential to score from the point regularly.
The Case Against: With his scoring clip this season, it’s a genuine possibility that he prices himself out of Minnesota. Couple that with the Wild’s current cap climate, and it’s more than a possibility. Here’s the thing: Addison has only four points at even strength. There’s no doubt he’s an asset on the power play, but his play at five-on-five hasn’t necessarily stuck out. It’s simply gotten the job done.
On the other hand, the Wild have defensive prospect Brock Faber in their prospect system. The University of Minnesota captain is having an impressive season with the Gophers. The 20-year-old is scoring at a .74 point-per-game clip with 20 points in 27 games. Even though he’s known more as a shutdown defender, Faber’s stock continues to rise this season because of his efficient two-way game. Should the Wild sell high on Addison, with Faber likely making the 2023-24 roster? The Wild should consider it, although they’d be losing the type of offensive defenseman they currently aren’t set to replace.
Verdict: The Wild trade Addison because they don’t find a way to financially retain him after a strong offensive season. Or they re-sign him if Gaudreau leaves for free agency, or they trade Steel.
The Case For: There’s no reason to think Duhaime won’t be on next year’s roster. While his body of work up to this point is underwhelming, he’s an affordable depth forward who embodies the Wild’s identity and provides the physical component in the Bottom-6. It would be interesting to see how he could fit into Greenway’s role on the third line.
The Case Against: By all accounts, moving Duhaime doesn’t benefit the Wild unless they want to open up an additional roster spot. But he has arbitration rights, so he may hold the key to his future.
Verdict: Re-signed in the $1.25 million range.
The Case For: One of the few complaints about Gaudreau is how he often loses his guy in the defensive zone. Other than that, he’s quietly gone under the radar in Minnesota. His scoring has dropped a bit this season, with 11 goals and 22 points through 48 games after recording 44 points a year ago. Still, he fits perfectly in the Middle-6 and is someone the Wild will likely want to retain if the price is right.
The Case Against: The major challenge in the way of re-signing Gaudreau is the cost of retaining him. It may come down to him or Steel — and how much Gaudreau is looking to get paid on his next contract. The 29-year-old has undoubtedly outproduced the contract that pays him $1.2 annually, with 0.53 points per game since coming to Minnesota. If he’s looking for a payday, the Wild would be forced to allow him to test the free agent market.
Verdict: Re-signed in the $2 to 3 million range.
The Case For: Steel is the latest player on the Top Line Center Carousel with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. The soon-to-be 25-year-old has 22 points in 48 games and has fit fine on the first line. On the one hand, it’s worked out. But on the other hand, it seems like the Kaprizov-Zuccarello duo have carried him. It’s still his best offensive season to date, though, and his youth is something Minnesota probably wants to keep around.
The Case Against: With Rossi and Eriksson Ek projected to be slotted in the Top-9, it could come down to keep him or Gaudreau — with the latter most likely having the head start. While Steel has gelled on the top line at times, his production still leaves you wanting more, especially when he’s playing with two of the league’s most talented wingers.
If it weren’t for Ryan Hartman‘s injury earlier in the season and his penchant for earning penalties lately, Steel likely wouldn’t still be playing between Kaprizov and Zuccarello. Looking ahead, Steel hasn’t made a big enough statement to warrant his status as the Wild’s No. 1 center, and he holds arbitration rights this summer.
Verdict: Re-signed in the $2 to 3 million range.
The Case For: Reaves has been slightly above average since coming to Minnesota as the veteran winger has been worth almost one standing point above replacement and isn’t replacement level. While he’s only got six points to his name in 29 games, his physicality is something the Wild sometimes needed. His performance down the stretch and in the playoffs will ultimately determine whether he’s worth keeping around.
The Case Against: Unless he takes a discount because he wants to stay in Minnesota, it makes sense to let Reaves walk to free agency. The Wild only has a few available roster spots, and he’s 36 years old. It would be more beneficial to use the spot for someone else.
Verdict: Reaves departs in free agency.
The Case For: Just like Duhaime, Shaw is a cheap depth forward. The 24-year-old has recorded 11 points in 34 games, and his play style perfectly complements the fourth line, especially with his aggressiveness on the forecheck.
The Case Against: There’s not a valid financial argument in favor of trading him. Although, like Duhaime and Steel, Shaw has arbitration rights. But he could potentially be on the block due to the limited roster spots, and if the Wild deem someone else warrants the spot more. After all, he has just one point — a secondary assist — in his past 14 games.
Verdict: Re-signed in the $1 million range if there’s a roster spot to fill. Otherwise, he’s moved for a better opportunity after being treated as an extra forward.
. . .
Kaprizov – Hartman – Zuccarello
Boldy – Rossi – Walker
Duhaime – Eriksson Ek – Foligno
Gaudreau – Dewar – Steel OR Shaw
Middleton – Spurgeon
Brodin – Faber
Merrill – Goligoski OR FA addition if Goligoski ends up being traded for a bigger role
Fleury / Gustavsson
. . .
With five RFA’s, two UFA’s, and only $9 million to spend, the Wild have several barriers in their path to fielding next year’s roster. At this point, there are more questions than answers. Will Minnesota finally move on from Greenway, giving them about $12 million to spend? Could anyone else be on the move? Could prospects like Sammy Walker or Adam Beckman fill two roster spots?
Time will tell.
If there’s one thing for certain, the remainder of the season will determine the fate of many players’ destinations next season.
All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference