When the Wild acquired Jason Pominville on April 3, the team seemed destined to use a compliance buyout this offseason on veteran Dany Heatley.
That's now unlikely to happen.
The NHL salary cap drops to $64.3 million for 2013-14. The Wild's will be about $63.9 million because performance bonuses achieved by Jonas Brodin put the Wild over last year's cap. The Wild, as it stands today, has about $6.2 million to fill out next year's roster.
Heatley would have been an ideal candidate for a compliance buyout. The team would still be on the hook for two-thirds of his $5 million salary, but the buyout would create a much-needed $7.5 million in salary-cap relief.
But on the same day the Wild traded for Pominville, Heatley tore the labrum in his left shoulder. He underwent surgery five days later and was given a four- to six-month recovery time.
That timetable is significant because an injured player cannot be bought out.
The first compliance buyout window begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Finals and ends when free agency begins July 5. To be bought out, Heatley, rehabbing at home in Kelowna, British Columbia, would have to be cleared by Wild doctors. That makes for a delicate situation because all the pitfalls for a potential grievance are present.
"We have a few different ways we can get to the cap," General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Monday. "We have options, but some things are easier done than others."
After Monday's re-signing of defenseman Marco Scandella to a two-year, $2.05 million deal, the Wild has about $57.7 million committed next season. For a team that still needs to secure a No. 1 goaltender, the Wild will need to create more cap flexibility in order to conduct business.
That could make for an eventful few weeks leading into the June 30 draft and the start of free agency.
Cal Clutterbuck is a potential restricted free agent and might be on the trading block, as are defenseman Tom Gilbert and center Zenon Konopka. Gilbert, who had 13 points and was minus-11 in 43 games last year, also is a compliance buyout candidate. Buying him out for two-thirds of his $3 million salary would clear $4 million off the books.
Devin Setoguchi ($3 million cap hit and entering the last year of his deal) and Kyle Brodziak ($2.833 cap hit) could be trade bait.
"I've had a lot of conversations with teams and we're taking as many calls as we're making," said Fletcher, adding that league-wide talks should ramp up more during Wednesday's general managers meeting in Boston.
The first priority for the Wild is securing a No. 1 goalie. The Wild is in discussions with last year's starter, free agent Niklas Backstrom.
"We'd like to make it work," Fletcher said. "Certainly there's a will. Now we have to find a way. But there's nothing imminent."
Fletcher also could investigate the trade market. Some goalies who might be on the move include Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury and Los Angeles' Jonathan Bernier.
Because of the goalie situation, the Wild hasn't had significant talks with potential free agent Matt Cullen. If he departs, Charlie Coyle could move to center.
There is a secondary buyout window later this summer after the arbitration period. By then, Heatley could be healthy. For that secondary option to be triggered, the Wild needs to either take one of its restricted free agents (Clutterbuck or Justin Falk) to arbitration or would need one of them to file for arbitration.
If the Wild can't buy out Heatley, he still has value. While his skating has slowed, he was on a 25-goal pace (82-game season) last season, is a power-play threat and a big body who protects the puck in the offensive zone. His absence was felt during the Wild's downtrodden April.
Either way, it will be fascinating to watch how Fletcher makes the snug math work.
"The question is how do we get to the cap and still make the right hockey decisions," Fletcher said. "That's the challenge, but honestly, I'm not worried and there are a lot of teams that are in worse shape than we are."