PHILADELPHIA – The draft is over, no player trades were made, so whether it’s Sunday or Monday, bet that Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo will try to get together in Minnesota with pending free agents Matt Niskanen and Thomas Vanek.
While those have been the most well-publicized names surrounding Wild interest in advance of the market opening across the NHL Tuesday, the Wild has other lines in the water, too.
The Wild has been in contact with Jarome Iginla’s camp, according to multiple sources. It’s unclear if the interest is mutual, but it’s definitely clear that the Wild is interested in potentially signing the future Hall of Fame winger and, ironically, all-time leader in basically every offensive category against the Wild.
Iginla, the longtime Calgary Flames heart and soul captain who turns 37 Tuesday, looked resurrected with the Boston Bruins last season. He tied for the team lead with 30 goals, finished third with 61 points and was plus-34, which ranked fourth. In the playoffs, he led the Bruins with five goals and was third with seven points.
Iginla wants to return to Boston, but the Bruins would need to clear cap space to re-sign him. That hasn’t happened, meaning unless Iginla is patient and waits them out, he may need to move on. Wouldn’t it be something if Iginla landed on a Wild team he has roasted for years with 37 career goals and 67 career points?
The Wild, which ranked 24th offensively last season with 199 goals, desperately wants to improve offensively.
The two ways of doing that could be through an offensive-minded defenseman and a scoring winger. Two possible ways of accomplishing both would be to try to sign a player like Niskanen, a right-shot defenseman who had a career year in Pittsburgh, to a long-term deal and a forward like Vanek or Iginla to a shorter-term deal.
While it’s still possible that Fletcher will be able to alter the Wild via trade, it’s looking more likely that the way to fill holes this summer could come via free agency.
But Fletcher wants to be careful. He says he can’t afford to force something and sign somebody to a potentially bad contract that affects the team down the road. So he must make sure that his idea for role, fit and terms aligns with his targets.
“We’ve tried to be aggressive if the move makes sense, but there’s times, too, where you need to take what’s there,” Fletcher said. “Sometimes you have to lay off the pitch. You can’t just swing at everything. This summer could be one of those summers where maybe you just accept what’s there and not try to overpursue or push something that may not make you better.”
Niskanen, who got married Saturday and is from Virginia, Minn., has several teams beating down his door. It appears he could get a seven-year deal in some situations. Now, whether the home-state Wild would have to offer him that to get his services is unclear. But it’s clear if the Wild wants him it’ll have to pony up substantial term and dollars.
But Niskanen is intriguing because of his age, because he can play either the left side or the right and because he would give the Wild a right shot from the point that could help the power play. But if he’s signed to a five-, six- or seven-year contract, how does that affect the future in Minnesota of players like Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon and prospects Matt Dumba and Gustav Olofsson?
Remember, you don’t want to box promising youngsters out, either. For example, if the Wild wasn’t forced to get cap compliant after last year’s lockout and dump players last summer, Mikael Granlund undoubtedly wouldn’t have gotten the shot he did to excel last season.
Granlund broke out and now the Wild believes the sky’s the limit for the young centerman, something it wouldn’t have discovered if players like Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi returned. Same thing for a winger like Nino Niederreiter.
“Every time you go out and sign these long-term contracts, you just have less flexibility, you have more long-term commitments and sometimes those long-term commitments can turn into liabilities and you start to box yourself in,” Fletcher said. “To me, I’d almost rather be a little lean this year and maintain a little more flexibility than just pushing it right to the max.
“That’s kind of a feel thing. There’s certain players you might value more than other players and if you don’t think the player is a perfect fit maybe the best move is just to move on. I don’t think it’s that deep a free-agent class where if we don’t get No. 1 we should just blindly go after No. 2 or 3. Let’s be patient.”
That’s why it seems like the Wild wants to sit down with Vanek, 30, and see if he would be comfortable with a short-term deal. He’s coming off a so-so playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens, and whether it’s fair or not, he gets the rap sometimes of a player not always engaged.
And the one identity the Wild had down the stretch that also made it successful in the playoffs was work ethic and playing as five-man units in all three zones.
On the other hand, Vanek, the former Gophers star, offers the Wild what it lacks. When he’s on, the goal scorer’s good for 30 goals, 70 points and would give a Wild team not nearly productive enough around the net a player who is terrific in that vicinity.
From a work ethic component, that’s a big reason why the Wild is showing interest in Iginla. There are few more driven players, and there’s no denying the popular, likable forward craves his first Stanley Cup, which is appealing for a franchise seeking its first.
Fletcher and Yeo expect to have conversations with a handful of these type of pending free agents in the next two days. The outcomes could affect the Wild significantly, short-term and long-term.
“By adding a player, you don’t always get better,” Yeo said. “It has to be the right player, it has to be the right fit. That’s very important for us.”