One year ago today, I was just getting back from St. Paul’s regional airport, where I was hiding in the bushes along the fence watching Wild owner Craig Leipold, GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo get off a plane with Ryan Suter’s agent, Neil Sheehy, and financial guy, Tom Sagissor.
Hands were shaken, and Sheehy got back on that plane for a return trip to International Falls, where he does his summer free agency deals.
The next morning, KaBoom! – the July 4 fireworks were set off early when that morning Suter and Zach Parise signed on the dotted line as a Minnesota Wild tagteam.
This July 4, I’m not anticipating adding 10,000 or more followers to my Twitter account again.
1) Free agency doesn’t officially begin until Friday at 11 a.m. and 2) Even with the $4 million that will be added by Thursday’s compliance buyout of Tom Gilbert, the Wild’s not going to be in the running for the heavy hitters in this free agency class.
Still, the Wild may tinker.
Fletcher had a less hectic day today than he did one year ago today, but he still made a “ton of calls” to agents to see what the landscape looks like. He called specifically on defensemen, as the Wild will at least be looking to add one this offseason. Read Thursday’s article for some names, including one high up I know they’re interested in.
The big question is whether or not Matt Cullen is re-signed by the home squad.
While it doesn’t quite have the luster of #PariseWatch and #SuterWatch, #CullenWatch is underway. He had some conference calls today with his agents, which just so happen to be – Parise’s agents. I joked with Cullen today that it’s a travesty that Newport didn’t hole him up in their Mississauga war room like Parise and Brad Richards.
Where’s the respect for the wily vet?
I’m told Cullen got “lots of interest” and had a handful of conference calls with teams as well.
Now, Cullen hasn’t ruled out re-signing with Minnesota if that’s even a possibility, but in this new collective bargaining agreement, teams get an early recruitment period and Cullen fielded calls because quite frankly, that’s his prerogative.
“I’m just waiting to hear what Minnesota’s doing, but in the meantime, I’ve taken some calls from other teams,” Cullen said. “It’s a weird deal the way it’s set up now and I’m just trying to go into this with as open as a mind as possible. Chuck’s been very up front and honest with me and I’ll continue to do the same thing with them and keep communicating.
“At the same time, I just have to field these calls and do that side of it too because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ll just see how many offers I have and see what I have for options here, and as the next couple days go on, I’ll get a clearer picture as to what they are and take a little time and figure out a decision.”
Fletcher has made it quite clear that the Wild will have a young roster next year, one that could include two-way forwards Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.
So that could very well mean that Fletcher is ready to move on from Cullen and try to maximize his available dollars in other areas, like the blue line. Guys like Mike Ribeiro and Stephen Weiss and Tyler Bozak should be too expensive.
If Cullen departs and the Wild doesn’t make any free-agent or trade pickups at center, Coyle or Granlund will be vying for the spot to replace Cullen.
That will be quite the chore for a second-year forward, albeit two talented ones. Cullen fills several roles on the Wild, but he could potentially be out of the Wild’s price range.
He is 36, and since this could potentially be his final contract, he is looking for at least a three-year deal and could get big money, even at more than the $3.5 million per year he earned on his last contract.
Think of it this way: At some point the Wild wants to pass that baton to one of its young kids, so while losing Cullen could potentially put the Wild in a tough position next year, if the Wild re-signs him to a three-year deal, that could potentially block one of its kids in future years.
Cullen is coming off a strong season, still has the legs of a 20-something and has won a Cup in Carolina. He has scored 202 goals and 562 points in 1,073 games in 15 seasons with Anaheim, Florida, Carolina, the Rangers, Ottawa and Minnesota.
Some of the teams that may (and I stress MAY for folks who plan to pick this out and say I’m reporting this) have interest include St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Dallas, New Jersey and Phoenix. Nashville went after Vincent Lecavalier and is going after Daniel Briere, so they’re clearly looking for a center. Montreal went after Lecavalier. Buffalo is trying to get Briere back and Cullen opted for the Wild over Buffalo three years ago, so maybe there’s interest.
The teams that I definitely think need centers are St. Louis, Detroit, Columbus, Nashville and Dallas.
Selfishly, I hope the Wild re-sign Cullen because there’s few more accommodating athletes to cover. I say this as a Cullen expert because I got to cover him early in his career in Florida and later in his career in Minnesota.
But I do still think it’s less than 50-50. I think if Fletcher came to him with a quality contract, Cullen would like to stay. But in my history of covering the league, very rarely does it get this close to free agency and the player ends up returning.
Anyways, we shall see. I’ll be back with ya Thursday and Friday, so be sure to come back to startribune.com for Wild news.
Notes: In other news, the Wild’s development camp is July 9-14. Numbers will be low this year because none of their NHLers will be there, so instead of a scrimmage, the Wild plans a 3-on-3 tournament designed by Andrew Brunette and Brad Bombardir. That will be open to the public. More information should be out soon, like the date of the event.
--Center Zenon Konopka tweeted today (@zenonkonopka) Supporting @stopconcussions with our new wine out of Napa Valley "The Wild one" free shipping for a limited time. http://zkwines.com/wines-usa/
--Defenseman Ryan Suter (aka First Team All-Star) is on Twitter. I keep forgetting to tweet this…It’s @rsuter20. His web site is up and running, too, at www.rsuter20.com.
More from Star Tribune
More From Russo's Rants
GM Chuck Fletcher said the finish to the season after being the second-best team in the West during the regular season is "still incredibly disappointing. It still stings, let's put it that way."
The young forward, coming off a career year, missed three games at the end of the season with a lower body injury.
The 27-year-old defenseman is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for next season.
The defenseman is expected to be recovered by training camp in September.
The Wild held its end-of-the-year availability on Tuesday, and here's a synopsis of the morning sessions from the press conference room and the locker room.