Veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell seemed to want to return to Minnesota, but the Florida Panthers blew the two-time Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup champion away with a two-year contract worth $4.25 million per season.
The Wild envisioned Mitchell replacing Clayton Stoner, but because of Mitchell’s age (37) and recent injury history (concussions and knee), the Wild didn’t offer close to what Florida did. Stoner left earlier Tuesday for Anaheim, where he struck it rich with a four-year, $13 million deal.
More than $500 million in long-term contracts were handed out leaguewide.
“I didn’t expect this. Maybe I’m naive. We were consistently underbidding on a few other players, I’ll tell you that,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said, chuckling. “The prices caught me a little off guard for maybe what you would consider role players or bottom-of-the-lineup type players. But I definitely think some mistakes have been made today on some players, so I think we’ll be a little bit patient and let things sort out.”
The Wild lacks physicality from the back end, so one would expect Fletcher eventually will sign or trade for somebody. There’s not a lot of appetizing names on the free-agent market, so Fletcher said he would look for value. Some physical defensemen still on the market include Anton Volchenkov, Doug Murray, Shane O’Brien and Cory Sarich.
“Right now, it’s been insanity out there,” Fletcher said. “I think this is the biggest spending day, if not the history of the world, the history of the NHL. I mean, it’s just been crazy. So my first thought is to just go home and come back [Wednesday] and maybe the tide will turn and management will get the upper hand and we’ll get some better deals.
“The prices are high. The terms are long. Thomas [Vanek] may be one of the only players who took a pay cut and a term cut to come anywhere. Everybody else is doubling or tripling their salary, so it’s good for the players, but it’s maybe not the market we want to be in right now.”
Stoner, a Wild third-round draft pick in 2004, had 31 points and 296 penalty minutes in 227 games. The 29-year-old had talks with the Wild but said they went nowhere.
“I have always loved everything about Minnesota, from the people, to the hockey to the way of life,” Stoner said. “I will miss my teammates, the friends I have met here and always look back at the memories with a smile.”
The Wild made two depth signings Tuesday, signing center Brett Sutter and defenseman Stu Bickel to two-way contracts. They will likely start in Iowa of the AHL but could see games in the NHL.
Sutter, the 27-year-old son of Kings coach Darryl Sutter, was the Charlotte Checkers’ captain and leaves the team ranked third in all-time points (142). He has played 54 NHL games for Calgary and Carolina and signed a two-year, two-way deal that would pay him $600,000 in the NHL.
“Hardworking character guy who plays the way you would expect a Sutter to play,” Fletcher said.
At 6-4, 207 pounds, Bickel, 27, is big and tough and played 67 games for the Rangers between 2011-13. He’s a former Gopher from Chanhassen and signed a one-year, $600,000 deal ($150,000 in the minors).
The Wild also signed defenseman Guillaume Gelinas, 21, to an entry-level contract. He was named the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s top defenseman last season after scoring 92 points in 67 games for Val-d’Or.
• Wild forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick, acquired from Buffalo for two second-round picks and Torrey Mitchell in March, returned to the Sabres. Moulson signed a five-year, $25 million and McCormick a three-year, $4.5 million deal. The Wild had tried to re-sign McCormick at a short term.
• The Wild never made a contract offer to defenseman Matt Niskanen, who signed a seven-year, $40.25 million deal with Washington.
• Wild minor league defensemen Steve Kampfer and Jon Landry signed elsewhere: Kampfer with the Rangers, Landry with the Capitals.