Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild will meet with Vanek; 2014-15 depth chart; more on Iginla

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 29, 2014 - 6:52 PM

UPDATE: Vanek is meeting with the Wild tonight. 

Good morning from 34,000 feet on my way back from Philly.

I’ll be on KFAN after I land in the 10:35 a.m. range, but I’ll also be filling in for Paul Allen on Monday from 9-noon. It’ll be a good look back at the Wild’s draft and a free-agent primer in advance of the market opening Tuesday.

I’ll have a number of guests, including 1) Steve Bartlett, Thomas Vanek's agent, and former agent of ex-Wild good guy and 3-time, 30-goal scorer Brian Rolston; 2) Matt Niskanen’s agent, Neil Sheehy (the man I stalked during the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter pursuit); 3) One of the Wild’s draft picks, perhaps third-rounder Louis Belpedio (A charismatic kid who captained the U.S. Under-18 Development team); 4) Hall of Fame hockey writer Jim Matheson from the Edmonton Journal to talk about the upcoming NHL offseason; 5) Fox Sports North's Marney Gellner.

The draft is over. Now all eyes on free agency Tuesday at 11 a.m.

-- As you know unless you have been in hibernation, the Wild has interest in Thomas Vanek and I believe plans are in the works for Vanek to sit down with coach Mike Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher today in the Twin Cities. The Wild is interested in signing Vanek to a short-term deal, but the team wants to make sure he would be comfortable with that and wants to discuss with him its idea of fit and role and what each other may expect. Vanek will certainly have more lucrative and longer-term offers, but the stars could be aligning here due to the Wild’s need for a scorer and the lure of him staying home.

-- The Wild will also be looking for a rugged, fifth or sixth defenseman now that it seems certain that Clayton Stoner will be departing via free agency. Willie Mitchell is a definite possibility, although I’m sure the Wild has other lines in the water, too. I have nothing confirmed, so I don’t want to guess.

-- The Wild also has interest in Niskanen, but it hasn’t been nearly as aggressive here yet, I believe, for three reasons. 1) The first priority is a scoring forward because the Wild’s not nearly good enough around the net; 2) Niskanen has some potential ginormous opportunities, including the potential of seven-year deals. The Wild, as Fletcher has indicated for two weeks and in today’s Insider in the newspaper, is wary adding another super-long deal. Contracts are guaranteed in the NHL and the more long-term deals you have, the less flexibility you have elsewhere, whether that be affording guys you need to re-sign or turning over the roster at times when you feel it necessary. So, this is still very much up in the air just because Niskanen will have the chance to strike it rich. Remember, he doesn’t live in the Twin Cities. He lives on a lake in northern Minnesota, so the lure of “coming home” may not be there as much for Niskanen. 3) Fletcher is a lot more comfortable with his top-4 than he was heading into last season, most notably because Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon had solid seasons.

As of now, no meeting has been set up with Niskanen personally. He also got married Saturday, so he’s a wee bit busy.

-- Back to the scorer, as I reported in today’s Insider here, the Wild has at least contacted Jarome Iginla’s camp about its interest. But the deal here: Iginla, the friendliest Wild killer anywhere who resurrected himself during a 30-goal season for the Bruins, would like to re-sign in Boston. Boston would like to re-sign Iginla, but if it’s on a two-year deal, Boston would have to dump some salary. So things are kind of in flux. If behind the scenes the Bruins ask Iginla to be patient and wait for them to make some arrangements, this could take a little while into July. My guess is the Wild will feel the urgency July 1 to find that scoring forward and won’t feel it can wait, so I’d bet even if in the back of Iginla’s mind he may be interested in Minnesota if Boston didn’t work out, I don’t think the Wild will be able to wait and take that chance it loses out on the slim pickings out there.

So, I’d think Iginla is a longshot and Vanek is the most probable.

-- Remember, I don’t claim to know everybody the Wild’s interested in, which as Fletcher said the other day, “makes me happy.” So it wouldn’t shock me if there ends up being a signing or two of a player not previously reported.

-- Remember also, as Fletcher alluded to in the Insider, free agency is slim pickings this year. If the Wild misses or backs out on some of its No. 1 targets, this is not the year “we should just blindly go after No. 2 or 3.”

So Fletcher, how do you weigh the need to get better because teams ahead of you or behind you may vs. potentially not adding? “I still think we have a lot of players that are going to get better
and will be better next season than they were last season. So to improve you either go outside and add pieces or you hope for internal improvement. And I do think it’s very realistic to assume there will be some internal improvement for some of our younger players as they
either get a bigger role or they with the experience they’ve gained start to produce more. That’ll be really key.”

I also talked to Yeo yesterday and he also said the coaching staff can’t afford to sit back and assume that personnel changes will help improve the team, like offensively or the power play.

“It would be a big mistake on our part as a staff to just assume that personnel just makes it better,” he said. “Whether it’s concepts, philosophy, tactics, whatever, we have to find a way to be more consistently effectively. Also, producing offense from back end. It’s something we’re trying to build and improve on, but it hasn’t come quick enough.”

-- I made you wait long enough – the depth chart.

As I always do after the draft and before free agency, here’s a mind-refresher of what the team potentially looks like now before the upcoming additions. This will change undoubtedly by Wednesday, so this will adjust all summer. But this is, as of now.

Note, the depth chart is my opinion. In parentheses, each player’s cap hits with some assistance from the incredible web site, www.capgeek.com. The RFA’s will get done soon. I’d think Justin Fontaine would sign a one- or two-year deal in the $1.1 to $1.3 million range annually. I don’t even want to guess on Darcy Kuemper. If I’m Nino Niederreiter, I sign a one- or two-year deal, prove myself bigtime and then try to hit a homer on my next contract. Jason Zucker is a rare Group 1 free agent, meaning he has almost no rights. No arbitration, can’t sign an offer sheet, nada. So I’d think he takes his qualifying offer. Kuemper, Fontaine and Jon Blum have arb rights. That has to be filed by July 5, and remember, if it happens, it’s just part of the process and usually a contract gets settled prior to the hearing. Arb, in my opinion, is usually a good thing because it guarantees no holdout, too.

 

WILD DEPTH CHART

 

 

Forwards

 

Left wing                         Center                          Right wing

 

Zach Parise ($7.5+M)       Mikael Granlund (900K)  Jason Pominville (5.6M)

 

Nino Niederreiter (RFA)   Mikko Koivu (6.75M)     Charlie Coyle (900K)

 

Matt Cooke (2.5M)            Erik Haula (900K)           Jason Zucker (RFA)

 

---------------------------       Kyle Brodziak (2.83 M)    Justin Fontaine (RFA)

Vying for spots: Zucker, Stephane Veilleux (587,500), Michael Keranen (792,500), Brett Bulmer (780K), Kurtis Gabriel (667K), Tyler Graovac (747,500)

Unrestricted free agents that may re-sign: Cody McCormick.

Unrestricted free agents departing: Dany Heatley, Matt Moulson, Mike Rupp, Jake Dowell.

Defensemen

 

Left Defense                     Right Defense

 

Ryan Suter (7.5+M)          Jared Spurgeon (2.66M)

 

Marco Scandella (1.025M) Jonas Brodin (1.4+M)

 

Keith Ballard (1.5M)          Christian Folin (925K)

 

Jon Blum (RFA)

 

Unrestricted free agents that may be departing: Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser.

 

Vying for spots: Folin, Blum, Matt Dumba (894,167), Gustav Olofsson (795K).

 

Goalies

 

Niklas Backstrom (3.42M)

Josh Harding (1.9M)

Darcy Kuemper (RFA)

 

* Kuemper can be sent to the minors without waivers even if he receives a one-way deal.

 

Unrestricted free agent departing: Ilya Bryzgalov

  

Total cap hit roughly: $47,787,758.

Available cap space roughly: $20.5 million (I based this on a $68.3 million salary-cap ceiling; NHL salary cap next season is $69 million, but the Wild will be charged a bonus overage of a little less than $700,000). Note, the $20.5 million excludes re-signing restricted free agents. Also, always take that number a subtract a few million because Fletcher will always try to leave space for injury callups and in-season acquisitions.

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