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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You play Wild GM: Trades, free agency, buyouts, depth chart info

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings trade talk, Wild off-season news Updated: June 18, 2013 - 10:18 AM
With the salary cap dropping to $64.3 million next year, it should be an eventful few weeks in the NHL. There has been a lot of trade talk leaguewide and that should ramp up after Wednesday’s GM meeting.
 
I’ve talked to a handful of agents and managers the past week and it’s interesting times in the NHL. There’s been lots of trade talk throughout the league, but it’s hard to make moves currently because with so little money to go around, the second you pull the trigger on one thing, it could adversely affect other things you want to do.
 
As tight as the Wild’s cap situation, Minnesota’s actually in cap heaven compared to a few teams like Vancouver and Philly.
 
Several teams are going to have to do some work to get cap compliant this summer thanks to a $5.9 million drop. Then you have the teams that don’t normally get to the cap ceiling anyway because of budgetary issues.
 
So as Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said, “This is the tightest market the league’s ever seen. There’s just not a lot of money in the marketplace to spend, so it will be really interesting to see what happens this summer. The available dollars are a fraction of what they normally are. It’ll certainly have a big impact on what happens and more importantly what doesn’t happen.”
 
When you throw in the fact that a number of players will be added to the free-agent crop by way of compliance and regular buyouts, Fletcher said, “There could be a pretty vicious game of musical chairs. Come July 15, it could be a scary environment to be a player. You can analyze it all you want, but that’s just common sense when you consider the reduction of overall dollars available.”
 
As you can read in today’s newspaper here, the Wild’s cap next season will actually be a shade under $63.9 million because of a bonus overage incurred last year on Jonas Brodin. Essentially, the rookie hit performance bonuses that put the Wild over the cap. That penalty is incurred the following year.  
 
As far as I can tell, Brodin hit $637,500 in bonuses for hitting (defensemen thresholds) top-4 ice time, top-3 plus-minus, top-2 blocked shots. The NHL hasn’t announced the All-Rookie team yet (to be determined as to when), but if Brodin is named to it, he can get another $212,500 and make the max $850,000 in “A” bonuses under an entry-level contract.
 
As you can see on the depth chart below, the bonus overage means as it currently stands, before possible compliance buyouts, regular buyouts and trades, the Wild has about $6.2 million to spend this summer.
 
To put that in perspective, the Wild currently doesn’t have a No. 1 goalie locked up and Niklas Backstrom is coming off a contract that paid him $6 million.
 
So, just do the math. Not only does the Wild not have a No. 1 goalie yet, it hasn't re-signed restricted free agents Cal Clutterbuck, Jared Spurgeon and maybe Justin Falk.
 
So the reality is Fletcher will have to create some cap flexibility. Not everybody can come back. There will be trades, potential buyouts, etc.
 
(Remember, you can surpass the salary-cap ceiling by 10 percent during the offseason as long as you get cap compliant by opening night).
 
As I reported in today’s newspaper, Dany Heatley can’t be bought out because he is as of now deemed an “injured player.” He is doing well in his rehab and expected to be ready by training camp. Amazing bad luck for the Wild. A guy that never gets hurt (80+ games six of the previous seven years) gets hurt on the night it makes the Jason Pominville trade against his former team, San Jose, after an infraction from his former teammate, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, AFTER the final buzzer.
 
(Ironically, I'm hearing the man he was traded for – San Jose’s Martin Havlat – also has offseason abdominal surgery and thus can’t be bought out).
 
Pierre-Marc Bouchard will become a free agent July 5. Matt Cullen could very well, too, unless there are trades to create space in the next few weeks. And as we have all learned over the years, the closer the player gets to free agency, the more likely he is to test it.
 
Frankly, and this is Fletcher’s M.O. anyway, I’d think there will be some trades leading into the June 30 draft in Newark.
 
Fletcher says he’s been talking to anyone and everyone.
 
It really wouldn’t shock me if Clutterbuck were to be traded. He’s got value and has an expiring contract.
 
I hear the Wild’s been actively looking to trade Zenon Konopka. Mike Rupp plays a similar role and Jake Dowell’s contract turns into a one-way contract next year, so he should vie for that fourth-line center spot.
 
I also think if you do the math, if Tom Gilbert isn’t traded, my gut says he will be a compliance buyout just because it’s an easy way to get $4 million in flexibility. (Remember, because of the decrease in the salary cap, teams are permitted a total of two compliance buyouts that can be used this offseason and/or next. A compliance buyout allows you to buy out a player at two-thirds his salary and have the total cap hit forgiven). There are also still regular buyouts, which would likely be used on cheaper players (only you’d be charged the cap hit).
 
Also, if you use a compliance buyout on a player, you can’t re-sign that player for one year. So, to answer your question, no, the Wild can’t buy out Gilbert and re-sign him after July 5 at a cheaper salary/cap hit.
 
I’ve gotten lots of questions/emails regarding Heatley and whether he could be traded. Theoretically, yes, although he still has a limited no-trade clause where he’d provide a list of teams he wouldn’t go to. That hasn’t been asked of him.
 
As the roster currently stands, here is what I consider the depth chart. This is barring trades, buyouts, free-agent signings, so this will change. Cap hits (not salaries) are in parentheses. For more details, see the great capgeek.com.
 
So here’s a look. You can do the math yourself and see how tight things are. The Wild also wants to make external changes this summer. So if you were the GM, what would you do? How would you create space?
 
Forwards
 
Left wing                         Center                          Right wing
 
Zach Parise ($7.5+M)       Mikko Koivu (6.75M)   Jason Pominville (4.505M)
 
*Jason Zucker ($833,333) *Charlie Coyle (975K)   Devin Setoguchi 3M
 
Cal Clutterbuck (RFA)     Kyle Brodziak (2.83+M) Dany Heatley (7.5M)
 
Mike Rupp (1.5M)           Zenon Konopka (925K) Torrey Mitchell (1.9M)
 
Extra: Jake Dowell (700K)
 
Unrestricted free agents: Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Some vying for spots: Mikael Granlund, Justin Fontaine, Stephane Veilleux
* Two-way contract; can be sent to the minors without waivers.
 
Defensemen
 
Left Defense                     Right Defense
 
Ryan Suter (7.5+M)          Jonas Brodin (1.4+M)
 
Marco Scandella (1.025M) Jared Spurgeon (RFA)
 
Clayton Stoner (1.05M)   Tom Gilbert (4M)
 
Extras: Nate Prosser (825,000) and Justin Falk (RFA)
Vying for spots: Matt Dumba
Unrestricted free agent: Brett Clark
 
Goalies
 
No. 1 goalie to be determined
 
Josh Harding (1.9M)
 
Vying for spot: Darcy Kuemper
Unrestricted free agent: Niklas Backstrom
 
Buyout charge
 
Mark Parrish ($927,778)
 
Total cap hit roughly: $57,670,835
Wild’s cap ceiling next year is roughly: $63.9M
Available space roughly: $6.2+M before potentially re-signing Backstrom, Clutterbuck and Spurgeon
 
The next month really will be interesting to see how the Wild does the math and moves the shells around. I think there will be a lot more clarity once we see whom the No. 1 goalie will be (whether it’s Niklas Backstrom or another) and how much he costs.
 
It’ll be fascinating to see how this summer shapes up and what this roster looks like come training camp Sept. 11. Keep this depth chart at your side and compare it to the one after the offseason to see how much it changes.
 
Couple housekeeping items:
 
Suter is now on Twitter at @rsuter20.
 
I'll be on XM Radio on Wednesday at 8:45 a.m. I'm also filling in for Paul Allen from 9-noon Monday and Tuesday of next week.
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