Happy Offseason everybody. If you didn’t see the end of the year articles from last weekend and Monday’s availability, here are the links:
My end of the year analysis (last Sunday)
Chuck Fletcher's offseason to-do list (last Sunday)
My story on the Wild's go-to guys not getting it done (day after season ended) (last Saturday)
Main story stemming from Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo presser (this past Tuesday)
Devan Dubnyk/Wild would like to get deal done (this past Tuesday)
Notebook on Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Injuries, Keith Ballard, Iowa (this past Tuesday)
I know you’ve patiently waited my end-of-the-year blog, so here it is:
1. Next year’s salary cap is projected to be around $71.5 million. The Wild’s cap commitment AS OF NOW for next season is roughly $61.9 million (nine forwards, five defensemen, two goalies including Niklas Backstrom). Remember, if Backstrom is bought out (saves 1/3 of his $4 million salary and frees a roster spot), it’s still a full $3.417 million cap hit because he was signed to a contract at 35 years old.
So that’s less than $10 million in cap space (AS OF NOW) before potentially re-signing Devan Dubnyk, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Christian Folin and before filling out the rest of its 23-man roster. That’s less than $10 million in cap space before deciding if it has interest in re-signing some of its unrestricted guys like Kyle Brodziak, Jordan Leopold and Chris Stewart and before deciding if it has interest in other unrestricted free agents that’ll be on the July 1 market.
This is why Priority No. 1 is figuring out the goalie situation (re-signing Dubnyk). Once the Wild determines what it’s paying Dubnyk, it can then start figuring out the other pieces of the mathematical pie.
So, there is zero doubt the Wild’s cap situation for next season is too tight for General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s comfort. If the Wild re-signs Dubnyk and Granlund, that’s going to eat considerably into that $10 million of cap space.
And remember, Fletcher’s going to want to have a cushion of at least a couple million next season for injury callups and the ability to maneuver at or before the trade deadline. Also, I’m not taking into consideration what next season’s budget will be. All teams have internal budgets, and perhaps Fletcher will be instructed to fill a team with a figure in the mid-60s.
Add all this up, and the writing is absolutely on the wall that there will have to be trades this summer to clear some cap space. Who’s dealt, what type of trades they’re involved in, it’s way too premature to guess right now (although I will throw some stuff against the proverbial wall below in this blog and we’ll see if it eventually sticks).
I have got to think the days leading up to and at the June 26-27 NHL draft in South Florida will be newsworthy.
2. Dubnyk. Both Fletcher and Dubnyk said all the right things at Monday’s season-ending availability.
Dubnyk saved the Wild’s bacon this season, won 27 games, went 15-2-1 on the road, gave up five goals in his last five second-of-back-to-back situations. Regardless of the fact that he may have shown cracks in the playoffs, especially in the second round (as did the team in front of him), Dubnyk’s the guy for now.
It was interesting how both sides went into negotiation mode immediately after the season ended.
Dubnyk didn’t make any secret that he wants to return, but he added the caveat that it depends how conversations go between his agent and the Wild. Fletcher made no secret that he wants Dubnyk to return, but he too added that Dubnyk has the right that all players have and indicated there’s a certain price point the Wild can’t go over (Fletcher noted Clayton Stoner leaving last season despite the fact the Wild wanted him back). Fletcher also subtly mentioned that lots of goalies have played well in the Wild’s defensive structure because it gives up so few quality chances from prime scoring areas in front of the net and slot.
That was a two-fold insinuation by Fletcher in my opinion: 1. To let Dubnyk know you don’t want to leave a team that protects you so well “in the house” and end up back in an Oilers-like situation; 2. To let the fans not to freak out if things go sideways in negotiations.
But Dubnyk has all the leverage here: 1. He knows there’s no chance the Wild will be comfortable going into next season with a Darcy Kuemper-Backstrom tandem; 2. There are so few quality goalies available as free agents, he knows he’ll be wanted this summer by somebody (or somebodies). 3. The Wild has to be concerned about that free-agent interview period that will occur during draft week and in the days leading up to free agency. If Dubnyk doesn’t like what he hears in the next month, he could say, ‘Look, let me see what else is out there and I’ll circle back to you prior to July 1.’ If you think about it, that fear is how the Wild wound up giving Backstrom his three-year deal in June 2013 in the first place. Fletcher didn’t want to be left without a goalie after a couple of trades didn’t transpire and the free-agent possibilities weren’t appealing.
My guess: Both sides want to get it done, so it’ll get done eventually. Big question is term. Give him four or five years, the salary comes down. Want to stay in the three-year range and the salary is higher.
He’s going to want to get paid. Remember, he did all this for the Wild this year making about $400K in Minnesota.
This is also a goalie that made $3.75 million in Edmonton, so I can’t imagine he’d take anything less than that to be the Wild’s No. 1.
Asked if it would be different next year going from a revelation to a counted-upon goalie, Dubnyk, 29, said, “I’m not young, but I’m not real old either. I’ve been there. I know that this season has been a lot of, ‘Where’d this guy come from?’ But amazingly enough, this is my sixth year in the league and I’ve played a lot before. I think I found a pretty good head space in this run playing as many games as I did. I know that mindset that I have to be in going forward and I would like to think I had gotten to the counted-upon stage toward the end of the year.”
Dubnyk said, “This is the first time I’ve been through this situation, so I’ll relax and let the other people do the work. But as I’ve said many times, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t want to be here, it’s been a lot of fun for me and definitely the most fun I’ve had in my career.”
3. As I wrote in my end-of-the-year analysis, I think the writing is on the wall that defenseman Jared Spurgeon gets traded this summer or next.
He is a year from restricted free agency. He makes a hefty $3.6 million next season with a cap hit of $2.667M. At 25 years old, there is little doubt Spurgeon has earned a long-term extension next summer with a significant pay hike (like Cal Clutterbuck the summer the Wild dealt him to the Islanders for Nino Niederreiter).
I just don’t see how the Wild can make the math work even though the organization has immense respect for the right-shot Spurgeon, one of the team’s best two-way, mobile defensemen.
Ryan Suter is on a 13-year, $98 million deal. Jonas Brodin begins a six-year, $25 million deal next season. Spurgeon’s best bud and longtime defense partner Marco Scandella begins a five-year, $20 million deal next season.
The hope is right-shot thoroughbred Matt Dumba continues to emerge and slots into Spurgeon’s spot. The Wild believes right-shot blue-liner Christian Folin will be a player (I think he has the makings of being one, too) and the Wild firmly believes Gustav Olofsson will eventually develop into a stud. Olofsson did have a big developmental year ruined this season by a torn labrum (shoulder) and will no doubt need to start in Iowa next season.
So while there is no rush to trade Spurgeon this summer, $3.6M is a pretty large sum for him next season and my guess is the Wild at least dangles him out there to see if it gets nibbles as the draft approaches.
I have gotten annihilated with tweets and emails about something that appeared in the Edmonton Journal on Thursday (see here).
My friend Jim Matheson, the Edmonton Journal Hall of Fame hockey writer, and I were emailing back and forth last week about Spurgeon because we figured the Oilers could be a good fit. Spurgeon is from there, the Oilers desperately need good D, they have young talents like 2012 No. 1 pick Nail Yakupov that could potentially be had and new GM Peter Chiarelli and Fletcher (fellow Harvard alums) are very tight.
I wrote in my season-ending analysis last Sunday that the Wild should look into Yakupov. Why? Because it’s of my opinion that the team needs to try to acquire “young” talents they believe have a chance to develop into pure goal scorers and attempt to get out of this cycle of trading for or signing late-20-, 30-year-old forwards who are at or entering the twilights of their careers.
So that got Jim’s brain churning. Oilers need D. Wild need scorers.
So we had a back and forth and Jim wrote the conjecture on both of our parts. There are no sources here. This was just two hockey writers chatting about what may make sense. The Wild may have absolutely no interest in Yakupov. And frankly, Chiarelli may go to Edmonton and want to get a lay of the land before he starts trading significant pieces prior to even watching them play.
Unless somebody knocks his socks off, there’s no need for the Oilers to trade Yakupov. Remember, Chiarelli is the former Bruins GM who dealt Tyler Seguin to Dallas. So he may be hesitant to trade any of the Oilers’ young forwards until he really gets his own eyeballs on them for a bit and analyzes what type of players they may become in the future. And just guessing, fans should stop with the Taylor Hall fantasy. Chiarelli, who traded Seguin (the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft), is not going to parachute into Edmonton and immediately trade the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft when they’re about to draft the great Connor McDavid.
4. Mikael Granlund. He’s a restricted free agent – one of three of the (NHL) RFA’s on the Wild (Folin and Erik Haula).
When the Wild extended Brodin and Charlie Coyle to long-term extensions and ultimately Scandella, Granlund didn’t sign because his agent was looking for a one- or-two-year “bridge” deal. That type of deal made sense for both sides: If Granlund erupts offensively in the next year or two, he can then hit a home-run third contract. If Granlund doesn’t erupt offensively OR looks like he won’t develop into the centerman the Wild hopes OR proves to be injury-prone, the Wild saves money on a third contract or can even trade him.
Granlund, who had a mostly solid postseason particularly against St. Louis, had a disappointing regular season, going from .65 points per game to .57 even though he played most the season on a line with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville. He also broke his wrist when he was basically body-slammed by Dustin Byfuglien on Dec. 27.
How this changes negotiations is the big question.
“I won’t get into the details,” Fletcher said. “I have had some conversations with Todd [Diamond] over the year, and we’ve chosen to wait until after the season. But I think we’ve had good, candid discussions. He’s an important part of our future, and we’ll try to see the right fit.
“You can justify it either way, but I think that by the end of the year we can sit down and we’ll have a fuller view of the big picture from which to make our decision.”
What’s so commendable about Granlund is his competitiveness and drive. For an undersized skilled forward, it’s quite admirable the way he initiates contact against bigger defenders.
It also may scare the bejesus out of the Wild.
For an organization that got hamstrung for years by Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s concussion issues, the Wild has to make a sound determination as to whether it feels Granlund can function in the NHL playing this type of style. And regardless, it has to make a determination on whether Granlund’s going to pile up points in this league.
Because he’s a restricted free agent, there’s that chance the Wild may at least pop his name out in trade circles to see if he can lure something valuable. In fact, I think that at a minimum is likely.
Now, trading Granlund at 23 years old would be a huge risk, so my guess is it only would happen if negotiations on a new deal go awry and if Fletcher could acquire something of great substance.
But again, cap space is limited right now, so this potential may not be far-fetched.
A lot would depend on how the Wild evaluates itself up the middle next season (does it feel Tyler Graovac is ready to make the jump to the NHL?) or if the Wild could get an established center back in a trade for Granlund.
Or, how locked are the Wild into Coyle? My guess is if the right piece ever became available in a trade, the Wild would consider moving him. My guess is the Wild would also consider dangling Haula, too.
One thing I’d do: Call San Jose and inquire about center Logan Couture. He’s 26, is signed long-term, is a stud and said the culture in San Jose was “not great” at the end of the season, which had to irk management.
We know Fletcher and Sharks GM Doug Wilson have initiated fireworks in the past (I can think of five Wild-Sharks trades off the top of my head, including the Brent Burns-for Devin Setoguchi-Coyle-and-a-first and Dany Heatley-for-Martin Havlat swaps).
Maybe the two can execute another blockbuster. Again, this could be pure fantasy. I wouldn’t trade Couture unless the deal was a no-brainer.
5. Of the veterans, Matt Cooke has one year left on his deal ($3M salary, $2.5M cap hit), Mikko Koivu has three years left on his deal at $22 million ($6.75M cap hit), Pominville four years left on his deal at $22 million ($5.6M cap hit) and Thomas Vanek two years left on his deal at $14 million ($6.5M cap hit).
Each of the guys above has some sort of no-trade clause. Asked how iron-clad the no-trade clauses are with the vets, Fletcher said, “They’re all a little bit different. A couple of them have [full no-trades], but some, there are some windows there.”
Even if the Wild would retain salary in trades, it’s probably hard to trade most the vets because of their contracts and because of their declining nunbers.
Like I said, I know this sounds far-fetched that the Wild could/would trade any of these guys, but again, the Wild has to figure out some ways to free up cap space this summer and perhaps anything is possible.
On whether or not he’ll have to make trades, Fletcher said, “Yeah, we may. We’re so early into it. I think we’re all, again, a little shocked it ended this quickly, so we’ll get to that. This week we’ll meet with all the players, and next week we’ll have our amateur meeting and the combine after that. In early June we’ll sit down again with the coaches and the pro scouts, by then we’ll have our statistical analysis ready and the coaches will have the next two weeks to brief and compare notes and then we’ll sit in a room and battle it out and see what we come up with.
“But we have a lot of guys under contract, so the core of our team will be the same; the bulk of our players will be back. To the extent that we make changes, I’m going to see what input we get from our scouts and our coaches.”
Like I said, do the math. There will need to be some changes.
Here’s some leftover quotes from the end of the year availability:
On the mood: “It’s a lot different than it’s ever been when I finished a season here. So I think we’re all still very disappointed. It hasn’t been that many days yet, so I think everyone’s just trying to almost like figure out what happened, and find the reasons and things like that.
“I think we felt good about ourselves the way we played the last couple months, the way we played the first round. It happened quick, the second round. You’re excited to go and play and I think we believed in ourselves and we were very confident. I thought we played great hockey the first round. We beat a very good hockey team and then just fell short. In four games, I don’t think, I guess we’re trying to find a reason why that happened.”
On why it failed against Chicago, Koivu said, “I don’t have a good answer for you right now, what happened and why did it happen. But for sure there’s more than just one reason for that.”
“It’s hard, I mean, again, I really think our second half was great, and going into the playoffs I really thought we had something special going here. Young or old, you’ve got to realize you’ve only got so many chances. This is a tough league. There’s 16 teams that make it, and I think every team has a chance -- and I definitely thought we had a good one. We were down to eight (teams) and just couldn’t advance.”
On his playoff: “Again, it wasn’t great. I mean, I didn’t score a goal, so obviously when you don’t produce and you lose, you’re going to take some heat and that’s part of this business. I’m not going to sit here and make excuses why. I should have been better.”
On his tough, injury-plagued season: “I still feel like I have a lot of hockey left in me. Obviously this year wasn’t ideal. I’m thankful I haven’t been hindered by injuries my whole career because it’s frustrating mentally. When you compile a couple of them together, it makes it even harder. Right now the focus is to get strong, get healthy and continue returning where I know I can be.”
On Chicago series: “I think it’s really important that you need to learn and understand what happened. You need to not necessarily make chances, but recognize what the difference is. This is a great group in this room capable of a lot of things and you saw that a lot in the last three months of the season. At the end of the day, it means not a whole lot because there is going to come a point in time when expectations are not having a good regular season and expectations aren’t having a good first round of the playoffs. Expectations are greater than that and you have to prepare for that.”
Is Chicago in the Wild’s head?: “I don’t think it’s mental. It’s mental from an aspect of our approach, our expectation of what playoffs should look like and our expectation of how hard it is to win in the playoffs. I don’t think it’s mental in that Chicago is in our heads. I just think it solely relies on our mindset.”
What does this team need? “I think we get it – you get it through experience. You get it from the taste in your mouth that is left when you lose in a series like we did when our expectation inside this room was a lot higher than a second round series. As a said, you learn and gain experience but no and understand that for things to be different, we have to make it different.”
On his offseason: “I’m already on a plan to come back at full strength. Obviously I’m not quite there yet. There were days in between games when I wasn’t skating. I think that the one benefit of having all this time other than driving my brain mentally nuts by not playing will be that I get an opportunity to be 100 percent and fully ready to go next year. I felt like the first few games in St. Louis were tough. I hadn’t really played in three months – all year actually. So to come back in at the highest level of compete possible, just thrown into the fire it’s tough. But I felt as I gained each game, I got better and better.”
On his tough year: “It was mentally the hardest thing I’ve been a part of in my short career so far, and I learned a lot of what it takes to be a pro, and what this world is like, and now I just want to move on. I want to get out of that, and I want to make sure I’m contributing and playing the game the way I’m supposed to every single game, and that there are no questions asked and I just do what I have to without being asked. … Of course, it’s on you when you’re not playing. It’s obviously a little bit on me and how the season went. There were good parts of the season, for sure, where I played really well; and there are parts where it didn’t go as I wanted it to go. I just want to move on and become the player that’s really consistent.”
What needs to change about your game? “I have to make sure that I get into that, like the battle level. I think the battle level is there, and my mindset is right. I know now what it really takes and what I need to work on, which would be a lot of the work around the boards and stuff like that. I feel like overall, the game is moving to a speedier game, but that’s the important part that I need to work on, that stuff like playing the boards and those battles. That’s a big focus area, and obviously I need to make sure the speed is still there; so I need to keep working on that and excelling at that, too.”
How will you train for next season? “I train at the U. I really like my strength coach there, Cal Dietz, and he knows me really well and knows what I need. I’m going to have a talk with him soon here, and we’re going to go over a lot of things. It’s going to be everything. It’s not just one focus. But it’s about on-the-ice stuff. You can do so much in the gym, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be the best player on the boards. It’s a mindset, it’s something to prepare for and think about.”
That’s it for now.
I was truly humbled by the amount of thank you’s I received on Twitter and via email the past week, and I too wanted to thank each and every one of you (even MGala) for always coming back and reading my stuff.
I cannot get over how well so many Wild fans treat me in this market. It means a lot, and it’s just very much appreciated.
I hope you enjoyed our Star Tribune coverage this season. Talk to you when players report for training camp Sept. 17 (just kidding).