Phoenix’s Mike Smith is the lone legit No. 1 goalie set to become a free agent, but he expects a large payday. Roberto Luongo might be bought out by Vancouver, but it’s hard to imagine the Wild would be interested in a goalie who has struggled so mightily at Xcel Energy Center (3.56 GAA, .873 save percentage) that he hasn’t played there since October 2010.
In the trade market, Buffalo’s Ryan Miller has one year left on a deal that pays him $6.25 million. That could be too expensive. St. Louis might look to move either Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott, while Anaheim might look to trade Jonas Hiller or Viktor Fasth. There’s also Jonathan Bernier, the Los Angeles Kings backup who has eternally been considered another team’s future No. 1.
One of the best moves by the old Doug Risebrough-Tom Lynn-Tommy Thompson regime was landing Backstrom. In 2006, he was the first European free-agent signee.
Perhaps the Wild would consider that route again. There’s a 23-year-old named Antti Raanta who had a season for the ages in Finland. He backstopped his team, Assat Port, to the SM-liiga title with a 1.45 goals against average and .955 save percentage, which was good for the Jari Kurri Trophy — Finland’s equivalent to the Conn Smythe.
Maybe Raanta is the next Backstrom … or maybe he’s the next Dennis Endras.
Needed: goal scorers
From there, the Wild has to decide whether to re-sign veterans Matt Cullen or Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Bouchard, a 2002 first-round pick, likely played his last game with Minnesota, finishing with the second-most games in franchise history (565) and third-most points (347).
Cullen, 36, would love to come back, but at his age, it will depend solely on money and years.
“For sure, I know that could have been my last game as a Wild player,” Cullen said.
The Wild needs to get bigger and faster. It needs to improve offensively. The question is whether Fletcher will have the cap space to accomplish it.
Teams get two compliance buyouts over the next two offseasons. The Wild might try to use one on Dany Heatley. That would free $7.5 million in cap space. But he had season-ending shoulder surgery and teams can’t buy out injured players.
So that could be an issue. Fletcher might also dive into the trade market. That could include shopping players such as Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck, Tom Gilbert, Zenon Konopka and seldom-used Nate Prosser.
There are no easy answers, especially until cap space is freed. The reality is goals still don’t come easy to the Wild, and the Wild is going nowhere until that changes.
“We’ll never stop trying to improve our team from a personnel standpoint,” Yeo said after Thursday’s loss. “You always try to address your weaknesses. But we did improve [offensively]. We have to get better, there’s no question.”