Last November when Zach Parise sprained a knee, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher joked, “We’re a steak dinner for six at Manny’s away from the cap, so we’ve got lots of space as long as somebody doesn’t order the double-baked potato.”
A year later, the Wild is in a tricky spot where it can afford the salad bar at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub but maybe not a side of chicken dumpling soup.
As management was busy crunching numbers to see if there’s a way the Wild can afford within the confines of the salary cap to not skate at least one player short Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres, the team’s lack of bodies during Monday’s practice left the coach admittedly “grumpy.”
Only 14 skaters — four fewer than the gameday number — took part because of injuries, illness and serious salary-cap issues. His team down to eight forwards, defenseman Nate Prosser had to skate as a winger for the second time in a week simply to give the Wild three forward lines.
That then meant the Wild practiced with five defensemen.
“I was really grumpy,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Coaches like to have really good practices. And I know the reasons why we only have eight forwards and six defensemen out there. It doesn’t make practice any easier if you want to keep getting better, especially early on in the season.
“But right now these 11 days [in which the Wild plays two games] … are days for you to get better by being able to practice. And when you’re not able to practice full-bore because of numbers, it’s sort of irritating.”
The Wild was four forwards short because Tyler Graovac and Christoph Bertschy were reassigned to Iowa of the AHL after Saturday’s victory over Dallas to save a few days of cap space, Chris Stewart was ill and Zac Dalpe is hurt.
Boudreau said Dalpe could miss “multiple weeks” because of a lower-body injury. According to sources, Dalpe underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Monday.
Parise and defenseman Marco Scandella already were deemed “week-to-week” because of, according to sources, foot and ankle injuries, respectively. However, both players think they’re ahead of schedule, Boudreau said.
Boudreau also said center Erik Haula, whom the Wild hoped would be ready to return Tuesday from a foot injury, is another week to 10 days away.
The Wild is $1.476 million from the $73 million ceiling. That’s roughly the equivalent of two call-ups, which will occur Tuesday morning.
But the Wild was missing four forwards Monday, so the team really needs Stewart to play.
“The way our situation is, we sent him home,” Boudreau said. “We didn’t want anybody else to catch anything, so hopefully it’s the 24-hour variety.”
As for a fourth forward, the Wild could reassign Joel Eriksson Ek and recall a cheaper forward, place a player on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) to gain salary-cap relief or play a forward short.
The Wild was in touch with NHL Central Registry on Monday regarding LTIR. To place a player on LTIR, he must miss 10 games and 24 days. Dalpe and Victor Bartley (the Wild is being charged $366,000 for the defenseman’s training camp injury) should be enough to allow the Wild to recall Graovac, Bertschy and maybe Jordan Schroeder, named AHL Player of the Week on Monday for getting four goals and seven points in three games.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” Boudreau said. “I mean we’re obviously going to call up a couple guys for [Tuesday], and hopefully some of our injured guys are a little quicker on the mend than initially thought. Our goal is to get through [Tuesday] and then hopefully by Saturday [at Colorado] we’ve got some of the walking wounded back.”
Regardless, it’s clear the Wild will have to manage its cap situation if it continues to endure short-term injuries. Putting players on regular injured reserve (out at least seven days) doesn’t provide cap relief.
Asked if he’s concerned the Wild could be short a player against the Sabres, Boudreau said: “Listen, I was in the East Coast League where we dressed 13 players a game, and in the American League you dress 17 all the time. Whatever is thrown our way, it’ll be a great challenge. If we dress 20, it’ll be great.”