In the three months since the Wild last played a game, there’s been plenty of activity within the organization.
The makeup of the front office changed, depth players have been re-signed and the pipeline was refurbished with a solid class of draft picks.
What has remained mostly unaltered, though, is the roster — the one that missed out on the playoffs for the first time in seven years and closed out the season stuck in a miserable scoring slump.
But an opportunity to tweak the lineup is approaching.
Free agency opens for business at 11 a.m. Monday, and the Wild has the chance to be a buyer in the NHL’s summer spending summit.
“We’ve spoken to a lot of guys with the intention of signing some guys,” General Manager Paul Fenton said. “It’s like going into the candy store. Sometimes you can only get so many pieces of candy. We’re trying to identify the pieces we think can help us here.”
The Wild currently has approximately $19 million in cap space, according to capfriendly.com.
That number could grow if the team sheds salary in a trade, perhaps finally executing a deal that includes winger Jason Zucker or moving out a depth defender such as Greg Pateryn after re-signing Brad Hunt on Monday. But it will also shrink once the team locks up its restricted free agents, a group that includes forwards Joel Eriksson Ek, Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato. The team didn’t issue a qualifying offer to winger Pontus Aberg, making him an unrestricted free agent.
“It’s an ongoing discussion with their agents,” Fenton said of the team’s RFAs. “We’ve already had initial contact. We’ve talked about what things look like with both term and money, so our anticipation is we’ll be able to continue those talks and get them done.”
After addressing those players, and without trading any contracts, the Wild could still have around $10 million to spend — enough flexibility to shop.
“I have room to add,” Fenton said.
This year’s free-agent class is headlined by elite talent such as goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, winger Artemi Panarin and center Matt Duchene, and the rest of the field is ripe with experienced scorers and serviceable bottom-six options.
The Wild likely will focus on available forwards, although Fenton declined to specify how he’s looking to improve the roster. Beefing up an offense that ranked 27th in the NHL last season is obviously one way to try to bridge the gap to a playoff spot.
Based on who’s projected to be under contract for next season, the Wild has enough centers but could still look to bolster that position.
What seems more prominent on the team’s radar is right wing, since Luke Kunin and J.T. Brown are the only right-shot forwards under contract for 2019-20.
During the window to interview pending unrestricted free agents, the Wild reached out to Joe Pavelski’s camp, a source said.
Pavelski, 34, is a proven finisher who’s eclipsed 30 goals five times in his 13-year career — including last season when he registered 38 and totaled 64 points. The current Sharks captain is from Wisconsin and coming off a five-year, $30 million contract.
Another candidate is gritty power forward Wayne Simmonds. His average ice time and goal production (17) sagged last season, but he scored 24 in 2017-18 and had 31 in 2016-17. The 30-year-old’s last deal carried an average annual value of $3.975 million.
Some possibilities for lower in the lineup could include Ryan Hartman and Alex Chiasson, who buried 22 goals in 2018-19 with the Edmonton Oilers mostly on Connor McDavid’s wing. Chiasson is primed for a significant raise from the $650,000 he earned last season.
Other right wingers available are Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly, Joonas Donskoi, Brandon Tanev and Mats Zuccarello.
Although he lines up at left wing, Anders Lee might appeal to the Wild. The Edina native posted 28 goals and 51 points last season while assuming the New York Islanders’ captaincy after John Tavares departed for Toronto.
Even though the Wild has few right shots on its roster, it could shift lefties such as Fiala, Donato and Zucker over to the right if it doesn’t acquire outside help. But the team will embark on free agency with targets in mind.
Fenton didn’t say if any prospective additions made a visit to the Twin Cities, but he explained talks dive into the team’s current setup and how a player could fit into that structure to help the Wild win.
“You prepare. You present,” Fenton said. “You do everything, and you’re hoping that they pick up.”