Although the Wild hasn’t utilized it this offseason, the trade market is still expected to unleash the most meaningful makeover on a team that’s been poised for a face-lift ever since it stalled again in the first round of the playoffs in April.
Free agency is more likely to help the Wild fill holes lower on its depth chart, and with the NHL signing period opening at 11 a.m. Sunday, those tweaks could be the first wave of change to hit the roster this summer under new General Manager Paul Fenton.
“We think we can add some pieces here that I think will solidify our lineup,” Fenton said.
Look for the Wild to target help for the fourth line, including at center, a right shot for the third defensive pairing and a veteran goaltender who challenges backup Alex Stalock and strengthens the organization’s depth. Beefing up the options in the minors is also common this time of the year, and management has had a week to explore what’s feasible by interviewing free agents.
“Talked to an awful lot of players,” Fenton said. “Talked about the fit, the pieces. I think we’re in a good position to hopefully land a few guys here.”
An experienced center such as Eric Fehr might make sense for the Wild. Same with former Wild pivot Kyle Brodziak and Tim Schaller, while Drew Stafford, Tommy Wingels and Alex Chiasson are among the bottom-six wingers available. Most of these forwards are right shots, and all have played special teams.
Greg Pateryn is expected to sign with the Wild, a source said. The 28-year-old skated in 73 games with the Stars last season, killing penalties and averaging 19 minutes, 37 seconds in ice time while tallying 13 points and finishing a plus-6. Contract details were unclear; Pateryn is coming off a two-year, $1.6 million contract.
The goalie pool includes Anton Khudobin, Ondrej Pavelec and Chad Johnson.
Forward Daniel Winnik is unlikely to return and is set to become a free agent, while it’s unclear whether 41-year-old center Matt Cullen plans to continue playing or retire.
Winger Jason Zucker and defenseman Matt Dumba are restricted free agents. Fenton called contract talks “a work in progress.” Both players have arbitration rights, and the deadline to file for arbitration is Thursday.
“After July 1, we’ll both reach out to each other and see where we are,” Fenton said.
The Wild could receive an influx of cap space when the free-agent market opens after placing winger Tyler Ennis on unconditional waivers Saturday.
If Ennis clears Sunday, it will trigger a buyout of his contract — a move that would add around $2.4 million in flexibility, putting the Wild about $13 million shy of the $79.5 million ceiling.
Ennis managed just eight goals and 22 points in 73 games last season, as he struggled to settle into the lineup after an offseason trade from the Sabres — a cost-saving deal for the Wild at the time.
What seems more probable this summer is the team pursues a trade that shakes up its look after continued struggles to get past the first round of the playoffs.
“Right now we’re looking at all different scenarios,” Fenton said. “If something makes sense for us and for the other team, then we’ll certainly go down that road.”