VANCOUVER – Who could be populating the Wild’s roster a few years from now became a little clearer at the NHL draft, the byproduct of a robust haul that added five forwards, two goalies and a defenseman to a pipeline that’s grown sluggishly in the not-too-distant past.
But the weekend didn’t inject any new faces into next season’s lineup.
And while other opportunities to maneuver are looming, how the Wild plans to evolve, if at all, remains to be seen.
“I’m really happy with it,” General Manager Paul Fenton said of the team’s current look. “But it doesn’t mean anything. I’m not going to say whether I want change or not.”
The Wild wasn’t unusual in leaving its NHL roster alone while the league was huddled inside Rogers Arena in Vancouver for the draft; most teams did.
After just one trade involving picks was executed Friday, only five deals involving NHLers were consummated Saturday — with the most significant transactions the ones that sent defenseman P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators to the New Jersey Devils and center Patrick Marleau from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Uncertainty surrounding the salary cap (the ceiling wasn’t set at $81.5 million until late Saturday afternoon) seemed to be contributing to the inactivity, but Fenton said he was already comfortable with the Wild’s cushion (approximately $19 million) before the parameters were set.
It looked like the draft could be the perfect backdrop to grow that flexibility — and create a roster spot — by unloading winger Jason Zucker since a return could include one or more draft picks. But the viability of a trade is now unclear.
“I’ve explored trades with several of our players,” Fenton said. “It’s unfortunate that Jason’s name got mentioned. There could’ve been other players that have been mentioned, but it hasn’t gone that way. That’s the nature of our business. For Jason, he’s a part of our team. I don’t plan on getting rid of Jason unless the right thing [comes] to me. That’s how it should be stated. I listen to offers and I make offers just like everybody else does. It doesn’t mean that he’s pigeonholed into something. I love Jason as a player, and he’ll be a great fit for us when he comes back for us.”
What the draft did accomplish was its purpose.
After adding winger Matt Boldy in the first round Friday, the Wild made seven selections Saturday — mostly forwards who the team believes can pivot between center and wing. But goaltending was also a focus.
“The goal was to try and get some size, some skill,” Fenton said.
Team brass also exited Vancouver with ample time to still tinker; interviews with impending unrestricted free agents can start Sunday, with the signing period opening July 1, and Fenton plans to engage with players. Qualifying offers for restricted free agents are due Tuesday.
“I’d love to be active in it, to some degree,” Fenton said. “But that’s determined by the players as well and what the opportunities are.”
Fenton did chat with defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s agent, Eustace King, in Vancouver, in what Fenton called “a beginning” to underscore the team’s desire to extend Spurgeon, whose four-year, $20.75 million contract expires after next season. And the team agreed to a two-year deal with defenseman Brad Hunt believed to be for $700,000 per year at the NHL level, a source said. Hunt slotted into the lineup nicely earlier this year after a midseason pickup.
More things could solidify in the coming weeks, but at least some of the potential of next year’s group seems to rest with the incumbents — how defenseman Matt Dumba and captain Mikko Koivu recover from season-ending injuries, unknowns to some extent in coach Bruce Boudreau’s eyes.
Boudreau is expecting the team’s youth to improve, but he’ll try to stir progress by adjusting the team’s style of play — a decision reflective of personnel and how the league is trending. He also wants consistency in lines from the start.
Motivation from missing out on the playoffs could be another factor, Boudreau pointed out.
These intangibles don’t provide much insight into what to expect from the Wild next season, but they’re what’s available to gauge the team until more roster clarity arrives.
“There are things that happen when you’re talking and when you’re looking to possibly get involved in free agency that just happen that way,” Fenton said. “I’m not going to say one way or another if I plan on making changes.”