DALLAS – In the month since he joined the Wild, General Manager Paul Fenton has inspected the organization by surveying coaches, scouts and front-office personnel.
"I've told him what I thought it would take to win," coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Amid this preparation, Fenton has been able to reach conclusions of how he'd like to rework the team's roster but he hasn't publicly specified them. Part of the reason is they might never come to fruition because maneuvering during the offseason can be dependent on another team.
But it's also possible Fenton's ambitions evolve as he learns more about the group he recently inherited.
So while it's feasible the Wild begins its Fenton-led makeover this weekend at the NHL draft in Dallas, a typical backdrop for summer shuffling that starts Friday with the first round, it could take time for a finished product to emerge.
"I'm not going to make a change just to make a change," Fenton said. "That's the first rule I think as a hockey person is just don't make a change to just make a change. Let's analyze everything, and maybe I get more information as I go along here that tells me why I want to keep certain people."
Patience, however, shouldn't be confused with a conservative approach.
It wouldn't make sense for the Wild to return the same lineup after cutting ties with Chuck Fletcher and ushering in Fenton, a decision that reinforces a new direction. Actually, a significant revision aimed at helping the team achieve staying power in the playoffs feels logical.
Free agency could be a catalyst for that, but what seems more likely is the Wild finds its spark in the trade market — more specifically via a hockey swap that includes bona fide roster players. It could then use the free agent signing period to fill out its roster by acquiring depth up the middle and for the third defensive pairing.
The team could opt to unload for future assets, like draft picks, to create salary-cap space to pursue an enticing free agent, but a trade that yields immediate help could make the most impact.
And the cost for that may be a core piece.
Subtracting from the back end looks unlikely unless the return fills the hole created. A top-four featuring Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba is one of the Wild's assets and with Suter on the mend from a major ankle injury, prying away a proven commodity seems risky.
Of course, offsetting that potential absence with a competent alternative would help and the price tag for a new Dumba contract is unclear; the Wild expected to meet with his camp at the draft.
Still, Dumba appears more valuable in the mix — especially after the 23-year-old right shot registered career highs in goals (14), assists (36) and points (50) last season. He's also three seasons away from unrestricted free agency.
Candidates, then, look to be up front, and Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle could stir intrigue.
Zucker is coming off his best season to date, as he tallied a career-high 33 goals, but he disappeared in the playoffs. Like Dumba, he's a restricted free agent due for a new deal and if that cost is too steep, the Wild may have to move him. His agent and the Wild also were scheduled to talk at the draft.
What might make Niederreiter and Coyle more interesting is they come with set terms.
Niederreiter has four seasons left on a five-year, $26.25 million deal, while Coyle is under contract for the next two seasons at a $3.2 million cap hit. Both experienced an injury-riddled 2017-18, and neither matched the offensive potential they flashed in the past. But beefy, net-crashing wingers who have a knack for scoring 20 goals (Niederreiter) and sizable forwards who can play center and wing (Coyle), are coveted and could fetch the Wild younger options. The current youth on the roster is probably safe from a transaction.
Partners for these types of deals can be teams seeking to trade an impending RFA due for a hefty raise or teams wanting to change up their look and/or get out from under a cumbersome contract by parting with an established NHLer.
And players who appear to fit those descriptions could be trade bait this summer; Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly, who carries a $7.5 million cap hit, is stirring interest around the league, while winger Jeff Skinner could be shipped out as the Hurricanes search for improvement. Teammate Elias Lindholm is an RFA, and he could command more than his previous $2.7 million cap hit. Fellow forward Kevin Hayes (Rangers) is another RFA, and he's poised for a spike in pay.
Fenton has no expectation for how busy the Wild will be this weekend, but the team will explore its options.
With the salary cap set at $79.5 million, the Wild has almost $12 million in wiggle room. That number could go up even more if the team elected to buy out a contract.
Clarity on whether the Wild goes this route could emerge after the draft.
That's when it should also become clearer how far along the Wild's transformation is.
"It's going to be a process. There's no question," Fenton said. "It's not a quick solution by any means. But maybe at the same time, somebody can jump out at you and make an impression. For me, it's going each day and dealing with each situation correctly to make the correct decision for us."