Every priority the Wild targeted in free agency was addressed once the NHL’s signing period opened Sunday.
The team added size to the third defensive pairing, tweaked the fourth line and bolstered its organizational depth.
None of these acquisitions signaled the jolt that’s been expected to help purge the Wild of its playoff problems after three straight first-round exits, but they are revealing.
It’s now clearer the type of lineup the team could ice to strive for progress next season, and this maneuvering has also kept the possibility of an impactful change arriving via trade alive.
“If we go into the season like that with the acquisitions and the character-type signings we’ve made, then I’m OK with it,” General Manager Paul Fenton said. “If it makes sense to improve us, then I’m certainly going to look at that.”
Defenseman Greg Pateryn signed a three-year, $6.75 million contract, a right shot the Wild coveted for his stature (6-3 and 225 pounds). Pateryn is known for his defense and has the mobility to help transition the puck up ice.
“He defends with his stick,” Fenton said. “When he does make contact with people, he eliminates them.”
Eric Fehr looks primed to anchor the fourth line after signing a one-year, $1 million deal, as the Wild wanted a right-handed center to help on draws.
Matt Hendricks, who’s from Blaine, could also fill that role or help on the wing; he agreed to a one-year, $700,000 contract after spending last season with the Jets. The 37-year-old was also appealing to the Wild for his leadership and character, attributes that seem to suit the 13th forward spot he could occupy.
“Being back in Minnesota, it’s obviously great for my friends and family,” Hendricks said. “Looking beyond that, it’s a very good hockey team. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Burnsville native J.T. Brown is another option on wing after the Wild landed him with a two-year, $1.375 million commitment. The Wild wanted a right shot with energy, and it’s hoping Brown will be able to chip in offense by crashing the crease.
“You do kind of get a little more of the gritty play in the West more so than the East,” said Brown, who spent his entire NHL career in Tampa Bay until he was claimed off waivers last season by Anaheim. “That’s how I like to play.”
Goalie Andrew Hammond secured a one-year, two-way contract that will pay him $650,000 in the NHL and $300,000 in the American Hockey League; he will challenge Alex Stalock for the backup job. The Wild also acquired defenseman Matt Bartkowski on a one-year, two-way contract and forward Mike Liambas on a two-year, two-way contract.
Former Wild center Matt Cullen signed a one-year deal with the Penguins.
After also re-signing defenseman Nick Seeler to a three-year, $2.175 million contract and officially buying out winger Tyler Ennis, the Wild has nearly $13.3 million in cap space if it keeps winger Jordan Greenway in the NHL and puts winger Luke Kunin in the minors.
That cushion should be more than enough to accommodate new deals for restricted free agents Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba while also giving the Wild a little extra room under the $79.5 million cap.
Fenton expects to reconnect with both camps after talking to each at the draft, and he also continues to engage in trade talks.
“None of our contracts are really out of whack,” he said. “You want to have room. You want to have the ability to make some changes when that presents itself.”