Monday was a busy day in the office for Wild brass.
While Chuck Fletcher, the Wild’s general manager, and Brent Flahr, the Wild’s senior vice president of hockey operations, called agents on the second day of the courting period before the opening of free agency Saturday, the team also finalized defenseman Gustav Olofsson’s new two-year, $1.45 million contract and cut ties, at least for now, with defenseman Christian Folin.
Even though the Wild didn’t deal a defenseman, presumably Marco Scandella, over draft weekend, all the team’s activities Monday indicate a trade could be around the corner.
In calls Monday, Fletcher and Flahr expressed interest in several potential free agents, mostly players who could fill fourth-line left wing and center openings, as well as compete with Alex Stalock for the backup goalie position.
However, the Wild has only about $12.5 million in salary cap space with 16 players signed (including Olofsson, Stalock and young forward Joel Eriksson Ek). Restricted free agents Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter could eat $10 million of that, so the Wild still probably needs to ship off a contract to create enough room to sign free agents comfortably.
Scandella has three years left on his contract at $4 million annually.
It’s believed some left wingers who interest the Wild include four-time Stanley Cup champion Chris Kunitz and Blaine native Matt Hendricks, as well as perhaps Scottie Upshall. Some who might fill the fourth-line center spot include three-time Cup champ Matt Cullen, whom coach Bruce Boudreau respects, and veterans Brian Boyle, Nate Thompson and Dominic Moore.
Cullen, a former Wild center fresh off winning his second championship in a row with Pittsburgh, was heavily leaning toward retirement in the days following his latest Cup win. However, he instructed his agent to at least listen to what teams have in mind.
If Cullen decides to play, he’d return to Pittsburgh or once again likely only consider a return to his hometown Wild. The Wild showed some interest early last summer until deciding to save the role for Tyler Graovac and Eriksson Ek.
One potential issue: Cullen, 40, doesn’t know for certain yet if he’s ready to commit himself to a summer of training for a 20th season. If that’s the case Saturday, the Penguins probably could wait on his decision. The Wild probably couldn’t because of the risk of losing its chance to sign another centerman.
There are a number of goalie options, including Mike Condon, Anders Nilsson, Chad Johnson, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason and Antti Niemi. But money’s an issue and Stalock is going to be given every chance to make the team, which could take the Wild out of the running for a coveted goalie such as Condon.
As for the left-shot Olofsson, his contract is a one-way deal with a $725,000 cap hit. He’ll have the inside track to make the team and arguably make Scandella more expendable.
As for Folin, the Wild has interest in re-signing him, but only if it’s a two-way contract. Had the Wild tendered him a qualifying offer, Folin could have filed for arbitration in pursuit of a one-way contract. On Saturday, the Winnipeg Jets re-signed defenseman Ben Chiarot to a two-year, $2.8 million contract. The Wild was worried Folin could receive an arbitration award similar to that $1.4 million cap hit, a price that just isn’t doable.
Folin’s departure leaves a void on the right side. The Wild could re-sign potential unrestricted free agent Nate Prosser or look to sign another free agent, preferably of the rugged variety. That might include Roman Polak or Dan Girardi.