With the Wild strapped for salary-cap space as it looks to re-sign goalie Devan Dubnyk and center Mikael Granlund, veteran Matt Cooke, the oldest skater on the team, was placed on waivers Thursday for the purpose of buying out the final year of his contract.
If Cooke clear waivers, the Wild will owe him two-thirds of his $3 million salary split into $1 million installments the next two seasons.
Most importantly, the Wild would be charged only a $500,000 cap hit for Cooke next season as opposed to $2.5 million. This would give the Wild roughly $12 million in space this offseason. The Wild would also be on the hook for a $1 million cap hit in 2016-17.
“In order to give our team more salary cap flexibility for the upcoming season, we needed to make this difficult decision,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement.
If Cooke clears waivers, he can talk to other teams next week and sign elsewhere July 1.
The 36-year-old, who signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract in 2013, was limited to 29 games this past season because of a hip injury and sports hernia surgery.
In 111 games with the Wild, Cooke scored 14 goals and 38 points and was suspended seven games during the 2014 playoffs for kneeing Colorado’s Tyson Barrie.
Dubnyk, who started 38 consecutive games for the Wild during a second half in which the team needed to be flawless to make the playoffs, has not been re-signed despite the fact he can begin talking to other teams Thursday during the NHL’s free-agent interview period.
Not only is there a large gap between what Dubnyk is seeking (north of $5 million per season on a long-term deal) and what the Wild is looking to pay on a three- or four-year deal, but there has been little to no communication between the parties since they met in Buffalo, N.Y., earlier this month.
Fletcher plans to meet face-to-face with Dubnyk on Tuesday in Las Vegas. Dubnyk will be there as a finalist for the Vezina and Masterton trophies, and Fletcher will be there for the GMs meetings.
Fletcher also will meet with Dubnyk’s agent, Mike Liut, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday. The NHL draft is in South Florida on June 26 and 27.
Dubnyk, currently on a golf outing with other NHLers in Ireland, gave up 68 goals in 39 regular-season starts for the Wild, won 27 games, had a .936 save percentage and went 15-2-1 on the road. But the Wild seems concerned to commit long-term after seeing Dubnyk for only 3½ months and after he faltered in the second round of the playoffs.
Other goalie options
If the Wild doesn’t re-sign Dubnyk, it’ll likely be in the market for a goalie because of the struggles last season of youngster Darcy Kuemper and oft-injured Niklas Backstrom.
San Jose’s Antti Niemi and Calgary’s Kari Ramo are free agents.
Goalies on the trading block include the Rangers’ Cam Talbot, Vancouver’s Eddie Lack, Ottawa’s Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson and Chicago’s Antti Raanta.
U’s Reilly narrows list
Highly sought former Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly, a Hobey Baker finalist and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year who became a free agent Tuesday, cut down his list to a few teams, believed to be the Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins. It sounds as if the Wild and Blackhawks, considered the original front-runners, were neck and neck.
He can officially sign starting July 1.
Reilly, whose dad, Mike, is a minority investor of the Wild, was expected to talk to the team’s coaches, including head coach Mike Yeo, this week.
Reilly, 21, led all NCAA defensemen and the Gophers as a whole with 42 points this past season.
As for Granlund, a restricted free agent who had only 39 points in 68 games, Fletcher has talked to his agent, Todd Diamond, a couple times in the past two weeks about a short-term deal.
“I wouldn’t say we’re way off,” Diamond said. “It’s like a marathon. The last half-mile is the most difficult.”