Chuck Fletcher found the expansion presentation and the potential dynamics that could go into an expansion draft interesting at last week’s Board of Governors meeting. But the most important thing the Wild general manager learned was the projected salary-cap figure for next season.
With defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba and left winger Jason Zucker in the final year of their contracts before restricted free agency, Fletcher needed to get an idea of how much next year’s cap ceiling would increase.
Considering the volatility of the Canadian dollar right now (it’s worth less than 73 cents to the U.S. dollar), the NHL’s $74.5 million estimation (a little more than a $3 million increase on this season) was a pleasant surprise.
“Every dollar counts,” Fletcher said. “It’s a December projection. Things can still change, so I think we have to be a bit cautious and maybe give ourselves a little wiggle room. But we’re going to do everything we can to put the best team on the ice.
“[Spurgeon, Dumba and Zucker] are good players, but it’s a challenge every year. We’re a cap team. There’s probably 15 teams in the league that have similar challenges to what we have.”
Barring trades or buyouts, the Wild has 13 players signed past this season at the tune of nearly $59 million. Assuming a $74.5 million cap, that gives the Wild about $15.5 million to fill 10 roster spots, including the potential re-signings of those free agents. Considering the Wild will leave “wiggle room,” that’s not a ton of space.
The Wild has started preliminary talks with at least Spurgeon and Zucker. The Wild specifically needs to figure out their price points and potential frameworks.
“We’re not in any hurry to get something done,” Fletcher said. “We just want to make the right deal, and whenever that happens, it happens. It’s hard. The information we got [last] week is a little bit helpful, and maybe it’ll help the process a little bit more, but there’s a whole host of things we’re looking at right now.
“All three of those guys are good players, and we hope they’re in a Wild uniform for a long time.”
Goalie Darcy Kuemper, who shut out San Jose on Saturday night and is 2-0-2 with a .946 save percentage (two regulation goals, two overtime goals) and a 1.12 goals-against average in place of the injured Devan Dubnyk, can also become a restricted free agent. But it seems likely the Wild will consider trading him after this season with Dubnyk in the first of a six-year deal.
Of the potential restricted free agents, Spurgeon, 26, is arguably the most pressing. He is one of the Wild’s most important defensemen in all facets — offensively, defensively and on special teams. This season, he is tied for first among Wild blue-liners with Ryan Suter with four goals, ranks second with 16 points, second in ice time per game (22 minutes, 16 seconds) and first with 62 blocked shots.
During the Wild’s current 4-0-3 run in which it has allowed three goals in the past 18 regulation periods, Spurgeon has been at his best, especially when it comes to getting the puck out of the defensive zone and in transition.
Analytically, he’s also been the Wild’s best defenseman, according to war-on-ice.com, since the start of 2013-14.
Spurgeon has a “relative shot-attempts percentage” of 4 percent. That’s the highest of any of the defensemen on the team (only Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville have made more of an impact, although Spurgeon has played significantly more minutes).
So essentially, when Spurgeon is not on the ice, the Wild’s average shot-attempts percentage drops four points.
Spurgeon’s relative scoring chances-for percentage is .512, the highest among all Wild defensemen (Zucker, Parise and Koivu have higher percentages overall). Spurgeon has been on the ice for 230 more Wild scoring chances than against.
“How we want to play the game, how we execute, how we get up ice, the speed we want to play with, [Spurgeon] helps us get to that type of game,” coach Mike Yeo said.
Suter is signed through 2024-25 at a $7.538 million annual average value, Jonas Brodin through 2020-21 at a $4.166 AAV and Marco Scandella through 2019-20 at a $4 million AAV.
Asked if the Wild can afford to also re-sign Spurgeon long term (one assumes his AAV would need to be higher than $4 million), Fletcher said: “Sure. There’s no reason why we can’t. It’s about putting the best team on the ice. We have to see how some of these players [presumably Dumba, Gustav Olofsson and Mike Reilly] continue to develop. The strength of our team in my opinion at least is our defensemen, and team defense in general, but the mobility of our defensive corps is one of our strengths.”
Re-signing Spurgeon though could spur an eventual trade, maybe of one of its young forwards signed long term, because there’s only so many players that can fit in the salary-cap pie.
Spurgeon’s doing his best not to think of any of this.
“I just told my agent not to tell me anything,” he said, laughing. “I don’t want it to be a distraction. He doesn’t talk to me, and I haven’t talked to him about it. I just want to go about my business.
“But this is my home. My family loves it, I love it here and I’d love to stay here.”