There was a moment during a slow Wednesday when Jason Zucker signing a two-year, $4 million deal with the Wild was the biggest news in the hockey world.
That all changed in the afternoon.
In roughly an hour’s time, Edmonton traded left wing Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson; Nashville and Montreal consummated a Shea Weber-for-P.K. Subban blockbuster; and Steven Stamkos re-signed with Tampa Bay.
If you include the Wild having to play the Predators at least four times a season, all three of those moves potentially affect Minnesota.
It’s believed that the Wild has had ongoing trade talks with the Oilers involving center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Right-shot Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, Nugent-Hopkins’ junior teammate, was the name Edmonton was rumored to have interest in, but it’s uncertain if the Oilers trading Hall for a right-shot potential No. 1 defenseman kills any potential of Nugent-Hopkins being dealt. It seems the Oilers decided to trade Hall because they are zeroing in on signing left wing Milan Lucic when free agency opens Friday.
Stamkos returning to the team he captained at $8.5 million per season for eight years could also implicate the cost of free agents Kyle Okposo, David Backes, Loui Eriksson and others.
The Wild has at least shown interest in Okposo and Backes during the free-agent courting period, but so have two of the teams that wanted to sign Stamkos, Detroit and Buffalo.
Stamkos re-signing likely ups the prices of all the top free agents available. Okposo, for instance, could command a term in the six-year range and a salary in the $6 million per season range.
It’s uncertain if that would be too pricey for the Wild, which is looking for a scoring right winger but only has $12 million of cap space to do all its offseason business.
With Stamkos off the market, Okposo’s .88 points per game the past three seasons is highest of any potential free agent.
Backes, 32, is also seeking a long-term deal, but it’s unclear how many years the Wild would be willing to offer the hard-nosed veteran.
That could be why the Wild has contacted veteran center Eric Staal regarding a short-term deal. The 31-year-old has had multiple conversations with the Wild, who appear to be near the top of his list.
“There’s mutual interest and consideration that there is a fit with Minnesota,” said Staal’s agent, Rick Curran. “We’ve had conversation and I would also suggest Eric was extremely impressed.”
Staal, 71 games short of 1,000 and the second overall pick in 2003, has posted declining numbers since his days as a 30-plus-goal, 70-to-100-point guy with Carolina. The 2006 Stanley Cup winner scored 13 goals between the Hurricanes and the New York Rangers last season, but he has scored 325 goals and has 781 career points.
“I feel like he’s a guy that really has got a lot to prove,” former Hurricanes teammate Matt Cullen, who hopes to re-sign with Pittsburgh, said Wednesday. “He’s going to play with some attitude. I think he still has that fire, and to me, if he still has that, he’s got the physical skill set to be a difference maker. I have a lot of confidence that he’s going to have a big year next year, I really do.”
It’s unclear if the Wild is looking at Staal as a potential stopgap the next few years or merely as an available option if it can’t trade for a center before Friday or sign someone like Backes.
As for Zucker, 24, the bridge deal gives him a chance to get his game back on track after a tough season. On pace for a 30-goal season two years ago if not for a broken clavicle, he scored 13 goals and had 10 assists in 71 games last season.
“As far as my standards go, that was not a good season at all last year, but I’ll say I completely forgot about it and moved on,” said Zucker, who gets married next month.
“I’m already well ahead of where I’ve been as far as an offseason goes and we’re a month into it. I’m really excited to spend the next three months to make sure I’m completely ready to go and make sure I’m the best player I’ve ever been.”