With Zach Parise officially “week-to-week” because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee and fellow forwards Tyler Graovac and Justin Fontaine also hurt, the Wild is inches from the salary cap after Saturday’s NHL debut of Christoph Bertschy.
How close is the Wild from the $71.4 million ceiling?
“We’re a steak dinner for six at Manny’s away from the cap, so we’ve got lots of space as long as somebody doesn’t order the double-baked potato,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher joked. “We’ve got lots of space.”
Actually, one more injury and the Wild will have no choice but to invoke a long-term injury exception with Graovac or Fontaine so the team can spend over the cap and afford other players from American Hockey League affiliate Iowa. After Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay, the Wild reassigned Bertschy just to save a day or two of cap space.
In making the Parise news official, Fletcher said it was relatively “great news” because “all things considered in terms of knee injuries, it was the best-case scenario.”
Fletcher said the Wild will be careful with Parise no matter what Parise wants to do. Two years ago, Parise was supposed to miss two to three weeks because of a foot contusion. He missed one game.
Parise played hurt for 12 games to the point he could barely walk off the ice. Finally, the Wild shut him down for a month and 14 games because of a fractured foot.
“The thing with Zach is you’re managing the injury, and you’re also managing Zach,” Fletcher said. “I mean, Zach would probably want to play [Saturday], so I think we want to make sure that we do what’s right for Zach and for the team long-term.
“He’s such a great competitor. You saw it the other night. Most players would not have been able to come back, and he managed to come back and even then, the doctors had to say, ‘Listen, you’ve got to come out.’ It’s a long season.”
The Wild’s forward depth will be tested now.
“We have good depth, but players like Zach Parise are irreplaceable,” Fletcher said. “You don’t have a player in Iowa you can call up that can just put on Zach’s jersey and go out and play the same role.
“The important thing for us is we just have to get back to our identity. We have to play the right way, and I’m not sure we’ve played to that identity on a consistent basis this year, and this will give us an opportunity to refocus and hopefully play the right way and get back to the way we know how to try to win games here.”
It’s pretty clear Fletcher won’t magically be able to execute a trade if Parise is out long-term. The Wild doesn’t have a lot of tradeable assets, plus it is one of 15 teams that is either within $1 million of the cap ceiling or above the cap based on LTI or performance bonus cushions.
“It’s hard to make trades at the best of times because you’re trying to find a team that has what you need and they need to need what you have,” Fletcher said. “That’s hard enough never mind balancing out the dollars.
“But now it has to be a dollar-for-dollar trade as well. Some of the teams that are well below the cap are budget teams and are probably at their number. So as the season goes on and more of the salaries and dollars get paid, it gets a little bit easier. But you have to be very creative this time of year.
“I don’t exactly recall how it was last year, but I can’t believe there are 15 teams basically within a million of the cap at this time of the year. So we’re tight. It makes it more difficult.”
Fletcher also provided relatively good news regarding defenseman Nate Prosser’s back injury. He is day-to-day after being cross-checked by Nashville’s James Neal, the same Predators player who injured Parise and was called for charging Charlie Coyle.
“[Neal] was on fire that game,” Fletcher said sarcastically.