To our readers: Thank you for taking part in our Mailbag Monday this week. Star Tribune beat writers received many questions about the teams and leagues we cover, and each writer selected a couple of questions to answer. Look for a question and answer about each team in Wednesday’s Star Tribune.
Q: Is there any chance that Joel Eriksson Ek will be given a chance to center the second line? It seems like they have tried everybody but our 2nd best center (my opinion of course). -- @dudeduderman
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Eriksson Ek in a prominent role up the middle whenever the Wild resumes playing. Actually, he was centering the top line in the last game played March 8 in Anaheim since he was working with wingers Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala. Eric Staal was absent that game (he didn’t make the road trip due to the death of his father-in-law), and it’s likely Staal would move ahead of Eriksson Ek on the depth chart. But Eriksson Ek’s play this season has certainly proved he can handle more responsibility. Previously, it looked like Eriksson Ek would make the most impact on the defensive side of the puck and that continues to be a strength of his. He routinely faces some of the toughest matchups and has done well shutting down the opposition’s best. But this season he’s started to deliver more offensively, previewing a balanced style that would merit him climbing up the lineup. Already in 2019-20, Eriksson Ek set career highs in goals (8), assists (21) and points (29). He’d also been chipping in more as the importance of the games increased, with eight of his points coming in the last 16 games. The 23-year-old had his first career multi-goal game Feb.7, and his three game-winning goals since Feb.7 were tied for the second-most in the NHL in that span.
Q: How much money does the Wild have for free agency? When does free agency start? -- @blurapala
The free agent signing period typically starts July 1, but it’s unclear if that will remain the case this summer since the NHL has paused its season during the coronavirus pandemic. If play resumes, it’s likely free agency gets bumped back to a later date. In its most recent update issued Monday, the NHL said decisions regarding the schedule and league calendar will be made in conjunction with the NHL Players’ Association. How much spending flexibility the Wild will have for free agency depends on what next season’s salary cap will be, and that’s also up in the air. Before the league suspended action, the salary cap was projected to increase from $81.5 million to anywhere between $84 million and $88.2 million. But now that the league has come to a standstill, its future is a mystery and that includes salary-cap parameters. As it stands now, though, the Wild has an approximately $65 million cap hit for 2020-21, according to capfriendly.com. Even if the cap flexed only to $84 million, that’s more than $18 million in flexibility. Mostly everyone on the current roster is signed through next season; captain Mikko Koivu and forward Alex Galchenyuk are among the unrestricted free agents, while forwards Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway are two of the restricted free agents.