There was no #PariseWatch, #VanekWatch or anything close for the Wild on Wednesday, the first day of NHL free agency.
Three familiar faces were re-signed, the Mike Reilly deal became official, and some depth players were added to the American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa.
The biggest news of the day was the Wild avoiding any risk of an offer sheet tendered to Mikael Granlund by re-signing its first-line center to a two-year, $6 million contract.
“I don’t think anybody anticipates Granlund being an eight-goal, 40-point guy for the rest of his career,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “He’s going to, I think, take off here over the next two years.”
The Wild brought back defenseman Nate Prosser with a two-year, $1.25 million contract and winger Ryan Carter with a one-year, $625,000 contract. Their $625,000 salary cap hits are $50,000 more than the NHL minimum salary.
Reilly, the former Gophers defenseman who was sought leaguewide as a free agent, also officially drove to team headquarters. He signed a two-year, $1.85 million contract. With potential performance bonuses of up to $1.1 million per year, Reilly’s cap hit is $2.025 million.
He called it a “dream come true” and “unbelievable feeling.”
The 21-year-old, who led all NCAA defensemen and the Gophers as a whole in scoring last season with 42 points, posed for pictures wearing a No. 4 jersey — not No. 74, the type of sweater number usually saved for unproven prospects, proof positive the Wild plans to give Reilly every chance to make the team out of training camp. Fletcher said he’s “absolutely” NHL-ready.
“Like most young players, I’m sure there will be some things defensively we’ll need to work on him with,” Fletcher said. “What he does well offensively, you can’t teach, and that’s a skill set we’d like to introduce into our lineup as soon as possible.”
Granlund’s contract is the classic, low-risk “bridge deal,” one that will give him the chance to increase his production (he averaged only eight goals and 40 points the past two seasons) the next two years with the hope of hitting a home-run third contract before his next restricted free agency.
Fletcher expects Granlund to produce more, especially if he evolves into a No. 1 power-play unit guy.
“The challenge with Granny is always to get him to shoot the puck,” Fletcher said. “He defers. He’ll look for Zach [Parise] all the time, he’ll look for [Jason] Pominville. The next step for him in his maturation will be to get him to shoot the puck more. Once he gets that down, the tougher he’ll be to defend.”
Prosser’s signing hurts veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold’s ability to return. Fletcher said, “Right now, this is our team,” when asked about Leopold. Prosser gives the Wild eight defensemen (including unsigned Christian Folin). If the injured Niklas Backstrom still is on the roster as a third goalie, the Wild would have to keep two extra skaters as opposed to three. That could mean Folin starts in the minors if Reilly makes the team.
Fletcher said the right-shot Prosser, 29, is valuable because he can play the left and right side, kill penalties, provide grit in front of the net and can bite off a bigger role if there are injuries. He has five goals and 23 assists with 159 penalty minutes in 189 games during parts of six seasons with the Wild.
Carter, 31, is a hard hitter, can fight and will kill penalties, a need with Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke moving on. The 2007 Stanley Cup winner with Anaheim has 81 points and 396 penalty minutes in 413 games with five teams.
This leaves two forward spots available. Jordan Schroeder will have a shot at cracking the lineup, and Fletcher said rookies Tyler Graovac, Michael Keranen and Kurtis Gabriel will be given chances. Fletcher would like to re-sign Chris Stewart and said, “Never say never,” but as of now, the Wild hasn’t been able to create the cap space to bring him back.
In an underwhelming free-agent class, Fletcher said, “we were pretty happy sitting on the sidelines today. We like our team.”
The Wild also signed four forwards — Ruslan Fedotenko, Zac Dalpe, Marc Hagel and restricted free agent Jared Knight — destined for Iowa of the AHL. Fedotenko, 36, won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 lives in Iowa with his family. Dalpe, 25, played 117 NHL games, including 21 for Buffalo last season. Hagel, 26, played parts of the past two seasons with Iowa and had his AHL contract turned into an NHL two-way. Knight, 23, was at Iowa late last season.
Goalie Stephen Michalek, who could have become a free agent in August, signed his two-year, entry-level deal. Fletcher said the Wild will sign a handful more depth players, including a goalie, for Iowa.