Minnesota Wild Free Agency Review

Just before the draft I looked at each of the teams in the Northwest division and talked about what I thought they needed to accomplish over the summer in order to best take advantage of their window to win.  Since a lot of the work NHL general managers do springs into action at the end of June and beginning of July, I thought that it would be fun to track how each team has progressed.  The first in this series of four will focus on the work done by the Minnesota Wild.  I was pretty optimistic about the Wild at the end of June, thinking that a couple of talented free agent forwards capable of playing in their top nine combined with a bounce-back year from their goaltending could have them at the very top of the division.  After the jump, I`ll take a look at what the Wild have done so far.

Individual Transactions

Traded the 129th overall pick in the 2010 entry draft for F Brad Staubitz - Anytime a general manager can move a pick from outside the top one hundred for a player who can step into an NHL lineup, he's probably won the trade.  This trade is no exception.  It's one thing to use a draft pick on an 18-year-old who might one day become good enough to play a fourth line energy role.  That kind of thing is silly.  It's something else entirely to trade the pick and take a get a player who's ready to step in immediately.

Signed F Matt Kassian a two-way contract for one year at $512,500 per year - He's a brawler who doesn't have enough skill to take a regular shift in the AHL.  If the Wild are walking away from Boogaard and Scott, this fellow can't possibly be anything more than AHL muscle.

Signed D Nate Prosser to a two-way contract for one year at $650,000 per year - This situation is just so odd.  After signing with the Wild at the end of last season for $900,000, Prosser took much less than his qualifying offer to sign his "second" NHL contract.  Presumably, he did so to guarantee a higher paycheck in the AHL (the entry-level max is $67,500; Prosser is already up to $105,000), which may mean he thinks that the Wild are going to send him to Houston to work on his pro game for at least part of the year.

Signed F Guillaume Latendresse to a one-way contract for two years at $2,500,000 per year - Once Latendresse got to the Wild he scored 25 goals in 55 games, a pace he's unlikely to maintain over the course of the next two seasons.  His career high 18.8% shooting percentage is very likely higher than his true talent level and Latendresse should settle in to something closer to his career average of 14% unless he gets a big increase in power play time.  That said, Latendresse has a multi-year track record of success in Montreal as an even strength scorer and the Wild keep the contract to only two years which minimizes the risk of Latendresse flaming out and keeps him a restricted free agent at the end of his contract.  The compensation certainly isn't low, but I think this is a good deal for the Wild.

Signed F Matt Cullen to a one-way contract for three years at $3,500,000 per year - Matt Cullen turns thirty-four in November and has also started dealing with a few more injuries over the last couple of seasons (leg, concussion).  Those two factors make this contract a pretty risky bet.  The number is high enough that if Cullen's play declines even slightly, the Wild aren't getting much value for their dollar.  On the other hand, Cullen has been a consistent 40 to 50 point player since the lockout with about half of that coming at even strength.  He hasn't been tested against top competition, but the Wild will likely have Koivu getting the tough competition and Brodziak getting the tough zone starts which certainly puts Cullen in a place to succeed.    Personally, I don't really like this deal, mostly because of Cullen's age, but there's a good chance that it works out well in the first year at least.

Signed F Eric Nystrom to a one-way contract for three years at $1,400,000 per year - The team website has only one quote from Chuck Fletcher in their article on Nystrom's signing: "I really felt we needed to improve the character of our group, the work ethic of our group and the leadership in our room."  That tells you pretty much all you need to know about Nystrom's skill level. A career high 12.1% shooting percentage helped Nystrom to a career highs in both goals (11) and points (19) while playing in a sheltered role with the Flames last season.  In that the Wild already have several forwards to play a primary defensive role in their top nine which means Nystrom will probably be on the fourth line.  To be frank, $1.4M is just too much for a fourth line player. This is a pretty bad deal.

Signed D Drew Bagnall to a two-way contract for one year at $600,000 per year - With the Wild letting Derek Boogaard and John Scott walk away, there's some chance that Bagnall makes the team as the designated tough guy if Brad Staubitz is deemed inadequate as the lone replacement.

Signed F Warren Peters to a two-way contract for two years at $537,500 per year - Another player who may want to fill the void of Boogaard and Scott.  The problem is that he's not big enough to handle the heavyweights and he's not as good at hockey as Zack Stortini.  That's not a good combination.  Peters had a career high 20 goals and 34 points in the AHL last season which shows he can at least handle a regular shift at that level.  I bet he challenges Staubitz to a fight the first chance he gets.

Signed D Jamie Fraser to a two-way contract for one year at $500,000 per year - Fraser is a depth defender for the AHL club who isn't likely to see action in the NHL, although he did get into one game for the Islanders in 2008-09.  Fraser is now twenty-five and has played in more than 250 AHL games.  He's not all that big and has never scored more than twenty-four points in an AHL season.  Basically, he's a competent AHL defender.

Signed F Jon Disalvatore to a two-way contract for two years at $537,500 per year - This player is very likely nothing more than AHL.  The twenty-nine year-old is a consistent twenty-goal scorer at the AHL level but has only played five career games in the NHL.  His -23 rating also helped him to finish dead last in plus/minus with the Houston Aeros last season, a year after finishing next to last with a -15 for the Lowell Devils.  An NHL contract here seems like a waste.

Signed G Dennis Endras to a one-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $650,000 per year - The deal includes a $90,000 signing bonus, so Endras had some nice monetary incentive to leave Germany.  Most folks that remember Endras at all remember him as the Most Valuable Player (despite not playing all of his team's games) of the (somewhat) recently completed World Hockey Championships.  That sounds promising, but there`s not much else there.  His .905 save percentage in the German league is not particularly inspiring, especially when you take a look at the other goaltenders in the league and see that J.S. Aubin sitting at .924 and Fred Brathwaite at .914.  It seems like Endras probably just turned a couple of good weeks into $90,000, which is a pretty good deal if you can swing it.  With Matt Hackett coming into the organization this year, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Endras as the fourth (or fifth if both Josh Harding and Anton Khudobin stay around) goalie on the depth chart.

Signed F Robbie Earl to a two-way contract for one year at $550,000 per year - Earl is a depth signing for the Wild and probably won`t make the team out of camp.  He turned twenty-five in June, and played in thirty-one games for the Wild.  That said, his best offensive AHL season came in 2007-08 when he scored 47 points in 66 games.  It's highly unlikely that he ends up as anything more than a fourth line player at the NHL level and he`s not really a big difference maker in the AHL.  I guess you need someone to fill the role of tweener, but I would have thought the Wild would have chosen someone either more established or with more upside.

 

The Big Picture

Those who've read here before know that I like to use the chart below as a cap space guideline.  Because it's based on percentages, we need to set a cap figure for 2010-11.  I used $57M, but the cap actually increased to about $59M and that's the figure I'll use here (in order to leave the club a bit of in-season wiggle room). Here's the chart:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5% or $16,225,000
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0% or $11,800,000
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5% or $16,225,000
Goaltending - 10.0% or $5,900,000
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0% or $8,850,000

And here it is again with the players the Wild have signed:

Top 3 Forwards - Havlat, Bouchard, Koivu - 21.6% or $12,330,000
Middle 6 Forwards - Latendresse, Miettinen, Brunette, Brodziak, Clutterbuck, Cullen - 22.4% or $13,216,666
Top 4 Defenders - Zidlicky, Burns, Schultz, Zanon - 22.0% or $12,983,333
Goaltending - Backstrom, ??? - 10.2% or $6,000,000
Bottom 8 Players - (Parrish), Barker, Stoner, Prosser, Wellman, Sheppard, Nystrom, Kobasew, Staubitz - 19.8% or $11,672,694

The Wild look like they're pretty much done which is, in my view, a real shame.  I really thought that they would be able to add two very good players to the lineup, but instead they added one in Matt Cullen and then overpaid for a fourth liner in Eric Nystrom.  Whereas previously I expected the Wild to be much better next season regardless of Bouchard's injury situation, the fact that the Wild haven't brought in any really talented wingers means they are counting on him to be healthy.  I still think the Wild will have better results next winter than they did in 2009-10, but their summer has been pretty underwhelming.

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