This year has worked out pretty well for the Minnesota Wild. I think Chuck Fletcher came into the off-season with rebuilding on his mind, and that he didn't have very high expectations for this team. And they are terrible. They started the year with tremendous goaltending and very good luck, which pushed them to an early lead in the standings. In fact, when November ended, they were in first place in the entire league.
Since that time, they've accumulated just 30 points, the third-worst total in the Conference (ahead of Columbus and Edmonton), and have dropped out of playoff position. Fans have generally blamed the injury bug, and while it's been significant, the real reason is more likely that the team just isn't very good. Still, that sentiment will help Fletcher, and in the long run, being on the outside looking in helps him because it allows him to sell at the deadline. What's more, because only the Blue Jackets and Oilers have been truly awful, the Wild still have a great chance at a top five pick. It's not exactly the Stanley Cup, but for Chuck Fletcher's covert rebuild, it's a pretty darn good season. We'll take a look at what he might do after the jump.
Those who've read here before know that I like to use the chart below as a cap space guideline. When I used the guidelines for the Canucks and Flames, it was simple enough to use the cap number of $64.3M as a budget guideline. That doesn't work so well for the Wild. Before the season started, I suggested that the team was likely trying to spend under the midpoint of $56.3M for revenue sharing purposes, which $56.3M. They're on track to spend about $56.6M, but I'll stick with $56.3M as the budget figure and assume that the Wild will be trying to bring their cap number down at the deadline. Here's what we get for guidelines using Minnesota's budget:
Top 3 Forwards - 27.5% or 15.48M
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0% or 11.26M
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5% or 15.48M
Goaltending - 10.0% or 5.63M
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0% or 8.45M
And now let's populate with this year's team (with salaries instead of cap hits):
Top 3 Forwards - Koivu, Heatley, Bouchard - 34.7% or 19.54M
Middle 6 Forwards - Cullen, Setoguchi, Latendresse, Clutterbuck, Brodziak, Christensen - 22.3% or 12.58M
Top 4 Defenders - Zidlicky, Schultz, Zanon, Lundin - 19.0% or 10.70M
Goaltending - Backstrom, Harding - 12.0% or 6.75M
Bottom 8 Players - Powe, Palmer, Ortmeyer, McMillan, Johnson, Peters, Rau, Kassian, Stoner, Spurgeon, Scandella, Prosser, Falk, Hackett, Parrish (BO), Barker (BO) - 19.0% or 10.68M
The Wild are currently spending 107% of what I've budgeted, largely because they're carrying twenty-nine players on the roster thanks to injuries. But I expect that number to come way down as they try to unload a bunch of assets heading into the deadline. But before we get into that, let's look at the commitments they have for next season (assuming the same $56.3M budget, and again using salaries instead of cap hits):
Top 3 Forwards - Koivu, Heatley, Bouchard - 27.9% or 15.70M
Middle 6 Forwards - Cullen, Setoguchi, Clutterbuck, Brodziak, ???, ??? - 19.0% or 10.70M
Top 4 Defenders - Zidlicky, Schultz, Spurgeon, Scandella - 15.8% or 8.92M
Goaltending - Backstrom, Hackett - 12.3% or 6.90M
Bottom 8 Players - Powe, Prosser, Parrish (BO), Barker (BO), ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? - 6.0% or 3.37M
Key RFAs - Latendresse, Johnson
Kery UFAs - Zanon, Lundin, Stoner, Harding
There's a lot of money spent up front already, but that's made up for on the blueline where the Wild have Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella playing top four minutes already on very cheap contracts. Plus, I think there's a reasonable chance that some of these players will be moving on.
In my view, the Wild are rebuilding with Mikko Koivu at the end of the age cluster. Once they've built up a young core, spending will increase to keep them together. That helps to explain the Kyle Brodziak signing, which looks expensive in a budget like this, but not so expensive if you're paying him to play tough minutes for a cap team. But it also means that, in addition to pending UFA Mike Lundin, anyone older than Koivu should be in play for Chuck Fletcher at the deadline. That's a lot of candidates to be moved:
Nick Schultz has handled tough minutes in the past and defensive depth is always in demand at the deadline. With two more years on his contract after this season, I think that this is a player the Wild will want to move along even if they don't get any premium offers.
Greg Zanon will be a free agent at the end of the year and has been a pretty good defender for the Wild on a reasonable contract. I could see the Wild holding onto him with the idea of re-signing him, but if they can use him to get themselves a semi-premium asset (set the floor for that at a mid-2nd round pick), I bet they jump on it.
Dany Heatley is a guy that I suggested they'd be giving the pump-and-dump treatment to, and that pump has happened to some extent. Heatley isn't taking on the toughs consistently, and though he's started more often in the DZ than the OZ, he has one of the easier Zone-Start ratios on the team. He also leads the team in PP time, though I'd expect that no matter what. Unfortunately for the Wild, Heatley has had the worst shooting percentage season of his career (though 10.3% isn't that bad), which means that he's only scored 19 goals. Even still, Heatley leads the Wild in both points and +/-, so there may be some real interest out there. If the Wild can turn Heatley into at least one very good asset, I bet they do it. If not, then it's all about hoping for a better season next year.
Niklas Backstrom is a player they'll likely keep, but if someone blows their socks off with an offer, they'd probably also consider moving him. If they do keep Backstrom, pending UFA Josh Harding could easily be on his way out if the Wild can get a decent return.
Marek Zidlicky is the one guy who's been rumored to be leaving for weeks, but he's had a poor season so who knows if the Wild will actually be able to unload him. I'm sure they're trying to.
Matt Cullen is the last guy on my list. He's got one more year on his contract, and I don't know whether he'd fetch a notable prospect or first-round pick from a contending team. If they can, great. If not, the Wild may just bring him back for a year and hope to move him at next year's deadline.
How many "A" prospects, useful young parts, or picks in the first two rounds does that group get you? I'm not sure, but if I'm Chuck Fletcher, those are the assets I'm looking for to build up a nice-looking U28 core that includes a bunch of the players listed above plus top prospects like Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin.