We move on to the OPPORTUNITIES.
*Some cap room opening up this summer. Between the UFAs (Kobasew, Brunette, Miettinen, Madden, Harding and Theodore) who represented a cool $10.5M in salary last year, and the potential for buying out Cam Barker (saving an additional couple million dollars from his full cap hit), the Wild does have some flexibility. What they do with it is another matter.
They have nine forwards and either six (including Barker and Spurgeon) or five (disincluding Barker) defensemen returning from last year's team, as well as Backstrom in goal. At this point, according to capgeek.com, they have $51.27M tied up among those sixteen players, including the $927k they owe in the Parrish buyout.
The Wild is looking at needing to find three forwards, one defenseman (assuming Barker's gone) and a backup goalie to fill out the roster. Plus Burns and Zanon are both in their contract years. Brodziak and Staubitz are also in their contract years, but do not represent a threat to the salary cap even assuming a reasonable raise from their current salaries ($1.15M and $575k, respectively).
With reports that the salary cap ceiling will rise to the $64M range, the Wild certainly CAN fit a raise for Burns and Zanon into their $13M of available cap space (~$15M if they buyout Barker), but only if it is willing to go cheap with the rest of the spare parts. And that means kids.
*As I said in the weaknesses section, Yeo and Fletch are also both opportunities for the Wild. In Yeo's case, you have to like what he did with an under-skilled team in Houston this season. If the Wild commits to a younger team some of those kids he had success with this season will get some more time under his tutelage. Yeo's an unknown quantity at the NHL level. While the weakness part of that undeniably has its own gravitational pull, to ignore the opportunity side would be myopic. I simply will not entertain comparisons to Todd Richards beyond the 1st time NHL head coach part.
As for Fletcher, yes, he represents an opportunity. He has to be personally motivated at this point, he's got a glaring fail on his record already (Richards, not so much hiring him as having to fire him, in my opinion) and he's the head of a team that is lacking both identity and, because of it, cohesion and passion. Not a great start for a young GM.
But, if he can get this train back on the track and continue infusing the organization with energy (say what you want about Yeo, but the man exudes confidence and energy) and talent (Granlund is a good start - assuming he can stay away from the concussions - and Fletcher's willingness to dip into the college free agent pool, for example, is encouraging) then I believe the fans will come along for the ride. I also believe the fans will be willing to take a couple more years of non-playoff hockey as long as there's a clear goal towards which we're progressing. That's not the same as saying the fans will continue to sell the building out, but the angry fringe will always be the angry fringe.
*A more abstract opportunity is the possibility of realignment once the Phoenix situation is resolved. Even without a relocation of the Phoenix franchise realignment has to be coming. It's obviously untenable to have a team in Winnipeg playing in a sunbelt (USA) division. And, while we don't know anything factually yet, some of the ideas floated around (such as the Wild moving to the "central" division) could be beneficial to the Wild.
At some level, a reduction in travel wear-and-tear over a season has to be beneficial. And I like what the Avalanche and Oilers are doing in terms of young skill players, so not having to play them six times a year is attractive. The Wild hasn't had very good success against the Detroits and Dallases of the league, to be fair. But that's why this is an opportunity, not a strength.
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