According to Capgeek, the Wild has approximately 19.6 million of cap space available for the 2012-2013 season. A big part of this is based on Chuck Fletcher's masterstroke in dealing Marek Zidlicky to the Devils for pending UFA players Kurtis Foster, Stephane Veilleux, a few draft picks and pending RFA Nick Palmieri. Palmieri, assuming he sticks, is the only piece of that trade we'd be on the hook for next season, and that's on the order of $800-900k. Zidlicky's cap hit is $4M. So by dealing Zidlicky, Fletcher gave himself more than $3-4M in cap space, depending on Palmieri's status.
Let's talk about how that $19.6 million will be spent.
First off, Forwards!
Heatley, Koivu, Cullen, Bouchard, Setoguchi, Brodziak, Clutterbuck and Powe are signed through next season. That's eight players. Assuming the Wild carry 14 forwards on their 23-man roster, they'll want six more forwards. Maybe. That eight-forwards-already-signed bit assumes that Bouchard is ready to go next season, and there's no guarantee of that. Due to his concussion history and the hit from Zach Bogosian earlier this season, there's some serious doubt among the Wild faithful that he will be able to play next year. Or ever again.
We will assume the Wild will have 6 spots open, on the best-case assumption of Bouchard's health. So let's look at those players whose contracts are expiring:
- Guillaume Latendresse - He's a restricted free agent (RFA) but I can't possibly see how he will be qualified at $2.5M. The Hockey Player Formerly Known As Poutine Destroyer has to prove he's worth that kind of cap hit, and I'd be shocked if Fletch doesn't let him become unrestricted.
- Erik Christensen - He's an unrestricted free agent (UFA). This guy has no future with the Wild. Yeah, he might help with a shootout, but his zero points and -11 in 12 games with the Wild has demonstrated his inability to make a contribution.
- Nick Palmieri - I think he's earned a new contract. Whether he spends time in St Paul or Houston is likely to be determined by his training camp and how impressive the new guys are.
- Jed Ortmeyer - I like him as the Wild's designated Delta SkyMiles beneficiary.
- Nick Johnson - I think he stays.
- Warren Peters - Another guy whose contract comes with 20,000 free SkyMiles.
- Stephane Veilleux - Maybe he sticks as a 4th liner/extra skater.
- Matt Kassian - I think he stays as a 4th liner/pugilist.
So, two spots taken, four left. Now let's look at what the lines might be:
Mr. Blonde - Koivu - Heatley
Bouchard - Cullen - Setoguchi
Johnson - Brodziak - Clutterbuck
Mr. Orange - Powe - Mr. White
Extras are Kassian and Mr. Pink
That's not a lot of spots. While the Faithful are salivating at the thought of Zach Parise signing, it's no guarantee. And there's the Bouchard issue. If he can't play, that opens another spot.
Mr. Blonde might be Parise. Beyond Parise, there really aren't any pending free agents that give me the screaming thigh sweats. So if Parise isn't Mr. Blonde, look at Mikael Granlund to be Koivu's new hood ornament.r
Mr. Orange, Mr. White, and Mr. Pink might be Johan Larsson, Zack Phillips, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, or Brett Bulmer. Or, if our dream comes true and Parise signs, then Granlund pretty much has a lock on one of those three slots. In all honesty, I think Phillips and Coyle have the inside track on two of those spots. Mainly because they're gelling well for the Saint John Sea Dogs, and Phillips is a natural center, obviating the need for Powe to line up there. If Mr. Blonde turns out to be Granlund, look for Veilleux to be Mr. Pink. If Bouchard is still dealing with Post-Concussion symptoms, assume either Bulmer gets his spot, or Latendresse is signed at a discount.
Long story short, Johnson will likely stick next year, and make $1M, tops. Kassian will make $600k. Of the original $19.6M available, they're down to about $18M of cap space.
If Phillips, Coyle, and Granlund stay, Phillips and Coyle will make about $1M each, and Granlund will surely command the maximum $1.475M contract, or about $3.5M between the three of them. So now we have $14.5M of cap space.
Let's look at the defense.
The Wild have Gilbert, Scandella, Prosser, and Spurgeon (Thanks, Garth!) signed. Three spots available assuming they carry one extra D. Justin Falk is restricted and will probably make $700k or so next season. I think he'll be tendered a qualifying offer, and he should stay. He's not without flaws, but he is big and sometimes he even uses his bigitude to his advantage. Clayton Stoner? I don't know about him. He's dependable, but nothing to write home about. Lundin has been injured and/or invisible. Sadly, I think he won't return. Foster may or may not be back. The defensive spots depend mostly on who Fletcher and Yeo like the most, Foster or Stoner. Either will command $1M at most next year. Worst case on defense is another $1.7M spent on defense. We had $14.5M available. Now that's down to $12.8M with one D spot open.
And in net?
If Harding wants to return, it won't be for any more than Hackett will get paid. Either way, Goaltending won't cost the Wild any more in free agent expenditures.
So what's it all mean?
Now we get to the free agency expenditures: one forward and one defenseman. With the Tom Gilbert trade, Pierre "Cue Ball" McGuire donned his best tinfoil hat and opined that the Wild acquired Gilbert in an effort to woo Ryan Suter to Minnesota. And Ryan Suter is the big name out there for free agent defensemen. Barring his signing here, look for Jonas Brodin to possibly make the team out of camp, or maybe Fletcher will go after a second-tier free agent.
The Wild's wet dream of Suter and Parise will be tough to do at $12.8M. But remember that "approximately $19.6M" I talked about earlier? Well, that that's assuming the cap doesn't rise next year. It also assumes Bouchard is healthy and ready to go. If he isn't, expect the Wild to put him on Long Term Injured Reserved (LTIR), which would open up another $4M of cap space for Fletcher, Flahr, and Yeo to play with.
For those who skipped to the money shot, the upshot of the situation is that Fletcher is looking like a genius right about now, and the money should be there to at minimum make Parise and Suter think long and hard about signing in Minnesota.
And even without them, the cupboard is far from bare.
And one last housekeeping note: If you hate my writing style, tell Nick to give me a long-distance kick in the jimmy. Otherwise, find me on Twitter @strangewildfan. I mostly talk hockey, but I've been known to tweet about my own farts. Fair warning.