For the first time in recent memory — maybe ever — the Wild bowing out in the first round of the playoffs doesn’t seem like a ho-hum manifestation of the same tired storyline. This truly feels like the beginning of something special in St. Paul.
Sure, the Wild would love to be gearing up for the Colorado Avalanche right now rather than prepping for exit interviews. A series against the Stanley Cup favorites would serve as a litmus test for how far the Wild have to go to become a legitimate contender.
That will come at some point.
In the meantime, the Wild general manager is about to embark on a pivotal offseason. If the 50-year-old Bill Guerin plays his cards right — and he’s proven more than capable of that throughout his tenure — the Wild could be a force to be reckoned with moving forward.
Here’s a blueprint for the next few months.
Re-sign Kirill Kaprizov ASAP
This is the most important thing of the offseason. Nothing else even comes close. For the first time in franchise history, the Wild have a legitimate superstar on their roster. Kirill Kaprizov took the league by storm as a rookie, scoring 27 goals and tallying 24 assists in the regular season. While the 24-year-old Russian left something to be desired in the playoffs, he’s a generational talent that’s merely scratching the surface in terms of the impact he can have on a nightly basis. Now he’s going to be expensive. There are some people that think Kaprizov will ask for a contract with an average annual value upwards of $8.5 million. Maybe even more. As steep as that price sounds in the grand scheme of things, Guerin might have to bite the bullet at some point. It’s so important that the Wild sign Kaprizov to a long-term deal. If they don’t, it runs the risk of losing him to a larger market in the prime of his career.
Lock up restricted free agents
Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek are restricted free agents this offseason and both will be looking for hefty pay raises. Similar to Kaprizov, it would behoove the Wild to keep Fiala and Eriksson Ek around the Twin Cities for the foreseeable future. They both seem to be foundational pieces in the way they impact the game. Looking specifically at Fiala, though he’s as streaky of a player as there is in the league, he can easily be a 30-goal scorer with some upside as a 40-goal scorer. Then there’s Eriksson Ek, who might be the best two-way player in the league. He took the next step as an offensive player this season to go along with his dominance as a defensive player. It’s not going to be cheap to lock up both players. But it’s going to be worth it.
Decide on unrestricted free agents
This is where things start to get interesting. There are a number of unrestricted free agents on the roster including Marcus Johansson, Nick Bonino, Nick Bjugstad, and Ian Cole. There’s a world in which the Wild decide not to bring any of those players back. Listening to the way Guerin talks about Bonino and Cole, though, it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t at least try to re-sign both players if the price is right. They bring credibility to the locker room with a couple of Stanley Cups under their belt. They also play a hard game that makes the Wild a much tougher team to play against in both ends. This will come down to money. It also might make sense to bring Bjugstad back if he’s willing to sign for cheap. He’s a versatile player that proved his worth in the postseason.
Navigate expansion draft
It’s a foregone conclusion that the Wild are going to lose a good player to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Which player they lose remains to be seen. Looking at the depth on the current roster, it’s hard to imagine the Wild don’t go the route of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. It’s worth noting that there are a handful of players with no-movement clauses on the roster, including Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Mats Zuccarello. Those players have to be protected no matter what, by rule, unless they agree to waive their no-movement clause. The only reason a player would agree to do that is if they were confident they wouldn’t be selected in the expansion draft. If the Wild are able to convince some like, say, Suter, to do that, it would allow them to protect Matt Dumba in the expansion draft. Though there are so many moving parts that go into the expansion draft, it’s safe to assume Guerin will do his due diligence to try to dictate which player he loses.
Figure out Zach Parise saga
This could get messy. It’s clear Parise is unhappy with the way he was treated down the stretch. He voiced his frustration after the Game 7 loss to the Golden Knights, and hinted that he wouldn’t be interested in playing a depth role moving forward. The only problem for Parise is he’s under contract through the 2024-25 season, and thus, the Wild are very unlikely to buy him out this offseason. That would put the organization in salary cap hell for the rest of the decade. There’s a chance the Wild could work out a trade if another team was willing to take on the remainder of Parise’s fat 13-year, $98 million contract. Maybe the most likely scenario is that Parise accepts his future as a depth player near the bottom of the lineup. He proved effective in that role throughout the playoffs and could still make an impact if he’s willing to do it.