If it felt like general manager Bill Guerin was pushing his chips to the middle of the table a couple of months ago, it’s because he truly believed the Wild could win the Stanley Cup this season.
His busyness at the trade deadline proved that much as he acquired legendary goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, to go along with a few other shrewd moves that netted the Wild hulking defenseman Jake Middleton, skilled center Tyson Jost and veteran winger Nic Deslauriers.
Unfortunately for the Wild, the win-now moves backfired, and their season ended last week with a loss to the St. Louis Blues in the first round.
Now the Wild must shift their focus to this offseason knowing things are going to look a lot different next season. While superstar winger Kirill Kaprizov is under contract for the foreseeable future, meaning the Wild will have the best player on the ice more often the not, Guerin still needs to fill out the rest of his roster.
With the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts causing massive amounts of dead cap over the next few seasons, that could be easier said than done.
There are many questions the Wild have to answer this offseason. Here are five things that stand out:
WHAT TO DO WITH KEVIN FIALA?
There’s very little doubt that this offseason is going to be defined by what the Wild do with star winger Kevin Fiala. He’s up for a new contract, not to mention a big raise, and it’s hard to figure out how the Wild can afford him.
The biggest question: Do the Wild even want to bring him back?
While he starred with 33 goals and 52 assists in the regular season, Fiala once again went missing in the playoffs, finishing with no goals to his name. That ineffectiveness in the postseason is a big reason the Wild didn’t give Fiala the bag last offseason. It’s hard to imagine the feelings have changed much heading into this offseason.
That said, Fiala has proven to be an elite goal scorer, which isn’t easy to find nowadays. Thus, if the Wild can’t figure out a way to re-sign Fiala, or simply decide they don’t want to, there will likely be massive interest on the trade market.
It’s something to keep an eye on either way.
WHO’S THE STARTING GOALTENDER?
While goaltender Cam Talbot is under contract next season, and Fleury is not, it feels like the Wild might have a decision on their hands this offseason. Especially if Talbot harbors any ill will from the Wild benching him for Fleury in the playoffs.
Though he’s went on the record saying he wants to come back next season, Talbot might feel differently after fully digesting how things went down in the playoffs.
It’s also possible the Wild decide they want to ride with Fleury heading into next season. If that’s the case, they will need to trade Talbot to be able to afford Fleury.
This was going to be a story the moment Guerin decided to acquire Fleury at the trade deadline. Now it’s going to play out in real time over the next couple of months.
WHO ELSE NEEDS A CONTRACT?
Looking at the rest of the roster, there will be decisions to make regarding some pending free agents.
It’s highly likely the Wild want to re-sign Middleton after he skated alongside captain Jared Spurgeon on the top defensive pairing. He’s on the verge of a big raise, however, so that’s something to consider moving forward.
On the flip side, it’s hard to imagine the Wild re-signing Deslauriers, and veteran winger Nick Bjugstad, unless they’re willing to take a team-friendly deal. If they are willing to sign for less than, say, $1 million, then Guerin might be willing to play ball.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?
Aside from free agency, the draft is the tentpole event of the summer. Though it’s unlikely that anyone the Wild select in the 2022 NHL draft will make an impact next season — it’s very, very rare that a draft pick contributes at the NHL level right away — it’s always good to replenish the prospect pool.
It’s clear how much Guerin values his first-round pick. Asked about it at the trade deadline, Guerin essentially deemed it a nonstarter in potential deals. Perhaps he knows that whoever he takes with his first-round pick this summer will need to be an impact player down the road as the Wild navigate the Parise and Suter buyouts.
IS MARCO ROSSI READY TO STEP UP?
While the Wild are likely to lose a good player this offseason — Fiala is the first name that comes to mind — they will add a highly touted prospect next season in the form of skilled center Marco Rossi.
Some people think the 20-year-old was ready to contribute at the NHL level this season. He finished with 18 goals and 35 assists in 63 games with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League.
There’s a very good chance that Rossi will be on the opening night roster next season, and if he is, the Wild will need him to contribute at a high level right off the bat.
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