The Minnesota Wild wasted little time getting started on offseason changes following their early exit from the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs. Three days after their first-round elimination in five games by the Winnipeg Jets, the Wild fired general manager Chuck Fletcher.
During Fletcher’s nine seasons as GM, the Wild reached the playoffs in each of the past six seasons. Unfortunately, they failed to advance beyond the second round.
The Wild have yet to announce Fletcher’s replacement. Nashville Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton is considered the front-runner. Whoever gets the job could decide to shake up the coaching staff and the roster.
Bruce Boudreau’s been the Wild’s head coach for just two seasons. Under his guidance, they exceeded 100 points in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Boudreau’s had considerable regular-season success with the Wild, as well as in previous tenures with the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks. Unfortunately, his postseason record leaves much to be desired, as his clubs never got past the second round.
Fletcher’s replacement could decide to bring in a new coach with a better postseason pedigree. He could also decide to retain Boudreau but replace one or more of his assistants.
The Wild roster probably won’t escape unscathed. Though stocked with notable veterans such as Devan Dubnyk, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu, as well as twenty-somethings such as Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Matt Dumba, this is a line-up that keeps coming up short in the playoffs.
Those changes, however, are unlikely to include veterans like Dubnyk, Parise, Suter or Koivu.
As one of the league’s best goaltenders, the 32-year-old Dubnyk is largely responsible for the Wild getting to the postseason over the past four seasons. He’s also got three years remaining on his contract at an affordable annual salary-cap hit of $4.33 million. His job as the Wild’s starter is safe.
Parise, Suter and Koivu all carry expensive contracts with full no-movement clauses. Parise and Suter, both 33, have seven seasons left on their respective deals with cap hits of over $7.5-million annually. The 35-year-old Koivu’s new two-year contract kicks in on July 1 with an annual average value of $5.5 million.
Even if one of those players was willing to accept a trade, it’s unlikely the Wild would find any takers for one of their aging, expensive veterans.
In an April 27 mailbag, The Athletic’s Michael Russo suggested Coyle, Niederreiter, Jason Zucker or Jonas Brodin as having the most trade value if the new GM opted for a major roster overhaul. Their disappointing performances against the Jets played a role in the Wild’s opening-round defeat.
Of the four, Coyle’s come up the most in trade speculation this season. The 26-year-old was linked to the Montreal Canadiens prior to the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Fletcher’s replacement might not share his predecessor’s reluctance to move Coyle, who carries a $3.2-million annual cap hit through 2019-20 and lacks no-trade protection.
Brodin was frequently the topic of trade chatter last season but it largely died away following the June expansion draft. It’ll be interesting to see if the 24-year-old defenseman resurfaces in the rumor mill. He’s earning an annual cap hit of over $4.16 million through 2020-21. Like Coyle, he doesn’t have a no-trade clause.
Niederreiter could prove more difficult to move. Like Coyle and Brodin, he also lacks a no-trade clause. However, he carries a $5.25-million cap hit through 2021-22. While Niederreiter was hampered by injury this season and is only a year removed from his career-best 57-point effort in 2016-17, he tends to be a streaky scorer.
Zucker’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. Star-Tribune.com’s Chris Hine believes he’ll be re-signed but doesn’t dismiss the possibility of a trade if his contract talks get difficult. Coming off a career-best 33-goal, 64-point campaign, Zucker’s in line for a substantial raise over his current $2-million salary.
Hine also suggests the incoming Wild GM should consider shopping Staal this summer. The 33-year-old center rejuvenated his career in Minnesota, tallying 65 points in 2016-17 and scoring 43 goals this season.
Staal has a year left on his contract with a very affordable $3.5-million cap hit and a 10-team “no-trade” list. Hine advocates moving him while his trade value remains high. That likely won’t sit well with Wild fans, but if there’s genuine interest in Staal perhaps it’ll be worth exploring.
Winger Tyler Ennis may have played his final game with the Wild. He managed just 22 points in 73 games and only suited up for one playoff game. With a year remaining on his contract ($4.6-million AAV), the 28-year-old winger could be part of a cost-cutting trade or bought out.
Salary info via Cap Friendly.