Wild offseason primer: Kevin Fiala commerce, goalie conundrum, priorities and depth chart 1.0

Sometimes you just have to read between the lines.

After second-half contract extensions to Jordan Greenway and Jon Merrill and a trade deadline that included the additions of Marc-Andre Fleury, Jake Middleton, Tyson Jost and Nicolas Deslauriers, Wild general manager Bill Guerin was asked at his March 21 post-trade deadline news conference whether his offseason plan had become any clearer.

Matter of factly, Guerin answered: “It’s been clear in my head for a while. I know what we’re going to have to do. I don’t worry about it. I know what we’re gonna do.”

The Wild have only a little more than $8 million in salary-cap space this summer, and Guerin’s not dumb.

He knew the reporter was specifically referring to the fact Kevin Fiala is a pending restricted free agent and one year from possible unrestricted free agency and the Wild simply don’t have enough space to re-sign him, fill out the rest of their roster for the 2022-23 season — like paying a 12th and 13th forward and backup goalie — plus leave extra room for injuries, call-ups and in-season external pickups.

So when Guerin says his offseason plan has been clear in his head for a while and “I know what we’re going to have to do,” it’s not hard to read between the lines. He’s likely referring to trading Fiala.

After all, every nickel counts with the Wild’s tight cap squeeze, and Guerin wasn’t exactly making things easier for himself when he decided to take on Jost’s $2 million hit for next season and re-sign Alex Goligoski at $2 million for the next two years, peculiarly amid a run of healthy scratches in late March.

Now, when you’re running a team, things change daily, and after the deadline, Fiala caught fire, finishing the season with a career-high 33 goals and 85 points and reminding us how electrifying he can be. Not long after, defenseman Matt Dumba, one of the Wild’s biggest leaders and sources of on- and off-ice energy, got hurt. The Wild still consistently won without him, and it also reminded us that this is a player who seems to get hurt often.

So maybe the offseason plan that was clear in Guerin’s head for a while is now outdated and has changed.

The Wild will hold player availability Monday, and Guerin and coach Dean Evason will be available Tuesday. Maybe those interviews will offer clues as to what’s in store for the months ahead, with trade season triggered ahead of the July 7 and 8 NHL Draft and the start of free agency on July 13.

Until then, here is an early look at some of the Wild’s offseason priorities:

Fiala’s and Dumba’s futures?

Maybe Guerin will at least weigh what he could get for Dumba, who has one year left on his contract at $6 million before he can become a free agent in the summer of 2023. Dumba has a 10-team no-trade clause, so he ‘ll have some control.

But the betting odds still would have Fiala as the likeliest player to get traded this offseason.

Remember, Dumba is a survivor.

He skated through two consecutive expansion drafts, with former GM Chuck Fletcher and Guerin going out of their ways to ensure Dumba stayed in Minnesota. Dumba has also returned to Minnesota after several offseasons of trade rumors.

Chances are he will again.

But with 85 points in the regular season, Fiala will need a significant raise over the $5.1 million he received last summer on a one-year deal before a club-elected arbitration hearing. But even if the Wild could afford to sign him long-term for $6.5 million, $7 million, $7.5 million, whatever, they would want to after he struggled so mightily in this year’s short postseason?

In last season’s seven-game playoff loss to Vegas, Fiala only scored a goal and had an assist, but at least he generated oodles of scoring chances. This year, he was a total disappointment, with no goals, three assists, 15 shots and 16 penalty minutes.

If Fiala’s torrid last month of the regular season had Guerin rethinking things, the poor series against the Blues might have reversed the course again.


Kevin Fiala and Ivan Barbashev (Jeff Le / USA Today)

Because of the Wild’s cap situation, a Fiala trade would likely revolve around futures — a first-round pick and prospects — although as you’ll see in the below depth chart, the Wild could always try to get a forward or backup goalie in the deal, too.

The Senators have long had an interest in Fiala, and some feel a natural partner could be the Devils, who are looking for an impact forward. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has indicated he would consider trading his first-round pick in such a package, though getting the second pick in the draft lottery could change that line of thinking.

If the Wild trade Fiala, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for them to enter next season’s training camp with a Matt Boldy-Marco Rossi-Freddy Gaudreau line.

Talbot or Fleury?

Plain and simple, the Wild acquired Fleury because they were concerned with the goaltending being provided by Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonenwho was dealt to the San Jose Sharks for defenseman Jake Middleton.

Fleury went 9-2 after his arrival; Talbot went 8-0-3 at the end of a 13-0-3 run to end his regular season.

But even though Talbot outperformed Fleury in the final few weeks, the Wild went with Fleury in the first five games of the playoffs until turning into Talbot with the hopes of forcing a Game 7.

Talbot said he was disappointed and “pissed off” by the decision but respected it. He also said this is a special group and he hopes to return, although Evason repeatedly calling the choice of going with Fleury an “easy decision” clearly stung Talbot and his wife, Kelly.

Talbot, who turns 35 on July 5, has a year left on his contract. Fleury, who turns 38 on Nov. 28, is a pending free agent.

Guerin has a long history with Fleury, dating back to being teammates on the 2009 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins team.

If Guerin chooses to re-sign Fleury for a couple of years in the $3 million or $4 million range, it could coincide perfectly with the eventual arrival of 2021 first-round NHL Draft pick Jesper Wallstedt.

Depending on the price of Fleury, Guerin could go with a Fleury-Talbot tandem next season (they had a great relationship, by all accounts) or trade Talbot and replace him with a reasonably priced backup.


Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot (Photo: Gregg Forwerck / NHLI via Getty Images)

Other potential trades

If Calen Addison is ready to play for the Wild next season, something has to give with seven defensemen under contract.

Maybe because of his handshake deal with Goligoski last summer, Guerin felt compelled to extend the defenseman’s contract in March and give him a full no-move clause. So Goligoski won’t be moved out.

Maybe it’ll be Dumba.

Or perhaps the Wild will try to trade Dmitry Kulikovwho has one year left on his contract, was scratched for four of six playoff games and was downright terrible in the other two.

Up front, even though several forwards — such as Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Hartman and Marcus Foligno — followed career years with a disappointing series against the Blues, it’s hard to envision Guerin trading any of his core forwards beyond Fiala. Perhaps he would deal Jost, who didn’t do much in a fourth-line role or whenever he was elevated in the lineup after being acquired from Colorado.

To-do list items

• Sign Wallstedt, plus veteran centers for AHL Iowa.

• Consider a bridge-deal extension of two or three years for Boldy and see what Dumba would want on an extension beyond next season, and perhaps even Gaudreau, too.

• Dissect what is wrong with the special teams and fix it. The power play and penalty kill “literally sucked” all year, according to Evason, and let the Wild down in the playoffs. Normally, the assistant coaches pay the price in cases like this, but he’s believed all the assistants got three-year extensions when Evason was extended in December.

Offseason depth chart 1.0

Forwards

LINES LEFT WING CENTER RIGHT WING

1

Kirill Kaprizov ($9M)

Ryan Hartman ($1.7M)

Mats Zuccarello ($6M)

2

Kevin Fiala (RFA)

Freddy Gaudreau ($1.2M)

Matt Boldy ($880K+)

3

Jordan Greenway ($3M)

Joel Eriksson Ek ($5.25M)

Marcus Foligno ($3.1M)

4

Tyson Jost ($2M)

Brandon Duhaime ($750K)

5

Vying for spots: Connor Dewar (RFA), Marco Rossi ($894,167), Adam Beckman ($894,167), Mitchell Chaffee (RFA), Mason Shaw ($750,000), Nick Swaney (RFA), Joseph Cramarossa ($750,000), Damien Giroux ($818,833), Alex Khovanov ($811,667 ), Sam Hentges ($855,000), Pavel Novak ($846,667), Vladislav Firstov ($925,000).

Unrestricted free agents: Nicolas Deslauriers, Nick BjugstadKyle Rau, Dominic Turgeon, Brandon Baddock, Nolan Stevens.

Right to file arbitration: Fiala, Chaffee, Swaney.

Defensemen

PAIRS LEFT D RIGHT D

1

Jake Middleton (RFA)

Jared Spurgeon ($7.575M)

2

Jonas Brodin ($6M)

Matt Dumba ($6M)

3

Jon Merrill ($1.2M))

Dmitry Kulikov ($2.25M)

4

Alex Goligoski ($2M)

Vying for spots: Calen Addison ($795,000), Dakota Mermis ($750,000), Joe Hicketts ($750,000), Daemon Hunt ($850,833), Ryan O’Rourke ($866,667), Simon Johansson ($855,000), Fedor Gordeev (RFA).

Unrestricted free agents: Jordie BennKevin Czuczman, Jon Lizotte.

Right to file arbitration: Middleton.

Goalies

STARTER/BACKUP

Cam Talbot ($3.67 million)

Unrestricted free agents: Marc-Andre Fleury, Zane McIntyre.

Vying for spots: Jesper Wallstedt (unsigned), Hunter Jones ($825,833), Dereck Baribeau (RFA).

Cap space

Salary-cap hit: $61,572,500

Dead-cap charges (Zach Parise/Ryan Suter): $12,743,588

Projected salary cap for 2021-22 season: $82.5 million

Wild’s cap ceiling: $69,756,412

Salary-cap space before the re-signing of free agents: $8,183,912

(Photo: Keith Gillett / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

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