Marcus Foligno, Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise

Wild’s Competitive Window Opens Earlier Than Most Think

For two years, people have been talking about the repercussions of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts that have limited the Minnesota Wild’s cap space significantly. Those penalties will reach their maximum this season and next season to the tune of roughly $14.7 million, followed by another four years of $1.7 million in unusable space. 

That $14.7 million penalty has been a heavy burden, especially combined with the fact that the NHL’s salary cap has only increased by $2 million in the last four seasons. The buyouts have forced the Wild to trade away solid players, as well as restricted their ability to sign or trade for any player who isn’t on a value contract. Most Wild fans are limiting themselves to only thinking that the Wild will be true contenders once the buyouts are basically over in the 2025-26 season. As Michael Russo and Joe Smith of the Athletic write:

“Of course, it’s easy to say now that all the Wild problems will be solved in a couple of years. It’s a silver lining you can share with fans — hang with us while we remain competitive, but we can’t take a real shot until 2025-26.”

– from “Projecting the Wild roster in 2025-26, post-Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts,” Michael Russo & Joe Smith, The Athletic, Aug 2, 2023.

This season, the Wild will be more restricted than they have ever been, but their window may be opening sooner than most expecte with a couple of key elements that will create a decent amount of cap space as early as next season.

Cap Increase & Wild Players Leaving

Yes, the cap recapture penalties will still be $14.7 million in 2024-25, but an increase to the cap ceiling combined with a bunch of expiring contracts will see the Wild with much more wiggle room than they’ve had recently. An estimated $4 million increase in the cap combined with Mats Zuccarello, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, Alex Goligoski, and Marc-Andre Fleury’s contracts all expiring will leave the team with 10 players at a cost of $61.1 million. 

Mats Zuccarello Minnesota Wild
Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With the cap raised to $87.5 million, the Wild will have a hair under $26.5 million to fill out the rest of the roster. That doesn’t seem like a lot for 13 roster spots, but this is where the team’s incredible prospect pool comes into play. If we add Marco Rossi, Marat Khusnutdinov, Brock Faber, Jesper Wallstedt, a bottom-pair defenseman like Daemon Hunt, and a pair of wingers such as Liam Ohgren and Danila Yurov, or Adam Beckman and Sammy Walker into the mix, the numbers look a lot better with 17 players taking up just $67.4 million.

Fill in the Gaps

With $20 million remaining and only minimum of three players left to sign, there are basically an endless number of possible players to trade for or free agents to sign. Instead of trying to predict those moves, I assigned dollar values to the open positions, prioritizing the most important with the amount required to acquire a solid player for that role and then distributing the rest amongst the open slots.

Kirill Kaprizov – $9 Million Center – Matt Boldy
Marcus Johansson – Joel Eriksson Ek – $4 Million Winger
Freddy Gaudreau – Marco Rossi – $3 Million Winger
Liam Ohgren – Marat Khusnutdinov – Danila Yurov

Jake Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin -Brock Faber
Daemon Hunt – $2.5 Million Defender
Jon Merrill

Filip Gustavsson – Jesper Wallstedt

The single biggest move would be for the team to add a true first-line center. I have allowed for $9 million to be used on an effective center with term on his contract who can help bring the team to the next level. Obviously, management could spend more here if the right player was available, but if they spend more money in one place, they’ll have to take it away from somewhere else, and there are some solid centers out there that could be had for that price. 

Related: 10 Minnesota Wild Prospects You Need to Watch in 2023-24

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To fill in the two remaining gaps on the wing, I have budgeted $7 million. Whether the team brings in two budget players at $3.5 million each or a ringer worth $6 million and a league-minimum energy type player, there are options. This could also be a spot for roster players on expiring deals. Mats Zuccarello at $4 million and Marcus Foligno or Ryan Hartman at $3 million are possibilities, but it will come down to their play this season.

The final roster spot on the team is a bottom-four defender. Calen Addison and Faber are both unknowns heading into this season, and while both could hit and become valuable defensemen, I have allowed for one of them to be moved. Faber is the stronger candidate, and therefore I have provided $2.5 million to bring in a strong veteran presence to solidify the backend, likely playing in a bottom-four role as opposed to just on the bottom pairing.

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That, in turn, would push Jon Merrill to become the seventh defenseman in the last year of his contract, although he could also play on the bottom pairing if there are no rookie defenders ready to take the next step. The grand sum of all these additions leaves the Wild with an active roster of 21 players and $1.5 million in cap space remaining for call-ups. That’s more space than they have this season with some significant additions in the mix.

Wild Situation is Fluid Yet Positive

The hardest thing about trying to predict an NHL roster is that a single player stepping up or regressing can completely alter the entire direction of an organization. In the Wild’s case, Rossi suddenly finding his legs and becoming a formidable first-line center would allow them to spend that $9 million on an elite defensive talent or superstar winger instead. If Faber fails to adjust to the NHL’s pace, the Wild might be forced to acquire a more expensive defenseman and pull from their budget for a winger. It is impossible to predict.

Brock Faber Minnesota Wild
Brock Faber, Minnesota Wild (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The good news is that the cap is finally opening for the Wild, not squeezing ever tighter to the point where they are stagnant. The NHL is more interesting when teams can make trades and address their weak points to become more competitive. The Wild are getting closer to that possibility.

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