The Minnesota Wild are headed into their first offseason since making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five years with one of the most expensive contract charts in the league. That said, there is the touchy business of choosing to sign or release unrestricted free agents. This year, forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen and Stephane Veilleux, defensemen Drew Bagnall, Brett Clark and Justin Falk and No. 1 goaltender Niklas Backstrom are all UFAs.
For the purposes of going more in-depth, this article has been split into a series that will cover the Forwards, Defensemen and Goaltenders in three different articles. So, without further ado:
It appears likely that the Pierre-Marc Bouchard era is over in Minnesota. In 564 career NHL games, Butch has scored 106 goals, 29 on the power play, and 241 assists for 347 points and a plus-15 rating. In 21 career NHL postseason games, he has also chipped in four goals and five assists for nine points and a negative-1 rating.
At age 29, the 8th overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft posted his worst season since 2003-04, scoring just eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points and a plus-3 rating in 43 games. While his numbers saw a boost whenever youngster Jason Zucker was pushing for his spot, when Zucker was sent down to the AHL, Bouchard would disappear from the score sheet for extended periods of time. With his injury history and young guns like Zucker and Mikael Granlund ready and waiting in the wings, Butch and his $4.08 million cap hit, have played their last game in a Wild sweater.
At 36, Matt Cullen is the team’s elder statesman, but he could be the most important in-house UFA this summer. Cully is a proven veteran that knows how to score and is a great locker room presence and team leader. His faceoff percentage is nearly always one of the best in the league year in and year out, and he’s one of the NHL’s top shootout specialists.
In 1,073 career NHL games, Cullen has 202 goals, 52 on the power play, and 360 assists for 562 points and a negative-50 rating. In 42 games this season, Matt potted seven goals and 20 assists for 27 points and a plus-9 rating. His three assists in five playoff games led Minnesota in postseason point-scoring and his 11 goals and 28 assists for 39 points in 68 career postseason games are invaluable to Minnesota’s future playoff hopes. In fact, Cullen won it all in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, scoring four goals and 14 assists for 18 points in 25 playoff games.
His experience and composure proved to be invaluable in Game Three against Chicago as he set up Zucker’s game-winning goal in overtime for Minnesota first playoff win in their first home postseason game since 2008. At the very least, Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher should sign Cullen to a one-year contract at his previous contract price of $3.5 million per year.
Stephane Veilleux, originally drafted by the Wild in the 3rd round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, played six seasons in the Red, White and Green before making stops in Tampa Bay, Finland, Switzerland and New Jersey. He would once again return to Minnesota in the trade that saw a 2012 2nd round pick (Raphael Bussieres), 2013 3rd round pick, good prospect (Nick Palmieri) and two former Wild players (Veilleux and defenseman Kurtis Foster) shipped to the State of Hockey for struggling defenseman Marek Zidlicky. In 460 career NHL games, Veilleux has scored 46 goals and 55 assists for 101 points and a negative-62 rating. However, his game goes far beyond statistics. Veilleux brings a very physical, high-energy game that is very fitting of a third-fourth line grinder and role player. With a $600K cap hit, Stephane is more than worthy of another one or two year contract with Minnesota.
Stay tuned for Part Two as Gone Puck Wild analyzes the Minnesota Wild’s UFA defensemen.