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:
Due to the fact that none of Minnesota’s potential UFA defensemen are big names or big pieces of the franchise, this will be much shorter than Part One. However, let’s take a look anyway.
Drew Bagnall, captain of the late Houston Aeros, now newly-minted Iowa Wild, is a journeyman defenseman who isn’t getting any younger. At 29, and with just two NHL games—both with Minnesota—under his belt, Bagnall’s shot at the NHL has likely come and gone. However, that doesn’t make his importance to the Wild franchise any less significant. The 6’3” 215-pound defenseman is a veteran of six AHL seasons and has scored three goals and added 19 assists for 22 points and a plus-9 rating in three seasons with Houston. Where he really shines is in his shutdown style of game. If nothing else, Bagnall provides a great mentor for Minnesota’s young defensive prospects as they work their way to the NHL. At a $612.5K cap hit, another year in the system benefits both the Wild and Bagnall.
Brett Clark—the Mike Lundin of the 2012-13 Minnesota Wild—played for the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL during the lockout before signing with the Wild. In eight games in a Wild sweater, Clark notched one assist and a negative-9 rating. For a veteran of 689 career NHL games, it wasn’t a spectacular season. But, then again, it’s a whole new system, a new group of guys and the intensity of a lockout-shortened season. It’s too bad he won’t know what it’s like to play for Minnesota in a regular 82-game season.
Justin Falk is an intriguing defenseman in that his big 6’5” 215 frame is something Minnesota has been missing since Brent Burns left. However, Falk is no Burnsie, unless it involves the knack for making the occasional defensive mistakes. Like fellow Wild blue liner Clayton Stoner, Falk is not a top-4 defenseman on any NHL team and he struggles when forced into that role. With Marco Scandella down in Houston, Minnesota had Falk, Stoner, Clark and Nate Prosser all fighting for the two spots on the Wild’s bottom pairing. Clark and Prosser always seemed to be the ones left out. If Prosser was as tall as Falk, he would have played more than the 17 games he did.
Falk needs to find his role and quick, because Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella aren’t far from claiming a regular spot in the Wild lineup and Tyler Cuma and Steven Kampfer are also stiff competition. If I’m GM Chuck Fletcher, I think long and hard before I commit to Justin Falk.
Stay tuned for Part Three as Gone Puck Wild analyzes the Minnesota Wild’s UFA goaltenders.