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 free agents.
If you’ve been reading Gone Puck Wild the past few weeks, you likely read our series covering Minnesota’s UFAs. Now it’s time to take a look at the RFAs. This year, forwards Cody Almond, Joel Broda, Cal Clutterbuck, Justin Fontaine, Mikko Lehtonen, David McIntyre, Carson McMillan and Jarod Palmer, defensemen Tyler Cuma, Steven Kampfer, Bjorn Krupp, Kyle Medvec, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon and goaltender Dennis Endras are all RFAs.
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:
What the forward RFA class for Minnesota looks like is essentially Cal Clutterbuck and a bunch of AHLers. Broda, Fontaine, McIntyre, McMillan and Palmer will all likely stay at their current salaries if the Wild tender them contracts. Two wild card prospects are Mikko Lehtonen and Cody Almond.
Lehtonen, acquired from Boston in the Anton Khudobin trade, will likely never play a game in the NHL as he has expressed no interest in returning. The Espoo, Finland native has been a mercenary throughout his career, making stops in Finland’s SM-Liiga, the AHL/NHL, the Swedish Elite League, the KHL and most recently the Swiss-A league. In 150 AHL games with the Providence Bruins, Lehtonen notched 51 goals and 52 assists for 103 points. His best season, however, was 2010-11 when he scored 30 goals and 28 assists for 58 points and a plus-1 rating in 55 games with Skelleftea of the SEL.
According to Elite Prospects, Lehtonen is described as:
A hulking right winger, Lehtonen has great speed and hands. Likes to fire the puck using his deadly wrister and snapshot. Is very strong on the puck and hard to knock off of it.
It’s too bad Minnesota fans will likely never see his 6’4″ 205-pound frame in a Wild sweater.
Cody Almond signed with Geneve Servette of the Swiss-A league this past season, potting eight goals and adding 22 assists for 30 points and a plus-4 rating in 39 games. Almond is a solid player, but doesn’t have the skill set to really make a successful transition to the NHL. He also may have burned a bridge or two when he opted for Switzerland over Houston.
On the other hand, Cal Clutterbuck is living proof you don’t have to light up the AHL to be a very successful NHL player. In 75 AHL games with Houston, he potted 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points and a plus-1 rating. After scoring 35 goals and 54 assists for 89 points in 65 games with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL in 2006-07, it was clear Minnesota had known exactly what they were getting when they picked him 72nd overall in the third round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
In 346 career NHL games, Clutterbuck has netted 62 goals and chipped in 48 assists for 110 points and a negative-27 rating while consistently being among the league’s leaders in hits. His game isn’t designed to make him the team’s stud goal scorer. Where he thrives is being a physical presence on the third line with rugged center Kyle Brodziak and speedy Torrey Mitchell. Together, this trio makes for a very intimidating and physical line that can be thrown out on the ice in all situations.
Unless they feel 2010 38th overall pick Brett Bulmer is ready to fill his role, signing Cal Clutterbuck is, or should be, a very high priority for the Wild brass. Cal’s most recent contract held a $1.4 Million cap hit. He’ll no doubt demand a little more for his services, but should understand the team’s cap situation with the salary cap going down to $64.3 Million and only having a little over $9 Million to work with. If Clutterbuck truly wants to continue wearing the Red, White and Green, he’ll find a way to work out a deal.
That wraps up the Wild’s RFA Forwards. Be sure to check back as Gone Puck Wild breaks down the Defensemen and Goaltenders next.