The Minnesota Wild’s New Cap Situation: Forwards

ST. PAUL, MN - DECEMBER 01: Eric Staal #12 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates a 1st period goal during a game with the Toronto Maple Leafs at Xcel Energy Center on December 1, 2018 in St. Paul, Minnesota.(Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
ST. PAUL, MN - DECEMBER 01: Eric Staal #12 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates a 1st period goal during a game with the Toronto Maple Leafs at Xcel Energy Center on December 1, 2018 in St. Paul, Minnesota.(Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Wild are an imperfect team. Same as the other 30 teams. Now you can argue that the Tampa Bay Lightning are, but after their sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets, you can see cracks in their roster.

So what’s my point?

Well unlike the lightning the Wild have given themselves a lot of cap space to re-invest in their team. They also have the majority of their team on short-term contracts, giving them a ton of flexibility. So, what are the holes on their roster, and how much money do they have to play with.

Cap Spreads

As Lake Martin said in his last article:

"The new core being added to the current aging core of Parise, Suter, Staal, Koivu, Zucker, Spurgeon must step up and produce in order for the wild to succeed."

Which arguably, is a double-edged sword. See that new core at forward is made up of players Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Kevin Fiala, Ryan Donato, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Nico Sturm. While the quote is 100% right, it’s also 100% wrong. The unfortunate thing about having so many young forwards on ELCs poised for breakout seasons is that they can lampoon a healthy cap situation.

Once again referring to the Lightning, whom I’m using as a team that has their cap situation largely set in stone, you can see how cap is normally divided out. At the start of next season the Lightning will have $50,423,332 of their cap reserved for forwards. this represents 60.7% of the projected 83 million dollar cap for next season.

That is with 4 RFA’s left to sign, most notably Brayden Point. For further reference Toronto has 56.5% of their cap next year spent on forwards, Nashville has 52.2%, and Calgary has 49.4 percent, with Matt Tkachuk to resign as an RFA. This is where the damage those RFA’s can do is evident for the Minnesota Wild. at current the Wild have $23,850,961 reserved forwards, which is only 28.7 percent.

The RFA Giveth, and the RFA Taketh Away

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The problem however is that out of the RFA group I listed above Fiala, Donato, Sturm, an Eriksson Ek are all RFA’s this summer. Greenway and Kunin find themselves as RFA’s the summer afterward. This means that 28% has the potential to shoot up dramatically. I would wager to guess that Fiala and Donato are worth 2-4 million on short-term deals, Eriksson Ek is worth 1-2 million on a short-term deal, and Sturm is likely to sign for under 1 million.

Let’s assume that Donato and Fiala both get 3 million, Eriksson Ek gets 1.5, and Sturm gets the same amount as this season, $925,000 for one year. This adds $8.425 in cap dollars to give us a total of 32,275,961. I’m assuming that these deals will all last for two years. Meaning that Greenway and Kunin will get their second contracts the next summer and then the four listed will get higher raises on their third contracts the summer after.

This is an example of smart cap management by Paul Fenton but it also limits the amount of money that he will have to invest on free agents. In my opinion, and by what these RFA’s suggest to me, it would be unwise to invest in more than one top 6 forward and one top 4 D-man.

What Kind of Player to Target

First off, I’m not looking at any centers. Between Staal, Eriksson Ek, Koivu, Rask, Fehr (if re-signed), and Sturm, they’re set. The way I look at it they have around 5-6 million dollars to find one more top 6 forward to keep the young kids down the lineup. Ideally however they don’t spend more than 5.5, so they can give a little wiggle room to sign RFA’s.

Koivu, Staal, and Parise should all be retiring in 5-6 years, freeing up cap space and perhaps justifying an 8 year deal for a UFA this season. As for the specific type of player. Scoring was an issue this past season so I would look to target players who are very good at putting the puck in the net.

Jordan Eberle, Joe Pavelski, Mats Zuccarello, a player of that ilk. I would also target a player that can add to the leadership group to help build a winning culture for the next generation. Most importantly with all the young talent maturing a defensively responsible player. One that can contribute on the power-play and on the penalty kill. Young players go through defensive growing pains and it would be wise to invest in some veteran cover.

Wrap Up

All in all at forward the Wild don’t need much. In my eyes they have a contending roster at forward for the next 2-3 years assuming no (more) big trades happen. As we get closer to free agency we will be counting down which UFA players would best fit the Wild organization

For now I want to focus on how much wiggle room they have at forward, and at defense. Next time I’ll be talking defenders and why having 4 good defenseman and a lot of question marks can harm the Wild. Why is it a good idea to have more cover at defense? Tune in next time to find out!