Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where it’s time to spend some time on the ice. Let’s get to it:
*When Wild general manager Paul Fenton embarked on a roster shakeup in the middle of last season, the intent seemed clear on two fronts: 1) See if an injection of new blood would create a better dynamic down the stretch that might propel the team into the playoffs and spark a run; 2) Add a combination of youth and payroll flexibility to pave the way for a bigger shift in direction during the offseason.
Number 1 obviously didn’t happen. Number 2 is coming into focus but still in question.
Barring anything dramatic (like, say, a Jason Zucker trade that still hasn’t happened amid chatter that has died down), the Wild’s offseason activity might be drawing to a close. Sure, Minnesota has a couple more notable restricted free agents to sign (Joel Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala), but after signing Ryan Donato on Tuesday the others can’t be far behind.
As such, we are in position to take a look at where the Wild stands with payroll, talent and flexibility in order to judge (at least to this point) the net result of the reshuffling that began in earnest six months ago.
Note: Salaries are yearly cap hits and length of remaining contract includes 2019-20. Estimates for Eriksson Ek and Fiala via Evolving Hockey).
Mikael Granlund ($5.75 million, 1 year left); Nino Niederreiter ($5.25 million, 3 years left); Charlie Coyle ($3.2 million, 1 year left).
Ryan Donato ($1.9 million, 2 years left); Kevin Fiala (Estimated $3.1 million, 2 years left); Victor Rask ($4 million, 3 years left); Mats Zuccarello, $6 million, 5 years left); Ryan Hartman ($1.9 million, 2 years left).
OTHER NOTABLE DECISIONS
Eric Staal (2-year extension, $3.25M per year); Joel Eriksson Ek (estimated 2-year deal as RFA at $1.35M per year).
So: Had the Wild kept the status quo — no trades, no outside free agent signings, keeping Eriksson Ek, they would have been on the hook for about $15.5 million in salary in 2019-20 with Granlund, Nino, Coyle and Ek. That would have diminished to $6.6 million in 2020-21 had they let Coyle and Granlund walk in free agency.
As it stands (estimated), the Wild will be on the hook for $18.25 million next season between Donato, Fiala, Rask, Zuccarello, Hartman and Ek, and the same number in 2020-21.
(I’m not sure if the Staal re-signing fits into either equation, but it felt strange to leave it off the decision list).
If we keep Hartman (a low-leverage signing) and Eriksson Ek out of it, it looks like this:
$14.2 million status quo in 2019-20 with Granlund, Coyle and Nino, which is down to just one player (Nino) and $5.25M beyond next year.
$15 million (estimated) in 2019-20 and 2020-21 for Donato, Fiala, Rask and Zuccarello, with longer-term commitments to both Rask and Zuccarello.
I think it’s fair to say the Wild would need to get a jump from two out of the three of Donato, Fiala and Rask next season to feel better about their short-term lineup vs. what they would have had by doing nothing.
And the bigger-picture question: Would you rather have Donato, Fiala, Rask and Zuccarello in 2020-21 for $15 million or would you rather have Niederreiter and $10 million more in cap space — which is what the Wild would have had just by playing out this coming season and letting Granlund and Coyle walk?
Framing it that way reinforces the bets Fenton is making on his ability to evaluate talent and try to remake this roster on the fly. Because in terms of cap flexibility, the Wild sure seems to have less of it than when the reshuffling started.
*Want to go in a completely different direction from the last 500 words? Here’s a picture of Jack White and other members of The Raconteurs taking in Tuesday’s Twins game a night after playing The Armory.
*I’ll take a hard pass on the Face App that makes us all look old, particularly if it’s the Russians trying to gather data on us. But then I’ll contradict myself temporarily to show you old Aaron Rodgers.
*Bill Simmons is trying to build the case for Chris Paul to the Wolves by floating the idea that all it would take is Gorgui Dieng and Jeff Teague.