The Wild appears to be in a midsummer holding pattern.
While the Wild still may be in the market this offseason for at least one more forward, most the team's focus has turned to re-signing three key restricted free agents.
"This has become the typical shift in the NHL after the first few days of free agency," Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "You talk to players, sign a few, then shift to the RFA's. Once that's done, you see where you're at when you have a little better sense of your available cap space. If something's out there now that makes sense, we'd do it. But once the RFA's are done, we can check back in and see if there's a fit out there."
The Wild has $15.741 million of cap space left if one presumes rookie Joel Eriksson Ek, goalie Alex Stalock and defenseman Mike Reilly, who last week signed a one-way contract, make the team. A large chunk of that cap space — potentially more than $13 million — could be eaten up by unsigned Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Marcus Foligno.
Granlund and Niederreiter, both coming off career years, have filed for salary arbitration. If unsigned beforehand, Niederreiter's hearing is slated for Aug. 3 and Granlund's for Aug. 4.
"The two arbitration cases are really the bigger focus, and we have to work out something with Foligno, too," Fletcher said. "We have some cap flexibility, but it's not unlimited."
The Wild has only 10 forwards signed to one-way contracts. A number of unsigned forwards are still available, including future Hall of Famers Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla, veterans Shane Doan and Thomas Vanek and depth players like Scottie Upshall, Daniel Winnik and Matt Hendricks.
Fletcher declined to comment on any specific free agent. But the Wild has spoken with center Matt Cullen, who is deciding whether to return for a 20th season or retire. The Wild also has spoken with the agent of Drew Stafford, who's interested in playing for the Wild.
The Wild has some holes. For instance, the team only has two right-shot forwards on one-way deals and could arguably use another center. Cullen is one of the few centers potentially out there.
"We have some guys that can play different positions, either center or wing — [Charlie] Coyle, Eriksson Ek and even [Luke] Kunin," Fletcher said. "We're comfortable going with what we have and signed some decent depth guys and have guys knocking on the door of playing in the NHL. But we're in such a competitive league, you've got to explore every possibility, and we're looking."
Another tricky issue Fletcher is contending with is the fact captain Mikko Koivu is entering the final year of his contract and Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba could become restricted free agents next summer.
So every dollar he spends affects another decision.
The Wild plans to talk to Koivu this offseason about an extension, but Fletcher explained to Koivu it's premature to begin that dialogue until he knows exactly how much Granlund, Niederreiter and Foligno will cost.
"We'll speak again in the near future, and Mikko understood that," Fletcher said.
If the Wild hits the arbitration hearing with Granlund and Niederreiter, the Wild can choose either a one-year or two-year award. Each side submits a brief no later than 48 hours beforehand with a salary proposal. The arbitrator chooses one inside that window.
It's believed the Wild wants to sign both to affordable contracts ranging in length of three to five years.
In arbitration, if the Wild opted for one-year awards, the Wild could wind up having to negotiate with a group that includes Granlund, Niederreiter, Koivu, Zucker and Dumba during the summer of 2018. If the Wild chooses two-year arbitration awards, that potentially would take Granlund and Niederreiter to unrestricted free agency.
But that would at least give the Wild two years of cost certainty with the two players in a league where the 2018-19 salary-cap figure is a guessing game and next season's cap rose only 2.7 percent, to $75 million.
"You can guess $78 million, but if you guess wrong, then what do you do?" Fletcher said.
If at the end of the process the Wild's not interested in signing any of the remaining free agents, there should be plenty of veteran options for tryouts during training camp.
•The Wild re-signed goalie Steve Michalek and forward Zack Mitchell to one-year, two-way contracts.