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By Tim Freitag
Minnesota Wild Writer
Players added through Free Agency
C – Eric Staal – 31yrs – 781 Career Points
The Minnesota Wild’s big splash in free agency was to add Eric Staal, a two-way center with the proven ability to put the puck in the net. This was a very calculated risk for GM Chuck Fletcher, who has most certainly taken advantage of free agency in an attempt to bolster the roster over the last few years.
Unlike his previous forays into free agency, it seems that this time, Fletcher has attempted to augment the places he already has in place rather than hit a home run on a goal scoring winger. Free agents Martin Havlat and Thomas Vanek didn’t live up to their contracts with Minnesota. Havlat was traded for Dany Heatley and Thomas Vanek was bought out earlier this summer. Staal’s 3 year $10.5 million deal seems much more conservative when compared with Fletcher’s deals in the past.
Though Staal appears past his prime, in terms of scoring, he is still a useful player. His possession numbers were very good last year and he’s always been a strong faceoff center. Staal’s addition does more than just add a good player to a lineup which underperformed last year. It allows for Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle to move to the wing, where both of them are more effective. Granlund’s late season, playoff, and world championship surge was mostly due to a move to the wing. Coyle’s move to the wing will allow him to use his big frame to win puck battles along the boards and become a stronger net front presence. Coyle is also moved from the faceoff circle where he has always struggled.
The most important byproduct of Staal’s addition may be that it allowed Chuck Fletcher to keep his stable of young defensemen intact. The long rumored deal of (insert Wild defenseman) for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins never made sense. Nugent-Hopkins has not proven, to this point, that he is a number 1 or 2 center in the NHL. Besides that, he carries a $6M AAV through 2021. His acquisition could have hamstrung the franchise for years and likely would have resulted in the departure of Mikael Granlund or Nino Neiderreiter, who are both RFAs at the end of next season, and are likely due for big raises.
RW – Chris Stewart – 28yrs – 284 Career Points
In a slightly surprising move, Chuck Fletcher brought back Chris Stewart who was originally acquired by Minnesota at the trade deadline of the 2014-15 season for a 2nd round pick from the Buffalo Sabres. Stewart was good during the home stretch of the 2015 season, tallying 11 points in 20 games, but went silent in the playoffs.
Though Stewart’s acquisition raised some eyebrows among Wild faithful, it really is a low risk/high reward move for the Wild. Stewart has the ability to play in the top 9 and will allow for some competition among the forward group heading into the season to claim spots in the top 9. At $1.15M over 2 years, there really is no downside to this deal. (Thomas Vanek has a bigger cap hit over those 2 years)
Besides the competition and depth aspect of his signing, Chris Stewart’s signing seems like an attempt to shore up the locker room. There were rumblings last season that there was a divide in the room which was most noticeable as the Wild stumbled in the second half of the season. This is merely conjecture on my part as I’m not in the room, but things didn’t feel right as a fan watching the frustration on the players’ faces.
G – Alex Stalock – 28yrs – 2.37 career GAA – .911 career Save %
Alex Stalock was brought on board to provide depth for an always unpredictable goalie stable for the Wild. He’ll start the season in Iowa, barring anything unforeseen, but his addition will provide depth for a team that has rarely had depth in goal.
A little history… In recent years, Nicklas Backstrom was injured in warmups before game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoff against the Chicago Blackhawks. Josh Harding was diagnosed with MS and then broke his foot after allegedly kicking a wall after becoming angered by a teammate. That resulted in the Wild acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov to save the season and get to the playoffs that season.
Suffice it to say, but it’s “Humongous Big” for the Wild to enter a season with 3 goaltenders who can play in the NHL.
It would seem Chuck Fletcher and Brent Flahr are not yet done in free agency. The team still needs to sign RFAs Matt Dumba and Jordan Schroeder. Beyond that, the team will still have the flexibility to sign an NHL forward for the 4th line or make a move on a trade with a team that is too tight against the cap. With the relatively flat cap this season, it’s likely that there will be more than a few teams who need to unload a player they otherwise would have kept.
FA options for the Wild to add a forward include bringing back Matt Cullen, who was terrific in last season’s playoffs or someone like a Ryan Carter or Chris Porter.
Again, it would seem that Chuck Fletcher did a great job of bolstering the lineup with depth down the middle for the first time that I remember. This lineup looks more balanced than in years past and they’ll hopefully make a strong run into the playoffs under the leadership of Bruce Boudreau, who may actually be the best pickup Fletcher made this offseason.