Before I say anything else, Happy 150th Canada Day to our neighbors to the north! NHL Free Agency on July 1st is like Christmas time for NHL fans as they spend a summer day watching Twitter explode with signings as teams try to improve their squad. Money and term lengths sort of run together after a while as pundits argue the merits of the transactions and whether they feel they make sense or not. The Minnesota Wild did gain some cap relief by moving Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to the Buffalo Sabres for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, but with important restricted free agents they don’t have the kind of space to just go free wheeling into free agency and their moves reflected that.
The Wild added right-shot defenseman Ryan Murphy on a 1-year (two-way contract) worth $700,000. Murphy was selected 12th Overall in 2011 by the Carolina as a skilled offensive defenseman but just couldn’t find away to stick. The Hurricanes defense improved steadily and Murphy was ultimately the player to lose out in a numbers game. He’s still young, just 24 years old but he doesn’t make a small and soft Wild blueline any bigger at just 5’11”, 185lbs which did seem to confuse some fans as news of the signing broke. He’ll likely be an anchor player in Iowa who will be graduating Gustav Olofsson after he signed a one-way contract a few days ago.
Another affordable depth signing was signing center Landon Ferraro to a two-year deal worth $1.1 Million (two-way) contract. The Trail, British Columbia-native was drafted 32nd Overall in 2009 by the Detroit Red Wings where like Murphy lost out in a numbers game. The Red Wings patient style of development kept him in Grand Rapids (AHL) most of the time but he has the ability to play center or left wing. He moves well and has some offensive skill just like his father, former NHL’er and current TSN Analyst Ray Ferraro did. Ferraro could find himself being the replacement for Jordan Schroeder who had the unenviable role of being the guy on the Des Moines / St. Paul shuttle as team tries to save every bit of cap space it has.
The Wild landed a more seasoned and well-traveled journeyman in center Cal O’Reilly to a 2-year, $1.1 million (two-way contract). The nearly 31-year old center has 144 NHL games under his belt having spent time in the Nashville, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Buffalo organizations. He is a skilled forward who has been a solid producer at the AHL level and might be another quality signing to get Iowa over the top and into the post-season for the first time since the team came into existence in 2013. The brother of Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly, is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer but he’s a hard worker who has kept his eye focused on NHL opportunities.
Minnesota also added a goaltender to its stable by signing Niklas Svedberg to a one-year deal worth $700,000 (two-way contract) . Svedberg was plying his game with the Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League the last two seasons where he put up respectable numbers and had a limited opportunity in his most recent NHL stint with the Boston Bruins back in the 2014-15 season. He doesn’t have prototypical NHL goaltender size at just 6’0″ tall. He will compete with Alex Stalock for the backup job behind Devan Dubnyk and if he loses out will likely trade starts with Steve Michalek in Iowa.
There is one interesting angle to Svedberg’s signing in the fact he was a teammate of Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov. Going off on a tangent slightly, with the signing of good Russian friends Dmitry Sokolov and drafting Andrei Svetlakov and now a teammate in Svedberg are the Wild kind of paving the way to locking up the skilled prospect as Tony Abbott of HockeyWilderness speculated here in this tweet?
As time went on, it was clear the intent of this first day of free agency was to improve the Iowa Wild’s chances at making the playoffs. The team had already re-signed AHL vet Pat Cannone and Dante Salituro earlier in the week, and they signed another apparent ringer in defenseman Alex Grant. Grant brings size 6’4″, 205lbs a right-handed shot but also terrific production. Along with (Ryan) Murphy, Iowa should have more punch from its blueline. The Nova Scotia-native has bounced around the AHL but he’s been very productive wherever he’s been. He’s only played in 7 NHL games but he registered two goals so maybe he’s a sleeper pick to be that 6th or 7th defenseman for Minnesota if need be.
The Minnesota Wild has been annoyed at the repeated squandered opportunity at further development time because their American League affiliate cannot make the playoffs. Other clubs in the AHL Central division like the Chicago Wolves, Milwaukee Admirals, and this year’s Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins make sure there is enough talent there to make the playoffs and Minnesota was tired of its projects wrapping their season up in early April. Hopefully this gives them the talent they need to give the loyal fans in Des Moines some playoff hockey to get excited about.