My first job that I had that gave me an actual ‘paycheck’ was working at a local basketball camp when I was in 3rd grade. I worked about 2 hours a day for 2 weeks (Monday through Friday) and at the end of the camp I got handed a check that was about $40. Like most kids, I had ‘plans’ for that money. It was burning a hole in my pocket as my mom would say and she’d caution me from spending it right away but I didn’t care. I earned the money and I was going to be spending it shortly after I got the check and could cash it at the bank. I spent the money on a Nintendo game, Ultra‘s Silent Service, a game about a World War II submarine. I had fun with that game, but in the long term maybe I should’ve taken my mom’s advice and saved it.
Perhaps the Minnesota Wild could stand to heed that advice as well. As news reports came over Twitter that the Wild’s ‘top’ target in upcoming NHL free agency, Joe Pavelski was likely nearing a deal with the Dallas Stars it appears as though the team needs to consider Plan B or just saving its cap space. But like 3rd grade me, sitting back and saving the money seems to be a non-option as the Wild appear to be determined to spend their money on at least one free agent forward if not two as reported by the Athletic.
Now the Wild appear to be focusing their efforts on trying to sign right wing Mats Zuccarello to a contract that will likely be at least $5 million dollars and for at least 5 years. What? Zuccarello is 5’8″ left-shot forward who had just 12 goals a season ago split between the New York Rangers and Dallas. He also battled with two significant injuries and while is a player who gets major kudos for his work ethic and his fearless nature despite being undersized we can’t lose sight of the fact he’ll be 32 years old by the time the 2019-20 season starts. So by the time a 5-year contract would be finished he’d be 37-years old on a team that already has a glut of older forwards.
I understand Wild owner Craig Leipold‘s demand / want to get back to the playoffs and that the team desperately needs some scoring help. Yet, is Zuccarello really the answer for this team’s Top-6? Do we really want to lock ourselves into 5-year pact with another player that is over 30 years old if we want to be younger and faster? I really liked Zuccarello a lot when he sort of burst into the hockey world’s consciousness when he was the pint-sized ball of energy that led Team Norway to being a tough out in the 2008 Olympics but that was 11 years ago. I am sure Wild General Manager Paul Fenton sees shades of Viktor Arvidsson in Zuccarello and feels he could be the spark the team needs. A guy who plays each shift like its his last and hopes that will help inspire the rest of the squad to try to match that intensity.
The Wild have already dodged two free agency bullets in missing out on Pavelski and now Phil Kessel who was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk and a prospect. Like Zuccarello, both of those players were over 30 years old but with a lot more NHL production to their credit and are looking for stability and a chance to win. Neither player obviously felt the Wild were close to competing for a Stanley Cup otherwise they probably would’ve signed here. Zuccarello is also being pursued by the Columbus Blue Jackets who I would argue are closer than the Wild are to being a cup contender (and they have even more cap space than we do) so the only way we’re going to win him over is to overpay him. My mom rolled her eyes when I picked up Silent Service and all I can do is roll my eyes at overpaying and giving too much term to 30+ year old left shot, right wing.
If the Wild fail to win the bidding war for Zuccarello’s services, the team will likely look to add power forward Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds, the 30-year old (he will turn 31 in August) right shot is coming off a rough season but in many ways he would give the Wild some elements it has wanted for a while. A bigger forward who is a natural net-front presence and with some scoring touch in and around the crease. Simmonds is also probably seeking at least a 4-year deal. Again, while he addresses a few basic complaints our GM had about this team in regards to having too few right shot options as well as it being a smaller team. Still a 4 or a 5-year deal seems risky.
Beyond that you have Joonas Donskoi who gives you a right shot player, but how much term are you going to have to give him? The one good thing with Donskoi is that he’s 27 years old so signing him to a 4-5 year deal seems less risky as he’ll still be in his early 30’s by the time the deal comes to an end as opposed to his mid-to-late 30’s. However, his offensive ceiling is probably the lowest of these 3 players. Another player the Wild are looking at is Ryan Hartman who was not given a qualifying offer by the Philadelphia Flyers after they traded for him earlier in the month. He’s 24-years old (will turn 25 in September) and is a right shot forward who is best suited to a Bottom-6 role so he seems like an affordable signing.
The other unknown in the choice to spend or not spend is how this effects the views of defenseman Jared Spurgeon who has just one more year on his deal that pays him $5.18 million per season. He is due for a raise and wants to be on a winning team, if the Wild choose to hold back and not spend. Will he say to heck with re-signing with the team knowing its far away from being a cup contender? Or will signing a Zuccarello or Simmonds make him think this team may still have what it takes to make the playoffs? Tough to say. If Zuccarello or Simmonds re-ignite their game it might be enough to push the team to a wildcard spot, but if they’re the same or worse than a season ago its tough to see how that would be enough.
As it is, Spurgeon’s decision to re-sign or not may rest more in what the organization decides to do with Jason Zucker than adding either of these players. The two players are good friends and they both have the same agent Eustace King. It really is a toss up. If they both choose to leave or to be traded its tough to blame them for feeling that way. If Spurgeon would depart it would help open up a possible spot on the Wild blueline. Right now the team has 7 players on one-way contracts.
The team sent qualifying offers to restricted free agents Carson Soucy and Louie Belpedio. Iowa’s leading scorer from its defenseman corps last season, Brennan Menell (44 points in 70 games) is in the last year of his two-way contract and I have learned that he is attracting some trade interest from other teams including Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders. So the Wild may have some additional assets to parlay if it chooses to do so.
Sometimes knowing you don’t have much makes it easy to stay away from foolish decisions with your money because you don’t have it. Yet, just spending for spending’s sake can lead to buyers’ remorse. With the qualifying offers being what they are the team has about $17.4 million in cap space according to Cap Friendly. The Minnesota Wild have Mikko Koivu coming off the books after next season. He is a part of the veteran leadership group and the overall identity of the team and the organization. If the Wild really want to change things up, this is a natural place to change it and by not going out and spending money just to do so they’ll give themselves more money to work with. By saving it they can have the room to sign a true gamebreaking center that it has never had which take them a big step closer to being a contender instead of burning up the space with a tweak or two.
Just as I found out with Silent Service (now worth $4.75), if I would’ve saved it and waited I could’ve gotten a much better game in Irem‘s Metal Storm (now worth $124). You live and you learn, hopefully the Wild do the same.