Almost a month has passed since the Minnesota Wild were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. Since then, GM Chuck Fletcher has been considering options to improve his roster.
Fletcher told StarTribune.com's Michael Russo he's fielding calls from other clubs, and “actively listening” to ideas from his counterparts. The Wild stand to lose a good player, likely from their defense corps, to the Vegas Golden Knights in next month's expansion draft.
Veteran defenseman Ryan Suter carries a no-movement clause and must be protected. Assuming Fletcher protects three defensemen, he'll have to choose between Jared Spurgeon ($5.1 million annual cap hit), Jonas Brodin ($4.1 million), Marco Scandella ($4 million) or Matt Dumba ($2.5 million) to fill the other two slots on his protected list.
To avoid losing one of those blueliners for nothing to expansion, Fletcher could consider a trade to at least get something back.
Fletcher must also sign forwards Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund this summer. Both are restricted free agents with arbitration rights.
With over $61 million invested in 15 players for 2017-18, Fletcher has limited salary-cap space to re-sign them and leave enough room for other off-season depth moves. Some additional dollars could be freed up if a player under contract for 2017-18 is taken in the expansion draft. However, that might not give Fletcher sufficient wiggle room under the cap ceiling.
Russo reports there are rival GMs inquiring about the Wild's top prospects and young core players such as Niederreiter, center Charlie Coyle and blueliners Dumba and Brodin. While Fletcher admits to listening to offers, he claims he's not shopping them.
It's understandable why clubs have interest in those players. Niederreiter, 24, is a good scoring winger with three straight 20-plus goal seasons on his resume. Coyle, 25, is a big, versatile forward who can skate at center or right wing and reached a career-high 56 points this season. Brodin, 23, and Dumba, 22, are skilled defenseman who've yet to reach their playing prime.
Fletcher's won't give those players away to clear cap space or simply to avoid losing one of them for nothing to expansion. He'll want a return that can also improve his club now and for the foreseeable future. Given the collapse of the Wild's offense down the stretch and into the playoffs, a reliable scoring center could top his wish list.
FLAMES SHOULD TARGET FLEURY
Following the Calgary Flames' playoff elimination last month, it was assumed they would pursue a new starting goaltender. Brian Elliott, acquired last June from the St. Louis Blues, struggled throughout this season. Eligible for UFA status in July, the 32-year-old isn't expected to return.
Media speculation suggested the Flames could target Ben Bishop or Scott Darling in the free-agent market. But with Bishop acquired and signed by the Dallas Stars and Darling now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, Flames GM Brad Treliving must consider other options.
The Calgary Sun's Eric Francis considers Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury the most obvious trade candidate. It's anticipated the Penguins will shop Fleury following the playoffs in order to protect Matt Murray in the expansion draft.
Francis believes the 32-year-old Fleury's stock is rising thanks to his strong performance in the 2017 playoffs. Provided Fleury is willing to accept a trade to Calgary, Francis feels the asking price could include “several top prospects and/or a significant young roster player.”
The Detroit Red Wings could be willing to part ways with veteran Jimmy Howard. He's signed through 2018-19 with a $5.2-million annual cap hit. He's also been dogged by consistency and injury concerns in recent years. Same goes for Philadelphia Flyers pending UFA Steve Mason.
If Treliving seeks younger, promising options, he could look at Antti Raanta of the New York Rangers, Philipp Grubauer of the Washington Capitals or Mike Condon of the Ottawa Senators. They are solid backups but have yet to establish themselves as starters.
An intriguing option could be Jonathan Bernier of the Anaheim Ducks. He's a UFA this summer and had a couple of seasons as a starter with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While Bernier didn't fare well with the Leafs, he's noticeably improved in Anaheim. Perhaps he could be ready for another shot as a starter.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.