ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Wild have entered yet another summer with scoring on top of their wish list.
After ranking 18th in the NHL with an average of 2.6 goals per game, sneaking into the playoffs thanks to a weak bottom of the Western Conference, the Wild have begun their pursuit of a top-six forward through either the trade market or free agency. Zach Parise, with 25 goals in 70 games this season, was the only player who finished in the top 50 in the league. He was tied for 49th.
''There's so much talent in this league. There's not a lot separating most of us, and I think if we could find a way to score goals a little more easily that would certainly help our cause,'' general manager Chuck Fletcher said.
Fletcher said this week he's comfortable with the space the Wild have under the $73 million salary cap, but to create more flexibility, he could seek to buy out the contract of a player like left wing Thomas Vanek. The 32-year-old Vanek, who scored 39 goals over his first two seasons with the Wild, is signed for one more year at $6.5 million.
''Certainly everything's on the table,'' Fletcher said, ''but we haven't made any decisions.''
Vanek, of course, was fetched to be that top-six scoring forward, but he hasn't produced the way he did in his 20s in Buffalo. With Parise, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Mikko Koivu, plus Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville, the Wild have at least the foundation of two solid lines under new coach Bruce Boudreau. Coyle and Granlund can play either center or wing, which allows Fletcher and the Wild to broaden their search around the league. They need only Coyle or Granlund to play center, not both.
With backup goalie Darcy Kuemper and young depth on defense, the Wild have some tradeable players who could help sweeten a deal. New assistant coach Scott Stevens, naturally, has told Fletcher that he ''would love to have the chance'' to work with Jared Spuregon, Marco Scandella, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin rather than see one of them traded.
''That's the strength of our franchise,'' Fletcher said.
Despite the stability that Devan Dubnyk has provided in the net, parting with Kuemper this summer could also be a risk.
''Darcy's a player that, I'll be candid, some teams have asked about,'' Fletcher said. ''With our track record of injuries to goaltenders, I'm a little hesitant to get aggressive about shopping him.''
The asset the Wild are most reticent to part with, though, is those draft picks. Been there, done that.
''I guess you could say the bill's come due,'' Fletcher said, referring to deadline acquisitions the last three years that fetched nonfactors like Sean Bergenheim, Matt Moulson and Chris Stewart.
The Wild have only four selections this year in the draft, which is Friday and Saturday in Buffalo, New York.
''It's quality over quantity. That's our motto this year,'' Fletcher said.