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What Your Team Is Thankful For: Minnesota Wild

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What Your Team Is Thankful For: Minnesota Wild

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With American Thanksgiving now behind us and the holiday season coming up, PHR continues its look at what teams are thankful for in 2022-23. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Minnesota Wild.

Who are the Wild thankful for?

Kirill Kaprizov.

It’s simple, really. There is no player in Minnesota Wild history that has been as dynamic or that generates as much excitement as the 25-year-old Russian superstar. Incredibly, he already ranks 17th on the team’s all-time scoring list and will pass Brian Rolston, Jason Pominville, and Nino Niederreiter this season (provided he stays healthy).

He’ll also likely catch current players Mathew Dumba and Jonas Brodin, and has a chance of leapfrogging Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, and Jason Zucker which would get him into the top 10. That is after just three seasons with the team, one of which was shortened to just 56 games.

USATSI_19357543-200x300.jpgWith 32 points in 24 games this season he is eight ahead of his next closest teammate, and is more than living up to the $9MM price tag he received after his rookie season. Signed through 2025-26, he actually will look like quite a bargain as the cap ceiling continues to rise over the next few years.

What are the Wild thankful for?

Increasing hockey-related revenue numbers.

Speaking of a rising salary cap, the chance that it will go up ahead of schedule is music to the ears of general manager Bill Guerin. The Wild are dealing with more than $12.7MM in dead cap this season thanks to buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and that number is only going to go up for the next two years.

A $14,743,588 penalty will be applied to the team in 2023-24 and 2024-25 before it drops off to just $833,333 for four years after. If estimates are correct, and the players are going to pay off their escrow debt ahead of schedule, the bullet that Guerin bit will seem a little more forgiving.

Good timing, given the situation the team will face after this season. Matt Boldy, Sam Steel, Brandon Duhaime, Calen Addison, Mason Shaw, and Filip Gustavsson are all scheduled for restricted free agency, while Dumba and Frederik Gaudreau are headed for the open market. A rising cap – even if it only goes up enough to cover the buyout increase – will go a long way to help the front office make the puzzle pieces fit.

What would the Wild be even more thankful for?

A strong second half from Marc-Andre Fleury.

Even with that huge cap penalty, the Wild are a good team. They have an elite offensive talent, some excellent defenders, and enough depth to make it difficult for most teams to match up. But too often this season they have been receiving below-average goaltending.

Fleury turned 38 a few days ago and no one is expecting that he will post another Vezina-winning season this year. But the team needs him to be more than he has been so far. Through 16 games, the veteran netminder has an .895 save percentage, easily the worst of his career. There have been times in the past when people have written him off, only for his game to turn around significantly.

They don’t need him to be elite, and they don’t need him to start every game (Gustavsson has shown ability, too). But if he can give the team even average goaltending, they will be a playoff team this season and potentially even contend for the Central crown, given how undecided the division is at this point.

Minnesota has Jesper Wallstedt coming, and don’t need five more years of peak Fleury. But they do need him this year if they’re going to make any noise.

What should be on the Wild’s holiday wishlist?

A top-six center.

This has been on the team’s wishlist for a while, but Minnesota still needs an impact center. With Ryan Hartman on injured reserve, the group has been using Sam Steel as the first-line center. While he has shown some promise, they need a more established option there, and not just for this season.

Sure, Marco Rossi might eventually become that player, or Hartman could jump back in and find some of the magic he had last year, but acquiring someone from outside the organization is still probably a top priority. In a recent column, Joe Smith of The Athletic pondered about Bo Horvat, and noted he might be too expensive to acquire as a rental.

There is also the option of adding a top-six winger, which would move some players into more comfortable spots lower in the lineup. That may be a more realistic option, especially if they still believe that Hartman can be a difference-maker in the middle of Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello when he returns.

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