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Off-Season Game Plan - Minnesota Wild Written by habsfan93 - June 29th, 2009

The conclusion of Season 5 could not have come any quicker for the Minnesota Wild, as they finished off their worst season in franchise history. Only two years removed from winning the Northwest division, the Wild are looking towards the future and a full-on rebuilding period. Let's take a look at how they might start doing that this summer.

Forwards

Good news for the Wild - most of the team is under contract for next season already, and more importantly, at a low cost. Marek Svatos led the Wild in scoring as he posted career-best numbers in goals and points. He'll continue to be counted on next year as a 1st line winger. A number of other players are also signed through the season including Rob Niedermayer, Dan Hinote, Mike Comrie, Rene Bourque, Josh Green, Brad Richardson, Morten Madsen, Christoph Schubert Andre Roy and Jeff Halpern. While some of those players are a dime a dozen, others have the potential to really contribute to the team. Rene Bourque proved once again that he can be a consistent 40-point playmaker, while Brad Richardson finished 2nd on the team in goals scored with 24. Mike Comrie had a disappointing year, but he has the talent to contribute as a 2nd or maybe even 1st line forward. Veterans like Niedermayer, Hinote, Schubert and Halpern are fantastic 3rd or 4th liners who can play shutdown hockey with the best of them.

David Backes has to be the team's primary concern this summer. The 23-year old put up a terrific rookie season with 19 goals and 51 points, good for 2nd on the team. He also laid out a whopping 249 hits, best among forwards. He's a restricted free agent this summer, and will command a hefty raise on the $800,000 he made as a rookie, but combined with Svatos, he should be at the forefront of the Wild rebuilding plan, and should be signed at almost any cost.

Ryan Malone is also a restricted free agency, and is priority #2 for the Wild this summer. Though he doesn't put up a lot of points, he brings above average defence and intensity while maintaining excellent discipline. He is effectively, the perfect 3rd line player. He too will command a raise on the $800,000 he made last year, but at a salary around 1.5-2 million, Malone would be worth every penny. Furthermore, if the Wild are willing to put an NHL rerate on Malone, they could turn him from a 3rd liner to a 1st line LW for Backes and Svatos.

The only unrestricted free agent on the Wild's pro roster this summer, the team could renogotiate a contract with Steven Reinprecht. But unless he's willing to take a steep pay cut from the $2 million he made in Season 5, the Wild could do much better by spending that money via the free agent market . Reinprecht hasn't been worth that price tag since Season 2, the last time he scored more than 30 points in a season.

Looking to the farm, a number of veteran farmies will be retiring or leaving for Europe this summer including Jeff O'Neill, Andrei Taratukhin, Andreas Karlsson, Duncan Milroy, Simon Gamache and Jim Dowd. This mass purging of the farm squad will really open up the floodgates for a new batch of prospects to develop which is the best thing you can do on a rebuilding team.

The Wild will not be in a position to get any help from Calgary up front this year though, as the farm does not have any CMHL-ready players just yet. However, as mentioned before, with most of the current squad under contract for next year already, these prospects won't be needed for another year or two regardless.

Defence

The Wild have 4 solid defenceman who would be considered #2-5 guys. They are lacking a #1 defenceman though, a shut down defender who can also chip in on offence. All four of their dmen are signed for at least 2 more years, which is good. They would like Nick Boynton to be the #1 guy, but Boynton is coming off his worst career offensive season and is not as defensively capable as you would like for a #1. But he is certainly a great #2. Matt Jones, Matt Walker and Brent Sopel are all capable defenders but none scream of offensive ability.

The greatest fortune for the Wild this summer is the retirement of Sandis Ozolinsh. Ozolinsh and his ridiculous $6 million contract are off the books, freeing up a big pile of money for the Wild to go crazy on the free agent market.

Paul Postma had a respectable rookie season as the #6 dman, but he needs more minor league seasoning before being ready for a permanent gig. Much like at forward, the Wild really don't have anyone ready to step in and take a spot in the pros, so the Wild will have to look to Free Agency to fill the gaps on D.

Goaltending

This is the true weak spot for the Wild. They are seriously lacking a #1 goaltender. The Wild have both Ty Conklin and Johan Hedberg under contract for next year, and while both are more than capable backups, neither is a #1. Given the lack of goaltending free agents this summer, the Wild may have to count on a tandem of the two for next season, with Conklin possibly taking the 65/35 majority of the games. The Wild have to consider something - if they are comfortable pursuing the rebuild for another year, knowing they will not even challenge for the playoffs, then this duo will do the job just fine. But if the Wild have any desire to make the playoffs next year, they will need a #1 goalie to get there.

Behind that duo, the depth is severely lacking at this position. Nolan Schaefer will suffice as an emergency backup, but there are no other goalies in the system. This has to be a serious concern for this team.

Draft

I'm not sure what has happened here, but the Wild do not have another 1st round pick until 2011. This is disastrous for a rebuilding team. The Wild hold 6 picks in the upcoming draft, one pick in each of rounds 2-5, and two 6ths. The focus for the Wild has to be goaltending, they need to get some bodies in the system, and the 2nd round pick should be used to take the best goalie available in the draft. Beyond the 2nd, the Wild should follow the best player available strategy for the rest of the draft.

Offseason Priorities

1) Sign Backes and Malone to long-term contracts, the maximum years allowed. These are character players that you can build a team around.

2) Make an impact in Free Agency. With Ozolinsh off the books, let Reinprecht go, combined with the fact that the Wild are already about 7 million under the cap, and they have over 15 million dollars to work with in the Free Agent market, which means they could be a major player. The Wild should assess their goals for next season and move ahead accordingly, but the worst thing the team could do is commit major money to another Ozolinsh. Focus on guys who are entering or still in their prime and who will be around for a while. Two defencemen are definitely needed though.

3) Build overall depth - this team is lacking in depth, fill out the farm roster, acquire some draft picks even if they are late round, let's just get some bodies in Minnesota. But don't sign players needlessly either, make sure everyone coming in has a purpose.

Project Season 6 Lineup (based on current roster)

Malone - Backes - Svatos

Bourque - Comrie - Richardson

Niedermayer - Madsen -Hinote

Green - Halpern - Schubert/Roy

 

Boynton - Sopel

Jones - Walker

Schubert/FA -FA

 

Conklin

Hedberg

 

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Comments:
I had an idea my team was a bit far off from being decent, but I had no idea I was that bad... Thanks for the writeup, and the different point of view. I will take all of this into the draft, and free agent signing period and see how things shape up. Written By: Matsson (2009-07-01 07:22:45)

Well, I think you're looking good going forward. The purge of retirees has left your roster a little bare but in the long run it will only help you as it frees up a lot of roster/salary cap space for you.

Written By: habsfan93 (2009-07-01 08:40:59)

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