Good morning everyone. Nothing like the NHL schedule being released to really get one pumped up for the season.
Spent last night booking hotels through December. Might as well get a jump on it, eh?
I’m about to take some R&R, and I mean it this time. The blog and newspaper will continue to be updated by others when news breaks, but I’m going to do my best to take a giant step back for the next number of weeks.
As far as news on the horizon, there will likely be little minor-league, depth signings (I hear Duncan Milroy and Jon DiSalvatore), the negotiations and eventual signings of Josh Harding and Kyle Brodziak (Brodziak has an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 31, but it would be shocking if it got there) and the release of the preseason schedule (although I think it’s pretty much ironed down on the previous blog).
The team will likely also plan some sort of trip in the middle of camp as team-building (Pittsburgh and Anaheim used to do this when Chuck Fletcher was there). A reader (or maybe readers) also emailed me recently to see if I can ask Fletcher if the team would try to get an East Coast Hockey League affiliate. I asked Fletcher the other day, and he and assistant to the GM Jim Mill plan to investigate this. Fletcher doesn’t feel it’s a pressing issue, but if there’s a possibility out there, it could happen in time for next season.
As for the current roster, Fletcher says he continues to scour the trade market and that if there’s a next move this summer, that’ll likely be it. He said there are a few quality free agents out there, but none that really gets his appetite whet.
As I reported earlier this summer, he’s willing to go a player or two short deep into the summer with the hope of having the cap space and roster flexibility to make a move.
“I think we still have some cap flexibility and there are teams that need to acquire cap flexibility,” Fletcher said. ”So there’s certainly the ability to acquire somebody by trade if something makes sense. We’ll look at all the options and see what makes sense and see what the best fit is. But with this group, we feel comfortable going into training camp if it doesn’t happen.
“I don’t think it was the deepest free-agent class to begin with. There was a pretty good rush on July 1. There are still some possibilities out there. But in the cap system, once you spend your money, it’s spent. So how patient do you want to be? There’s certainly conversation now amongst teams and I expect there will continue to be right until the trade deadline. So the question would be: When do you want to make your play and what makes sense? It’s obviously the process we’re going through on a daily and weekly basis, but it’s tough to handicap.”
So what is Fletcher saying here?
Later in the summer or into next season, some teams are likely going to have to move some bigtime players to get under the $56.8 million cap ceiling or create cap flexibility going into next summer. I know some fans are dying for the team to take a “risk,” but the risk has to be the right one. And if there are no free agents out there, there are no free agents — plain and simple.
You can’t dump players in an NHL world with guaranteed contracts, so if you make a mistake and spend your money on a player that is inferior to one maybe you can get via trade later on, you simply can’t make the next move.
So Fletcher wants to save the cap space now to allow him to hopefully trade for a significant player.
Remember, teams can go over the cap by 10 percent during the summer as long as they get below the ceiling by the last day of training camp. Boston, Ottawa and Chicago are over the cap right now. San Jose’s not over the cap, but if you plug in three or four holes the Sharks still have on their roster, they’re basically over the cap.
What does this mean? Maybe Phil Kessel still becomes available in Boston. Maybe Ottawa’s Dany Heatley can still be had. Maybe Jonathan Cheechoo in San Jose. Eventually, Chicago will undoubtedly have to dump salary — whether that’s Patrick Kane himself, or a Patrick Sharp or Dustin Byfuglien.
The Blackhawks might be fine going into the season because if you send Brent Sopel to the minors and one of their one-way contract goalies (Crawford or Niemi), by my math, they’re under the cap for this season (BUT BARELY).
So do you really want to sign Mike Comrie or Jason Williams now if there’s some sort of chance to maybe land a Patrick Sharp?
This is the stuff that has to be weighed. I agree that when you look at the Wild’s depth chart as it currently stands, there’s one giant hole — whether it’s a top center, or if Pierre-Marc Bouchard can fill that hole, a scoring winger.
But sometimes it’s better to wait — especially if there are few exciting free agents available.
As you can tell, it’s hard to make a trade right now in the NHL. The only really substantial one that’s happened since the end of the season was Chris Pronger to Philly, and the Flyers paid an enormous price.
It’s hard to move money outright. Even if you take a pretty good player for a pick or prospect, teams are still asking you to take a player back to balance it off a little bit. It’s not quite like the NBA, but teams are trying to balance contracts and money all the time.
But there are teams like the Wild that have left a little flexibility, so just maybe you can take a $3 or $4 million player from Chicago and not make the Blackhawks take a contract back.
Interestingly, a team that’s left a lot of flexibility is New Jersey. Lou Lamoriello’s left a lot of cap room, which is interesting to me because historically the Devils are a team at the other end. They still have to re-sign Zajac, but by laying in the weeds, Lamoriello’s another guy I expect to eventually make a move.
OK, as usual, I got sidetracked. But things just pop in my head and come out my fingertips.
As I mentioned last week, patience everyone. And when I say patience, I’m not saying be “satisfied with being mediocre” as some fans accuse. Like I said, I agree there are holes. But it’s imperative to figure out the correct way to fill those holes because in a league where it’s proving impossible to repair a mistake via trade, you better not make mistakes. Make cap mistakes, and it could wind up costing you a Patrick Kane, or in the Wild’s case, a Mikko Koivu or Brent Burns eventually.
Now, as Fletcher said above, this could be the team if he can’t make his “play” before the season. The only reason before the summer I was talking about Colton Gillies potentially being in the minors is I thought the team would probably need his $1-plus million cap space. But right now, if no move is made, he’s got a good shot at making the team.
And I know he was playing prospects in that scrimmage the other day, but he looked very, very good. Fast, nasty (buried Petr Kalus) and scored two goals — one exceptional one.
Anyway, I’ve said my peace. Have a good rest of the summer, and hopefully I’ve got it in myself to stand down and let others cover the team. Mid-July is usually the official end of the previous hockey season for me, so I hope you enjoyed the coverage this season. See you next season, amazingly, my fifth already covering the Wild.
(OK, I’m back. Nashville signed Peter Olvecky).
I’ll leave you with this. Here’s a look at the depth chart as of now:
Kim Johnsson-Brent Burns
Nick Schultz-Marek Zidlicky
Greg Zanon-Shane Hnidy
John Scott-Jaime Sifers
Tyler Cuma-Justin Falk
Clayton Stoner-Jamie Fraser
Marco Scandella-Maxim Noreau
Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Martin Havlat
Owen Nolan-James Sheppard-Pierre-Marc Bouchard (RW until training camp)
Antti Miettinen-Eric Belanger-Cal Clutterbuck
Colton Gillies-Kyle Brodziak-Derek Boogaard
Petr Kalus-Benoit Pouliot-Craig Weller
Robbie Earl-Morten Madsen-Danny Irmen
Matt Kassian-Cody Almond-Carson McMillan
(the depth chart will change when the Wild plugs some minor-league holes, believed to be Duncan Milroy and Jon DiSalvatore, to replace Corey Locke and Krys Kolanos).