ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -The Minnesota Wild have a lot of work to do this summer.
They need to add promising young players, but also must improve the depth and quality of their roster. It's a difficult place to be in the NHL, not quite good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup but also lacking the top draft picks to add elite talent and get better in a hurry the way the champion Chicago Blackhawks did with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
After missing the playoffs for the second straight year, the Wild have the ninth selection in the first round of next week's draft.
Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said Friday he's pleased with the amount of salary-cap space he has to make moves, more than most teams, but he insisted that's not a blank check for free agency.
"You can't buy your way out of the basement," Fletcher said. "We don't have the ability to sign five guys on July 1 at $5 million apiece, but looking at the talent pool on July 1, I would suggest that shouldn't be our goal, too. We will patiently and methodically build this team."
That means a trade or two is probable, even if it requires parting with that No. 9 pick.
"I don't want to do it for a player on the downside of his career, and we're not looking to make a splash just to make the playoffs next year," Fletcher said. "We want to make the playoffs next year, but this No. 9 pick is hopefully someone who can help us make the playoffs for the next 10 or 15 years. If we trade No. 9 for a player, ideally it'd be a younger player with some time left on his contract who can be part of our group here in Minnesota for several seasons."
Injuries were a big problem for the Wild, but so many teams in this physical sport suffer from that each winter. Their issues run deeper than that, particularly up front where a quality second-line center and another proven goal scorer would be a big help.
They've got leverage on the blue line and in the net, where top defenseman Brent Burns and backup goalie Josh Harding look like trade chips. Fletcher didn't address Harding, but said he's not trying to deal Burns.
Gritty, productive veteran Owen Nolan is one forward who might have to be replaced before another winger can be added. He's one of six unrestricted free agents. Fletcher wouldn't rule out his return, but once a player reaches the open market it becomes unlikely.
There's one way the Wild could enhance their forward group without giving anybody up: Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who missed all but one game because of post-concussion problems last season but is still only 26. Two years ago, he was a 63-point player.
"If I go into free agency with the mandate of having to add a 50- to 70-point forward on July 1, I'm paying at least $4 million if not $5 to $6 million," Fletcher said. "If we are successful in getting Pierre-Marc back next year, that's certainly a big upgrade to our skill level."
That return remains an if.
Fletcher said Bouchard has begun to exercise lightly and that he's reading and playing golf, activities he couldn't do last winter because the headaches were so bad. The hope is that he'll be able to begin cardiovascular workouts this summer.
"He will be a productive good hockey player again in the NHL. The problem with concussions is they are impossible to predict," Fletcher said, adding: "Frankly I just want him to be happy, healthy, and productive again. Whenever that is, we'll be content with that. ... I don't want to put pressure on him."