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Wild seek more consistency next season

Minnesota could have new coach, new-look roster

by Dan Myers / NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild went 38-33-11 during the regular season and were the second wild card from the Western Conference, making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.

But it's hard not to wonder how far they would have gone had they been able to maintain their first-half pace.

Minnesota got off to its best 41-game start (22-11-8), playing at about a 105-point pace through early January. But several long losing streaks over the course of the second half, including one when the Wild lost 13 of 14 games, eventually forced general manager Chuck Fletcher into a coaching change, firing Mike Yeo and replacing him with John Torchetti.

The Wild also lost the final five games of the regular season, meaning they were 1-16-2 during those two stretches in the second half.

"That's a quarter of the season where we won one game," Fletcher said. "In that sense, it's remarkable we did make the playoffs."

The Wild certainly have a number of questions heading into the offseason. They also don't have the NHL salary cap room to make a significant free-agent signing.

The challenge for Fletcher will be to make a bold move to help the Wild, one of seven NHL teams to make the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, but who haven't advanced past the second round since 2003.

WHAT THEY SAID: "We've got to find that consistency. We've all been through it now the last four years, ups and downs, and we have to find it and try to get consistent throughout the year so we're ready to go for the playoffs and it's not a question of getting into the playoffs. We have to have that confidence going throughout the year. We've done a lot of good things. We've made the playoffs here the last four years and things are going in the right direction. It takes time." -- defenseman Ryan Suter

Video: Chuck Fletcher on John Torchetti - 4/28/16

THE BURNING QUESTION: Who will be the coach? Yeo was fired on Feb. 13 and replaced by Torchetti, who went 15-11-1.

Torchetti may have a chance to interview for the full-time position, but having already hired two first-time coaches, Fletcher could decide to go with a more experienced candidate this time.

INJURIES: Forward Zach Parise injured his back in late January and played through pain until a hit in a game against the San Jose Sharks on April 5 exacerbated the injury, costing him all of Minnesota's six-game playoff run. Parise said rest and rehab during the offseason will have him back to 100 percent by next season.

Forward Thomas Vanek also did not play during the postseason because of an upper-body injury that he said was broken and displaced ribs sustained on March 29. Vanek may have been able to play had the Wild reached the second round and should be fine next season.

Forward Erik Haula had a hip injury that will need about a month to heal, Fletcher said.

Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Dubnyk shuts down Hemsky with skate

Goaltender Devan Dubnyk played through a fractured right index finger sustained during the morning skate prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Dallas Stars. The injury will not require surgery.

Defensemen Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon played through injury down the stretch. Scandella may need hernia surgery, and Spurgeon had an upper-body injury that kept him at about 80 percent for most of the season, according to Fletcher. Brodin dealt with a foot issue for most of the season.

WHO COULD GO: Forwards David Jones, Justin Fontaine, Jarret Stoll, Ryan Carter and Chris Porter and defenseman Tyson Strachan are unrestricted free agents. The Wild like Jones, but could lose him in free agency. Porter and Carter are candidates to be brought back in fourth-line roles.

Fletcher said he will move to bring in a coach before making a final decision on which unrestricted free agents he will try to bring back.

"I liked a lot of what they did," Fletcher said. "I think it's important that we have a good feel for how we're going to play and how the coach wants to coach. Then you can make your bottom six as strong as possible."

Fletcher also did not close the door on buying out a veteran in order to create salary cap space.

Vanek, who has one year remaining on a three-year, $19.5 million contract signed on July 1, 2014, could be bought out for a salary-cap savings of $5 million next season at a cost of a $2.5 million charge in 2017-18.

Video: DAL@MIN, Gm6: Pominville cuts the deficit back to one

Forward Jason Pominville, another underachieving veteran, also could be bought out. Pominville has three years left on a five-year, $28 million contract extension signed in 2013. Buying out Pominville would create $4.72 million in salary-cap space for next season but keep him on the Wild's books through the 2021-22 season.

The Wild have a number of players who could be on the trade block, including pending restricted free agents goaltender Darcy Kuemper, forward Jason Zucker and defenseman Matt Dumba. Forwards Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, who will be RFAs following next season, could be available in the right deal.

WHO COULD ARRIVE: A player like Steven Stamkos is exactly what the Wild need but they don't have nearly enough salary-cap space to make a run at the Tampa Bay Lightning center, who can become a free agent. ForwardsDavid Backes and Kyle Okposo are more realistic options, but Fletcher may not be willing to overspend on another veteran.

Fletcher said he believes the Wild could use another top-six forward, adding that, in a perfect world, he would like to add one who is able to make an immediate impact next season while being able to grow with Minnesota's younger players.

Fletcher also said at the NHL Trade Deadline that groundwork was laid for some potential moves this summer, so expect the Wild to be aggressive in the trade market.

Video: Chuck Fletcher Opening Statement - 4/28/16

Trading a young defenseman like Dumba makes sense, considering the financial commitment already made to veterans Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon and Scandella. With defensemen Mike Reilly, Christian Folin and Gustav Oloffson ready to push for regular playing time, an asset like Dumba could attract plenty of attention on the trade market.

The same goes for Kuemper, who has one year of team control before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. With Dubnyk signed long-term, Fletcher said he is open to moving Kuemper in a trade if it makes sense for both parties.

2016 DRAFT PICKS: Because of trades in the past three seasons, the Wild have four picks in the draft, including their own first-, fourth- and seventh-round selections. They have a seventh-round pick from the Florida Panthers.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The Wild have a nice mix of veterans in their prime (Parise, Dubnyk and Suter) and several young players ready to take another step in their development.

If Minnesota can bring in a coach to implement a system that gets more out of players like Charlie Coyle, Granlund and Zucker, the Wild should be in the playoff mix again.

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