It promises to be a busy summer not just for the Wild, but for the entire NHL as the League welcomes its 31st team to the fold, the Vegas Golden Knights. Between the Expansion Draft, potential trades and the NHL Draft, it could be a whirlwind summer even before free agency opens on July 1.
Here is a look at some of the potential items on Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher's checklist as the offseason commences:
1. What happens in Vegas...
The first domino to fall after the Stanley Cup is handed out in early June will be the Expansion Draft, set to take place in Las Vegas in conjunction with the League Awards on June 21.
The basics of the expansion draft:
• Any player with a no-movement clause in his contract must be protected.
• All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not count toward their club's applicable protection limits).
• Vegas may select only one player from each team.
Clubs will have two options for players they wish to protect in the Expansion Draft:
A) Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender
B) Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender
For a full list of rules regarding the NHL Expansion Draft, check out this handy link from NHL.com.
Minnesota is likely to choose route A, based simply on the makeup of its roster.
Players with no-movement clauses in their contracts: Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter. They will all count toward that list. Devan Dubnyk would be the goaltender.
That means Fletcher must decide how he wants to divvy up his other spots. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon would appear to be a sure-fire candidate to be protected. That would leave a decision on Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba -- the Wild can protect just one.
Up front, the team will have to decide on which four of Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund (or another forward) it wants to protect.
The team can also ask players with no-movement clauses to waive them, with likely assurances from Vegas that they won't be selected. If that's the case, another forward could be protected.
Of course, it's possible a trade could change all of these plans beforehand. But what happens in Vegas could have a big impact on Fletcher's blueprint for the offseason.
"I've already had a few conversations with [Vegas GM George McPhee]. I've got a pretty good sense of what they're looking to accomplish and I think they have a good sense of what we're trying to do," Fletcher said. "We will just have to see if we can find a fit. Certainly over the next couple of weeks I'll speak to George. They know what we're trying to achieve and they're trying to achieve some different things so I think there could be a fit there. We will work through it.
"We're going to lose a good asset one way or the other. Part of what we need to do is also find out what's out there on the marketplace outside of Vegas. That's the part where there's a little bit more uncertainty."
2. NHL Draft weekend
Whatever happens in Las Vegas, the NHL's waters are sure to be muddied: Every club is likely to lose at least one good player, and depending on deals cut between teams and Golden Knights management, it's possible some could lose multiple assets.
That could make for an interesting draft weekend, as clubs look to make deals to restock the cupboards both at the NHL level and within their prospect systems.
Typically one of the busiest weekends for trades already (it's not often all 31 GMs are in the same place at the same time), this year's selection meeting could be even crazier.
The Wild do not have first- and second-round picks this year after trading its first-rounder before the deadline for Martin Hanzal and Ryan White and its second-rounder two years ago in a deal that brought Chris Stewart to the club for his first tour of duty.
Business will pick up for Minnesota on Day 2 of the Draft (June 24), as the Wild currently has one pick in the third, two in the fourth, and one selection in each the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, all of which is subject to change.
3. Who's coming back?
Minnesota has five unrestricted free agents this summer: Hanzal, White, defensemen Nate Prosser and Victor Bartley and goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Fletcher must decide how any of these players fit into the future plans of the club.
In addition, Minnesota has five restricted free agents: Granlund, Niederreiter, forwards Erik Haula and Jordan Schroeder and defenseman Christian Folin.
Based on their career seasons, Granlund and Niederreiter can likely expect hefty raises in salary. Minnesota has a number of routes it could take with them, including pursuing long-term deals with both players.
Of course, the Wild will have to do all of this under the watchful eye of the salary cap, which isn't expected to move much, if at all, from the $73 million figure it was at in 2016-17.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Wild enters the offseason with nearly $11.5 million in cap space within which to operate (assuming that the cap remains at $73 million). That doesn't count any potential raises to Granlund and Niederreiter.
As noted before, however, trades and other moves can certainly change that number, but that's where it stands right now.
"There's going to be changes. With the salary cap and expansion, whether we won the Cup or finished 30th in the League, there's going to be changes," Fletcher said. "We can't bring this team back as it is. So there will be some challenges this season for those reasons, but also opportunities. And I think we can certainly look at important things that we do need to improve upon going forward."
Fletcher will also have to decide what he wants to do with free agents in Iowa. Defenseman Mike Weber and forwards Ryan Carter and Pat Cannone are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. Nine others, including defensemen Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson, are set to be restricted.
4. Unrestricted free agency
The date many hockey fans circle on their calendars is July 1, as unrestricted free agency begins at 11 a.m. CT.
Minnesota has been active during free agency in recent years, including the signings of Staal, Stewart and Alex Stalock on July 1 last summer. The year before, the team snagged Reilly. Thomas Vanek was the highlight of 2014's signing day.
Depending on what happens in the weeks leading up to July 1, Minnesota could be quieter this time around, choosing to go with a depth signing or two in what is considered a relatively shallow free agent class.
"For the last few years, we've been pretty aware that we're in a flat cap world. We spend to the cap every year because we're competing, and [Wild owner] Craig [Leipold] is great and he gives us those resources every year and allows us to spend to the cap," Fletcher said. "When you spend to the cap, sometimes it means you have to dig out from year to year. Last year, we bought out Thomas Vanek, which gave us the money to sign both Staal and Stewart.
"You're forced to make those kinds of decisions. That isn't ideal, but that's the reality that we're in. And this summer is going to present some different challenges."
5. Looking ahead
A good GM is always taking a look at what's coming down the road.
While a good portion of the Wild's core is locked up for the foreseeable future, you can bet Fletcher will take a look at the summer of 2018 and how things stack up there.
Koivu is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 of that summer, and coming off yet another solid campaign, it's possible the Wild could approach its captain about an extension this offseason.
It's just one of many things to keep an eye on over the next five months until the puck drops on the 2017-18 season.