ST. PAUL -- In the weeks since a disappointing end to the 2016-17 season, the power brokers within the Wild have been gathering at team headquarters to get a jump on the 2017-18 season.
While the NHL will conclude the Conference Finals this week and begin the Stanley Cup Finals in the days after Memorial Day, the countdown is on until next season in Minnesota, with puck drop on opening night somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 days away.
Between now and then, the Wild will navigate an unprecedented summer, with an expansion draft, an entry draft, a free agency period and a prospect camp, all of which could help shape the team that will hit the ice for training camp in September.
Two weeks ago, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher met with his pro scouts to gauge how to move forward with things like trades, free agency and how guys in the minors could make a jump next season, among other topics.
Last week, it was time to meet with the amateur scouting staff. Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr, who helps shape the Wild's NHL Draft war room, was also in attendance.
Minnesota does not have a first- or second-round pick in the upcoming edition of the draft, which will be held in Chicago June 23-24. Still, the club has a strategy in place should that change over the next month.
"I've had our guys approach it like we have a late first and a second. Just normally prepare and keep focused on players in those areas," Flahr said. "If we're looking to add picks, there's picks out there to get if we want to move something and get one in both the first and second round."
Normally, the Wild may not be in a position to deal an asset for a high draft pick. As a cap team with a number of pieces that could interest clubs, the looming expansion draft could change that strategy. Minnesota, along with every other team, is guaranteed to lose one player in the draft, meaning clubs could seek some sort of compensation as opposed to losing a good player for nothing.
Whether the Wild chooses to do that remains to be seen, but it's certainly an option that is on the table and has been discussed internally.
"Chuck is on the phone daily, getting a number of different scenarios thrown at him as far as potential trades," Flahr said. "I've spoken to Vegas a number of times, as well, in terms of what they're looking for and maybe what they would [need] to take a certain player or not take a certain player. But we've gone through these scenarios 100 times and we'll keep going through them right up until the draft."
One of the reasons the Wild felt comfortable surrendering a first-round pick in this year's draft was the perceived quality and depth of players available.
The class of 2017 has been viewed by scouts and analysts league-wide as one of the weaker classes in recent memory. The Wild, which had one of the NHL's best records at the deadline, was willing to trade a high pick as long as it kept its hold on its high-end prospects already in the pipeline.
Minnesota's second-round pick was dealt to Buffalo at the 2015 trade deadline in a swap that brought Chris Stewart to the club. Stewart had since left the team via free agency, signing a one-year deal with Anaheim in 2015 before re-signing with the Wild last summer.
"This year, just looking at it for a couple years we saw it coming, as being a shallower draft," Flahr said. "There are some good players. There are no [Connor] McDavids at the top end, but there are some good players at the top. Unfortunately, in this draft, it just doesn't have the depth of higher-end talent. But there are still going to be some useful players as we get through the first few rounds. Some of them, you just have to project. They're not finished projects."
As of now, the Wild does have one third-round pick to work with, as well as two fourth-rounders and one selection in each the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.
Without the benefit of a high draft pick, the Wild will instead be hunting for upside in hopes of hitting on at least one late round pick. Flahr has had some success in doing just that over the years, selecting players like Erik Haula (seventh round) and Darcy Kuemper (sixth round), who have already made contributions at the NHL level.
Kirill Kaprizov (fifth round, 2015) and Dmitri Sokolov (seventh round, 2016) are each coming off seasons in which they flashed high-end potential.
"First round picks, you can't miss. You're trying to hit upside with certain picks. After the first round, you're looking at different strengths or assets," Flahr said. "Obviously, if a player has a couple of major assets that you feel strongly about and you think the rest of his game could round out, then you move them up on your list."
Both Kaprizov and Sokolov are also examples of the Russian market, one which the Wild hasn't dipped into as often during Fletcher's time with the organization. Minnesota, like other franchises, is becoming more willing to invest in Russian players.
"I think we've seen in recent years, there's somewhat of a flood of players coming from the KHL to over here. I think teams are more comfortable drafting them because they feel strongly that they can get them over here," Flahr said. "There's some quality players, Russia produces some very good players historically, [but] you have to do your homework and find guys that really have a passion to play in the NHL. That's as important as anything."
For Flahr, this time of year is the most exciting part of his job. While the season didn't end the way it was expected to, now the job of improving the future is up to Flahr and his army of scouts.
"It really stung for awhile. I don't think anybody is over [how the season ended]. There are some really good teams left, and you just wonder what might have been if we were able to get past that first round," Flahr said. "But it is what it is. Now we have to try and get better for next year."