With many potential unknowns still in play, such as an exact salary cap figure, and the potential for an NHL expansion draft next summer, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said his focus is currently on improving the Minnesota Wild for the upcoming season.
High on his priority list, Fletcher said, is adding another proven goal scorer to the Wild's top six.
"We have pretty good depth, but maybe adding a little more high-end skill would be great," Fletcher said, addressing the media on Monday prior to the Wild departing for Buffalo and the 2016 NHL Draft. "It's a constant quest to add talent, and certainly there's so much parity in this league, there's not a lot separating most of us, and if we can find a way to score goals a little bit more easily that would certainly help our cause."
What the Wild does know is the assets it currently has and a roster that, according to Fletcher, looks good on paper to the Wild's new coaching staff.
That doesn't preclude Fletcher and co. from making it even better, though.
"We do have several contracts that are expiring, so we'll have the ability to bring in a few different pieces, and change our mix a bit," Fletcher said. "But a lot of that may depend on what's available. Again, this time of the year you're always exploring trade possibilities, you're talking to teams, and if something makes sense, we'll do it. Certainly we're not going to be shy about that. It will depend."
Fletcher said right now he's having conversations with other teams, figuring out who is and is not available, laying the groundwork for more advanced conversations leading into the NHL Draft. Round one of the draft is Friday, July 24 in Buffalo (6 p.m. CT; NBCSN).
"I've had a lot of phone calls the last few weeks, and expect to have a few more today and tomorrow, and certainly have a few coffee dates once we get to Buffalo," he said.
From a personnel standpoint, adding goal-scoring is something Fletcher highlighted as being at the top of his to-do list.
The Wild's leading goal-scorer over the past four seasons, Zach Parise, is on schedule in his rehab from a back injury that caused him to miss the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Parise's most-common line mate from the 2015-16 season, Mikael Granlund, was another player who Fletcher discussed. Finishing the season on the wing, playing with countrymen Mikko Koivu, Fletcher said he liked what it did for Granlund's game.
"He plays hard over 200 feet," Fletcher said. "He's actually tremendous defensively. Playing wing might free him up to have a little bit more energy offensively, and maybe make a few more plays, and have the puck a little bit more often in the offensive zone.
Granlund and Koivu continued to play together — Granlund on the wing — at the 2016 IIHF World Championships. Finland won a silver medal, and Granlund finished fourth in the tournament in scoring.
Fletcher said the decision will ultimately belong to new head coach Bruce Boudreau, and will be largely influenced by how the Wild shapes its roster heading into training camp.
"We've asked a lot of [Granlund] sometimes in terms of defending, and having to get up ice and make plays," Fletcher said. "He's certainly one of our better playmakers, so to have him on the wing, playing with a guy like Mikko who is a tremendous two-way player, and whatever other winger ends up there I think certainly could be a very promising line."
Fletcher also said he liked the chemistry Parise and Charlie Coyle created. That again leaves open the possibility of adding a center or wing to that line; Coyle can play at either position.
"The way the season works out normally, all of those combinations will come into play, and he'll move around," Fletcher said. "We're looking to add another guy who can play up on one of those lines, and hopefully something can happen here in the next couple of weeks."
Where that player comes from is another question. With an official announcement expected regarding NHL expansion later this week — the Associated Press previously reported the NHL will add an expansion franchise in Las Vegas — it again creates more parameters to work through.
The trade market could be influenced by teams preparing for an expansion draft next summer, according to Fletcher. Additionally, there's yet to be an announced salary cap for the 2016-17 season, with the Wild waiting to see exactly how much cap flexibility it has.
"For me it's still too early," Fletcher said. "Certainly if expansion comes into play, which I assume it will this week — I assume we'll get an official announcement this week — and if it is, once we get the official expansion draft rules, we'll deal with it."
There also remains the possibility of an internal candidate filling the role.
"We expect a guy like Jason Zucker to bounce back, and be a better hockey player this year," Fletcher said. "It will be interesting to see where Alex Tuch is at. But we'd like to add another forward if we can, and if the price is right, we'll certainly look to do that."