With the salary cap now set for the 2016-17 season at $73 million, and rules officially in place for an expansion draft in 2017, the gears could begin turning on the Minnesota Wild's offseason.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher said on Monday getting those two pieces of information would be two of the final hurdles as the Wild begins putting together its offseason puzzle.
With new voices and different hands helping to craft that puzzle, Fletcher said there will be a balance to be had, accounting for a new head coach and two new assistants.
"I know our coaches like a lot of the players coming back; they like our group," Fletcher said. "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. But a lot of that may depend on what's available."
The main goal, Fletcher said, is to improve on a season he characterized as disappointing. Minnesota qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, and lost to the Dallas Stars in a first round Western Conference series.
"Every option has to be on the table for us coming off the season we did, and with my stated intention of trying to improve our group and maybe find a different fit for our top two lines," he said. "We have to have everything in play. I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t. Every option is on the table."
Fletcher said that top-six player could come through either free agency or the trade market, which he said could be unique this year with NHL expansion and an expansion draft on the horizon.
"This is going to be a summer where there are going to be opportunities certainly starting now and between July 1 in the trade market," he said. "Most years that's when the trade market dries up, but this could be a different year.
“My sense is things could even linger into the fall if expansion does go through. There may be teams looking to maneuver and juggle their roster even into the early part of the season."
Wild Getting Calls On Kuemper
With one more year remaining on his contract, Fletcher said he's been getting calls on Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
"Darcy is a player that, I'll be candid, some teams have asked us about," Fletcher said. "With our track record with injuries to our goaltenders I'm a little hesitant to get aggressive in shopping him, is the best way to put it."
Fletcher said if the right deal came about, " … we'll look at it, but I don't want to be too aggressive in that regard and leave us short in that position.
"We're comfortable if we can get the right return in moving him, but we're also comfortable in having him come back, and work with Devan (Dubnyk) to form a great one-two punch. If that means he leaves us next summer than that's the price we pay. You just want to make sure you have enough depth in goal."
Unrestricted Free Agents, Buyouts, Etc.
When Fletcher spoke on Monday, the salary cap had not been set, the NHL had not officially announced expansion, or its expansion draft rules, and those unknowns handcuffed the Wild in terms of completely mapping out its offseason plan.
Fletcher said the Wild has spoken with the representatives of all its unrestricted free agents, and no decisions have been made yet, but there's still plenty of time to make those determinations.
The free agency period begins July 1.
"We've kind of been direct with all of them saying we want to get to this week and see what may happen," Fletcher said. "I'd like to get a better feel of the trade market before we make too many decisions. We'll have opportunity once the draft is over to sit down and maybe get something in."
Likewise, Fletcher said no decision has been made as to whether the Wild will buy out any contracts during the buyout period.
"If you want to clear a little more cap space we have to do that before we know what we're going to acquire," Fletcher said. "It's a cap system, and we have to make some tough choices. In the event we have to do something through the trade market, we're going to have to give up an asset to get something. And if we want to get into free agency, then we might have to clear some space."