Of the Minnesota Wild’s lineup mainstays — players who appeared in at least 30 regular season games this season, or multiple playoff games — five face free agency this summer, leaving decisions for General Manager Chuck Fletcher and whomever becomes the next Wild head coach.
The list does not include backup goaltender Darcy Keumper, set to become a restricted free agent July 1, and Tyler Graovac, a 23-year-old prospect who made the Wild’s opening night roster out of training camp, but then battled injuries most of the season.
“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it yet,” Kuemper said. “I love the group and love the city, so I hope to be back.
“I want to play more than I played this year, but like I said, I do like it here so we’ll see what happens. I hope to be a part of the group again.”
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said he was open to different routes regarding Kuemper.
"I don’t think the contract would have anything to do with it," he said. "We’ve signed Devan to a long-term deal and Darcy is a year away from [being an unrestrictred free agent]. So from that standpoint, it would behoove us to look around and see what value we could find in him.
"If there’s a deal that makes sense for us and allows him to get a better opportunity, I think that would be good for both of us. But I also have no problem bringing him back."
The Wild’s unrestricted free agents are all forwards, made up of trade deadline acquisition David Jones, waiver pickups Chris Porter and Jarret Stoll, and Ryan Carter and Justin Fontaine.
“I like it here,” Carter said. “I’m from here and I like to play here. But things change. We’ve got time to think about, so I’ll take that time.”
Fletcher said it's too early to make any determinations on the Wild's impending free agents. He said he expected to tender offers to forwards Zac Dalpe and Jordan Schroeder, both set to become restricted.
Otherwise, Fletcher said he will explore whatever trades are available, and would like to add another goal scorer to the Wild's roster.
"Certainly we've had a lot of conversations with teams, and we'll be looking at the trade avenue," he said. "Free agency is a possibility. Again, I don't think it's a great year of free agency. I don't know that there's a lot of elite talent. There's some, there are some great players, but realistically, I'd love to add guys."
The potential for an expansion draft in the summer of 2017 also looms when it comes to making roster decisions this offseason. If that was to happen, teams would have the ability to protect certain players from being selected. In the last expansion draft, teams could protect three defensemen, seven forwards, and one goalie, or, any group of eight skaters, and one goalie. All first- and second year players were exempt.
"If the league announces that we will have expansion, and there will be an expansion draft next summer, that could make for a very interesting summer around the league," Fletcher said. "Teams will be looking to change their lineups, and prepare not just for next year, but also for a potential expansion draft."
The NHL has also yet to announce a salary cap ceiling for the 2016-17 season, something that will affect how the Wild proceeds.
"But compared to last summer, I'm really excited about this summer," Fletcher said. "We have more flexibility with respect to having some roster positions we can fill, definitely with respect to having more cap space, at least at what we project right now."
In setting his sights on a target, Fletcher said he would prefer a younger player who could fit in with the Wild's core, and grow with the group while also making an immediate impact.
"If we can get another guy who can score goals a little bit easier, then with the growth that we saw in our young players this year, we're going to be a pretty good team," he said.
In assessing the Wild's organizational depth, Fletcher highlighted prospects like Alex Tuch and Joel Eriksson Ek whom he feels could be difference makers.
"These guys are good hockey players," Fletcher said. "We haven't had kids like them in three or four years coming out."
Adding the Wild lacked size and goal scoring, Fletcher said Tuch could add both of those elements.
"He's 19 years old though, he'll be 20 next month, and it would be unfair to assume he can make our team out of camp, but he might be able to make our team out of camp," Fletcher said. "We'll see how it goes."