ST. PAUL -- It's been nearly a month since the Minnesota Wild's Game 5 loss to the St. Louis Blues ended its record-setting 2016-17 season. And as the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, with the Eastern and Western Conference Finals now in full swing, it's hard for Wild owner Craig Leipold to watch and not think about what might have been.
"I'm not over it," Leipold said in a small gathering with select media in his office on Wednesday. "I watch these games now and go, 'That could be us.' What I wonder is, which players on our team would step up? You're looking at all the teams, and yes, I guess I would say I probably watch Nashville more than any other team, and they have players that are playing beyond the way they have ever played before. They have taken it to a new level. And I'm very curious as to which players on our team would do that."
A host of players had career seasons during a historic campaign that saw the Wild finish with 106 points and the second-best record in the Western Conference.
But it was a five-game loss to Central Division rival St. Louis that still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Leipold and others within the organization as the team goes about trying to pick up the pieces and build for the future.
Will wholesale changes be made? Are they needed?
Leipold seemed to indicate that while the Wild will most definitely lose a quality player to Vegas in the expansion draft next month, radical changes to the club -- and specifically its leadership core -- are not expected.
"In the world we live in right now, nothing surprises me because the cap is not really going up, and teams have to spend money to re-sign their players," Leipold said. "My guess is there's going to be trades happening before that expansion draft. It's interesting. There's a lot of buzz, talk as to what's going to happen in terms of teams' willingness to do some trades. Now we'll find out whether it's really true.
"As Chuck and I have discussed, as he has stated, we always knew we were going to have changes for next year because with the expansion draft is just going to cause changes. So now we'll find out: What does it all mean and how will those affect us? But I think other teams are in the same willingness mode to tweak their teams as we are."
As of now, the Wild has roughly $11 million of salary cap space to play with, assuming next year's cap remains flat. Both Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund are restricted free agents who will likely see significant bumps in pay from what they made this season.
Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba each have one year remaining on their contracts and momentum toward new deals with them could get rolling this summer. Captain Mikko Koivu is also entering the final year of a contract he signed in 2010, meaning the team could initiate contact with him about an extension.
Combined with expansion, the NHL Draft in June and free agency, which kicks off July 1, the next six weeks promise to be very busy, providing a stretch in which the Wild hopes it can lay the groundwork toward next season.
"I don't think I'm impatient, but I'm not satisfied where we are. We took, in my feeling with the playoffs, we took a step back, and we never expected that," Leipold said. "We didn't think that was going to happen, so it's causing us to think, 'What do we need to do?' But ... I like our team, I like the way it's built. Sure, there's some issues that we need to address, and we will. But I'm not disappointed with our team. I'm disappointed with how we ended the season."