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Wild has options to get better in 2024-25, but not many – Twin Cities

The Wild would have tremendous capacity to improve their team this offseason if it weren’t for that meddling dead cap space.

That will have to wait another year. In the meantime, general manager Bill Guerin believes he can still make his team a contender in 2024-2025.

“We want to win now,” Guerin said Friday, a day after the 2023-24 season officially ended with a 4-3 loss to Seattle at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild had been eliminated from the postseason for just over a week at that point, marking the second time in twelve seasons that they had missed the playoffs. Injuries were an issue in 2023-2024; captain Jared Spurgeon played just 16 games, and key players like Kirill Kaprizov, Jonas Brodin, Marcus Foligno, Matt Boldy and Mats Zuccarello were all missing pieces. So did a 5-10-4 start that cost Dean Evason his job. And so did a handful of disappointing veteran seasons.

But the biggest reason was something that isn’t going away this year: the $14.7 million in dead salary cap space the team carried this season, part of the penalty for buying out the identical 13-year-old, $98 million contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan. Suter.

That cap hit was a big topic of discussion early on, as the Wild couldn’t afford to call up some of their higher-paid prospects until the team started getting long-term injury relief. The reality is that the die had already been cast. Without experienced free-agent acquisitions, Minnesota relied on calls from the American League team in Des Moines all season.

By the end of the season, players with little to no NHL experience were playing on special teams, including the league’s third-worst penalty kill.

As veteran winger Marcus Foligno said Friday, “You’re not going to have guys like that coming from the AHL and filling the penalty kill and miraculously making it better. It is not right that they are put in that position.”

But that was because the Wild had no other choice, and it could happen again next season. Guerin wants to win now, but his capacity is limited to add veterans who could really help a team that finished minus 12 goals behind.

And here it comes again, that $14.7 million dead cap hit. That shrinks to less than $1.6 million next season, but as Guerin said Friday, he wants to win now.

How?

“It’s clear that if the cap goes up, we’ll have more money,” Guerin said. “I know everyone else will too, but we could really use it. Like I said, we’ll do what we can. We will look at every possible option we have, whether it is free agency, trades or anything we can do to improve the team.”

The NHL salary cap is expected to rise from $83.5 million this season to $87.7 million for 2024-2025, despite many NHL teams struggling with television contracts.

That extra cap space would really help.

Currently, the Wild have 15 players under single NHL contracts for next season, plus Brock Faber and Marco Rossi, who are coming off stellar rookie seasons and have another year left on their entry-level contracts. The total cost is $64.13 million, which looks great without the addition of $14.7 million that Guerin can’t spend. That brings the total to $78.8 million.

That could pay Guerin roughly $9 million, minus a little cap cushion, to fill out a 23-man roster. He’s done a lot of work this season — signing veterans Foligno, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Hartman, Zach Bogosian and Marc-Andre Fleury to extensions — and hopes some of those spots can be filled by young, cheap prospects.

Rookie Declan Chisholm, a restricted free agent acquired from Winnipeg on waivers in December, looks like a starting point on the blue line, and forwards Marat Khusnutdinov and Liam Ohgren finished the season with the NHL club, as did Mason Shaw, Adam Beckman and Jake. Luchinni and Vinni Lettieri, all of whom started last season in Des Moines.

“We’re starting to see, I think, some of the patience paying off when you see some of these younger players get into the mix,” Guerin said. “So you want to continue that. But look, if there’s an opportunity to improve our team right away, we’ll do it.”

The most obvious potential for that seems to be a trade involving a goaltender.

The Wild were banking on replacing Fleury and his $3.5 million contract with rookie Jesper Wallstedt and the final year of his $925,000 participation deal. Instead, they signed Fleury to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million and now have Fleury, Wallstedt and incumbent No. 1 Filip Gustavsson as options.

After signing Fleury ahead of the Hall of Famer’s future NHL season, Guerin called the Wild’s goaltending situation “a position of strength.”

Wallstedt, 21, has played three NHL games this season, and after a rough start — a 7-0 loss to Western Conference power Dallas — he went 2-0 with a 1.01 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage in starts in Chicago and San. Jose. Gustavsson had a down year (3.06 GAA, .899 save%), but was one of the NHL’s best goaltenders in 2022-23, his first full season.

Fleury has a no-move clause and Guerin didn’t sign him to trade him anyway. Leaving Wallstedt for the better part of another season in Iowa also doesn’t make much sense, and Gustavsson — who turns 26 in July and has two years left on his contract — is an attractive trade target.

In fact, Gustavsson could be the only veteran trade target on the roster without a no-trade clause in his deal, and he’ll make more than Fleury and Wallstedt combined ($3.75 million) next season.

There is some risk in relying on a 39-year-old veteran and a rookie with three NHL games under his belt, but if Guerin wants to win now, he could really use another experienced top-six forward. Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson Ek and Matt Boldy have accounted for 42 percent of all goals this season, with only Hartman and Rossi scoring as many as 20 goals (21 each).

“One of our main objectives is to improve the forward group,” Guerin said.

WRAPPED UP

The Wild have 17 players expected to make the 2024-25 roster next season under contracts worth $64.13 million, well below the projected $87.7 million salary cap. But they will also have $14.7 million in dead cap space to contend with.

Forward Signed via No trade?
Kirill Kaprizov 2025-26 no
Joel Eriksson EC 2028-29 no
Matt Boldy 2029-30 no
Mats Zuccarello 2025-26 Yes
Marcus Foligno 2027-28 Yes
Freddy Gaudreau 2027-28 Yes
Marcus Johansson 2024-25 Yes
Ryan Hartman 2026-27 Yes
Marco Rossi 2024-25* No

Defenders signed via No trade?
Jared Spurgeon 2026-27 Yes
Jonas Brodin 2027-28 Yes
Jake Middleton 2024-25 no
Jon Merrill 2024-25 no
Zach Bogosian 2025-26 Yes
Brock Faber 2024-25* No

Goalkeepers Signed via No trade?
Filip Gustavsson 2025-26 no
Marc-André Fleury 2024-25 Yes
*Entry-level contract