ST. PAUL -- Wild general manager Paul Fenton made his intentions clear upon the conclusion of the NHL draft a week ago.
While he was thrilled with the team’s haul of prospects, he immediately shifted his focus to the free agents he’d like to recruit to the Twin Cities. He promised to make good use of the interview process, well aware that his job might depend on injecting talent into a lineup that, for all intents and purposes, is in danger of becoming irrelevant.
“I’d love to be active in it,” Fenton said. “Some of that is determined by the players as far as what the opportunities are.”
In a perfect world, the Wild would go big-game hunting when NHL free agency opens at 11 a.m. Central Time Monday, July 1. They have roughly $19 million of salary cap space to work with, according to CapFriendly, though it doesn’t sound like many of the big-name guys are interested in coming to a team that could be at least a few seasons away from competing for a Stanley Cup.
That will play itself out over the next 48 hours or so.
Here are some of the names that could help the Wild next season.
No doubt the guy the Wild put at the top of their wish list heading into free agency, it sounds like Pavelski is poised to go elsewhere. The Dallas Stars, according to reports, are emerging as the likely destination. That’s unfortunate for the Wild because the 34-year-old Pavelski would have been a perfect fit in the Twin Cities. Not only is he is fresh off a 38-goal campaign, he has the leadership skills necessary to serve as a bridge to the future for a franchise. Even though it seems highly unlikely anything will get done, if Fenton can pull a rabbit out of his hat, Pavelski could help the Wild surprise people next season.
Like Pavelski, local boy Anders Lee picking the Wild seems unlikely, with the New York Islanders making a heavy push to retain their captain from Edina. A couple of seasons removed from a 40-goal campaign, he has proved himself as a capable NHL goal scorer. That’s something the Wild could use with Zach Parise, Eric Staal, and Jason Zucker serving as the biggest scoring threats at the moment. It helps that the 28-year-old Lee is #OneOfUs. If somehow Fenton could make this happen, his approval rating would go through the roof.
As initially reported by Michael Russo of The Athletic, it sounds like Zuccarello has emerged as a top priority for the Wild. Although his stats might not be eye-popping, the 31-year-old is a creative playmaker who would immediately slot into the top six for the Wild. He had 12 goals and 28 assists last season, splitting time between the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars. As a trade deadline acquisition, Zuccarello proved his worth, scoring at a near point-per-game pace in the playoffs.
If the Wild have to shift to their Plan B at any point, Simmonds might be someone willing to sign a long-term contract. He has proven himself a legitimate power forward, using his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame to wreak havoc in front of the net, especially on the power play. It’s believed the Wild had immense interest in the 30-year-old heading into the weekend. It might help in the negotiating process that Simmonds is coming off a rather lackluster campaign, finishing with 17 goals and 13 assists.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hartman has been tied to the Wild ever since he became an unrestricted free agent last week. You might remember Fenton played a role in trading for Hartman when he was the assistant general manager with the Nashville Predators a couple of seasons ago. It would be on-brand for Fenton to bring in a player who he’s worked with. Last season he brought in Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg and Anthony Bitetto, only one of whom worked out in the slightest. There is perceived upside with signing the 24-year-old Hartman. He was a first-round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and would fit seamlessly into the bottom-six as an agitator who can put the puck in the back of the net from time to time.