This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the Minnesota Wild were the voters pick for the Team No. 2 to cover this week.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Wild currently have nine forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season at a price tag of $65,299,422. Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $16,200,578 in cap space and six spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: This season, Kunin topped the 30-point mark for the first time while Greenway likely would have reached that threshold were it not for the league going on hiatus. These are two of the team's up and coming young core and they should be rewarded appropriately. There are really two schools of thought on how to approach this; a 2-3 year bridge deal that maintains RFA rights or a longer, 5-6 year contract that locks the player up for a while. With the cap coming in flat, I think it would actually be a good move by the players to compromise with the club on shorter deals that will allow them to cash in down the road once the cap (hopefully) increases. I think a fair comparison would be the two-year, $6 million contract signed by teammate Kevin Fiala in September of 2019. Neither player has shown quite the same level of offensive production that Fiala had at that point in his career, so the value will come in slightly lower. With the extra year of NHL experience, look for Kunin to sign a two-year, $5.5 million deal while Greenway snags slightly less with a two-year, $5.0 million contract.
Kyle Riley: Kunin has started to put it together during his second full NHL campaign, notching 15 goals and 31 points while averaging 15:28 of ice time in 63 appearances. The 2016 first-round pick should be ready to step into a full-time, top-six role next season, so he'll need to be paid accordingly. However, he isn't arbitration eligible, so Minnesota will have most of the power during contract negotiations. I think a three-year, $9 million deal should get it done. Greenway has already developed into a solid bottom-six player for the Wild, but his ceiling isn't nearly as high as Kunin's. Still, I think locking both players up for three years would be a wise move on Minnesota's part. I think AJ's right on the money with the AAV for the 6-foot-6 winger, so I'd look to sign him to a three-year, $7.5 million contract this offseason.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: After previously seeing action in just three NHL games, Soucy made his case this year by logging 55 outings for the Wild prior to suffering an upper-body injury that closed out his regular season. Still, with just one full campaign under his belt, the 25-year-old likely won't see a significant uptick in pay or a long-term commitment. A two-year, $850,000 AAV deal should keep the blueliner in Minnesota for a little longer. With some minor-league prospects itching for more opportunities (see below), I'm not sure it makes sense to bring back Koivu or Galchenyuk. Even if general manager Bill Guerin does want to keep one or both of those guys around, it won't be at their current cap hits. Koivu hasn't played in more than 60 games in either of the previous two seasons and, as a result, failed to hit the 30-point mark either. At this point in his career he simply isn't worth north of $4 million in terms of offensive production. The same goes for Galchenyuk, who wasn't a fit in Pittsburgh and didn't get enough time with the Wild to prove it would work. A strong postseason by the 25-year-old could turn the tide and secure him a 2-3 year deal in Minnesota but it would have to be closer to a $3 million AAV.
Kyle Riley: Koivu will be 38 next season and he's already talked about his willingness to return to his native Finland to continue playing if he doesn't have any NHL options after this year, so I think the writing's on the wall here. The Wild should let him walk. Galchenyuk notched at least 40 points in five consecutive seasons with the Habs and Coyotes from 2014-2018, but he's not worth his current cap hit. I think it'd be worth it to keep him around on a two-year, $7 million deal, but if he's not willing to accept that price tag, Minnesota should let him head elsewhere in free agency. Soucy has been solid as a bottom-pairing option this season, notching 14 points while posting a plus-16 rating in 55 games, but as AJ mentioned, he really only has one year of NHL experience, so he shouldn't be expecting a major payday. Nonetheless, I think he's worth keeping around on a two-year, $2 million deal.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: The first two are pretty straight forward here, as neither Sturm or Menell has even logged 10 NHL games at this point. They'll both be handed their respective qualifying offers and that should just about do it. Re-signing Kahkonen is a little trickier. The 23-year-old should understand he is still third on the organizational depth chart, but he is coming off a fantastic season in the AHL where he went 25-6-3 with a 2.07 GAA and .927 save percentage. A lowball offer could also see him consider heading back overseas where he will earn significantly more money. In the last couple of years, teams have gotten creative by making the first year of a deal two-way before it switches to a one-way contract. This could be the route the club takes with Kahkonen as well. A three-year, $2.55 million deal which becomes a one-way contract after the first year should avoid any heartburn, at least until 2021-21 when the club will need to make a decision regarding Devan Dubnyk.
Two players not mentioned here, because they didn't play in an NHL game this year, are Sam Anas and Kyle Rau. With AHL Iowa, Anas led the league in points to secure the John B. Sollenberger Trophy while Rau snatched up the Willie Marshall Award as the leading goal scorer. Both players are headed toward unrestricted free agency and will need to be offered one-way deals by Minnesota to keep them in the fold because there should be little doubt another club out there will be ready to make that type of commitment.
Kyle Riley: As AJ alluded to, Sturm and Menell both have next to no NHL experience and both players were signed as undrafted free agents, so their QOs should get the job done. Kahkonen has been fantastic in the minors this year and appears to be Minnesota's goaltender of the future. That puts the Wild in a tough spot in terms of his contract negotiation. Dubnyk will likely be gone after next season, so I really think Kahkonen should be with the big club in a full-time capacity as Dub's backup next year to prepare him to take over as the team's starter in 2021-22. The only issue with that plan is the presence of Alex Stalock, who's played pretty well this season and still has two years left on his team-friendly deal. I wouldn't be surprised to see Minnesota trade Alex Stalock and sign Kahkonen to something like a three-year, $6 million contract (one way).
Anas and Rau are clearly both exceptional AHL players, but they're both 27 years old, so their chances of becoming NHL regulars are slim to none at this point. If they're not willing to re-sign on two-way deals, the Wild shouldn't think twice about letting them walk.
AJ Scholz: As I mentioned above, Galchenyuk's fate hasn't been sealed yet, however, I think the club would be better suited by turning to some of its younger pieces in order to retool for the future. If they don't give him or Koivu a new deal, the Wild could potentially enter the free agent marketplace with upwards of $7.5 million in cap space. That would certainly give them the freedom to be active on the market, bank cash for the trade deadline and leave room for future contracts for Jonas Brodin, Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek.
Kyle Riley: If the Wild re-signed Galchenyuk and Kahkonen according to the plan I outlined above, they'd be left with a little bit more than $3.5 million in cap space heading into next season. That's not a ton, but they're already a pretty complete team from a roster standpoint, and it'd be more than enough to sign another bottom-six contributor to round out their depth up front.