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ST. PAUL… The Winnipeg Jets have just unceremoniously dumped my team, the Minnesota Wild, from the Stanley Cup tourney 4 games to 1. Having suffered 1st round losses 3 seasons in a row now, we have been exposed to the hockey world. My boss, team owner Craig Leipold believes that we are a mere “tweak” or two away from contending for the silver chalice. We aren’t. So, I’m going bold. It’s time to exit this state of denial and face the hockey facts. We’re not good enough to win the Cup right now, and we aren’t going to be as constructed or with what we currently have in the pipeline without a rebuild. It’s going to be a process and we will have to be up front with the fan base and really, with ourselves too. These fans here know their stuff, they know what they see on the ice… and what they don’t. Our recent playoff record has them gnashing their teeth.
My first order of business is to assess what I have for the upcoming season. Signed for next year are; Forwards, Parise, Granlund, Koivu, Neiderreiter, Ennis, Staal, Coyle, Foligno, Kunin, Eriksson-Ek, Kloos, and Rau. And the following Non-Roster forwards; Lang, Greenway, Lodnia, Shaw, Ferraro, O’Reilly, Anas and Jenys. For Defense; Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin, Belpedio, Soucy, Olofsson, Murphy, and Prosser. And my Non-Roster ‘D’; Mennell and Warner. For Goalies; Dubnyk and Stalock. Non-Roster ‘G’; Kahkonen and Baribeau. My UFA forwards are Cannone, Cullen and Winnik. My UFA ‘D’ are Grant, Palmquist and Quincey. My RFA forwards are Gabriel, Gilmour, Mitchell and Zucker. My RFA ‘D’ are Dumba, Labbe, Loov and Seeler. My UFA goalie is Svedberg and my RFA goalies are Michalek and Vay. *Please note that Rau was re-signed to a 2-year deal last week and Ennis was waived for a contract buyout to create additional cap space. Note that this list does not include Iowa players on AHL deals.
Ok, my overriding strategy here is that I’m going to rebuild the new team with 60-70% of players that I draft and develop, and 30-40% of players obtained via smart trades or free agent signings. I’ll begin the process of moving some of the current players who have outstanding trade value to amass draft choices. At the Entry Draft or the trade deadline, these are the same as currency. At the same time, I’m going to ensure that I have the best people I can possibly have in my player development program. That means a new attitude for the Iowa Wild. The former, and somewhat storied Houston Aero’s moved North in 2013 and in 5 seasons there have failed to make the playoffs. I’m not only going to develop players there, I’m going to put a winner on the ice. Those fans deserve it as much as the ones back in Minnesota. For the big club, as I am trading assets away I’m not going to consume myself with winning, losing or a playoff spot. In fact, losing will be good as it will propel me toward the top of the draft board.
Let’s assess who isn’t going anywhere due to contracts or No Move Clauses (NMC) in their deals; two definite no-movers are Parise and Suter. I don’t think they would agree to be moved and it’s unlikely anyone would take on their contracts. The team is stuck with them. I see Suter playing his deal out, though I’m not certain Parise will hold up physically for the duration of his. That’s just an honest outlook, few in the NHL have this guys compete level, and he has paid the price for it and then some. Koivu (2 yrs. left) is probably immovable, Staal has a year left and could have trade value and I’m notifying him of that. Coyle frustrates fans but I’m keeping him, he could slide into Koivu’s two-way role when his deal expires. I’m keeping Kunin, Eriksson-Ek, (PK ability) and Greenway. I’ll offer a one or two-year deal to Winnik as he is low cost and can PK. I’ll offer Zucker a 3-year deal and see where that goes, I’m not certain if I want to commit to him long term and he would have high trade value. I’m resigning Dumba to possibly a longer-term deal as I still see a lot of upside with him and I feel that his experience level now has him around the corner from being really good. Even if Cullen wants to play another year I won’t make an offer, I can use that spot for a young guy. (Cully is Gold, but…) I’ll swing RFA deals with the forwards I listed, and I’ll do the same with the ‘D’ I listed especially Seeler, in fact I’ll offer him a nice bridge deal, I’ve seen enough to know that this guy is going to be a player for a while. I’m also keeping Soucy with the big club this next season for a closer look, the dude is a gamer and could develop. I don’t see him as a 1, 2 or 3 D, but he could be built into something solid.
So, what will the club look like for 18-19? Well, it’s probably going to look a lot like last years model barring some successful trade deals over the summer. A * next to a player’s name means I’m working to move them. Here it is; Forwards, Coyle, Eriksson Ek, *Foligno, *Granlund, Greenway, Koivu, Kunin, *Neiderreiter, Parise, *Staal, Winnik, Zucker. On Defense; *Brodin, Dumba, Olofsson (jury is out) Prosser, Seeler, *Spurgeon, Soucy, Suter. Between the pipes Dubnyk and Stalock. I’ll need three skaters to round out my 23 man, and everyone else is headed for Iowa. As I pointed out before, my first two draft picks would have been goalies Gravel and Skarek. For the players I have given the asterisks to I’m going to start the process immediately. The only one I’m on the fence with is Granlund. He is productive and the fans and even myself just love this guy. In fact, you have to travel a long way to find any hockey guys who aren’t class people on or off the ice. But emotions can’t get in the way in this business, they will ruin you in a hurry.
I’m going to assess, clean house and begin the rebuild. It’s necessary. I’m not going to ever put the boots to former GM Chuck Fletcher, the club was not a top twelve team before he arrived, they are now. (CF was just hired to be a Senior adviser by the NJ Devils) Alas, they aren’t a Cup contender as constructed. Close, but no stogie. He leaves some positive assets behind and it is time to convert some of those to a future that could include a Cup. I’m about to knock on Leo’s office door and go in. Wish me luck…. PEACE