The NHL Free Agent Frenzy has come, and it has gone!

Marc Elliott

Former NY Ranger and Dallas Stars  Forward Matts Zuccarello is a prime UFA target for the Wild
Former NY Ranger and Dallas Stars Forward Matts Zuccarello is a prime UFA target for the Wild

ST. PAUL… By the time you read this the 2019 annual NHL Free Agent Signing period will have officially opened. (Monday July 1st at 12PM-ET) As always there will be a few signings right off the bat as some players have basically made their minds up about their destinations during the free agent interview period. That opened on June 23rd and free agents were free to go on “recruiting visits” with teams to hear their pitch about their organization, where they might fit and so on. By league policy, money and term cannot be discussed at these meetings. Is there some “wink-winking” going on between agents and clubs during this interview period? I’d be crazy to think there isn’t, or at least some exchanges of “ballpark” estimates regarding what will be required to obtain certain talents, on the other hand, I would think that if the rules were breached during this period, there would be some significant damage incurred by the team and agent doing so. For a team this could include heavy fines and losses of draft picks. You wouldn’t want to find out what the penalties were, so I believe the clubs and agents have respect for this. 

Numbers will be flying around like the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz movie come lunch time on Monday though. And as is always the case, there will be a handful of major signings within a couple of hours of the UFA signing period being officially open. Will any of this activity involve the Minnesota Wild? It is mid-Sunday evening as I write, I have about a half dozen windows open right now on my laptop to some major hockey news and info sites, and outside of some specific speculation regarding about a half dozen top tier UFA’s on the market, it doesn’t appear that the Wild will land any of them. In fact, over the past 3 to 4 days with my ear to the ground, none of the high-end talent is even considering the Wild. How things have changed in the State of Hockey since 2012 when the club made the biggest splash in the league when they landed the hometown hockey prince, Zach Parise, and Wisconsin’s hockey royalty Ryan Suter. 

Quotes were tossed about at the time that those signings had broken down a “barrier” and that this made Minnesota a solid place for future free agents to come to and play. If you are from here, or have lived here for a while, you already know that the State of Hockey has a fairly high quality of life. It does. It ranks high on many lists in that regard. (winters, below zero temps and snow be darned) I’ve been in 46 states, and it’s easily top three in my mind. And at that time their signings suddenly made the Wild’s Stanley Cup window quite a bit larger and more realistic then at any time in their fledgling existence. Suddenly they weren’t being relegated to be a club that free agents “ended up” at or came to when other options folded on them. The team was being viewed as having finally arrived at being “legitimate”.  

Former GM Chuck Fletcher went about filling out the roster with all tools available to him and had actually assembled a pretty strong team. It wasn’t a stretch or untruth to say that the club was a top 12 team in the league. But it was a roster that had holes in it and ultimately wasn’t good enough to contend for a Cup. The Parise-Suter Wild qualified for the Cup tourney 6 of 7 seasons of their Wild tenure going 2-6 in those appearances. And this past year, with a couple of serious injuries, and then the subsequent trades of a combined 1438 games of NHL experience (Granlund, Coyle, Neiderreiter) the club sank like a rock, did not make it into the playoffs and finished last in the NHL Central. The immediate future of the team is sketchy, as is the near and long term of their ability to be competitive. That won’t come from the current roster, and there isn’t much in the pipeline to create some positive anticipation for the fan base.

IT WAS RUMORED in the very recent past that the team was touching bases with Wisconsin native and San Jose star Joe Pavelski, Nashville’s Wayne Simmonds, along with Edina homeboy and NYI Captain Anders Lee. According to TSN’s free agent rankings they have Pavelski at 6th, Simmonds at 14th and Lee at 4th. Simmonds is a hard-nosed power forward and the rumors with him never got much traction. The talk of Little Joe coming here focused on his family being not too far away in Wisconsin and his friendship with fellow Badger alum Suter. That rumor never really caught fire either. The rumor regarding Lee has been floating about for most of the past 10 months because of Lee’s impending UFA status and his local legend status. Lee is in the top 20 in the league for goals scored over the past 3 seasons. He has expressed a desire to stay with the Islanders but is said to be seeking a payday that might preclude a new deal with them. 

As of this eve, it looks like Pavelski is headed to the Dallas Stars. Dollars are unknown, the term is rumored to be 3 years. I add this as pure conjecture; the Blackhawks could be a dark horse in on Little Joe. If the Stars deal doesn’t get finalized, this one wouldn’t surprise me. For Lee, the Isles are taking a bit of a hardline with him, so he is checking his options. While the Wild are still on the list, you might surmise that it might be a while before they are a contender again, a long while at that, so a Wild deal would probably be just that. It is rumored that Chicago has interest as does Colorado. It also looks as if Lee is going to require at least $7.5mil or more annually for his autograph on a contract. Some analysts are using the Mark Stone deal as their comparable. He signed an 8-year deal for $76mil in March after being dealt to the VGK. Over a similar timeframe Lee has scored more goals then Stone, while Stone has more assists. Goal scorers usually command the higher dollars. This will be interesting, and I can’t see the Wild inking him. 

The most likely addition for the club is that of former longtime NY Ranger and short-term Stars forward Matts Zuccarello. He is the 9th ranked forward available, has 355pts in 511 regular season games on 114G/241A, and has 42pts in 73 playoff tilts. (15G/27A) The Wild are prepared to offer a 5yr/$30mil deal. The Norwegian native would be welcomed with open arms here and could buy a boatload of Lefsa with that deal. Forward Ryan Hartman (former CHI 1st Rnd pick) is the reported backup plan. Can’t wait for lunchtime tomorrow! PEACE