The Minnesota Wild may have rattled off back-to-back wins for the first time this season but the writing on the wall is a teardown of this roster still appears to be forthcoming.
After having the oldest roster in the league last season in 2018-19, the Wild’s lineup is now the 29th oldest in 2019-20 with the average age being 29 years old. You might be able to get away with a higher age if you were a team with a Stanley Cup window (i.e. the Pittsburgh Penguins who have the oldest roster in the league) but Minnesota’s not in that boat.
After missing the playoffs last season and qualifying for the NHL Draft lottery for the first time since 2012, there’s a possibility they could be picking in the top five in next year’s draft which is something they haven’t done since 2005. First-year general manager Bill Guerin is wise to not make any knee-jerk reaction move this early in the season but if the Wild plan to turn things around quickly in the coming years, they’ll have to address who’s staying and who’s going.
Luke Kunin (22), Jordan Greenway (23), Joel Eriksson Ek (23), Ryan Hartman (25), Matt Dumba (25), Jared Spurgeon (30), Alex Stalock (32).
Average age: 25
Note: Ages are where they’ll be at the end of the season.
This is a tough list to fill out, but let’s start with the easy ones in defensemen Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon. In Dumba’s case, he’s a game-changing player who produces goals at an elite rate. Is he going to have the defensive miscue now and then? Yes. But it would not be a good idea to trade away a player of his caliber, especially when he’s still 25-years old. Since 2016, only three defenseman (minimum 190 games played) have averaged more goals per game than Dumba with Brent Burns, Dougie Hamilton and Victor Hedman being the others.
For Spurgeon, he’s a month removed from a seven-year extension. He’s not going anywhere. Even though he’s turning 30 next month, his style of play indicates he should be able to be a contributing player well into his later years.
Ryan Hartman’s on a two-year contract, he’ll still be 26 when his contract expires and he’s a solid bottom-six player. He’ll likely be more cost efficient than Marcus Foligno, whose contract also expires at the same time but Foligno will be entering his age 30 season. Foligno has character and a defense-first mentality which can help a winning team but if the Wild are picking one they should keep Hartman in their mix due to his age.
For Kunin and Greenway, they’ll be restricted-free agents next summer, so they’re highly likely to get bridge deals. Even if neither take big steps forward offensively, it’s too early to bail on them and if the Wild are entering rebuilding years, you may as well keep players who are young and cheap. Plus both players are first and second-round picks respectively and it’s probably not a great look to be bailing on prospects that early.
Eriksson Ek is a keeper because of his position alone. The Wild are lacking in true centers who aren’t Eric Staal or Mikko Koivu and Victor Rask (who doesn’t count here for obvious reasons). Even though he was a first-round pick (and went two spots ahead of Brock Boeser, if you forgot) Eriksson Ek has the potential to be a cheap well rounded third-line center. He’s under contract for $1.4 million through 2021 and will be a restricted-free agent after that. Unless his game takes a nosedive between now and then, he’s in the same boat as Kunin and Greenway. All three players are too young to cut loose before you can adequately assess them.
Finally, the Wild would be wise to keep Stalock too even if they don’t plan to use him as a No. 1 goalie; nor am I suggesting they should. But he’s performed well overall on a reasonable deal. Here’s how league average goaltenders performed last season vs. Stalock in career goals-against average and save percentage, according to Hockey Reference.
Stalock is getting paid just $785K through 2021, suggesting the Wild can get by with average goaltending during their rebuild. Devan Dubnyk might have his warts now that he’s up there an age, but his six-year $26 million (4.33 million AAV) contract was easily one of the best contracts in the league for goaltenders. Also, goaltenders are enigmas. Projecting out long-term continued success is a crapshoot and the Wild would be wise to keep Stalock around and deploy him strategically as they try to find their next No. 1 goaltender.
This is part one of a three-part series of who the Wild should keep, who should go and who’s in limbo?
Stay tuned next week for which players the Wild should be moving on from.