Myers: 5 insights on the Wild offseason and draft planning
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- If you're the type of sports fan that prefers the anticipation of a game more than the actual game, this is the most wonderful time of the year. Though the Stanley Cup Final seemingly just ended, we're still more than 90 days from the Minnesota Wild first home preseason game (Sept. 27, 7 p.m. vs. Winnipeg), but we've got lots of words and very little action on tap in the coming week.
On Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia (yes, Gophers fans, back to that house of horrors) the Wild are scheduled to pick 18th in the opening round of the 2014 NHL Draft. Just four days later, on July 1, the annual free-for-all that is NHL Free Agency opens.
On Monday, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher and his top talent evaluator Brent Flahr met with the media to talk about both, and do their best at not tipping their hands. Here are five thoughts about the inevitable comings and goings that will play out before Independence Day fireworks light up the Minnesota skies:
1. The Wild have their sights set on offense. Some teams use first round picks on goalies. Those teams are rarely seen raising banners a few years later. The Wild, at least recently, like to use their early picks on defense (Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, etc.). But this is a forward-heavy draft, and Fletcher sounded like a guy who will be looking for a goal scorer on Friday night. In their last four playoff losses, the Wild scored a total of five goals. So offense is clearly a priority.
2. Don't expect many Minnesotans going early. Seeing that prep star who made his name known statewide during the tourney last March pull a NHL sweater over his shirt and tie in the first round is always a thrill. It's unlikely to happen this year. "There's not a Bjugstad..." in this year's draft, Flahr said, referring to Nick, the ex-Gopher now toiling for the Florida Panthers.
3. Chuck is not afraid to trade. The Wild didn't have a first round pick last season, after sending theirs to Buffalo to get Jason Pominville. Fletcher holds #18 this year, but no second-rounder, and said he'd entertain offers to trade back to get extra picks, knowing that the real cream of the draft crop (especially the forwards) will likely be long gone by the time the Wild's scheduled pick rolls around.
4. The goaltending glut will thin out. Mike Russo of the Star Tribune recently reported that the Wild are shopping Nicklas Backstrom, who entered last season as the team's top goalie and didn't stay there long. He's healthy, as is Darcy Kuemper, a restricted free agent who was the emerging young star last season. Unrestricted free agent Illya Bryzgalov is likely gone, and team officials feel that Josh Harding is back to good health after his ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis caused him to miss every game after Christmas last season.
5. Look for Heatley sweaters on the team store's bargain rack. Teams around the league have been making efforts to lock up unrestricted free agents prior to July 1. Fletcher has reached out to the agents for notable Wild unrestricted free agents like Matt Moulson, Justin Fontaine and Clayton Stoner, but said that it's so close to July 1 now that he expects all of them to test the free agent market to see what they can get, although at least a few could return. One player nobody has talked of re-signing is forward Dany Heatley, who ended the season on the shelf and has seen his numbers decline while his high-end salary has been a challenge. He may get one more chance, but it won't be in Minnesota.