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Friday, June 29, 2012

Minnesota Wild/NHL Comprehensive Free Agency Preview

NHL Free-Agency is just two days away. The start of free-agency, will mark the beginning of the biggest and most important off-season in Minnesota Wild history. This team has missed the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons. Wild fans, are growing restless and want to watch a winning team. In fact, the Wild is playing to 1/3 empty buildings nowadays. This is a franchise, that once sold out every single game for the first ten years of its existence.

The Wild have the best prospect pool in the NHL. But they need an influx of NHL ready players to join that corps of prospects. They could also use a star player to help them sell tickets. The Minnesota Wild are hoping to be big spenders this off-season, for the first time, in the franchise's history. As a Wild fan, you can only hope that management spends their money wisely. The question is: Will any good players take their money?

 Let's start off with the basics: Free-agency begins at 12.00PM on Sunday, July,1st. Minnesota currently has 20 players under contract for next season. The maximum amount of players that can be on an NHL roster is 23. Some of the current players could be sent down to the minors. So, I believe the Wild will be targeting 4-5 free agents, come Sunday. Below, is a list of the top free agents available, according to how I would rank them. I have made up this list based on watching the majority of every Minnesota Wild game this season. And years past. I also watched probably 90% of the NHL playoff games this past season Yes, I have no life. Also, I have been watching the NHL for 25 years. Therefore, I feel, I am pretty good judge on NHL talent.

Here is the Minnesota Wild's current depth chart- (Hopefully this will change after free-agency or trades.)
1st line-Heatley Koivu Granlund
2nd line-Bouchard Cullen Setoguchi
3rd line-spot open Brodziak Clutterbuck
4th line- Kassian Powe spot open
Players vying for spots: Charlie Coyle, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson, Nick Palmeri, Stepahne Veillux, Jason Zucker, and Zack Phillips.
Scandella, Gilbert
Spurgeon, Stoner
Falk Open spot
Players vying for spots: Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Chay Genoway, Steven Kampfer

As you can see, the Wild need to acquire; a first line scorer, a top pair defenseman, a depth defenseman, and a couple of gritty forwards- preferably ones with size . This is a tough task to accomplish. But it can be done. If they can acquire these type of players, they will be much improved going into next season.

This years free-agent class is not very deep. But, what it lacks in depth, is more then made up for with the star players available at the head of the class.

This list does not reflect who I think the Wild will necessarily go after, or should go after.

Tier 1- The cream of the crop. Every NHL team should want these players:
1. Zach Parise Forward- best player available. Every team in the NHL is looking for a player like Parise. He has great skill, and great character. Rare star player, that works as hard as a fourth liner.
2. Ryan Suter Defenseman- Best defenseman available. High character guy. Great shot. I believe he is undervalued, because he plays in Shea Weber's shadow down in Nashville
3. Alex Semin F- One of the most talented players in the whole NHL. Definitely a risk, because he doesn't bring consistent effort to the rink every night. Still, he has a great shot and great puck skills.
4. Justin Schultz D- Tore up the WCHA the last two years. Could be better then fellow Wisconsin Defenseman, Ryan McDonaugh in time.

Tier 2- good players but not quite stars, and veterans who are aging but still productive NHLer's
5. Martin Brodeur Goalie- Best goalie in NHL history.
6. Jason Garrison D- Had a career year last season with Florida. I think he might be a one year wonder. But he can run a power-play from the point. And he has a decent shot.
7. Matt Carle D- Solid offensive defenseman. Great fit as a third d-man- Solid Powerplay guy.
8. Teemu Selanne F- Ageless wonder. Still brings a great shot to the rink. Most likely will only play for the Ducks.
9. Jiri Hudler F- Underrated in my book. Played behind Datsyuk, and Zetterberg in Detroit. With more ice-time, he could be a solid second line center easily.
10. Jaromir Jagr F- Another ageless wonder. If he improves his conditioning, he could be a point per game player again.
11. Shane Doan F- Longtime Coyotes Captain. Plays a tough gritty game. Will he leave Phoenix?
12. Ray Whitney F- Another veteran Coyote. Had arguably his best season last year. 
13. P. A, Parenteau F- Late bloomer. Will he produce without Jon Tavares, as his center.
14. Dustin Penner F- Power forward. Will he play like he did in the playoffs during the Kings run to the cup? Which, was great. Or will he play like he did during the regular season? Which, was not great.
15. Bryce Salvador D- Great playoffs for the Devils. Underwhelming regular season though.
16. Filip Kuba D- Big guy. Still can be a solid second pair defenseman. Heavy shot from the point.
17. Andrei Kostitsyn F- Talented offensive player. Can he get his head on straight? 

Tier 3- These following guys have flaws in their game; whether it age, character concerns, eroding skills, etc. But these players can still produce as bottom 6 forwards or last pair defenseman.
18. Steve Sullivan F- Would be a perfect fit for a team looking for a veteran 3rd line winger. Can still produce a few goals.
19. Ryan Smyth F- Power Forward- He is not the player he once was. But he could give a team 10-15 goals. Plus, he will provide great leadership.
20. Olli Jokinen F- Getting old. Could be a fit for a team looking for a third line center. Played well in Calgary last year. But he was getting first line minutes, which he should not get at this point in his career.
21. Paul Gaustad F- Checking Center. Gritty. Good penalty killer.
22. Travis Moen F- Another gritty penalty killer. Would provide solid leadership as well.
23. Jaroslav Spacek D- Veteran defenseman- good fit for a team looking for a 5th or 6th defenseman.

24. Mikael Samuelsson F- Third line winger with some offense left in his game.
25. Ruslan Fedotenko F Great penalty killer. Solid third/fourth line defensive-minded forward.

Players the Wild should go after in free agency:( In order of impotance.)
Main Targets -
1. Ryan Suter. As stated above, Suter is the best free-agent defenseman available. He would instantly give the Wild a shut down defenseman. Which is something they currently lack.  His presence would allow the Wild to continue to let their prospects develop; and would give the young guys someone to learn from. ODDS of signing him: 45%. The Red Wings are the favorites to get him, as they need someone to try and fill Nik Lidstroms role. Now that he retired. The Wild will offer him a lot of money.
2. Zach Parise. Parise, would give the Wild two solid scoring lines. And he would greatly improve the teams lack of scoring. He would also help sell tickets. Considering, he is from Minnesota. With Parise in the fold, the Wild would be significantly better. His leadership, combined with Mikko Koivu's, would greatly benefit the Wild's talented youngsters. ODDS of signing him: 49.9. It will take a great sales pitch from GM Chuck Fletcher. But this is Parise's hometown, and the Wild do have a lot to offer him. In the form of cash, and the best young prospect corps in the NHL.
3. Justin Schultz. Schultz is the best young defenseman around. Signing him,  would just add to an already great prospect pool. He appears to be ready to play in the NHL next season. The fact that the Wild even made his exclusive list of teams that he would sign with, is a great sign for the team in acquiring other free-agents. ODDS 20%. Schultz, has narrowed the teams he is willing to sign with to six. And the Wild are on that list.
4. Matt Carle. Carle, would be a great get for any team. He is a proven point scorer from the back end. And he could quarterback the Wild's powerplay. He is a great plan B, if the Wild cannot sign Suter.
ODDS:55 %. I, think the Wild will throw a bunch of money at him, after Suter turns them down. The Wild can not afford to start the season without acquiring a good defenseman. And in my opinion, he is the second best one out there.
Secondary Targets
5. Alex Semin. I would sign him in a heartbeat. But I do not think the Wild will even talk to him, because of his perceived issues. This is a mistake I believe. The Wild need goal-scorers, and this is the best pure goal scorer on the market. ODDS: 000.1%
6. Jiri Hudler. Hudler, would fit in great on the second line for the Wild. I wouldn't give him a huge contract.But if they can't sign Parise, he is the second best forward available IMO. The Wild need to add a scoring forward this off-season. And there are not a lot of them out there. ODDS: 25%
7. Jason Garrison. Personally, I think, this would be a bad move. I think he is a one year wonder. But he is going to get paid, by somebody that misses out on Suter.  ODDS: 15%
8. Shane Doan. He would be higher on this list, if I thought there was any chance that he would leave Phoenix. But, I don't think he will. He would add some grit to the Wild, which they could use. ODDS: 1%
9. Jaromir Jagr. He would add scoring and would help with ticket sales. I do not think that he would want to play here. He would be a perfect fit, in that, he will probably sign for just one season. Therefore, he would not take up a roster spot next season when more of the Wild's prospects will be ready to play in the NHL. ODDS:.5%
10. Dustin Penner. Penner, would give the Wild some much needed size up front. Risky signing though, because of his inconsistent play. ODDS: 15%
Other targets
Steve Sullivan-see above
Pascal Dupius- can skate and score 10-15 goals. Also a good penalty killer
Jamie Langenbrunner-would provide leadership and grit.
Bryce Salvador-see above
Ryan Smyth-see above

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