The Minnesota Wild's season ended in disappointing fashion on Friday night but gave hope for the future. With Kirill Kaprizov's emergence and several other players taking a leap, the Wild's rebuild under Bill Guerin has come in ahead of schedule.
But the upcoming offseason presents a difficult challenge for Guerin and the front office. Several pieces of the Wild's nucleus will be looking for new contracts and with the expansion draft looming, the Wild will have several obstacles in front of improving the roster this summer.
How will the Wild handle the expansion draft?
The last time the Wild dealt with an expansion draft it didn't go well. With the Vegas Golden Knights interested in adding Matt Dumba, the Wild traded Eric Haula and Alex Tuch in order to keep Dumba on the roster.
That move has haunted the Wild and they'll look to avoid a similar loss of goal-scoring talent (Tuch) this offseason. With the Seattle Kraken entering the league, the Wild will be subject to another expansion draft and will have to find a way to keep most of its core together.
Mats Zuccarello, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin all have no-movement clauses in their contracts and with Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek also likely to be protected, the Wild will have to find a way to minimize the damage.
Has Zach Parise played his last game in Minnesota?
Despite having four years remaining on his contract, Parise's time with the Wild has come to a crossroads. The Wild slashed the soon-to-be 37-year-old's ice time in the final month of the season and made him a healthy scratch for the first three games of their playoff series against Vegas.
The Wild would undoubtedly love to move Parise and his $7.5 million cap hit this offseason but they'll likely have trouble finding a suitor. While the Wild could dangle Parise in the expansion draft, he would have to approve the move due to the no-movement clause in his contract.
A potential destination could be the New York Islanders, who attempted to acquire Parise at the 2020 trade deadline but couldn't get a deal done. Parise's ties to Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello could open the door for a trade but there are plenty of hurdles to clear before it can become a reality.
Which players will get an extension this summer?
The Wild's optimism revolves around the young core of Eriksson Ek, Fiala and Kaprizov. Having a young group of players is excellent for your team's future but becomes a burden when they need contract extensions.
While Kaprizov doesn't have the service time to become an official restricted free agent, he'll need a new deal after making $925,000 last season. The Wild will also need to figure out extensions for Eriksson Ek and Fiala, who are both RFAs.
With the threat of other teams signing Eriksson Ek and Fiala to offer sheets, the Wild will have to crunch the numbers to lock in their nucleus this summer.
Can the Wild find a top-flight center?
Some things in Minnesota sports don't change. The Vikings are always looking for guards, the Twins are on the lookout for pitching and the Wild need to find a top-tier center.
Last season, the Wild made several trades to acquire Nick Bonino, Nick Bjugstad and Marcus Johansson but all three of those players are hitting free agency this summer. This year's free-agent crop is thin at center, so the Wild's best option may be a trade.
An interesting option is Buffalo's Jack Eichel. The 24-year-old will have neck surgery this offseason but has been a point-per-game producer throughout his career. While the Wild would also need to figure out the money and package it would take to acquire Eichel, adding a potential superstar next to Kaprizov won't be cheap.
The debut of 2020 first-round pick Marco Rossi should help the Wild's depth but they'll need to make a major move in order to improve down the middle.