The repercussions of the Wild signing Mats Zuccarello

Wild execs need to look themselves in the mirror.
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The Wild have wasted no time dipping their toes in NHL free agency, highlighted by signing Mats Zuccarello to a five-year $30 million contract.

Zuccarello, who turns 32 in September, will have a full no-movement clause in his contract and a 10-team no-trade in years four and five, according to Michael Russo of The Athletic.

This means two things, one he'll basically serve out this entire contract in Minnesota and he'll have to be protected in the 2021 expansion draft when Seattle joins the NHL.

Now, let me say that Zuccarello is a solid player. He's averaged 53 points per season the last six years, he can play on your top power play unit and even the penalty kill if needed.

Most teams would like to have his services, but his presence on the Wild creates a ripple effect that's bigger than what he'll bring to the ice every night.

First, giving a player of his age a contract with a no-movement clause and average annual cap hit of $6 million a year cripples this team going forward.

The league's salary cap changes every year, and in this case, the buffoons running the NHL didn't even tell teams what the salary cap was going to be until after the NHL Draft.

This year's cap is set at $81.5 million. When you factor in Zuccarello, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter's cap hit of $21 million combined, that means those three players alone account for 25 percent of the team's cap.

For a team that's already stuck in salary cap purgatory because of Parise and Suter's deals, handing out a third no-movement cap hit to a good – but not great – player doesn't seem like the wisest move.

Second, Zuccarello is not a center and the Wild now have a plethora of wings vying for spots. Here's all the wings Minnesota has if training camp were to begin today. 

  1. Zach Parise
  2. Jason Zucker
  3. Mats Zuccarello
  4. J.T. Brown 
  5. Ryan Donato 
  6. Kevin Fiala 
  7. Marcus Foligno 
  8. Jordan Greenway 
  9. Luke Kunin 
  10. Ryan Hartman

Who fits where?

Let's assume Parise and Zucker play on the Wild's top line with Eric Staal at center. If Mikko Koivu comes back healthy for the start of the season, let's say he centers the second line of Kevin Fiala and Zuccarello.

If Foligino and the also newly signed Ryan Hartman play on the fourth line things get even stickier.

Where are Ryan Donato, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway going to play? 

Greenway, Donato and Kunin don't require waivers, meaning they could be sent to Iowa. On one hand, yes, it would be nice to have them playing bigger minutes in the AHL but at the same time, these players deserve to play in the NHL.

Greenway played in 81 games in his first full season last year and the 21-year-old played admirable scoring 12 goals but there's hopes for him he'll be able to take the next step.

Donato, 23, provided an instant spark when he was acquired from Boston in exchange for Charlie Coyle. He put up 16 points (4 goals and 12 assists) in 22 games and possesses the most important quality the Wild lack. He shoots the puck. 

Kunin, 21, was injured coming off an ACL tear to start the 2018-19 season and began the year in Iowa. He we recalled on Dec. 9 and put up 17 points (6 goals and 11 assists) in 49 games the rest of the way. Kunin has a bright future as a former first-round pick and the captain of Team USA in the 2017 World Juniors Tournament.

They deserve to be in Minnesota's top-nine (if not top six) to prove they can hang with the best at the NHL level.

A question of priorities

Instead, Wild owner Craig Leipold and general manager Paul Fenton simply want to return to the playoffs, which is a fine goal to have. All 31 teams will give you lip service every offseason in that, "our goal is to make the playoffs."

Last season the Wild finished with a league worst 16 wins on home ice and season ticket renewals are down this summer.

And I hate to burst fans bubble, but Wild just don't appear to be a team that scares you in the postseason.

They finished in the basement of a loaded Central Division. St. Louis won the Stanley Cup and both Dallas and Colorado were a win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals. Dallas just signed veteran Joe Pavelski and Colorado has the most cap space at their disposal.

Chicago and Minnesota were the only teams in the division to not make the postseason. 

Although the Blackhawks have some salary cap hurdles of their own in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both players aren't slowing down. If they find their solution in goal, whether it's Corey Crawford bouncing back or finding someone else, they'll be a dangerous team again.

The Wild haven't won a playoff series since 2015. Instead of signing Zuccarello to a non-moveable contract, they should be giving their young talent every chance to shine while likely solidifying their lottery chances. 

Last month's top draft pick Matthew Boldy might turn into a solid player in a few years but Minnesota hasn't picked in the top 10 since 2012.

You need to get high-end talent at the top of the draft and if the Wild make the postseason or hover around .500, that can't happen. The Wild need to decide what direction they want to take. 

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