The Minnesota Wild took the first step in a busy offseason on Friday when they signed center Joel Eriksson Ek to an eight-year, $42 million contract. The deal keeps their top defensive center in Minnesota but there are plenty more decisions to make before the Wild hit the ice again.
Breaking down Eriksson Ek's contract
Eriksson Ek's eight-year deal is the second-longest in franchise history behind the 13-year contracts that Ryan Suter and Zach Parise signed in July 2012. The Parise and Suter contracts haven't turned out how Wild fans imagined but there's a reason for optimism with Eriksson Ek's deal.
At age 24, Eriksson Ek is four years younger than Parise and Suter when they signed their mega-deals. Eriksson Ek is also just starting to tap into his potential as one of the league's top two-way centers.
Eriksson Ek was third on the team with a career-high 19 goals and was second among Wild forwards with a 16 plus/minus rating last season. In addition, he finished fourth in the Selke Trophy voting, which is given to the NHL's top two-way forward.
Like any contract, the real value comes down to the money. Eriksson Ek will make an average annual value (AAV) of $5.2 million in the deal. He'll also have a 10-team no-trade clause for four years and a no-movement clause that will require his approval for any trade, release, or demotion to the AHL.
What about Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala?
While Eriksson Ek is locked up until his age-32 season, the real contract drama surrounds superstar winger Kirill Kaprizov.
According to Cap Friendly, the Wild have $16.8 million in cap room after the Eriksson Ek deal but have just 15 players under contract. With the Wild needing to add at least three players over the summer, it remains to be seen how much they can commit to Kaprizov and Fiala.
In the case of Kaprizov, it might be a blank check. According to The Athletic's Michael Russo, the Wild have offered Kaprizov a max-deal that would be the largest in franchise history but Kaprizov's preference is to sign a short-term "bridge deal" to make sure the Wild becomes a contender.
There was a report that talks between the Wild and Kaprizov's camp had "grown cold," but talks of a return to the KHL could be a leverage ploy to get the best possible deal.
The Wild can't afford to let Kaprizov leave Minnesota after the 24-year-old scored 27 goals and recorded 51 points on his way to winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
Meanwhile, Fiala finished second on the Wild in goals (20) and points (40) last season, making him another important piece to the Wild's nucleus.
For what it's worth, general manager Bill Guerin said during a Saturday press conference that talks have already begun to sign both players, which should put more stress on the cap.
Thomas P. Williams of Wild Wilderness did a terrific breakdown of the Wild's salary cap situation and estimated that the team could have just $3 million in cap space remaining if they sign Kaprizov ($7.74 million AAV) and Fiala ($6.61 million AAV) to their projected salaries.
While the Wild could promote several prospects including Calen Addison, Matt Boldy, and Marco Rossi, they still could find more cap relief in the expansion draft.
Who could be available in the expansion draft?
The NHL will hold its second expansion draft in the past four seasons on July 21 when it welcomes the Seattle Kraken as its 32nd team. The Kraken will get to select one player from each team (except for the Vegas Golden Knights) to build its inaugural roster but as we saw in the last expansion draft, it's not as simple as it seems.
During the Vegas expansion draft, the Golden Knights threatened to take Matt Dumba but former general manager Chuck Fletcher wanted to keep the blue-liner on the roster. The result was one of the worst trades in franchise history as the Wild sent Alex Tuch to Vegas in exchange for a third-round pick with the condition that Erik Haula would be selected in the expansion draft.
This year's expansion draft could provide deja vu for Wild fans. The Wild have to protect Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello due to no-movement clauses in their contract and Eriksson Ek and Fiala will be protected by default.
If the Wild protect Marcus Foligno, Jordan Greenway and Ryan Hartman, they'll have three defensemen and a goalie to protect. With Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter, and Jonas Brodin all having no-movement clauses in their contracts, Dumba could be the odd man out.
This is where things could get interesting for Minnesota. They could work out a trade involving Parise where the Kraken could buy him out but it would require an additional asset plus Parise's approval due to his no-trade clause.
The Wild could also just let the Kraken select Dumba, but Seattle general manager Ron Francis could have a second deal lined up to trade Dumba and stockpile assets. Basically, if the Wild lose Dumba, they want to be the beneficiary of that move.
Whoever the Kraken selects, it will create more cap space to add players in free agency but another hole in the Wild's roster. With cap space at a premium, it's possible the Wild may have to try to search for value as they look for more upgrades this season.