After months of waiting and the threat of Kirill Kaprizov staying in Russia to play in the KHL, the Wild finally brought their superstar back to the Twin Cities on the back of a five-year, $45 million deal. Now the pressure is on to not waste his prime years the way the Wild did with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
With Kaprizov being the goal-scoring machine the Wild has always lacked, the next step to building a team capable of hoisting the Stanley Cup will require lots of hurdle-jumping by GM Bill Guerin and rapid development of top prospects.
The first hurdle Guerin needs to jump will be finding a way to fill the hole at the center position. Kaprizov was like a Ferrari in a trailer park playing next to Victor Rask and Ryan Hartman last season while Nick Bonino was more of a stop-gap on the fourth line.
Fellow franchise cornerstone Joel Eriksson Ek is an outstanding two-way center, but perhaps not the best fit for Kaprizov.
The problems continue when addressing the blue line. What once was a strength with Ryan Suter has turned into a weakness after Carson Soucy was selected in Seattle's expansion draft. While they still have Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin, the back end is filled with journeyman free-agent acquisitions that will become the norm due to their cap situation.
If we were playing NHL '22, these problems would be solved by trading for Jack Eichel and going on a free-agent spending spree. But after the Wild bought out Suter and Parise, most of the assets that were needed to pull off a blockbuster are now needed to become a contender.
That includes Marco Rossi, who missed the entire season due to complications from COVID-19. The soon-to-be 20-year old posted 120 points with the Ottawa 67s during the 2019-20 season and has the playmaking ability to develop into a top-flight center.
With Matt Boldy, Calen Addison, Jesper Wallstedt and others in the system, there's a pipeline of talent that could produce with time. But time is not something the Wild have and neither is money.
The Wild will incur more than $40 million in dead cap hits over the next three seasons as part of their recent buyouts. This means that adding impact free agents will be next to impossible and trades could be coming to clear cap space to address their most pressing needs.
In a way, this is too similar to the situation that was created when Parise and Suter came to Minnesota. While the Wild were able to navigate the salary cap enough to build a perennial playoff team, they were never taken seriously as a cup contender and that era has gone down in history as a disappointment.
The Wild can't afford to have the same thing happen with Kaprizov. Already in the prime of his career, the Wild needs to find a way to become a serious threat in the Western Conference. If they can't, Kaprizov's stay in Minnesota could be a short one.