An Early Look at the Off Season Pt. II – The Forwards
In my previous blog, I looked at the situation of the Wild for this coming off season and their impending free agents, both unrestricted and otherwise.
The Wild potentially have six forward spots to fill from within and through free agency. There are a few players in the system that might be ready to step up but, on a whole, the Wild will likely be looking elsewhere for help.
Ilya Kovalchuk – LW – 28 – Est. Salary: $11M
The bottom line is that Kovalchuk is the best of the best of this off season. He is exactly what the Minnesota Wild need and exactly what they can’t afford. At least not with their cap situation over the next couple seasons. Kovalchuk would be a dream to see playing alongside Andrew Brunette and Mikko Koivu, to be sure, but with a potential $42+ million already spent on 15 players, it would be very, very difficult for the Wild to fit in a cap hit of $11M for one player.
That said Kovalchuk is the type of player that you make the cap room work for. The Thrashers current captain has scored 40+ goals in five straight seasons, two of which he scored 50+. He is a finisher, plain and simple, and a player that the Wild would love to get their hands on.
Despite the fact that Kovalchuk has only been to the playoffs once (for four games), he has provided leadership to an otherwise leaderless Thrashers team and he has also proven his worth in international tournaments as well, most recently last season’s World Championships in which he had five goals and 14 points in nine games.
Wild Nation Verdict: A dream come true. Kovalchuk would be the finisher that the Wild so desperately need. As it stands now, though, the Wild would need to do some serious finagling with their roster to both fit Kovalchuk AND field a full roster – especially not while he is expecting to make the league maximum. If Minnesota can utilize the loopholes to get the cap hit down to seven or eight million, then it’s doable. If not, you’ll see Kovalchuk playing elsewhere in the league.
Patrick Marleau – C – 31 – Est. Salary: $7-8M
Marleau has had an up and down career, but is certainly well on his way to a career season in what could be his last in San Jose. He is just 11 goals away from tying his career high and he’s topped 25 goals in six of his last eight full seasons (not to mention topping it already this season) and he’s topped 30 in three of his last four.
San Jose will have some difficult decisions to make this off season and losing their former captain may very well be one of them. If that is the case, he could be a lesser substitute for Kovalchuk. Marleau is nowhere near as dynamic as the Russian sniper, but he is still a solid scorer and a much better two-way player.
The biggest question mark is whether or not Marleau’s inflated production this season is due to an improvement with him or his linemates. Either way, however, he would be a welcome addition and one that the Wild could afford as well.
Wild Nation Verdict: It wouldn’t be the ideal situation, but it wouldn’t be a bad one either. Marleau is a proven scorer and he can play a two-way game – something that Minnesotans appreciate. While not as quick or dynamic as the aforementioned Kovalchuk, he still brings a lot to the table. Not only that, but his salary would allow for the Wild to fill other holes in their roster as well.
Olli Jokinen – C – 32 – Est. Salary: $5M
Jokinen will be going into next season coming off of a down year. After scoring 29 goals and 57 points last season, Jokinen has just eight goals through 42 games this season. He’s been a dynamic scorer in the past and is capable of being one again, but the problem lies in his attitude.
Since coming to Calgary, Jokinen has been talked of as being a “locker room cancer” and his underperformance this season has played a large part in bringing this talk to the forefront. Keeping that in mind, however, he has scored 20+ goals in his last six seasons and 30+ goals in four of these. He has the talent, but the biggest question is if he has the desire and the drive.
Wild Nation Verdict: No thank you. As talented as Jokinen is, the rumors of him being a cancer in the locker room are just not enticing. Coming off of a low point into this off season, a team could find themselves with a bargain should he right the ship. For a Wild team struggling to find their identity on and off the ice, however, I just don’t see that happening.
Saku Koivu – C – 36 – Est. Salary: $3-4M
While Koivu is not the player he was in his prime, there’s no doubt that he can still be an effective player. The question is, in what capacity. He is having a solid season thus far for Anaheim and could well find himself north of the 20 goal plateau again. He was linked strongly to the Wild during the off season and will again likely be linked to the team until he retires because of his brother.
The question mark with Koivu remains how much tread is left on the tires? He has struggled with injuries of the last few seasons and one has got to believe that all of those injuries will begin to take their toll. In addition, he has stated that he doesn’t want to step on his brother’s toes by coming into Minnesota. But would he consider taking on a role as a third line center with the team, as he is still a fantastic defensive player.
Wild Nation Verdict: Time will tell and maybe the Olympics will help him answer some of these questions; however Koivu remains an unlikely possibility for Minnesota, but a possibility nonetheless. The elder Koivu would be a fantastic third line center, but for the price, they could likely do better.
Alexander Frolov – LW – 29 – Est. Salary: $5-7M
Frolov is an admittedly intriguing player for Minnesota to consider. He is a dynamic scorer, though not quite as impressive as Kovalchuk, but he is enigmatic as well. Despite having an off season, Frolov is the type of talent that most simply won’t be able to ignore.
He’s scored 20+ goals in all but his first season in the NHL and has topped 30 twice in that time, not to mention showing that he has the potential to top 70 points on a regular basis when healthy. The problem with Frolov has always lied in his work ethic, but the Wild could be looking at a situation similar to what they had with Guillaume Latendresse – simply a player that needs a change in scenery.
Wild Nation Verdict: If neither Kovalchuk or Marleau are attainable or available, the Wild should consider Frolov. In the right system, in the right situation, Frolov could be an extremely dangerous player. With playmakers like Koivu, Brunette and Havlat, Frolov could be downright lethal. It’s just a matter of whether or not he’s able to put a full season together.
Chris Higgins – C – 28 – Est. Salary: $2-3M
Another enigmatic player this off season is Chris Higgins. Higgins burst onto the scene in Montreal, scoring 20+ goals in his first three full seasons with the team before fading away this season and last. The talent is there, but he just hasn’t been able to recreate his success in his early seasons.
Despite his struggles, Higgins is a big bodied, talented player – something that Chuck Fletcher likes. The Wild had success with a similar enigmatic Montreal player and therefore could take a chance on Higgins. He has the potential to be a very low-risk, high-reward player as well.
Wild Nation Verdict: I’ll be honest. If the cards fall in the right manner, the Wild could take a chance on Higgins. He could fill in an important role on the Wild and, honestly, the price could be right for him as well.
There are obviously many more prospective forwards out there for the Wild to consider, but these are just a few of the ones I find most intriguing. Chuck Fletcher has a unique opportunity to build this team the way he wants it to be built and there is no doubt that the forwards are where he is planning on starting.
As I’ve mentioned, this is obviously devoid of any possible trades he might make or players he might secure during these trades, but one thing is for sure…The Wild are firmly in his hands right now.
Up Next: Defensemen