Wild add grit with Trenin as dead cap space for Parise-Suter buyouts keeps them on bargain hunt

Published 8:40 am Tuesday, July 2, 2024

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild are almost done with their dead weight. They have one more summer to serve in salary cap jail.

With the upper limit of the 2024-25 salary cap set at $88 million per club, the Wild carried a charge of more than $14.7 million into the beginning of free agency on Monday for buying out the contracts of stalwarts Zach Parise and Ryan Suter three years ago.

Buyouts have become a common resource for roster management, as evidenced by Dallas dumping Suter last week, Philadelphia jettisoning Cam Atkinson and Buffalo severing ties with Jeff Skinner, but no other NHL team comes close to the amount of spending limitation on Minnesota.

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Nashville is a distant second with $7.56 million in dead money for buying out Matt Duchene in 2023 and Kyle Turris in 2020, according to data compiled by the CapFriendly website, and the Predators also have $4.25 million in retained salary charges for trading Ryan Johansen and Mattias Ekholm in separate deals in 2023. That didn’t deter them from big-splash signings of Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Marchessault.

After this season, the Wild will essentially find freedom to spend in free agency again. The Parise-Suter hits will only total about $1.67 million for the following four years, and the cap is likely to continue to rise. For now, moving out of mediocrity — they missed the playoffs last season and haven’t won a series in nine years — has been made far more difficult with that dead money.

So how do they improve? Stronger seasons from veteran forwards who underperformed in 2023-24 like Marcus Foligno, Frederick Gaudreau and Marcus Johansson would help. A more effective penalty kill is a must. Better health among the defensemen will go a long way, after captain Jared Spurgeon was waylaid by injuries and Jonas Brodin and Zach Bogosian also missed significant stretches. An increase in the intangible trait of fortitude throughout the lineup is a priority for general manager Bill Guerin, which is convenient because grit doesn’t cost as much as goals.

The Wild took a step toward that by signing center Yakov Trenin to a four-year, $14 million contract with a $3.5 million annual average value that ate up more than half of the roughly $6.2 million in salary cap space they entered the market with.

“It’s his mindset and size. He’s got an aggressive nature. He likes to play a high-tempo forecheck game. He’s physical. He can chip in offensively,” Guerin said. “When I talked about regaining our identity, Yak is a guy who can definitely help us in that aspect.”

The 6-foot-2, 201-pound Trenin was traded from Nashville to Colorado before the deadline last season and finished with 12 goals, five assists and a career-high 207 hits with a plus-15 rating in 76 combined games for the two clubs. He’ll be reuinted with Wild coach John Hines, whom he played for with the Predators.

The Wild also acquired center Jakob Lauko during the draft last weekend in a trade with Boston that sent center Vinni Lettieri to the Bruins.

Looming in the background of these spending limitations is the status of star left wing Kirill Kaprizov, who has entered the second-to-last year of his contract and is now eligible to sign an extension. Owner Craig Leipold acknowledged the significance of the situation even before last season.

“What I love about him is that he wants to win. When you have star players, I think you have to show them how committed you are as well,” Guerin said earlier this year. “I do feel that we need to show him that we’re committed to winning. I know he likes it here. I know he’s enjoyed playing here. I know he’s had success playing here. But you know we can get better, and I think we can continue to surround him and keep building to surround him with a better team.”

The first move the Wild made on Monday was actually on the coaching staff, hiring former New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano as an associate coach. He replaces the fired Darby Hendrickson.