The Minnesota Wild entered last season hoping to make the playoffs once again. They were coming off of a 113-point finish in 2021-22 and had the talent to play postseason hockey once again. Minnesota ended up making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2023, though they bowed out in round one to the Dallas Stars.
The Wild, like every team around the NHL, are gearing up for training camp. They take to the ice for their first preseason game on September 24 when they hit the road to face the Colorado Avalanche. And they begin their regular season campaign by welcoming the Florida Panthers to their home rink on October 12.
Before all of that, though, why don't we take a deeper look at this team? Here is a complete preview of the Minnesota Wild ahead of what promises to be an intense 2023-24 NHL season.
Salary cap hell
The Wild are in a rather unenvious salary cap position. In 2021, Minnesota bought out forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. Both players signed long-term contracts way back in 2012. As the years went on, however, those deals became more of an albatross than anything else.
As a result of these buyouts, the Wild have a ton of dead cap space they can't use. For this season and next, the team has $14.743 million in dead cap space affecting their finances. And this has caused some issues.
Last season, the Wild made the tough decision to trade Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings. However, even after trading Fiala, they didn't have the money for significant upgrades. That rang true this summer, as well, as the team's only addition was veteran forward Pat Maroon.
These cap restraints are going to hang as a cloud over the team for the next two seasons. And one has to wonder how the Wild will operate this season knowing that there is little they can do to bring in outside reinforcements.
One of the biggest effects the salary cap issues had on the Wild last season came on offense. Minnesota boasted one of the league's brightest offenses in 2021-22. They scored the fifth most goals in the league as Kirill Kaprizov set franchise records with his play. Fiala also posted a career-high 85 points.
In 2022-23, however, things went south. Minnesota plummeted from fifth to 23rd in goals scored. Kaprizov still played at an elite level. And Matt Boldy emerged as a promising goal scorer. However, when Kaprizov went out for 15 games, the Wild's lack of goal-scoring depth was exposed.
In 2023-24, Minnesota will need more out of those already on the roster. The Wild should look to players such as Joel Eriksson Ek, Mats Zuccarello, and Ryan Hartman to take steps as goal scorers. If they can't, Minnesota might be in some real trouble this season.
Can Gustavsson do it again?
The Wild made one of the most shrewd moves of the last offseason in trading for Filip Gustavsson. The 25-year-old came over to initially serve as the backup to future Hall of Fame puck-stopper Marc-Andre Fleury. By the end of the season, however, Gustavsson established himself as a legitimate option in net.
The 25-year-old played 39 games last season and absolutely thrived. He posted a 2.10 goals against average, a .934 save percentage, and a 0.74 5-on-5 goals saved above average per 60 last year. Only Boston Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark topped these marks, but Ullmark also had a season for the ages.
The Wild have one of the best goaltending prospects in Jesper Wallstedt waiting in the wings. He likely doesn't make the NHL roster this season, however. Gustavsson could play a larger role in net this season. And if can play similarly in 2023-24 to the way he did a year ago, the Wild will be in good shape.
Potential odd men out
For the Wild, there are two players who could be on the outside looking in, and both are on defense. Veteran blueliner Alex Goligoski is entering the final year of his two-year contract. It'd be hard to get rid of a Minnesota native, especially with his no-movement clause. But the team has enough defensive depth to put him in the press box.
If Goligoski fails to crack the starting lineup, he is a serviceable depth defenseman. And his usage as the seventh defenseman would probably force Jon Merill off the team. Merill has two years remaining on his contract. However, he can be moved freely and has an incredibly low cap hit. He'll have to put in the work during training camp in order to stick around this fall.
Final roster projection
Forwards: Kirill Kaprizov, Ryan Hartman, Mats Zuccarello, Marcus Johansson, Joel Eriksson Ek, Matt Boldy, Freddy Gaudreau, Marco Rossi, Marcus Foligno, Brandon Duhaime, Connor Dewar, Pat Maroon
Defenseman: Jared Spurgeon, Jake Middleton, Jonas Brodin, Brock Faber, Alex Goligoski, Calen Addison
Goalies: Filip Gustavsson, Marc-Andre Fleury