The battle for the Stanley Cup is underway for a pair of teams, but for 28 others it’s nearly time to come back from break for meetings in an attempt to piece together next season’s Cup contenders.
Mike Yeo is now onboard for another 3 years after signing a new contract and next will be player evaluations to see who will remain with the Minnesota Wild next season. Those that do not receive a new contract will need to be replaced by a free agent sometime after July 1st. Here is a look at the players the Wild should pursue come free agency.
Thomas Vanek, LW
To get the obvious out of the way, Minnesota has Thomas Vanek on its radar. There has been speculation abound about a semi-homecoming for the former Minnesota Golden Gopher since the trade deadline last season.
While he hasn’t been public about his offseason wishes, Vanek turned down a 7-year, $50 million contract from the Islanders. This leads everybody and their mother to assume Vanek is holding out for an offer from the Minnesota Wild.
At this point, it would be more of a surprise if Vanek was not with the Wild next season. Goal scoring is the most important part of his repertoire and that’s exactly what the Wild are lacking. Put him on a potential line with Jason Pominville and centered by Mikael Granlund, and you have arguably the best second line in the NHL. Yes, you read that sentence correctly.
Shawn Thornton, RW
Shawn Thornton is a player that knows his role. He is a guy that has been a part of the heart and soul for the Boston Bruins and has done everything, most importantly win.
Thornton is a battle-tested fourth liner that will bring it every night. He’ll do the dirty work, fight, agitate, you name it. Put him on the flank of Cody McCormick on the fourth line and you have a wonderful pair of agitators.
Thornton, 36, is certainly getting up there in age. He is towards the tail end of a less than glorified career as a grinder, but he can still be effective. Give him a one or two year contract and let him do what he has done for years. Win.
Mason Raymond, LW
The former Vancouver Canuck and thorn in the Wild’s side would be ideal if his services are available come June 1st. Raymond scored 45 points for the Toronto Maple Leafs while earning just $1 million on a 1-year prove-it contract. Simply put, that is what’s called a bargain.
Raymond is capable of playing on either the third or fourth line and seems to find chemistry everywhere he goes. He has been a great penalty killer throughout his career as well which adds to his versatility.
Jonas Gustavsson, G
This is another player who may or may not be available based on his performance this year. When Jimmy Howard went down early in the season, Gustavsson stepped in and more than capably filled the void.
The 29-year-old Swede finished this season 16-5-4 while posting a 2.62 goals against average. This is clearly the biggest question mark going into next season. Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom’s health are always in question. Darcy Kuemper is raw, but has great potential moving forward.
One of the points that will certainly be discussed in the June meetings is what to do between the pipes. Having four potential starters on the roster is less than ideal, but as this season proved, you never know when you might need all of them.