Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Wild Roster: Arbitration Cases

We have already discussed the additions to the Wild from the free agent market, so now it's time to look at who the Wild are bringing back. With arbitration hearings coming this week, the focus shifts to Wild players who were eligible for arbitration this off-season, and how the Wild dealt with each of them.

Derek Boogard - $2.63 million, three year contract after Wild opted for arbitration

The Wild adopted an interesting strategy with Boogard when the organization opted for arbitration. Only four players have been taken down this path, the reason being that it can generate some bad feelings betwixt the player and the organization (see Luongo, Roberto and the Florida Panthers). In Boogard's case though, it seems as though this was merely a move to make sure no other teams signed him away from the Wild. He had the option of choosing a one or two year contract at the hearing, my feeling was that he would go with two years. His value isn't going to change much, and he seems pretty happy with the organization, so stability is one reason a three year deal was so appealing to him.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard - $2.6 million, one year contract

This happened quite a while ago, almost at the same time that players were filing for arbitration. Mostly this contract shows how the Wild perceive Bouchard in relation to their other young forwards (Koivu got a four-year deal). Perhaps the front office is unconvinced that Bouchard is capable of consistently putting up 20 goal seasons like '06-'07. If Bouchard puts up the same or better numbers in the upcoming season, I think the Wild will be much more amenable to a multi-year deal.

Kurtis Foster - $1.025 million, one year contract

It was a little surprising that Foster opted for arbitration this year. He didn't have a breakout season in '06-'07 and it didn't seem that he would be looking at too much of a reward after going through the process. Thus, I wasn't terribly surprised that he was signed before his arbitration hearing, nor was I surprised at the length or value of the contract. This season will be an important one for Foster to determine his future with the Wild franchise. After scoring only 3 goals in 57 games last season, Foster should be a larger part of the offense this year with his big shot.

Josh Harding - $1.45 million, two year contract

The notable thing about this contract is that it is a one-way contract, so Harding will be with the Wild all season. He'll back up Backstrom, although given Lemaire's penchant for playing the hot goaltender, he may see more action than a traditional backup.

Nick Schultz - arbitration (hearing Thurs. 7/26)

This is the only unresolved arbitration case remaining for this offseason. Schultz had a very strong season, playing in all 82 games and playing the most minutes on the penalty kill of any Wild skater. Schultz can only sign a one-year deal if his case goes to an arbitration hearing, due to his previous service time. Obviously, the Wild would prefer to avoid arbitration, but I would be surprised if this one didn't go all the way until Thursday before a deal is agreed upon, either before the hearing, or as a result of it.

[UPDATE - 7/24]: Well, I was wrong about the day, but the Wild avoided arbitration by signing Schultz to a one-year deal for $1.85 million. A raise from last year, but not a long term deal that Schultz probably wanted. He can become an unrestricted free agent after this upcoming season.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Wild Roster: Free Agents

Eric Belanger - 3 years, $5.25 million

Belanger started his career with the Los Angeles Kings in 2000-2001. Over the next five seasons, he scored 63 goals and 87 assists in 323 games (0.46 Pts/Gm). Last season he started with the Carolina Hurricanes but was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers, which was a positive for him. In Carolina, his playing time was decreased and he scored at a bit of a lower rate, 8 goals and 12 assists in 56 games (0.36 Pts/Gm). The Thrashers put him on a line with Marian Hossa and Slava Kozlov and gave him 19:29 average ice time which turned into 9 goals, 6 assists in 24 games (0.63 Pts/Gm). Thus when the Wild called and promised him the chance to play with Demitra and Gaborik, he jumped at the chance.

In addition to being a center who has shown some scoring ability, Belanger has also been a pretty good faceoff man over his career. Faceoffs are something that the Wild have struggled with in the last few years. Lemaire, in a February Star Tribune
article, said, "We're not good enough on faceoffs. [It's] that simple." This was one of the positives of the trade for Dominic Moore last season, and the Wild continue to address this issue this offseason.

Centers (500 F/O min.)
'06-'07 F/O Pct.
Career F/O Pct.
Eric Belanger
Dominic Moore
Mikko Koivu
Todd White
Pavol Demitra
Wes Walz
Wyatt Smith

Sean Hill - one year, $475,000

In the Wild's playoff series against Anaheim, the Ducks overran the Wild with physical defensemen and forwards. This had an apparent effect on the Wild front office, as they only took physical players
in the draft, then they signed Sean Hill, a big, physical defenseman. The most quoted stat is that he was third in the league in hits last season and among the leaders in blocked shots. The physicality has the Wild probably slotting him in a third or fourth defensive pairing once he joins the team.

Ah yes, the steroid suspension. In the playoffs last year, Hill tested positive for a banned substance and incurred the accompanying 20-game suspension. He served one game of the suspension in the playoffs last year, so he will be unavailable through the first 19 games of the 2007-2008 regular season. Hill has
denied that he used PEDs but he will be allowed to practice with the team during the suspension, but not allowed to play in preseason games either.

Steve Kelly - one year, undisclosed amount

Kelly hasn't played in the NHL for quite a while, four seasons to be exact, and he won't spend much time with the Wild this year, barring some kind of miracle turnaround. This signing is probably not even worth the time I spent writing all this. If the season goes according to plan, Kelly will provide depth at the AHL level.

Nolan Schaefer - two years, $1.15 million

The 1 million plus price tag is misleading, it only applies if he makes the NHL squad, which at this point seems unlikely. Schaefer was signed as a third goaltender to replace Josh Harding at Houston, and possibly compete with Harding for a spot on the roster. His only NHL experience came with the San Jose Sharks two years ago, posting a 1.88 GAA and a 5-1 record in seven games.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Wes Walz: A Wild Original

Wes Walz came to the Wild as a free agent signing in the summer before their inaugural 2000-2001 season. Until that point, Walz had been a journeyman, playing with the Bruins ('90-'92), Flyers ('92), Flames ('93-'95), and Red Wings ('95) before spending four seasons playing in Switzerland. Upon signing with the Wild, Walz shed his journeyman label and has been a constant presence in Minnesota. He currently holds the franchise record for games played (427), has played in all 23 of the playoff games in Wild history, and is one of two players remaining from the Wild's first season (Marian Gaborik being the other). It appeared the 37-year old center's time in Minnesota may have ended when he opted to file for free agency this offseason, but the Wild have brought him back for a seventh season in a Minnesota jersey, signing him on Tuesday to a one-year contract worth $900,000.

In the last six seasons, Walz has played many roles. He lead the team in goals in their first season with 18 goals. However, his main role for some time has been a checking line and penalty kill expert. The one-time Selke award finalist for best defensive forward has always been a solid defender. He ranked third last season among Wild forwards in short-handed ice time. Walz has also shown a proclivity for the shorthanded goal, scoring a quarter of the Wild's shorthanded goals throughout their history (16 of 63, 25%).

Walz has seen his role diminish recently as he has slowed a bit. Last season, the Wild's goals against per 60 minutes with him on the ice was 2.22 which was a bit higher than the 2.09 goals against when he wasn't on the ice. Combine that with the more expected drop in offense (2.14 on-ice goals for, 2.37 off-ice goals for). The lack of offense isn't surprising. That's not the role expected of Walz, and even the defense could be more the result of him playing against the opponents top line. So don't expect his role to change too much from what it was last year.

In this deal the Wild locked up one of their longest tenured players for a reasonable price. In Walz, they continue to get a reasonably good defensive center, who is a recognized leader in the locker room. Walz should continue to be a solid third/fourth line center and penalty killer through this season.

Wes Walz career Wild statistics:
Season Gm
2000-2001 Wild
2001-2002 Wild
2002-2003 Wild
2003-2004 Wild
2005-2006 Wild
2006-2007 Wild

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Wild Times: Fernandez Traded; Koivu, Skoula Resigned

Manny Fernandez traded to Boston on Sunday.
The Wild signed Mikko Koivu and Martin Skoula to extended contracts this weekend.

Manny Fernandez was traded to the Boston Bruins for prospect Petr Kalus and a fourth round draft pick.

Kalus was drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft out of the Czech Republic. Last season, Petr got his first stint in the NHL when he appeared in 9 games for the Bruins. He scored 4 goals and added an assist while he averaged just over nine minutes of ice time. He spent the majority of the season in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, where he tallied 13 goals and 17 assists in 43 games while accumulating 110 penalty minutes.

As I mentioned last night, this trade accomplishes a couple of things for the Wild, it frees up space under the salary cap for a possible run at a free agent. It clears up the goalie situation for the near future, and the Wild pick up a physical forward who has demonstrated some scoring ability.

Mikko Koivu was signed to a four-year deal worth $13 million.

The deal is reportedly structured as $2.7 million for the first year, $3.3 million for the next two years and $3.7 million in the final year of the contract.

Mikko was a first round draft pick in 2001 and after developing in the Finnish leagues for a few years, he saw his first NHL action in the 2005-2006 season. This year, in his second season, Koivu played in all 82 Minnesota games, and had 54 points last year (20 goals), improving by 33 over the previous year's campaign (6 goals, 15 assists in 64 games). After the season Koivu played with Finland in the World Championships and scored a key overtime goal against Russia in the semifinals to send his country to the gold-medal game.

This contract doesn't come as any great surprise. The Wild have locked up on of their emerging prospects for four more years. Hopefully, he will continue to improve and increase those point totals throughout the span of this deal.

Martin Skoula was signed to a two-year deal worth $3.6 million.

In 2006-2007, Martin Skoula was a pretty average defenseman for the Wild. He was second on the team in ice time to Kim Johnsson as a defenseman. He played the majority of his ice time even strength or on the penalty kill. He was the fifth choice for the Wild as a defenseman on the power play. He didn’t score a goal last season, but contributed 15 assists (5th among Minnesota blueliners). You can see about where he fit in the defensive corps by looking at the team goals against while Skoula was on the ice.

Defenseman Gm

This contract represents a slight raise for Skoula, as he was paid $1.6M last season. I don’t think this has too much impact on the Wild. The front office probably looked at what defensemen were available and how much they would cost, and figured Skoula would give them enough minutes at a high enough level that they would be better served pursuing a free agent elsewhere.

These were the first of a few new contracts the Wild will be offering this off-season. On the horizon, Wes Walz and Todd White will be on the market as free agents, at which point they are most likely done in Minnesota. Other contracts to keep an eye on are the restricted free agents. Bouchard, Boogard, Schultz, Foster, and Harding have all received offers. If they don’t accept them, they will be headed to arbitration in the near future.

The shortest off-season in professional sports is off and running, I’ll try to keep you updated as the 2007-2008 Wild take shape.