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The Wild Must Decide: Is This Their Year, Or Not?

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The Minnesota Wild postponed many games over the Christmas vacation, but they couldn’t escape the injury bug. Jared Spurgeon worsened a lower body injury and Joel Eriksson Ek suffered what appears to be a significant upper body injury. Now news has emerged today that Jonas Brodin will likely miss the Winter Classic due to COVID protocols.

To address this issue, Minnesota recalled defensemen Calen Addison from Des Moines. However, they will need more help to overcome the Winter Classic and beyond. The Wild are apparently debating who striker should take Eriksson Ek’s place.

Honestly, there shouldn’t be a debate. This place is a natural and perfect choice for the best hope Marco Rossi. The center of the stud is lighting up the American League right now, scoring 18 points in as many games. His work ethic is legendary and his story of returning from myocarditis is inspiring. In terms of marketing too, it is a given for the Winter Classic. Who do you want to showcase at your biggest event, a national coming out night? Your best prospect and a potential cornerstone of their future? Or a potential player in the bottom six?

Apparently, this is not so obvious for the front office. General Manager Bill Guerin took to KFAN last week, where Michael Russo asked if we would see Rossi anytime soon. “I don’t know,” replied the general manager. β€œThese call-ups and these opportunities must be earned. This is how we do things here.

Guerin disagreed when Russo pressed, asking if scoring a point per game was worth it. β€œIt’s a great statistic to have, but it’s also expected. A point is a match, but how do you do? We expect our guys to play in a certain way and to contribute in a certain way. Points are points, but you also have to play a certain way.

We have limited data on the ice in the AHL, so it’s hard to verify if Rossi is playing poorly on defense in Des Moines. It is certainly difficult to find such criticism coming from public availability with Tim Army or any other report.

Guerin could certainly call Rossi tomorrow – his radio statements aside. But if he doesn’t, it’s hard to look at the situation and conclude that he’s not motivated by financial reasons. As you probably know, playing Rossi in ten NHL games this year (regular season and playoffs) is burning the first year of his entry level contract. If that happens, Rossi will hit restricted free agency in the summer of 2024, when the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts will result in a salary cap penalty of almost $ 15 million. Otherwise, Rossi becomes a tender when $ 13 million in dead caps is taken off the books.

You can argue that this is a smart and prudent decision. After all, spending $ 900,000 on Rossi in 2024-25 will make things a lot easier for Minnesota than their next contract has in store for them. It goes doubling if Rossi cashes in the same way, say, William Nylander, Mitch Marner or even Kirill Kaprizov have on the recent FRG deals. It’s quite possible that an early second deal for Rossi could cause Minnesota to part ways with a player on the road. These complications disappear if Rossi reaches RFA in 2025.

But here’s the problem: it’s in three years.

For a rebuilding team, it’s probably a no-brainer to play service time games with better hope and pretend it’s about playing defense or whatever. But Minnesota are competitive now, and maybe even Stanley Cup contenders. They need someone to replace arguably their most important player. How can they justify leaving Rossi in the AHL when they aim for the top spot in Central?

Plus, this will likely be the most competitive Wild team over the next three or four years. Leaving Rossi in Des Moines potentially hijacks a problem in 2025, but a talent brain drain is happening soon, no matter what. Nearly $ 13 million in ceiling space means Minnesota has only budgeted $ 16 million in ceiling space this summer. Kevin Fiala is looking for a $ 5.1million pay raise, which the Wild might not be able to afford.

And with just 11 players signed next year, Minnesota will need to fill 11 places on the roster with that $ 16 million. Not signing Fiala will not be enough. Could Matt Dumba, who is an integral part of their advocacy and leadership group, also leave? Will deep pieces like Nico Sturm, Jordan Greenway, Rem Pitlick be sold outside of Minnesota? That’s a lot of important players in the lineup who could leave.

Of course, there are substitutes waiting behind the scenes. The hope would be that Matt Boldy replaces Fiala, Calen Addison’s slots instead of Dumba and the Mason Shaws of the world fill in the rest. It’s a good plan.

But here’s the thing: Not only does the Wild have all these NHL guys in-house now, but they can also build those prospects into the roster for even more talent. This season, Minnesota can play Fiala with Boldy or put Addison as a regular third pair behind Dumba and Spurgeon. They won’t be able to do it next year.

And, of course, Minnesota can put Rossi in that busy lineup, theoretically giving them three strong crosses in Eriksson Ek, Rossi and Ryan Hartman in the playoffs. It can happen next year, but it’s the only year Minnesota could put Rossi alongside a game-breaker like Fiala. Given how bottled he was the last playoffs, having to do everything himself, Rossi eliminates that problem for them.

Age is another factor that suggests Minnesota will be better this year than in the 2024-25 season. Brodin will be in his season at 31. Spurgeon will be 35 years old. If veterans like Mats Zuccarello and Marcus Foligno stick around, they will be 37 and 33 respectively. Who knows what the goalkeeper will look like once Cam Talbot, 34 ,’s contract ends next year? But for now? These players are all productive. GuΓ©rin cannot count on that in three years.

Heck, Guerin can’t even necessarily count on Minnesota in three years. A 2016 study showed that the average lifespan of an NHL GM is 5.5 years. By the summer of 2025, Guerin will have served six years as General Manager of Wild. Owner Craig Leipold has shown a lot of loyalty to Chuck Fletcher, who spent nine years in this seat. But Leipold is also on the verge of turning 70. How much patience will he have without playoff success, especially if Guerin doesn’t do everything to compete this year?

In a league of general managers in the hot seat making quick fixes, it is admirable to develop and stick to a long term plan. But is it time to compete or is it time to play for the future? It really looks like the old one in St. Paul. Will Rossi be the missing piece of a Cup contender? Maybe, maybe not. We can’t know until it happens. But he’s proven capable in the AHL, and Minnesota must have a center if they are to keep pace atop the Central Division. There will be plenty of time to solve the problems tomorrow. In the meantime, the Wild need Rossi now. This should be an easy problem to solve.

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