If the Wild take anything from this offseason, it should be a lesson from the Ottawa Senators. The lesson is simple: Stay the Course. After yet another disappointing offseason, the Sens could have gone out and tried to makeover their team. Instead, they stayed the course, having confidence in the star players and role players that they had to get them back to where they were. Like the Sens, the Wild have a solid core of stars (Marian Gaborik, Brian Rolston, Mark Parrish and Pavol Demitra) as well as a slew of role players (Stephane Vellieux, Keith Carney and Derek Boogaard to name a few) as well as youngsters (Pierre Marc-Bouchard, Mikko Koivu, Brent Burns and Josh Harding). Though the Wild suffered disappointment at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks this year, look at the bright side. The Ducks were a team that many picked to win the Stanley Cup. On top of that, they have arguably the two best defensemen in the league, a goalie tandem that is very reminiscent of the Wild's playoff run with Fernandez and Roloson (though the two don't swap nearly as often) and multiple talented scorers. An upset of the Ducks would have been a great story, but we were dominated in 4 of the 5 games, and in all but one, we were a lucky bounce or two away from a victory. The Wild need some help, yes, but they don't need to make many drastic changes.
The number one priority in the off-season for the Wild needs to be re-signing Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom had a tremendous season with the Wild (a large part of why he and Manny Fernandez won the Jennings trophy) and provided a consistency in goal that Fernandez did not. This is not to say that Fernandez didn't have a good year by any means. His year simply paled in comparison to the year that Backstrom had. If the Wild wish to keep Backstrom (which I feel is the wise choice), they must first unload Fernandez's gigantic salary (poised to make $4.33M next year), which would be a huge relief for the team as well. Backstrom received little or no help from the rest of the team during the playoffs, but had a spectacular series nonetheless, looking at home in the pressure of the NHL playoffs. More pressure will most likely be put on the front office to trade Fernandez because of the emergence of Josh Harding at the end of the season. Harding proved that he was not only ready to step in as a back-up, but that he could be a quality starter if needed.
The next priority of the Wild needs to be signing some grit and a center during the off-season. Part of this could be picked up in a possible Fernandez trade; however most likely it will need to happen via free agency. Out of the possible free agents, there are two or three that stand out as possibilities for fitting into the Wild's system. Bill Guerin would be a solid pick up for numerous reasons, least of which being his relationship with Lemaire from the New Jersey Devils, as well as Brian Rolston from the Devils and Bruins and Mark Parrish from Team USA. Guerin would also bring a great deal of playoff experience and grit to the team. Jozef Stumpel is another name that has been tossed around. Stumpel was talked about at the trade deadline as well, and it seems as if the Wild are very high on him. He was a solid defensive forward for a not so good Florida team, and would be a solid addition to a team that desparately needs quality centers.
The future for the Wild is very bright, so there is no large need to panic for Wild fans. Gaborik finally seems to be hitting his stride as a dominant player in the NHL, while we have a young nucleus of players that has a tremendous upside. To keep that nucleus intact, however, we need to make moves and re-sign our key players. Backstrom, Harding, Koivu, Bouchard, Schultz and Burns all should be tied up for long term deals. Backstrom and Harding both have the potential to be shut down goaltenders in the NHL, Koivu has the potential to be a 30, even 40 goal scorer, Bouchard to be a Marc Savard like playmaker and Schultz and Burns are our top defensive pairing of the future. With all of these players, and a key few role players and free agency moves, the Wild could be looking Lord Stanley's Cup square in the eye this time next year.