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Wild salary cap outlook with Granlund, Niederreiter signed

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The Minnesota Wild are a fascinating team to observe, especially after several players received a shot in the arm playing under Bruce Boudreau.

While the team still needs to settle matters with RFA Marcus Foligno, GM Chuck Fletcher navigated the choppy waters of a challenging off-season, dealing with the expansion draft and finding fair compromises with Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.

Now that Fletcher avoided arbitration hearings with Niederreiter and Granlund, this seems like a good time to take a wider look at the Wild’s salary structure. In doing so, we’ll see quite the mix of good, bad, and uncertain.

Crossing their fingers

There’s no sense ignoring the twin elephants in the room: matching $7.54 million cap hits for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, which don’t run out until after the 2023-24 season. As of this writing, Suter is 32 and Parise is 33.

The debates regarding Suter’s ultimate value seem like they’ve died down in recent years, likely because he doesn’t get the same Norris hype that he once did. Right now, it seems like he’s in a reasonable spot, especially since his workload is at least trending toward something more reasonable. He averaged 26:55 TOI in 2016-17 after receiving between 28:36 in 2015-16 to a ridiculous 29:25 in 2013-14. In the grand scheme of things, Suter is fine, though Boudreau would be wise to continue to spead the wealth to Minnesota’s other defensemen.

After many years of outstanding work, Parise now stands as arguably an even bigger concern than Suter.

This is a situation where one must consider value, as Parise is still a fine player; injuries are the main reason he didn’t fall in his typical 25-goal range.

Other signs inspire a bit more concern. His per-game point average was just .61 last season compared to his career average of .8. Parise also didn’t shoot as often (2.8 vs. 3.39 for his career) and has been less of a possesion driver in the past two seasons.

Maybe some of those 2016-17 struggles were injury-related, but it’s tougher to ignore such worries when Parise makes so much money, for so long.

Not every costly veteran sets off alarms, though.

Mikko Koivu enjoyed such a resurgence last season that he was a Selke finalist, but that $6.75M still feels less foreboding when you realize it expires after 2017-18. Maybe he’d take a discount to help his long-time team compete?

Strong deals

Chalk up Granlund at $5.75M and Niederreiter at $5.25M to good-to-great deals.

The Wild’s most promising contract likely goes to Devan Dubnyk, however. At $4.33M, Dubnyk’s delivered at-or-near-elite goaltending for Minnesota. At 31, there’s some reason to expect an eventual decline … but that’s some strong value on paper.

Naturally, goalies are an unpredictable lot, but Minnesota’s outlook has come a long way since the end of the Niklas Backstrom era.

Eric Staal‘s brilliant rebound season makes his $3.5M look like a steal, and at 32, there’s a solid chance that it will remain that way for the two years that cover his current deal.

Mysteries

There are some fascinating situations in Minny.

They saved money in sending Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to Buffalo for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Even so, Ennis has had serious injury issues, making his $4.6M look a bit risky. Then again, what if Boudreau once again revitalizes a flawed talent?

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker both eyeball RFA statuses after this season, while Charlie Coyle seems like he could go either way on his $3.2M deal. It also remains to be seen if Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin can take that “next step.”

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Not that long ago, the Wild seemed to be stuck in limbo.

To the credit of Fletcher, Boudreau, and some emerging talents, things look a lot more promising today. The Wild have about $4.8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, and while Foligno is likely to eat up some of that, there’s at least breathing room there.

It’s not a perfect situation, yet the Wild stand as a reasonably viable contender … though they haven’t yet enjoyed the sort of deep playoff push you’d expect with all of that spending.

PHT Morning Skate: Winners, losers of NHL Olympic return; Training camp battles

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Training camp battles, NHL playoff previews, and other return-to-play links

• Jackets Cannon looks at Columbus’ biggest strength: defense. In particular, Rachel Bules looks at how the pandemic pause will allow the Blue Jackets to have some serious training camp competition for spots. The Blue Jackets will need to be sharp, too, because the Maple Leafs’ firepower presents a real challenge for any defense corps. [Jackets Cannon]

• Speaking of the Maple Leafs — and training camp previews — Emily Sadler put together a thorough breakdown for Toronto. Can Frederik Andersen go the distance? Tyson Barrie ranks as a player to watch. Plus much more. [Sportsnet]

• George Richards takes a look at the Panthers’ “2.0” roster for training camp. If I had to single out a most interesting item, it’s that Anton Stralman has been involved. You may remember him airing some concerns about an NHL return. [Florida Hockey Now]

• What various analytics say about how the Wild’s lines match up with the Canucks. [Zone Coverage]

• It’s one thing for the Coyotes to say that they want to “get a little more juice” out of their offense. It’s another thing to actually lay out how it might work. Craig Morgan rolls out a detailed approach of how that might happen, including activating weakside defensemen. [AZ Coyotes Insider]

• The pandemic pause ranks as the biggest curveball Carter Hart‘s seen in the NHL so far. That said, it’s far from the only one. If he keeps passing these tests, it might all be to the benefit of Hart’s career. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

Other hockey links

• As a pending UFA on a team that could face a salary cap crunch, Christopher Tanev knows he might not be back with the Canucks. Tanev said he hopes that he can return, and in particular, he’d love to remain Quinn Hughes‘ defensive partner for a long time. [NHL.com]

• It’s easy to look at the NHL’s return to Olympic participation as a good thing for everyone involved. As Ryan Kennedy points out, it depends on the outlook for different countries’ national teams. Kennedy presents the winners and losers for the NHL return to the Olympics, with Germany landing in an interesting spot. [The Hockey News]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres drop lawsuit after assistant coach is granted a green card

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres dropped their lawsuit against the federal government after immigration officials reversed course by approving the team’s strength and conditioning coach’s petition for a green card.

“The matter has been resolved amicably between both parties,” with Ed Gannon receiving approval for an EB-1 visa, the Sabres announced in a text message Wednesday.

The Sabres sued U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in May by alleging officials wrongly denied the team’s visa petition for the British-born coach.

The announcement came a week after the Sabres’ lawyer notified the U.S. District Court in Buffalo that the team was voluntary dismissing the suit, with each side agreeing to bear their own costs and fees.

The Sabres accused immigration services of misstating facts and arbitrarily failing to follow its own rules in denying a green card to Gannon. They argued the decision potentially subjected the team “to substantial financial harm and disruption in developing (its) athletes.”

Gannon was hired by the Sabres in 2015 while the team was beefing up its player development staff. He previously spent 10 years as the lead strength and conditioning coach of a professional rugby club, the Leicester Tigers.

The Sabres filed the application for permanent residency on Gannon’s behalf in October. To be granted a green card, Gannon had to demonstrate that he was at the top of his field, and the Sabres argued that he proved his abilities under USCIS’ criteria.

The denial of Gannon’s petition came amid efforts by the Trump administration to limit legal immigration. A report last year by the Migration Policy Institute concluded that USCIS had become “increasingly active in immigration enforcement” and that the agency was intentionally slowing down adjudication of immigration benefits applications.

Healthy Ekman-Larsson ready to give Coyotes a playoff boost

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oliver Ekman-Larsson had knee surgery last summer, fully expecting it to help him have a healthy 2019-20 season.

The Arizona Coyotes captain instead played with lingering pain, never able to fully recover.

The NHL’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic was a huge letdown, but it at least allowed Ekman-Larsson time to get back to full strength.

”These 2 1/2 months have been really good for me,” he said during a conference call this week. ”My knee is feeling 100% and I’ve been able to get stronger and faster.”

Ekman-Larsson had another solid season in 2018-19, finishing second on the team with 44 points with 14 goals. He was named to the NHL All-Star team for the fifth time and continued to be one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen.

Ekman-Larsson opted to have offseason knee surgery to help with another lower-body injury and never was quite right this season, his 10th in the NHL.

The break allowed him time to heal, as did a trip back to his home in Sweden.

Unlike Arizona, Sweden did not go on lockdown once the pandemic hit and Ekman-Larsson took advantage, using the time to heal physically and mentally.

”With this virus going around, I haven’t felt so good mentally,” he said. ”Going back home and being around my family really helped that situation. I benefited from the physical part of being away. For the mental part, it was nice to get away from it.”

The Coyotes returned to the ice this week to prepare for the resumption of the season.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced Monday a tentative deal on a return-to-play format. Should it be ratified, the league will resume play on Aug. 1 with 24 teams proceeding in an expanded playoff format at two hub cities in Canada.

The Coyotes, the West’s No. 11 seed, will open against Nashville in a best-of-five series in their first postseason appearance since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Finals.

”It just feels like it’s a different game,” said Ekman-Larsson, the lone remaining player from the 2012 team. ”Everybody feels faster and stronger. I don’t know how it’s even possible, but at the same time it’s another level.

”I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to be in the playoffs before. There’s so many good teams and you don’t really know when you are going to have the chance.”

The Coyotes have a chance to make a little noise once they get there.

Ekman-Larsson is healthy, as is Phil Kessel, who struggled with injuries after being traded from Pittsburgh before the season. Arizona also has one of the best goaltending tandems in Antti Raanta and Darcy Keumper, who are both healthy as well.

”For us to get a chance and show that we are good enough to be a playoff team, I think that’s huge for our group moving forward,” Ekman-Larsson said.

A healthy Ekman-Larsson gives them an opportunity to keep moving forward.

Chris Pronger leaves senior VP of hockey ops role with Panthers

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The Panthers announced on Wednesday that Chris Pronger is leaving his role as senior vice president of hockey operations and senior advisor. The Hockey Hall of Famer joined the organization in 2017 after spending three years in the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“I want to personally thank the Viola family, Doug Cifu, Dale Tallon and all of the staff with the Florida Panthers,” said Pronger via a team statement. “I was able to grow as an executive and more importantly as a person in my three years with the hockey club. I wish the Panthers organization nothing but the best in the upcoming playoffs and years to come.”

Pronger is moving on to focus on the company he runs with his wife, Lauren. Well Inspired Travels “caters to elite athletes, C-Level executives and business owners.”

The Panthers are currently preparing for their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Islanders, which is set to begin next month.

MORE:
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft lottery results

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.