Goligoski extension only adds to murky Wild salary cap future

Goligoski extension only adds to murky Wild salary cap future
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On Wednesday, the Wild answered one question: yes, they signed Alex Goligoski to a two-year, $4M extension. In doing so, the Wild didn’t exactly answer their biggest salary cap questions, and now their defensive situation looks a little crowded, too.

Will the Goligoski extension signal the latest nudge toward the Wild eventually needing to part ways with a key piece, possibly in a Kevin Fiala or Matt Dumba trade? Could Goligoski make it tougher for a prospect like Calen Addison to gain traction?

Let’s break down the Goligoski extension by itself, then ponder the larger Wild salary cap and defense situations.

The pros and cons of the Goligoski extension for the Wild

By itself, handing Alex Goligoski $2M per year for 2022-23 and 2023-24 makes a reasonable amount of sense for the Wild.

His value might even sneak up on you a bit.

If you look at the simplest hockey stats, people might view the Wild retaining Alex Goligoski as a no-brainer. Goligoski’s the Wild’s second-leading defensive scorer, and the gap between Goligoski (28 points) and Jared Spurgeon (29) is small. Like it or not, many of the “200 Hockey Men” still glance at plus/minus. They’ll be smitten by Goligoski, then, as his +34 mark easily leads the Wild.

That said, Goligoski is already 36, and he’ll turn 37 on July 30. That age brings risk, and he apparently also received a no-movement clause.

Overall, a $2M price tag isn’t so bad, and maybe he’ll exceed that value. On the other hand, the Wild have less breathing room than most thanks to the spiking prices of the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter buyouts, and they sacrificed some flexibility here.

By one measure — The Athletic’s Player Cards — Alex Goligoski’s season translated to $5.5M in “market value” to the Wild. Even if that’s generous, and he declines rapidly with age, a $2M bet isn’t outrageous. Especially on its own.

Yet, in the grand scheme of this team, it may still be a curious decision.

A crowded blueline?

Strangely, and maybe fittingly, the Wild made Alex Goligoski a healthy scratch not long before this contract extension. For better or worse, the explanation seemed to revolve around resting the aging defenseman.

In a way, it underscores another point. At the moment, the Wild’s defensive situation seems a tad bit crowded.

On Jan. 11, the Wild signed another veteran defenseman (Jon Merrill, 30) to a three-year extension. Much like Goligoski, it’s a cheap deal, as Merrill will only cost $1.2M in AAV from 2022-23 through 2024-25.

For next season, the Wild now have Jared Spurgeon (32, $7.57M cap hit through 2026-27), Jonas Brodin (28, $6M through 2027-28), Matt Dumba (27, $6M through 2022-23), Dmitry Kulikov (31, $2.25M through 2022-23), Goligoski, and Merrill under contract. There’s also the matter of Calen Addison’s potential ascent.

Being that his contract expires after next season, could Matt Dumba’s days be numbered with the Wild? It’s not the first time we’ve asked that question.

Plenty of unanswered future salary cap questions for the Wild

As usual, the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter buyouts loom over the Wild salary cap situation. Here’s a reminder of the cost vs. savings, according to Cap Friendly:

2021-22: $4,743,588 million ($10.3M savings)
2022-23: $12,743,588 million ($2.3M savings)
2023-24: $14,743,588 million ($0.3M savings)
2024-25: $14,743,588 million ($0.3M savings)
2025-26: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)
2026-27: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)
2027-28: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)
2028-29: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)

Cap Friendly projects the Wild to have about $8.18M in cap space for next season, with 17 roster spots covered. That’s if the salary cap climbs to $82.5M, as the league recently projected.

That looming salary cap squeeze illuminates why people question what might otherwise be more mundane transactions like a Goligoski extension. It also explains why there’s room to see surplus value in handing Jordan Greenway a $3M extension …

… With questions about whether or not you might be able to manufacture some of his value at a cheaper price.

Just about every decision must go through extra steps. It’s not just “can this player age well, and thus maintain their value?” but also “is the value so strong that it’s worth having an even smaller margin for error?”

Check out a smattering of questions that still linger.

  • Would the Wild be better off putting aside money for pending RFA Kevin Fiala? Considering that he’s already set a career-high with 60 points, he won’t be cheap. Are the Wild just assuming they’ll need to trade Fiala’s rights during the offseason?
  • Are the Wild also assuming that Matt Dumba won’t be around much longer? The market’s pushed the value of defensemen like Dumba through the roof, and his $6M cap hit expires after next season. If he’s gone, do you keep him next season, or try to fetch a nice trade price this summer?

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  • Will the Wild try to bring back pending UFA Marc-Andre Fleury, or is this a rental? Cam Talbot‘s only under contract through next season, so the Wild goalie situation is cloudy. (And when do they expect Jesper Wallstedt to blossom?)
  • The Wild also traded for Jacob Middleton during the deadline. Is he merely a rental, or could he stick around on what’s, again, already a crowded-looking blueline?
  • The Suter/Parise buyout price spike creates incentive to go all-in this season. Yet, the Wild seem likely to try to hold off on burning a year off of Marco Rossi’s entry-level contract. Should they just embrace the opportunity and roll him out during this run, though? There’s an argument either way.

Overall, it’s a lot to digest. The Goligoski extension just gives Wild fans and observers even more to chew on.

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.

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