Kirill Kaprizov

Wild hope to sign Kirill Kaprizov eventually Bill Guerin
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Guerin, Wild try to stay calm despite challenges in signing Kirill Kaprizov

It’s rarely been simple or straightforward for the Wild to get treasured prospect Kirill Kaprizov to actually join the team. Sadly, for anxious Wild fans, it looks like the waiting game will continue. It’s also unclear how long this will feel like the neverending story.

Ideally, the Wild would be able to sign Kaprizov to a two-year entry level contract. The door would normally be open since his KHL deal expired.

The COVID-19 pause has complicated these eternally complicated matters, though. Such complications have prompted worries that the latest attempts at a Kaprizov deal might eventually fall apart.

To his credit, Wild GM Bill Guerin is trying to take the slow-and-steady approach with Kaprizov.

“I understand the anticipation of Kirill, and him getting signed, but this is just one of those things that’s gonna take a little bit of time,” Guerin told Dan Myers of the Wild website. “Would I have liked this done three weeks ago? Sure, I would have liked this done three years ago. But this is an unusual situation, and had things gone the way they normally would have, without coronavirus, things probably would have been different.”

(Wild fans nodded their heads so hard at the “three years ago” part.)

From fast forward to a pause

In previous seasons, teams have been able to sign prospects after their seasons ended at other levels, injecting talent late in a campaign, or even postseason. This sets up “everyone wins” scenarios. The teams get the boost of talent, while prospects were able to “burn” a year off their entry-level contracts despite limited games played.

Such benefits can sometimes be profoundly noticeable. Chris Kreider gave the Rangers a nice boost during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. As recently as last postseason, Cale Makar became an instant smash-success for the Avalanche.

Under normal circumstances, the Wild would be able to bring Kaprizov in the same way by signing him to a two-year deal that would run through 2020-21. Unfortunately, amid all of the COVID-19 confusion, the NHL paused teams abilities to sign Makar/Kreider-type deals. If that remains, a Kaprizov contract couldn’t kick in until 2020-21.

As the Athletic’s Michael Russo notes (sub required), there’s mild hope that people might be able to change the NHL’s mind on the matter. That hope may not be justified, however, as a source told Russo that there’s “zero chance” the NHL will change its mind.

“To be honest, I don’t know. It doesn’t really look like [he’d be eligible to play this season],” Guerin said to Myers. “But I don’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth or make a call that hasn’t been finalized. We’re just taking it day-by-day with him and wait.”

Several ways Kaprizov situation could go sour for Wild

This process has already been riddled with headaches.

Almost exactly three years ago, rumors circulated and were later confirmed that Kaprizov signed a three-year deal to stay in the KHL. While there was some hope in bringing Kaprizov to the Wild as early as 2018-19, fans were instead teased with glimpses of his brilliance.

And make no mistake about it, there’s serious evidence that the 23-year-old can live up to the hype. If big numbers in the KHL and international play won’t convince you, these highlights should drop a jaw or two.

Of course, strong work — including 33 goals and 62 points for CSKA Moscow this season — makes it even more appealing to keep Kaprizov from leaving the KHL.

If the Wild can bring Kaprizov over for whatever’s left of 2019-20, then the uncertainty surrounding 2020-21 becomes a problem. What if the league doesn’t open things up until December? That would be a long time for Kaprizov to wait around, especially in the near-certain event that a KHL team can dangle a lucrative offer for next season.

Russo listed some alternative options for Kaprizov and the Wild. Those options range from the dicey prospect of “loaning” Kaprizov to a KHL (or other league) team, just signing him to a two-year deal and getting him to the U.S., or even just waiting a year.

Russo also points out another consideration:

One wrinkle is that once Jan. 1 passes, Kaprizov will be in his 24-year-old year even though he doesn’t turn 24 until April 26. That means he would only be able to sign a one-year entry-level contract, not a two-year deal.

Sheesh, right?

Guerin seemingly handling the Kaprizov situation well for Wild

Again, one can understand if the frustration is mounting.

With that in mind, it’s probably positive that Guerin is fairly fresh to the Wild job. Much of the grumbling happened during Chuck Fletcher’s tenure as GM, so maybe the slate is cleaner now?

Guerin told Myers that he believes Kaprizov is “actually being really smart in taking his time” with this process. Beyond that, Guerin’s been in frequent contact with Kaprizov, and it’s not always been just business. Russo even noted in an April article that Guerin texted Kaprizov happy birthday in Russian when the prospect turned 23.

If it eases any tension (probably not much, but still), the Wild only used a fifth-rounder on  Kaprizov (selecting him 135th overall in 2015). So if this eventually pans out, the Wild might still get a steal.

They just needed to work hard to pull off that heist.

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.

What is the Wild’s long-term outlook?

Minnesota Wild
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Minnesota Wild.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Wild are kind of drifting toward that middle ground where they are not a true contender and they are not exactly awful, either. They have good players, but they also have some pretty significant flaws.

One of the biggest might be the fact they have a lot money tied up in players that are on the wrong side of 30. Mikko Koivu is a free agent after this season, and no one really knows what his future is at this point, but Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Devan Dubnyk are some of their biggest contracts beyond this season and Spurgeon is the only one younger than 32 years old. It is not a stretch to believe that every single one of those players has already played their best hockey. Parise was also the subject of trade rumors on deadline day with the New York Islanders, something that could be revisited later.

Beyond that, the Wild do have some intriguing younger players making up a second-wave of talent.

Kevin Fiala has been an outstanding pickup and is having an outstanding year, while Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, and Joel Eriksson Ek are other younger players the Wild are hoping can become bigger contributors.

The most intriguing young player in the organization, though, has yet to even play a game in North America. That player is Kirili Kaprizov, the 22-year-old winger that has dominated the KHL for the past few seasons. He was a fifth-round pick by the team a few years ago and his arrival in Minnesota has been anticipated for some time now.

Long-Term Needs

Really what the Wild need is a difference-maker. A game-changing forward that can be the focal point of the offense and carry it. A franchise cornerstone to build around both in the short-and long-term.

They do not really have that player right now, and the ones that most closely resemble that player on the roster right now are older and on the downside of their careers. They are also not really well positioned to get one without a lot of luck going their way in the draft lottery. It is a tough spot to be in.

Their biggest hope for that sort of presence might be with the aforementioned Kaprizov. For as intriguing and exciting as his potential is, it is still just exactly that — potential. Even if he does eventually become that top-line standout player, it may not happen as soon as he arrives next season. There could be some growing pains and an adjustment period along the way.

Long-Term Strengths

When they are all healthy their defense has some intriguing players and can be really good with Suter, Spurgeon, Mathew Dumba, and Jonas Brodin are all signed through the end of next seaon, with the former three names all being signed to long-term deals. When it comes to scoring chances against and expected goals against the Wild have been one of the league’s top teams this season. The only thing that has held them back from being an elite defensive team has been inconsistency in net.

The addition of Cale Addison in the Jason Zucker trade also adds another intriguing blue-liner to the long-term outlook.

If Fiala can duplicate his 2019-20 performance he could also turn into a pretty big strength. He has been one of the league’s most productive 5-on-5 players on a per-minute basis this season and is still signed for another year at a very manageable salary cap hit.

The presence of him, Kaprizov, a still productive Zuccarello and hopefully improvements from players like Kunin, Greenway, and Eriksson Ek could give the Wild a formidable group of forwards.

MORE WILD:
Looking at the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild surprises and disappointments so far

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.