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Wild Questions

Zulgad: The Minnesota Wild will enter the offseason with many questions.

The Minnesota Wild decision-markers will have a busy offseason addressing multiple questions about the team's personnel. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Will Marc-Andre Fleury retire? Could Mats Zuccarello return to Broadway? Will Jared Spurgeon ever be the same? The offfseason will be a busy one for Minnesota Wild decision-makers.

Brandon Saad’s goal at 2 minutes, 5 seconds of overtime Saturday lifted the St. Louis Blues to a 5-4 victory that put another dagger into the Wild’s playoff hopes and caused Wild goalie Fleury to shatter his stick on the crossbar.

Fleury’s immediate frustration was understandable given the Wild missed out on a key second point in the playoff race and put Fleury’s 17-year streak of being in the postseason in serious jeopardy. But only Fleury knows if the moment of frustration also existed because the certain first-ballot Hall of Famer is set to call it a career after 20 seasons.

The future of the 39-year-old is one of many questions that exist for the Wild as a disappointing season winds down. Let’s examine them.

Will Marc-Andre Fleury stay with the Wild next season, or will he retire? (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Fleury’s future
Fleury opened the season expecting to be the backup to Filip Gustavsson, who received a three-year, $11.25 million contract after putting together a very impressive first season in Minnesota in 2023-24.

But Gustavsson hasn’t been the same, and while Fleury is no longer in his prime, he has taken over as coach John Hynes’ top choice in goal as the Wild tried to get themselves into a wild card spot late in the season.

Fleury, who is making $3.5 million in the final season of his contract, has had a memorable season. He played in his 1,000th career game — a remarkable number for a goalie in today’s NHL — and moved past Patrick Roy into second place on the all-time wins list in January with 552.

No one would blame Fleury if he walked away after the season, but is that what he wants? Fleury is among nicest guys in the NHL, but don’t mistake having good manners for lacking a competitive fire. Following the loss to the Blues, Fleury sat at his locker answering questions, but after the media left, he didn’t move. Fleury sat staring straight ahead reliving the game.

He certainly didn’t look like a guy who wanted to go out this way.

So how does Fleury stick around, if that’s what he wants? Fleury could have been traded to a contender at the NHL trade deadline but told general manager Bill Guerin he wanted to remain in Minnesota. So if he does keep playing, there’s a chance he will want to stay put.

Guerin could make that work by looking to move Gustavsson this offseason as the Wild plans to hand the starting job to 2021 first-round pick Jesper Wallstedt, who has spent the past two seasons with the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa. Fleury would be the ideal goalie partner to guide Wallstedt through his rookie season.

This much is certain: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with the Wild who wouldn’t want Fleury back.

Freddy Gaudreau hasn’t been the same player since former Wild coach Dean Evason was fired in November. (MHM Photo Rick Olson)

What changes will/could Guerin make?
It’s been well-documented that Guerin has tied his own hands by giving contract extensions, and some form of no-trade protection, to veteran forwards such as Marcus Foligno, Freddy Gaudreau, Ryan Hartman, Marcus Johansson and Zuccarello.

But it’s also difficult to believe that all of them will be on the ice for the Wild when training camp opens in the fall. Former coach Dean Evason was a big fan of Gaudreau’s, but with Evason having been fired in late November, Gaudreau’s play has gone off a cliff. Johansson impressed in his second stint with the Wild when he was acquired last season, but the security of a contract extension has caused him to return to being a skilled player who is happy to stay on the outside of the ice and cash a check every other week.

Foligno isn’t the type of guy Guerin would want to move, and Hartman would be fine in a bottom-six role. Zuccarello is an interesting case because the 36-year-old still possesses talent and is one of Kirill Kaprizov’s best friends.

But Zuccarello was atrocious in the Wild’s loss to the Blues on March 23 and was on the ice for the Blues’ go-ahead goal in the third period and then the overtime winner. It doesn’t take a genius to see the end is near for him.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Guerin tries to find a way to part with Gaudreau and/or Johansson this offseason. The Wild’s hope on Zuccarello would be for him to request a trade to a team that might have a chance to win a Cup in 2025. A return to the New York Rangers would be ideal for all parties involved.

Jared Spurgeon was limited to only 16 games this season and underwent hip surgery earlier this year. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

What is Jared Spurgeon’s future?
Wild captain Jared Spurgeon has undergone separate surgeries on his hip and back but is expected to be back by the start of training camp. That’s the good news. There’s also a reality to this situation.

Spurgeon had a remarkable 13-year run with the Wild before being limited to only 16 games this season. Spurgeon will turn 35 late next November and is listed at 5-foot-9, 166 pounds. He might not be that tall or that heavy.

What we do know is that it shouldn’t be assumed the defenseman will return as the same player who had scored double-digit goals in six of eight seasons before this one. The good news is that Brock Faber has had an incredible rookie season and should be considered the team’s No. 1 defenseman heading into 2024-25.

Jonas Brodin also remains a steady and valuable presence on the blue line. Both Faber and Brodin are outstanding skaters. This should enable Spurgeon to return with less pressure and a smaller role than he had entering this season.

But defensemen don’t have the luxury of trying to avoid the physical game and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the smaller Spurgeon had all the years of wear and tear take a toll on his body. How much of a toll? We’ll find out when Spurgeon takes the ice next fall.

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Mackey and Judd podcast and also Judd’s Hockey Show for SKOR North. Judd covered the Vikings from 2005 to 2010 for the Star Tribune before joining SKOR North.

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