It’s a prove-it year for Wild, Guerin following Parise and Suter buyouts

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Zach Parise and Ryan Suter had their contracts bought out by the Wild just last week, but the aftershocks will continue to register for years to come.

If the move on Parise, an oft-injured though still playable forward who fell out of favor last season, was at least a mild surprise ... the decision on Suter was a stunner — the kind of clean break that only makes sense in retrospect and not in the moment.

That's how I see it, and that is how Wild beat writer Sarah McLellan described it as well on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast — an episode where both of us went deep on the decision and the Wild's plan going forward.

If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.

In a sense, the decision acted as a short-term loan of sorts. Like a bleary-eyed late night TV watcher seeing a commercial promising fast cash, Wild GM Bill Guerin scooped up more than $10 million in salary cap relief for next season with the moves.

That will help pay for new contracts for Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, which the Wild must hope will keep momentum moving in a positive direction after last year's overachieving team vied for a division title and took a very good Vegas team to seven games in a first-round playoff series.

Guerin, of course, has a plan that goes well beyond just next season. He knows exactly when the bills come due and must pay them one way or the other. But how the Wild accomplishes that will be interesting, to say the least.

Let's just say that a peek at the team's cap set-up into the future pretty much ensures the decisions on Parise and Suter — and those impending new deals for Fiala and Kaprizov — are just the first of many big decisions Guerin will face. And in many ways, this upcoming season will be a prove-it year for many Wild's players (and perhaps Guerin himself).

Cap Friendly projects that the Wild has about $26 million in cap space for the upcoming season after making the moves on Suter and Parise, which puts Minnesota in at least decent shape.

Let's say Kaprizov (eventually) agrees to a five-year contract at about $8.5 million per season, while Fiala gets a four-year deal as a restricted free agent for about $5.5 million per year. That still leaves the Wild about $12 million under the cap with 10 forwards and at least three defensemen and at least one goalie under contract (more on that in a minute).

That's enough money left over to fill out the roster with young players (entry-level, less than $1 million per player) and maybe a couple low-to-mid-level free agents. The Wild will know by Wednesday night what player is lost in the expansion draft, with McLellan noting that the most likely targets for Seattle are defenseman Carson Soucy ($2.75M cap hit) or goalie Kaapo Kakhonen ($725K cap hit). Either player would need to be replaced, though Soucy's replacement theoretically could be a cheaper alternative.

If the Wild makes reasonably shrewd moves, young players keep progressing and filling larger roles and the team's rock-solid goaltending remains in place — significant "ifs," particularly with a return to an 82-game schedule that is set to be released Thursday and includes a return to the Central Division — a return to the playoffs and even beyond that is certainly possible next year.

The real problem arrives in 2022-23 and beyond. Suter and Parise's combined cap hit next year is just $4.7 million, which as noted is more than $10 million savings from the $15+ million they would have counted had they been on the team. But in 2022-23, that number jumps to $12.7 million — barely any relief. It's even worse for two years after that ($14.7 million) before almost all the cap pain is gone by 2025-26.

In 2022-23, assuming Soucy is still on the roster and the Wild extends Kaprizov and Fiala with a combined cap hit of around $14 million (which might even be a little optimistic, though it should be in the ballpark), they will have cap obligations of $68 million covering just six forwards, four defensemen and one goalie.

Unless the cap goes up significantly from the $81.5 million it is set at this year — possible if the NHL and players' association inflate it, but certainly not something to bank on based on the economics of a league trying to still recover from COVID — the Wild will be in a serious bind.

At that point, any of their big contracts — Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Joel Eriksson Ek, Mats Zuccarello, Fiala and Kaprizov all would be projected to be making at least $5 million that season — would be trade candidates.

Spurgeon and Brodin will have no-movement clauses in their contracts that year. Zuccarello and Dumba have modified NMCs that include 10-team no-trade lists. Fiala, Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek are core pieces that would be hard to part with even if teams were interested.

But multiple expensive players might have to be moved, and the ones who stay likely will be the ones who influence Guerin with their play this season.

Guerin will need to get creative, to say the least — and hope that the Wild's pipeline of prospects isn't just good but borders on great. The good news for the Wild is it has five picks in the top three rounds of this weekend's draft, including two first round picks.

Both of those extra picks are via the Penguins and the Jason Zucker trade — the first of Guerin's big roster shakeup deals but not even close to the biggest or the last.