The Minnesota Wild’s roster could have a significantly different look next season.
Two key veteran forwards, Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston, are eligible for unrestricted free agency in July and young forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard becomes a restricted free agent.
Pundits have speculated throughout this season as to whether or not the usually budget-conscious Wild management will re-sign all three.
Rolston is a strong two-way winger as notable for his penalty-killing as for his offensive skills, while Bouchard is younger and improving each season.
Demitra, on the other hand, has been plagued in recent years by injuries that hampered his performance and limited his effectiveness.
Bouchard and Rolston are second and third, respectively, in team scoring, with Demitra a distant fourth.
The easy choice would be to re-sign Rolston and Bouchard and cut Demitra loose, but doing so could have far-reaching consequences involving Marian Gaborik, the Wild’s leading scorer.
At various times this season, reports suggested Gaborik has grown weary of toiling under head coach Jacques Lemaire’s “defense-first” system, raising speculation he might sign with a more offensive-minded club in the Eastern Conference when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2009.
Wild GM Doug Risebrough acquired Demitra in June 2006, in part to bolster the Wild’s offense, but also as an incentive for Gaborik - then a restricted free agent - to re-sign, thus giving him the opportunity to play alongside his friend and countryman.
The two have meshed well over the past two seasons, but, unfortunately, injuries have prevented them from realizing their full offensive potential as linemates.
It’s believed if Risebrough fails to re-sign Demitra this summer it could provide further incentive for Gaborik to test the unrestricted free agent waters next summer.
Risebrough, therefore, has several options to consider after this season comes to an end:
• Retain Demitra and at the same time attempt to re-sign Gaborik at the risk of losing Rolston to the UFA market and perhaps Bouchard to an offer sheet.
• Let Demitra go in favor of retaining Rolston and Bouchard and still try to re-sign Gaborik, perhaps by tempting him with promises of landing more offensive help during the summer, even at the risk of losing him to next summer’s UFA market.
• Let Demitra walk, re-sign Rolston and Bouchard and shop Gaborik for a healthy return, perhaps to bolster the Wild’s depth at center, which was lacking this season.
If ownership is unwilling to keep pace with the rising salary cap this summer it could force Risebrough into considering that last option.
Neither Risebrough nor the aforementioned players have spoken about their off-season plans, but it could prove to be a very interesting summer in Minnesota.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.