This off-season for the Minnesota Wild was never going to be about making major additions.
This was simply the summer of maintenance and sustenance, with a new contract for Mikael Granlund one of the biggest priorities.
Now that Granlund has agreed to the deal, for $17.25 million over three years, the dynamic Finnish forward has his focus on a much deeper push by the Wild through the playoffs. Performing up to the value of the contract is not his concern.
Even without obvious roster upgrades after a five-game loss in the first round to St. Louis, the strength of the core that fueled a top-five finish in the NHL regular season has not diminished.
"There's always something to prove, but I think the biggest thing is as a team I really want us to make a deeper playoff run," Granlund said Wednesday on a conference call. "Obviously we need to make it to playoffs first, but I think we have a really good group of guys and we can do some damage."
Granlund's deal was done two days after the new contract was finalized for fellow restricted free agent and right wing Nino Niederreiter, who will get $26.25 million over five years.
The Wild acquired left wing Marcus Foligno and right wing Tyler Ennis from Buffalo last month, but they traded right wing Jason Pominville and defenceman Marco Scandella to get them. They lost centre Erik Haula in the expansion draft to Vegas and traded former first-round draft pick Alex Tuch to the Golden Knights to keep them away from others. They signed defenceman Kyle Quincey in free agency, but all the other pick-ups were designed for injury protection and AHL depth.
General manager Chuck Fletcher wasn't going to be able to do much more than that, given the salary cap situation and the requirement to lose a player to the league's newest team. So the Wild will be banking on good health for their veteran players and continued improvement by their younger teammates, with Granlund squarely in the spotlight after a breakthrough under new coach Bruce Boudreau.
"He was super great last season, and we improved a lot as a team and individually too," said Granlund, who was the ninth overall pick in the 2010 draft. "He gave me a lot of responsibility."
With a permanent move from centre to right wing and the installation of an offence-friendly system, Granlund produced 26 goals, 43 assists and a plus-23 rating, all career highs. His 69 points were tied for the fourth most in franchise history, and he was one of three finalists for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for exceptional sportsmanship and skill.
"People across the league are now surely aware of what our management group has always known: Mikael has a tremendous level of talent and skill," Fletcher said. "Coupled with his excellent work ethic and tremendous character, we know he'll play a large role in the future success of our team."
For more NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey