Wild / lame ducks

Wild open Thursday

against Chicago

By Michael Russo

McClatchy Newspapers

Nick Schultz planned to sell his downtown Minneapolis townhouse anyway because his wife, Jessica, is expecting their first child this month.


However, when the Wild decided in July not to make a long-term investment in Schultz, the defenseman decided to no longer make a long-term housing investment in Minnesota.

Instead, Schultz, who is less than a year away from becoming a highly coveted

25-year-old unrestricted free agent, sold his townhouse to teammate Josh Harding.

"When I signed the one-year deal, I figured I’d better be on the safe side and rent something so I don’t have to sell if I’m not going to be here," Schultz said.

As the Wild begins its seventh season Thursday against Chicago, Schultz is far from the only player lacking long-term stability.

Schultz is one of nine Wild players who could become unrestricted free agents next summer, a list that includes significant pieces such as Brian Rolston, Pavol Demitra, Keith Carney and Wes Walz.

This fact alone makes the upcoming season an intriguing one. Whether the Wild builds on last season's 104-point total and second postseason trip or completely flops, one thing is certain: The Wild could look significantly different when it steps on the ice next October.

"I always believe this stuff works itself out, which is why I’m not afraid to let somebody play in their unrestricted year," General Manager Doug Risebrough said. "If they really want to return, there’s going to be a way to make it happen.


"But I’ll say this right now: Not all nine of them can return. It can’t happen. But at least there’s an opportunity that some will be able to return; we have flexibility."

In the salary cap world, Risebrough said flexibility is paramount, "especially after what went on this summer."

Risebrough isn’t talking only about the gargantuan contracts given to unrestricted free agents Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Daniel Briere.

He’s talking about the restricted free agent offer sheet the Edmonton Oilers tendered to Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek (seven years, $50 million).

After the Sabres matched Edmonton’s offer, the Oilers signed restricted free agent Dustin Penner from Anaheim with an inflated five-year, $21.25 million deal.

The Wild has only 10 players locked in next season at a cap hit of $26.7 million. That will enable Risebrough to react if a team presents restricted free agents Brent Burns and Pierre-Marc Bouchard with a crazy offer sheet. It’s why the Wild signed Mikko Koivu to a four-year, $13 million deal and Derek Boogaard to a three-year, $2.625 million deal.

By staying flexible, the Wild could lose a Rolston, Demitra or Schultz. And Schultz, who has missed one game because of injury in his five-year career, saw where the market for defensemen headed this past summer. His brother-in-law, Tampa Bay's Cory Sarich, signed a five-year, $18 million deal with Calgary.

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