Bringing in Dave Steckel (or) The Second Season

Call it the preseason already. Our long, albeit not as long as past years off-season is over. Free agents have been signed. Injuries have been healed. Uniforms have been both teased and revealed.

Maybe more time could have been spent outdoors. I'm not sure.

With NHL training camps about to begin and expectations still being managed, everything is back to normal for the most part. There is the matter of a smaller salary cap this year - $64.3 Million compared to the $70M last season - and its effect on veteran players like Dave Steckel taking professional tryout deals (PTOs). Or in cases like Bloomington Native Tom Gilbert (BNTG), going from an NHL top-four to the top of the Swiss Alps.

Gilbert, the former Wild defenseman whose $4.2 million cap hit was bought out by Minnesota in July, is having trouble finding a new NHL team. It's surprising that BNTG hasn't gotten a single sniff given the two previous players bought out by the Wild - Mark Parrish and Cam Barker - did get another NHL shot. Yes, even Cam Barker was more wanted than Tom Gilbert which is crazy to write.

He's not alone. The second season of free agency has seen a surprising number of veterans who didn't find a team during the initial July rush (or are bought-out Mikhail Grabovski) take PTOs with whoever will take them in for the fortnight. These aren't your Jordan Hendrys of the world, either (although former FRB Colton Gillies did get an invite to Buffalo's camp). While Jamie Langenbrunner is still sitting on the sidelines, players like Mason Raymond and old favorites Chuck Kobasew and Guillaume Latendresse are looking to impress.

Even Ilya Bryzgalov's fall from prettiest girl in the ball...err best free agent goalie on the market to 24/7 darling scientist to amnesty buyout sees him (and a half-dozen others) looking at a tryout from Florida. The KHL and European leagues has already taken a slice of middling veterans; especially those from Europe. Now the market is bigger.

So with the 31 year-old Steckel coming into what is fast becoming a young man's game, Minnesota brings in a 6'6" center who has spent eight years in the NHL. Steckel's strength - face-offs - fits with a Wild club that finished third in the NHL last season. The team did lose Matt Cullen, who won 54.7% of draws, to free agency and Kyle Brodziak only won 49.4% of his 763 attempts. Steckel, meanwhile, was sixth in the NHL two years ago with Toronto after winning 58%. He won 57.1% last year with Anaheim.

For the most part Steckel's presence is brought in to challenge the bottom-six. All face-off quips aside about replacing Cullen, the large, gritty defensive forward's description sounds a lot like another player Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher signed last year in Zenon Konopka. There's a good reason because despite excelling at the face-off dot (winning 60% of 200+ attempts) and Twitter, Konopka struggled elsewhere in his first season with the Wild.

Part of the problem was injury-related as Konopka missed most of the final month with a broken foot. Still, Fletcher hasn't been complacent with the bottom-six and long-term players. Bigger signings and better players such as Erik Nystrom have seen waivers or the end of a trade .

(On a different note that could be its own subject - finding the right set for the bottom-six has been a sad revolving door. Minnesota is on take four or five with that.)

Challenging Konopka with the low-risk Steckel is about the only change Minnesota can make. The Wild currently has an overage of $450,000 according to Capgeek (mostly due to Brodin's success and hitting bonuses). If Steckel doesn't work out he costs nothing. If he does it is likely less than the $1.1 million made last year.

That's the positive part of having this second season of free agency. There are polished pick ups for cheap.

Photo Credit: Rick Stewart

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