ST. PAUL -- It took the Minnesota Wild about 15 minutes to find a replacement for veteran defenseman Ryan Suter.
Not long after Suter signed with the Dallas Stars as the market opened on Wednesday morning, the Wild picked up free agent Alex Goligoski on a 1-year, $5 million contract. It’s pretty much a guarantee that Goligoski will slide in alongside captain Jared Spurgeon on the top pairing next season.
Though the day started off on a high note for Wild general manager Bill Guerin with the signing of Goligoski — the team’s primary target on the blue line — he started to miss out on other free agents as time progressed. Most notably, veteran winger Nick Foligno signed a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins.
“We had some players targeted that we missed out on,” Guerin said. “That’s OK. That happens. We have other players in mind. I don’t think that this was the year that we’re going to have our whole roster filled out in one afternoon.”
After addressing reporters on Wednesday evening, Guerin got back to work, signing defenseman Dmitri Kulikov to a 2-year, $4.5 million contract. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Kulikov brings a sense of grit to the blue line, which is something the Wild needed heading into next season.
While there are still some obvious holes to fill ahead of next season — the Wild desperately need to add another player to the blue line, and could also use some help up front — Guerin seemed confident heading into the rest of this offseason.
“We can add somebody,” he said. “There are good players still out there. There are trades available. There are options. We are comfortable.”
As for Goligoski, the fact he signed with the Wild was hardly a surprise. He was born in Grand Rapids, Minn., starred for the University of Minnesota in the mid-2000s. Plus, his interest was widely reported in the days leading up to free agency.
Asked why he chose the Wild, the 35-year-old defenseman got straight to the point.
“It’s home,” Goligoski said. “I think everyone has that desire to play for their home state at some point.”
Plus, as Goligoski noted, the Wild are in the upswing as a team.
“It seems like they had that same team for so long,” Goligoski said. “There’s not many of those guys still here. There’s a lot of new guys and they’re playing a fast, aggressive style. I really enjoyed watching and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
This is the first time in Goligoski’s career that he reached free agency, and it doesn’t sound as if he has any interest in doing it again.
“I didn’t enjoy it very much at all,” Goligoski said. “It was a little stressful. You’re getting calls from the agent every day with different stuff going on. You just kind of want the day to get there and see the options and make a decision and get excited about it and move on.”
This isn’t the splashiest signing by any means, but Goligoski will fill a valuable role for the Wild next season. He has played 924 games in his 14-year NHL career for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dallas Stars and, most recently, Arizona Coyotes.
“He’s a great guy,” said Guerin, who actually played with Goligoski when both were with the Penguins. “He’s a good teammate, I know that firsthand. The thing with his game is he keeps getting better. I love the way he plays. He can do a lot of different things.”
Though the Wild would have loved to add a few more players on Wednesday, with the way things played out it made more sense to stay patient. After all, the season opener is still a few months away.
“We feel like we’re in a good spot,” Guerin said. “We are still working with other players and things like that to fill out our roster. Plus, having flexibility isn’t the worst thing in the world.”
Gaudreau also joins team
In addition to Goligoski, the Wild added some depth up front, signing center Frederick Gaudreau to a 2-year, $2.4 million contract Wednesday. There’s some history with this signing as the 28-year-old Gaudreau played for Wild coach Dean Evason during their time together with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. He plays in the middle, which is valuable in and of itself, and should fill a role in the bottom half of the lineup.
“I think I’ve always been a guy that I feel the coach can trust on the ice,” Gaudreau said. “I’m a guy that can shut down big lines and I also can contribute offensively when needed. I’ve always prided myself on being really versatile. I work hard at trying to get better in many aspects of my game whether it’s the skills or speed. Just to be more of a complete player. That’s what I’m going to try to bring there.”