The Wild's blue line keeps getting thinner.
Defenseman Carson Soucy was taken by Seattle in Wednesday's expansion draft, an exit that leaves the Wild with only three NHL defensemen under contract for next season.
"It obviously stings," General Manager Bill Guerin said. "Carson's a great kid, a player that we saw a lot of value in. His progression over the last couple years was fantastic."
Soucy's selection wasn't surprising considering he was one of the most intriguing players made available by the Wild.
An efficient top-six defender with size and grit, Soucy is also signed to a cost-friendly contract. He has two seasons left on a three-year, $8.25 million deal that carries a $2.75 million annual cap hit.
Last season, the 6-5, 211-pound Soucy filled out the Wild's third defensive pairing with veteran Ian Cole and established career highs in assists (16) and points (17). Soucy, 26, was drafted in the fifth round by the Wild in 2013 before playing four seasons at Minnesota Duluth.
"When I first got here, we kind of had him pegged for Iowa," said Guerin, who took over in 2019. "He took a job. He stole a job. He kept getting better and better. It's unfortunate, but those are the rules. We knew we were going to lose a good player, and it was Carson.
"We wish him nothing but the best. He gave us some good years. He's going to do fantastic. Obviously, it hurts our depth. But we've got some work some do, and we've got to fill some spots."
Only Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and captain Jared Spurgeon are regulars signed for next season. Ryan Suter is gone after the Wild bought out him and Zach Parise last week. And Cole could leave as a free agent, although he's expressed an interest in returning and Guerin said the two sides are talking.
But for now the Wild has three vacancies on its back end.
Youngster Calen Addison could get a look, especially after a smooth NHL debut last season, but the Wild still needs more help. And the team can acquire it in free agency when the NHL signing period kicks off Wednesday.
Among the defensemen set to hit the market are Grand Rapids native and former Gopher Alex Goligoski, Keith Yandle and David Savard from this year's Stanley Cup champion team in Tampa Bay.
After losing Soucy's contract, the Wild has approximately $29 million in cap space but expect the team to be mindful of its spending. Not only are forwards Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala still unsigned, but the Wild's flexibility to take on long-term contracts shrinks in the coming years when the cap charge for the Suter and Parise buyouts increases. Short-term commitments make the most sense.
"We like what we have in the system obviously," Guerin said. "We're going to continue to try to create depth. We're going to have to be active in free agency. We could be active in the trade market. There are a lot of things we could do."
What the Wild won't need to address is the team's backup goaltending.
Seattle passed on goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, who was another interesting candidate after an impressive season in which he won a franchise-record 16 games as a rookie and went on a 9-0 run.
Every team could protect only one goalie, and the Wild shielded starter Cam Talbot instead of Kahkonen. Guerin anticipated Seattle's pick would come down to Kahkonen or Soucy, and he said the Wild didn't consider making a side deal with the Kraken to sway its pick.
"We would lose more assets than we already have," Guerin said.
Other players left unprotected by the Wild were forwards Victor Rask and Nick Bjugstad.
"It was a tough decision, but I think we made the right one and we came out of it kind of lucky to have our goalie tandem intact," said Guerin, who highlighted Talbot's consistency and leadership. "They were very good last year, and we're looking for more of that in the coming years."
Although word leaked out earlier in the day, the Kraken's picks were officially unveiled during a televised reveal live from Seattle.
Goalie Chris Driedger, forward Jordan Eberle and defenseman Mark Giordano were some of the players on hand for the announcement, and the Kraken's roster is likely to evolve.
By bypassing some of the higher-priced players like Montreal's Carey Price, St. Louis' Vladimir Tarasenko and Nashville's Matt Duchene, Seattle has quite a bit of wiggle room ahead of free agency. Only three of the contracts the team added have a cap hit north of $5 million.
Trades are another option, for the Kraken and the rest of the NHL, and movement could start soon.
A freeze on player signings and trades gets lifted Thursday.
"It's going to be active," Guerin said. "But we want to continue to do things that work for us. We aren't just going to jump at anything."