Kirill Kaprizov will make his own decision on whether to visit his native Russia this offseason, per Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold.
The Wild’s franchise player hasn’t announced his intent, but Leipold told Sports Headliners Kaprizov is “free to go wherever he wants to go, and do what he wants to do.” That’s the stance of Wild management toward its players regarding the offseason.
Kaprizov visited Russia last summer and reportedly had difficulty re-entering the United States because of a work visa issue. Russia is in a chaotic state because of its Ukraine invasion and Vladimir Putin’s war effort has created an unpredictable environment that will cause Wild fans to fret if their favorite player returns to his homeland.
Leipold said last he heard the 26-year-old Kaprizov was in the Twin Cities, but the owner is well aware of his star forward’s dilemma. “He wants to see his family. The hope is that the family will come here.”
While Leipold hasn’t spoken to Kaprizov about Russia, general manager Bill Guerin has. Kaprizov knows he could spend the offseason in the Twin Cities where he can utilize the team’s conditioning and training resources. Leipold said “we support what he wants to do.”
Late in the season Kaprizov sustained a lower body injury and missed 13 games. Although he played in the Wild’s six playoff games, Leipold said his leading scorer “wasn’t 100 percent.”
Kaprizov scored just one goal in the opening round playoff loss to the Dallas Stars. A healthy Kaprizov might have totaled five or six goals.
“It’s fun to watch special players in this league,” Leipold said of Kaprizov who has played three seasons in the NHL. “There’s something magical when he jumps on the ice, and he’s at 100 percent. He’s a player that cannot be stopped. And he’s gonna be that way again next year so we’re all excited to see that.”
In the playoffs the Wild had to play without center Joel Eriksson Ek, a key performer. He, too, was injured late in the season. Offense, defense, penalty kill and power play, Ek is a major contributor.
Leipold said he understands all teams have injuries and he’s not making excuses for his team losing to the Stars. But he thinks his club could have won that series and perhaps still be chasing the Stanley Cup.
“You know I think we’re a team that’s pretty well built for playoffs,” he said. “We’ve got good goal tending. Our defense is good. We’re not that far off. There’s a couple issues that we all want to get better in but right now you know we’re pretty close.”
Leipold didn’t detail those needs but presumably they could include more timely goal scoring and better special teams performance. What does the owner anticipate happening in the offseason regarding the roster?
“There’s not a lot of changes that we’re going to have with our personnel. You know we have a salary cap crunch that we’re under for the next two years. I don’t really see much changes in our lineup or in our in approaches. I think it’s gonna be a lot of status quo until we get some relief with the salary cap.”
The Wild are on course to have at least $20 million in cash and salary cap room in two years. Leipold believes the opportunity to pursue free agents is “going to open up some real possibilities and excitement for our fans and our team.”
Asked about a favorite memory from the 2022-2023 season, Leipold said any game that secures a playoff position is special. ”It’s hard to make the playoffs and we make them 10 out of the last 11 years. That’s an incredible run. Now we gotta get past the first round and that’s when the big smile is going to be on my face…and I look forward to that.”
The playoffs are where NHL teams make a lot of their revenue. The deeper the playoff run, the more lucrative it is for franchises. A reasonable estimate is the Wild grosses $1.5 to $2 million per home playoff game.
Leipold didn’t answer whether his franchise made money in 2022-2023 but acknowledged the financial recovery from games lost during the pandemic has been faster than anticipated because Minnesota is a superb hockey market. “We don’t make a lot of money, if we do make money,” he said.
In two more years, the Wild’s arena, Xcel Energy Center, will be 25 years old. Leipold said preliminary meetings regarding renovations have started but nothing major has been decided. “We’re not looking for any government subsidies or anything (public),” he said.