One of the more interesting pieces of information from Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts column over at Sportsnet this week was the news that Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter has come up in trade talk.
What makes it so interesting is that Niederreiter is not only one of the Wild’s best forwards, he is also going to be entering his age 25 season, right in the prime of his career, and he is still two years away from being eligible for unrestricted free agency.
The trouble for the Wild is Niederreiter is almost certain to get a raise over the $2.67 million salary cap hit he played under this season. The Wild already have more than $61 million in cap space committed to just 15 players for next season and have a significant list of restricted agents to re-sign, including Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula, before filling out the remainder of the roster.
There is also the issue of the expansion draft and whether the Wild would be able to protect Niederreiter as one of their seven forwards.
Given those circumstances, it is easy to conclude that somebody on the roster is going to get traded, and given Niederreiter’s contract situation and ability, there should be 30 general managers around the NHL calling about him. Even if the Wild have no intention of moving him, the other GMs wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t at least pick up the phone and ask.
Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t A) listen, and B) set an extraordinarily high price for him (Friedman quoted Fletcher as saying they are “actively listening … on everything.”)
First, it’s important to keep in mind just how good Niederreiter has been for the Wild.
He has not only developed into a consistent 20-goal scorer, he has also become a possession-driving winger who plays Selke-caliber defense on the wing. It’s because he plays on the wing that he probably doesn’t get more attention in the Selke discussion (for what it’s worth, I had him in the top three on my ballot this season), but his performance jumps off the page from a defensive perspective.
His 55.3 Corsi percentage this season had him in the top 20 among all forwards (minimum 400 minutes played), while the Wild only surrendered 46 total shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play with him on the ice. That was the eighth-best mark in the league. That is elite two-way play, and when you combine that with the ability to score at least 20 goals (he has done that three seasons in a row) while getting only 15-16 minutes of ice time per game, you have a pretty valuable asset on your hands.
One that you probably do not want to let get away without a significant return, especially since that asset is two years away from being an unrestricted free agent.
Keep in mind, there were only 10 right wingers in the NHL this season who recorded more points than Niederreiter’s 57. And he plays elite defense along with that offense.
But this is the type of situation a salary cap league creates, especially for a team like the Wild that has had a large portion of its core pieced together through free agency and trades. Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu (homegrown player) combine for nearly $28 million in salary cap space. Three of those players (Parise, Suter and Pominville) probably played their best hockey for somebody else, while the Wild pay them top dollar. It can create a bit of a crunch when it comes to building the roster.
The expansion draft factor only adds to it this summer.
If it gets to that point, there are no shortage of teams that could use somebody on the right side with Niederreiter’s ability, including several with the salary cap space to be able to pay him.
If Arizona loses Radim Vrbata this summer, they would be a fantastic option, as would a Buffalo team that is in desperate need of more talent after taking a step backward this season.
Carolina, given its plethora of draft picks and talented defensemen to deal from, are another team that should have some interest, especially with some pressure to take a step forward. The Hurricanes have Sebastian Aho on the right side, and he looks absolutely tremendous, but their depth on the right side was limited pretty much to Lee Stempniak this season.
It is going to be tough for the Wild to keep everybody they want to keep, and they might have to end up dealing a player they don’t really want to lose. They should do everything in their power to make sure it is not somebody as good — and young — as Niederreiter. If it gets to that point, every team in the league should be calling.