As I reported last week, the Wild met with Mikael Granlund’s agent, Todd Diamond, at the recent scouting combine in Buffalo for a first, albeit brief conversation regarding the potential restricted free agent.
There were no negotiations. It was essentially to reiterate to Diamond what the Wild’s up against this summer, especially if the $73 million salary largely remains flat. The two sides plan on meeting again at the draft in Chicago in a couple weekends.
“We’ve had, I wouldn’t even call it exploratory talks, but we touched base that we’d get things going in the near future,” Diamond told me last week. “When they’re ready to get going, we’re ready to get going.”
The Wild hasn’t yet met with the agent of Nino Niederreiter, whose name continues to swirl in trade rumors because he’s too a pending RFA.
I chatted with his agent Andre Rufener by phone today from France, where the former Swiss hockey player is on a surfing vacation.
As I reported during the playoffs, Rufener attended a Wild practice at Ridder Arena. He said he chatted with GM Chuck Fletcher and the two decided to get things going after the expansion draft. The announcement is a week from today in Las Vegas.
“With [Nino’s] situation, we know that nothing’s going to happen until the expansion draft,” Rufener said. “Chuck has to know first which player he’s going to lose, what trades he’s possibly going to make, so I have full understanding of that. Neither Nino or me were counting on talking before expansion. For us, this is just a totally normal process. We’re excited and looking forward to see how this is going to pan out. We’re very positive and relaxed about it.”
Niederreiter, 24, set a career-high last season with 25 goals, 32 assists, 57 points, a plus-17, eight power-play goals and 186 shots. It was his third consecutive season hitting the 20-goal mark.
Regarding the fact that it has been reported that teams have called Fletcher about Niederreiter, Rufener said, “That’s part of the business. If other teams are interested in you, that’s a huge compliment. We just take it as that, and we’re not worrying or thinking about it because we both think it’s not going to happen. We’re just taking this as a positive thing. There’s interest in him around the league. But we know his value for the Wild and he loves playing for Minnesota. It makes no sense. We know that stuff, we listen to all that stuff, but at the end of the day, now is a time for Nino to recover, to relax, to practice hard and not have his mind somewhere in the news or somewhere in the press. He does really well with this. It’s all good. We’ll see how this is going to pan out.”
Granlund and Niederreiter have arbitration rights. The player-elected arbitration deadline is July 5. Teams can elect to take a player to arbitration by Wednesday or July 6 if a player doesn’t accept his qualifying offer nor elects arbitration himself. Arbitration at least would eliminate any holdout possibility and there could continue to be contract negotiations until the scheduled hearing.
However, Niederreiter’s agent would prefer to “avoid arbitration.”
“Chuck knows Nino’s value for the Wild,” Rufener said. “I think we’re both looking for a long-term deal. Nino’s two years away from [unrestricted free agency], so I don’t think a short-term deal would make sense for the Wild to do. I think and I assume we both have the same intention about doing something long-term. But in the business you never know what’ll happen.”
Fletcher and senior VP of hockey operations Brent Flahr will talk with the press this afternoon about the upcoming draft (the Wild as of now don’t own its first- and second-round picks). Expansion draft questions will also be posed.
Fletcher wouldn’t comment a few days ago when I asked if the team asked Jason Pominville ($5 million salary next season, $5.6 million cap hit) to waive his no-move clause for the purposes of expansion so the Wild can protect an extra forward. The fact Pominville and his agent didn’t reply to queries makes me think the Wild must have. He’d have until Friday at 4 p.m. to decide if he was asked.
Remember, too, the Wild could work to try to trade Pominville this summer. He has a 20-team no-trade list right now. That decreases to a 10-team no-trade list July 1. He is owed a $2.5 million bonus Oct. 1, by the way.
Starting Saturday at 2 p.m., there will be a waivers and trade freeze until Thursday at 7 a.m. unless a trade is being made with or through Vegas starting 9 a.m. Sunday. That’s also the time all the protected and exposed lists will be announced. On June 21, the Vegas team will be announced throughout the NHL Awards show. Teams have been warned that there better be no leaks, especially when it comes to pre-arranged trades with Vegas. But as you know, the Wild is one team looking to make deals with Vegas (either asset protection management trades, three-way deals with other teams or even getting Vegas to take an exposed player from another team and flip them to Minnesota.
There’s steam out there that the Wild, which a few years ago had interest in winger Jonathan Drouin. If the Wild has decided that it should trade Matt Dumba or Jonas Brodin in order to protect the other in the expansion draft, one of those two would make sense in a move like that.
However, Drouin is a restricted free agent and you know his agent, Allan Walsh, will want a significant contract. That would mean three big RFA forwards and hard to see how those numbers add up within the confines of the cap unless Granlund or Niederreiter was subsequently traded.
Also a reminder, the Wild’s other restricted free agents (as long as they’re extended qualifying offers) are Erik Haula, Christian Folin, Gustav Olofsson, Mike Reilly, Jordan Schroeder, Steve Michalek, Brady Brassart, Kurtis Gabriel, Alex Gudbranson, Zack Mitchell and Zach Palmquist.
The unrestricted free agents are Martin Hanzal, Darcy Kuemper, Nate Prosser, Ryan White, Victor Bartley, Pat Cannone, Ryan Carter and Mike Weber.