Even though members of the Wild front office have booked flights to Toronto for next week’s salary arbitration hearings for Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund, the Wild still hopes to sign the restricted free agents to contracts ranging in length from three to five years.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher believes if settlements can be reached with either player, it would occur “at the 11th hour.”
“We’ll keep plodding along,” Fletcher said. “Everyone’s working hard, we’ve had good dialogue, but obviously we haven’t gotten to the finish line yet. If you look around the league, negotiations tend to go right down to the arbitration day or the day before or the day after the hearing sometimes even.
“Nothing prods progress more than a deadline.”
Niederreiter’s hearing is slated for August 3, Granlund’s August 4. Assistant GM Shep Harder is the frontman negotiating each contract, including recently acquired Marcus Foligno, who didn’t file for arbitration.
If no contract is reached with Niederreiter or Granlund, the sides will exchange briefs 48 hours before the arbitration hearings — August 1 and 2, respectively — with salary proposals. The Wild will choose the length of a potential arbitration award — one or two years.
Through Wednesday, the arbitrator hasn’t had to render a single NHL verdict. Sixteen settlements were reached before briefs being exchanged. Eight others were reached after briefs were exchanged, with two — Detroit’s Tomas Tatar and Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson — coming after a hearing but before the arbitrator’s verdict 48 hours later.
“I would expect these would be similar,” Fletcher said. “Hopefully we can find a solution on a long-term basis, and if not, we always have the hearing to fall back on and we can revisit it in a year or so.”
Niederreiter, Granlund and Foligno can be signed to contracts up to a maximum eight years, but the Wild hasn’t talked to the players about contracts longer than five.
“We’re open to any angle,” said Fletcher, referring to a term of three, four or five years. “I guess anything’s possible, but somewhere in that three- to five-year range would probably work well for everybody. That’s not to preclude a longer deal, but that’s not where the focus has been on our end.”
It’s believed Niederreiter and Granlund are seeking long-term contracts north of $6 million annually. Recent arbitration settlements for arguably comparable players include the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad and Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat (five years, $5.3 million annually), Tatar (four years, $5.3 million annually), Arvidsson (seven years, $4.25 million annually) and Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk (three years, $4.9 million annually). Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli recently signed a three-year deal worth $4.6 million annually, while the Rangers’ Chris Kreider is entering the second year of a four-year deal worth $4.625 million annually.
Every contract affects others like Niederreiter, 24, and Granlund, 25, who are each 2010 first-round picks coming off career years.
“The marketplace is always bigger than one or two players, and some comparables are more relevant than others, but everything’s been kind of what we expected,” Fletcher said.
The Wild has had initial talks with Foligno, who scored a career-high 13 goals last season and finished fifth in the NHL with 279 hits. His agents have had five potential arbitrations, so there hasn’t been much urgency to have a negotiating back and forth with the Wild just yet.
“We’ve given them the parameters of where we see it, and I’m sure we’ll hear back from them shortly and go from there,” Fletcher said. “I kind of expected we’d be speaking with Marcus more in August than we would in July.”
The Wild, which has roughly $15.7 million in cap space left, wants to leave as much flexibility as possible to potentially sign another free-agent forward like Matt Cullen.
“We’re focused right now on the RFA’s and once we get through that process, we can take stock at where we’re at and see what we have left over,” Fletcher said.