As we approach the expansion draft in June, NHL teams across the United States and Canada are reevaluating their most valuable players.
In the expansion draft, each club has two options for how they arrange their protected lists. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (either forwards or defensemen) and one goalie. Most clubs will likely choose the first option considering they can protect more players that way.
Recently, rumors have been heating up around potentially trading Nino Niederreiter and Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher did not deny those rumors. But would this be the best scenario for the Wild?
Currently, the Wild have four players who are protected from being traded by “No-Movement” clauses. These four players are Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter. Although the club itself can propose waiving the “No-Movement” clauses of these players, it is unlikely due to their prominence and standing with the team. This leave Minnesota with only four more spots for forwards on the team.
There are multiple ways we can measure the importance of each of the remaining forwards. For example, when it comes to average ice time per game, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Martin Hanzal and Jason Zucker all play more than Niederreiter. Or we could demonstrate the risks Niederreiter brings to the team by calculating that he has the third highest number of penalty minutes on the team, forcing them to play on a man disadvantage more often. So the question is Niederreiter irreplaceable?
With Niederreiter’s contract expiring next season, he will become a restricted free agent. If Niederreiter signs with a new team, the Wild have one week to match the offer, otherwise he moves on. As the Wild are very close to their team salary cap, however, it is highly unlikely at this point that they would be willing to fight to keep Niederreiter with the team as he is expected to get a raise from his $2.7 million contract.
And Niederreiter would not be the only one getting the raise. Right winger Mikael Granlund’s contract will expire in the 2017-18 season. Granlund led the team this year in assists and overall points. Granlund has become a key player in Minnesota this season by doubling his goals and increasing his assists from the previous season. Not only has he increased his scoring, Granlund has improved is defensive abilities too by earning +23 on the plus/ minus scale, whereas last season he hit a -12. With his immense improvement this season, Granlund surpassed Niederreiter in terms of earning a raise.
As the post season winds down, the Wild organization needs to evaluate their options when it comes to forwards, the salary cap, and potential trade deals. So will Nino Niederreiter stay in Minnesota? It is too soon to tell, but Minnesota fans better be prepared to lose a crowd favorite.