News Column

Wild aren't looking for a long-term commitment in free agency

June 30, 2014

By Chad Graff, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.



June 30--NHL free agency

One day separates Chuck Fletcher from the busiest day of the NHL offseason.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, free agency begins, but as the Wild general manager spent Sunday going over final preparations and discussing possible options, Fletcher indicated that he'd be more inclined to offer short-term contracts to the top free agents, namely Montreal winger Thomas Vanek and Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen.

It's likely that both could garner long-term contracts, if desired.

But the Wild already have Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed through the 2024-25 season, Mikko Koivu signed through 2017-18, and Jason Pominville signed through 2018-19.

Because of that, Fletcher seems more inclined to offer short-term deals to the top free agents.

"Every time you go out and sign these long-term contracts you just have less flexibility, you have more long-term commitments and sometimes those long-term commitments can turn into liabilities and you start to box yourself in," Fletcher said. "To me, I'd almost rather be a little lean this year and maintain a little more flexibility than just pushing it right to the max."

Vanek and Niskanen are players who excel in areas where the Wild want to improve.

Vanek, 30, is a pure scorer, the type the Wild lacked last season when they finished 24th in goals scored, netting 2.43 per game.

Niskanen, 27, is coming off the best season of his career, having scored 10 goals and recorded 36 assists and a team-best plus-33 rating for the Penguins. He would instantly upgrade by the Wild's defense.

But at what cost?

That's what Fletcher is trying to determine in the final days before free agency begins.

With Vanek and Niskanen interested in hearing the Wild's pitch, Fletcher's decision on the two free agents ultimately might be defined more by years than price.

"It's kind of a feel thing," Fletcher said. "There's certain players you might value more than other players, and if you don't think the player is a perfect fit, maybe the best move is just to maybe move on. I don't think it's that deep a free-agent class where if we don't get No. 1 we should just blindly go after No 2 or 3. Let's be patient."

Unlike last summer, the Wild have plenty of cap space entering free agency.

But they've insisted that if they don't sign one of the big-name free agents, they're still in a spot where the team can improve.

"I do know that we have the opportunity to do some things that are exciting," owner Craig Leipold said of free agency. "If that happens, I think that it'll be a great day. And if we decide, you know, it's just not the right time or the right price or the right term, then we are at a situation now that we've never been at.

We have a great core of players and we are going to be active when the opportunity presents itself, and if it's the right player and the right fit for our team, we'll pull the trigger."

Terms for potential contracts might be the key, though.

With several young players due for new contracts this summer and next summer, the Wild could push hard for short-term contracts with Vanek and Niskanen.

And if they can't sign either, they might look at other options in a free agency class that isn't deep.

"Maybe with the cap only being $69 (million) instead of $70 (million next season) there's going to be some teams looking to move money," Fletcher said." Maybe it's this summer, maybe it's the fall, maybe it's the (trade) deadline, but I think there will be other opportunities if we're not active on July 1. And again, we'll continue to pursue these players -- I just think we can afford to be patient if the right scenario doesn't come up."

Follow Chad Graff at twitter.com/ChadGraff.

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(c)2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

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Source: Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)


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