Kaprizov contract situation lingers over mixed offseason for Wild

Kaprizov contract situation lingers during mixed offseason for Wild
Getty Images

On its own, the Wild’s one-year, $5.1 million commitment to Kevin Fiala prompts some interesting questions. When you zoom out to the Wild’s offseason as a whole, the Fiala signing also follows a pattern. Unfortunately, that’s a pattern of mixed feelings.

Eavesdrop on Wild fans and you may hear a mix: some sighs of relief, some grumbles.

First, the good: the Wild avoided salary arbitration, which could have been quite awkward with Fiala. (Even by the already-awkard standards.)

Most would agree that Fiala’s well-worth $5.1M per year. It could end up being a flat-out bargain.

Yet, for the sigh of relief of avoiding arbitration, there are grumbles about the future.

Yes, Wild GM Bill Guerin said all the right things about trying to sign Fiala for more term. Maybe this really was the best option.

The lowball salary arbitration number doesn’t inspire the utmost confidence, though.

Now, it’s true that teams sometimes go extreme in their arbitration offers. Again, though, it inspires questions. Were seemingly “too rich” asking prices actually quite reasonable? Did the Wild balk at term that could’ve saved them money down the line?

At 25, Fiala still has room to go from “sneaky-good” to “undeniable star.” If that happens in 2020-21, the Wild only reap the benefits of a bargain contract for one year.

So, overall: mixed feelings for that Fiala contract.

The same mixed feelings resonate around the Wild’s offseason. That goes for moves they already made, like the still-shocking Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts. You can apply that to moves that need to be made, too. The Kirill Kaprizov contract situation still looms, and it doesn’t look like an easy riddle to solve.

The Kirill Kaprizov contract conundrum

If nothing else, Wild GM Bill Guerin is saying all of the right things about Kaprizov and Fiala contract situations.

He emphasized that the Wild believe in Fiala, even if the one-year contract inspires pause. Guerin also said that reports about Kaprizov’s KHL flirtations don’t bother him “at all.”

“I think things are going well enough,” Guerin said of Kaprizov contract discussions, via NHL.com. “We still have lots of time, there’s no rush or panic. I’m in constant communication with Kirill’s agent. We continue to move forward.”

Maybe there’s truly no panic; maybe that’s just putting on a brave face. A variety of reports are at least making Wild fans a little jumpy though.

Consider that, according to The Athletic’s Michael Russo, seven or eight-year offers in the $9M range didn’t do the trick (sub required).

Kudos to Kaprizov for leveraging his situation to try to get paid what he’s worth. Frankly, Kaprizov stands a strong chance of being worth every penny of a $9M-ish cap hit.

Even so, there are those mixed feelings. If the Wild signed Kaprizov to a big, long (or medium)-term contract, could it become a “be careful what you wish for” situation?

Parise, Suter offseason buyouts cramp Wild’s chances to truly compete

From a personal standpoint, the Wild moved on from Parise and Suter with those buyouts. They didn’t get to walk away from those costs, though.

That’s where the mixed feelings come in. The Wild can now truly view players like Joel Eriksson Ek (and, ideally, Kaprizov) as faces of the franchise. The Parise and Suter buyouts make you wonder about the Wild’s ability to truly compete with that core, though.

According to Cap Friendly, the combined Parise and Suter buyouts look like this for the Wild:

2021-22: $4,743,588 million ($10.3M savings)
2022-23: $12,743,588 million ($2.3M savings)
2023-24: $14,743,588 million ($0.3M savings)
2024-25: $14,743,588 million ($0.3M savings)
2025-26: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)
2026-27: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)
2027-28: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)
2028-29: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)

After this one year (2021-22) of savings, that’s an ugly carcass of dead money. Via Cap Friendly, the Wild have about $13M in cap space left this offseason; that’s enough to deal with even the more extravagant Kaprizov contract scenarios.

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

What about after 2021-22, though? And, really, what kind of ceiling will the Wild have, even in the short-term?

Yes, the Wild made progress last season. They still fell in Round One, though. It’s easy to imagine the Wild making it to the postseason again. How hard do you have to squint to picture a deep run, however?

As Tony Abbott discussed in an even deeper rebuild dive, the Parise and Suter buyouts force the Wild to thread a “nearly impossible needle” to compete.

Consider that dead money in Parise and Suter buyouts, then stack a huge Kaprizov contract on the Wild salary structure. Now imagine Fiala earning a raise (or the Wild spending to replace Fiala, if they balk at that price).

Rapidly, the Wild lose breathing room, and would need some breaks just to compete. It doesn’t seem like a great recipe for success. Instead, it feels like the Wild made a bunch of bold changes to stay on the same basic course. Are they doomed to remain a middle-of-the-pack team, much like they did in the earlier days of the Parise – Suter pacts?

Should Minnesota rebuild instead?

Look, this isn’t the first time PHT pitched the idea of the Wild embracing a rebuild.

It’s been a bumpy ride since then, and it’s worth noting that the team looks at a decent window of being reasonably competent. It just doesn’t seem like the wisest path, overall.

Rather than taking this achingly-familiar path toward the bubble, what about a rebuild? The structure of those Suter and Parise buyouts, and the Wild’s overall situation, point a flashing neon arrow to the idea. That doesn’t make it an easy sell, though.

  • Should they trade Kaprizov, likely receiving a huge return? It wouldn’t be the wisest PR move. He’s the player Wild fans have been desperate for. At the same time, it might be the cold-blooded, smarter hockey move — at least long-term.

In a rebuild setup, they could — ideally — optmize the development paths for Marco Rossi, Matthew Boldy, Jesper Wallstedt, and others. There might be less temptation to rush players to the NHL to cheaply plug holes due to cap constraints.

Just as importantly, the Wild could give Brackett & Co. more chances of finding gems simply by stacking up draft picks.

With the way those Suter and Parise buyouts are structured, the Wild could consider following the Coyotes’ lead, even if not to the same extremes. Maybe a cap-challenged team could bribe the Wild to take on one bad year for futures?

Few easy answers for the Wild

Realistically, it seems like the Wild might take some sort of mixed approach. Perhaps they can be reasonably competitive, and bring prospects along to the point of maintaining their upward climb?

It’s not impossible to pull off that tightrope walk. That said, it won’t be easy, either. Do you think Guerin and the Wild are agile enough?

Maybe it really does just come down to the Wild getting that Kaprizov contract right?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scroll Down For:

    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

    flyers trade
    Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.

    Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

    They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including a 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise’s short six-year history.

    It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

    Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche – who outscored the Panthers by nine.

    “I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

    Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

    “They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he’s given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

    “It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.