In yesterday’s iteration of Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” column, Friedman reported the first big news of Minnesota’s offseason. Trade speculation surrounding Nino Niederreiter is heating up throughout the league.
This is slightly surprising. Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher gave the impression at his end-of-season press conference that he wasn’t prepared to make huge changes to his team. This would indicate otherwise.
Granted, Fletcher wouldn’t tell Friedman anything other than he was “listening”. But with a reporter as plugged-in as Friedman, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I’d be willing to bet that Niederreiter is indeed available.
Minnesota is dealing with two pretty significant constraints this offseason. The first is that they’re pretty close to the salary cap. The Wild are projected to have just $11 million to sign 8 players, and that includes RFAs in Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund, who are due big raises. That’s a tough situation to manage.
Then there’s expansion. Next month’s expansion draft will see the Vegas Golden Knights pick a player off each NHL team. Minnesota has a tremendous amount of depth at forward and defense, which means Vegas could claim a good forward for themselves.
Or, perhaps even worse, take one to trade to one of the Wild’s competitors.
Minnesota could get ahead of this by making a trade now, rather than lose a very good player for nothing. And it makes sense they’d look at trading a winger. The Wild not only have very good depth at wing in the NHL, but most of their best prospects are along the wing. They ought to be able to backfill.
But trading Niederreiter? That’s a tough pill to swallow for the State of Hockey.
Despite getting relatively little ice time, Niederreiter has shone in the NHL as a goal-scorer and defensive force. This season saw him score a career-high 25 times while playing just 15 minutes per night. It’s reasonable to think that he could reach 30 were he given 18-20 minutes per night.
And if you can score 30 goals while single-handedly making most any line elite defensively, that’s really good.
Definitely not the kind of player you should be eager to move. Niederreiter is extremely valuable, and Fletcher must be careful if he decides to part with the Swiss winger.
Basically, there’s just 2 scenarios where I would say it’s justified to move him.
- You’re getting an elite/potential-star talent at a position of need. Pretty self-explanatory. If the Wild wants a big, mobile defenseman, or a centerman to eventually replace Mikko Koivu or Eric Staal, moving Niederreiter may be the only way to do so.
- You’re getting a elite/potential-star talent that makes expansion easier. There exists a certain class of player who is exempt from expansion. Vegas can not pick players who have 2 or fewer years of pro hockey experience. So if Minnesota trades Niederreiter for even a comparable player at his position, it could benefit the Wild just by freeing a spot to protect another player from the Kannnnn-niggits.
With those two parameters in mind, I put on my Fake GM hat and tried to look around the league for situations where it might make sense to trade Niederreiter. Disclaimer: I am just a blogger who is dumb and has no access to anything anyone is thinking, ever. I freely acknowledge these ideas are probably bad for one reason or another.
So **** it. Here we go.
Dougie Hamilton, Calgary Flames
Hamilton is a 24-year-old, 6’6” defenseman who scores points, shoots a ton, and is locked in long-term. Why would Calgary ever part with him?
Beats me. But his name has circulated in trade rumors as recently as this November. Those have cooled down after a 50-point season, but if the Flames brass decides to sell-high this offseason, they could benefit from adding Niederreiter.
As great as Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are at scoring, the duo aren’t much of possession-drivers for the Flames. This isn’t a problem, per se. They’re able to get by on their offensive skills alone, but it means that their line is less effective than the one led by Mikael Backlund.
Putting Niederreiter alongside Monahan and Gaudreau would likely change that. Over the last two years, the Wild allowed 5 fewer shots and 11 fewer shot attempts per hour at 5-on-5. If Nino can continue that in Calgary, that line would give the Flames two elite lines to throw at opponents.
As for Minnesota, it solves their logjam at forward, and makes their situation at defense strangely clearer. They’d have to protect Ryan Suter, and Hamilton and Jared Spurgeon would be better than the rest of their defensemen. Minnesota would still lose a defenseman, but having Hamilton would ease that pain.
And if the Flames are concerned about losing a right-shot defenseman, perhaps Matt Dumba could also get involved. It’d be a bananas trade, but Niederreiter and Dumba for Hamilton and Sam Bennett could maybe work. Each team would get an offensive possession-driver to go with a wild card with untapped potential.
2017’s 3rd-overall pick, Dallas Stars
The Stars may just want to keep this pick, and that’d be understandable. After all, you only get so many cracks at a Top-3 pick.
But on the other hand, this is said to be a fairly weak draft, and the Stars are in win-now mode. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg are still in their primes. Jason Spezza isn’t getting younger. Neither is new goalie Ben Bishop, who will be 31 in November.
And if they determine that 3rd-overall selection can’t help them this year, then maybe they’d like someone who can.
Dallas’ season was ruined in part because they didn’t have the depth to overcome injuries to several of their wingers. Adding the durable Niederreiter- who missed just 3 games these past 4 seasons- would be a great start towards solving that.
In addition, Niederreiter would also do wonders for Dallas’ shot suppression- something new coach Ken Hitchcock will no doubt prioritize. Adding a winger of Niederreiter’s caliber might also free Hitchcock to split up Benn and Seguin without either missing a beat.
For Minnesota, a trade like this not only replaces an RFA headache with a Vegas-proof asset, it also helps them strengthen their farm system that’s been weakened by years of trade-deadline moves. Perhaps they could get a center like Gabriel Vilardi or Casey Middlestadt. Or maybe they’d draft Miro Heiskanen to add a bona-fide defenseman prospect to their system. Either would be great.
There could be more moving parts to this. Dallas would probably want to unload Antti Niemi in a deal like this, while Minnesota might want something in return for solving Dallas’ goalie headache. But there could be a deal here that helps both squads.
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
Nylander is a super-skilled forward who notched a 61-point season in his age-20 year. As with Hamilton, you’d be justified in wondering “Why would anyone trade this guy?”
And while Leafs coach Mike Babcock put Nylander on the fourth-line earlier in the year, things seemed to still work out OK for Nylander. He got a good amount of ice time in the playoffs, and again, he still had 61 points.
Even with Nylander in Babcock’s doghouse earlier this season, it’d still be difficult to pry Nylander out of Toronto’s hands. But when you look at Toronto’s roster, they have Matthews, who’s a very good two-way center. As is Nazem Kadri. But they don’t really have much in the way of wingers that bring defense to the table.
Niederreiter could be intriguing for that dimension, combined with his size (the Leafs are small along the wing) and his scoring ability. Niederreiter could be a fantastic addition to Toronto.
Still, I would definitely accept that Nylander is a more valuable asset than Niederreiter.
Would adding Matt Dumba to the equation make this deal work? Toronto is fairly short on right-shot defensemen, and potentially bringing in a 23-year-old defensemen coming off a 34-point season would have to intrigue the Leafs front office.
That feels like quite a bit to give up. But Nylander is tracking to be the star-caliber forward Minnesota has been dying for. If that’s enough to get a deal done, you gotta take that swing.
Plus, Minnesota’s expansion scenario would be entirely clear. Nylander isn’t eligible to be taken in the expansion draft, so the Wild would be able to keep every relevant forward on their roster, as well as each of their Top-4 defenseman.
Again, I’m a dumb homer blogger, and that means these trade scenarios are probably extremely bad and stupidly optimistic. But the truth is, there’s not many ways I can see a Nino Niederreiter trade working out well for Minnesota. If Niederreiter isn’t Minnesota’s best player, he’s certainly in their Top-3, and it’s hard to trade one of your best players and still come out on top.
I’m not 100% opposed to seeing the Wild trade Niederreiter. But that trade has to have a purpose beyond re-shuffling the roster and praying something clicks. It has to actually make the team better, to address real, actual needs. And if Fletcher can’t deliver that to the State of Hockey, then he’s much better off standing pat with his elite two-way winger.