Hurricanes Trade Underperforming Rask for Niederreiter

While the hockey media universe talks about the likelihood that the Carolina Hurricanes will move Micheal Ferland, the team made a trade Thursday that few, if any, saw coming. The Hurricanes traded center Victor Rask to the Minnesota Wild for winger Nino Niederreiter.

Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said in a statement announcing the trade, “We’re excited to welcome a proven goal-scorer and veteran presence in Nino Niederreiter. We wish Victor the best moving forward and thank him for his efforts on the ice and in the community during his time in Raleigh.”

If Rask had wanted to stay, it’s his fault that he’s gone.

Rask to Wild, Niederreiter to Hurricanes Details

Just like that, the ‘Canes were rid of a $4,000,000 per year cap hit from an underperformer. They added a $5.25 million per year cap hit, with hopefully a few more goals scored to justify the added expenditure. Niederreiter’s contract will run through the end of the 2021-22 season, as does Rask’s.

The trade was one-for-0ne, no picks or players to be named later or conditional this or that. Rask for Niederreiter straight-up. Rask is 25 and Niederreiter is 26. Rask was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and was in his fifth season with the Hurricanes.

Victor Rask Hurricanes
Victor Rask, Carolina Hurricanes, Mar. 1, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Niederreiter was drafted fifth overall by the New York Islanders in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and is in the middle of his eighth NHL season. He has played with two teams previously – the Islanders and the Wild. Rask has played his entire career with the Hurricanes.

Basically, the trade is fairly vanilla. A forward for a forward, neither of whom are elite players but are still relatively young and could be productive pieces to an overall team puzzle.

Did the Jingle Change Rask?

I have always liked Rask. In fact, he has been my favorite player since I started covering the Hurricanes in 2014. It was right about the time Rask went to the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City and turned a bunch of heads. He earned a spot on NHL ice through hard work and determination.

The Rask Desire

This was the Rask I spoke with and wrote about in Dec 2014: “Yeah, you know, I have a lot of fun. It’s my dream to play here, and you know, just trying to do my best every day, every shift and you know, trying to prove that I belong here, you know, just keep having fun, that’s the most important thing.” He was tenacious and more than anything, focused. It was easy to like and pull for this Rask.

The Rask Contract

In July 2016, Rask won the lottery. He signed a contract with the Hurricanes that proved he belonged. The Hurricanes signed him to a six-year $24 million deal.  Ron Francis, general manager at the time, said that Rask had gotten better every season and was a big part of the team’s future and present.

The Rask Slump

In reality, Rask became a big part of the team’s struggles. In Feb. 2017 I wrote that Rask was in the midst of a hard slump. His faceoff percentage was off and his scoring was down. He was struggling and pressing, too.

In Nov. 2017, the Rask slump was still in full force and then-head coach Bill Peters healthy-scratched him from a couple of games. In “Hurricanes’ Victor Rask Scratch Sparks Speculation,” I included a quote from Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News & Observer that perfectly described the Rask situation at that time:

What’s more disturbing than Rask’s lack of production is his apparent lack of interest. His first two seasons in the league, he displayed a wicked shot and incisive vision on the rush. He wasn’t the passive perimeter player he was at times last year and all of this year. (From “Hurricanes scratch Victor Rask, and what took so long?” – News & Observer – 11/19/17).

Victor Rask Carolina Hurricanes
Victor Rask (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

DeCock nailed the essence of everyone’s concerns about Rask. Had he lost interest? My favorite player, the one who I held out as an example of how desire and tenacity could help guys break through to the next level was turning out to be a complete flop.

Rask may have fallen into the trap that some athletes fall into wherein after getting the big contract, the fire dies a little. Getting some “jingle” in his pocket may have weighed Rask down with complacency, an attitude that says, “I got what I was striving for and now I can let up a bit.”

Redemption for Rask in 2018?

For Rask it was obvious 2018-19 was a pivotal season. But disaster struck right at the start of the season. He accidentally cut himself with a knife in the kitchen, and after surgery, was out for several months. Upon returning to the Hurricanes lineup, he only managed one goal and five assists.

Whatever happened to Rask’s game three seasons ago has been pervasive. He has not been able to return to any type of positive form, and the Hurricanes have finally moved on to what they hope will be a better situation with Niederreiter. Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon wished Rask well, but he’s likely relieved to be moving a player whose malaise no one can figure out.

Some folks are saying they can’t figure out why the Wild made this trade. The Hurricanes got rid of a disappointing, underperforming player, and in exchange, got a pretty good forward in Niederreiter.  Maybe Rask can figure things out as he is reunited with his former captain, Eric Staal. For Hurricanes fans, an easy player to like and cheer for is gone, but so are the frustrations with his inability to perform up to his potential.