The Minnesota Wild have made their first significant signing of the offseason, agreeing to terms with restricted free agent Joel Eriksson Ek on an eight-year, $42 million contract.
This past season, Eriksson Ek broke out offensively with a career-high 19 goals and 30 points in 56 games. The Minnesota Wild have kept believing in this player since they drafted him 20th overall back in 2015, and it finally started to pay off for them this past season.
This contract will have a cap hit of $5.25 million per season through the 2028-29 season. The first thing that screams out with this deal is the length of the contract. It’s possible that was a tactic pitched by the Wild in an attempt to bring the average annual price down in the contract.
Eriksson Ek is still just 24 years old and won’t be turning 25 until halfway through the first season of his contract (2021-22). Meaning, this deal essentially is buying up all of the prime years of his career.
A $5.25 million cap hit also signifies what the Wild see in Eriksson Ek. For the majority of the next decade, they see him as this team’s second-line centre. He proved this season that he could be a strong offensive player while also continuing to prove that he’s one of the league’s best defensive centres as well.
Does Eriksson Ek have the offensive capabilities to be a number one centre on a Stanley Cup-winning team? It does seem unlikely, but it’s not impossible at just 24 years old. He seems to fit a second-line centre role on a championship team much more, and that seems to be how both parties see this playing out.
He’s one of the best two-way forwards in the entire NHL, and he is only going to get better. He had a positive relative Corsi for percentage this season, meaning the Wild had the puck on their stick more often than not with Eriksson Ek on the ice. Come playoff time; the Wild had 63 percent of the high-danger scoring chances when he was on the ice. He also scored a huge goal in overtime in Game 1 against the Golden Knights to secure the victory.
There are still areas of the game he does need to work on moving forward. For a player so regarded for his two-way play, he only won 47.1 percent of his faceoffs this season. However, there are too many positives in his play to not like this contract. He doesn’t rely on the power play to inflate his points like so many players do; of his 19 goals this season, every single one came at even strength.
Next Steps for the Wild
As each one gets signed, as slow as it may seem to fans, it makes general manager Bill Guerin’s job a little bit easier. He can now punch in Eriksson Ek’s cap hit and know the exact dollar figure attached to it; there’s no longer an estimate. It gives him a clearer picture of how much money is available for Fiala, Kaprizov, and other offseason moves he would like to do.
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It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Fiala and Kaprizov signed after the Seattle Expansion Draft, where once again, Guerin will get an even better sense of how much cap space he has to work with this offseason. Regardless, it’s nice to see that the Wild are being aggressive enough to get one key RFA signed well before any real doubt starts to trickle in people’s minds. Hopefully, Fiala and Kaprizov aren’t too far behind.
Overall, the Wild understood how valuable Eriksson Ek was to the team’s success this season. Patience done by both sides has resulted in the lengthiest contract the Wild have handed out since they signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year deals back in 2012.
Eriksson Ek is the type of two-way centre that most teams strive to find for their roster. He can play in all sorts of situations and can move up and down the lineup when needed. This deal looks to be a great value deal for the Wild, but it’s only the beginning of their work this offseason.
Sports writer covering the Minnesota Wild. Currently studying for a degree in sport media.