Two big items are on the agenda in this edition of Minnesota Wild News & Rumors. The biggest one was the talk of the offseason for the team, and that is the re-signing of the star forward Kirill Kaprizov. And of course, who can forget about training camp? The rosters have been released; the players are in town; the teams are ready to start the season.
Kaprizov Re-Signs on Massive Deal
There have been tons of narratives following the Russian forward since he came to America and got his first taste of NHL hockey. He’s relatively old for someone who was considered a rookie. Many people believed it was unfair that he had the advantage of playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and coming over at an older age than other rookies who have contended for the Calder Trophy. To the surprise of no one, he won the award after scoring 51 points in 55 games with 27 goals to his name. In an 82-game season, that’s about 76 points and 40 goals. Honestly, it’s ridiculous how good he was. However, we’ve seen many players burn out after their one season of glory, and although I don’t think that that will happen in his case, it is something to be thinking about heading into 2021-22
Not only were his box score numbers good, but his analytics were great as well. Per Evolving-Hockey, he was 59th overall in goals above replacement (GAR) and 41st among forwards, but that’s not where he excelled. He did well in the expected goals above replacement (xGAR) category. He was fourth overall behind the likes of Auston Matthews (29), Connor McDavid (25.9), and Mikko Rantanen (20.3) with 19.5. He had a dominant season by essentially every standard, and he was the team’s best player.
Michael Russo of The Athletic first reported the contract itself, and the Wild Twitter account had some fun with Russian nesting dolls in Kaprizov’s locker.
BREAKING: After six months of sometimes contentious contract talks, Kirill Kaprizov’s deal is finally done: #mnwild ink Calder Trophy winner to five-year, $45 million deal— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) September 21, 2021
At five years for a $9 million average annual value (AAV), there is some risk at the moment. Kaprizov, at this time, has only played 55 games in his NHL career, which makes him the highest-paid sophomore player ever. Although, there’s a kicker. The NHL realigned the divisions due to COVID-19, and the only play allowed was interdivisional. What does that mean? It means that he only played against seven other teams instead of 31. Do I think that his numbers will change drastically because of that fact? No. However, it’s essential to consider during contract negotiations. Someone who has less experience against fewer teams should be paid less than someone who has more experience and the same type of production.
On the flip side, Kaprizov and his camp are incredibly smart for understanding that they have leverage. He’s the best player the Wild have arguably ever had, and even if you don’t want to go that far, he has that potential. They can’t lose him for this crucial upcoming season, and they understood that. General manager Bill Guerin certainly didn’t give in, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he believed the money was a bit high relative to his production value right now. That could very well change in the next two or three seasons, but there’s a reason we’ve never seen that kind of cash dealt out to sophomore players.
It’s one of the biggest signings in Wild history, so the reaction from everyone involved is very justified. In my most recent Wild News & Rumors column, I looked at a tweet from Russo that talked about Kaprizov’s training camp presence even if he signs as soon as possible. To give a summary, he won’t be on time due to the process of obtaining a work visa and mandatory seven-day quarantining for COVID-19. That is why the team needed to get him signed earlier in the offseason, but seeing how they couldn’t do that, I think everyone is happy the drama is over.
Wild’s Training Camp Begins
Speaking of training camp, it’s happening. It has finally arrived. A short summer that felt exceptionally long is coming to a close, and teams have finalized their schedules before preseason games begin to ramp up. First is media day on Wednesday the 22nd, and then all of the on-ice shenanigans start on Thursday, Sept. 23.
There are some storylines to look out for. One is who will be claiming the opening spots in the Wild lineup? Will Marco Rossi show that he is back to 100% after the COVD-19 scare? Will Matthew Boldy continue his dominance in the prospect showcase and the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Iowa Wild? Then, there come the questions about players on the everyday roster already. The biggest one is arguably about Kevin Fiala. He scored 40 points in 50 games in 2020-21, but there were times that he looked like a shell of himself throughout the season. The one-year deal worth $5.1 million not only shaves a year off of his restricted free agent eligibility but also works as a “prove it” deal to show that he deserves more money over a longer term.
There’s also Joel Eriksson Ek in the mix. He had a fantastic season in 2020-21 and was notably a favorite for the Selke Trophy. He signed a lucrative deal worth $42 million in total for eight years ($5.25 million AAV). If he can keep up that kind of performance, not only will the contract look like a steal, but he will provide some much-needed stability for a lineup that is pretty tumultuous at the moment.
There are tons of other questions to be answered, and the storylines will develop as the week moves on, but Wild hockey is officially back. It’s a nice and undoubtedly welcome change of pace.
Prospect Tournament Standouts
With training camp starting, that means that young players will also get their chance at cracking the NHL lineup. Two players that I just touched on–Rossi and Boldy–aren’t locks yet, but from how both management and the coaching staff are talking, they look to have the best shots at making it. It’s for a good reason too. Their performances at the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase appeared to separate them from the pack.
They played on the same line, and boy, did they create some amazing stuff. This tying goal in the first of the two matchups with the Chicago Blackhawks was seriously incredible. Both Rossi and Boldy apply extreme pressure to the puck up high, and they force it out to the middle, which is where they take advantage. I’ll let the video and the crowd do the rest of the explaining.
They were the two best players on either team during the two competitions, but don’t sleep on Adam Beckman and Cale Addison, who also looked great, albeit not as dominant. There are many young and skilled players in the pros and the minors if you’re a Wild fan or casual follower.
The season is getting underway, which means the news will be flying left, right, down, and up. It’s going to be an enjoyable few weeks as teams get back into the groove of things, and a lot of the day-to-day operations return to (somewhat) normal. Gentlemen, start your engines!
Jeff is a consistent source for Red Wings content at The Hockey Writers. He was formerly a member of the Predators writing team, and he enjoys watching all sorts of hockey, from juniors to the pros. Jeff enjoys playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville as well. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here or check out his contributions on his Substack, Last Word on Hockey, On the Forecheck, Broad Street Hockey, Hockey Wilderness, and Puck Empire. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions, you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.