The Minnesota Wild announced on Sept. 17 that they have signed free agent Jujhar Khaira to a two-way contract worth a league minimum of $775,000 if he is on the NHL roster. Khaira has 336 NHL games under his belt but likely won’t start the season on the roster. Instead, he could be a key depth piece on a league-minimum deal. It’s no secret that the Wild are tight against the salary cap ceiling this season, with Calen Addison still needing a contract, but this latest acquisition might spell trouble for any rookies playing with the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliated Iowa Wild hoping for a call-up.
Khaira Provides Center Depth
The 29-year-old from British Columbia was a third-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers back in 2012. If on the Wild’s roster he would become the tallest player at 6-foot-4 but is slightly leaner than the big-bodied Marcus Foligno or Pat Maroon, two players he would likely be centering for if (or when) he is needed.
Khaira brings 336 games of NHL experience over the last nine seasons, with 33 goals and 80 points split between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks. He plays a big, heavy game as a prototypical power forward that could easily slide into the Wild’s bottom six if there is an injury. He fills the need for a big-bodied center that the Wild, just don’t have currently available to them past Joel Eriksson Ek, as every other center on their roster is 6-foot or smaller. Don’t be surprised to see Khaira if the Wild’s general manager Bill Guerin wants a little bit more physicality in their lineup.
Zero Impact on Addison’s Contract
Calen Addison is getting dangerously close to missing training camp as he has yet to settle on a new deal with the Wild. The rookie was dynamite on the first power-play unit last season but had a lot of work to do this off-season to get his defensive capabilities up to where the coaches wanted them to be. His restricted free agent (RFA) status means the Wild can really grind him on what his next contract looks like, but the reality is the Wild have a maximum of $868,000 that they can offer him without removing the ability for them to carry a 13th forward.
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Khaira’s contract does not affect Addison because it is a two-way deal, meaning Khaira could spend the entire season with the Iowa Wild in the AHL and have zero impact on the Wild’s salary cap. Where Khaira’s contract gets interesting, is that he is less expensive to call up than any of the Wild’s rookies like Sammy Walker or Adam Beckman.
Limitations on Rookie Call-Ups
Ignoring injuries, which would mess everything up, the Wild currently have a roster of 20 players, including Marco Rossi and Brock Faber. Those 20 players leave $1.64 million for them to spend. Even if Addison gets a paltry $800,000, that does not leave enough cap space to call up Sammy Walker, who makes $855,000, or Adam Beckman, who makes $894,176. It does, however, leave enough space for a league minimum of $775,000.
For the first part of the season, the Wild are likely going to be completely reliant on calling up veteran players on league-minimum deals. As such, they went out and bolstered that group with Khaira. Other forwards that are options include Vinni Lettieri, Nic Petan, Nick Swaney, and Steven Fogarty. On the back end, they have Dakota Mermis ready to step in defensively and Zane MacIntyre or Hunter Jones in the net.
While it might be disappointing to not see the younger talent get early opportunities to play in the big leagues, all hope is not lost for the entire season. The salary cap is accumulated daily, so the Wild will try to manage their cap as effectively as they did last season by constantly calling players up and sending them back down to gain just a little extra space. That extra space can build up over the course of weeks and months and provide extra room for those young players to be called up. Of course, injury problems would derail that entire plan.
Khaira a Solid Depth Move
The final consensus here is that there is no downside to signing Khaira, specifically because his deal is two-way. The best case for the Wild is there is a need for a big center, and he can step into the lineup and be a serviceable bottom-six guy. The worst case is he spends the season in Iowa as a veteran presence on what is a rather young team. If nothing else, fans should be getting used to strange signings by Bill Guerin becoming genius moves months later, the man knows what he is doing.