Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Training Camp starts September 18—Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper are still unsigned. Is this something to be worried about?

The Labor Day weekend has passed, kids are back in school. That means one thing—we’re getting closer to hockey season! Yes, you read that right, I said hockey season.

With training camp fast approaching for the Minnesota Wild (and the rest of the NHL), is it an issue that Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper are still unsigned at this point? It depends on who you ask. I think it’s more of an issue that Nino Niederreiter hasn’t inked a new deal rather than Darcy Kuemper not having signed yet.

This is why I say Nino not being signed is a bigger deal. Nino is considered to be a “building block” for the Wild. He had a breakthrough year in his young career with the Wild this past season, while scoring 14 goals, along with dishing out 22 assists during the regular season (and scoring 3 goals—including the series winner against the Avalanche in round one of the play-offs—along with 3 assists during 13 play-off games). He’s a big body on the ice. Nino showed that, having been paired with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle in the play-offs. Nino made this statement in an interview shortly after the play-offs ended:

It's exciting…I ended up playing with Chuck and Mikko and gave me, kind of a feeling that that's where I want to be next year. Definitely, that's my goal and that's what I'm looking for. I will do everything it takes to be in that spot next year, and I feel that's great motivation to push myself this summer." (Niederreiter becomes building block in Minnesota, Brian Hall, fsnorth.com, 6/3/2014)

I mentioned that he had a breakthrough year last season. He didn’t have much opportunity to play in the NHL when he was with the Islanders. He spent all of the 2013 season in the minors and the Islanders didn’t call him up at all. When he was traded to the Wild before last season for Cal Clutterbuck and a draft pick, Nino was given a fresh start in the NHL and he was able to build up his confidence, along with working his way into a being a constant in the Wild’s line up. Yes, there’s been times where he’s been inconsistent. He’s still growing as a player and he is aware of the areas he needs to improve on.

(photo courtesy of rantsports.com)

It’s a very interesting situation with Nino having not signed a new deal yet—and it could set up an interesting scenario. At the end of the 2014-2015 season, Erik Haula, Mikael Grandlund, and Charlie Coyle all become restricted free agents. Michael Russo of the Star Tribune stated in his last article that “(Wild GM Chuck) Fletcher feels he has to get the Niederreiter deal right or it’ll affect the others.” (Startribune.com 9/2/2014)

The Wild already have quite the interesting situation with the goaltending. They had quite the goalie carousel last year, having used five goalies (Josh Harding, Niklas Backstrom, Kuemper, John Curry, and Ilya Bryzgolav). Harding and Backstrom are both signed (in my previous post, there is the question on whether or not Backstrom has a future with the Wild). John Curry has signed a new one year, two-way deal. The Wild also have Johan Gustafsson in their system. Would it be nice if Kuemper signed a new deal? Yes, because if the Wild were to move Niklas Backstrom, they could go with the tandem of Harding and Kuemper (providing Harding stays healthy this upcoming season and doesn’t miss most of the season). There have been times where Kuemper has been inconsistent, but the same thing can be said about him as I stated about Nino, Kuemper’s young and there are areas of his game that he can definitely improve on.

I think that both Kuemper and Nino will eventually sign new deals. It will probably happen after the start of training camp. The Wild aren’t the only team out there who have restricted free agents that haven’t signed new deals yet going into the start of training camp. Nino’s deal is probably going to be watched closely, due to the impact it could have on other Wild players next summer.

On a totally unrelated note: the Minnesota Wild will be having their first Breakway 10k/5k/1 mile fun run on September 20, benefiting the Minnesota Wild Foundation. I will be running in the 5k, along with some friends. Hopefully I will have some pictures to post in a future blog.

Important Dates for the Wild:

September 18: Players are due to report to training camp
September 19: First on ice practice
September 20: Single game tickets go on sale, first Minnesota Wild Breakaway 10k/5k/1 mile fun run
October 9: Home and season opener against the Colorado Avalanche. 

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