Minnesota Wild General Manager Paul Fenton pulled the trigger on his first big trade this month.
The first-year GM sent 26-year-old forward Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for center Victor Rask. Niederreiter, who's beloved in the State of Hockey, had been with the Wild for the past six seasons.
He was awarded a five-year contract extension July 2017 after a breakout 2016-17 season in which he notched career highs in goals, assists and points.
But since suffering an injury right out the gate in the 2017-18 season, Niederreiter hasn't been the same player. With the Wild tight against the salary cap they need to make financial trimmings where they can, and Niederreiter was the first domino to fall.
The NHL salary cap this season is $79.5 million and the Wild's roster before the trade was right against it. As in, pennies on the dollar against it.
Moving Nino's cap hit of $5.25 million and taking on Victor Rask's $4 million cap hit – which is on the books through 2022 – gives Minnesota some cushion in free agency with a little over $2 million in cap space.
It's also worth noting that the league's salary cap will reportedly increase to $83 million next season, according to Sportsnet.
Nino is a left-shot, who oddly enough played mostly the right side because of the plethora of left-handed players on the Wild's roster.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau said "Nino wasn't very good" on the right wing. Therefore, he was deemed exposable.
Another reason: the Wild have next to no depth organizationally at the center position. Both Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal are on the wrong-side of their 30s and no prospects are ready to make that kind of jump, whereas Rask, who's only 25, has played center his whole career.
Change of scenery
Rask and Niederreiter were basically at the same crossroads. Both showed flashes of dominance at a young age, were rewarded big contracts but have yet to capture that same spark they once had.
In his first four seasons, Rask secured double-digit goal totals and flirted with 50-point seasons. Not bad for somebody who was in his early 20s
Just like Niederreiter, things turned south last season. He produced just 31 points in 71 games, both career lows albeit on a pretty dismal Hurricanes team.
Fast forward to a month before this season started and Rask got injured in the kitchen and need surgery. Seriously. This isn't a Kevin Love "knuckle push-ups" excuse, he actually got hurt in the kitchen.
The kitchen injury kept him out of the lineup until November and he was demoted to the fourth line.
The hope is, if surrounded by better players, Rask will be able to capture the same success he had just a couple of season ago.
Pundits believe the Hurricanes won this trade but it's far too early to tell. This Wild team hasn’t shown any reason they can make a deep playoff run.
Would you rather bow out to a superior team for another early playoff exit or solidify your draft lottery status, clear up some cap space for free agency and potentially be competitive as soon as next season? The latter seems like a better scenario.