PHILADELPHIA – With the free-agent interview period underway, the Wild reached out to several agents Wednesday in order to inform them of the interest it may have in their pending free agents.
It’s not believed the Wild had any formal sit-downs yet, but General Manager Chuck Fletcher contacted at least the agents of defensemen Matt Niskanen and Willie Mitchell, goal scorer Thomas Vanek and center Paul Stastny, NHL sources confirmed. At a minimum, Fletcher is expected to meet with Niskanen’s agent, Neil Sheehy, and Vanek’s agent, Steve Bartlett, while they’re all in Philadelphia this week for the NHL draft.
Vanek, 30, the former Gophers star who lives in Stillwater, might have to consider a one- to three-year deal from the Wild if he wants to play at home in Minnesota.
That’s because it’s clear the Wild has significant interest in Niskanen, who lives in Tower, Minn. The 27-year-old right-shot blue-liner had a career year with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring 10 goals and finishing 13th among defensemen with 46 points. He led all defensemen with a plus-33 rating.
Niskanen would command a long-term deal likely north of $5 million annually and the Wild wants to be, as Fletcher has said, “mindful” handing out too many long-term contracts to veterans. The Wild must re-sign a number of its youngsters the next two summers and hopes to have several young forwards entering their prime in the next three or four years.
The question is whether Vanek would forgo potential long-term security elsewhere for the opportunity to stay in Minnesota. After all, he turned down a seven-year, $49 million contract offer from the Islanders last season and an even more lucrative offer from the Sabres.
Vanek has scored 277 goals in 663 career games. He ranks eighth in the NHL in goals scored since the start of 2005-06, and his 0.42 goals per game is tied for 11th.
The Wild also has interest in Stastny, but so do several teams. His agent, Matt Keator, was peppered with calls Wednesday and Stastny still hopes the Avalanche will increase its offer.
As for the Wild’s interest in Mitchell, it perhaps indicates that Minnesota expects rugged defenseman Clayton Stoner to leave via free agency. Like the others, the 29-year-old Stoner can become a free agent Tuesday.
Mitchell, 37, who spent parts of five seasons with the Wild before being traded to Dallas in 2006, just won his second Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in three years. He had a quality postseason and could replace Stoner’s physicality, but at Mitchell’s age and past injury issues (he has had concussions and missed the 2013 shortened season with a knee injury), the Wild likely will offer a one- or two-year deal.
During the free-agency interview periods, teams can talk in general parameters about a contract but can’t make any binding offers or promises.