Erik Haula is Vegas-bound, as well as a prized Wild prospect.
Haula, a speedy former University of Minnesota center, will not only become the one Wild player lost to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights during tonight’s NHL Awards Show and expansion announcement, he’ll become the first – or one of the first – free-agent signings in Golden Knights history, multiple NHL sources say.
Haula, who would have become a restricted free agent July 1, agreed to a multi-year deal with the Golden Knights during their exclusive free-agency window that ended at 7 a.m. Pacific time this morning. That was also the deadline for Vegas to submit its initial 30-player roster to the NHL and sign and submit unprotected free agents.
In exchange for the Golden Knights choosing Haula in expansion and steering clear of, among others, defensemen Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella and center Eric Staal, the Wild has agreed to trade prospect Alex Tuch, sources say.
The Haula deal is for three years with an average annual value around $2.75 million. The Tuch trade will be announced after the Haula pick, with the Wild getting a conditional third round pick.
Tonight during the awards show that runs 7-9 p.m. CT, the expansion choices will be announced in four clusters of teams based on the reverse order of standings last season (Colorado to Washington). That means the Haula pick and subsequent trade will be announced late in the show.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie first reported the possibility of Haula going to Vegas yesterday.
Nobody from the Wild will confirm any of this, but sources say GM Chuck Fletcher first began setting the stage for Haula-to-Vegas during a meeting with Haula’s agent, Jay Grossman, at the NHL combine in Buffalo. The Wild knew it had expansion protection issues and didn’t want to lose a defenseman to Vegas, particularly because there’s a decent chance the Wild may trade one of its expensive defensemen – Jonas Brodin or Marco Scandella? – in the coming days. The trade freeze with the 29 other teams ends Thursday morning. The entry draft is Friday and Saturday in Chicago, and Fletcher does have a history of making trades during draft weekend.
The price for Vegas to sign Haula now, not wait until July 1 and thus making him the Wild’s lost player to expansion was bound to be one of the Wild’s prospect forwards. Names discussed included Tuch, Jordan Greenway and Kirill Kaprizov. The Wild had to trump any potential offers other teams were presenting Vegas to select Dumba or Scandella and subsequently flip them there.
Tuch, 21, a right wing power forward drafted 18th overall three years ago out of Boston College, scored 18 goals and 37 points in 57 games for Iowa during his first pro season last year and skated in six games for the Wild (no points).
Haula, 26, despite scoring a career-high 15 goals last season, could probably use a fresh start. At times last season, he was designated a fourth-line role and only averaged 13 minutes, 48 seconds a game.
Haula admitted his frustration at times and certainly was angry after the Wild was eliminated in five games to St. Louis, saying at the time, “What is this, five years in a row? I’m sick of it. We’re all sick of it.”
Haula, born in Pori, Finland, is basically a Finnesotan. He went to prep school at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, was drafted by his “hometown” team in the seventh round in 2009 (Fletcher’s first draft), played for the Gophers three years (leading them in scoring twice) and scored 42 goals and 89 points in 266 career games for the Wild.
Haula is vacationing in Italy and has not yet responded to a text. Grossman has not responded to comment.
In texts and emails yesterday, Fletcher and McPhee wouldn’t comment on any discussions they have had. McPhee quipped, “We have to save all the surprises for the show.”
It’ll be interesting what else Fletcher has cooking.
In the past week, the Wild has traded center Tyler Graovac and effectively let Haula, another center, go.
I'm no genius, but I'd think the Wild needs a center.
Staal and Mikko Koivu are the Wild’s other two centers. Does the Wild plan to move Charlie Coyle back to center permanently? Youngsters Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin will obviously get every chance to make next year’s team.
But it’s very clear the Wild has a hole there now, so one can assume it plans to sign a free-agent center or trade for one.
What’s more, the Wild only has about $13 million of cap space right now with only 14 NHL regulars under contract (including Alex Stalock, although the Wild plans to acquire a goalie to compete with him for the backup job). That’s not a lot of room to re-sign Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and others and conduct other business in the coming days.
So, the Wild likely plans to free up some more space in the coming days by trading a defenseman, as I said maybe Brodin or Scandella (Tampa Bay?), unless perhaps Fletcher thinks he can find some sort of trading partner for Jason Pominville and his $5.6 million sum.
But I do think next on the agenda is trading a D.
A reminder: NHL schedule is released tomorrow at 2, home openers today. The Wild opens with a bit of a road trip, so you'll learn the Wild's first game today, too. It'll be an important one to that market. Maybe I'll hit a casino there, but it's not where you're thinking.