Training camp is still seven weeks away, but Darcy Kuemper and Nino Niederreiter remain unsigned by the Wild as the NHL enters the dog days of the offseason.
The league typically goes on an unofficial hiatus in August, but the Wild still has two restricted free agents left to re-sign after Tuesday’s two-year, $2 million contract signed by winger Justin Fontaine.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday he has discussed a “bunch of different scenarios” on two- to four-year deals with Niederreiter’s agent, and the process is ongoing. Fletcher admitted though that he hasn’t talked much with Kuemper’s agent since he surprisingly elected not to file for arbitration July 5.
A path toward a possible arbitration date would have at least guaranteed a settlement on a one- or two-year contract and would have assured that Kuemper would be signed by the commencement of camp Sept. 18. Now, a holdout — or at least the threat of one — is a possibility.
“Darcy has great potential and played very well in stretches for us [last] season, but at the end of the day I think he’s played around 30 games in the NHL,” Fletcher said. “Usually this isn’t the time to fight for the big contract. We feel Darcy right now is trying to establish himself in the league, and once he does that it’ll be a little simpler to come up with terms.
“Our focus right now is on getting good deals with both [Kuemper and Niederreiter]. If we can get the right deal for the player and for the team, then it’ll give us a chance to be competitive. If we spend too much money on players before they’re ready to get the money they feel they deserve, it impacts a lot of other things down the road. If we can get a deal done tomorrow, great. If it takes even into training camp, it’s really not a big deal. We’ve got great depth, we got lots of players. We’re going to have to do what’s right financially to keep this thing going forward.”
Kuemper, 24, went 12-8-4 last season with a 2.43 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. He came to the Wild’s rescue when goalies Niklas Backstrom (abdominal injury) and Josh Harding (multiple sclerosis) were sidelined. Kuemper’s camp, which battled the Wild three years ago before Kuemper signed his entry-level contract, appears to feel it has leverage because the Wild again plans to rely on Backstrom and Harding to be healthy next season.
“I wouldn’t say there’s been enough conversations to say it’s going to be a battle,” Fletcher said.
Niederreiter scored 14 goals, 36 points and was plus-12 in 81 games last season. He also was the Game 7 first-round playoff hero against Colorado, scoring two goals, including the overtime winner, and assisting on Jared Spurgeon’s late tying goal in the third period.
Fontaine, 26, who tied for third on the Wild last season with 13 goals in 66 games, avoided a Friday arbitration hearing by agreeing to be paid $950,000 next season and $1.05 million in 2015-16. The former Minnesota Duluth national champion scored 21 points and was plus-6 in his rookie season.
“He’s just scratching the surface we think, of his potential here in the NHL,” Fletcher said.
In the meantime, Fletcher said he still is in the market for a defenseman and plans to talk later with some of next year’s potential restricted free agents (players like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin) about contract extensions.