Oct 30: The Jets have officially announced the contract, signing Niku to a two-year deal with, as reported, a $725K cap hit.
Oct 29: The Winnipeg Jets have come to terms on a new contract with restricted free agent Sami Niku. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reports that the young defenseman has signed a two-year, two-way contract extension. The deal carries an AAV of $725K, with the 2020-21 minimum $700K in year one and the 2021-22 minimum $750K in year two.
Niku, 24, is exiting his entry-level contract still unsure of his NHL ability and long-term fit in Winnipeg. The 2015 seventh-round pick was a fast-rising prospect who was a force at the pro level in Finland’s Liiga at a young age and looked like he might be ready to take on the NHL. His AHL numbers, especially on offense, continue to show a player with great skill and mobility. The NHL has been an entirely different case though. Niku has struggled to stick with the Jets, playing in just 48 games over three seasons. In that time, he has put up modest offensive totals, but has struggled in other aspects of the game. He contributes little defensively, is prone to turnovers, and has poor possession numbers. The team does not trust him with significant ice time, shelters him from difficult match-ups, and tries to prevent exposure in the defensive end. Yet, his potential for offense continues to entice and Niku’s 2019-20 numbers offered a slight glimmer of hope that his defense may be improving.
Yet, Niku has also served as a fixture on the rumor mill when it comes to potential Winnipeg trades. Signing an affordable, multi-year deal won’t change that, as potential suitors who believe in his upside will be happy to take a two-year gamble. The Jets appear likely to make a trade before next season too. Niku’s signing puts the team over the salary cap based on a projected 23-man roster, including Niku as the eighth defenseman. Even if the club is able to put Bryan Little and his $5.29MM cap hit on Long-Term Injured Reserve, the team still needs to re-sign RFA forward Jack Roslovic. With little flexibility and a blue line that could still use another bona fide top-four member, the Jets could still be dealing and Niku could still wind up elsewhere.