There’s a long list of things to do this offseason for Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin, but more important than anything is getting Kirill Kaprizov signed. The odds-on favorite for the Calder Trophy had an outstanding first season in the NHL, breathing life back into a franchise that was desperate for excitement. Because he took so long to come to North America after being drafted in 2015 and burned the first year of his entry-level contract in 2019-20 without actually playing, the 24-year-old forward is a restricted free agent this summer.
It has already been reported that the Wild have offered Kaprizov an eight-year contract, trying to lock him up for as long as possible right now. Michael Russo of The Athletic wrote a week ago that he didn’t think that would actually be signed, given the hesitation from the player to commit that much of his playing career to the organization. Russo explained that Kaprizov’s camp wants a “clear plan to upgrade the middle of the ice” in Minnesota and noted that it is a “big risk” if the team doesn’t significantly upgrade at the center position.
Now, Kevin Weekes of the NHL Network tweets that talks between the two sides have cooled. In fact, according to Weekes Kaprizov is currently in Moscow and that CSKA of the KHL is still trying to sign him. Of course, just traveling back to Russia doesn’t necessarily mean anything in regards to contract negotiations (in fact, Russo tweets that Kaprizov is there to attend a friend’s wedding and his agent informed the Wild of it ahead of time).
One thing to keep in mind with Kaprizov though is that now that he has played in North America, the Wild do not indefinitely hold his rights. When they selected him in 2015, they could wait as long as it took for him to try his hand at the NHL. The lack of a transfer agreement between the NHL and KHL meant that Kaprizov’s draft rights would never expire; if he wanted to play in the NHL, it had to be with Minnesota unless they traded him. But now that he has played out his entry-level contract and reached restricted free agency, that’s no longer the case. He would become an unrestricted free agent in three years when he turns 27, whether he plays in North America or not.
That makes this summer an absolutely crucial time for the Wild if they want to retain the services of the dynamic forward. Kaprizov scored 51 points in 55 games this season, 11 more than the team’s second-place scorer Kevin Fiala. Joel Eriksson Ek was the team’s highest-scoring center with just 30 points, though 19 of those were goals. The team does have an elite center prospect in Marco Rossi coming up the pipe, but after he missed the entire season with COVID-19 health complications, there’s no telling exactly how long it will take for him to break into the NHL. Matthew Boldy is also in the system but failed to make an NHL appearance after signing his entry-level deal in April.
There’s absolutely nothing more important for Guerin this offseason than keeping Kaprizov in the organization, and Wild fans shouldn’t panic just yet. The threat of a return to the KHL has been used many times in the past during contract negotiations but is rarely actually followed through on. It’s not clear which side this specific case will come down on, but it’s certainly a situation to keep an eye on this offseason.