Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin was not available for comment Tuesday as the Wild’s fan base fretted over the team’s ability to sign winger Kirill Kaprizov to a contract that would at least get him into camp when it begins next month.
Kaprizov, the Calder Trophy winner as the NHL’s top rookie last season, is a 10.2 restricted free agent, which means he can negotiate only with the Wild. His other option would be to go back to Russia, where he has been a star for three seasons and apparently has a one-year deal with his former club waiting.
Kaprizov’s agent, Paul Theofanous, could not be reached on Tuesday but it appears Kaprizov’s camp is trying to tighten the screws on negotiations by leaking — planting? — news of an alleged contract agreement with CSKA Moscow of the Russian KHL League, where Kaprizov played for three seasons before joining the Wild in 2020.
On Sunday night, Frank Seravalli of the Daily Faceoff tweeted that Kaprizov has a tentative, one-year deal for “eight figures” — i.e. $10 million — waiting for him with CSKA Moscow should he not sign with Minnesota. Kaprizov scored 78 goals and 153 points in 160 games and won two league championships with the club from 2017-19.
The KHL played under a salary cap of about $12 million last season, so one can take that $10 million figure with a grain of salt. At the same time, it wouldn’t be crazy to believe a KHL club could figure out a way to make it work.
In his first NHL season, Kaprizov scored 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games, most ever for a Wild rookie. With Russia, he won two KHL titles and a World Championship. The Wild drafted him late in the 2015 entry draft and waited five years for him to wear a Minnesota sweater.
Thefanous, Kaprizov’s agent, helped winger Artemi Panarin earn a seven-year, $81.5 million deal, with an $11.6 million cap hit, with the New York Rangers in 2019. Another goaltender client, Sergei Bobrovsky, has a seven-year, $70 million contract with Florida.
Seravalli reported that the “initial hangup” was that the Wild was offering a seven- or eight-year deal, while Kaprizov, 24, wants a shorter deal so he can become an unrestricted free agent sooner.
Now, Seravalli reported, “The Wild appear ready and willing to talk a medium-term length deal.”
The Wild are in this situation because they signed him to a two-year, two-way entry contract in July 2020, just before the COVID season rebooted, and burned Kaprizov’s first year. According to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, recently extended through the 2025-26 season, a player can become an unrestricted free agent only if he has either seven years of accrued NHL experience or turned 27 by June 30 of the previous summer.
Guerin has made it clear he wants to build his offense around Kaprizov and left winger Kevin Fiala, another restricted free agent. After the free agency market opened Aug. 1, Guerin told reporters “You always want to be done, but done doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t mean we’re in the best spot. It means you can go to your beach house.”
Guerin started his offseason by buying out the contracts of left winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, who have since signed deals elsewhere but are still owed $10 million apiece from the Wild with identical, and prohibitive, cap hits of $6.3 million, $7.4 million and $7.4 million from 2022-23 to 2024-25.
That, of course, makes throwing money at Kaprizov more difficult for Guerin. More difficult would be not wrapping up the best player to come through St. Paul since Marian Gaborik was the Wild’s first draft pick in 2000.
While it’s impossible to get a true grip on the situation without word from Guerin or Theofanous, Kaprizov ultimately would make more money and compete with the world’s best players in the NHL. The Wild seem to have more leverage here. Still, news that CSKA Moscow has a deal waiting for Kaprizov starting Sept. 1, even if it’s a feint, indicates his camp is willing to play hardball.