The Minnesota Wild didn’t expect to hand out such a massive payday to Kirill Kaprizov on a medium-length deal. While Kaprizov’s star power is evident, the 24-year-old winger only played 55 games in a shortened season against seven different teams, four of which were among the league’s worst: the Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks.
The Wild compromised to keep their face of the franchise here, even if Kaprizov was unlikely to return to Russia.
This upcoming season likely won’t change his production, but it’s still an unprecedented contract because of such a small body of work.
According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, Bill Guerin never imagined handing Kaprizov a mid-range contract with a $9 million average annual value (AAV). Kaprizov will enter next season with the fewest number of games played for a player with his AAV.
While the deal carries little risk, the Wild are still paying him like a top winger in the league despite other players having a better resumé and longer term on their deals.
This is the new reality in the league, though. Players are starting to command mid-range deals to maximize career earnings.
“That was the hard thing because there were not a lot of comps,” Guerin said. “We could kind of see where we thought he would fit if he had been here for longer, but some guys had 100 games before they got their big deal. Most guys had 250 to 300 or 320, something like that before they got paid like this. So we tried to just kind of forecast on what we think he’s going to be.”
The stalemate finally ended when the two sides compromised, something the Wild felt comfortable doing because of his current trajectory to star status.
It’s easy to see where Guerin is coming from. Kaprizov is now the ninth highest-paid winger in the league after only one season. Given the context of the situation, it’s understandable because Kaprizov made an immediate impact, and it’s an unprecedented contract extension.
It helped that he stole the show in the KHL before coming to the NHL and then won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie. He finished with 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games — doing it all without sacrificing any element of his game. The Russian star was worth 1.7 wins above replacement, which put him in the top 20 among wingers.
The most important part of the contract is that the Wild could lock him up for five years during his prime, buying two unrestricted free agent years. When this deal ends, the dead space from the Parise/Suter buyouts will be minimal, and there shouldn’t be any problem extending him as long as he wants to stay in Minnesota.
While the contract is unprecedented because of the lack of comparables and minimal NHL time, Kaprizov is worth every penny. There shouldn’t be any worries about whether he can live up to his contract.
He is projected to outperform the new contract. According to Dom Luszcyszyn’s model, he’s worth nearly $10 million per season during the deal, meaning Minnesota should end up with $5 million in savings.
Kaprizov put together an incredible 2020-21 season and ended up being worth the wait. His game is polished; there are no evident weaknesses. Not only was he one of the best offensive wingers in the league, but he exhibited a well-rounded game, highlighted by his dangerous release.
His transition game sets him apart as one of the best players in the league. His ability to enter and exit with possession allowed him to find the space he needed to generate the highlight-reel goals. If he repeats what he did this past season, he will undeniably be a star – something the Wild have desperately needed for years.
This upcoming season presents a new challenge: The Wild will be playing better opponents in front of packed crowds. But Kaprizov should have Joel Eriksson Ek centering his line. Depending on if Marco Rossi or Matt Boldy make the team, there’s potential that he could see some time with either of them, and Kevin Fiala could potentially move up to the top line.
All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference.