Wild

Revisiting the Niederreiter for Rask Trade

Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday, Nino Niederreiter played his second game at the Xcel Energy Center since the Minnesota Wild traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes four years ago. Fans showed up to the X in their old Neiderreiter sweaters and were excited to see an old friend back in his old barn. The Wild got the better of the man most Wild fans affectionately just call “Nino” and the Hurricanes last weekend, but it’s a good time to look back at how both teams have fared since Minnesota sent Niederreiter to Raleigh.

The 2018-19 season was a rocky one for the Wild. They missed out on the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 season and finished last in the Central Division. Therefore, Paul Fenton started one of the craziest roster shake-ups in franchise history. He went to work dismantling Chuck Fletcher’s core, moving on from Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle – arguably three of the biggest fan-favorite players the Wild have ever had.

The returns were underwhelming at the time: Victor Rask, Ryan Donato, and Kevin Fiala. Only Fiala could be considered a game-breaker. The Wild traded Donato to the San Jose Sharks in October 2020, and Rask seems only to find himself in the lineup when someone is injured. It’s a surprise he’s still in Minnesota.

Niederreiter scored 110 goals and 118 assists in 434 games for the Wild. He was also active in the community, often spending time at the Children’s Hospital. Niederreiter would always make sure to spend time with the Make-A-Wish kids the Wild took on as well.

He had a routine of taking his sticks, tape, and two bananas up to the 15th row of the lower bowl at the X, taking time to focus on himself before games. Loading up on potassium isn’t a bad idea either.

In his farewell posts to Minnesota the day he got traded, his replies were flooded with comments by Wild fans saying they’ll miss him, and good luck in Carolina. His joyful personality shone through his play, and the fans loved him for that. That he scored an unforgettable OT-winning goal in a Game 7 may have helped his case as a fan favorite, too.

On Jan. 17th, 2019, the Wild traded Niederreiter to Carolina for Rask. No picks or prospects involved. Just a straight-up one-for-one deal. Paul Fenton called them ‘hockey trades.’ That deal started the massive shake up for the Wild.

Many fans didn’t even know who Rask was, which made them even more upset about trading Neiderreiter. Even worse, the Wild didn’t even take the time to scout Rask. If they had just watched a few of his games, they may have found that he would not be a good fit for the Wild and found someone else more suitable.

That year Niederreiter and the Hurricanes made it to the Conference Finals. However, the Boston Bruins ended Carolina’s season with a sweep. Ironically, the matchup pitted Niederreiter against Coyle, who the Wild had traded to his hometown team for Donato.

It became evident early on that the Hurricanes won this deal. Niederreiter was traded to a club that made it to the playoffs for the first time in nearly ten years. They also got some great experience in the playoffs and have been contenders ever since.

Rod Brind’Amour has gracefully turned from a franchise icon into one of the best coaches in the league. Always a contender for the Jack Adams award and winning one last year, he’s made the Hurricanes into one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. Up until Brind’Amour’s arrival as head coach, the Canes were as banal as a hockey team can be. Under Brind’Amour’s reign, Carolina reached the playoffs three years in a row and are primed for a fourth run this year.

Niederreiter is still a big part of their becoming a dynamic forward core. This season he’s most often found playing on the third line with Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast. He’s still putting up decent points too, with 14 goals and nine assists.

The same cannot be said for what the Wild got in return. Rask has been underwhelming since he arrived in St. Paul. Last year he centered Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, but he was still relatively unproductive. He can score goals, but he often finds himself making untimely mistakes. His six-year, $24 million contract wasn’t exactly team-friendly either. No one took on his expiring hit when the Wild placed him on waivers.

The Wild should’ve gotten more in return. At least a decent prospect or a second- or third-round draft pick. Rask had a few good seasons in Carolina, where he once totaled 48 points in his second season in Carolina, he scored 21 goals in his best season. His productivity took a nose dive in the 2017-18 season when he scored 31 points, and it only got worse from then.

Another interesting bit to think about: What would the Wild look like had Niederreiter never been traded? Could he and Fiala have been a dynamic Swiss duo? Or would he just be holding back the prized prospects in the farm system? His personality and flair for the dramatic would do well on this fun and entertaining Wild squad.

However, it seems symbolic that Kirill Kaprizov, the best player in the next wave of Wild stars, flattened Niederreiter at center ice during Saturday’s game. The Wild group Nino got traded from was getting old and boring. The roster got a badly-need overhaul, which came at the expense of Niederreiter and other fan favorites.

Despite how lopsided this trade looks, there’s a way where it could be considered a win/win. While Rask has not lived up to his expectations, his presence helped usher in a new vibe to the Wild. There is no doubt that Nino was an awesome player in Minnesota, and he loved the fans here. He spent five and a half seasons in Minnesota but his productivity slowed towards the end of his run in St. Paul, and a trade seemed inevitable.

So while Nino is flourishing with the Hurricanes and Rask is not necessarily thriving in Minnesota, Rask is still part of a promising young Wild team. The 2018-19 season was the beginning of the makeover that Bill Guerin ultimately completed. It was a tough season for fans to witness, but it had to happen or the Wild would not be where they are at now. Hockey can be cruel at times, and while it hurts to see your favorite player get traded, it often ends up working out eventually.

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