Yesterday, Jared began to move our Summer Free Agency Series into unrestricted free agents by profiling two Florida Panthers players, Mason Marchment and Ben Chiarot. We move a bit back north towards our New Jersey Devils today with a stop in Carolina to take a look at two of their players who are set to becomes UFAs, Nino Niederreiter and Vincent Trocheck. Both players were nightly regulars and contributors for the Hurricanes on their way to a Metropolitan Division title.
There were high expectations on the Canes going into the postseason, yet they flamed out in round two. The Hurricanes have a healthy amount of cap space, but either the team, the players or possibility both might not be interested in a reunion for their own reasons. If that’s the case, should the Devils be interested in either player?
Who is Nino Niederreiter and What Would He Bring to the Table?
Let’s take a look first at Nino Niederreiter, who once upon a time was a prospect of the New York Islanders. After a well-publicized falling out with the team, he was dealt to the Minnesota Wild, where he began to perform at a level fitting of a player who had been taken fifth overall in the 2010 Draft. He would sign both his second (three years, $8 million) and third (five years, $26.25 million - his current deal that is expiring this offseason) with the Wild while Chuck Fletcher was the team’s general manager. When he was relieved of his duties and replaced, the Wild would deal Niederreiter to the Hurricanes in exchange for Victor Rask. While the Wild have managed to be a somewhat successful team as of late, the deal was widely seen as one-sided in favor of Carolina.
While not producing the overall number of points that he did in Minnesota, Nino has been a useful secondary scorer for the Canes, posting 20 goals in 56 games in 2021 and 24 goals in 75 games this past season. Niederreiter would also bring a bit of size to the Devils’ wings; while he isn’t overly large, 6’2” and 218 lb. is bigger than quite a few of the players on what is seen as an undersized Devils roster.
Already a veteran that will be turning 30 prior to the 2022-23 season, Niederreiter still could have a few good years of supplemental scoring left in him. He has done a good job over the years of driving play (as evidenced both by his stats here at Natural Stat Trick and the second linked image from JFreshHockey below) and could aid the Devils (or any team really) in terms of pushing play in the correct direction.
Nino Niederreiter's minutes got cut this year with CAR but while his goal scoring has fluctuated his playdriving has been excellent at both ends of the ice. With one year left on his deal that's a no-lose pickup. #SeaKraken pic.twitter.com/gBVjRrYbCc— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 18, 2021
Nino helps teams in both ends of the ice, however he didn’t have to face the toughest competition being placed in a third line role. If he were to join New Jersey, he would probably wind up serving a similar role, but again he could be viewed as an upgrade over some of the players that the Devils trotted out last season. The problem that could arise would be if the Devils also sign/acquire some more prove or more impactful players, as that would slide some of the other contributing forwards down the lineup into the slot that the team would be signing Niederreiter to fill.
What Type of Contract Will Niederreiter Get and What Should the Devils Do?
Going off of a projection from Alexander MacLean over at Dobber Hockey, Niederreiter is anticipated to be the cheaper of the pair of players we are looking at today. The Dobber projection sees Niederreiter signed for an AAV of just under $2.9 million, which isn’t bad for a complementary winger. The 20-ish goals a season that Nino could bring to a team would make him worth a paycheck of under $3 million, and if he truly is looking for a contract in that price range, he is putting himself in position to draw a lot of interest as a bargain scorer.
What concerns me with Nino would be the term he is looking for. More than likely, this will be his last long-term contract in the NHL, and Niederreiter could already be starting to slow down as a scorer. His goals per game pace decreased from 2021 to 2021-22 and his shooting percentage increased as well. Also of concern was his shooting percentage the last pair of seasons being 3.5-4% higher than his career average, meaning that even if he regresses to his career mean, he could wind up contributing fewer goals. His production will naturally decrease with age as well, meaning that as he exits his prime (which is essentially currently happening) his totals will decrease even if he maintained an above career average shooting percentage.
In terms of what the Devils do here, I don’t think they make an offer to Niederreiter; he’s not THAT much of an improvement on what the team already has, even if he would come at a lower price tag. The Devils have other more pressing needs to focus on as well (defense and goaltending have more holes than the offense) and they also have some promising prospects such as Alex Holtz that could fill a full-time role next season instead of signing someone like Nino. As a last aside here, the Devils should be chasing proven, impact players, or player that fill roles they do not have occupied: Niederreiter, unfortunately, does not truly check either of those boxes.
Who is Vincent Trocheck and What Would He Bring to the Table?
Another UFA that could be an interesting acquisition would be Vincent Trocheck, who ironically was initially drafted by and played for the Florida Panthers. The soon to be 29 year old signed a six year, $28.5 million deal after his entry level contract expired that takes him to free agency this summer. His offensive totals to date peaked in 2017-18 when he scored 31 goals and 44 assists for 75 points in 82 games. He hasn’t replicated anything close to that since, although he was on a torrid pace (43 in 47) last season while missing a chunk of time due to injury.
He arrived in Carolina during the spring of 2020, and helped to solidify Carolina’s forward group. His totals dipped in 2021-22 with his usage being a bit less per game, but the overall Canes product improving...well, until the playoffs at least.
Vincent Trocheck, on his way to CAR, is a strong second-line playmaking centre with a weak shot. Superb on the powerplay, good at even strength, below-average defensively. #LetsGoCanes pic.twitter.com/UiycE4tq7p— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) February 24, 2020
The one reason I could really see the Devils signing Trocheck would be the fact that he performs well on the power play. Otherwise, he doesn’t really improve areas where the Devils could use it; his defending and shot are described as weaknesses, and the Devils need both better defending and more shoot-first players. If the Devils want to take a step forward, they need to diversify their forwards, and adding a player like Trocheck would give them more of the same. There’s more problem beyond skill redundancy however.
What Type of Contract Will Trocheck Get and What Should the Devils Do?
Returning to the same projection model from Alexander MacLean and Dobber Hockey, he forecasts Trocheck getting paid this offseason. Trocheck’s projections comes in at just over $5.8 million per season, which for a center that could be on the decline, this seems like it will be a contract that whoever signs will be regretting within the next couple of years. While I know centers come at a premium, and Trocheck is good in the faceoff circle as well, he, like Niederreiter, is another player who as he is exiting his prime appears to be seeing his offensive contributions decrease.
The Devils would be wise to not sign this contract for reasons other than the above as well. While Trocheck was deployed as a second line center by Carolina, does anyone see him displacing Nico Hischier and/or Jack Hughes in the Top-6? While his faceoff percentage is better than Jack’s, I don’t think anyone can argue that he does anything else better than Jack, with Hughes also being the much younger player. To reference earlier, Niederreiter being offered a contract would at least be at a good cost and could strengthen the position he plays. Trocheck signing would result in the Devils having $20 million tied up in centers, without even taking Dawson Mercer (who could be positioned to be the third line pivot again next season) into account. Nino is a soft pass from me; Trocheck is a hard pass.
While I could understand Niederreiter being offered a contract by the Devils, I think their focus would best be served elsewhere this offseason. As I said before I don’t see him being a large improvement on what the team already has, and he could start to decline, which would make his contract less of a bargain. Meanwhile, Trocheck plays a position where the Devils are all but set, and at the price he could command, the team would be wise to again look elsewhere for talent to improve the overall on ice product.
What do you think of today’s pair of unrestricted free agents? Do you agree that the Devils would be better served looking elsewhere in free agency? Do you disagree with me where you would want to sign one, the other or both? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!