By now, we’ve all heard the takes on the Victor Rask-Nino Niederreiter trade. Hurricanes GM Don Waddell pulled off a brilliant move by getting a goal-scoring winger for a contract the team would have given away for free.
But how did we get to that point, of being so ready to move on from Rask? Things didn’t start out that way for him in Carolina. Not even close. Let’s take a look at how things started out with Rask, and what went wrong along the way.
“A big part of this team’s present and future”
Coming off a solid rookie season the year before, Rask had a breakout year in 2016-17, with 16 goals and 48 points. He displayed good chemistry with the team’s top goal scorer in Jeff Skinner and looked to have a long-term future as a top-six center for the Canes.
He was also a restricted free agent that summer. Then Carolina GM Ron Francis opted to take a calculated risk on Rask, signing him to a six-year deal worth $4 million per season.
“Victor has gotten better every season that he’s been a part of our organization,” Francis said in a statement. “He is a big part of this team’s present and future, and we are thrilled to sign him to a longer-term deal.”
While at the time Rask had not quite earned such a large deal, the prevailing thought was that it was a good gamble. If Rask continued his upward trajectory from his first two seasons, that $4 million cap hit would quickly start to look like a bargain.
Of course, that’s not how things ended up.
What went wrong?
The first season of Rask’s new deal went fine, with a modest dip in goals (16) and points (45). The next year, however, Rask dropped to just 14 goals and 31 points.
He did not spend nearly as much time playing with Skinner. His skating, never great, continued to deteriorate, and his lack of speed seriously limited him. He was a healthy scratch at times last season, and also spent time as a fourth-line winger, not what Francis envisioned when he signed him to that deal.
And, of course, Francis is no longer the GM as part of the sweeping changes for the organization this summer.
The new regime of general manager Don Waddell and head coach Rod Brind’Amour was counting on Rask to bounce back and be a key piece this season, even in Skinner’s absence.
However, Rask cut tendons in his hand while slicing sweet potatoes and was not able to play until December. In 26 games, he was a complete non factor with one goal and six points. Despite ample time on the second unit, Rask had a grand total of two assists on the power play.
Rask’s nosedive led us up to last week’s trade, and Minnesota’s curious decision to send the Canes Niederreiter for him. While Niederreiter hasn’t had a great season so far, his production still blows Rask’s out of the water, and he had at least 18 goals in the past four seasons.
However, while Rask has not been anything close to productive recently, he still has talent, and a change of scenery may do both players and teams some good.
The Canes can now move forward with a valuable addition in Niederreiter and Rask can try to rejuvenate his career with a new start.