When Don Waddell and company made a trade to deal Victor Rask to the Minnesota Wild back in January of 2019, they struck gold in a way that nobody really saw coming.
Back to Carolina in the deal was Nino Niederreiter, who instantly boosted his play and became a game changer for the Hurricanes as he and the team went on to make four straight playoff appearances for the first time since relocation.
In 2019 after getting traded, Niederreiter posted 14 goals and 30 points in just 36 games for the Canes. Both of those goals greatly exceeded his 46-game total with Minnesota that year. After a bit of regression in 2019-20, Niederreiter posted 34 points in 56 games in 2021 before tallying 44 points in 75 games this past season.
In this year’s postseason, Niederreiter scored four goals for the Canes, tied for second most on the team behind only Vincent Trocheck.
He played all year, and all playoffs, alongside Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast as a key piece of Carolina’s most consistent two-way line, the most reliable group the Canes put on the ice come May.
“A big part is that we’ve all been in the league for quite some time,” Staal said. “We all know what to expect from one another. We all know what it takes every day to come in and go to work. We talked a lot on the ice about what we could do to do better. We had to remind ourselves not just to shut the other top line down but to produce. That mindset helps.”
But now, Niederreiter’s contract in Carolina is up, as he heads into unrestricted free agency looking to cash in on some of the success that he has had with the Hurricanes over the last three and a half seasons.
As for Niederreiter, he wants to be back with the Canes.
“Obviously I would like to stay here,” Niederreiter said. “I enjoy the group. I love living down here. The fans are great. But at the end of the day, it’s not really just on me.”
On the other side of that equation is Waddell and the Canes’ brass, who also expressed their interest in keeping Niederreiter around.
“We certainly hope [Niederreiter and Vincent Trocheck] are back, but it takes two sides,” Waddell said. “I’ll have more dialogue with their agents here in a little bit and see where we are at. We like our hockey club, and those guys play key positions for us up front, key roles. It’s in our best interest to see if we can bring them both back.”
And as far as the head coach is concerned, the feeling is the same.
“I want all of the guys back,” said Rod Brind’Amour. “Don is the one who has to figure it all out. We’ve got a good group, and I like the fact that we’ve come this far. Everyone here is leaving disappointed and that’s good. We have to find the way to punch through.”
If only it were as simple as that.
Obviously there is so much more that goes into re-signing guys. The money and length of contract matters most. Niederreiter did say he would be open to signing before the UFA period opens up, and while he said every guy would prefer a long-term deal that he just wants to win and that the chance to win in Carolina is great.
Niederreiter has been an integral part of what the Hurricanes have done over the past four years, and he’s a guy that should be very, very high on Carolina’s priority list when it comes down to who to sign and who to let walk.
Keeping Niederreiter around would be huge for the Canes. He’s built up a rapport with the fans. He plays a big role on arguably the Canes’ most important line. He’s a nice guy, and he’s a really good hockey player.
“Yeah, that guy has to stick around,” Staal said. “He’s obviously a heck of a player and a lot of fun to play with. He does everything really well. He’s going to be a big part of this group if he can stick around and help us win.”
But now, as Niederreiter said, it takes two to tango. Cap space will be tight, and with other free agents like Trocheck and Tony DeAngelo in the mix as well, there are decisions to be made by the Hurricanes’ leadership.
And while those decisions are tough, keeping Niederreiter around makes a lot of sense. He’s done a ton already for the franchise with his play, and there’s certainly more to give.
“Obviously once I got traded here we were far away from a playoff spot. We found a way to get in,” Niederreiter said. “It was quite a ride that year to get to the conference finals. Over the last little bit, you can feel the whole energy changing the city and within our team that the expectation is to go far each and every year. It’s definitely a cool thing to be a part of.”