UFA Preview: Nino Niederreiter and Vincent Trocheck

Yesterday, Jared began transitioning our summer free agency series to unrestricted free agents by rating Florida Panthers players Mason Marshman and Ben Shearot. We’re moving a little north toward the New Jersey Devils today with a stop in Carolina to catch a glimpse of two of their players set to become UFAs, Nino Niederretter and Vincent Trochek. Both players were regular travelers and contributors to Hurricanes on their way to the Metropolitan Division title.

There were high expectations on the baton in the post-season run, but they caught on in the second round. Hurricanes have a large health area, but the team, players, or both may not be interested in a reunion for reasons of their own. If so, should the demons care about any of the players?

Who is Nino Niederretter and what will he bring to the table?

Let’s first look at Nino Niederreiter, who was once likely a New York Islander. After a famous feud with the team, he was dealt with at the Minnesota Wild, where he began performing at a level appropriate to a player that earned him fifth overall in the 2010 draft. He would sign both second (three years, $8 million) and third (five years, $26.25 million). (his current deal expires this season) with Wild while Chuck Fletcher was the team’s general manager. When he was relieved of his duties and replaced, Wild was dealing with the Niederreiter for Hurricanes in exchange for Victor Rusk. While Wild has managed to be a fairly successful team lately, the deal was widely seen as one-sided in Carolina’s favour.

Despite not producing his total points for Minnesota, Nino has been a useful secondary scorer for the Kansas, scoring 20 goals in 56 games in 2021 and 24 goals in 75 games this past season. Niederreiter will bring a bit of volume to the demons’ wings. While not very large, 6’2″ and 218 pounds is more than very few guys in what is seen as a slate of little Demons.

Courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com

Niederretter, the veteran who will turn 30 before the 2022-23 season, still has a few good years of supplemental scoring. He’s done a fine job over his years of driving play (as evidenced by his stats here at Natural Stat Trick and the second linked image from J Fresh Hockey below) and the Devils (or any team really) can help in terms of pushing play in the right direction.

Nino helps teams at both ends of the ice, but he didn’t have to face the toughest competition put in the third line role. If he were to join New Jersey, he would likely end up in a similar role, but once again he could be seen as an upgrade for some of the players the Devils rushed last season. The issue that would arise could be if the Devils also signed/obtained more proven or more influential players, as this would push some other contributors further down the line-up into the slot the team would sign Niederreiter to fill.

What kind of contract will Niederreiter get and what should the demons do?

Judging by the drop from Alexander MacLean at Dobber Hockey, Niederreiter is expected to be cheaper than the pair of players we’re looking at today. Dobber’s projection sees Niederreiter signed to AAV for just under $2.9 million, which isn’t bad for the supplemental wing. The 20 goals per season that Nino could bring to the squad would make him worth less than $3 million in salary, and if he’s really looking for a contract in that price range, he’s putting himself in a position to draw a lot of cash. Interest as a deal scorer.

What worries me with Nino is the term he’s looking for. Most likely, this will be his last long-term contract in the NHL, and Niederreiter may already start to slow down as a top scorer. The pace of his goals per game decreased from 2021 to 2021-22 and his shot percentage increased as well. Also of concern was that his shooting percentage in recent seasons was 3.5-4% higher than his career average, meaning that even if he were to fall back to his career level, he could end up contributing fewer goals. His production will naturally decline with age as well, which means that when he gets out of his head (which is basically what it currently does) his totals will drop even if he maintains a firing rate above career average.

As for what the demons are doing here, I don’t think they’re making a bid for Niederreiter; It’s not a huge improvement over what the team already has, even if it would come at a lower price. The Devils have other, more pressing needs to focus on as well (defence and goalkeeper have more holes than attack) and they also have some promising prospects like Alex Holtz who could take on a full-time role next season rather than sign someone like Nino. As a last aspect here, demons must hunt down proven players, influencers, or players who occupy roles they haven’t: Niederreiter, unfortunately, doesn’t really check any of these boxes.

Who is Vincent Trochek and what will he bring to the table?

Another UFA acquisition that could be an interesting acquisition would be Vincent Trochek, who was ironically initially drafted by the Florida Panthers. The 29-year-old signed a six-year, $28.5 million deal after the entry-level contract that transferred him to a free agency expired this summer. His total attacking power so far peaked in the 2017-18 season when he scored 31 goals and made 44 assists for 75 points in 82 matches. He hasn’t repeated anything close to that since, although he was at a fast pace (43 of 47) last season while missing a good chunk of time through injury.

Courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com

He arrived in Carolina during Spring 2020, and helped solidify the Carolina Advance Team. His totals are down in 2021-22 with he used a little less per game, but Canes’ overall product is getting better…well, until the playoffs at least.

The only reason I really saw the Devils signing Trocheck is the fact that he does so well in the power game. Otherwise it does not improve the areas that can be used by demons; His defense and shot are described as weaknesses, and the Devils need a better defense and more players who shoot first. If the Devils want to take a step forward, they need to diversify their attacker, and adding a player like Trocheck will give them more of the same. However, there is another problem beyond repetition of skills.

What kind of contract will Trocheck get and what should the demons do?

Returning to the same drop model from Alexander MacLean and Dobber Hockey, he expects Trocheck to be paid this season. Trocheck’s forecast comes in at just over $5.8 million per season, which for a position that may be on the decline looks like this is going to be a contract that anyone who signs within the next couple of years will regret. While I know positions come at a higher price tag, and Trocheck is good on the front line too, he, like Niederreiter, is another player who appears to be seeing a drop in his offensive contributions as he exits his prime.

It would be wise for the demons not to sign this contract for reasons other than those mentioned above as well. While Trocheck has been published as a second line center by Carolina, does anyone see him displacing Nico Hescher and/or Jack Hughes in the top 6? While his facing ratio is better than Jack’s, I don’t think anyone could argue that he does anything else better than Jack, with Hughes also being the younger player. For reference earlier, an offer of the contract to Niederreiter would at least come at a good cost and could boost the position he plays. Signing Trocheck would result in the Devils having $20 million tied up in positions, without even taking Dawson Mercer (who could be positioned to be a third-line focus again next season) in mind. Nino soft pass from me; Trocheck is a tough pass.

last thoughts

While I can understand the Devils have offered Niederreiter a contract, I think it would be best to offer their focus elsewhere in the off season. Like I said before, I don’t see much improvement in what the team already has, and he could start to slip away, making his contract less bargain. Meanwhile, Trocheck plays a position where nearly all of the Devils are set, and at what price they can order, the team would be wise again to look elsewhere for talent to improve the overall product on the ice.

What do you think of today’s pair of unrestricted free agents? Do you agree that it is better to serve demons when looking elsewhere in a free agency? Do you disagree with me on where you want to sign one, the other or both? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!

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