Apr 1, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) skates with the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Carolina won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Rumors: Minnesota Wild targetting Niskanen, Vanek

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The Minnesota Wild aren’t done dominating headlines come free agency day. At least not if they have their way. Michael Russo at the Star-Tribune writes that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has “contacted at least the agents of defensemen Matt Niskanen and Willie Mitchell, goal scorer Thomas Vanek and center Paul Stastny.”

Matt Niskanen and Thomas Vanek should come as no surprise on that list. Both have ties to Minnesota and both are among the best unrestricted free agents to be available on July 1. Right now, it appears that if the Wild had to choose between those two, Niskanen would get the nod.

Niskanen would command a long-term deal likely north of $5 million annually and the Wild wants to be, as Fletcher has said, “mindful” handing out too many long-term contracts to veterans. The Wild must re-sign a number of its youngsters the next two summers and hopes to have several young forwards entering their prime in the next three or four years.

That’s great news for Niskanen, but not so great for Vanek, who has turned down major, long-term offers from the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders in the past calendar year. Now Vanek — who has been linked with Minnesota for years — could be stuck with a shorter term contract that comes with more risk given the injury history of the left winger.

Niskanen meanwhile is watching his stock rise by the second. The reported figure attached to his contract is $5 million annually, but with so many teams interested in veteran blue line help and so few options available, expect that figure to end up closer to $6 million or higher based simply on demand.

If the Minnesota Wild want to keep beating the big guys to the best free agents, they’ll need to keep ponying up with the cash. We’ll see how far that takes them in July.

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Tags: Matt Niskanen Minnesota Wild Thomas Vanek

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