With the official launch of free agency lurking Tuesday, one Washington Capitals target is seeking a lengthy contract, according to Neil Sheehy, the agent for defenseman Matt Niskanen.
Niskanen, 27, has reached the end of a two-year deal worth $2.3 million per season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but is believed to be seeking something in the neighborhood of $5 million on the open market. Speaking via telephone on Monday, Sheehy said he and Niskanen would huddle together soon to whittle their list of desired suitors down, but in a relatively thin market for top-flight defensemen, there’s no reason to doubt Sheehy’s confidence. Per Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, deal length will weigh heavier in Niskanen’s mind than money.
“It’s hard to say exactly until you start hearing what teams are offering,” Niskanen said last Thursday, before the Penguins overhauled their coaching staff. “I don’t have a set dollar amount or set years in my head but I think in a black and white way to answer your question, I’d say yeah.”
According to Russo, also a beat writer for the Star Tribune, the Wild have expressed interest in Niskanen, but Sheehy said on his radio hit that a homecoming won’t be the overriding factor. Russo also noted that Niskanen lives “on a lake in northern Minnesota, so the lure of “coming home” may not be there as much.”
“He’s a Minnesota guy, but I don’t think his decision is going to be based on his home state, or a coming-home type thing,” Sheehy said. “It’s not necessary, the place, as Matt said to me last night. If the hockey’s good, the life is good.”
In Washington, Niskanen would reunite with Todd Reirden, his blue-line coach with the Penguins. During the brief telephone interview, Sheehy said it’s “no secret” that Niskanen and Reirden developed a strong bond in Pittsburgh. Whether that weighs into Niskanen’s decision – and whether the Capitals make the initial cut – is ultimately up to the player himself, Sheehy said, but the new Capitals defensemen coach said his relationship could factor into the equation.
“The relationship I have with him has really grown over the last four years,” Reirden said Monday at Washington’s practice facility in Ballston. “We came up with a plan when he first walked into my office about how to rebuild his game and get it back to where it was two years ago. Certainly Matt has been great to work with.”
Answering a two-part question about both Niskanen and fellow Penguins UFA defenseman Brooks Orpik, Reirden said he has kept “in constant contact” through their time together in Pittsburgh, and hinted that he may play a role should the Capitals’ courtship ratchet up.
“Both those players are going to be great additions to any team,” he said. “Certainly there’s not a whole lot of unrestricted defensemen out there, but I may have some contact with them.”