Wild well-positioned after avoiding arbitration with Granlund, Niederreiter

Granlund scores a goal for the Minnesota WildThe Minnesota Wild avoided arbitration with team points leader Mikael Granlund by agreeing to a three-year extension on Tuesday with a $5.75 million cap hit. The deal comes two days after Minnesota re-signed Nino Niederreiter to a five-year, $26.25 million, and it is the culmination of more than a month’s worth of maneuvers by the Wild to stay under the salary cap while improving their roster.

Minnesota spent to the cap last season, and space needed to be found if the franchise was going to retain both Granlund and Niederreiter, who were due for big raises after career years, as well as Erik Haula. Haula was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights at the expansion draft to guide their pick away from the Wild’s abundance of exposed defensive talent, but Minnesota still needed to shed some salary before talks with Granlund and Niederreiter could begin in earnest.

The Wild found a willing partner for their salary dump in the Buffalo Sabres, who took veteran forward Jason Pominville and expendable defenseman Marco Scandella in exchange for injury-prone forward Tyler Ennis and restricted free agent Marcus Foligno. The move created $5 million in cap space for Minnesota, while adding another potential scoring weapon in Ennis, who hasn’t lasted a full season since 2014-15 but won’t be called upon to take a leading role with the Wild.

Backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper and other depth pieces making more than $1 million were allowed to walk, replaced by players on two-way contracts and prove-it deals like former first-round pick Ryan Murphy, who signed a $700,000 contract. Murphy will have an opportunity to land a spot on the team’s third pairing, behind a formidable top four of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba, where he will join fellow free-agent signing Kyle Quincey. Securing a third pairing for under $2 million gave Minnesota the flexibility to accept a combined $11 million cap hit in negotiations with Granlund and Niederreiter while leaving a little left over for Foligno.

Whether Ennis spends the next couple seasons on and off the injured list or regains his 20-goal scoring touch, the key to the Wild’s chances of postseason success lies with younger talent like Granlund and Niederreiter, as well as Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Brodin and Dumba on the blue line, and rookie forward Joel Eriksson Ek, who should see his first full season of NHL action starting in October. Minnesota has qualified for the playoffs five years in a row, with only two first-round series victories to show for it. As successful as their offseason looks on paper, the Wild will be judged by their ability to take the next step after setting franchise records with 49 wins and 106 points last year.