From: Twin Cities
From Russo on The Athletic:
Behind the scenes of how the Wild re-signed Kirill Kaprizov and why he was in Florida
By Michael Russo 2h ago 58
Bill Guerin was in a meeting with his coaches Monday when he got a call from Paul Theofanous.
Guerin texted back, “Can’t talk, I’m in a meeting.”
Kirill Kapizov’s agent wrote back: “You should step out.”
The Wild general manager did just that.
Guerin called back, and Theofanous said, “Hey, look, I think it’s time we get together.”
“I’ll see you tonight,” Guerin replied.
Guerin immediately headed to the airport for a flight to South Florida. A few days earlier, Guerin learned that Kaprizov had secretly flown to Miami, where he would quarantine, receive an NHL-authorized COVID-19 vaccine and wait until his contract was finalized so he hopefully would not miss training camp, which officially began Wednesday with on-ice sessions beginning Thursday.
“I think some people thought I might be mad because he didn’t tell me that he was coming over,” Guerin said. “They were not obligated to tell me. That’s fine, they don’t need to tell me anything. I don’t care. I was just happy that he was in the country and happy that he was vaccinated.
“I give Kirill and his agent a lot of credit for planning ahead and planning for the future and getting here with ample time to quarantine and get vaccinated and do all the things that would’ve really taken weeks. When I found out, I was thrilled. So, it was an easy trip for me to make.”
Monday night, Kaprizov, Theofanous and Guerin had dinner on South Beach.
On Tuesday morning, Guerin and Theofanous had breakfast, then the three reconvened in the afternoon to grind out the final details of an eventual five-year, $45 million contract that makes the young star and 2021 Calder Trophy winner the highest-paid player in franchise history.
The deal features no signing bonuses; a full no-trade clause in the fourth and fifth years; and a pay structure of $5 million, $10 million, $12.5 million, $10 million and $7.5 million.
By the time the parties shook hands and put pen to paper on the final agreement, Guerin and Kaprizov had a 2 ½-hour window because of weather to get to a private plane that was 50 miles north in Boca Raton for a flight to Minneapolis.
They apparently almost didn’t make it.
“The plane ride was good, right?” Guerin, turning to Kaprizov, asked with a smile. “He spoke English to me the whole time, by the way — the 3 ½ hour flight. He used a little bit of Google Translate, but we had a great flight. We got caught up on a lot of different things, but it was all about just moving forward.”
During a light-hearted, at times laugh-out-loud funny news conference, the hard feelings that may have been triggered during the at times contentious contract talks between Guerin and Theofanous were long gone.
Guerin, who just nine days earlier in an interview with The Athletic was exasperated with how negotiations were going, was cracking jokes left and right, like when the 2018 Olympic hero for Russia was asked about the Olympics.
Kaprizov gave a long diatribe in Russian and Guerin, who doubles as the United States’ assistant GM, cracked, “We’re coming after you guys. I know what you just said.”
Or, when Kaprizov was asked about whether the threat of him re-signing with CSKA Moscow was legitimate and he uttered, “No chance.” Guerin chimed in with some advice, saying, “You shouldn’t answer that. You’re going to blow it for next (contract negotiation.)”
Luckily, for everybody’s benefit that won’t be for another four (when an extension is permitted) or five years.
“Obviously, it was stressful,” Kaprizov said through a translator. “The whole process was hard. Coming out of last season, I thought things would get done a little bit quicker. But these things take time. I completely understand. I’m really happy that I’m here now and I can just focus on hockey. Obviously extremely happy to be a part of the Minnesota Wild.”
What was truly neat about the press conference, this was the first time the local media was able to interview last year’s leading scorer and budding star face-to-face.
He signed last summer in the middle of a pandemic and was forced to quarantine his entire time in Minnesota. Then, during his rookie year, the team had to be covered virtually via Zoom.
Not only was the bubbly, often-smiling Kaprizov there in front of reporters in real life, he showed how much his English has improved by answering a handful of questions in English.
What every Wild fan and, to be blunt, management had to love to hear.
He said he doesn’t feel one iota of pressure by playing 55 games in the NHL and being awarded as the ninth-highest paid winger in the NHL and the highest-paid player in NHL history with this little NHL experience.
“Nah, there’s not pressure, because now it’s easy for me when I signed,” Kaprizov said in English. “Now I just want to play. You know, it’s like, ‘Whew.’ It’s hockey.”
That comment, again, in English, was proof positive of the it factor that Guerin always says Kaprizov has that is simply unlike most players who have donned a Wild sweater.
For a guy who has barely had a cup of coffee in the NHL to feel comfortable enough to walk into the dressing room as a $9 million a year player just shows the swagger this talent has.
After all, this is a player who has excelled everywhere he’s been, from international tournaments like the World Junior Championship and the Olympics; to the KHL where he led the league in goal scoring twice and won a championship; to obviously the NHL where he scored in overtime of his NHL debut, led all rookies in numerous statistical categories, and rewrote the Wild’s rookie record book highlighted 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games.
“I think he’s just one of those guys, he’s gonna play the same whether he makes his entry-level salary or $9 million a year,” Guerin said. “He’s just gonna play. There’s an inner confidence with him that not everybody has. I think he just really believes in himself and he’ll go and perform.”
But, still, Guerin said the face-to-face meeting where he and Kaprizov could simply look each other in the eyes was the necessary final step to conclude a contract that sources say has been on the table for weeks.
“It’s easy to be tough on people over the phone and over a Zoom call or something like that,” Guerin said. “But you can’t beat meeting in person.”
Added the gregarious Kaprizov, “I had a smile the whole time. I couldn’t really get it off my face. It was great to see him in person, so I was very happy the two days, and I thought negotiations went really well.”
There was no explanation as to why it took the pressure point of the start of training camp for Kaprizov to finally agree to the contract.
Maybe Kaprizov just wanted to hear from Guerin why the Wild refused to sign him for fewer than five years.
Maybe Kaprizov wanted to hear from Guerin why the Wild refused to give a nickel in signing bonuses.
Maybe Kaprizov wanted to hear from Guerin how he plans to build a Stanley Cup contender.
Guerin wouldn’t get into the specifics of what was discussed, but from somebody who twice held out as a player, Guerin said he never held any grudges and understood all along that Kaprizov probably just needed to hear from him.
Unfortunately, Guerin said that in the midst of a pandemic with Kaprizov back home, alternating between his apartment in Moscow and home in Siberia, meeting sooner was pretty impossible.
“I would’ve gone,” Guerin said, turning to Kaprizov.
“It’s just not that easy when you’re the player,” Guerin explained. “You want to know why you can’t get certain things, you want to know why the team wants to do certain ways. And that’s not always clear. I think him just hearing it from me, face to face, was really important. Now he’s like, ‘OK, he’s telling me, not my agent,’ like, this is real. But I can also explain to him from where I’m coming from. And, like I said, it’s important for me too to understand where he’s coming from.”
Guerin has admitted he never imagined he’d be paying Kaprizov $9 million a year on a mid-range contract.
Eight years, yes.
Five years, no.
“That was the hard thing because there were not a lot of comps,” Guerin said. “We could kind of see where we thought he would fit if he had been here for longer, but some guys had 100 games before they got their big deal. Most guys had 250 to 300 or 320, something like that, before they got paid like this. So we tried to just kind of forecast on what we think he’s going to be.
“There’s a limit to that, but Kirill’s more than just on the ice. He’s helped bring a new look to the Minnesota Wild. He’s an exciting player, and that’s worth something, too. I think he’s right where he should be. I think he’s worth every penny of this.”
Nine million bucks, though, is quite a commitment, especially from a team that will have $12.74 million in dead cap money in 2022-23 and $14.74 million in 2023-24 and 2024-25 for buying out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
“I’m confident, but I’m also realistic that there are going to be some challenges coming up,” Guerin said when asked how confident he is that he can build the Wild into a winner with such limited cap space in the upcoming seasons. “But you know what? Those are the decisions that we made. … I really do think that we’ll get through it. But we’re going to need to draft really well and develop guys and have a good influx of young players that we can afford. And they’re going to have to be impactful, and they’re going to get opportunities. So there’s ways.”
One thing that did work out perfectly with Kaprizov is something the Wild seemingly didn’t realize until recently: Kaprizov’s work visa from his original contract doesn’t expire until Sept. 30, sources say. So, that’s how he was able to get into the country without a finalized new contract. The Wild now have eight days to renew his visa.
But the initiative Kaprizov took by traveling to Florida on his own without the organization even knowing tells you everything you need to know about how much he always planned to continue playing for the Wild. He’s galvanized the franchise, is a beloved teammate and a huge personality.
It’s why Guerin said he never lost “one ounce of sleep” over the alleged KHL threat.
“Yeah, it could be a threat with some guys. It could be legitimate,” he said. “But with Kirill, I don’t know … you just know. Like, he wants to be here.”
Kaprizov can’t wait to get started, to finally play an 82-game season against the entire league, see cities he has never seen before and get to see how he plays against the likes of Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin and so many other stars.
“Very much looking forward to having fans in the building and the excitement that they bring,” Kaprizov said. “Last year with the half season it just wasn’t the same. Even when we did have fans it brought something, so I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like with a full stadium and we can see all the cities and all the fans across the league.”
This negotiation was an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish, with Guerin admitting, “Some days, there’s, ‘Man, I thought we were right there,’ and then there were other times when it was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re light-years away.’
“But I knew it would eventually get done.”
So, after all that fretting throughout the summer, after the worry that even if Kaprizov signed on the eve of camp that he’d miss several days in order to get a work visa and fly from Russia to Minnesota and satisfy a seven-day quarantine and then get vaccinated, Kaprizov is signed, sealed, delivered and, most importantly, in Minnesota.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Athletic the league has decided Kaprizov won’t have to quarantine in Minnesota because he got vaccinated.
So on Thursday, when the Wild take the ice officially at TRIA Rink for the first time to commence the 2021-22 season, a jovial No. 97 will be out there skating around and probably wowing us all like usual.
“I don’t think he regresses,” Guerin said. “I think it’s a new challenge. He’s only played against seven teams in the league. And there’s a whole bunch of other good teams out there and he’s not a secret anymore. But knowing him, knowing his character, knowing his competitiveness, he’ll be fine.”