One of my favorite movies is The Hunt for Red October. The 1990 Oscar Award winning film (for best effects, sound editing), an adaptation of Tom Clancy‘s classic novel about deception, defection and a top secret submarine called the Red October that would’ve given the Soviet Union the advantage in the Cold War. Starring Sean Connery as Soviet sub commander ‘Marco Ramius’ and Alec Baldwin as CIA Analyst ‘Jack Ryan’, the film seems to be a favorite weekend slot filler on networks like BBC America, Sundance, IFC and AMC to this day over 30 years later. I must admit, the film is a remote dropper for me, and my wife can attest to how I’ve watched the film so many times that I can practically recite the whole thing line for line. (SPOILER ALERT)
The climax of the film is near the moment the Red October offloads its crew on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean due to a ‘faked’ reactor accident. The officers stay aboard (by lying to the crew that they are going below to scuttle the ship so it won’t fall into American hands) and instead of being able to sneak away and simply defect to the United States Navy they are confronted by another Soviet submarine with orders to sink the Red October at all costs. The result is a harrowing underwater ‘dogfight’ between the Red October, the Soviet sub and an American sub (USS Dallas) who is not trying to fight but they will do all they can to help the Red October out, short of firing a torpedo itself. The penultimate scene is where the Red October, being trailed by an incoming Soviet torpedo, plays a game of ‘chicken’ with the Soviet submarine that had fired at them.
As you can see in the video, the Red October ‘flinches’ in the game of chicken but survives the underwater engagement, meanwhile the disembarked crew floating on the surface in rafts assumes its submarine has been destroyed by the Americans and is none the wiser. The Soviet sub sent to destroy the Red October ends up destroying itself with its own torpedo.
In my opinion, this scene encapsulates the situation between the Minnesota Wild and its current contract situation with star winger Kirill Kaprizov. The longer this holdout lasts, the more it resembles a game of chicken as the Wild has made at least one if not two different offers as reported by Michael Russo at the Athletic which so far has been rejected by Kaprizov and his agent Paul Theofanous. These were deals where the team offered 7 or 8 year contracts with a AAV between $8.5 to $9 million dollars a season.
Despite having played just 55 regular season NHL games, Kaprizov is reportedly seeking a shorter term deal. The reason is that in 3 seasons he will become an unrestricted free agent and he’d rather be available sooner rather than later so all of the league’s teams can weigh in and perhaps reward him with an even more substantial contract (at least in regards to $$) than what the Wild can offer. That also gives him the flexibility (if this matters to him) which team has the best chance at Stanley Cup success. The Wild obviously would like to lock him onto their roster for as long as they can since he’s perhaps the biggest star talent (as a forward) the team has drafted since Marian Gaborik back in 2000. Kaprizov and his agent feel they have the leverage to get what they wish after his Calder Trophy winning season.
He does not have arbitration rights due to his current contract, but he knows this team is desperate to keep him and try to stay in his good graces as they do so. Afterall, in the 5-year wait for him to arrive in North America 3 different Wild General Managers flew to Russia to meet with him just trying to get him to sign a contract. Chuck Fletcher, who was the first Wild GM to make that trip even promised him in 2016 that he wouldn’t have to spend any time in the minor leagues. At the time, you could almost say the team was doing all it could to get him to ‘defect’ from Russia and the Kontinental Hockey League where he was one of its top scorers. All Wild fans could do at the time and watch Kaprizov dazzle in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, even scoring the gold-medal winning goal for the Olympic Athletes from Russia.
All we could do was wait and hope he’d come to Minnesota. And in 2020 he did, although the NHL did not allow him to play right away. So Wild fans waited some more and in January of 2021 they finally got to see the star talent they had been waiting for. A game-winning goal in overtime against Los Angeles in their season opener and the rest was history. Fan engagement over the phenomenon that was ‘Dolla Bill’ Kirill’ was incredible from T-shirts made by SotaStick.com and ‘Blades of Kirill‘ by Pick & Shovel Wear, to Memes to fake Twitter accounts. Even NHL media folks started to talk about the Minnesota Wild and their plucky Russian star player who seemed to wow fans with another spectacular play and deliver in the clutch. This of course is exactly where Theofanous and Kaprizov get the leverage they’re trying to apply now.
“The toughest thing about playing chicken, is knowing when to flinch.” ~ The Hunt for Red October
However, sitting across the proverbial table from Kaprizov and his (or his at least his agent’s) demands is Wild GM Bill Guerin. Guerin, a former player was no stranger to tough contract negotiations on either side of the table. At this point it looks like the Wild are listening but for the most part trying to dig their heels on a deal that lasts at least 5 years and near the $8.5 to $9 million a season number.
So how does this all play out?
1. Kirill Kaprizov and his agent flinch
Without arbitration rights, the Wild dig their heels in and just wait for Kaprizov and his agent to come to their senses and accept a length that is at least 5-years or longer. Whether its because there was a holdout or the alternative of simply playing back in the KHL no longer appeals to the player who got a taste of the NHL, they give in and compromise.
If Kaprizov wants a big pay day as an unrestricted free agent he will not be doing any favors to his value by playing in the KHL or just holding out. If NHL clubs are going to give him $10 million+ per season once he becomes an unrestricted free agent, they’re going to want to see him prove he can produce in the NHL before they give him that kind of money. Since Minnesota holds his rights and he can’t sign an offer sheet to play for someone else, he’ll have to play for the Wild.
Wild television play-by-play man Anthony LaPanta and Michael Russo discussed this on their latest episode of Worst Seats in the House podcast. Russo was asked by a fan if the fact the Columbus Blue Jackets gave 24-year old defenseman Zach Werenski a contract extension that pays him $9.5 million a year that the Wild would be compelled to do at least the same number or more for the 24-year old winger. His response was pretty direct when he said, “Uh, no. He signed a 6-year deal at $9.5, he’s only been a star in the league for the last 6 seasons, but you think you deserve that amount because you’ve played 55 games? (Tampa’s) Brayden Point just accepted a $9.5 million deal, he’s won cups, why is that good enough for him and not good enough for Kaprizov?” Russo also felt the Wild should be insistent that anything less than a 5-year or 6-year deal is a non-starter as they negotiate. I think that attitude is probably similar to the one Guerin probably has.
I don’t think Kaprizov really has any desire to return to the KHL, he has nothing to prove there. Even without taxation as would be the case if he were to play in Russia, he still could probably get a more lucrative contract in the NHL. Russo also has stated he felt most of Kaprizov’s stance about the insistence on a shorter-term deal is agent driven, but since his agent works for Kaprizov its up to him to put a stop to it if he feels his agent is push the club too far. At the end of the day, it’s Kaprizov that will be playing for this team, not his agent and he’d be wise to consider that.
I think the longer this goes on, more of the fanbase will rally around the team as the offers the club have been making towards Kaprizov seem more than fair. This isn’t a situation where the Wild has insulted its young star by asking him to take a ‘hometown discount’ right away.
2. Bill Guerin and the Wild flinch
When the Minnesota Wild bought out the contracts of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the club effectively started the clock on its own salary cap space time bomb. After one season of cap savings, the dead money from the buyouts will force the club to field a roster that costs $12.7 and $14.7 million less for the next four seasons. When Guerin made this bold move he said he did so with a plan, and I’m pretty sure that plan included having its leading scorer in the fold during that time.
So out of not having its top scorer he gives in and gives Kaprizov a 3-year or 4-year contract. Now the Wild have just created another time bomb of sorts, this time a window to try to win with a roster that would probably lean more heavily on younger, cheaper players. Plus, the team would probably start shopping the young star to at least get some assets in return instead of letting him walk away for nothing the same way Marian Gaborik did back in 2009. Gaborik’s departure for no assets in return held back the organization for years and no doubt the organization will not wish to repeat that scenario.
While I’m sure for Kaprizov fanatics the longer this impasse lasts they will want the club to reach a deal no matter how short, a 3-year or 4-year deal (or less) doesn’t make any sense for this Wild team. While the team will not really be able to provide much in the way of additional support for Kaprizov during the next 4 seasons after this one because of their own cap space conundrum, it only makes the team’s roster crunch that much worse. In my opinion this would be a worst case scenario for the organization.
But you can’t tell me that for some fans, they are not walking on eggshells around this team these days. They are eagerly waiting for any kind of hopeful news of a deal between the two sides. No doubt the organization is aware the fanbase is watching this one very closely. Even when the team issues a photo of Kaprizov fist-bumping with Nico Sturm and a fan asks if its trying to hint at something. The team felts compelled to respond in a public way via Twitter. The line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off comes to mind, some Wild fans are so tense, that is if you stuck a lump of coal up their ass, and twisted, you’d have a diamond.”
it’s a fist bump photo, relax
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) August 2, 2021
However there might be an alternative scenario that play itself out. While most of the discussion of off-season signings with the Wild have been focused on Kaprizov and other free agents. Fellow restricted free agent Kevin Fiala is also negotiating a new contract with the team. Yesterday the Minnesota Wild opted to take Fiala to arbitration. (SPOILER ALERT)
In the film, just prior to the chicken scene, the Red October seemed to be doomed when a Soviet torpedo was bearing down towards it when at the last second it was drawn away by a slick maneuver by the USS Dallas.
Perhaps Fiala or arbitration be the Minnesota Wild’s ‘USS Dallas’ in this comparison.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Minnesota Wild currently have $19.7 million left in cap space. If Fiala and his agent were to be more active towards getting a deal done they will be fighting for that left over money first. Perhaps Fiala’s discussions could prompt the Kaprizov camp to get its act together and also seek to reach some sort of agreeable compromise.
These are the Wild’s top two forwards both in terms of points and skill. They need these two players to win and be competitive. But perhaps Fiala can help the club all the while helping his own cause by coming to an agreement with the team. It will allow the club and Kaprizov to know how much space it has left to make a deal. Also, since the goal is in part to give Kaprizov a reason to want to stay with the Wild long-term, knowing there is another talented winger on the team certainly wouldn’t hurt if he’s really about winning.
Until the drama of this offseason contract negotiations I have never really questioned whether Kaprizov was all about ‘We’ rather than ‘Me’. In any interview he gave with the club, even after some pretty incredible individual actions he seemed to minimize those accolades and always bring it back to the team and wanting to win.
With the Wild filing for arbitration with Kevin Fiala, could this be a sign that a deal could be had in the next few days or weeks? Fans can only hope that the resolution of one situation will help bring about the resolution of the other. Especially if the Wild flinch, because then I’ll have to write an article about how the situation compares to the book / film Catch 22!
How do you think this will all play out? Tell us on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!