As someone who has been clamoring for Matt Niskanen, this writer was ready to admit that signing Dan Boyle would be the best decision Detroit could make.
Thursday afternoon, the New York Islanders traded a conditional 2015 fifth-round pick to San Jose for the rights to Boyle, per NHL.com. Should he sign with New York before the start of the season, it will become a fourth-round pick.
That changes things.
With Boyle possibly off the market, Niskanen becomes significantly more valuable and likely more expensive. Only Boyle's negotiating rights were dealt, so it is possible he balks at an offer and still hits free agency.
Niskanen had a breakout year, and at 27 years old, he's likely looking for a lucrative, long-term deal. Detroit was willing to offer Ryan Suter $90 million over 13 years a few summers ago; however, Niskanen won't draw elite-level money.
Detroit hasn’t had a right-handed, puck-moving defenseman since Brian Rafalski retired in 2011. It is very high on prospects Ryan Sproul and Alexei Marchenko, but a deal with Niskanen would have more of an immediate impact.
He made $2.3 million annually over the last two years but will seek a significant pay increase wherever he signs.
It's possible because of such a small sample size that he won't warrant much over $5 million per season. Detroit is only paying its top defenseman, Niklas Kronwall, $4.75 per season.
After Kronwall’s 49 points, Detroit is starved for production from its blue line, with only Dan DeKeyser totaling more than 20 points (23) this past season.
Niskanen is the top free-agent defenseman and is likely to lure multiple teams into a bidding war. Detroit would be wise to remove itself from the situation, but its hand may be forced at this point.
Free agency is a new animal, and Detroit has remained quite frugal in recent years, but perhaps this is the time the team goes all in.