Good afternoon from beautiful Minny-apolis, where I'm about to get out into this weather.

Niklas Backstrom will start tonight vs. the slumping San Jose Sharks. Backstrom, like the Wild, typically struggles vs. San Jose, going 2-5-3 lifetime with a 3.22 goals against average and .896 save percentage. But he was playing very well for the Wild after the Olympics and before he suffered a groin injury.

Owen Nolan is under the weather, but coach Todd Richards expects him to play. Greg Zanon didn't skate this morning because of his broken ankle. He's in a walking boot, but when I asked him if he'd play, Zanon laughed: "Oh yeah, It's my option. And I'm playing."

If Nolan can't play, Derek Boogaard will return to the lineup. Boogaard looks very good for a guy who allegedly had nose surgery and is out for the season according to rumors in St. Louis. Completely false.

On DJ King though, "He caught me with a good one."

There's been debate who won the fight, as if it matters. Asked if he thought he won the fight, Boogaard said, "Yeah, but I always think I win all my fights."

The one piece of news today is Richards said defenseman Clayton Stoner, who hasn't played since Jan. 5 and had sports hernia surgery in Germany last month, is probably done for the year.

Stoner had been skating and last week in Nashville said he was still sore. But he thought the muscles were just tired. When he wasn't on the ice this morning, it seemed to be a signal of bad news. It was.

"We're dealing with the same areas -- the groins and the sports hernia," Richards said.

I'll try to talk to GM Chuck Fletcher tonight to see if there's any more details, but nevertheless, Stoner likely won't play again this season.

Stoner's entire pro career has been hampered by injuries. The Wild signed him to a two-year deal March 2 because, as Fletcher said, "we're banking on getting him healthy."

Here's an excerpt from my blog March 2 explaining the deal: Stoner got an interesting contract. I got some emails saying I had to screw this up, but I've again confirmed it: It's a one-way contract the first year and a two-way the second year, not flipped. Essentially, it's a big orange carrot for Stoner. Prove once and for all next season that you're a No. 6 or 7 defenseman and one that can stay healthy. Health has hampered him his entire pro career.
Stoner's been a good soldier for the organization and he's well-liked. If he's good, he's a cheap player for two years at 525K and 575K. If it doesn't work out, he goes to the minors the second year at 105K and maybe by that time Marco Scandella and/or Tyler Cuma is ready, or maybe another play that goes by him. Basically the risk is minimal."

The Sharks media chatted with Casey Wellman this morning. He's very excited about tonight's game. Remember, he's a product of the Jr. Sharks and grew up a Sharks fan. What's real cool is he's linemates with former Sharks captain Owen Nolan, who was his favorite player growing up along with, I believe he said last week, Jeff Friesen.
I once co-authored an SI for Kids book where I profiled Friesen along with nine other rising stars. I think Friesen was the only one in the book who actually didn't become a "star," although he had a bunch of 20-goal seasons, won a Cup with New Jersey and scored that huge Game 7 winning goal against Ottawa in the conference finals.
I had to trim this out of my big Wellman's from Northern California feature the other day (here's the link), but here's some other products of the Jr. Sharks from an email back I got from their media relations department:
"Brett Sutter (CGY) when his dad was coaching here and Alec Martinez (LA) – they have both been signed. Another, Viktor Tikhonov with PHX came through an early version of the program while his father was working on our training staff. Another, Corbin McPherson, was drafted by NJ (3rd round) in 2007."

As I wrote the other day, Wellman is only the 24th California-born NHLer in history, and second active (Brooks Orpik).

As I guessed on yesterday's blog, Nick Schultz could care less about the 600-game milestone tonight: "It's just a number."

OK, that's it for now. On the road again starting tomorrow. Had a great conversation with Coyotes GM and former Rangers great Don Maloney this morning for my Sunday column on the amazing things being accomplished in Glendale. The Coyotes have the second-lowest payroll in the NHL. If they win in Chicago tonight, they lead the Western Conference. 



Talk to you tonight.

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