During a pit stop in the Twin Cities on his way back to New York on Monday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spent Monday afternoon touring Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium with Craig Leipold as the Wild owner continued his lengthy effort to bring Minnesota an outdoor game.
“It’s something we know the club wants, that Craig wants and the fans want, and we’ll be responsive,” Bettman said before watching Monday night’s Wild-Calgary Flames game from Leipold’s suite. “I can’t give you a date or a venue yet.”
Bettman said Minnesota “absolutely” deserves an outdoor game, and he called both outdoor stadiums “very, very attractive.”
“The fans, the hockey environment, the weather, this is the State of Hockey after all,” Bettman said. “We’re very focused on Minnesota.”
Leipold has spent years trying to convince Bettman that Minnesota deserves the Winter Classic, which is the NHL’s New Year’s Day signature event. The league held four “stadium-series” games this season at Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Soldier Field, but Leipold has held out for the actual Winter Classic.
But when the 2015 Winter Classic was awarded to the Washington Capitals, Leipold changed his tune and informed the league he would accept a stadium-series game if it helps the Wild lure the Winter Classic.
Bettman said it’s not an exaggeration to say Leipold ends every e-mail exchange between the two hinting that he wants an outdoor game.
“We talk on a regular basis, and somehow it manages to come up in almost every conversation, too” Bettman said. “Listen, he’s passionate about hockey, he’s passionate about the Wild, he’s passionate about the fans here in Minnesota and he wants to cause something that would be fun.”
Bettman also said that while the NHL hasn’t engaged in a formal process to expand from 30 to 32 teams, “There’s a lot of interest. We’re hearing from multiple groups in Seattle … in Vegas, in Kansas City, in Quebec City.”
Wild still kicking tires on Halak
With the Wild in the market for a goalie before Wednesday’s 2 p.m. trade deadline, the Nashville Predators placed Devan Dubnyk on waivers Monday.
It still seems more likely that the Wild trades for a goalie, and there’s no doubt that General Manager Chuck Fletcher continues to talk with the Buffalo Sabres about Jaroslav Halak. Traded to Buffalo in the Ryan Miller deal Friday, Halak was 24-9-4 with a 2.23 goals-against average this season with St. Louis.
Dubnyk, 27, has had a difficult season, going 11-18-3 with a 3.43 GAA and .891 save percentage with Edmonton and Nashville, although goalie coach Bob Mason is said to be a fan of Dubnyk. The Wild also has talked to New Jersey about future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.
Scandella returns, Stoner sits
Marco Scandella’s return from a sprained knee meant coach Mike Yeo had to scratch one defenseman. On this night, he chose Clayton Stoner.
“He shouldn’t expect to just get sat every game,” Yeo said of Stoner. “Been very pleased with his game. We all saw what happened in Edmonton and the way he was able to come back in that game. He’s been a warrior for us. He’s been a physical presence, and we’re going to need him. This is one game. This is a decision we made for tonight.”
• The Wild signed 2013 third-round pick Kurtis Gabriel to an entry-level contract that begins next season.
The 6-4 forward has scored 42 points and amassed 86 penalty minutes in 54 games for OHL Owen Sound this season.
“He’s a hardworking kid that brings an intriguing package of size, physical competitiveness and character,” assistant GM Brent Flahr said.
• Winger Jason Zucker, out because of a leg injury, skated for an hour with strength coach Kirk Olson on Monday morning.
• Forwards Stephane Veilleux and Mike Rupp were scratched.