Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Parise watch begins; What to do about Latendresse?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild off-season news Updated: June 12, 2012 - 11:32 AM

The New Jersey Devils weren't even done shaking the hands of the victorious Los Angeles Kings last night when I started to get bombarded with tweets about the future of Zach Parise.

OK, well, maybe I sorta asked for it with my way too soon, tongue-firmly-in-cheek "#parisewatch" tweet.

But, in reality, all eyes and ears will indeed be on Newark these next few weeks in an attempt to ascertain what the heck's going to happen between the Devils and their tremendous captain/heart-and-soul.

If unsigned by July 1, Parise will be the biggest free agent to come down the pike since, well, last year's made-for-TV Brad Richards frenzy. If he gets to July 1, you know the Wild will be on his front lawn (or Newport Sports' front lawn in Missssssissssssssssssssauga, Ontario) with the keys to St. Paul and its Governor's mansion.

The Wild, even though it is not permitted to talk about him specifically, is clearly praying Parise wants to come home. It has a boatload of money and salary-cap space. And the Wild is intent on trying to sell Parise, and Ryan Suter for that matter, that if they sign in Minnesota, they would have the ability to win here perennially because of the seven (they believe) upper-echelon prospects set to turn pro next season.

Both these guys are going to get long-term contracts from any team that signs them. So they're going to want to go (or stay) on the team they believe they have the brightest futures deep into their contracts. And, if they're as good as everybody thinks they are, they should be two of the catalysts to those bright futures.

If contract talks with Parise break down with New Jersey and contract talks with Suter break down with Nashville, I think the Wild would try to get aggressive and trade for their rights. I don't believe the Devils have ever traded the rights to a free agent. They certainly have lost a bunch of free agents for nothing though. Nashville, on the other hand, has a history of trading the rights to free agents (Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell in the same deal with Philly, Dan Hamhuis to Philly and Dan Ellis to Montreal), although GM David Poile has said publicly he's not going to trade the rights to Suter.

But if you're the Wild and you may have to go head to head in a free-agent frenzy with teams like Detroit and the Rangers and name your team, I'd think you'd want to get ahead of the game, wine and dine em and sell your program on them in advance of others.

As you can see in Tom Gulitti's report here and Steve Politi's report here, Parise understandably wasn't ready to talk about his future so fresh after last night's loss. So, stay tuned.

Bovada came out with its 2013 Stanley Cup odds today. Tied for the worst? Wild, Islanders and Blue Jackets at 75/1. So if you think the Wild will land the saviors, ....

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In other news, hopefully you saw my Guillaume Latendresse article and Josh Harding note in Saturday's paper. If not, take a gander here. As I've been intimating for awhile and Latendresse says in the story, no chance he gets his qualifying offer of $2.5 million. The team will either let him walk, which would make him an unrestricted free agent, or it'll negotiate a less risky one-year deal.

Since the article, I've gotten a boatload of questions asking my opinion as to what the Wild should do. Anybody that knows me, I go on the longest walks ever to solve the world's problems, and during a walk two days ago, I thought a lot about this subject and basically completely changed my mind.

For awhile now, I really felt it was time for the Wild to just walk away from Latendresse simply because he's played 27 of 162 games over the past two years and I witnessed first-hand how his absence shot a dagger into the Wild's depth the past two seasons.

In a salary-cap world where it’s not easy to replace injured goal scorers on the fly, Latendresse’s absences critically hamstrung the team the past two years. The Wild may decide it’s simply too risky to rely on Latendresse again.

I think it should bring him back if Latendresse truly means what he told me -- that he's willing to make it work for both sides. And frankly, after collecting 5 mill in 27 games the past two years, I think he should. Because he spent over 100 days on injured reserve last year, the Wild could sign him to a fiscally-sane one-year deal with games played and performance bonuses. Theoretically, the base salary could be at the league minimum $550,000. Theoretically.

I just don't know when you're the lowest scoring team in the NHL (like the Wild was last year) how you can afford to just throw away a 25-year-old power forward who, if healthy, has the ability to pop in 25 or 30 goals a year. 

To put Latendresse in perspective, in the history of the Wild, only six players have scored 25 or more goals (Marian Gaborik 5 times, Brian Rolston 3 times and Latendresse, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan and Pavol Demitra once).

What's more: 1. The Wild needs "NHLers" who can score, not just prospects who have the potential to score. Latendresse is an NHLer; 2. There's not a lot of Plan B's at forward in free agency if the Wild strikes out with Parise. Next up would be a trade. And since trades are uncertain, I think you have to bring the known quantity; 3) It's not Latendresse's fault that his absence blew a hole through the lineup. It's incumbent on the Wild to ensure it has the depth to survive injuries, and potentially now with so many kids turning pro, the Wild will be in a better position to survive injuries to top-6 forwards.

So if Latendresse is cleared by the doctors and the Wild can negotiate a quality contract with him, I think the team should bring him back. We'll see what happens.

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In the story, Chuck Fletcher says he'll talk this week to Craig Oster about Josh Harding. As I've written many times, it'll be up to Harding. Does he want to go somewhere else to try to be a No. 1 or is he willing to return to his role for at least a year of being Niklas Backstrom's No. 2? If not, the Wild will sign a veteran backup. No chance the Wild goes into next season by just anointing Matt Hackett the No. 2. It wants, needs competition, and also, in my opinion, with Backstrom being so beat up the last few years, it needs to have a reliable guy in that position that can play a bunch of games.

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The Wild has until the Monday after the Draft (June 25) to tender qualifying offers to retain the rights to its restricted free agents. Of the NHLers, that's Justin Falk and Nick Johnson. I'd think they'd qualify both (definitely Falk, whose agent is also Oster, so they can maybe kill two birds with one stone). I'd think Johnson, too, but he struggled in the second half, especially in his own zone. There's also a bunch of minor leaguers that need to be qualified.  

Draft coverage in the Strib begins next week, but I'll start blogging on it soon.

Lastly, congrats to Willie Mitchell on winning the Stanley Cup. Man, did the former Wild defenseman ever play well this season and throughout the playoffs.

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