This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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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Wild with 1st 7 goal outing since 8-4 W 4/10/09 vs NSH. Last time w 7 on road was 11/16/06 in SO win at NSH...
The Wild had a fun, quick practice at St. Thomas Academy this morning and is about to hit the friendly sky for a southbound flight to the Lone Star State.
Most the Wild's practice today was a small area 3-on-2 game where both nets are on the same goal line. Gloves are lined up vertically in the middle of the zone, and when the puck crosses to that side, a new 3-on-2 begins aimed at one of the nets. It's fun to watch.
Causes quick plays in tight spaces, communication, players are basically unaware as to how hard they're actually working because they're having so much fun and it triggers lots of hooting and hollering -- mostly from assistant coach Darryl Sydor, who seems to love whatever team Mikko Koivu is on.
Left wing Mike Rupp, who missed the past three games with a lower body injury, practiced today and will be on that plane for the quick trip to Dallas. He was oddly the only player to wear a white helmet today. I figured it must be his version of the yellow "Do Not Touch Me, I'm Hurt" jersey, but he simply made a faux pas and packed the wrong helmet for the dress and drive.
I am not sure if Rupp is going to play yet though. I hear the Wild is going to reassign Jason Zucker this afternoon, presumably because Pierre-Marc Bouchard has taken his spot on the second line and Zucker isn't suited for the fourth line. But it sounds to me like the Wild will recall a player as it reassigns Zucker. I'll update when I know.
I also think the Wild will flip goalies at some point. They'll need a backup to play next weekend, and Matt Hackett will have gone three weeks without a game by then.
Update: Zucker was indeed sent down and former Badger Jake Dowell recalled. Dowell is a former Star with a physical edge. I'd think Zucker will be back if there's an injury in a top-line role or a spot opened up. Could be very short-term. He'll be back. Blame Corey Perry.
The Wild also flipped goalies, recalling Darcy Kuemper. It's unclear whether this is temporary though. Hackett could start one game with Houston and then maybe be recalled to play Friday in Dallas or in Minnesota against Los Angeles next Saturday.
I can't see Niklas Backstrom starting both road-home back-to-backs next weekend. If it were me, I'd go with a Hackett-Kuemper duo Friday in Dallas and don't even travel Backstrom. We'll talk to Yeo in the morning to get his comments on the moves.
The big Stars news is they traded captain Brenden Morrow to Pittsburgh. I've got to think now Boston pounces on Jarome Iginla.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Kari Lehtonen -- almost definitely -- Monday.
The Wild will be searching for its first win in Dallas since March 21, 2003. I'm no math major, but I think that's a little more than 10 calendar years!. Sixteen losses in a row (0-11-5), which is tied for the longest current losing streak by one team in one opposing building in the NHL (Calgary at Anaheim). The Wild's been outscored 62-30 in this stretch.
I have to dig up last year's file I put together of tweets I got when I asked for entries to: "The last time the Wild won in Dallas, ..."
For instance: The last time won in Dallas, Sid Hartman was still a young, up-and-coming columnist.
I'll find this file and blog em Monday morning.
The good news is the Wild snapped an 11-game winless streak in Vancouver last Monday, beat Detroit in regulation for the first time on the road since 2006 on Wednesday and half the Wild players have no clue such a streak even exists.
The Wild has said over and over lately that it feels it can beat any team in any building right now. Well, we will see. Bizarrely, the Wild plays in Dallas Monday and Friday with a home game in between vs. Phoenix.
I'll be on KFAN at 10 a.m. on Monday and on Fox Sports North during Wild Live at 7 p.m. Monday and again during the first intermission.
In some NHL news, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman fired Guy Boucher very early this morning -- strangely before the Lightning plays in Winnipeg tonight. Not often are coaches fired in the middle of a road trip, let alone after taking a plane ride with the team following a loss at Ottawa yesterday. Must have been quite the flight.
Former Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff seems destined to replace Boucher and Yzerman indicated he's got somebody lined up. The other name circulating is minor-league coach Jon Cooper.
Also, TSN's Darren Dreger reports Calgary captain Jarome Iginla has four teams he is willing to be traded to -- Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Lastly, one reason why it was time for the Wild to send Mikael Granlund to Houston is he can play roles there he just wasn't able to in Minnesota. First line, first power play and even shootouts.
In Minnesota, it got to the point Granlund was either relegated to the fourth line or press box. He didn't get a shootout try because Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Matt Cullen are three of the best in the NHL (none of the Wild's four shootouts went past Round 3, Wild's 3-1 in shootouts).
In five games back with the Aeros, Granlund has one goal and five assists, and last night against Rochester scored this shootout beauty.
Tonight in Detroit, the Wild looks to sweep a road trip of 3-or-more games for the first time since Jan. 4-8, 2011, at New Jersey, Boston and Pittsburgh.
The Wild did have a five-game trip last year split into 4 and 1 where it won the first four games before returning home for a day and continuing the trip. But that technically still is considered a five-game trip, plus, since the loss Dec. 13, 2011, was in Winnipeg and that loss began the Wild's nose-dive-of-a-century, it shouldn't count just for that alone.
The Wild has won three in a row in regulation (COL, at COL, at VAN). It last won three in a row in regulation in the final five games of a seven-game winning streak Nov. 28-Dec. 10, 2011. Minnesota has won three straight on the road for the first time since a seven-game road winning streak Nov. 13-Dec. 10, 2011.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Jimmy Howard tonight. Mike Rupp and Tom Gilbert again skated this morning but won't play. Coach Mike Yeo says neither is 100 percent, and Rupp did leave the ice early shaking his head negatively to athletic therapist Don Fuller.
Nate Prosser gets a second consecutive game, meaning Brett Clark continues to wait to make his Wild debut.
Patrick Eaves won't play after being hit with a puck in practice. The Red Wings have recalled Gustav Nyquist.
Tonight's game is on NBC Sports Network. Doc, Edzo and Pierre at the mics.
Hopefully you saw today's article here on the trade deadline. Obviously a lot can change in 13 days, especially if there are injuries. April 3 is the deadline. The Wild's in San Jose. I am doing this out of memory, but I'm fairly sure the other time the Wild was in San Jose at the deadline, they didn't make a move (2009, Doug Risebrough's last deadline).
The two facets of today's article are 1) GM Chuck Fletcher says he is not trading Matt Cullen and Niklas Backstrom and indicated that while he's interested in talking to them about extensions, since there's no pressure to get it done now, he'll wait 'til the end of the year to talk to both; 2) He doesn't want to block the development of the Wild's youngsters and part of development is getting a playoff taste. In 2006, that's what Anaheim did with a couple rookies named Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They won a Cup the next year.
In other words, there's different steps to development and Fletcher feels it would be a shame to make a move that would lessen or eliminate the roles of Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker and thus "skip" a necessary step of development. So I wouldn't expect a "rental" trade for say a first-line right wing or top defenseman.
I still believe Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still on the block, and knowing Fletcher, he would be interested in making what he likes to dub "hockey trades." (i.e. Nick Schultz for Tom Gilbert).
On Cullen/Backstrom, my gut says the Wild will want to extend Cullen. Before the year, I felt this would guaranteed be his last year because they'd need his spot to open a door for a kid, like Mikael Granlund or Johan Larsson or Brett Bulmer. But, you know what? You can't have all kids, Cullen can still play, skates like a 26-year-old and has been as important of a forward for the Wild as any other the past five weeks.
As for Backstrom, you can't just hand the reins to two rookies next year. You need a quality veteran who can start games and mentor. With Josh Harding's health uncertainty and the fact that they'd have to sign a veteran anyway because of what I initially said, I think you re-sign Backstrom if you can for a quality price on a short-term deal.
I just wouldn't expect big splashes at the deadline or even free agency for awhile. I will write more about this in the paper Thursday, but the big reason is the Wild has to make sure it can afford the future cap hits on second contracts for their kids.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson just got a six-year deal worth $5.5 million a year coming out of his entry-level deal from Phoenix. This could very well wind up being the Jonas Brodin comparable if he continues to evolve offensively. Coyle, Zucker, these guys could get big second deals.
It's imperative the Wild doesn't put itselves in positions where it has a tough time re-signing their kids. This wouldn't preclude them from picking up players or signing players on short-term deals, but it very well could preclude them from signing or trading for huge names. Like I said, I'll write more about that in the Thursday paper.
But, embed this in your brains for awhile whenever you want to ask me, will the Wild go after X and X and X the next few deadlines and free agency periods.
Brodin made his NHL debut in this building in January. Very excited to be back and to be playing so well.
Lastly, there's a report from a web site in Finland that Karpat Oulu is trying to sign Gophers center and Wild draft pick Erik Haula. I'm sure he gets offers like this all the time, but the Wild isn't worried. This is a Finnish kid that came to America to play high school and college. His goal is obviously to play in the National Hockey League.
After the Gophers' year, the Wild will talk to Haula to see what he wants to do. My guess is the Wild signs him (Houston bound), but this is honestly a guess. The Wild doesn't want to answer Haula questions right now out of respect for the Gophers. The Wild doesn't want to cause the Gophers and Haula any distractions.
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