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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

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Posts about Wild news

Spurgeon, Vanek to play tonight

Posted by: Kent Youngblood Updated: March 8, 2015 - 4:13 PM

For the first time in nine games defenseman Jared Spurgeon will suit up for the Wild tonight when the team hosts Colorado at Xcel Energy Center. Out eight games with a head injury, Spurgeon will return, which means Christian Folin will sit. Wild coach Mike Yeo said pre-game that Spurgeon and recently-acquired Jordan Leopold – whose daughter will make the “Lets’s play hockey’’ chant tonight – will see a lot of time together on the ice.

Meanwhile, Thomas Vanek will return after missing one game with the flu.

This is the final game between these two teams this season, and the bad blood that has been building between them have many thinking tonight’s game could be an eventful one. Listening to the two coaches tonight, pregame, I have a slightly different opinion.

Yeo, of course, said all the right things about controlling emotions. “I think a lot of these things are hyped up and built up more than what they end up being,” he said. “I know for them, it’s a pivotal game. Critical. So I would expect them to come out and focus on their game.’’

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, meanwhile, went off on a strange tangent, taking issue with a locally-written report suggesting there was no love lost between the two teams. Roy went so far as to depict Cody McLeod as a noble warrior whose good name is being questioned. Bottom line, though, is that Roy suggested that playing hockey was more important than anything else. We’ll see in about an hour. 

Digesting Chris Stewart/Jordan Leopold trades; What will the Wild lines look like?

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 2, 2015 - 11:05 PM

Evening from Xcel Energy Center, where I still sit at 8:30 p.m.

The most common question I received on Twitter this afternoon (and now evening) understandably is, “how will the lines shape up?”

The answer: I don’t know, but I’ll tell you on Twitter (@russostrib) around 10:40 a.m. Tuesday and on here soon after.

Coach Mike Yeo isn’t saying yet probably because he has yet to tell some undeserving soul that he’ll have to come out of the lineup initially for Chris Stewart. That’s just the fact of life when you acquire a player of Stewart’s ilk. I will get more into my opinions a little lower on this here blog.

Stewart is expected into the Twin Cities around 11 tonight and plans to make his Wild debut wearing No. 44 against the Senators, coincidentally one of the teams that were rumored to be hot after Stewart since the moment he was traded from St. Louis to Buffalo last year at this time in the Ryan Miller blockbuster.

Yeo said this morning he was optimistic Marco Scandella would be able to play against Ottawa, but GM Chuck Fletcher said a few hours ago Scandella is questionable and he anticipates that Jordan Leopold will make his Wild debut in a No. 33 sweater. Also, remember, Sean Bergenheim is expected to make his home debut Tuesday.

First of all, this Stewart trade was surprising. Everything I was hearing is the Wild had no interest because the price was unbelievably high all year long. But this was the very unique case where, "if the price drops, call me.”

As I’ve written a thousand times, Fletcher and Buffalo Sabres Tim Murray are the best of buds. They were together in Florida and Anaheim, and as you know by now, San Jose and Buffalo have been Fletcher’s two favorite trading partners. The past two trade deadlines, Fletcher acquired Jason Pominville, Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick from the Sabres. This morning, on his way to Wild headquarters, Fletcher phoned (Canadian verb) Murray and told him if the price shot down for Stewart, he’s sure Murray had his number in his cell phone.

Stewart had been the most rumored player in the NHL to be on the trading block for months, and Fletcher first started talking to Murray last summer, he said. But the price was never the right fit until Murray, who had a few deals fall through while maybe overreaching, called Fletcher with about 10 minutes left before the deadline. Buffalo agreed to pay half his salary, and Fletcher sent Murray another second-round pick, this one in 2017. Even Fletcher joked he always seems to send the Sabres seconds. But he refused to part with this year’s second.

As I quickly wrote on the previous blog, Stewart is a gamble only because he has long gotten under the skin of coaches for myriad reasons. Here are a few stories from Buffalo documenting that by Bill Hoppe.

But, Fletcher said, “As the season goes on, you get to know your team, you learn about your team. I think we’re a very fast team, we have a lot of skill. I like our depth, especially now. Probably the one fair criticism you could level at us is our lack of size. And Chris is a big, strong guy who brings a lot of toughness to our team, but yet he’s a player that has contributed offensively, can play on the power play, can really shoot the puck, he’s willing to go to the net. And we think with the type of players we have on the team, his skill set really complements our group really well.”

Basically, Fletcher feels Stewart can help the Wild compete against the more rugged teams in the West, especially the rest of the way when the Wild faces St. Louis three times and Winnipeg, L.A., and Anaheim once more each.

Plus, if the Wild gets the first wildcard spot, it could be facing the Ducks in the first round.

As I mentioned above, the lines. What to do, what to do?

First of all, somebody will be unhappy Tuesday. And whatever Yeo decides, some fans will agree, some will disagree. The decision won’t be easy.

If you would allow me, for your own sanity and health, I do suggest you don’t freak out too much because 1) When Yeo changed the lines heading into that Calgary game a few weeks ago, you know the same lines for the most part that have brought more balance to the Wild lineup than at any time I have covered this franchise, many fans freaked out then!!! 2) With so many games this month and with injuries being the nature of the beast in the NHL, whatever the lines are Tuesday will change at some point and whichever unlucky, undeserving player comes out will play again at some point!

So, the lines. Fletcher says it’s up to Yeo.

I have no clue what he’ll do. There are several ways to go here, and I’m talking out of my fingertips just as thoughts come to my mind.

1. Take out one of the fourth-liners of Erik Haula, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine, but that trio has been the best line the past two road games, combining for four goals. Also, Haula and Brodziak are bigtime fixtures on a penalty kill that is 43 for 44 in 16 games since the All-Star break. And Fontaine, it seems whatever line he’s on lately is the one that churns the best.

2. Take out Jordan Schroeder, which would be a real shame because he has brought speed and offense to the Wild lineup. But if you take Schroeder out, it would cause the least upheaval in your lineup because the fourth line stays intact, you can keep the first and second lines intact and just slide Stewart into a big third line with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle.

3. Sit Sean Bergenheim, which wouldn’t be fair either. But that way you keep your fourth line intact, keep that real good Niederreiter-Coyle-Schroeder line intact, keep what was a good Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line in Colorado together.

4. Yeah, I saw many of your thoughts on Twitter. Sit Thomas Vanek. Doubtful to say the least. My concern with replacing Bergenheim with Stewart on a line with Mikko Koivu and Vanek would be foot speed. Stewart’s speed used to be real impressive, but some have criticized that in recent years. We will see for ourselves.

But this is why my gut says unless Yeo is willing to take somebody out from that fourth line, Schroeder could be the poor odd guy out to begin with because then Stewart slides into the third line and Bergenheim stays with Koivu and Vanek.

5. Although, I can't get this out of my head and maybe he does fiddle with top three lines, puts Stewart with Parise and Granlund to add some size there, puts Vanek and Pominville together (previous chemistry) with Koivu, puts Bergenheim on one of the wings with Niederreiter and Coyle and keeps fourth line intact. I actually like these lines the best.

You think this is complex, wait til Matt Cooke, Ryan Carter and maybe Jason Zucker return.

AGAIN, WHATEVER YEO DECIDES, DON’T FREAK OUT (yet)!

I asked Fletcher about messing with the chemistry that has been so good (this team is fast, defensively-structured, hard-working, balanced, on pace for the most goals in franchise history).

“Assuming we’re healthy. We have three games in four nights starting [Tuesday], a bunch of back to backs. A very rigorous schedule the rest of the way,” Fletcher said. “It increases our depth, it increases our size, it improves our experience and that will be up to Mike. I’d rather have a lot of options than not enough. Our depth has certainly been tested in various areas this year up front and on defense. This was sort of the last opportunity to improve our depth prior to the end of this season. Hopefully this is a big upgrade for us. You never know when you make a trade – there’s risks. But adding Bergenheim with his speed and physicality and energy and adding Stewart with his size and proven track record of being able to contribute offensively as a power forward, I think those two elements have really improved our team.”

He added, “Our players are adaptable. They’ve moved. The great chemistry and the lines that were put together in October when we were winning are completely different than they are now. There’s going to be injuries. I know the coaches were very comfortable adding Chris. Competition is good, depth is good. The most important thing is we just need to keep winning games.”

Fletcher said he did his homework on Stewart, is comfortable with what he heard and after talking with him today, he’s incredibly motivated because this is a contract year. Stewart, again, can become a free agent July 1.

“It’s obviously been a difficult season for him in Buffalo in terms of the wins and losses,” Fletcher said. “He knows of our team quite well from playing against our team in Colorado and St. Louis. I know he’s excited to play with the group of players we have and be in a playoff race and compete hard for wins and making the playoffs, but also for a new contract.  I like where he’s at in terms of how we feel he’ll perform for us.”

Stewart was excited. He talked right before his flight to Minnesota from Tampa, where the Sabres were for the second trade deadline in a row.

“Minnesota has always been one of my favorite places to play. The fans there have been great and coming to that arena, they’re always fired up and ready to support that team. Being on the other end of it now, I’m sure it’ll feel a little bit different, but exciting.

“It’s going to be a great challenge. I look forward to it. It’s a fresh start and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Adding my size and my physicality to that lineup, I think that’s something they’re looking for.”

“I’m a big guy, a power forward, I have some pretty good speed and I like to play a hard-nosed game and get in the corners there and on the forecheck and create turnovers.”

He said, “Zach Parise reached out to me earlier. We have a mutual friend in Chris Porter, who is one of his good friends, so he reached out to me and said he was happy to have me on board and looks forward to meeting me [Tuesday].”

Fletcher basically said the size factor of Stewart was most intriguing: “I thought last year after we added Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick, we really needed Matt's goal scoring down the stretch, but Cody’s size and physicality really helped our team. I hope Chris can do the same. Maybe Chris is a hybrid between the two where he can chip in offensively and produce, but also bring that size and make us a little harder to play against. Again, we really like our team, we like our players, but that was probably an area we were a little deficient in.”

As for Jordan Leopold, I know a couple former Sabres like Pominville and Vanek were excited. The three lived on the same block in Buffalo.

Fletcher said he’s been talking to Columbus’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen for weeks about Leopold, but every time he thought he was on the verge of trading for him, another Blue Jackets injury occurred on their blue line.

“We were looking for depth, looking for a left shot defenseman and looking for a guy that has played in the playoffs and can move the puck. We want our defense to be mobile and have the ability to move the puck and his skill set certainly has those abilities in net. He’ll provide depth and a guy that we know can play and certainly he’s a player that has had a lot of success in this market and was eager to come home. I think we’ll get a lot out of Jordan Leopold.”

On daughter Jordyn’s viral letter (see previous blog), Fletcher said kiddingly, “I saw it today. A tremendous letter. After that, the pressure was immense. You can certainly feel for the family. Very good writer. In fact, we may have an opening on our communication staff. I’m telling you, it was a pretty powerful letter. She hit on a good few points. Again, we’re excited for Jordan. He was a star here in high school and a star in college and is very familiar with all of our players from the summer, from skating with them and skating with a few of them. We think it’ll be a good fit. You can’t have enough experienced, you can’t have enough defensemen.”

On Zack Phillips’ minor-league trade for Jared Knight, I hear Phillips asked to be traded because he read the tea leaves and knew he had no chance of ever playing here. As I’ve mentioned before, tons of skill, but no foot speed and many questioned his commitment to the game, especially off the ice.

“He’s very young and still a talented kid and hopefully he can find his way in Boston because he is a talented a kid,” Fletcher said. “But sometimes these things happen. Knight, similar thing has happened where he’s sort of hit a wall in Boston and probably needs a change and sometimes these trades can work well for both things. We’ll see. We need a lot of improvement in Iowa. It’s been a very, very disappointing season, so this will get the ball rolling down there and we’ll continue to address what we need to do to make that team better.”

OK, I’m out of breath. That was a long blog after writing three articles for the paper. I’ve got to try to get out of here and get some errands done because I need to be at the arena all day Tuesday and have an early flight to D.C. on Wednesday.

I will be on KFAN at 10:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission Tuesday and likely a podcast with Jim Souhan on souhanunfiltered.com at some point Tuesday afternoon, probably around 2:30 or 3. I’ll let you know.

Wild acquires Chris Stewart, Jordan Leopold; Scandella, Spurgeon updates

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 2, 2015 - 3:51 PM

The Wild has made two moves prior to the deadline, and one came out of the blue because the price dropped dramatically.

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray, who had been trying to trade Chris Stewart all year long for a huge return, may have overreached at the end. The Wild was able to snag the power forward for a 2017 second-round pick. The Sabres are also picking up half the $465,000 still owed to the free-agent-to-be.

Stewart is a gamble because his commitment, fitness, defensive reliability and work ethic have long been questioned. But when he is engaged, he is an absolute menace (listed at 6-2, 231 pounds) who can score and this is clearly a move to help the Wild compete in the playoffs against more rugged Western Conference teams.

He scored 28 goals as a second-year winger for the Colorado Avalanche in 2009-10 and a combined 28 goals for Colorado and St. Louis in 2010-11, and it has been downhill ever since. This year, he has scored 11 goals and 25 points in 61 games and is minus-30, tied for second-worst in the NHL.

Thirty-two of his 126 career goals have come on the power play. It'll be interesting to see if he plays the No. 1 unit because Thomas Vanek has had a propensity for turnovers, especially the past two games, on that unit. Stewart has 253 points and 510 penalty minutes in 443 games.

Don't know yet who comes out of the lineup. We'll get GM Chuck Fletcher soon, but the fourth line is playing great (Justin Fontaine seems to make every line lately churn) and Jordan Schroeder has brought offense and speed and Sean Bergenheim has just been added to the lineup.

So it'll be interesting how coach Mike Yeo proceeds with a lineup that is playing well, has been fast, hard-working and structured. Also, at some point, Matt Cooke, Ryan Carter and Jason Zucker should return. That's the risk with this trade: The coach may have to mess with four lines that have been going really well, which is a little surprising after Fletcher talked Saturday about not wanting to mess with the chemistry.

TSN, funny enough, had Stewart ready to come on when the trade went down and broke the news to Stewart live on TV.

His reaction: "The Minnesota Wild? Sounds good. ... I'm excited I'll get a chance to play in the playoffs. I had a rough start of the year, and I thought the last 30 games I definitely turned my game around.

"They definitely have a lot of skill in their lineup, so me personally, I'd like to bring that power forward game, bring that grit and get in there, forecheck, create turnovers and just use my presence, go to the net, score some ugly goals."

The Wild also acquired Leopold for a fifth-round pick and Justin Falk, whom sources say asked to be traded.

Leopold was acquired from St. Louis for a 2016 fifth-round pick in November.

Leopold, 34, is most importantly a left-shot that could bring depth in case of injury. Good vision, moves the puck well, suspect at times defensively, good locker-room guy and again would be a depth player to have around for a playoff run.

He has scored 67 goals and 213 points in 677 games for seven teams (Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis and Columbus).

The former Hobey Baker winner won a national title with the Gophers in 2002, scoring 20 goals and 48 points in 44 games.

This letter is courtesy of KFAN's Paul Allen, who received this letter written by Leopold's 11-year-old daughter and read it on the air today.

The Wild also made a minor-league move, sending 2011 first-round pick Zack Phillips to Boston for 2010 second-round pick Jared Knight. Phillips flamed out bigtime and was a source of much frustration for the Wild because he had all the skill without the commitment off the ice.

FROM BEFORE THE TRADES:

Once in Calgary, Todd Richards pulled a phone out of his practice garb and pulled Eric Belanger off the ice for his trade to Washington. Coach Mike Yeo said he didn't bring his phone on the ice today.

Yeo on the trade deadline: "Boring for us. I went into this day understanding and knowing – obviously things could change, but first off we like the team, we like the way that we’re playing right now – a lot of the moves that we’ve done, we did them early. You look at Duby (Devan Dubnyk), it speaks for itself what a good deal that was for our team. You look at Sean [Bergenheim], the two games that we’ve seen him, we’ve been very pleased with what he’s brought. Also looks like a good fit."

On the possibility of trading for a depth defenseman, Yeo said, "[Fletcher] has our support on that. That’s not because of the play because of the guys that are in the lineup right now. We’ve been very pleased with that group (Nate Prosser, Matt Dumba and Christian Folin) and what they’ve been doing and the progress of our young kids. But that said, you have to prepare for injuries and make sure you’re protected that way. We would welcome anything like that."

Stephane Veilleux was assigned to AHL Iowa to create two roster spots.

Also, injured defenseman Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon didn't practice this morning. Everybody else did.

Yeo said there was good news with Scandella and there's nothing structural with this undisclosed injury and nothing to worry about. He said Scandella is feeling better and Yeo is "optimistic" he can play Tuesday against red-hot Ottawa.

Also, defenseman Jared Spurgeon will miss his sixth straight game with what's believed to be a concussion, but he skated this morning, is feeling better and the hope is he can return Thursday in Washington.

Also, the NHL will announce today the Colorado fines for Patrick Roy, Gabriel Landeskog and Cody McLeod.

The Landeskog and McLeod fines will seem insignificant, but remember, there is a maximum players can be fined under the collective bargaining agreement. A non-repeat offender with no hearing can be fined half of one day's pay not to exceed $5,000. So the fines are to bring attention to the rest of the NHL that the incidents were unacceptable and to establish a history with the players for future potential discipline wrongdoings.

Kyle Brodziak on McLeod jumping Mikael Granlund with three seconds left in a 3-1 defeat: "Clearly frustration or somebody told him to go do that because there's no point. What did Granny do? Just shows no class and lack of emotional control or whatever it is."

Koivu didn't bite talking about Landeskog, saying it is what it is and part of hockey and an emotional game.

Yeo on Dubnyk winning NHL First Star of the Month: "Very pleased for him that he could accomplish that. We’ve benefited from his solid play along the way. Very deserving of it. Anytime any player wins any kind of award and gets any kind of recognition like that, there’s a lot of people that helped him along the way. Certainly I think the team and the game they’ve played in front of him deserves a lot of credit for that. But there’s no doubt he’s very deserving and we’re all very happy for him."

Dubnyk also credited the team and was very honored.

I'll be back if there's a trade or after the deadline.

Devan Dubnyk named NHL's first star of the month

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 1, 2015 - 3:39 PM

For the first time in Wild history, one of its players has been named an NHL Player of the Month/(renamed) first star of the month.

Not shockingly, Devan Dubnyk, who made 33 saves in last night's win at Colorado, got the honor after going 11-2-1 in February with a 1.64 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and three shutouts while starting all 14 Wild games last month. The Wild climbed from 12th in the West to having a three-point cushion on the second wildcard spot. It is one point back of Winnipeg, which hosts the Kings today, for the first wildcard spot.

Dubnyk allowed 23 goals in 14 games (including two that arguably should have been disallowed in Calgary and Colorado), allowed two or fewer goals in 11 starts and shut out Chicago, Colorado and Edmonton.

Overall, Dubnyk is 24-8-3 (2.15 GAA, .926 SV%, 6 SO) in 39 appearances this season, establishing career highs in wins and shutouts while ranking in the top five in the NHL in shutouts (t-2nd), goals-against average (3rd) and save percentage (5th). The 28-year-old Regina, Sask., native has started all 20 games since his arrival in Minnesota Jan. 14, posting a 15-3-1 record with a 1.64 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts in that span. He has allowed 32 goals in 20 games.

He is expected to start his franchise-record 21st consecutive game Tuesday against the red-hot Ottawa Senators. By the way, Monday is the first time since Feb. 11 that the Wild hasn't played every other day. It has played nine consecutive games without a back-to-back or two days between games.

The Wild's only other player of the month/star of the month honor was Josh Harding, the third star of the month in November 2013.

On another topic, I am being told that Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, captain Gabriel Landeskog and agitator Cody McLeod will all be fined for the antics with three seconds left last night.

Roy, for putting McLeod on the ice. McLeod, for jumping Mikael Granlund. Landeskog, for punching Mikko Koivu from bench to bench.

There will be no supplemental discipline for Sean Bergenheim, who checked Nathan MacKinnon and broke the youngster's nose when replays show his helmet hit MacKinnon in the face.

If the Wild put in a waiver claim for defensemen Tim Erixon or David Schlemko today, we won't know. Erixon was claimed by Toronto, Schlemko by Calgary -- two teams with higher waiver priority because they're lower in the standings.

Marco Scandella sustained what's believed to be a minor lower-body injury last night. Jared Spurgeon has missed five games with a concussion, although he started working out yesterday.

Prior to Scandella getting hurt, GM Chuck Fletcher said Saturday morning that he would "maybe" look to acquire a defenseman by Monday's 2 p.m. deadline.

But, he said, "[Jon] Blum’s played real well in Iowa lately. Justin Falk’s a guy that played against Chicago a couple years ago in the playoffs. Both those guys have playoff experience, and we’re expecting to get Spurgeon back here at some point. I mean, you never know. If you have a rash of injuries, you always want to make sure you have enough depth. But I do think when you look at Blum and Falk and [Stu] Bickel, those are three guys that have played in the league. So, not many teams have that kind of depth down on their farm club. Again, we’ll look around, but we’re not going to add a body for the sake of adding a body. If we can get somebody that fits, then we’ll look at that."

I wrote a trade deadline advance for Monday's paper where you can read more from Fletcher, coach Mike Yeo and Zach Parise.

Talk to you tomorrow barring news today. Make sure you follow me on Twitter on Monday at www.twitter.com/russostrib. 

I will be on Fox 9 tonight at 10:35 with Dawn Mitchell.

Wild places Stephane Veilleux on waivers, creates roster flexibility for potential trade

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 27, 2015 - 3:25 PM

Wild left wing Stephane Veilleux was placed on waivers today. With one roster spot open already, Veilleux would create a potential second roster spot if needed. Basically, the move gives the Wild the flexibility if it wants to make a trade in the next day or so (see below for one name the Wild has inquired about).

The trade deadline is Monday at 2 p.m. CT.

If Veilleux clears waivers, he won't necessarily be assigned to AHL Iowa. In fact, with no extra forwards or defensemen, he'll probably stay on the roster unless the Wild needs that spot prior to Saturday's game against the Colorado Avalanche.

By having Veilleux clear waivers, this again just allows the Wild that ability to send him to the minors IF it needs his roster spot because of a trade.

As I reported last week in this article (and frankly several articles recently), General Manager Chuck Fletcher is in the market for a depth defenseman.

In recent games, the Wild has had injury scares with defensemen Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella. Jared Spurgeon is already on injured reserve with a concussion, although coach Mike Yeo has said he is doing better. But all this was a reminder to Fletcher that even with Matt Dumba, fellow rookie Christian Folin and Nate Prosser playing well, it may behoove him to acquire a depth defenseman who can jump into the lineup if needed. There is little doubt the Wild needs another NHL body or two on the blue line, not just in case of injury, but performance. For instance, Dumba had a couple bigtime rookie moments the Wild did survive last night.

In Iowa, the only defensemen considered callup options remaining are Justin Falk and Jon Blum. Falk is the Wild’s only left-shot defenseman beyond Ryan Suter, Brodin and Scandella, meaning the Wild's one left-side injury away from having to recall Falk.

The Wild has inquired with the Columbus Blue Jackets about former University of Minnesota defenseman Jordan Leopold, sources say. The price is believed to be a mid-range draft pick. He was acquired from St. Louis for a 2016 fifth-round pick in November.

Leopold, 34, is most importantly a left-shot that could bring depth in case of injury. Good vision, moves the puck well, suspect at times defensively, good locker-room guy and again would be a depth player to have around for a playoff run.

He has scored 67 goals and 213 points in 677 games for seven teams (Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis and Columbus).

The former Hobey Baker winner won a national title with the Gophers in 2002, scoring 20 goals and 48 points in 44 games.

The top two defensemen on the open market are considered Edmonton's Jeff Petry and former Wild Zbynek Michalek, but Michalek has a concussion and Petry is a right-shot.

Other defensemen potentially available include Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen (coming back from blood clot and hasn't played all years), Carolina's Tim Gleason, Buffalo's Andrej Meszaros and Colorado's Jan Hejda. Others, too, but those are the most well-known names and Leopold is the only one I know the Wild has inquired about.

Again, for the Wild to give itself the flexibility to technially acquire two bodies, perhaps some other stuff is cooking, too. Remember, after Monday's deadline, rosters expand so injured players will be able to come back at any time without the need to create roster spots.

The Wild plays the Avs tomorrow night. The Avs are in Dallas tonight.

The Wild has shut out the Avalanche in three consecutive meetings (combined 9-0), the first NHL team to accomplish that feat since 2007-08. The Wild, 12-2-1 since the All-Star break and 14-3-2 in its past 19 games, has won six of eight on the road to climb over .500 on the road (15-14-2) for the first time since being 1-0 with a 3-0 win at Colorado on Oct. 11.

It is 14-3-3 in its past 19 games in Denver.

Devan Dubnyk is expected to start his 20th consecutive game, tying Niklas Backstrom's team record set in 2009. If all goes well, he has to be a candidate for February's First Star of the Month. The Wild has never had a Player of the Month.

By the way, Nino Niederreiter is the first Swiss-born player in NHL history to hit the 20-goal plateau.

That's it for now, although whether it's today, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, I'd expect the Wild to make a move for at least a defenseman.

I'll be on KFAN today at 4:30 p.m. CT, Saturday at 11:35 a.m. CT and Saturday night on Fox Sports North during the pregame show.

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