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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Afternoon from the X, where the Wild's practicing in advance of its game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It'll be a tough one: Lightning is darn good and the first game back from a long road trip is often a tough one.
Jared Spurgeon is again practicing today and could return. Mikko Koivu is not practicing, is out Tuesday and I'd say doubtful for Thursday. The big question is whether he partakes in the Olympics. As I wrote here, GM Chuck Fletcher doesn't want him playing if he's still injured. Fletcher said he will see the doctors again this week.
Justin Fontaine is the lone guy not practicing today. I saw him limping after the game at Colorado on Thursday, so maybe this is related. Update after practice.
Thomas Vanek reportedly turned down a contract extension with the Islanders and will be traded before the March 5 deadline. Shocker.
Again, my guess has always been the Wild waits until free agency to pursue Vanek. The price for him as a rental will be huge, so why give up a boatload of assets for Vanek when you can sign him as a free agent? Again, the Wild, if it makes the playoffs, is all but locked to get a wildcard spot (Wild's unlikely to catch St. Louis, Chicago or Colorado), meaning it's all but locked to play St. Louis or Anaheim in the first round. Would you want the Wild to trade a first-round pick and a prospect or two for Vanek when your fate is a first round with those teams and he almost certainly will be available four months from now anyway?
Doesn't make a ton of sense to me.
I don't doubt the Wild would like add a rental winger/scorer before the deadline, but the price for Vanek will be high. I'd think L.A. is a possibility. The Kings cannot score. They must add a scorer before the deadline.
Zach Parise was named the NHL's First Star of the Week. He had eight points in three games, including a 3- and 4-point game against Anaheim (winning goal) and Colorado, respectively.
Former Gopher Phil Kessel was Second Star, while the Wild played a role in helping Calgary's Mikael Backlund get Third Star.
FIRST STAR— ZACH PARISE, LW, MINNESOTA WILD
Parise led the NHL with eight points (3-5--8) last week as the Wild
(29-21-7) went 1-1-1 in three road contests. Parise began the week by tallying the game-winning goal plus two assists in a 4-2 win at Anaheim Jan. 28, handing the Ducks their second regulation loss in 25 home starts.
He recorded a season-high four points (2-2--4) and nine shots in a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche Jan. 30 and notched an assist in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames Feb. 1. Parise also was named captain of the
2014 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team on Jan. 31. The 29-year-old Minneapolis native, who served as an alternate captain for the silver medal-winning U.S. team at Vancouver in 2010, has recorded 35 points
(18-17--35) in 42 games with the Wild this season.
SECOND STAR –- PHIL KESSEL, RW, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Kessel recorded seven points (3-4--7) last week, helping the Maple Leafs (30-21-6) climb to third place in the Atlantic Division with three consecutive victories. He earned an assist on the game-winning goal in a
3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Jan. 28, recorded two assists in a 6-3 victory over the Florida Panthers Jan. 30 and tallied his fifth career hat trick and one assist in a 6-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators Feb. 1. The 26-year-old Madison, Wisc. native, who will represent the United States at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games later this month, leads the Maple Leafs in scoring and is fourth in the League overall with 61 points (30-31--61) in
57 games. His 30 goals rank second in the League to Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (39).
THIRD STAR – MIKAEL BACKLUND, C, CALGARY FLAMES
Backlund recorded six points (4-2--6) last week, highlighted by multiple points in each of his three appearances, as the Flames (21-27-7) closed out their first 5-0-0 homestand since Feb. 7-15, 1997. Backlund began the week by notching two goals, one shorthanded, in a 5-4 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks Jan. 28. He tallied two assists in a
4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks Jan. 30 and he closed the week by recording a shorthanded tally as well as the overtime winner in a 4-3 decision over the Minnesota Wild Feb. 1. The 24-year-old Vasteras, Sweden native increased his season scoring total to 13-14--27 in 54 games.
After combining for nine points in Thursday’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville will remain a line when the Wild visits the Calgary Flames on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night.
Afternoon from Calgary. I'll be on KFAN on Saturday at 10:55 a.m.
Parise, who has seven points in the past two games, is coming off a two-goal, two-assist performance, while Granlund and Pominville combined for two goals and three assists.
Coach Mike Yeo plans to also reunite the Jason Zucker-Charlie Coyle-Dany Heatley line. The trio had success last month together, including a two-game string where they combined for four goals and five assists.
Zucker had been scratched the past three games due to the trickle-down effect of Parise’s return to the lineup from a broken foot.
Nino Niederreiter skated on the third line with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. He had spent time there earlier this season, while Erik Haula will center the fourth line with two of three wingers – Mike Rupp, Justin Fontaine and Torrey Mitchell.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who has missed the past 13 games with a broken foot, may return against the Flames.
Spurgeon didn’t take part in a regular pairing during Friday’s practice, but the Wild made sure to get him plenty of reps.
“I thought he looked really good moving the puck and showed no problems whatsoever working in the D zone,” Yeo said.
Yeo said he’d like to get another right-hand shot into the lineup. During Spurgeon’s absence, Nate Prosser has been the only righty other than four games Jon Blum played. Yeo said it would give the power play more options, too.
If Spurgeon returns, Keith Ballard would be the likely scratch.
Yeo wouldn't name his goaltender. My guess is he returns with Darcy Kuemper, although Niklas Backstrom has had a lot of success in Calgary.
He is 8-7 all-time in Calgary with a 1.98 goals against average, .932 save percentage and three shutouts.
The Wild has won eight of its past 12 at the Saddledome.
Talk to you Saturday.
I'm back, ... well, almost.
I am airborne on my way to Denver, although I will land after the Wild’s morning skate because of a flight delay. And since Denver’s airport is in Nebraska, I will miss availability. I’ll update the blog later today after I get players this afternoon and maybe coach Mike Yeo.
I have missed four games in a row, but by watching from afar, the lineup’s all but set anyway. The team is 9-3-1 this month, has gotten five of six points in the past three games against three of the league’s powerhouses, so Darcy Kuemper’s in the cage.
The only lineup decision will presumably be Mike Rupp or Jason Zucker. I’ll update later with that answer. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen the past three games, especially the game in Anaheim, where the Wild severely outchanced the Ducks and beat them decisively.
Kuemper was great, but most impressive, even when you knew guys like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry would pressure late, the Wild was never on its heels. In fact, maybe the most impressive shift of the game came late when Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund munched a minute of clock in the offensive zone.
As you know, in this conference, the Wild needs to keep its foot on the gas tonight against Colorado and Saturday in Calgary.
If you've missed me -- or not, I will be on Fox Sports North during tonight's pregame show and first intermission. Also, another Star Tribune Chalk Talk with Wes Walz and myself is Tuesday night before the Wild's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. For tickets to the Chalk Talk and the game, please go to www.wild.com/chalktalk.
I typically feel like I lose touch with the team when I miss two days in a row, let alone eight, so I’m excited to get back into the swing of things and delve myself into work again. My first six years covering the NHL, I didn’t miss a single game, so you know the past week-plus wasn’t the norm.
Thanks for all the hundreds and hundreds of well wishes, particularly via email and on Twitter. I appreciate it, as does my family.
Last Tuesday, as I ate lunch in Dallas, I got a call that my stepdad, who had been in hospice since November, had taken a turn for the worse. My editors were incredible and didn’t hesitate, giving me permission to rush to the airport and get on the first flight out.
I’ve been a sportswriter for 23 years, and there’s no chance I would have gotten my start without Lenny.
When I was a teenager and started writing for the Boca News and the Sun-Sentinel, you had to wait to get your drivers’ license but you could get a drivers’ permit. That meant I could not drive at night without an adult.
So Lenny would drive with me to different high schools, sit with me as I covered games and then drive with me to the paper afterward.
As I wrote, Lenny would sit in the newspaper’s lobby reading until sometimes after midnight as I wrote.
Leonard (Lenny) Tabin
Saturday night, the Dodgers Stadium outdoors game started at about 10:15 p.m. ET. The Wild game started at 10:30 p.m.
As Lenny slept, I watched both games in the living room, offering him a little play-by-play along the way. The Wild game ended, and five minutes later, Lenny passed away.
It was kind of poignant. I’ve watched countless games on TV with Lenny over the years. I got to watch two final ones to completion.
I just want to thank Lenny’s incredible hospice team. Honestly, these special people work tirelessly and are some of the most caring folks I’ve ever met in my life. They’ll sit there for hours talking and have been incredible support for my mom.
Back in December, I was driving in Columbus, Ohio, when I got a call from my mom and Lenny asking, “How can I start a blog?”
I was like, “a what????” And they said, “a blog!”
Lenny explained that he wanted to start a blog for hospice patients that may feel like they are in helpless situations. He wanted it to be a place where they can support each other through such a tough time.
When I visited over the NHL’s Christmas break, Lenny said he wrote half his first entry and wanted my help with it. Sadly, we never did get to work on it or publish it.
Just prior to Lenny dying, I found it on his iPad. I thought I’d share it:
Another Beautiful Day
This blog is for shut ins, bedridden people and those people who wish to meet
others on the internet. Most of us have a circle of friends, family and
colleagues. We may have 3, 30, more, or less. However, we
may not be able to be in touch with these people. I believe my blog
will introduce people who understand one another and their situation. We will
share our experiences, strengths, and hopes.
My personal story is as follows: in December of 2012 I was not feeling well. My
wife convinced me to see a doctor. We found that I had Chron’s/Colitis. We began
a first tier of therapy. The therapy was not working, so we went to the next
tier. This included very expensive medications ($1100.00). On May 6th, I was a
substitute teacher for kindergarten class. My left foot hurt very much and I was
limping. At dinner time, I was unable to control my fork. I was cold and I felt
very sick. My wife and I went to the emergency room of our hospital. I was
admitted to the hospital for tests. My son flew in from Minneapolis. That night
my family was called at 2:30 in the morning to get to the hospital as soon as
possible. I had an embolism in my left calf. I was in congestive heart failure
as well. One doctor told my family that I only had 10 1/2 hours to live. Well
we proved them wrong, I was in the intensive care unit for the next eight
days. I had renal failure and was on dialysis. That worked, but I was told that I
may have cancer. No cancer, but we had to drain fluid from my lungs. After four
weeks I went to a rehabilitation center for eight weeks. I went from wheel chair
to walker and then to using a cane. I lost 55-60 pounds. I have been very
positive since this began. I was told that I am not a candidate for heart
transplant. My cardiologist recommended palliative care. We contacted a company,
Seasons hospice, this is not your grandmothers hospice. My nursing care is
extraordinary. I have an iv that regulates my heart and we have to change the
iv bag every three days. We have a music therapist who comes twice a month with
her guitar. I like Stevie Nicks and she also likes her. Their Chaplin also is
available. Our case manager has been very helpful to us. This concept of hospice
is to make your life as comfortable as possible. They look to extend life, you
are not preparing for your ultimate demise. I have taken this opportunity to
alert you, that all is not a dark road with no opportunities. Our 16th
president, Abraham Lincoln said that people are as happy as they make up their
minds to be. I know that I could just turn my back and feel very sorry for myself. I have made a choice to be as positive as possible.
March 18, 1941-January 26, 2014
The question is whether Wild coach Mike Yeo and forward Zach Parise were still being cautious or just being coy.
Parise, who has missed 14 consecutive games with a foot injury, had his second full-contact practice with the Wild today. It was his first while part of a regular line. He bumped, he battled, he went into the corners, worked on the top power play unit.
And yet, after it was over, he assessed his chances of playing at “50-50.’’
Yeo? He said he didn’t know if Parise would be back Thursday against Chicago at Xcel Energy Center. The idea was to get him into a full practice as part of a line and see how he felt. He will be checked again after Thursday morning’s pre-game skate, at which time a decision should be made.
“If he feels good to go, then obviously he’s in,” Yeo said. “It’s got to be, basically, that he knows, and he’s confident, that he’s up to full speed. And that he’s ready to come in and play at the level we need him to.’’
Greetings from Xcel Energy Center. Kent Youngblood here, filling in for Mr. Russo, who is away tending to a family matter for a few days.
But back to Parise. It’s hard not to think that the decision has already been made for Parise to return to action at home against Chicago. That is unless there is some unforeseen setback.
After all, Yeo trotted out some line combinations that were, given recent history, at least mildly surprising, indicative of a coaching staff haven given this a lot of thought.
Conventional wisdom had suggested that, with Mikko Koivu out with a foot/ankle injury of his own, that Yeo would use this opportunity to see how Parise looked on a line with Mikael Granlund. But, when practice got going today, here were the lines:
Parise on a line with center Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter; Granlund centering Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville; Kyle Brodziak centering Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine and Erik Haula centering Jason Zucker and either Stephane Veilleux or Torrey Mitchell.
That means Yeo would consider breaking up the Coyle-Heatley-Zucker line which has been productive for the team. His thinking?
“We know he’s had chemistry with Charlie,” Yeo said. “And there have been a couple times the last couple games – they haven’t played a lot together – where Charlie and Nino have shown some chemistry together, too. And you have some big bodies with Zach who can help him out in some of the dirty areas out there on the ice. And so that’s what we thought we’d give a shot at today.”
As for breaking up the Coyle-Heatley-Zucker line? “It wasn’t that hard,” Yeo said. “We take things game-by-game. It’s a matter of what we need going forward.”
The other interesting note is that Zucker, usually a top-six forward when he’s in the lineup, will join the fourth line, making an already quick line that much faster.
That is, assuming, that Parise is ready to return.
In other news:
--As expected, goalie Niklas Backstrom returned to practice after having received an injection of cortisone for a nagging lower body injury on Monday, his second injection this month. Yeo said the expectation was Backstrom would be able to be the backup Thursday; the Wild sent goalie Johan Gustafsson to the Iowa Wild today.
--Yeo offered no update on goalie Josh Harding, calling the ailing Harding day-to-day.
Niklas Backstrom will be off the ice for a few days because he had another injection in what coach Mike Yeo is calling "a nagging lower-body injury," so the Wild has recalled Johan Gustafsson from AHL Iowa to back up Darcy Kuemper on Tuesday night in Dallas.
Also, Josh Harding, who practiced all last week, didn't practice today because Yeo said he's not feeling well again. Harding has missed nine consecutive games and 13 of the past 15 games since having a "minor adjustment" to his treatment for multiple sclerosis.
The net is Kuemper's for awhile, although Yeo expects Backstrom back for Wednesday's practice.
Kuemper has started four consecutive games and five of the past seven and is 4-1 in his past five with a 1.37 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.
"Sometimes your third goalie is called upon to back up and maybe play a game here or there, but he’s been thrown into more of a starting role for us and he’s taken that opportunity,” Yeo said. “Good for him and good for us. I just read a quote the other day that opportunities multiply as they’re seized and he’s living by that right now."
Kuemper is confident he can run with the net if needed. The Wild has no back-to-backs before the Olympics and he reminded he's been a No. 1 goalie at every level he's ever played at.
"Things have been going pretty good, so I’m confident every time I go in there," Kuemper said. "With the situation right now, I’ve gotten an opportunity to play, so I just have to do my best to give the team a chance to win every night."
Kuemper's turn in net began in L.A. because Backstrom had a cortisone shot the day before for this injury.
In Phoenix a few days later, Backstrom, who missed last year’s playoffs with a sports hernia, admitted to me he played the final month last season with a “tear in the core muscle.”
Backstrom, who played 42 of 48 games last season because of Harding’s absence due to complications from multiple sclerosis, had previously maintained the injury he sustained in warmups of Game 1 against Chicago was the first time he experienced any discomfort.
Backstrom believes the abdominal stiffness he's experiencing is related to last year’s injury.
“You have a problem somewhere and you compensate with something else, so I think it’s from that and related,” Backstrom said in Phoenix. “But compared to yesterday, today was a big difference, so I feel it’s heading in the right direction. I’m getting to where I want to be.”
Yeo basically called the Wild's goaltending situation day-to-day, and something that will be evaluated daily.
That's been the case all season frankly, but this is the first time Backstrom and Harding have been sidelined together.
GM Chuck Fletcher has talked trade with other teams, but last week two goalies were taken off the market essentially when Devan Dubnyk was traded from Edmonton to Nashville and Ben Scrivens was acquired by Edmonton from L.A.
Internally, the team has talked about maybe signing Jose Theodore if it needs insurance eventually. Theodore is a free agent living in South Florida. He works out daily and has been going on the ice all season.
Again though, it's hard for Fletcher to proceed with everything so in flux. You can't afford to sit there and suddenly have three goalies sitting on the roster on a permanent basis.
Fletcher said today that with Kuemper playing well, the anticipation that Backstrom will be back Wednesday and the fact there's not a lot of games left before the Olympics, "we feel we can [currently] manage the situation."
Jon Blum has again been recalled to give the Wild an extra defenseman. Yeo would not say if he'd play in Dallas. Jonas Brodin is fine by the way from the high-stick the other night.
Yeo also wouldn't say if maybe Mike Rupp would play. Rupp did take some shifts on the fourth line today.
Zach Parise's non-contact yellow jersey is in the washing machine and he's wearing a real practice sweater again. He took part in some regular shifts today and took part in game-like situations and bumping. He'll get more reps in Wednesday's practice and Yeo said there's a chance he returns Thursday against Chicago. He is definitely coming on the upcoming four-game trip if for some reason he doesn't play the Blackhawks.
He did not fly with the team to Dallas.
Matt Cooke didn't want to touch the whole Jamie Benn not being suspended thing today. Interestingly, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie, Ottawa's owner Eugene Melnyk and GM Bryan Murray were spotted at NHL headquarters today and the assumption is Melnyk planned to submit his forensics investigation into his contention that Cooke purposely sliced Erik Karlsson's Achilles' tendon last season.
And no, this isn't a joke.
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