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.
Email Michael to talk about hockey.
A bit of news from the Wild’s morning skate: defenseman Jonas Brodin will play tonight against Montreal. Brodin had missed three games after taking a puck to the face on a dump-in against Nashville on Oct. 22, breaking his right cheekbone.
So that makes three players back in the lineup: Brodin, center Charlie Coyle and defenseman Keith Ballard. Coach Mike Yeo cautioned not to expect perfection from them, adding that he expects their teammates to help them get back up to speed. Ballard (concussion) missed seven games, while Coyle (sprained knee) missed 11.
Rachel Blount here at the X, subbing for Russo.
Yeo had been saying he didn’t want to bring Brodin back until he was sure that Brodin was healthy enough to stay in the lineup for good. Most of the swelling has abated, and Brodin took some contact during three-on-three drills around the net Thursday. He’s also adapted to the full-face plastic shield he will wear to protect his face. Brodin isn’t crazy about it, but he likes it better than the cage he tried earlier.
“It’s not bad,’’ said Brodin, who added that most of the pain in his face also has subsided. “It’s not the same as a half-shield. I’ll have to take it off and clean it once in a while on the bench.’’
Brodin was paired with his usual defensive partner, Ryan Suter, in Friday’s morning skate. Ballard was teamed with Clayton Stoner, and Jared Spurgeon was paired with Marco Scandella. That means Matt Dumba and Nate Prosser will sit out.
Josh Harding will be in goal tonight. Yeo said he wanted to get Harding back in as soon as possible, now that he is fully healthy, in the hopes that Harding will pick up where he left off. Before leaving the Oct. 24 game against Carolina with a lower-body injury, he had compiled a 1.00 goals-against average and a stellar .953 save percentage. He leads the NHL in both categories.
Harding, who has multiple sclerosis, won’t speak even in the most general terms about dealing with his illness. But Yeo addressed that topic today in response to a question from a Montreal reporter. “It is a challenge, no question,” Yeo said. “There’s a lot of communication. I think what it comes down to is, it’s a matter of the athlete, Josh, and the work he puts in, the commitment that he has.
“It’s a pretty impressive story. It’s obviously something that none of us can imagine trying to deal with, let alone dealing with it and trying to be a professional athlete. He comes to the rink every day and he does what he has to do as far as taking care of himself. He’s been quite a story, not just on the days when we’ve seen him be effective in the games, but in order for that to happen, you’ve got to have effective practices. You have to have quality ice time. He does that day in and day out.’’
As the Wild try out their new lines for the first time in a game, Yeo said he isn’t sure how he will alternate Dany Heatley and Justin Fontaine. The two wingers will switch off between the first line, with Coyle and Zach Parise, and the fourth, with Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. The frequency is the question, and Yeo wants to see how each of them performs before committing to a plan.
“It might be shift to shift or period to period,’’ Yeo said. “I wish I could tell you exactly how it’s going to work out. What I can say is that both guys are going to get an opportunity (on the top line), and then I would have to say the game will dictate where it goes from there.
“It would be nice, certainly, to have a guy and plug him in. We want to see how each guy is performing not only with that line, but it also affects our fourth line as well. So I think it’s going to be one of those things where the game dictates it.’’
Other notes from the morning skate:
--Yeo said Coyle’s biggest adjustment will be adapting to the increased speed of the game. The tempo has picked up since Coyle went out in the second game of the season, on Oct. 5. Particularly against the speedy Canadiens, Yeo said, Coyle will have to get used to making quick decisions with and without the puck.
--On the Canadiens’ side, enforcer George Parros will rejoin the lineup. Last time we saw him, he had crashed to the ice like a redwood, going face-down and sustaining a concussion during a fight with Toronto’s Colton Orr in the season opener Oct. 1. Parros said after the morning skate that he feels good after being careful not to rush his return.
He also said he felt “sleeker, faster and less manly’’ after shaving his glorious mustache, recognized as one of the NHL’s finest. Parros got rid of the ‘stache to prepare to grow a new one beginning today for the NHL’s “Movember’’ campaign, which raises money and awareness for cancers that affect men. In January, he will cut his long hair to raise funds to fight childhood leukemia. Good to know there is another side to a guy who bills himself as an “on-ice assailant’’ in his Twitter biography.
--Zenon Konopka is the Wild’s “Mo Bros’’ captain for the Movember movement. Looking around the room Friday, Konopka acknowledged the Wild has an uphill battle on the facial-hair front, with so many smooth-cheeked guys. “We really struggle,’’ he said. “We’re definitely in the bottom three teams in the league for Movember.’’
--Several fathers of Canadiens players were at the skate, many wearing sweaters that replicated the ones their sons wear. They’re taking part in Montreal’s father-son road trip, which includes tonight’s game at Xcel and a game Saturday at Colorado.
Again, the news of the day:
-- Judging by today’s potential lines for Friday’s game against Montreal, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu will be split for the first time under coach Mike Yeo. This is an attempt to get more 5-on-5 scoring throughout the lineup and create three scoring lines. Parise and Koivu have each registered four even-strength points in 13 games.
-- Charlie Coyle will return Friday after missing 11 games from a sprained knee.
-- Keith Ballard will likely return Friday
-- Jonas Brodin practiced today and is questionable Friday. The Wild doesn’t want to put him in a bad spot with his broken cheekbone. He says he felt good today, so we will find out Thursday if he’s back on his regular pair with Ryan Suter. Today he skated with Matt Dumba, who will be a healthy scratch Friday. Brodin is sporting a full face shield as opposed to the cage. He didn’t like the cage. His face is looking better than it was when originally clocked by that puck.
-- No goalie decision for Friday, but if Josh Harding is healthy, it’d be surprising if he doesn’t return to the cage (eight goals in nine games vs. Niklas Backstrom’s 3.42 goals-against average and .871 save percentage in six appearances.
-- Stephane Veilleux is on waivers and will be assigned to Iowa if he clears Thursday.
-- Dany Heatley and Justin Fontaine were rotating in and out of the Parise-Coyle line today and the fourth line. Just the fact that Heatley’s in conversation for the fourth line is glaring.
-- Just an fyi: Rachel Blount will be covering the Wild for us Thursday, Friday vs. Montreal, Saturday and Sunday morning. I'm in a wedding out of town and will return to cover Zach Parise's first game against New Jersey on Sunday.
-- If you didn't get to read, here's my fun profile on Zenon Konopka and his wine label/bunny rabbit. Good pics, too.
Here are the lines and D pairs again. The big thing is the Wild’s not going with the conventional top-3 lines. Koivu is not on the "third line" if I didn’t make that clear on original blog. The Koivu/Coyle lines should be 1/2 or 2/1 in ice time still. The way things have gone all season, Koivu's and Kyle Brodziak's lines always lead in ice time. The "second line" centered by Mikael Granlund is usually third in ice time.
Matt Cooke-Granlund-Jason Pominville
Fontaine/Heatley-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
Mike Rupp is being rotated into line rushes every other rotation.
Defense pairs are
Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
I'll be interested to see how the heck Yeo works the power plays, particularly after they expire. If he goes with the first/second units the way they've been, he's got forwards sprinkled from every line on both units.
Here is Mike Yeo:
New lines: Potential line combinations. Try some stuff out. See how it works.
Parise/Koivu: We’re trying some stuff. We know that those guys are very good together and dangerous together. We want to see if they can click with some other guys and strengthen our whole group. Obviously both guys are great players and both guys are threats any time they’re on the ice no matter who they’re with.
Needed Coyle back to make move?: It’s not like we’ve been sitting here waiting to make that move. We’ve been real happy with both guys. With Charlie here, there’s more guys in play. We’re looking at 5-on-5 production and how can we have at least three lines that are a real threat to score. That was the basis for what you saw today
Heatley/Fontaine, how will you decide who's up with Coyle line, who's down with Konopla line: Who’s playing the best? It’s pretty much that simple and that’s the same for everybody. We’ve got more competition, more guys, another healthy guy that we feel is a threat to contribute on the offensive side of things and that gives us the freedom to shuffle things a little bit more.
Start with dany there?: I don’t know.
Mikko: Part of the idea of switching them too is those guys, we’re playing against Chicago, who are they going to throw on the ice against them? They’re going to get their top matchup, they’re going to get Toews, who’s one of the top defensive guys in the league. With Charlie out the way we’ve had our lines, it’s been a little easy for teams to match up against us. There’s a big difference in this league playing against top defensive pairings, playing against top defensive forwards. Now we’d like to think that we’re spread a little bit more where you might have to pick your poison.
Mikko: He can easily have five or six more points right now. He’s been doing a lot of great things. This is not by any means an indication that we’re not happy with him or his game and likewise for anybody through the lineup. This is something that we all said right from the beginning of the year, right, that we wanted to see more line combinations, so let’s not turn it into that just because we’re trying a new line that we’re not happy with the way things are going.
Nino/Cooke?: I think if you look at every line right now the way we’ve got it, we’ve got skill on each line, we’ve got a big body, we’ve got a guy that should get to the net. We’ve got a little bit of everything on every line. If we’re going to make a switch with Mikko – not to say that Cookie is not a skill guy, but Nino is a guy that should be a top offensive threat. He’s a guy with hands, … with a shot, … can skate, handle the puck, is strong on the puck. When we’re looking at Mikko, we’re trying to really identify what he needs to be successful because again, he’s still going to be playing against the best players out there and he needs to have the right pieces around him.
Brodin regular pair tomorrow? We’ll see, we’ll see. We have a lot of healthy defensemen and we want to make sure that when we get him back, we get him back for good. I don’t want to put him in a bad spot. He looked good today and that’s a good first step and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.
Ballard? He looked good. I’d be surprised if he’s not ready to go by Friday.
Granlund/Brodziak? One thing with Charlie being out is we saw Granny emerge a little bit. We kind of only slotted one position available between him and Charlie at the start of the year, but the way that he’s been going lately, he’s proven that he can be a dangerous guy playing at the center-ice position because of his speed, … the way that he distributes the puck, … the way he’s been able to carry the puck and make plays through the middle of the ice. We want to give a chance to continue to develop that. Again, it’s probably going to be fluid for a little while here. I hope that these lines stay together for the next month, but I’m not sure that that’s going to happen. We’ve got moving pieces. We’ve got a guy like Brodzy who can move back to center, guys like Charlie and Granny who can both move to wing and guys like Zach who can still play with Mikko or Pommer and likewise. To sit here and say these is going to be our lines for the long-term, we’re trying something. We’ll see how it goes.
What’s it say that heatley’s even an option for the fourth line? I don’t even want to turn it into a story. We’ve got a lot of good players and you know what, he’s also an option for a very good line. This is not about individual players right now. We think on every line we’re going to have a good mix of skill and guys who are going to be hard around the net and guys that should be able to complement each other.
Dumba? No decision right now. If he played his best game, we were not going to overreact one way and if he played his worst game, we were going to overreact one way. We were just going to judge this as a whole and we’ll keep going day-by-day and see what happens.
Fair to say Dumba scratched Friday? Yeah.
Practice Schedule? This is good for us. … We haven’t had the quality practice time in the last couple weeks and that’s big for our group, for how we play the game, but also for individuals feeling good going into every game. You saw we had a hard practice today. It was good tempo, guys were skating, guys were making plays, but there was certainly a focus on making sure that guys were leaving the ice tired today.
Goalie decision? No
The Buffalo Sabres traded Thomas Vanek to "my Islanders" tonight for three-time 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson, a 2014 first-round pick and a 2015 second-round pick.
This was highly predictable because we know Garth Snow loves himself them Gophers!
Like last year's Jason Pominville's trade to the Wild, real nice return by Sabres GM Darcy Regier for a guy who already had one foot out of town as a free agent next summer. Regier will probably try to extend Moulson, but if not, he'll be able to parlay Moulson into more assets by season's end because he too is a pending free agent.
Very bold move by Islanders GM Garth Snow for a potential rental. Vanek's agent Steve Bartlett confirms there have been no talks of a contract extension between Vanek and the Islanders.
But Snow is not happy where the Islanders are in the standings, sees a team that should make some noise in that division and I'm guessing knew that with so few teams having the salary-cap space to pick up Vanek this early in the season, the time was right for the lowest-payroll team in the league to make the move.
I see on Twitter where Snow is getting blindly bashed for the high price he gave up. It's always easy to look at a trade, see the names run across the ticker and make an instant analysis like it's some fantasy trade without context.
You need to walk in that team's shoes to know how they value those pieces and why they make a trade.
We can analyze all we want the many assets Regier got for Pominville. He did a good job getting Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett, a first and a second.
But if you're in Chuck Fletcher's shoes, the Wild was leading the Northwest Division at the time of last year's trade and also needed to make the playoffs after a four-year absence. And you knew when Fletcher made that deal that in his mind he would extend Pominville.
But most of all, in Fletcher's eyes, the price was worth paying because he still has so many young forward prospects in the organization and only so many can end up playing here. There's only 12 forward spots, six defensemen spots and one goalie that plays on a nightly basis. Some of those spots in Minnesota are locked in for years, like Parise, Koivu, Suter and when he made the decision, he knew eventually Pominville. So in Fletcher's mind, the Wild could afford to give up Larsson, to give up Hackett with Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson developing.
Similarly, the Islanders have a bunch of prospects and young guys in the organization, so Snow clearly feels this is a price the Islanders can afford to make.
So when you're on the outside, before analyzing a trade just blindly by looking at the package, you need to consider that team's situation, their window and most of all their organizational depth chart/reserve list.
Just my opinion.
Don't cancel #Vanekwatch to Minnesota just yet. I'd still be surprised if Vanek doesn't test the market, although obviously a lot can change between now and next summer. Maybe the Islanders go on a run, maybe the Islanders sell their future to him, maybe they throw the Federal Reserve at him.
And remember, as I've written and said a lot lately, while as of now I believe the Wild is interested in pursuing Vanek next summer and while I have zero doubt that if that were to happen Vanek would sign here, the Wild may analyze the situation in the months ahead and decide that money they'll have available next summer could be better spent elsewhere.
If it looks like Charlie Coyle or Nino Niederreiter or Mikael Granlund or its other kids are going to develop into the scorers this team so needs, if it looks like some of these kids (Jonas Brodin, Coyle, el Nino, Granlund) are going to break the bank on their second contracts, maybe the Wild pursues a goalie next summer if that's the need. Maybe it pursues a physical defenseman. Only time will tell. It's a long time between Oct. 27 and July 1, so things change.
Between the kids mentioned above and Erik Haula, Jason Zucker, Raphael Bussieres, Brett Bulmer, Zack Phillips, whoever, one would hope a few of them develop into a top scorer. So maybe the Wild decides its too big a risk to lock another 30-something forward into a long-term, lucrative contract and thus block its promising young forwards.
We will see.
Lastly, if you're a Wild fan frantically tweeting me, Thomas Vanek was always going to be traded somewhere this season, and it was never going to be to the Wild. I feel I've made that clear 50 times. The Wild was never going to trade more assets to Buffalo for somebody it could potentially just sign next summer. The only surprise today is not that Vanek was traded, but how early in the season he did get traded.
Talk to ya Monday. Again, I'll be on Fox Sports North during the first intermission and on XM Radio at 8:45 a.m.
Coach Mike Yeo says Josh Harding is feeling better today, but the Wild won't bring him to Chicago as not to risk his "lower-body strain" that flared up during Thursday's 3-1 win over Carolina.
The Wild has recalled Johan Gustafsson to make the trip and back up Niklas Backstrom Saturday. Remember, Backstrom was injured moments before Game 1 of the playoffs last year when he sustained a sports hernia that knocked him out of the first round and required surgery.
Backstrom isn't 100 percent yet, but he says he has to "find a way" Saturday night.
The Gustafsson recall is nothing against Darcy Kuemper, who gave up three goals on seven shots in Toronto last week. Kuemper's been on a yo-yo and it's his turn to start Sunday for Iowa against Grand Rapids. So since the callup is for a backup role here, Kuemper stays in Iowa to play and Gustafsson is called up.
It's as simple as that. He also apparently isn't quite 100 percent from something that happened in last night's game.
Gustafsson was pulled in last night's game for Iowa but gave up only one goal in roughly his first 120 minutes of the season there. He is 2-0 with a 1.99 GAA and .935 SP and one shutout for Iowa
Keith Ballard, who has missed five games with a head injury, practiced today and is "feeling better than yesterday." He will not fly to Chicago and acknowledged that he had concussion-like symptoms and whiplash.
Charlie Coyle practiced today and looked good. He is not on the trip and is doubtful for Monday, too, against Chicago. With practices scheduled Thursday and Friday, perhaps Friday's game against Montreal is a target.
Jonas Brodin wound up not skating today because Yeo said why push it since it's not like he'll be back in a few days. Right now it's just a matter of the swelling going down so he can look down and see the puck. Maybe Friday is a target, too. Monday is unlikely.
Mike Rupp also practiced today again. I'll toss Rupp quotes on his comeback in Sunday's paper. I talked to him yesterday.
Big test for the Wild Saturday as its faces Chicago for the first time since the playoffs. The Wild felt like it was chasing the puck for much of that series. This year the Wild's been a team its opponent is typically chasing. So we'll see how it goes against Chicago.
Same lines in Chicago as the Wild finished vs. Carolina. Dany Heatley on Kyle Brodziak's line, Nino Niederreiter on Mikael Granlund's line.
By the way, Wild will wear its road whites Monday in the second end of the home-and-home against the Hawks.
Talk to you Saturday after the morning skates in Chicago.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin sustained a broken cheekbone when hit by a dump-in on his second shift of last night's 2-0 win over Nashville.
He is out indefinitely and the Wild will have a better idea of a timetable Thursday. The fact the team knows that definitively tells me that it'll be determined Thursday if Brodin needs to surgery. His face is a mess and at the very least needs some major dentalwork. GM Chuck Fletcher said today surgery hasn't been ruled out.
As of now, the Wild says this is all relatively good news because there was originally a concern he had a broken jaw or orbital bone. Typically, players can play through a broken cheekbone with a cage, but that can't be determined until once the swelling goes down and it's determined if an operation is needed.
Regardless, it's clear Brodin will miss some time and now it's up to the Wild's cast of defensemen -- Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser to pick up where it left off during a soundly-played game last night. Keith Ballard is still working his way back from a head injury, so Matt Dumba should get his opportunity to play multiple games in a row.
The way the Wild has played defensively and by having the puck the majority of games should allow the Wild to overcome Brodin's injury as long as that continues.
"Let’s put it this way, I’m not sitting here thinking, ‘Oh no, we lost Jonas and now we’re in trouble,'" coach Mike Yeo said. "I still have a lot of confidence going into every game that we have a team capable of winning every night against any team. Obviously he’s a big loss for us, an important part of the team. Without question, we have the guys capable in there of keeping us at or even raising us to another level."
The injury occurred less than three minutes into Tuesday's win over Nashville on Gabriel Bourque's dump-in. I tweeted a GIF and that can be found in my www.twitter.com/russostrib timeline last night (can't get the link to work on here for some reason).
Yeo confirmed Brodin wasn't wearing a mouthguard, not that it would have protected him from a broken cheekbone. But Yeo said, "We can’t tell them to do it. you wish that everybody did, you wish that everybody wore a face shield. But bottom line is it’s still up to the players. Sometimes something like this changes the mind of not just the guy that it happened to, but some others as well."
Just a freak accident, although a number of Wild players said a six-foot dump-in by Bourque not up the wall was a pretty careless play.
Scandella had a great game yesterday, as did Jared Spurgeon, who will take Brodin's spot next to Suter. Clayton Stoner had another solid game (although the coaches would prefer to see less -- or no -- toe-dragging from him in games). Prosser's time is now after waiting patiently. He played well in more than 20 minutes yesterday, although next time the Wild's down to 5 D and controlling a game up 1-0 and he opts to fight, he may see Yeo's wrath. Yeo understood Prosser was trying to prove his worth when he fought Eric Nystrom in the third last night, but Yeo said that wasn't the time and he's lucky the Preds didn't turn the momentum.
Prosser says this is a great opportunity for himself.
Dumba has taken Brodin's spot on the No. 2 power-play unit and a lot will be riding on Dumba to play more consistently now. In Tampa and Florida, mistakes by Dumba led to a 2-on-0 and breakaway in consecutive games. It's a big adjustment going from junior to the NHL and Yeo said he's got to learn that he can't make that one extra play when he gets the puck at the blue line. Make a decision to pass, shoot or dump it, but don't make that extra move.
Yeo said it's clear the nine-game rule (if he plays 10, a year of his contract burns off, which means the Wild's got a decision to make soon; he's played six so far) is in Dumba's head. But Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher said the team is not thinking about the rule right now and Dumba's just got to play. The only rule Fletcher cares about is the 41-game rule that burns a year of his seven-year free agency. And even that isn't pressing because the Wild needs to win now, not worry now whether Dumba's UFA year is agen 26 or 27 (hope that all makes sense).
Ballard did work out today but was kept off the ice. He has a history of concussions, so the Wild's being careful. Also, Charlie Coyle skated on his own today and looked good apparently, so he'll take part in Thursday's morning skate. He won't play, but he's ready to take the next step in his recovery from a sprained knee.
Same lines in the practice as what finished last night. Justin Fontaine skated with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter skated with Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke. Fontaine will get to go head-to-head against his former UMD teammate and summer roommate Justin Faulk on Thursday against the Canes. Faulk, from South St. Paul, is expected to have 30 friends and family members in the crowd. I'll write more about that in Friday's paper and Thursday's blog.
That's it for now. I have to get autographing cards for Thursday's ChalkTalk!!!! Could you imagine the kid that comes to Thursday's game with hopes of getting a Zach Parise and Ryan Suter autograph and he ends up leaving with ... mine? Scarred for life.
Photo credit: Mike Greenlay (Me, and me embarrassed)
I'll have a lot more in Thursday's paper, including quotes from Chuck Fletcher on the Brodin injury and Nate Prosser.
Helmet/cage ready for whenever Jonas Brodin hits the ice next. Hopefully real soon. pic.twitter.com/ifXaSR6fN6— Matt Benz (@benznasty) October 23, 2013
By the way, thanks to you, Russo's Rants is up for an Editor & Publisher Award
Best Sports Blog with 1 million unique monthly visitors and over
• Ottawa Citizen /a division of Post Media Networks - SenatorsExtra.com
• Sports Illustrated - Scott Novak
• Star Tribune - Russo's Rants
• The Boston Globe - Chad Finn's Touching All The Bases blog
|Vikings (32)||Gophers injuries (2)|
|Gophers on TV (1)||Gophers coaches (2)|
|Gophers players (7)||Gophers game day (6)|
|Gophers postgame (12)||Gophers awards and honors (1)|
|Gophers post season (1)||St. Cloud State (1)|
|Wild news (432)||Bears (5)|
|Lions (1)||Packers (2)|
|Super Bowl (6)||Vikings fans (3)|
|Ex-players (1)||Injury report (1)|
|On the road (157)||Rookies (34)|
|Roster moves (13)||Vikings draft (91)|
|Vikings trade talk (3)||Fighting (3)|
|Stanley Cup (28)||Wild coaching (32)|
|Wild game coverage (357)||Wild management (15)|
|Wild off-season news (421)||Wild player moves (121)|
|Wild practice (299)||Wild pregame skate (319)|
|Wild trade news (31)||Wild training camp (121)|
|Adrian Peterson (4)||Ben Leber (1)|
|Bernard Berrian (1)||Brad Childress (3)|
|Brett Favre (5)||Jared Allen (2)|
|Brad Childress (3)||NHL news (1)|
|2010 Winter Games (5)||Olympic hockey (24)|
|Olympic luge (3)||Olympic ski jumping (2)|
|Olympic skiing (2)||NHL draft (7)|
|Gophers sports (3)||Gophers (38)|