Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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The Wild has torn up goalie John Curry’s two-way American Hockey League contract with the Iowa Wild and signed the former Breck School product to a two-way NHL contract.
This will allow the Wild to be able to call up Curry in case he’s needed after the Olympic break. By rule, he is officially on waivers today in order to be reassigned back to Iowa.
Because of the Wild’s chaotic goalie situation this season due to health issues with Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom, Johan Gustafsson, who’s in his first year as a North American pro, has been on the Wild’s active roster six separate occasions and has backed up nine games.
He has yet to make his NHL debut, so signing Curry is a way the Wild can avoid the yo-yo for a developing young goalie and bring up Curry if it needs to after the Olympic break.
“To have Gus just up here backing up, it’s just not right for his development and leaves Iowa really shorthanded, too,” GM Chuck Fletcher said. “John’s a little older and has a little more experience, so it’s just another option for us. It’s not a reflection on Gus at all. There have been times we’ve had [Darcy] Kuemper and Gus up here and John’s been the only goalie down there, so this is recognizing the reality of our situation and protecting us with another NHL contract.”
Basically, Curry’s an insurance policy beyond Kuemper, who started 12 consecutive games before the break, and Backstrom, who was suffering from abdominal soreness before the break. Since Jan. 7, Backstrom missed two games and had to back up rather than start Jan. 7 in L.A. because of the issue.
Fletcher said the Wild will know more Wednesday once every non-Olympic player reports for practice, but he anticipates that Backstrom is “fine.”
As for Harding, who has started two games since Dec. 17 and none since Dec. 31, Fletcher said there’s no real change to his status and he will not be practicing this week.
“Once we get into practicing here, hopefully we can provide a better update,” Fletcher said. “There’s no real change with Josh.”
Fletcher knows Curry well. When he was assistant GM in Pittsburgh, Fletcher signed Curry out of Boston University.
“He has lots of experience. He’s earned it. He’s just played very well down there, so he deserves an NHL deal and there’s no downside to signing him and having him available to you,” Fletcher said.
Curry, who turns 30 Feb. 27, has shuttled all year back and forth between Iowa and ECHL Orlando. He is 6-3-2 with Iowa in 12 games with a 1.95 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. In 2007 with BU, he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker and was named Hockey East Player of the Year.
In four NHL games for Pittsburgh over parts of two seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, Curry is 2-2 with a 3.67 goals-against average and .867 save percentage.
I'll be on KFAN in-studio with Paul Allen on Tuesday morning at 9.
Quick blog as I just checked into my Denver hotel and need to hustle to the arena, but the Iowa shuttle is being called upon again.
Like a yo-yo, Jason Zucker has been reassigned and Erik Haula is back. The Wild is gathering in less than an hour at the Pepsi Center before an optional practice at DU, but my guess now is Charlie Coyle finally moves back to first-line right wing and Haula centers the second line with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville.
Of course, I suppose Pominville could stay at top-line RW and Coyle moves to second-line RW considering just yesterday coach Mike Yeo said he's tired of breaking up the first line every time there's problems on other lines.
But Niederreiter-Haula-Pominville was good a few weeks ago and I don't know how much more evidence there needs to be that Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Pominville may "do a lot of good things," but they certainly don't do a lot of filling the net. When Parise and Koivu were great last year, Coyle was on that line. When Pominville's been great this year, it's been with him on the second line (granted, Mikael Granlund as his center).
Coyle just doesn't seem to have it right now at second-line center. He hasn't been strong on pucks at all lately and isn't scoring, so why not make the change?
We'll see if that's the plan soon.
The Wild was so soft on pucks last night, particularly in the offensive zone where it barely took any Anaheim might to knock Wild players off pucks, Brett Bulmer has been recalled from AHL Iowa.
Bulmer, 21, the first of the Wild’s three 2010 second-round picks, had three assists in nine games with the Wild in 2011-12 before being returned to Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. His development has been delayed since because of myriad injuries, including a couple knee injuries, but he has been healthy this season and by all accounts playing well for struggling Iowa.
He leads the Baby Wild with nine goals and 62 shots and is third with 12 points. He arrives in San Francisco around 3 p.m. (flying in from Vancouver; Iowa got trounced by Abbotsford last night and plays them again tonight) and is expected to play tonight against the San Jose Sharks.
Coach Mike Yeo wouldn’t divulge the lines just yet, but it’s very doubtful he breaks up the third line and he made it quite clear he is not yet ready to break up the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville line.
So it sounds like Bulmer will play the right side of the new 21-year-old line with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. Jason Zucker will be scratched (more on all this below).
Same defense corps, meaning Nate Prosser will be scratched for the ninth straight game. Mike Rupp is also scratched.
Niklas Backstrom in goal. He is 1-8-1 all-time in San Jose with a 3.68 goals-against average, his second-worst goals-against in any arena (American Airlines Center in Dallas). The Wild is 1-7 in their past eight in San Jose and 2-10-1 in their past 13 here.
The Sharks are 0-3-1 in their past four and will start Antti Niemi tonight. Martin Havlat and Dany Heatley, traded for each other July 3, 2011, are expected to be on their team’s respective fourth lines tonight. Havlat has one year left on his contract. Heatley’s in the last year of his Wild career.
On the 6-2, 212-pound Bulmer, Yeo said, “I want to see what he can bring. We all do. One thing that’s been missing a little bit from some of these road games (5-7-3) is a big body along the wall, puck strength, a guy who brings a bit of an edge. These are all elements to his game when he’s on it.”
Why doesn’t Yeo put Pominville on the second line with Coyle and Bulmer and maybe Niederreiter on the first line?
“Of course there’s been talk, thought, but we kind of go through this every time that when things aren’t working out well enough with the second line, we break up the first line,” Yeo said. “We always do that. That’s always the first thing we go to and then next thing you know you’re kind of weakening your first line. Somebody has to step up. Somebody has to grab that opportunity. Not to say that we won’t go that way (Pominville to Line 2), but the message right now is we need somebody to step up. We can’t just fall back on going back to that. Those guys are doing their job, so somebody else has to step up.”
That is clearly aimed at Niederreiter (no goals and two assists in his past nine games) and Coyle (three goals and eight points this season).
Despite Iowa deploying the same system and the fact Zucker has played here for good chunks of two seasons, Zucker struggled in the neutral zone last night. He now has no points in his past 17 regular-season games.
On Zucker being scratched after being called up to play Anaheim, Yeo said, “I don’t know. There were some good moments. He got a couple shots on net. I don’t want to say he played poorly, but he didn’t demand a spot for himself in the lineup tonight, too. I don’t know if we’re always giving him the best chance, bouncing him in and out of the lineup like this, but at the same time I just want to see somebody come up and just really respect this opportunity and show that you’re not willing to let it slip.”
Yeo didn’t want to “beat up on Zuck,” but that “respect this opportunity” comment was an indictment.
Yeo said simply there’s been “too much where we don’t have the full roster, the full complement of players going out and performing shift after shift.”
He said the fact Anaheim was able to come with speed through the neutral zone time and time and time and time and time … and time again last night was because of “where we’re losing pucks, how we’re losing pucks, it’s making it extremely difficult to defend in those situations.”
He said there was too much watching and watching for somebody else, that they’re not a team that waits for somebody else to track and pressure puck carriers.
He said there was thought of scratching either Clayton Stoner or Keith Ballard after a tough game, but he doesn’t think any play they made or something they did cost the Wild in Anaheim.
Recently, in the second of back-to-backs, Yeo hasn’t even brought the team to the rink. Today, the entire team reported to SAP Center for a meeting. He said a lot of things were addressed in that meeting regarding areas the Wild must improve and “I’m anxious to see how we respond.”
Talk after the game.
UPDATE: As surmised below, Jason Zucker will indeed be recalled. I'd think he goes to the second line. Wouldn't shock me if Dany Heatley is downgraded to the fourth line, but we will find out in practice Tuesday. Zucker will meet the team in Iowa.
Erik Haula is on his way to meet the Iowa Wild in Abbotsford, B.C. He has been reassigned by the Wild after recording two assists in six games.
The Wild has the day off today and will head to Anaheim on Tuesday for practice at 2 p.m. PT at the Honda Center. I'll come to you afterward with updates, so it'll be a bit of a later blog than normal.
As of now, the Wild says it plans to head west with its 12 forwards and what I'm guessing is its soon-to-be-officially seven defensemen because Matt Dumba is about to be loaned to Team Canada.
I still suspect the Wild will call up a forward at some point during the road trip though with no extras -- and it wouldn't shock me if it's before.
After hearing Mike Yeo's honest appraisal of the second line last night, I figured maybe Haula would move up to the second line and center Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle or Jason Pominville in Anaheim.
But maybe this Haula move signifies that Jason Zucker is about to return. It wouldn't be surprising if the Wild waited until Tuesday to make that move because in the NHL, cap space is tabulated on a daily basis and since Zucker is in B.C. right now, there's no use bringing him to Minnesota when he could just fly south to Cali.
If Zucker is recalled, I'd suspect Dany Heatley drops to the fourth line. We shall see. Again, much of this is conjecture mostly because Haula's demotion without a corresponding move makes little sense to me.
No, to answer a few Twitter questions, the Wild did not send down Haula to claim Pierre-Marc Bouchard on waivers from the Islanders. I can all but promise you that. And since Mikael Granlund hasn't been skating let alone practicing, the Haula demotion doesn't mean he is returning in Anaheim.
Talk to you from Anaheim.
Happy Thanksgiving from the X, where the Wild practiced, including Zach Parise. He lasted the whole thing, every now and then skating up to assistant athletic therapist John Worley to talk about his bum foot.
Parise is officially listed as questionable for Friday's 5 p.m. game against Colorado -- the front of a home and home. It'll be a tough challenge despite the fact the Wild has had Colorado's number for seven years or so -- 31-11-5 in its past 47 and 12-2-2 in its past 16 in Denver.
Coach Mike Yeo wouldn't reveal which goalie would start in goal. Josh Harding practiced and if he's healthy, I'd think he starts if for no other reason than his stellar home record. I'd think Niklas Backstrom starts in Denver.
Center Mikael Granlund has been placed on injured reserve with a head injury (officially upper-body, but I'm not blind), meaning he will miss at least a week or at a minimum three games -- probably more -- after three hard hits in the past eight games.
Granlund took a head shot from Toronto's Nazem Kadri, then took a hard hit four games later from Ottawa's Marc Methot where he crashed into the boards. He missed two games, returned to the lineup last night against Phoenix and was lost 29 seconds into his first shift when he was hit high by rookie defenseman Connor Murphy as Granlund tried to deliver a check.
Yeo said the Wild didn't rush Granlund back.
"To sit here and say in hindsight that I wish he didn’t play, of course," Yeo said. "But when a guy’s cleared to play, what are you going to do? You going to say no? He was cleared to play and obviously cleared to play with the idea that we wanted to be careful and think about the big picture. Sometimes things happen."
Left wing Jason Zucker, who played three games in Ottawa, Winnipeg and St. Louis before being reassigned yesterday to make room for Keith Ballard and Torrey Mitchell, has been recalled and should stay awhile now. Zucker scored twice in Iowa's win last night at Chicago.
He was sent down Wednesday with Darcy Kuemper. They had 3 p.m. flights that were delayed, they arrived for the game vs. the Wolves at 5:30 p.m. with only airport pizza in their stomachs and beat the Wolves. Zucker was pulled off the bus headed to Iowa after the game to go to an airport hotel for sleep, then a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call to fly back to Minnesota because of the Granlund injury.
Zucker's recall doesn't fill the center need though. Charlie Coyle has played better at wing than center, although we all saw in training camp that he has the ability to play the position. He won the second-line center spot outright until spraining his knee. Granlund filled in admirably.
Besides being more of an offensive-threat at wing, Coyle hasn't done well in the faceoff circle. He has won 38 percent of his draws this season. In his last four games predominately at center, Coyle has lost 30 of 43 faceoffs and 15 of 17 the past two games.
So in practice today, Yeo experimented with Justin Fontaine, who has rarely played center in his college or pro career, as second-line center, putting Zucker on the third line and Matt Cooke, goalless since Oct. 12, on the fourth line.
Lines: Parise-Koivu-Coyle; Nino-Fontaine-Pominville; Zucker-Brodziak-Heatley; Cooke-Konopka-Mitchell.
Why Coyle back to the top line as a winger rather than second line as a center?
"The games we've been winning lately, that line has been producing," Yeo said of Parise-Koivu-Coyle. "We were forced into a situation where we had to break it up, but I think what we have to try to do is look at it in a different way and keep that line together and fill some holes elsewhere."
Yeo made clear, "I’ve got no problem putting [Coyle] at center, but I think we have to try to give that line a chance to get back to the type of dominance they were having and the success they were having. Instead of breaking them up, let’s arm those guys with what they need to lead our group. We need people to step up, whether it’s a guy coming into the lineup like Zuck or whether it’s a guy biting off a little more ice time."
On Fontaine moving to center, Yeo said, "Just trying things. Thought we'd give it a shot."
Fontaine is looking forward to the opportunity. He is 2 for 2 on faceoffs this season and doesn't practice them much.
On Zucker on the third line, Yeo said it should elevate that line with Brodziak and Heatley and give it some speed. "Heater had one of his strongest games in a long time last night," Yeo said. "He was strong on a lot of puck battles and had three really good scoring chances and one goal. We'll use this as an opportunity to continue to help him grow his game, get it back to his top level."
By the way, I questioned yesterday why the Wild wouldn't just keep Zucker here and keep Mitchell on IR. Yeo said it was because the Wild needed Mitchell because of his role as a penalty killer.
On Cooke being demoted to the fourth line, Yeo said, "Many times when players haven’t scored in awhile, they start to do things that hurt themselves. We all remember how he scored his goals." He needs to get back to "doing the right things," Yeo said.
Today was a long, long practice with a ton of teaching moments. Yeo interrupted practice a lot with whistles, saying afterward, "there's a couple parts of our game that have slipped and we have to try to get it back."
There is no morning skate Friday because of the early game. I'll be back with you after Yeo's 2:45 p.m. availability. I will also be on Fox Sports North during Friday's Wild Live pregame show and first intermission.
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