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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UPDATE: Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett were just pulled from the ice here in San Jose. Trade coming
I am hearing through reliable sources that there could be a big pending trade coming down with the Wild.
Houston Aeros goalie Darcy Kuemper has been sent to the Houston airport with his equipment bag packed, sources tell me. The kicker though is he has not yet been told where he is going or if he is going anywhere.
My gut tells me he may be coming here to San Jose. If that were the case, the Wild could be on the verge of trading Matt Hackett. That would obviously be part of a bigger trade.
More to come as this evolves, but I do still know the Wild is heavily going after Buffalo's Jason Pominville.
With 2 hours, 30 minutes left before the 2 p.m. CT trade deadline, there has been one minor trade today in the NHL. As I wrote in today's Insider, there was a good chance today would be a bit of a dud around the league after guys like Ryane Clowe, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy were traded yesterday and so many deals had been executed in the days leading up -- Jarome Iginla, Doug Murray, Jay Bouwmeester, etc.
The Wild tried hard for Clowe and felt it made a quality offer, but in the end, Clowe decided to go east. That was even with some gentle persuading I hear from former Sharks teammates on the Wild.
The Wild is making calls and I do hear it is one of many teams that has been talking to Buffalo the past few days about captain Jason Pominville. I know the Wild has scouted Buffalo recently, too.
The 30-year-old right wing was asked to submit a list of eight teams the other day that he would not accept a trade to. Minnesota was not on that list, I am told.
Pominville has one more year left on a five-year, $26.5 million deal. That’s a $5.3 million cap hit with $5.5 million in real salary next year.
Wild hosts the very desperate, very big St. Louis Blues tonight at 7 as it looks to improve to 14-3-1 at home before hitting the road for three. Torrey Mitchell, who missed Saturday's win over Los Angeles with the flu, is back in the lineup. Nate Prosser, called on to play forward the other night, is scratched.
Brett Clark remains in the lineup and Justin Falk sits again.
Clayton Stoner's had a couple rough games in a row, but coach Mike Yeo felt Stoner responded well after his mistake the other night led to Justin Williams' breakaway goal. Also, the Blues are a heavy, physical team. Stoner's not getting pulled against a team like them, and the Wild feels he has had a quality season, especially alongside Jared Spurgeon.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Jaroslav Halak.
The trade deadline is two days away at 2 p.m. CT and rumors are running rampant around the NHL.
There's a difference between rumors and actual stuff that's going on, and I can tell you from digging around the last few days, there's definite steam to what ESPN's Pierre LeBrun and TSN's Bob McKenzie reported this morning -- that the Wild is one of a number of teams involved in the Ryane Clowe trade talk with San Jose.
Now, GM Chuck Fletcher talks to every GM in the league about all sorts of players. We also know that Fletcher and Sharks GM Doug Wilson have each other's number in the *VIP section of their iPhones -- so to speak. Two summers ago, Fletcher and Wilson executed three different trades. I also know the Wild's had interest in Clowe before.
But the difference here is it sounds like the Wild has talked to Clowe's agent Kent Hughes. For that to have happened, the Wild would have had to have been given permission from San Jose. The reason?
For Clowe to waive his no-trade clause, he is looking to sign an extension with his new team.
The questions are: 1) What's the price to get Clowe and is the Wild willing to part with that? The Wild has said it is not looking to trade any of its blue-chip prospects, BUT, if it's not a rental pickup, if he's to be part of the core in the future, that changes things. The Sharks are looking to get younger and faster and the Wild is loaded with lots of prospects now; 2) How much are you willing to pay Clowe if you extend him. I've heard he's looking for a five-year deal in the $25 million neighborhood. That seems hefty; 3) What does acquiring Clowe do to your chemistry and where does he fit?
I just talked to Fletcher, and while he wouldn't comment on Clowe and "I've talked to five managers today and I talk to lots of teams," he said with 12 games left, he is very cognizant that the Wild has a good thing going. "Chemistry is a funny thing, so you've got to be mindful of the fact that the new player you're bringing in doesn't have a lot of time to get going."
Fletcher is always looking to upgrade, "but we're not going to force anything. We certainly like this team. We haven't lost a lot of games lately, and to me, this team has earned the right to continue going forward."
On Clowe, he is very good friends with Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell. They've all told me for a long time that he's a great teammate, will do anything for you, will fight for you. I'm sure you've seen me quote Clowe many times about those guys over the last few years. Phenomenal quote and seems like a good dude.
Clowe, 30, can obviously play. Just a big power forward that brings muscle and intensity, and I do think the Wild wouldn't mind getting bigger in order to compete in the hard-nosed playoffs. Clowe is a horse, built for the playoffs and was very effective against the Blues in last year's postseason, Ken Hitchcock told me this morning.
But Clowe hasn't scored in 28 games this year (11 assists).
“I don’t know what’s going on — it’s pretty crazy actually,” Clowe was quoted as saying in the Vancouver Province a few days ago. “If I went back and played that many games and tried not to score, I think I’d still score. It’s just one of those things, but the last three games are probably the best three I’ve had all year.”
So the question is, if you trade for Clowe, what are you getting?
He's been banged up. He was in the press box here 2 weekends ago when the Sharks were in town because of a shoulder injury, yet he was visibly limping, too. He was never the fleetest of foot even when he scored 43 goals over two seasons (2009-10, 2010-11).
Also, where would he fit? The Wild's third line is a combined minus-30 now, so it wouldn't be shocking if the Wild was trying to upgrade that. Do you put him on the second line? That to me is a risk because that line's success has been predicated on speed.
So right now, not knowing what the Wild would be willing to give up, I just don't see a clear-as-day fit. A couple guys I talked to in the room today could see him going to Montreal.
McKenzie tweeted Vancouver, Philly and the Rangers are also in the mix. I hear Boston, too.
We will see. Fletcher did say he doesn't anticipate making any moves today, but we shall see. More later if anything develops.
The Wild plays in San Jose on Wednesday. It is almost guaranteed Clowe will not be in the Sharks' lineup that night. The question now is whether he'll be in the Wild's.
Regardless, what this does show you: As much as the Wild says it's happy with the team and not looking to shake things up, calls are always being made and upgrades are always being sought. If the Wild's talking to San Jose about Clowe, you know they're talking to other teams about other players.
I'll be on Fox Sports North tonight and KFAN in the morning tomorrow starting at 9:55 a.m., I believe.
NEW YORK (March 14, 2013) -- The National Hockey League's Board of Governors has approved realignment and a division-based format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, effective for the 2013-14 season. The realignment plan creates two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference and two seven-team divisions in the Western Conference. The names of the divisions will be formalized at a later date.
The new alignment will place several clubs in more geographically appropriate groupings and will intensify already-fierce rivalries throughout the League. The new scheduling matrix will ensure that all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once a season.
The new alignment:
WESTERN CONFERENCE EASTERN CONFERENCE
Division A Division B Division C Division D
Anaheim Chicago Boston Carolina
Calgary Colorado Buffalo Columbus
Edmonton Dallas Detroit New Jersey
Los Angeles Minnesota Florida NY Islanders
Phoenix Nashville Montreal NY Rangers
San Jose St. Louis Ottawa Philadelphia
Vancouver Winnipeg Tampa Bay Pittsburgh
Said GM Chuck Fletcher: "It’s a big deal for our franchise. It’s a great opportunity for our team to reestablish some of the regional rivalries that the North Stars used to have awhile back. We’ll save on some travel costs, but more importantly, the wear and tear that our players are enduring, the travel should be easier, road games will be on TV at a normal time for the most part at hours where more people can watch them.
"It should be great."
Said Wild coach Mike Yeo: "Travel-wise what it's going to do for us is huge. As much as anything else, I love rivalry hockey and I think that's going to bring that here."
Among the many strategic goals achieved by the realignment plan:
* provides the Winnipeg Jets a more geographically suitable grouping of rivals;
* enables the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings to compete primarily against clubs in their own time zone;
* moves the Dallas Stars out of the Pacific Division to a more geographically appropriate and time-zone friendly grouping;
* changes the Minnesota Wild's alignment to a more historically relevant and time zone friendly grouping;
* ensures that the Colorado Avalanche, as the only U.S.-based team in the Mountain Time Zone, is placed in a more geographically suitable grouping.
NEW REGULAR-SEASON SCHEDULE MATRIX
Western Conference (7-Team Divisions)
Within Conference (Division): 29 games
* 5 games vs. five teams (3 Home/2 Away vs. two teams, 2 Home/3 Away vs.
three teams) AND 4 games vs. one team (2 Home/2 Away). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.
* 5 X 5 =25 games
* 1 X 4 = 4 games
Within Conference (Non-Division): 21 games
* 3 games vs. each team (2 Home/1 Away vs. four teams, 1 Home/2 Away vs.
three teams). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.
* 3 X 7 = 21 games
Non-Conference: 32 games
* 2 games vs. each team (1 Home/1 Away)
* 2 X 16 = 32 games
(Exception: one team from each division plays one less game inside Division and one more game inside Conference outside Division)
Eastern Conference (8-Team Divisions)
Within Conference (Division): 30 games
* 5 games vs. two teams (3 Home/2 Away vs. one team, 2 Home/3 Away vs. one
team) AND 4 games vs. five teams (2 Home/2 Away). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.
* 5 X 2 =10 games
* 4 X 5 = 20 games
Within Conference (Non-Division): 24 games
* 3 games vs. each team (2 Home/1 Away vs. four teams, 1 Home/2 Away vs.
four teams). Teams rotated on a yearly basis.
* 3 X 8 = 24 games
Non-Conference: 28 games
* 2 games vs. each team (1 Home/1 Away)
* 2 X 14 = 28 games
NEW STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF FORMAT
Playoff qualification will be primarily Division-based, with the top three finishers in each Division qualifying for the first 12 spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (and the first three "seeds" in each Division).
The two additional playoff spots in each Conference, designated as "Wild Cards," will be awarded to the next two highest-placed finishers in each Conference, ranked on the basis of regular-season points and regardless of Division.
"Seeding" of the Wild Card teams within each Divisional Playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The first-place finisher with the highest number of regular-season points in the Conference will be matched against the Wild Card team with the lowest number of regular-season points, and the first-place finisher with the second-highest number of regular-season points in the Conference matched against the Wild Card team with the second-lowest number of regular-season points.
The Playoffs will proceed as follows:
* #1 vs. #4 / #2 vs. #3 -- winners play each other for berth in Conference Championship
* Conference Finals -- Two advancing teams in the West and two advancing teams in the East meet in Conference Championship
* Eastern and Western Conference Champions will meet in Stanley Cup Final.
The National Hockey League Players' Association has given its consent to play under this new Alignment and Playoff System for a minimum of three seasons, through the 2015-16 NHL season.
Jason Zucker won't play tonight with an upper body injury. He did skate before practice. Yeo anticipates he will go on the upcoming 3-game trip to Denver, Vancouver and Detroit but isn't 100 percent positive yet. If Zucker doesn't, the Wild will need to call up a forward.
Zucker and Charlie Coyle moved into an apartment together yesterday, by the way. All their stuff is still in Houston though. "I just have a suit bag," Coyle said, laughing, quickly adding, "I'm not complaining."
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, scratched in three straight and with two goals and three assists in 20 games, gets in the lineup on the Matt Cullen-Devin Setoguchi line.
"I want to see him come in and not play the type of game where you're afraid of making a mistake, not playing the type of game where you play safe," Yeo said. "I want to see him come in and play with confidence and make a point basically. He has the ability to do that. He has the ability to control the play and create. ... He has to find a way to be a factor."
Niklas Backstrom in goal. Rest of the lines and defense pairs the same. Brett Clark did skate today, but he won't play until he gets a few practices in.
Also, the Wild has traded former University of North Dakota defenseman Chay Genoway to the Washington Capitals for a conditional 2014 seventh-rounder. He will report to Hershey. After the Brett Clark signing yesterday, this puts the Wild back to 48 of a maximum 50 contracts. This allows the Wild more flexibility to either sign college free agents maybe or add players at the trade deadline.
Fletcher said the Wild had 10 defensemen in Houston, meaning four healthy scratches a night. This gives Genoway a chance to move on.
I'll be on Hockey Night in Canada radio at 3:30 p.m. CT on XM and NHL Network tonight from the arena cam at 5:40 p.m. CT
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