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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Until this morning, I hadn't had a chance to talk with Wild rookie Erik Haula since his major penalty and game misconduct for charging Saturday night in Dallas.
Haula, the Wild's fastest player, gained speed coming into the offensive zone, blew by a defender, cut to the net and crashed hard into Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.
Lehtonen's mask popped off, his head hit the crossbar and he sustained a concussion. He also emerged with blood on his head. Haula was assessed a major for charging and Stars stud Tyler Seguin scored the tying goal in an eventual win.
Replays did show Haula was tripped by Stars player Cody Eakin and Haula wasn't disciplined by the NHL.
Understandably frustrated Stars coach Lindy Ruff called it a "dirt play" by a "fourth-liner," although those of us who know Haula also know he's not your typical fourth-liner. It's just his current role as a first-year NHLer, but he's a past scoring star at the University of Minnesota with blinding speed, not a thug. Before that game, he had eight penalty minutes in 28 games.
Still, Ruff was frustrated just like Mike Yeo would have been if a Dallas player did that to Darcy Kuemper.
On the incident, Haula said, "After a play like that, when I go to the locker room, first I want to see it myself. I think it’s pretty clear that my intention is definitely not to run the goalie or anything like that. I think it’s self-explanatory. We’re up 3-2 and I’m going hard to the net, I’ve got a lot of speed, my foot gets tangled up with [Eakin], I basically fall forward. I’m trying to score a goal. That’s my main intention. It’s unfortunate when I go into the locker room and see that [Lehtonen’s] hurt. It’s not a good feeling ever. I wish all the best for him and hopefully a speedy recovery."
Was he worried he'd be suspended? "I wasn’t thinking about it. I was so nervous about the game. I didn’t feel too good about the penalty and then the team losing. I was really disappointed about that. Having a tight race like it is, the points are crucial. That was my only focus at that point. I knew that everything was going to take care of itself. If the league saw it as a dirty play, they would have suspended me. But I think that everyone can see – even if you want to or don’t want to look at it that close – that I do get tripped up and was kind of helpless (meaning he had nowhere to go)."
That's my feeling on the play. I don't think he had intent to run Lehtonen. Just look at the replay in real time. The kid was absolutely flying, he cuts to the net, tangles skates and next thing you know, he's at the crease with uncontrollable speed. He just ran out of room and had nowhere to go.
I also think it's a tough call for the ref there. It was a scary site seeing Lehtonen get crashed into. There's an obvious injury. If you don't see the trip or you think Haula could have still avoided Lehtonen, a major there is probably the right call. Like I said the other day, I do think the only thing that was in dispute is Trevor Daley probably should have gotten two for roughing, which would have made it essentially a 3-minute major.
Either way, Lehtonen is hurt and hopefully he gets better quickly. Thank goodness from Dallas' perspective that it traded for Tim Thomas three days before.
I will be hosting a live chat at www.startribune.com/wild at 2 p.m. CT and if you didn't see my previous blog, there's a Josh Harding update.
But when the Wild drops the puck on its game tonight against the Edmonton Oilers, Matt Cooke will play in his 1,000th regular-season game. He will become the 286th player in NHL history to hit the milestone and fourth to do so in a Wild sweater (Keith Carney, Andrew Brunette and Matt Cullen).
Cooke, 35, has scored 162 goals and 384 points in 999 games with a plus-61, 2,013 hits and 1,120 penalty minutes.
His first NHL game, first NHL goal and 1,000th game have come against Edmonton.
His career have been full of ups and downs, going from a super-pest (somebody many considered dirty) to reinventing himself after a 17-game suspension (including playoffs) for elbowing the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh on March 21, 2011. He knew that if he didn't change the way he played the game that he would be out of the NHL in a jiffy.
Nobody can watch him now with unbiased eyes and say he’s the same player he once was. I can tell you from my standpoint, I definitely had a previous perception about what kind of player Matt Cooke was (I was just reading two columns I wrote on Cooke after the McDonagh incident and a Nick Schultz kneeing incident) and thus what kind of person Cooke must be. My opinions have changed after watching him and talking to him for three-quarters of a season. I can tell you, from a teammate standpoint, he’s very much a respected leader in the Wild’s room. Some of the “kids,” like Charlie Coyle, were going on and on about Cooke today.
I know that doesn't change some of his previous acts and doesn't help guys like Marc Savard, but there's no doubt he's a different, much more effective player today than he was in yesteryear.
Cooke has 24 friends and family members in town to enjoy tonight’s game. His wife and three children will be on the ice with him when the Wild and NHL honors Cooke in the pregame.
Here’s a pretty candid Q and A with Cooke from this morning:
On 1,000 games: “It’s a huge accomplishment for me and my family. You don’t get here by yourself. I’ve had great people around me who have supported me through thick and thin. And I think those will be the things I think of during the ceremony.”
You don’t think about 1,000 games when drafted? “I’ll go back even farther than that. I was a 10th-round draft pick to junior (Windsor Spitfires), 144th overall. Crazy enough, I was a sixth-round pick, 144th overall in the NHL.”
How does a player drafted that late twice make it? “You don’t get hindered by the draft pick number. My biggest thing was at the end of the day when I leave training camp, I don’t want them to go, No. 46, who’s that? When they see my number or my name, I want them to have a visual image of what kind of player that is. I was fortunate enough to have some great coaching along the way to help me out. If you want your dream, work at it. Just because you’re a high draft pick doesn’t mean you’re not going to make it.”
How’d you go from a three- or four-minute a night guy who would run goalies to a 15-minute guy trusted on the ice late in games? “That was the [Mike] Keenan-[Marc] Crawford transition for sure. He put a lot of faith and trust in me, believed in the way that I played. His big thing was there’s a style of play that I play. For me to be most effective is to be underneath at least three or four guys’ skin and quite often that led with us skating around in the morning skate and him mentioning last names of players on the opposing team. But that also led me to playing 12 to 15 minutes a night and getting opportunities with seconds left needing a tying goal. That gave me a lot of confidence and belief in the way I was playing.”
Have you thought that you would have gotten to 1,000 quicker without the suspensions? “In reality, I have 20 [regular season] games of suspensions, so it still would have been this year. I probably missed close to 100 games with injury and I spent the first two years half and half, which is another 80 games and a lockout and a half and that gets me to today. I can’t really look back. I can’t change any of that and that’s made me the person and player I am today. I’m thankful that I’m in a great organization to celebrate this with.”
Are you surprised how quickly Wild fans embraced a former detested Vancouver Canuck? “We all know the history that was there and we all know my interviews when I first signed here were not the most generously questioned, even by yourself (laughs), but I expected that. And I believed that with the Wild logo that they would appreciate me just as the fans in Vancouver did back then.”
And in Pittsburgh, you seemed to be beloved? “It’s a very blue-collar town, a very hard-working city and they love their sports there. I was fortunate to win a Cup there. I think anybody that’s done that there is an icon in that city and will be for the rest of their lives. That’s a cool place to be and it’s my goal to do that here.”
How gratifying is it that you admittedly reinvented yourself the past three years? “There’s been times throughout my career where you’re injured and you’re like, ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this.’ But the last three years have been a lot of fun for me. With my change in approach has come a lot of realizations and understandings of emotions and events that happen in a game that I never even knew took place because I was putting myself somewhere else to be that player. So the last three years have made me feel like I have a lot more to give, and that’s fun for me, that’s exciting.”
Some fans and critics still look at you like the old Matt Cooke, like in Dallas with the tripping minor Saturday? “I’ve always been a guy that said people are going to have their opinions and they’re entitled to them. I don’t hold it against them. That’s their belief and understanding and that’s their right.”
Are you happy with your new approach? “Absolutely. I can go out and play 18 minutes fairly easily without feeling like I might not make it through the next week. Five years ago there’s no way I can do that with the stress I put on my brain and my body. I enjoy my teammates more, I enjoy the game more. Just everything is in a better place with me.”
Also, I talked to Erik Haula today about his major penalty on Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen this morning. I'll toss those quotes up on the blog later. Please join the chat in a matter of minutes.
Josh Harding, who still technically leads the NHL with a 1.65 goals-against average and is second with a .933 save percentage, took the ice at Xcel Energy Center this morning for the first time since January.
Harding, who hasn’t started since Dec. 31 because of the effects of multiple sclerosis, has been feeling much better in recent days.
“I saw him this morning, and I can’t say that I have a plan right now,” coach Mike Yeo said. “The first step was just to see him at the rink and I know he was here last game and I had heard how much better he was doing. And when I got a chance to talk to him this morning, you could see it. You could see it in his face, you could see the relief. You could just see he’s in a much better place right now. I think it’s great. It’s great to have him around. The next step is getting him on the ice and talk more about what the plan is. We haven’t discussed that.”
Harding, indisputably the Wild’s first-half MVP with an 18-7-3 record, had an adjustment to his treatment after beating Vancouver on Dec. 17. He missed the Wild’s four-game road trip and returned to start two games Dec. 29 against the Islanders and Dec. 31 against the Blues.
He missed the next smattering of games, came back to practice, but then had to leave again because he wasn’t feeling well. He has missed the past 22 games.
Obviously, Harding taking the ice is a great sign, but obviously there’s a long road yet to getting back into a game. Still, outstanding news that Harding is feeling better.
Also, Niklas Backstrom, one week after being “shut down” by GM Chuck Fletcher, skated today in pads with Harding. Apparently, this is part of Backstrom’s treatment plan from a Toronto specialist.
So, is Backstrom shut down?
“I don’t know with Backy,” Yeo said, laughing. “We don’t want to shut him down because you never know, he might all of a sudden come back and feel great. We don’t have a plan there. I know that he’s still not feeling great, so he’s going out there and keeping sharp just in case he can come back.”
Darcy Kuemper vs. Viktor Fasth (Oilers debut and first game since Nov. 18) tonight against the Edmonton Oilers.
Clayton Stoner, Justin Fontaine and Mike Rupp will be scratched for Minnesota. Oscar Klefbom will make his NHL debut for Edmonton.
Matt Cooke will skate in his 1,000th game and I’ll return soon with his thoughts.
I will be hosting a live chat at startribune.com at 2 p.m.
First of all, I’m sorry to report my Thursday online chat has been scrapped. I’ll have to postpone until next week because the Wild has pushed back Thursday’s practice so Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick can arrive in time and Friday I’ll need to hustle to the airport after practice to fly to Dallas.
But I’ll do my best to answer as many questions here as I can.
Matt Moulson will wear No. 26 here. And Cody McCormick No. 8.
OK, have a good night.
No, seriously, as for the trade of Moulson and McCormick from Buffalo for Torrey Mitchell and two second-round picks, heck of a deal in my estimation. As I say often, Chuck Fletcher is nothing if not bold, and always has something up his sleeve.
I always find the maturation of an organization fascinating, and it’s interesting how the Wild has transitioned from being a trade-deadline seller to a buyer the past two years.
Last year, the Wild arguably paid a big price for Jason Pominville (two prospects and a first were the highlights), but Pominville had another year left on his deal and the Wild was obviously immediately interested in extending him, which it did by five years starting next year right before this season.
This year, Fletcher looked into doing similar “hockey trades,” but in the end, he likes the chemistry of this team, wanted to avoid trading a first-round pick for a second consecutive year and didn’t want to trade any of his top prospects. So early this morning, when he quickly realized he may be able to consummate a “draft pick” deal for Moulson with Sabres GM Tim Murray, that’s where he began to focus.
Other GM’s were dangling their rentals and asking for prospects like Matt Dumba, Gustav Olofsson and Kurtis Gabriel, Fletcher said, and he had no interest. The other thing that made the Moulson/McCormick swap so intriguing was Fletcher would be able to include Mitchell, who wanted out, in the deal. That’s no slight against Mitchell, but he was playing a fourth-line role, so he’s replaced by the gritty, hard-nosed McCormick and the Wild gets out from under the $2.5 million salary and $1.9 million cap hit Mitchell had owed to him next season. That’ll create more roster and cap flexibility.
Now, before I get more into detail of what Fletcher/Moulson said during today’s availability, I try my best to answer two questions I see I’ve been asked most on Twitter (since most people seem to want news in abbreviated 140-character like methods, this will save those people from having to read through the rest of the minutia included on what’s bound to be a super-sized blog).
1. What will the lines look like? Well, I don’t have the answer for you because we’ll see an initial taste as to what coach Mike Yeo is thinking at Thursday’s practice. But my shot in the dark for at least Thursday’s practice is similar to what I guessed on Twitter earlier today, but it has changed a little.
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Dany Heatley
Cody McCormick-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine-Nino Niederreiter
I think at least in Thursday’s practice, we’ll see these top 2 lines. We saw earlier this season putting Heatley on the fourth line didn’t work, so maybe they eventually go with a Moulson-Koivu-Heatley line and Cooke-Coyle-Nino on the third. That would mean the fourth would be a combination of McCormick, Haula, Brodziak and Fontaine.
Yeo will have a lot of options and I’m sure there will be tinkering. For instance, I’m not sure what he’s thinking, but maybe McCormick plays against the rugged teams (Wild played St. Louis three times down the stretch and could be staring at the Blues in the first round) and sits against the faster teams.
Obviously, there are always injuries, too, so no lines are set in stone. If the Wild’s healthy, I think it’s clear that Jason Zucker will initially have to return to Iowa when he gets healthy.
2. Does trading for Moulson preclude the Wild from signing Thomas Vanek if it so wishes in the offseason?
Well, only if at the end of the day the Wild re-signs Moulson. And it’s honestly way too soon to think about it. As of now, it’s a rental. Now, if Moulson plays so well and fits in so well and the Wild does damage in the playoffs, yes, the Wild I’m sure would absolutely consider re-signing Moulson.
“You never know,” Fletcher said. “I’m open-minded.”
Moulson also echoed that, but he too said it’s the last thing he’s thinking about right now: “We’ll see what happens. I think that’s the last thing I’ve thought about right now is free agency. I have a million other things going through my mind,” like “getting to a new team and trying to help them win.”
So again, so many things can happen between now and July 1. The cap isn’t unlimited. The Wild has to analyze its needs going into next season and how much money it can spend in certain areas. The biggest priority will be figuring out its goalie situation. Then it’ll figure out everything else.
I do think it's fair to say the Wild was in on Vanek. I think it's also very clear to say that Islanders GM Garth Snow held onto his cards WAY too long and got caught in a gigantic way. He basically wound up having to trade Vanek to Montreal for a mid-level prospect and MAYBE two draft picks if Montreal makes the playoffs. Not good after acquiring Vanek for Moulson, a first and a second.
Regardless, put Vanek in the back of your head and … don’t ask me again about him until May, maybe June.
Fletcher says he drove to the Wild’s offices today not knowing if he would be able to make a trade. If he couldn’t, he would be OK with that because he’s been very happy with the current team and how it’s been playing.
But he felt he owed it to the players to kick some tires and try to improve the team and “reward” them for a job well done the past few months. He said it’s important to send messages in this business.
But, he didn’t want to trade his prospects or his first.
He zeroed in on Buffalo because the Wild has been scouting the Sabres for weeks (humorously, the day after that late-January bogus report out of Buffalo came out that the Wild made an offer for Ryan Miller and a trade could be imminent, assistant GM Brent Flahr was in town scouting looking at guys like Miller and Drew Stafford. Miller didn’t even start the game). Fletcher has also had tons of trade talks with Tim Murray and they discussed several scenarios about many different things.
“As the day wore on, we got fortunate,” Fletcher said. “We got fortunate to get in a situation where Buffalo was willing to discuss a draft-pick trade with us. It’s a good deal for them. They get two draft picks. And from our standpoint, we were able to acquire a very good goal scorer in Matt Moulson, a big, energetic, gritty guy in Cody McCormick, who we feel will be very important for us down the stretch. And perhaps as importantly, we were able to move some cap space for next season. So we accomplished the things we set out to do and were able to do so by moving a couple draft picks over a three-year span. Coming into today with about $4-plus million in cap space on a full year basis, we’re pretty happy with what we were able to accomplish.
Moulson was intriguing because the Wild, if you didn’t know, have to work really hard some nights to score goals. Minnesota ranks 25th in the NHL at 2.36 goals per game, so thank goodness for its goaltending and sixth-best goals against.
“Historically, this team has not been a high-scoring team,” Fletcher said. “We have not been the last couple years. I do believe however the last six, eight weeks, we’re probably scoring [2.74] goals per game. So we have been better offensively lately, but when you look at our club, you probably wouldn’t describe us as a high-end offensive team. I think that’s fair. … If we can add somebody that can help us score another goal every other game or something to that effect, we think that’ll make a big difference.
On the lines and options Yeo now has at his disposal, Fletcher said, “We’re trying to get to a place where we have at least three lines that can score and play defense. A lot gets made out of line combinations and who plays with whom, and I understand that, and if Zach’s playing with Mikko and all these different things, but ultimately to be successful, and I think we saw this a little bit in the playoffs last year, you need to have more than one line that you can rely on. Mike has experimented a lot this year with different line combinations; I think that’s great. I think all the players are used to playing with different players. But obviously these two players will give us more depth and if we can get to a place where we have two or three lines that teams have to worry about offensively, two power-play units that teams have to worry about, so you maybe don’t even have a No. 1 and a No. 2 unit, you have a 1A and a 1B, that makes you much more difficult to coach against, to play against and to gameplan against, and I think that’s where we want to get to.”
As I mentioned on a blog last week when the Wild acquired Brad Winchester (he’s in Iowa), it’s very clear the Wild has made a conscious decision to try to get bigger the last few years. Look back at that blog (I think it posted last Wednesday in Edmonton), but it had all the players I’m talking about on there.
“And even look at the draft last year with Olofsson and Kurtis Gabriel who’s really come on this year and [UMD’s] Carson Soucy,” Fletcher said. “We really are trying to get bigger. First you try to get skill, then hopefully you can add some size. It’s a big man’s league. Maybe some people would disagree with me, but I really truly believe that the officiating standards change as the year goes on and what’s a penalty early in the year is not necessarily a penalty later in the year and that’s OK. But you have to be able to skate through hooks and interferences and some of the other things that are a little more prevalent. It becomes a bigger man’s game – or more of a competitive man’s game. You have to compete and certainly size helps, but I think that’s an area every team looks to this time of year and we’ve made a conscious effort in that regard.”
How does this year compare to the Pominville deadline deal? “Last year with Pominville, he had a year left on his contract so we were prepared to pay a big price. We really felt we needed to add more talent and with Pominville you’re getting a guy that was a captain in this league, who has a tremendous amount of character and a very good two-way player. But he’s also a talented offensive player. We wanted more talent to play with Koivu and Parise and Suter and to play with our top end guys. We’re becoming a more talented team as we see the evolution of Granlund and Coyle and Zucker and Niederreiter and these types of players. This year there was a little bit more risk I suppose because Moulson’s contract is expiring. But yet any time you’re paying second-round picks for good hockey players, to me, it’s a really good move. We’re very comfortable with the gamble. We’re fortunate – our scouts do a great job. They nail picks left and right. So to give up a second-round pick, to me they’ll probably hit on the third. And so I’m able to take some chances with our picks because of the way our scouts draft.”
On making a trade with his buddy Tim Murray (friends from Florida and Anaheim), Fletcher jokingly said, “No, he was tough. But fortunately I have some good background information on him that he doesn’t want revealed. No, Timmy did a great job today. He picked up some picks and some prospects and that team will turn around quickly. He knew what he was doing. He moved a couple pending UFAs and got a couple second round picks for them so it’s a good deal for him and a deal we’re very, very comfortable making with where we’re at as a franchise right now.
On today’s market: “It was a different market. To me, prices went down a little bit this year. You saw basically a lot of pretty good hockey players who are pending UFAs getting traded for the equivalent of two second-rounders, or a second-rounder and a prospect. Certainly situations like that as opposed to late first-round picks. Teams seemed to hold on to their first-round picks this year. The other interesting thing about it is there were a lot of goal scorers that were traded and a lot of goalies. I can never remember another year where this many talented goaltenders switched teams. And you go through the list and some of them may be a little bit older, but again really well-recognized, established goaltenders were traded. I’ve never seen a year like that, and a lot of goal scorers and very few defensemen. Some years there’s more defensemen. Every year has a different tone, but I think you saw teams pulling back a little bit this year unwilling maybe to trade that first-rounder or that elite prospect, and maybe offering seconds and third-round picks instead, which obviously we were very happy with.”
“It’s difficult to move first-round picks,” Fletcher continued. “We did it last year and, again, we’re thrilled, but in this cap system you have to draft and develop. First-rounders are typically anywhere from 50 to 90 percent success rate depending on where in the first round you select. Second-rounders can be 25 to 30 percent, so there’s a massive drop-off. You’ve got to hold on to your first-rounders a lot. Occasionally you’ve got to step up, and again, it was a great decision for us last year. This year to me it was not, we wanted to hold on to our firsts and we did and that’s a good thing.”
Moulson said, “Minnesota is an incredible hockey state. The fans of Minnesota, it’s pretty easy to see how passionate they are. It’s exciting to go to a team that’s doing extremely well right now and a great fan base. I’m just excited to get there and help this team win any way I can.”
On what he knows about the Wild: “I think when you’re in different conferences you don’t see the other too much. But obviously you follow the league and see the love that the Wild have been getting and playing extremely well obviously. They’ve got some great players, so I’m excited to be a part of that group and try to get some wins.”
On Buffalo: “Obviously there’s been a lot of change. I think I’ve gone through the most change I’ve ever had in my career this year being traded from the Islanders and going through some changes in Buffalo, but obviously I’m very thankful to the Sabres – they took my family and I in. It was a quick transition there. I think my son was two-weeks-old when I got traded. It was a little bit of a whirlwind but obviously I made some pretty close friends in the last couple months, but I guess I’ve been rumored for a while that they’d probably try to shop me off again. So I’m definitely a lot more ready for it this time than the last time around. It’s something I was prepared for and got my family prepared for. We’re just excited to be part of the Wild family now.”
Who does he know on the Wild: “I know Nino a little bit. Zach Parise is good friends with Kyle Okposo so I know him by association, and I was able to text with him. I feel like I know him pretty well just through Kyle Okposo so other than that I don’t know too many guys, I didn’t know too many guys when I went to Buffalo, so I don’t really see that as a problem. The hockey group takes guys in and makes them feel pretty welcome right away.”
I didn’t talk with McCormick today. I’ll talk to him after Thursday’s practice, but like Moulson, the Buffalo writers say he’s a great guy and a player that should help.
OK, that’s it for me. I've got to do my Wild Minute and get upstairs, watch a period or two of high-school hockey and get home. Talk to you after Thursday’s practice.
Update: Jake Dowell cleared waivers.
Biggest trade thus far was a blockbuster, with Lightning captain Martin St. Louis going to the Rangers (the lone team he requested to be traded to) for captain Ryan Callahan, a first round pick and a second round pick. Lots of conditions in the deal; Tampa gets another first if the Rangers go to the conference finals, Rangers get a pick back if Callahan re-signs.
As always, the trades will come rapid-fire eventually. The issue is the domino hasn't fallen on Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Mike Cammalleri and Ales Hemsky -- five scoring rental forwards. The second one goals, the other should follow quickly.
I created a false alarm this morning when I was told Gaborik to the Kings was done. I had to do a mea culpa even though trust me, the source was as good as it gets. The deal still seemed imminent for a bit and still could happen, but the Kings are now ticked with Columbus, doesn't want to get left at the altar and have moved on looking at some of the other rentals. The Jackets are still shopping Gaborik. Ottawa was one team involved but reportedly is after Hemsky too. So if they go Hemsky, maybe it still winds up L.A. with Gaborik, but it obviously wasn't the done deal I was told.
As for the Wild, quiet right now. They're in the holding pattern everybody else seems to be in. As always, once 2 p.m. creeps closer, the deals will rapidly flow throughout the NHL.
Good morning. After weeks of stories and working the phone and hiding behind flower pots in front of Chuck Fletcher’s office, it’s finally the trade deadline.
Starting tomorrow, I can mail in the rest of the season.
When the clock strikes 2, no more trades can be made (actually AHL trades can still be made. Remember your beloved Filip Kuba? His NHL career actually took off because of a post trade-deadline move in Florida. The Panthers defenseman was dealt to Calgary for Rocky Thompson. I remember sitting in the press box in Pittsburgh in, I think 2000, when I got the press release and thinking, uh, I thought there can’t be any trades anymore!)
Here is a trade tracker you can pay attention to at work and school (I'm not condoning not working or studying) today.
As you know by now, the Wild acquired Ilya Bryzgalov from the Oilers yesterday to give the team goalie depth with Niklas Backstrom shut down and Josh Harding unlikely to return this season. The trade was indeed for a 2014 fourth-round pick (There seems to be some Twitter confusion because it sounds like a site or two has mistakenly put Edmonton’s price paid for Viktor Fasth next to the Bryzgalov trade on their charts).
What happens today?
Fletcher was in on the Jaroslav Halak trade. He didn’t want to give a prospect and/or a second-round pick, so he pulled the trigger on the easiest trade (fourth-round pick) and was able to save some cap space in the process.
That gives him the flexibility to make more moves today. As I reported in today’s newspaper and on last night’s blog, multiple sources tell me the Wild is very interested in Drew Stafford, who has been playing at a consistently high level for some time for the Sabres. There have been lots of conversations between Fletcher and Sabres GM Tim Murray lately and the big question is whether Murray is indeed willing to trade Stafford, 28, and what the price would be.
He wouldn’t be a rental. He has another year left on his contract at a pretty attractive $4 million (remember, the cap is going up), so this would be more of a “hockey trade” (one of my favorite terms; I’d love to know who coined it).
So it could cost a second-tier prospect, salaried player (Wild would need to trade some cash unless it just puts Backstrom or Harding on LTIR, which allows you to top the cap ceiling by their cap hit if you need the space) and/or a pick.
Stafford is very good friends with Zach Parise from their days at Shattuck and North Dakota, he’s a former teammate of Jason Pominville. (By the way, even though I'm mentioning Stafford on here, I'm not saying it's going to happen. I'm sure Fletcher has many balls in the air and this is just one I've heard about).
The question that I haven’t connected all the dots on? If the Wild acquires Stafford, where’s he fit? I'd think somebody would need to depart in that trade or another one.
I’d think you’d want him to be your second-line right wing.
If you figure, the lines currently are:
this could lend further credence to why I keep hearing from sources that Kyle Brodziak can be had today.
If you slid Stafford or acquired another top-6 right wing and traded Brodziak, you could slide Coyle back to the position coach Mike Yeo says he feels Coyle has grown “leaps and bounds” in this season – center.
A Cooke-Coyle-Niederreiter line would be intriguing.
I talked to Brodziak yesterday in a general sense (not about him personally, just so you know the context), and he said, “It’s a tough part of the year. There’s a lot of uncertainty around the locker room, but we’re professionals, we’ve dealt with it before and tune it out best we can. We’ve done a really good job this year putting ourselves in here in a good position. Everyone in here feels really good about the group that we have. We just want to keep building so we can tap into the potential of this team.”
Brodziak, the first player Fletcher ever traded for as the Wild GM in 2009, also has another year on his deal ($3 million salary, $2.833M cap hit).
Another player who could be dealt today is Torrey Mitchell, so if Mitchell got dealt and Brodziak stayed, you could shuffle your lines in other ways.
I mentioned yesterday that TVA Sports reporter Renaud Lavoie tweeted yesterday that sources told him that Torrey Mitchell asked to be traded. Mitchell and his agent Kent Hughes each denied the report in separate texts, but after those denials, I also had two sources confirm the Mitchell trade request.
Fletcher didn’t respond to my inquiry, which makes you think that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Mitchell, a hard-working, very fast forward, signed a three-year, $5.7 million deal with the Wild two summers ago. That happened on July 1. On July 4, the Wild signed Parise. The Wild also didn’t know for sure if Pierre-Marc Bouchard would be healthy to start that season. He wound up being ready.
So Mitchell came to Minnesota thinking he’d have a chance to be third-line right wing. After Parise and Bouchard were inserted, Mitchell fell down the depth chart. Since, the Wild has added youngsters like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. So Mitchell has been saddled on the fourth line pretty much since he has gotten here.
So if Mitchell wants out, that’s why. The problem he may run into today though is with a very manageable $1.9 million salary next year and an appetizing age to rebuilding teams (29), he could very easily be included in a deal to say Buffalo. Let’s just say the Wild can’t get Stafford done and chooses a rental (Matt Moulson, Thomas Vanek), Mitchell again would be an easy throw-in.
So if Mitchell did ask out now (which I understand he denies), he may regret it because it could cost him a playoff berth. If it’s true he wants to move on so he could play more, he may have been better off just riding this out the rest of the season and then asking out after the season. I would assume it would be simple to trade a fast, hard-working 29-year-old with one year left on his contract during the offseason. Now he could conceivably wind up in a losing situation today.
Another name potentially being floated is Dany Heatley, who has a limited no-trade clause. I’ve even heard his hometown of Calgary, although I’m not sure why a non-playoff team would need an expiring contract. But Fletcher and Flames acting GM Brian Burke did meet during the entire second intermission of Monday’s Wild-Flames game.
It also wouldn’t shock me if Fletcher tried to bring in another depth defenseman.
Rosters are unlimited now as long as you don’t go over the cap.
I'll be hosting a live online chart Thursday at 3 p.m. CT, incidentally.
I’ll update the blog when there’s news later.
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