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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Posts about Vikings draft

Wild picking at 7th; Thoughts on Luongo, Staal, Ryan; Draft charts galore

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 22, 2012 - 4:28 PM

The first round of the NHL draft will be tonight at 6 p.m. CT. You can watch on NBC Sports Network. Rounds 2-7 are tomorrow, beginning at 9 a.m., and that can be seen on the NHL Network.

The Wild has the 7th pick tonight and then, barring trades, the 46th, 68th, 98th, 128th, 158th and 188th tomorrow.

Some Wild tidbits: Wild continues to work on Justin Falk re-signing, Gui Latendresse re-signing, although Chuck Fletcher said yesterday this could even stretch to July 1, and as I wrote in today's paper, they met yesterday with the agents of free agent potentials Matt Kassian and Stephane Veilleux.

I've gotten a lot of emails and tweets the last few days from Wild fans clamoring for every defenseman potentially on the board around 7, from Griffin Reinhart to Mathew Dumba to Morgan Rielly to Jacob Trouba. 

Here's the article from today's paper

Here's a chart of some guys that may be there at 7

As former NHL GM Craig Button told me: “I think it really comes down to they’re all close, so, ‘We want this guy over that guy because this is what we value more than the other.' I’m not so sure in my own view watching these guys that one is clearly better than the other. And rarely can you say that in a draft.”

If it's true what Button says that Reinhart won't be there at 7, it comes down to: Do you want the heavy, intimidating hitter like Trouba? Do you want the package of speed, shot, big hits albeit being undersized in Dumba? Do you want the incredible skater like Rielly? Do you want the pure offense like Cody Ceci?

If it's a forward, the Wild cannot go wrong with Teuvo Teravainen or Radek Faksa in my opinion. Many scouts say with more viewings, we could be talking about Teravainen as the No. 1 pick in this draft. However, he is undersized.

Faksa is a fascinating guy. Talking to him yesterday, he grew up in a remote town in the Czech Republic. His uncle convinced him that if he wanted to play hockey in the future, he'd have to move out of his house and attend a hockey academy 120 kilometers from home.

Guess how old he was?

ELEVEN! On his own, he moved to his town and lived alone in a hotel room. Lunch was at the academy, dinner at the hotel. Breakfast, he'd cook his own. Usually, "toast," he said, laughing.

His parents would visit him once a week. Again, at age 11! At age 11, I was riding around my neighborhood pretending I was Ponch from CHiPs!

As usual at the draft, trade rumors are the most interesting thing.

Last year, the draft day blockbuster was Brent Burns and a second going to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first that became Zack Phillips. The day before, Jeff Carter was traded to Columbus and Mike Richards to Los Angeles.

Often, trade scuttlebutt around the draft is hyped up and nothing happens, and that could very well be the case this year.

Vancouver is trying to trade Roberto Luongo. The teams that would love him? Toronto and Columbus. Would he waive his no-trade to go to Toronto, where he'd have just as much pressure there as in Vancouver? I think so. Would he waive his no-trade to go to Columbus? That one I'm skeptical about, although his former Canucks and Panthers goalie coach, Ian Clark, is the goalie coach of the Blue Jackets now.

I have it on good authority that Luongo's first choice would be to return to Florida, where his in-laws live and where he lives in a beautiful home in Parkland during the offseason. The Panthers, I think, are interested, but can they take on the length of his contract? I think it runs for the next 100 years.

The big news here, of course, is Rick Nash, and talking to Scott Howson, Columbus' GM, all weekend, he says he has no problem sticking to his guns and waiting for the right assets. The trade must reinvent the franchise, so that means, probably four top, top assets. Howson said yesterday he was no closer to trading Nash than he was at the trade deadline. Complicating matters is Nash must approve any trade, so even if Howson finds a deal he's in love with, Nash can put the kibosh on it if he won't go to the team.

Bobby Ryan is 100 percent on the trading block. I've got that from numerous sources. The question is what do you have to give up for him? He's younger and cheaper than Nash and plays basically the same position -- left wing. I've heard the price isn't as high though as Nash, but it's still very high. I'm not too sure Anaheim wants to take a lot of salary back because Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are a year from free agency and the Ducks want to extend them.

So we're talking prospects and picks most likely. The Wild has interest, but Chuck Fletcher is not looking to move his top prospects (i.e. Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin).

But it's not often a 25-year-old, pure goal scorer is on the market, too. I still think Philly is the right match here.

That brings me to Jordan Staal.

The deal here is simple: I think he doesn't want to play in the three hole his entire career to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That's what I hear at least. You have one NHL career. He was offered a 10-year deal. Does he want to be a third-liner his entire career or does he want to go elsewhere to be a No. 2?

Well, he rejected a 10-year deal, sources confirm (as first reported by TSN's Bob McKenzie).

The Wild undoubtedly would love Staal. Mike Yeo loves him. Chuck Fletcher loves him.

But there's no way the Wild can give up significant assets for Staal unless it knew for a fact he'd sign an extension. He is one year from free agency.

According to a source close to Staal, he will not sign an extension with any team he is traded to. I think the one exception would be Carolina where his brother, Eric, is captain, but if you're Carolina and you think you may be able to get Staal for free in a year as a free agent, why not wait a year and sign Staal without having to trade bigtime assets?

Pittsburgh's in a real quandary with this one.

So, if you're a Wild fan and you're drooling over the possibility of getting Staal: Don't get your hopes up. You can't trade for Staal if he won't re-sign in a year. This is plain and simple, folks.

Wild charts galore

Wild first-round picks
2011: Jonas Brodin, Farjestad (Sweden), 9th overall
2011: Zack Phillips, Saint John (QMJHL), 28th overall
2010: Mikael Granlund, HIFK (Finland), 10th overall
2009: Nick Leddy, Eden Prairie High, 16th overall
2008: Tyler Cuma, Ottawa (OHL), 23rd overall
2007: Colton Gillies, Saskatoon (WHL), 16th overall
2006: James Sheppard, Cape Breton (QMJHL), 9th overall
2005: Benoit Pouliot, Sudbury (OHL), 4th overall
2004: A.J. Thelen, Michigan State, 12th overall
2003: Brent Burns, Brampton (OHL), 20th overall
2002: Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Chicoutimi, 8th overall
2001: Mikko Koivu, TPS Turku (Finland), 6th overall
2000: Marian Gaborik, Dukla Trencin (Slovakia), 3rd overall

The Wild pick seventh in the first round tonight. Here are some notable No. 7 NHL picks
2010: Jeff Skinner
1995: Shane Doan
1993: Jason Arnott
1990: Darryl Sydor
1974: Doug Risebrough
1972: Bill Barber

Draft hits

Marian Gaborik
2000, first round, 3rd overall
Franchise leader in goals (219), assists (218); scored club record 42 goals in 2007-08

Mikko Koivu
2001, first round, 6th overall
Wild didn’t rush its now-captain, and he’s developed into a two-way force, leader and arguably the game’s best Finn

Brent Burns
2003, first round, 20th overall
Magnificent tools, but after injuries slowed him for two years, the Wild parlayed him into three players last June

Nick Schultz
2000, second round, 33rd overall
Matchup defenseman was the Wild’s all-time leader with 743 games before being dealt to Edmonton

Pierre-Marc Bouchard
2002, first round, 6th overall
Despite concussion woes, he’s the third-leading scorer in franchise history (327 points)

Draft finds

Cal Clutterbuck
2006, third round, 72nd overall
Hits like a freight train and is one of the game’s top agitators, he led the NHL in hits his first three seasons

Marco Scandella
2008, second round, 55th overall
Taken one round after Tyler Cuma, he made Canada’s world junior team in 2009 and looks ready to blossom

Clayton Stoner
2004, third round, 79th overall
Took awhile to mature due to injuries, but he’s become a steady, hard-hitting regular

Draft misses

A.J. Thelen
2004, first round, 12th overall
Defenseman out of Savage was a risk when the Wild took him and is long gone from the organization

Roman Voloshenko
2004, second round, 42nd overall
After scoring 33 goals as 19-year-old AHL rookie, his developed halted and he quit to return to Russia

James Sheppard
2006, first round, 9th overall
Floundered with two goals in 2009-10 and has missed the past two seasons after breaking his kneecap

On the rise

Of the crop of budding prospects, here’s my top-10 as of now:

1. Mikael Granlund, C-RW, 2010 1st round
2. Charlie Coyle, C-RW; 2010 1st round (SJ)
3. Matt Hackett, G; 2009 2nd round
4. Jonas Brodin, D; 2011 1st round
5. Johan Larsson; LW-C; 2010 2nd round
6. Brett Bulmer; RW; 2010 2nd round
7. Jason Zucker; LW; 2010 2nd round
8. Darcy Kuemper; G; 2009 6th round
9. Zack Phillips; C; 2011 1st round
10. Mario Lucia; LW; 2011 2nd round

Wild close to signing Justin Falk? More news, notes and peek at schedule

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 20, 2012 - 2:44 PM

Good afternoon from Pittsburgh, where this is what is left of the Igloo:



I love the NHL draft, because every who's who in hockey is roaming around the city.

This morning, I did get to watch assistant GM Brent Flahr meet with Newport agents Don Meehan and Craig Oster about restricted free agent Justin Falk for an hour in the restaurant, so you can bet a new pact will be done with Falk soon. I wonder if it'll be similar to Clayton Stoner's two-year deal a few years ago -- one-way deal, then a two-way deal the next year. Just a thought.

Flahr's meeting came immediately after Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff met with the entire Newport agency about Evander Kane, who is reportedly displeased being a Jet.

I love the draft.

Other early notes:

-- The Wild has come to terms on new two-way deals with Chad Rau and Chay Genoway.

-- Cody Almond has signed through 2015 in Geneva with Servette of the Swiss League. The Wild brass was miffed. He's never been on waivers and they think if he didn't make the team this fall, as a 22-year-old, 6-3 center, he would have been claimed by another NHL team. Hopefully it works out for Almond. Good kid.

-- Guillaume Latendresse one-year deal isn't done yet.

-- Here is a replay of my Wild chat today live on startribune.com.

-- The NHL schedule for next season will come out tomorrow. I hear the Wild opens at home Oct. 13 vs. Colorado. Five of the last seven games are on the road and it has a seven-game homestand in December.

OK, much work to do and I'm heading to the Twins game tonight to watch Lavelle E. Neal The Third in action.


Backstrom going nowhere; Latendresse: "Just got cleared by team doctors"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 19, 2012 - 4:54 PM

Busy day as I prepare to head to Pittsburgh in the morning for the draft. I'll be hosting a live chat on startribune.com Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Barring problems in negotiations, Guillaume Latendresse should soon be following Josh Harding's lead and re-signing with the Wild.

The 25-year-old winger, who played 16 games last season due to a concussion and 11 games the year before due to myriad injuries, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he was cleared by Wild doctors: "Next season, here I come."

I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher this afternoon, and he had yet to hear from the doctors. But he was waiting for an email back from athletic therapist Don Fuller.

Being cleared by Wild doctors would be the catalyst to re-signing Latendresse any day. As I reported June 9 here, the Wild will likely sign Latendresse to a one-year deal at a lower base salary with performance bonuses, a deal permitted under the CBA because Latendresse spent more than 100 days on injured reserve during the final year of his two-year, $5 million deal.

Fletcher said the deal isn't done yet, but they've had good conversations and he's not anticipating issues. I bet it's done in the next few days, maybe Wednesday.

As for the Josh Harding deal and how it affects Niklas Backstrom, "We have no interest in trading Backstrom. None,”  Fletcher said. “When we were on top of the league [in the first 30 games] last year, a big part of the reason was our goaltending tandem. There’s no reason for us to want to change that up. Why not bring them back? The future will be the future. Everything work itself out. When Josh indicated he was willing to stay, we worked quickly to get it done.”

Harding added, “We like being a tandem. I love playing with Backy. I’ve learned the most from having Backy and [goalie coach Bob Mason] on my side than anybody else.”


"Josh took a strong step last year and I still think his best days are ahead of him."

On the goaltending depth on the team: "We've had a lot of injuries the last few years and I'm not sure you can ever have enough depth. I think somebody on the other end of this phone line accused us of not having enough depth last year. We like having depth, there's no question. That's not why we re-signed him. We wanted to lock up Josh because we believe in him. The young prospects are all good prospects, but it takes time for goaltenders to develop.
“If we have too many good goalies at one time, that'll be a nice problem to have. And last [March] was pretty scary when we were one groin pull away from having one goalie under contract in the entire system.”

I brought up to Fletcher how in LA for a long time, even the Kings thought Jonathan Bernier was better than Jonathan Quick. That's why Quick was in the ECHL at one point. Now the Wild can let Hackett and Kuemper figure out who's better.

"Exactly. Let them play it out. The less guessing you do in this business, usually the better off you are. Just let the players make the decisions for you with their play. I know we have quality goaltending in our organization and have a strong 1-2 punch in the NHL next year."

Fletcher felt there was nobody on the free agent market that was an upgrade on Harding.

The Wild has begun tendering qualifying offers to its restricted free agents and is working to sign a couple of these guys before it even has to announce the QO's by Monday.

Justin Falk is one player I know it's trying to get a deal done now, like Colton Gillies last year. Some of the minor-league guys will be signed, too, soon, like Chad Rau. I really think we're going to find out soon that Nick Johnson will not have his rights retained. He could earn a one-way deal perhaps in arbitration, which would block some of the prospects from having the ability to make the team. I think he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. Just a guess though.

Fletcher talking trade; Wild announces 7-game exhibition schedule*

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 18, 2012 - 1:22 PM

Draft week is finally upon us with the first round Friday in Pittsburgh at 6 p.m. (NBC Sports Network) and the second through seventh rounds Saturday starting at 9 a.m. (NHL Network).

I'll be hosting a live chat on startribune.com Wednesday at 1 p.m. from Pittsburgh. I'll also be in studio at KFAN on Paul Allen's show Tuesday from 9:55-10:35 a.m.

The Wild chooses seventh -- barring a trade to move up or down. The top-rated Minnesotan is Lakeville's Brady Skjei, who has won back-to-back Under-18 world championships with the United States. The terrific-skating defenseman should be a mid- to late-round first-round pick Friday.

The soon-to-be Gopher also is one of seven Minnesotans that was selected to attend USA Hockey's evaluation camp in August for the next world junior championships this winter in Russia. Wild 2011 second-round pick and soon-to-be Notre Dame center Mario Lucia was also chosen to attend. The full list can be seen here.

South St. Paul's Phil Housley will coach the team.

If you didn't see, I talked to Wild GM Chuck Fletcher about trades in today's paper. That article can be found here.

Thirty-eight percent of Fletcher's 21 trades he has made as Wild GM has been made around the draft, the biggest coming last June at the St. Paul draft when he dealt Brent Burns and a second to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first (Zack Phillips).

While Fletcher has been having a lot of trade conversations lately, I just don't see how he executes anything remotely as thunderous as the Burns trade. He just doesn't have the pieces, the Wild would sooner go after Zach Parise for no assets (other than monetary) in free agency and Fletcher is not looking to trade the prospects teams would require for a big piece.

I can see some minor trades in the days leading up to the draft and at the draft, but I think the Wild mostly waits to make its noise (if it can) in free agency.

As the for the exhibition schedule, it's what I threw on the blog the other day. It comes with an unwritten asterisk though because this is all barring a new collective bargaining agreement being in place by Sept. 15. Otherwise, well, everything's up in the air.

If all's a go, the Wild is looking to spend a few days leading up to the Oct. 13 season opener in Banff for some bonding after the Calgary preseason finale. The regular-season schedule, with an asterisk, should be released in the next few days.

Tuesday, Sept. 25 at Dallas Stars CenturyLink Arena (Boise, Idaho) 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 26 Dallas Stars Xcel Energy Center 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 27 St. Louis Blues Xcel Energy Center 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 29 at St. Louis Blues Scottrade Center 7:00 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 2 Winnipeg Jets Xcel Energy Center 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 4 at Winnipeg Jets MTS Centre 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 6 at Calgary Flames Scotiabank Saddledome 8:00 p.m.

Suter's agent: No list of teams he will or won't go to

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 15, 2012 - 10:34 AM

I got a few tweets last night asking if the Wild may trade for Ryan Suter's rights now that it's out there that he's supplied a list of teams to the Nashville Predators that he's willing to have his rights traded to.

I never saw those reports, so I gave Suter's agent, Neil Sheehy, a call and he denied them, saying it's "100 percent untrue" that Suter 1) has a list of teams he would and would not go to and 2) that he's given any list to Preds GM David Poile.

That doesn't mean a deal with Nashville will get done prior to July 1, but Sheehy at least denies there's any list(s).

I've gotten a ton of questions as to what I think will happen with Suter.

My opinion is essentially the same as what I wrote I believed will happen with Zach Parise: I think both will become free agents.

That's not to say that after July 1 Parise wouldn't go back to New Jersey and Suter wouldn't go back to Nashville, but players like Parise and Suter have this opportunity to become free agents in their prime only once in their careers.

I think both are curious to see what else is out there in terms of interested teams and potential money. Like I said, you could always go back to your original teams, but very rarely does it get this close to free agency and a player just signs on the dotted line prior to July 1.

We've seen it here with Marian Gaborik, with especially Brian Rolston.

Rolston loved Minnesota. But the Wild didn't get a contract done with Rolston the previous fall, the sniper had a third consecutive 30-goal season and he decided he wanted to see what else was out there. He did, and was offered a four-year contract topping $5 million per with New Jersey.

I don't think there's any doubt Suter loves Nashville -- both the city and franchise. But at this point, I think he waits. It's not like Nashville wouldn't welcome him back with open arms on July 2 or 3.

As for trading his rights, it'll be interesting. Nashville has done that before with Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and Dan Hamhuis to Philadelphia and Dan Ellis to Montreal. In other words, all Eastern Conference teams. So 1) Would Poile trade Suter's rights to the West; 2) Would Poile trade his rights at all if he wants to get him back after July 1.

Also, if you're another team, how do you give up any assets for Suter's rights unless you're given permission to have a conversation with the guy first to see if he's even interested in signing prior to July 1? I say that because my theory remains the same: If Suter's waited this long, why wouldn't he just wait until July 1 to sign with a team? So trading actual assets for a short window to negotiate with Suter/Parise could wind up being fruitless and thus a risk.

Again, my example: Brian Rolston. The Wild traded Rolston's rights to Tampa Bay, Rolston didn't sign with the Lightning, he eventually signed with New Jersey and the Wild still got a draft pick out of it.


Also, I've gotten some questions about the Wild's draft positions next week.

On Friday, June 22, it selects 7th overall.

On Saturday, June 23, it selects 46th (Washington's second, acquired from New Jersey in the Marek Zidlicky trade; the Wild traded its second to San Jose in the Brent Burns for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and first-round pick that became Zack Phillips trade); 68th, 98th, 128th, 158th and 188th.

Of course, that's barring trades.

Remember, GM Chuck Fletcher loves to flip picks at the draft to move up or down.

In 2009, he moved from 12 to 16 to draft Nick Leddy and got two draft picks from the Islanders that became Matt Hackett and Erik Haula. He also acquired Kyle Brodziak and a sixth (Darcy Kuemper) for a fourth and fifth.

In 2010, he acquired the 59th pick (Jason Zucker) for the 69th and 99th.

In 2011, he acquired the 60th pick (Mario Lucia) for the 71st and 101st.

Also, I keep getting questions about the exhibition schedule and regular-season schedule (barring a lockout). Both will be released next week, and the exhibition schedule in terms of at least opponents is on the previous blog.


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