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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Wild and New Jersey Devils tonight at Xcel Energy Center. Game 2 of a three-game homestand.
The Wild’s looking to avoid losing consecutive games since Jan. 19-20. The Devils are 7-2-1 in their past 10.
Devan Dubnyk vs. Cory Schneider tonight.
It will be Dubnyk’s 200th NHL start, 25th in a row for the Wild and 26th straight overall dating to Arizona. That’s the most consecutive in the NHL since 2012 because Pekka Rinne started 25 straight in 2013 for Nashville. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last goalie to start more than 25 straight was Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller in 2011-12 (32). Glenn Hall holds the record of 503 straight. I’m already planning a special section for when Dubnyk breaks that.
In all seriousness, coach Mike Yeo said Dubnyk will likely start Friday’s game vs. Anaheim, but it certainly sounds like the Wild’s considering throwing Darcy Kuemper to the wolves … excuse me, I mean starting Kuemper for the first time since Jan. 6 on Saturday’s second of a back-to-back in St. Louis.
Way too premature to think about that yet though, Yeo said. “I’m planning for tonight and … a better than a good chance that Dubnyk will be in for that Anaheim game, and then we’ll play it by ear after that.”
“He’s looked sharp, he’s looked fresh,” Yeo said of Dubnyk. “He’s a competitor, he wants the net, he’s playing with a lot of confidence and that confidence has filtered through to the rest of the group.”
Schneider leads all NHL goaltenders in shots against (1,643) and saves (1,524). Additionally, he ranks second in the NHL with 57 games-played, 56 games started & 3,272 minutes, is third with a .928 save-percentage, seventh with a 2.18 goals-against average & is ninth (tie, four others) with four shutouts this season. Believe it or not, Schneider ranks first with a 2.09 goals-against average (2nd, Henrik Lundqvist, 2.18) and a .928 save-percentage (2nd, Tuukka Rask, .925) among goaltenders that have played in at least 100 games since the start of 2010-11.
As you know because Schneider became Vancouver’s obligatory starter anytime the Canucks came to St. Paul because of Roberto Luongo’s struggles here, Schneider is good vs. the Wild – 8-5 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
Zach Parise, who had dinner with a bunch of his former Devils teammates last night, was getting a lot of ribbing from current teammates like Jason Pominville and Keith Ballard this morning for needing to cut the cord. The former Devils captain moseyed on over to the Devils’ bench a couple times to chat with Adam Oates and Devils immortality Lou Lamoriello, their longtime GM and now part-time coach with Oates and Scott Stevens.
Parise has one assist in two games vs. the Devils and missed the Nov. 11 loss there with a concussion.
Same Wild lineup tonight, meaning Jordan Schroeder and Christian Folin are scratched.
Nino Niederreiter, who is playing through a groin injury it appears, will be on the Mikko Koivu and Chris Stewart line. Koivu, producing nightly before these trades, has no points in the past seven games as Yeo continue to try to find a left wing to play with these guys.
Personally, I think he needs to put more of a speed element there and with Jason Zucker hurt, maybe he should try Justin Fontaine, or yes, Schroeder. Obviously, both would have to play their off wings for that to happen unless Stewart has the ability to play his off wing.
Sean Bergenheim, scoreless in six games and minus-3, is on the fourth line with Erik Haula and Kyle Brodziak and Fontaine is up on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Thomas Vanek.
Bergenheim and Yeo had a good talk on the ice this morning where Bergenheim just nodded his head and took in everything Yeo was saying. No doubt, the rope could be dwindling for Bergenheim, who was a healthy scratch in Florida for two weeks and was acquired a week before the deadline probably only because GM Chuck Fletcher could have no clue then that he would get in on Chris Stewart 15 minutes before the deadline a week later.
“I think that line can help him in a lot of ways identity-wise as far as getting to his game,” Yeo said. “I do feel he came here and things got off to a pretty good start, but the puck didn’t go in the net. And since then, I feel he has been pressing and forcing some plays in some of things that he needs to do to be effective in his role.”
So Yeo wants him to get back to a simpler approach and make sure he’s strong on the wall and making sure he’s moving pucks ahead, playing in the offensive zone and going to the net.
Bergenheim said, “I need to find my game. It wasn’t a negative meeting with Mike on the ice. I know myself how I can play and I haven’t been playing that way. I think I’m maybe trying too much. I’ve been making plays that I never really make, so I need to go find my game. That’s what I’m working on. I wasn’t playing in Florida for a little while, so I just have to find my groove. I’m happy to be here. There’s another level for me to help this team. I’m aware of it, I’m working on it.”
The next spot from the fourth line is the fifth line, which is the press box. Schroeder, though disappointed because he was playing well, continues to remain patient as he’ll be scratched for the third time in fifth games tonight. He was scheduled to be scratched in Washington, but Niederreiter didn’t play because of what I mentioned above. He was scheduled to be scratched in Raleigh, but Vanek got sick.
This will be Schroeder’s second scratch in a row.
Remember also, Bergenheim’s production (just check his career stats) usually comes in the playoffs and that’s one thing the Wild said when it acquired him.
Of course, who knows if he plays a lot if the Wild makes the playoffs because forwards Ryan Carter, Matt Cooke and Jason Zucker could all be back by then.
Yeo says Carter is the closest to returning (maybe a few weeks), Cooke not too far after that. Zucker has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and “we’ll get a better sense of how far away he is. But I would say at a minimum he’s still probably a month away.”
Zucker was on the ice today shooting pucks and the appointment is to get an x-ray and make sure the collarbone is healing properly.
Defenseman Marco Scandella will miss his fifth consecutive game tonight and Yeo indicated he’ll be out through the weekend. He has some sort of oblique or rib issue, I believe, and hasn’t been able to rip pucks yet.
“We want him back right now, but we want to make sure we get him back and he’s able to play at the level we need him to. We have healthy bodies right now,” Yeo said.
Former Wild winger Martin Havlat, who likes to light up his old team, will be scratched for the 10th time in 11 games. The Devils scribes say Havlat’s not talking to the media right now.
Matt Dumba, who put a dent in Semyon Varlamov’s shoulder last game, has done the same thing to Dubnyk twice now in the past week. He got Dubnyk in the right shoulder at the morning skate in Washington and the left shoulder today. Both were scary moments.
The kid’s got a ridiculous shot and even Wild players say pucks fly off his stick so fast and so oddly that he’s very hard to deflect.
Dumba joked that he’s superstitious and tries to get his goalie now every morning skate, but then said seriously, “I should smarten up. I know you can’t do that.”
Dubnyk, who adores Dumba, told him 50 times to stop beating himself up.
“He can hit the puck. He’s got an incredible shot. I’m fine. I told him the only thing he can do now for me is to stop worrying about it. It’s not a big deal.”
Dubnyk said of Dumba’s shot, “Oh, it’s hard. If you watch me, I can usually catch most of them or at least get a glove on it. But he’s hitting those things pretty good. I mean, you saw last game. One fell victim to it that wasn’t me last game.”
Dubnyk said with today’s chest protectors, even if it hits the pads, there’s spaces up there that you’re going to feel it. Varlamov had a black puck mark on his white sweater the other night.
“They hurt,” Dubnyk said. “He’s such a good kid. We’re pretty good buddies. I told him to stop worrying about it, stop apologizing. My arm’s already dead.”
Dubnyk said he and Dumba grew up in the same Calgary neighborhood, but “I’m like 100 years older than him.”
Dubnyk also said it’s time the Wild stops looking at the standings: “If we win our games, it doesn’t matter what happens anywhere else.”
Afternoon from beautiful Raleigh, where the sun is out and the air is crisp.
I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. CT.
Wild, an NHL-best 17-3-2 in the Devan Dubnyk era and an NHL-best 15 wins and 31 points in 18 games since the All-Star break (15-2-1), faces the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in the parking lot of North Carolina State's football stadium.
Canes have won three of their past four and have been playing well since New Year's.
The Wild, winners of seven of its past eight overall, is an NHL-best 9-1-2 on the road since Dubnyk came to save the day and has won five straight on the road.
"If we don't respect these guys tonight, then it will be an awfully frustrating game," coach Mike Yeo said of the Canes.
Dubnyk will make his 23rd consecutive start tonight. He is 17-3-1 with the Wild with a 1.63 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, allowing a league-low 35 goals in the past 22 games (1.59 per game). Again, consider this: The Wild allowed 58 goals in the 14 games before he arrived (4.14 goals per game).
FIFTY-EIGHT GOALS IN FOURTEEN GAMES COMPARED TO THIRTY-FIVE GOALS IN TWENTY-TWO!
I thought I would amplify that.
Wild was 45 seconds from having a five-point lead in 9th today until Marian Gaborik forced overtime for the L.A. Kings and they won in a shootout.
Now, Wild still has a three-point lead, is one over Winnipeg and four from Chicago for third in the Central. If the Wild's not careful, it'll play itself right into a first-round series with St. Louis.
(I'm crying purely for selfish, travel-related reasons).
Tonight is the Wild's game in hand on the Jets, so if it can win, it would be three points up. Quite the accomplishment considering Minnesota was 14 back of the Jets on Jan. 27 and seven points behind eighth.
Why not rest Dubnyk and start Darcy Kuemper for the first time since Jan. 6?
"Number of reasons," Yeo said. "We look at this game as an extremely important game for us and we're treating it as such. You can talk about maybe resting or keeping an eye on games maybe two, three weeks from now, but those games don't mean a lot unless we win games right now.
"Part of the other reasoning is no skate this morning, no skate for the guys tomorrow with a mandatory day off and probably no morning skate on Sunday [because of a 5 p.m. game against Colorado]. Given that, I think in a lot of ways, it's important for him to almost have this game to keep sharp. And also, we only gave up 25 shots last night [in Washington]. So I don't think he should be too tired."
Jared Spurgeon (concussion) and Nino Niederreiter (lower body) skated this morning in a very optional skate. I'd guess Spurgeon won't play, but we'll see about Niederreiter. And if Niederreiter plays, we'll see who comes out because Jordan Schroeder was good last night with four shots.
Maybe Sean Bergenheim? Maybe a member of the fourth line, although I thought again last night that Erik Haula-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine looked good and they're all penalty killers and the Canes' power play ranks sixth in the NHL in 2015.
No. 1 ranked (Carolina) vs. No. 2 ranked (Minnesota) penalty kills tonight. Wild's power play is 1 for 19 the past 10 games. Yeo indicated the power play is the only thing about the Wild's game he doesn't like right now.
Looks like former Wild Anton Khudobin is starting for Carolina. The Wild shellacked him a few weeks ago in a 6-3 win.
Good afternoon from very snowy Washington, where the Wild faces the Capitals tonight at 6 p.m. CT. Love coming to D.C. Almost every trip, I try to do some sort of sightseeing.
Last year, it was the Newsium and Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Yesterday, an Air Force Major from Mendota Heights emailed me and graciously offered a private tour of the U.S. Capitol. I took the TV broadcasters and my colleague from across the river, and it was a great behind-the-scenes look. I saw a couple "celebrity" politicians and got a peek at the Congressional Black Caucus conducting a press conference, which was real neat. Also, I infiltrated a couple offices and wrote some policy.
Braden Holtby vs. Devan Dubnyk, whom I wrote about in today’s paper. Interesting story about how a game early this season here in Washington helped turn his year around.
The big news of the day is Alex Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 43 goals and is tied with teammate Nicklas Backstrom for the league-lead with 67 points, is questionable with a lower-body injury. He is a gametime decision, Caps coach Barry Trotz announced after their morning skate at their practice facility.
For the Caps update, here’s a pregame blog from Washington Post beat writer Alex Prewitt, a former Star Tribune intern extraordinaire.
Same Wild lineup tonight. Jared Spurgeon skated, but coach Mike Yeo said the Wild doesn’t want to risk him by playing back-to-back games (the Wild’s at Carolina tomorrow night). He said Spurgeon is a possibility for tomorrow, although my guess is a lot will have to do with tonight’s outcome. If the Wild wins and/or nobody gets hurt, Yeo probably won’t change the blue line, especially with the likely odd guy out playing well – Christian Folin.
Spurgeon will miss his seventh game since taking that Mark Giordano shot to the chin in Calgary on Feb. 18. He sustained what he says is his second career concussion.
“It’s tough. Not a lot of practice time, so you use these pregame skates like practices,” Spurgeon said. “But it’s tough because with what I had, you can’t do much, so you lose it pretty fast when guys are playing every other day.”
The schedule is so condensed right now, the Wild, like all teams, barely practices because of the necessity to use the off-days as recovery days.
For instance, Sean Bergenheim was acquired Feb. 24. On the off-days since, he gathered his stuff in Florida on the first off-day, and the Wild didn’t practice Friday, Sunday, yesterday and won’t on Saturday. The Wild’s only practice in the past week was Monday.
So to put that in perspective, when Bergenheim plays his sixth game Sunday against Colorado, he will have practiced once (excluding morning skates). How about this one? Jordan Leopold and Chris Stewart were acquired Monday. By the time Sunday comes around, he may play in their fourth Wild games with no practices.
It’s a good thing they’re all veterans, so they’ve deal with this stuff before. But just imagine how tough it must be to be traded this time of year, be immediately dropped into games and yet get no practices to get acclimated to teammates and systems, etc. That’s why it often takes awhile for teams to pick up right where they left off from a chemistry standpoint and why it takes new players a little while to get accustomed to their new surroundings.
Not to mention the fact these guys dropped everything in one city, moved to another and have to get their real lives in order.
Jordan Schroeder will be a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game.
Thomas Vanek, who didn’t seem to mesh with Mikko Koivu and Chris Stewart, will skate with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle and Sean Bergenheim will move up to the Koivu-Stewart line. That’s the way the lines finished in Tuesday’s shootout win over Ottawa, which did Minnesota a favor last night by beating Winnipeg.
That means a Wild win tonight, and it moves into the top wildcard spot. That would be quite the achievement since Minnesota was 14 back of Winnipeg coming out of the All-Star break Jan. 27. But that’s what a 14-2-1 record since the All-Star break accomplishes.
Nate Prosser is feeling better. He had a nasty case of food poisoning the other night. He went for his normal pregame lunch, had some chicken, immediately got sweaty and hot, thought he could sleep it off, took an hour-and-a-half nap and then all heck broke loose.
Prosser raced down to Xcel Energy Center to get some fluids and very descriptively told me he threw up 15 to 20 times “violently”, including the first intermission.
“I got lightheaded and dizzy and thought it probably was not good for me to get back out there,” said Prosser, a plus-10 his past 16 games (even or plus in every one of those). “I wanted to play. We only had five D, and just thought before the game I should try to help the guys out on the back and try to get in as many minutes as I can. But it came to the point I couldn’t play anymore.”
Prosser gave the Wild seven first-period shifts.
The Caps are good, especially at home. Their power play is second in the NHL, the Wild’s PK is second in the NHL and on a 47 for 48 hot streak since the All-Star break. The Wild’s power play is 1 for 17 the past nine games (1.9 power plays per game amazingly enough).
The Caps are sixth-best offensively and defensively. The Wild allows the fewest shots per game in the NHL.
A good start is imperative tonight. The Caps are 30-1-4 when scoring the first goal, 28-1-3 when leading after two, so Yeo said the Wild needs to “get on the hunt” tonight, be aggressive and not respect them too much.
Yeo said Marco Scandella’s injury isn’t considered serious and he’s only supposed to be out a week.
Yeo said the Wild hasn’t decided yet which goalie will start tomorrow in Raleigh. They’ll decide that after the game in concert with Dubnyk and goalie coach Bob Mason. If it’s Darcy Kuemper, it’ll be his first NHL start since Jan. 6 and appearance since Jan. 20.
“Especially early in the game, it’d be nice to give [Kuemper] a really good chance to settle into the game,” Yeo said IF Kuemper plays. He said practices are a “different intensity, a different feeling, so we’ll have to give him a chance to settle into the game.”
The Wild asked Jordan Leopold and his wife, Jamie, if 10-year-old daughter, Jordyn, who wrote the infamous “Letter” if she’d like to do the Let’s Play Hockey before Sunday’s game against the Avalanche.
Jordyn is pretty shy, so the Leopolds asked family friend Paul Allen, the KFAN morning host who made that letter go viral, if he would do it with her.
Allen was touched and honored and agreed.
The Wild has been inundated with dozens of national media requests to interview Jordyn and the Leopold family. Jordan said the family plans to do only one and has pretty much decided which national outlet they will sit down with.
That will be revealed soon, he said.
“We’re humble, private people, so this is tough,” he said.
“I am very old school as far as technology,” Leopold said. “Everybody had Blackberry’s and I still had the old [flip] phone. I’m not on social media, so I don’t even know what’s out there. People had to tell me.
“Quite honestly, I don’t know how big it really is because I’m not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on all the sites. The only thing I see is what’s on your site and the TV. The response has been tremendous. My daughter has become somewhat of a folk hero or whatever you want to call it. She’s liking it. I asked her today how she’s feeling about it, and she said, ‘It’s good.’”
Leopold knows that if the Wild’s healthy, he’s probably going to be in and out of the lineup, but “whatever my role is here, I don’t care. I’m happy with it.”
“It’s funny, this is my hometown, but I played for the Gophers 13 years ago. I looked in the stands the other night and saw all these little kids and they have no idea who I am. But I think this is special for people who shared those experiences of the Gophers [national championships].
“This is home. This is where I always wanted to be. I can’t think of a better time to be here. Most likely I will end my career in this jersey. My family isn’t going to move again. It’s been fun so far. We have things to do as a team and goals to accomplish.”
Leopold isn’t saying he’s necessarily retiring after this year, but if the Wild doesn’t want to re-sign him after this season, he’s saying he’s probably not willing to sign anywhere else. All that will depend obviously on how he plays and what it has planned in terms of adding depth defensemen.
Some light reading for ya, and I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show and first intermission.
Wild, 13-2-1 in its past 16, vs. the Ottawa Senators, winners of five straight including three on this road trip, tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold will make their Wild debuts and Sean Bergenheim his home debut.
Jordan Schroeder is the odd guy out tonight (and more on that in a few).
First the news:
Marco Scandella had, what coach Mike Yeo called, a setback and will be out at least a week. I’m hearing he has an oblique issue.
Jared Spurgeon skated today, looked good and Yeo said is a possibility for Thursday’s game at Washington. However, there’s no practice Wednesday, so maybe that’s a stretch.
Ryan Carter (upper body) skated for the first time today. Matt Cooke has been skating for a week. Both skating by themselves and are still a way’s off. Jason Zucker continues to work out off the ice and was in the shooter tutor ripping pucks today.
Also, Matt Dumba and Schroeder are definitely here the rest of the year. The Wild made a paper reassignment and recall yesterday that will allow Christian Folin to be sent to Iowa if it turns out he’s a healthy scratch for an extended period again. Players had to be on Iowa’s roster yesterday in order to play there again this season.
Teams get four non-emergency recalls after the trade deadline and this was one of them.
Devan Dubnyk will make his 21st straight start, setting a Wild record.
As I guessed on last night’s blog, my gut said Schroeder would be the odd guy out. It’s a shame because he has been playing so well, but the fourth line has been solid the past two games and all three are penalty killers partially responsible for the Wild’s 43 for 44 post-All-Star break 16-game run. And if Schroeder comes out, it leads to the most minimal disruption of the other lines.
“It was going to be a tough decision no matter who we took out of the lineup tonight,” Yeo said. “Obviously, you trade for a guy like Stewy, we’re going to put him in and that takes somebody out of the lineup, so it was going to be a tough decision one way or the other. It kind of came down to the fact that Schroeds doesn’t have a penalty-kill role, doesn’t have a power-play role right now. But things could change here in the near future. When it comes to the group, there’s always challenges when you add a couple new players and getting to the chemistry right off the hop.”
On the Vanek-Koivu-Stewart line, Yeo said he will be watching to make sure they have enough speed in tonight’s game. Stewart can skate well, but he is gigantic, so we will see his speed tonight.
Yeo said on that line, “We know with the Granlund line, there’s a lot of chemistry there, we’ve seen the way that the Brodziak line has been playing the last couple games for us. And Nino and Charlie have some real chemistry together. We feel that Bergy can be a real complement to that line in terms of his north-south mentality and being a guy that plays kind of a big game and a hard game along the boards. And he should be a tough guy to play against. We put three skilled players together as far as Thomas and Mikko, we know that both those guys have the ability to create and Stewy is a big body who’s going to go to the net and hopefully go retrieve a lot of pucks and be strong down low in the offensive zone. There’s no magic formula where you can just punch in a program and come out with the perfect combination. We have to try some things and see how it works out.”
I did grab Schroeder and he’s obviously disappointed. He has three goals and four assists in his past 11 games and is plus-8 in that stretch.
“Mike told me to keep my head up,” Schroeder said. “It’s obviously a difficult decision. That’s part of the business, that’s part of the game. Am I disappointed? Yeah. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone wants to play and contribute and I thought I’ve been doing a great job of just coming in here and making plays and using my speed. Next time I get in the lineup, I’ll be determined to prove to them that I need to stay in the lineup. That’s all you can do, be ready for the next time you get slotted in. It stinks, but that’s life. Sometimes you’ve got to take a few punches to make it. I’ve been through this before. Just keep my head up and keep working hard.”
Yeo said the one benefit of adding Stewart is “people probably looked at our team and we’ve felt it in games, I’ve seen it many times where teams think they’ve got an edge on us physically and they try to impose that in the game. Our team is tough in a much different sense than most people think. We respond well in those games, our guys continue to go to the hard areas, we win a lot of battles, but we’re not necessarily a physically imposing team in a lot of ways. I think Stewy changes a lot of that identity. I think just adding one player like that, all of a sudden you start to look like a big team. You look at some of the big bodies that we have out there, in this day and age, I think it’s how you play the game that’s most important. And if we play a big game, that could change that identity quickly. It’s going to take a little bit of time to figure it out, but we can’t allow for it to take too much time.”
At some point, Carter, Cooke and Zucker will be back, too. That means more difficult decisions.
“That’s what we have to deal with,” Yeo said. “We have one extra forward right now and arguably sitting a guy that played some really good hockey lately, and that’s not easy. We’ve got a couple guys that are on the mend that are not too far away. Things change quickly. We’ve got three games in four days right now and these types of things play out. We’re not looking too far ahead.”
Jordan Leopold addressed the media for the first time today.
He is very excited.
“This is home to me and this is pretty special,” the former Gopher said. “I got the phone call yesterday from Jarmo [Kekalainen] and didn’t know what to make of it. I’ve always dreamed of it and knew it was possible, but the fact that it becomes reality tonight is something special.”
On putting on the jersey tonight, Leopold said, “It will be pretty nuts, I anticipate there will be quite a lot of friends and family in the crowd. I heard from a lot of people yesterday, I turned my phone off for about 10 minutes and got about 150 texts. Anybody that knows me and has my number has contacted me, but it’s been great. The thing with my daughter writing the letter, it’s been a humbling experience.”
On that letter (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please look at the story in the paper and the past two blogs) written by actually his 10-year-old daughter (not 11), Jordyn, Leopold said, “That letter was written by my daughter back in January. With anybody that has kids, you know they take things upon themselves sometimes. She was writing a little bit persuasively at school and thought it was a good idea to write a persuasive letter. That was something our family shared, ended up putting it on Facebook. Friends and family saw it and some other wives through the years that can relate to it, it definitely has some sentiment. I actually told my wife maybe she should take that off before deadline, but it ended up staying on and going out there. A local friend who is on the radio (Paul Allen) ended up getting it from my wife and made it public just before the deadline. It is what it is, it’s a good story and I’m happy the media spun it the right way because really, in the end, this business is hard on families. It really is. Myself, with the experiences I’ve had over the years, it’s been crazy. But I woke up this morning and Carson Daly is reading the letter on the Today Show, and we’ve been contacted by everyone to get my daughter on TV. We’re quite humble people, the fame or whatever you call it, we don’t want it to get to their heads, but it’s nice. But like I said, there are many teammates that have reached out and said it was a good thing. I think the hockey community sees it that way as well. It has definitely been an interesting 24 hours.”
Asked how Jordyn reacted, Leopold, getting emotional, said, “My daughter is very shy. But my kids picked me up at the airport last night with open arms and it was special. I try not to get emotional, but it is. It’s a good thing.”
On what it will be like tonight, Leopold said, “As most people know, I won a national championship for the hometown team. Those days in this building are very special and they meant a great deal to me and my family. Anyone associated with Minnesota hockey has been excited about this story, and also the fact that my family has always wanted me to come home, and it’s time. Here I am. It’s going to be an emotional first five minutes, I can tell you that. But after that, it’s playing hockey again and doing what I grew up loving to do.”
He said it’s been an emotional 24 hours: “I didn’t think the letter was going to go viral, but it did. It’s something that I never asked for, all the attention but... my daughter doesn’t know what to think. … She’s pretty shy. Like anyone who has kids (knows), your kids can say some pretty funny things and do some pretty funny things.”
Leopold has been traded eight times. On yesterday, he said, “As a player going through it, you kind of joke around any time you get a phone call on deadline day even if it’s your dad or your mom or whatever it may be. Anything is possible. I’ve been traded four times on deadline. It’s never a comfortable feeling, you know it’s in the back of your mind. The good thing is I’ve been able to adapt pretty well to wherever I’ve been moved. That’s probably part of the reason I’ve been traded so many times. I’d like to look at that as a positive. People want you and feel you can fit in and help the team and that’s why I’m here.
“This team is hot right now. I’ve always followed the Wild. It doesn’t matter. They’re my hometown team, I can relate to the people, I want to see success at home and it’s good for the community. To have the opportunity to come back home is quite neat. We’ve just got to keep this thing on a roll. When you win hockey games and put streaks together, you know every night that when you come to the rink you’ve got a good chance of winning. That’s a good feeling.
On how tough this has been for his family living in Columbus, he said, “It’s not one of those things that people really see. The kids do suffer. Our wives definitely live a tough life at times. We aren’t asking for any sympathy. I can tell you that. It comes with the territory and we signed up for this. I chose to have kids at a young age. My career is not going to last forever. There’s more important things than hockey and the kids rank up there.”
On how tough it was in Columbus: “There were some discussions with management. Not a lot. But there was a time when we had 9 D men active on the roster and I was the ninth D man. I knew I was either going to get waived or traded at some point in time. But they were very respectful. I owe it to them for being respectful. They did the right thing and now I get an opportunity at home.”
By the way, Stewart called Leopold yesterday and started singing the Peaches and Herbs song, “Reunited.”
Stewart joked this is the third time he has played with Leopold: “I can’t shake him.”
He said, “I'm just happy this is over with, and I'm here now, excited to be a part of this team. I'm looking forward to the future and having a great run here. It's kind of still surreal. It's been a long 24 hours, but finally got in here last night and got a good night's rest. I think once the puck drops and all that's complete, the easiest thing is just playing hockey.”
On coming to a playoff contender, he said, “It's great. It's a dream come true. Last year, I was on the exact reverse situation. I went from St. Louis to Buffalo, who was dead last at the time. I wasn't too happy about that. So to be in the opposite shoes this time around, it's definitely a good feeling.”
On playing in the West again, he said, “I just think, me personally, it's a lot more physical brand of hockey. The East, I think it's a lot more high-offensive, run-and-gun, and a little bit looser defensively. I think going up against some of the bigger teams in the Western Conference will probably bring a lot more out of me.
“The way the team is set up and knowing the players in the room, I think my job's pretty simple. They've got the high-end skill guys here who can put the puck in the net. I think for me, I've just got to come in and bring that physical and that power element. When you're only worried about one or two or three things a game, it's really easier to play.”
Zach Parise talked about the trades, saying, “It sends a good message to us, that they’ve done it the last couple of years now. They’ve gone out at the deadline and got players. It just means that they believe in us, you know? They believe in what we’re doing. They think that just a little boost can help us even more.”
Asked how they incorporate Stewart into a team that’s running well, Parise said, “It’s never a problem. When you bring in guys, they want to come in and contribute. They know how we’ve been playing lately, and they want to contribute and they want to be a part of it. And these guys are no different than that. They want to help out in any way that they can. So to me, the chemistry thing is never going to be an issue.”
The Wild has made two moves prior to the deadline, and one came out of the blue because the price dropped dramatically.
Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray, who had been trying to trade Chris Stewart all year long for a huge return, may have overreached at the end. The Wild was able to snag the power forward for a 2017 second-round pick. The Sabres are also picking up half the $465,000 still owed to the free-agent-to-be.
Stewart is a gamble because his commitment, fitness, defensive reliability and work ethic have long been questioned. But when he is engaged, he is an absolute menace (listed at 6-2, 231 pounds) who can score and this is clearly a move to help the Wild compete in the playoffs against more rugged Western Conference teams.
He scored 28 goals as a second-year winger for the Colorado Avalanche in 2009-10 and a combined 28 goals for Colorado and St. Louis in 2010-11, and it has been downhill ever since. This year, he has scored 11 goals and 25 points in 61 games and is minus-30, tied for second-worst in the NHL.
Thirty-two of his 126 career goals have come on the power play. It'll be interesting to see if he plays the No. 1 unit because Thomas Vanek has had a propensity for turnovers, especially the past two games, on that unit. Stewart has 253 points and 510 penalty minutes in 443 games.
Don't know yet who comes out of the lineup. We'll get GM Chuck Fletcher soon, but the fourth line is playing great (Justin Fontaine seems to make every line lately churn) and Jordan Schroeder has brought offense and speed and Sean Bergenheim has just been added to the lineup.
So it'll be interesting how coach Mike Yeo proceeds with a lineup that is playing well, has been fast, hard-working and structured. Also, at some point, Matt Cooke, Ryan Carter and Jason Zucker should return. That's the risk with this trade: The coach may have to mess with four lines that have been going really well, which is a little surprising after Fletcher talked Saturday about not wanting to mess with the chemistry.
TSN, funny enough, had Stewart ready to come on when the trade went down and broke the news to Stewart live on TV.
His reaction: "The Minnesota Wild? Sounds good. ... I'm excited I'll get a chance to play in the playoffs. I had a rough start of the year, and I thought the last 30 games I definitely turned my game around.
"They definitely have a lot of skill in their lineup, so me personally, I'd like to bring that power forward game, bring that grit and get in there, forecheck, create turnovers and just use my presence, go to the net, score some ugly goals."
The Wild also acquired Leopold for a fifth-round pick and Justin Falk, whom sources say asked to be traded.
Leopold was acquired from St. Louis for a 2016 fifth-round pick in November.
Leopold, 34, is most importantly a left-shot that could bring depth in case of injury. Good vision, moves the puck well, suspect at times defensively, good locker-room guy and again would be a depth player to have around for a playoff run.
He has scored 67 goals and 213 points in 677 games for seven teams (Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis and Columbus).
The former Hobey Baker winner won a national title with the Gophers in 2002, scoring 20 goals and 48 points in 44 games.
This letter is courtesy of KFAN's Paul Allen, who received this letter written by Leopold's 11-year-old daughter and read it on the air today.
The Wild also made a minor-league move, sending 2011 first-round pick Zack Phillips to Boston for 2010 second-round pick Jared Knight. Phillips flamed out bigtime and was a source of much frustration for the Wild because he had all the skill without the commitment off the ice.
FROM BEFORE THE TRADES:
Once in Calgary, Todd Richards pulled a phone out of his practice garb and pulled Eric Belanger off the ice for his trade to Washington. Coach Mike Yeo said he didn't bring his phone on the ice today.
Yeo on the trade deadline: "Boring for us. I went into this day understanding and knowing – obviously things could change, but first off we like the team, we like the way that we’re playing right now – a lot of the moves that we’ve done, we did them early. You look at Duby (Devan Dubnyk), it speaks for itself what a good deal that was for our team. You look at Sean [Bergenheim], the two games that we’ve seen him, we’ve been very pleased with what he’s brought. Also looks like a good fit."
On the possibility of trading for a depth defenseman, Yeo said, "[Fletcher] has our support on that. That’s not because of the play because of the guys that are in the lineup right now. We’ve been very pleased with that group (Nate Prosser, Matt Dumba and Christian Folin) and what they’ve been doing and the progress of our young kids. But that said, you have to prepare for injuries and make sure you’re protected that way. We would welcome anything like that."
Stephane Veilleux was assigned to AHL Iowa to create two roster spots.
Also, injured defenseman Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon didn't practice this morning. Everybody else did.
Yeo said there was good news with Scandella and there's nothing structural with this undisclosed injury and nothing to worry about. He said Scandella is feeling better and Yeo is "optimistic" he can play Tuesday against red-hot Ottawa.
Also, defenseman Jared Spurgeon will miss his sixth straight game with what's believed to be a concussion, but he skated this morning, is feeling better and the hope is he can return Thursday in Washington.
Also, the NHL will announce today the Colorado fines for Patrick Roy, Gabriel Landeskog and Cody McLeod.
The Landeskog and McLeod fines will seem insignificant, but remember, there is a maximum players can be fined under the collective bargaining agreement. A non-repeat offender with no hearing can be fined half of one day's pay not to exceed $5,000. So the fines are to bring attention to the rest of the NHL that the incidents were unacceptable and to establish a history with the players for future potential discipline wrongdoings.
Kyle Brodziak on McLeod jumping Mikael Granlund with three seconds left in a 3-1 defeat: "Clearly frustration or somebody told him to go do that because there's no point. What did Granny do? Just shows no class and lack of emotional control or whatever it is."
Koivu didn't bite talking about Landeskog, saying it is what it is and part of hockey and an emotional game.
Yeo on Dubnyk winning NHL First Star of the Month: "Very pleased for him that he could accomplish that. We’ve benefited from his solid play along the way. Very deserving of it. Anytime any player wins any kind of award and gets any kind of recognition like that, there’s a lot of people that helped him along the way. Certainly I think the team and the game they’ve played in front of him deserves a lot of credit for that. But there’s no doubt he’s very deserving and we’re all very happy for him."
Dubnyk also credited the team and was very honored.
I'll be back if there's a trade or after the deadline.
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