Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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Update: 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.
The Wild has indeed added goalie insurance, but it wasn’t Jaroslav Halak or Martin Brodeur.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher pulled the trigger on Ilya Bryzgalov this afternoon, sending the 2014 fourth-round pick he received in the Jason Pominville trade last year from Buffalo to the Edmonton Oilers. Fletcher had been talking to Buffalo about Halak, but the price would have been a prospect and/or draft pick. Also, Bryzgalov is much cheaper, so theoretically, this gives Fletcher the opportunity to make more moves by Wednesday's 2 p.m. trade deadline if he so wants. The Wild can add roughly $3 million in players without giving up salary.
Fletcher acknowledged that was a big part of it. He called Bryzgalov's cap hit and salary "manageable," that the Wild wasn't willing to trade young players or higher picks in this type of situation and this allows him to maybe be more active later today or Wednesday.
The urgency to add a goaltender is because Niklas Backstrom is being shut down because of a recurring abdominal injury that likely needs to be repaired, Fletcher said. Fletcher said the assumption is Backstrom will likely be sidelined until next season. for the remainder of the season.
"I give Nik a lot of credit," Fletcher saud. "I think a lot of goaltenders probably would have shut down a month or two ago and he’s battled through it all year. I’m not quite sure he’s ever been healthy this season. ... Our goal for Nik is to get him healthy for next year."
Fletcher said Backstrom was quite emotional today and to say something about his character, he even practiced again today. "That's him," Fletcher said.
It was obvious Backstrom had something serious wrong. He said Jan. 8 that he thought it was related to his offseason sports hernia surgery and he saw his surgeon during the Olympic break. He said they figured out what was wrong but it was up to the team to disclose.
This is premature, but to answer the question I'm being asked a ton on Twitter, if it's true Backstrom is considered sidelined until next season, I'd think the Wild wouldn't be able to buy him out. You can't buy out an injured player. Also, because Backstrom was over 35 when he signed, the Wild would be charged with his cap for the remaining two years if he was bought out. Also, he is not eligible for a compliance buyout because he was signed under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Bryzgalov will wear No. 30 and may make his Wild debut Sunday against St. Louis at home.
"It's a new challenge and great opportunity," Bryzgalov said during a conference call with us today. Below is his Edmonton presser. He's a character. Edmonton writers say he was very accomodating, great to deal with and very good in net since Ben Scrivens' acquisition. He had a cool goalie mask there, too, his boy and girl, who live in New Jersey, did the colorings, I believe. He also wore 80 in Edmonton because it was the year he was born and in his one year in the KHL, he had eight shutouts ("eight and zero, get it?")
Bryzgalov, 33, known as an enigmatic goalie and true character as was documented in HBO’s 24/7 a few years ago (see YouTube), has been a No. 1 in Phoenix and Philadelphia. He's a big butterfly goalie that relies on positioning but has athleticism. With structure in front of him, he's had success in the league.
In an NHL career that has taken him from Anaheim to Phoenix to Philadelphia to Edmonton, Bryzgalov, a native of Russia, is 213-157-50 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
Philly bought Bryzgalov out of the last seven years of his contract last summer. He’ll receive $1.643 million a year through 2027-28.
"Ilya’s a good guy. He’s colorful. He’s known to have a few good sound bites now and again," Fletcher said. "At the bottom of it, there was a lot of pressure there in Philly. He played very well for them at times and there were situations that did not go as well. He played well in Phoenix, ... Anaheim, ... Cincinnati. He’s played in three Olympics, was second-team All-Star one year, he’s won over 200 games in the NHL, so to add a goaltender of that caliber for what we felt was a very manageable price made a lot of sense to us."
Earlier this season when Niklas Backstrom sustained a knee injury, Fletcher inquired about signing Bryzgalov. He was bought out last summer by the Flyers. As I reported Sunday, Fletcher spent the entire second intermission of last Thursday's game with Oilers GM Craig MacTavish, the Wild was offered Bryzgalov and the price would likely be cheap (probably a mid-round pick). The Wild still owns its fourth-round pick this year even by this trade and nine picks in the draft, including one in every round (three sixths).
I think we’re going to find out soon that Backstrom is going to be shut down with an abdominal injury. Just a hunch because Backstrom declined comment today and it’s been abundantly clear he’s been laboring through something.
I asked coach Mike Yeo if Darcy Kuemper would continue to be the No. 1. He has started 15 in a row. Since assuming the Wild’s No. 1 job Jan. 7, Kuemper is 11-2-2 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. He has won five in a row, allowing six goals in that span.
“We’ve said all along with Kuemps, we’re going to take it day-to-day. He’s a young kid,” Yeo said. “With that said, there’s no question that he’s done enough that we’re going to keep giving him opportunity to get out there and show what he’s done. So, yeah, … we’re in large part where we are right now because of the job that he’s done, and we’re aware of that. We love his potential, but more than that, we love the way that he’s playing right now.”
We will see if the Wild does anymore today or tomorrow. It's been a busy day in the NHL with Anaheim gearing up for something big by unloading Dustin Penner (Thomas Vanek? Matt Moulson? Ryan Callahan?; Ryan Kesler?), with Roberto Luongo getting dealt to Florida, Andrew MacDonald to Philly, etc.
It's been reported by very respected TVA Sports' reporter Renaud Lavoie, who broke the Luongo trade, that Torrey Mitchell has asked to be traded. Mitchell and his agent Kent Hughes deny it, although I have sources who say Renaud's report is accurate.
It would make sense. Mitchell, signed to a three-year deal two summers ago, has been saddled as a fourth-liner for most his two seasons so far.
Kyle Brodziak's having a down year. Dany Heatley's in the last year of his deal, as are Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser.
My gut says the Wild makes another to try to get better. I do hear the Wild has had ongoing discussions with Buffalo about Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville's former teammate and Zach Parise's teammate from Shattuck-St. Mary's and North Dakota.
The Wild is 9-2-2 in its past 13 and has won five in a row, so there’s also always the risk of messing with chemistry of a good “team” around the trade deadline if you do too much and add or delete players.
Yeo said, “We like our group. We believe we can win with this group.” But obviously, the Wild will weigh the chemistry its team has gained these past two months with the need to maybe get better.
Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Matt Cooke had the day off from today's skills practice. Nate Prosser also wasn’t out there. As I mentioned the other day, his wife is due with their second child any moment.
The Wild has placed Jake Dowell on waivers as a gesture to help him find a job. It gives 29 teams a chance to claim Dowell off waivers. If he clears, he’ll stay in Iowa.
Also, with Mikko Koivu back, Stephane Veilleux was reassigned. Also, for the second time in three days, the Wild signed an undrafted junior free agent. Saturday, it was Calgary Hitmen leading scorer Brady Brassart. Today, it was the Guelph Storm’s Zack Mitchell. The 21-year-old forward ranks fourth on the Storm and 18th in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with 77 points (29-48=77), including nine power-play goals and six game-winning goals, in 62 games this season.
“Zack is an intelligent, two-way winger who is having a tremendous season for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League,” said Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “We’re excited to add another quality young forward to the Minnesota Wild organization.”
You have to hand it to the Wild. It just keeps on winning and now enters a four-day break in its schedule with a nine-point lead in the playoff race thanks to Monday’s 3-2 win over Calgary.
But as Mike Yeo pointed out afterward, we often talk about a “cushion,” but a “cushion” really does mean squat.
Right now, the eighth-place team (Dallas, the Wild’s opponent Saturday in the Big D) is on pace for 91.4 points. So it doesn’t matter how many points the Wild’s up on ninth. The Wild has 74 points. It needs to keep heading north until it passes that 92-point threshold and preferably more so it can make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Good win tonight because the Wild really had to grind it out in a pretty sloppy, choppy game. Yeo said he expected it after two games on the road, an emotional win in Vancouver, the Wild’s first home game in a month and the fact that chemistry would be messed with a bit with Mikko Koivu and Marco Scandella’s return fiddling with the forward pairs and defense pairs.
“But our guys fought through it. That was a big win for our guys,” Yeo said.
Kyle Brodziak “finally found a way to put one in,” he said jokingly of his fifth goal of the season after Matt Cooke forechecked a frozen goalie, Reto Berra, into a turnover. Then, in the third, Jared Spurgeon and Zach Parise scored goals. Parise’s would become the winner.
Darcy Kuemper made his 15th consecutive start and won his fifth in a row. His 11th win ties Josh Harding for the team’s rookie record. He has given up six goals in his past five starts (three in three since the Olympic break) and is 11-2-2 since Jan. 7 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
Tonight, his parents saw him play live in the NHL for the second time (both against Calgary) and saw him win for the first time. The kid keeps on trucking, which has to make Chuck Fletcher feel much more comfortable heading into Wednesday’s 2 p.m. trade deadline.
I still believe the Wild acquires a goalie though because of Niklas Backstrom’s abdominal issue, and the Wild continues to talk to other teams, especially Buffalo about Jaroslav Halak. That seems the likeliest scenario.
Fletcher has been on the phone a lot lately, and sources say he has talked with the Sabres often.
It’s that time of year.
Koivu returned to the lineup. Like the team, his line with Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle had good shifts and tougher shifts. One picked-off clear by Koivu led to one goal, but he looked good on a second-period power play and should continue to get better, he said.
He’s a big guy, and as Wes Walz always said, it’s harder for bigger players to get back in the swing of things, especially with the league so ramped up. Tonight was Koivu’s first game in eight weeks.
“I was more nervous than I even told you guys,” Koivu said. “I missed a long time. I wasn’t sure how it was going to react in a game. I thought that after the first couple shifts, I got more comfortable and I thought that power play helped me a lot when we got the puck more and I was moving the puck more. Overall, pretty solid. The things I wanted to be strong, I was pretty strong I thought. So yeah, overall pretty happy. That was the first step. Now I just need to work in practice and get more games under my belt and I’m sure it’ll get better.”
He did say his ankle did feel discomfort toward the end of periods and on the bench, but doctors tell him that’s normal and it’ll continue to improve.
Weird, ugly games at times.
There’s something about these two teams that often produce the ugliest games, and much of Monday’s game looked like it was a game of shinny hockey played with a tennis ball.
Players on both teams misconnected on passes, swung and missed on shots, blew wide-open nets and overskated pucks routinely. The amount of pucks that simply stopped short and were whiffed on by players was remarkable.
It was the first NHL game at the X in almost a month and players complained Monday morning that the ice was sticky, perhaps because of the state wrestling tournament and Luke Bryan concert being on top of the ice the past week.
“Even this morning you could tell in the pregame skate, it seemed a little slow,” Parise said of the ice. “I know a couple times on me personally, it just stopped or just bounced.”
But the Wild got through it.
Now the Wild has four days off. It’ll have a skills practice Tuesday, have the day off Wednesday (trade deadline) and then get back at it for two hard practices Thursday and Friday before playing in Dallas in Saturday. As you know, the Wild rarely has success in Dallas (one win in its past 19 visits, I believe).
That starts a stretch of 20 games in the final 37 days of the regular season.
“This is an opportunity,” Cooke said of the break this week. “This is our last real practice time before we’re in the playoffs. We’re going to have to work and be ready to continue what we’ve built here in the last little while.”
--Season-high five wins in a row overall, six in a row at home.
--The Wild is 9-2-2 in its past 13 and 14-4-2 in 2014.
--Mikael Granlund had two assists and his brother, Markus, recorded his first NHL point. Mikael has 20 points in his past 25 games.
--Zach Parise’s goal was his 21st and 45th career game-winner. He has six goals and 12 points in his past eight games
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will be in Wild owner Craig Leipold’s center-ice suite tonight to take in the Wild vs. Calgary Flames game.
But not too close.
Leipold reminded Bettman that nobody, even the leader of the NHL, can sit in the seat next to the jumpy owner during games. So Bettman will keep his distance.
Bettman did take a car ride with Leipold today thought to the Twins’ Target Field and the Gophers’ TCF Bank Stadium to tour the facilities for a possible outdoor game. He called both facilities “very, very attractive.”
The Wild didn’t take part in a stadium-series game this season (the league had four on top of the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic) in part because Leipold has been holding out for the Winter Classic. After the 2015 Winter Classic was awarded to the Washington Capitals, Leipold changed his tune and informed the NHL he would take a stadium-series game if it helps the Wild’s cause to get the NHL’s actual Winter Classic.
“Craig has been discussing with me the possibility of playing a stadium game for a long time and we discussed it again today,” Bettman said late this afternoon. “It’s something we know the club wants, that Craig wants and the fans want, and we’ll be responsive. I can’t give you a date or a venue yet. … The fans, the hockey environment, the weather, this is the State of Hockey after all … “We’re very focused on Minnesota.”
Bettman indicated the Wild would get a stadium-series game before a Winter Classic because “It’s easier to focus on because we have more opportunity to satisfy the demands.”
“I’m not making any promises” as to if the Wild will get one next season.
There has been a lot of chatter that one reason the Wild hasn’t gotten the Winter Classic is because NBC hasn’t felt the Wild can draw a national audience. Bettman didn’t confirm that, but when I asked if NBC and HBO have a say in the venues and opponents, Bettman said, “We consult with them in terms of getting their input as to what makes sense from a television standpoint.”
The NHL has indicated the league will have fewer outdoor games next season. There has been much debate that there have been too many in a short amount of time and it takes the uniqueness away.
“Despite all of the debate about what the right number is, you can’t really overdo these,” said Bettman, pointing out the six games (including Winter Classic and Heritage Classic) drew 375,000 fans.
“It has become such a big fan favorite event, such an in-market phenomena,” said, Bettman, although he agree you “don’t want to do too many” because it should be a national television attraction and “it pushed our organization to the limits.”
“We’re specializing in staff red-eyes,” he joked.
--On expansion: “There’s a lot of interest. We’re hearing from multiple groups in Seattle, … in Vegas, in Kansas City, in Quebec City. We haven’t decided to engage in a formal expansion process, but as we always do, we listen to expressions of interest. … There may be good reasons to expand, there may be not. It’s not something we’ve seriously considered yet.”
(Russo note: Expansion’s coming. The league is perfectly set up for 32. Seattle will obviously be one, and even though people always seems to poo-poo Vegas, my sources tell me this is a legit option as MGM Resorts builds an arena behind New York-New York).
--On the state of the league: “Look at the last year, we now have long-term labor peace, we have two very significant long-term major media contracts for national rights in Canada and the U.S., we sold three franchises over the summer. We’re probably the most stable and in the best position we’ve ever been in.”
--on potential rule changes, like 3-point games in the standings, etc. He said the league’s playing at 95 percent capacity in the regular season, over 100% in the playoffs, “revenues have never been higher, TV ratings have never been higher, the game on the ice has never been better followed and received and praised. … I don’t think the game’s in need of any urgent changes.”
-- On the future of the Olympics, “We went to Sochi to have a nice tournament and we did. Nobody has given any serious discussion or thought as to what we do next.”
Owners are starting to scoff at going to the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, in large part to the several injuries that took place in Sochi, the 14-hour time difference, the stopping of the momentum of the NHL season, etc. In fact, the Wild was one a number of teams that voted against going to Sochi.
“It’s not all good and it’s not all bad,” Bettman said. “It’s a balancing act and some of that balance gets affected by where the Olympics are. When we were in Vancouver and Salt Lake City, it was easy to tip the scales. When you’re in other places, not so easy.
Bettman said Russia was easy because of the hockey tradition there. He noted that’s not the same for Korea, but he added, “Nobody, nobody has begun the process of evaluating what comes next. We’re focused on our season.”
--Bettman talked about how the NHL is the leader in video review and how the other league comes to them to see how they do it. In fact, it’s been reported that the NFL wants to have a centralized video review system like the NHL.
But Bettman said they can’t review everything and coach’s challenges are problematic because “continuous play means we can’t review everything because we may find ourselves unwinding the clock. We don’t want to do anything that we can’t get right with certainty.”
He did say the NHL will “continue to study what applications we can put technology to use to help get more decisions right,” like on my gripe that goalie interference should be reviewed (for example, referee Brad Meier wiping out Keith Ballard’s goal in Vancouver on Friday even though Erik Haula didn’t touch Eddie Lack; supervisor Mick McGeough acknowledged to me that Meier erred).
“But it’s the reason our officials have the toughest job, this game is fast and it’s continuous and you don’t want to disrupt the game,” Bettman said of too many reviews and thought of coach challenges.
But Bettman said the NHL continues to try to minimize the number of referee and linesman mistakes by “coaching and critiquing and holding officials accountable.”
Wild and Calgary Flames tonight at the X.
The Wild has won five in a row at home and four in a row overall for the NHL’s longest winning streak. It’s 8-2-2 in its past 12.
Gary Bettman, the NHL’s beloved Commish, will be in the house tonight. He’s stopping over on his way back to New York from the Heritage Classic in Vancouver to get wined and dined by owner Craig Leipold, who wants nothing more than a Winter Classic (and a Stanley Cup) but has made clear he’d settle for a stadium series game if that helps his cause to get you fine hockey loving fans a Winter Classic.
I’m meeting with Bettman before the game and will let you know what he says.
I’ll be on Fox Sports North during their pregame show tonight and again during the first intermission. I’ll also me on SiriusXM at 3:30 p.m. CT.
Captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Marco Scandella will return to the Wild’s lineup tonight from a broken ankle and sprained knee, respectively. This effectively gives the Wild its first healthy lineup since the second period of the second game of the season, although obviously Josh Harding remains sidelined and Jason Zucker is working his way back from a leg injury.
Although, and don’t freak out all you Zucker fanatics, if the Wild continues to be healthy in its top-9, my guess is Zucker returns to Iowa once he’s cleared. Koivu and Scandella being activated off IR means the Wild’s at 23 players (or three healthy scratched per night). Zucker is skating on his own daily.
Koivu is expected to center Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle tonight.
“Very excited,” he said. “It’s been a long wait. Kinda frustrating all the time after the [Jan. 6] surgery. Very excited. Little bit nervous, but that’s part of the step to take to the game. It’ll be fun.”
The Wild was 11-4-2 without him.
Koivu said, “It makes it a lot easier when you’re out and the team’s winning. It’s easier on everyone. Now I’ll try to help the team on my part. I have to be very patient with my game and go step by step and build it up again, but I’m confident it’ll go well.”
Koivu, five points from being the Wild’s all-time leading scorer, was playing at his highest level when he was injured. He had eight points in his final five games before getting hurt, including three 2-point games, including two assists on Ryan Suter’s eventual hat trick while playing on the broken ankle.
He’ll also help bigtime in the faceoff circle as the Wild’s gone from a top-5 team to 15th in the NHL in the 17 games he has missed.
Scandella will also return to the lineup. He’s excited and is trying to get used to a knee brace.
Clayton Stoner will be scratched. My guess is he would have played if a couple of Calgary’s tough guys, like Kevin Westgarth, weren’t hurt.
“We’re excited to have [Scandella] back, a guy we definitely want to get back in the groove here, especially the level that he was playing at before he got hurt,” coach Mike Yeo said. “That said, our defensive group has been playing very well lately. It’s a tough choice, but at the same we’ve got to get him going.
“The message to Stony is he shouldn’t expect to just get sat every game. Been very pleased with his game. We all saw what happened in Edmonton and the way he was able to come back in that game. He’s been a warrior for us. He’s been a physical presence, and we’re going to need him. This is one game. This is a decision we made for tonight.”
I did get a question asking if the Wild’s sitting Stoner because it plans to trade him before Wednesday. I know he’s in the last year of his deal, but the Wild’s not very physical from the back end and I’d think the Wild would want Stoner if it makes the playoffs. In fact, I’d think the Wild would consider re-signing him eventually. So I think this is just a decision tonight as Keith Ballard stays in the lineup.
Stephane Veilleux was expected to be scratched up front with Mike Rupp, but he will now skate in warmups. If he plays, I’d think Torrey Mitchell sits.
Devan Dubnyk was put on waivers by Nashville. As you know, the Wild almost certainly will add a goalie by Wednesday’s 2 p.m. deadline.
If you take Dubnyk, it will cost no assets. But he’s in the middle of a terrible season with Edmonton and Nashville (11-18-3 with a 3.43 goals-against average and .891 save percentage). He’s 61-77-22 in his career with a 2.90 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
To me, he makes sense if you plan to go with Darcy Kuemper the rest of the way with Niklas Backstrom as your backup and you don’t mind having Dubnyk ride the pine as a third goalie.
Otherwise, I think you can do better via trade. Obviously, it all has to do with what the price is for guys like Jaroslav Halak and Martin Brodeur. Carolina’s also got goalies available, and there’s always Ilya Bryzgalov.
Backstrom is dealing with an abdominal injury. He’s going on the ice every day like a good soldier, but since he said it’s up to the team to divulge what’s wrong with him, it’s obviously something significant. So if the Wild knows he has got an injury that will eventually need repair, this gives more credence to why the Wild’s looking so hard for quality goalie insurance.
At this point, the net belongs to Kuemper and it should. He deserves it and has shown he’s capable (10-2-2 in his past 15 starts). He was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week today after giving up 51 of 52 shots in two wins at Edmonton and Vancouver, excluding another 7 in the Vancouver shootout.
But another goalie is bound to be here in the next two days. Again, to answer the most oft-asked question I receive from people who clearly don’t read the blogs or article, if the Wild acquires a goalie, the Wild will likely go with three goalies the rest of the way (unless Backstrom’s injury is serious enough to result in immediately surgery).
Rosters are unlimited as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday barring you don’t go over the cap.
I have gotten a lot of questions about who could be trade bait from the Wild.
With such a bad 2014 draft, I’d think any draft pick is in play (especially Winnipeg’s second-rounder from the Devin Setoguchi trade), although Fletcher has said he’d prefer not to trade his first-rounder for a second year in a row.
I’d think Kyle Brodziak is on the block and Torrey Mitchell is expendable. Obviously, Rupp. I’d think the Wild would want to avoid trading defensemen unless it’s getting one back. Heatley has played well lately, but since he’s in the last year of his deal, he obviously would be tradable as long as a partner wasn’t on his no-trade list. Still, I’d think very unlikely. As for the prospects, it would not shock me at all if Zucker was bait IF the return was significant.
Also, another oft-asked and very good question, if you pro-rate the Wild's available cap space, the Wild could add roughly $5.5 million in players (cap, not dollars) at the deadline without giving up a player in return. If the Wild went over $5.5 million, it would need to trade a player or place Josh Harding on LTIR.
UPDATE: Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher today announced the National Hockey League (NHL) club has signed right wing Kurtis Gabriel to a three-year entry-level contract starting with the 2014-15 season.
“We’re very happy with Kurtis’ progress this year and look forward to him developing within our organization,” said Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “He’s a hard-working kid that brings an intriguing package of size, physical competitiveness and character.”
Gabriel, 20 (4/20/93), has recorded 42 points (12-30=42), including three game-winning goals, 86 penalty minutes (PIM) and a plus-4 rating in 54 games with the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound native of New Market, Ont., serves as an assistant captain and leads his team in assists, is third in PIM and fourth in scoring. He has tallied 91 points (30-61=91) and 278 PIM in 226 career WHL games during four seasons with Owen Sound. Gabriel was selected by Minnesota in the third-round (81st overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
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