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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The Wild's schedule is expected to be released Sunday afternoon, but I have heard a few details through the grapevine -- one that is expected to be announced later Saturday.
The Wild will open the season Oct. 9 with a home-and-home against the Colorado Avalanche, the Central Division champs the Wild defeated in seven games in the first round a few months back.
The Wild's supposed to continue to Anaheim and Cup champion Los Angeles after playing in Denver, but unless the Wild managed to get the NHL to squeeze another game in there, the Wild, last I heard, had five or six days off before playing its third game of the season in Anaheim.
Some other tidbits: The Kings come to Minnesota the first time Nov. 26. The Wild has a home-and-home with Winnipeg in December, plays in Columbus on New Year's Eve and closes the season with three games on the road in a bit of a meat grinder at Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis. That follows consecutive home games against the Rangers, Detroit and Winnipeg.
As I mentioned last week, no outdoor game this season. It was supposed to be in February against Dallas at Target Field.
According to an NHL source, the Wild is at the "top of the list" for a stadium-series game and was scheduled to have a game this year. What held it up was timing and logistics, the source said. The Wild wants to make this a huge event by having outdoor high school and college games accompanying the stadium series game.
The problem, I'm told, is the league wants the game to be here in February and for this upcoming season, the colleges had their schedules already booked and couldn't just insert an outdoor game into their schedules right before their playoffs. In addition, February is getting awfully close to Twins season and could cause havoc on Target Field's ... field.
The league source said, "At the end of the day, both of us determined that next year would be better. It's going to happen next year."
We'll see though. As we have learned, everything is subject to change (I reported during the playoffs the Wild would be getting a stadium-series game next season and now it isn't) and the Wild still would prefer the actual Winter Classic. The problem though is according to a league source the 2016 Winter Classic site has been determined. Although it hasn't been announced where, the game has not been awarded to Minnesota, so the soonest the Wild could host one is 2017.
Personally, I still hear there's more to this stadium-series thing that has nothing to do with the Wild and that's why the stadium-series games were scaled down this year to one. Next year, I'm told we're going to see more than one game again.
CELEBRITIES ANNOUNCED FOR 2014 WELLS FARGO MINNESOTA WILD ROAD TOUR
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild and Wells Fargo have announced the celebrities and exact locations for the annual Wells Fargo Minnesota Wild Road Tour, set for Tuesday, June 24 through Thursday, June 26. The Road Tour will lead up to the Summer Bash/NHL Draft Watch Party on Friday, June 27, at Xcel Energy Center.
The Western Tour will feature Wild player Matt Cooke, alumni Wes Walz and Wild television analyst Mike Greenlay. The Northern Tour will have Wild players Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, as well as Wild radio personalities Tom Reid and Kevin Falness. The Southern leg features Wild players Erik Haula and Stephane Veilleux, alumni Antti Laaksonen and Wild television play-by-play announcer Anthony LaPanta.
Western Tour (Cooke, Walz, Greenlay)
Tuesday, June 24
Moorhead: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena (707 Main Ave. SE)
Fergus Falls: 3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. at Fergus Falls Community Ice Arena (340 Friberg Ave.)
Wednesday, June 25
Morris: 10:30-11:30 a.m. at Lee Community Center (101 S. County Rd. 22)
Marshall: 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Lockwood Motors Ice Arena (512 Fairgrounds Rd.)
Thursday, June 26
Worthington: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Worthington Arena (1600 Stower Dr.)
Blue Earth: 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Wells Fargo Bank (201 E. 7th St.)
Southern Tour (Haula, Veilleux, Laaksonen, LaPanta*)
Tuesday, June 24
Des Moines, Iowa: 11 a.m.-12 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena (833 5th Ave.)
Waterloo, Iowa: 4-5 p.m. at Young Arena (125 Commercial St.)
Wednesday, June 25
Mankato: 11 a.m.-12 p.m. at All Seasons Arena (1251 Monks Ave.)
Faribault: 2-3 p.m. at Faribault Ice Arena (1816 NW 2nd Ave.)
Thursday, June 26
Rochester: 12-1 p.m. at Graham Arena - Rink One (1570 Fairgrounds Ave. SE)
Red Wing: 3-4 p.m. at Prairie Island Arena (370 Guernsey Lane)
*June 25 and June 26 only
Northern Tour (Coyle, Zucker, Reid, Falness)
Tuesday, June 24
Silver Bay: 12-1 p.m. at Rukavina Arena (129 Outer Dr.)
Hibbing: 5-6 p.m. at Fairground Arena (1100 E. 25th St.)
Wednesday, June 25
Duluth: 12-1 p.m. at Duluth Heritage Sports Center (120 S. 30th Ave. W)
Pequot Lakes: 6-7 p.m. at Breezy Point Hockey Center (7370 County Rd. 11)
Thursday, June 26
Princeton: 12-1 p.m. at Princeton Ice Arena (511 Ice Arena Dr.)
Buffalo: 3-4 p.m. at Buffalo Municipal Airport (1305 County Rd. 134)
The Wild will hold the Wells Fargo Summer Bash/NHL Draft Watch Party at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul on Friday, June 27, from 6-10 p.m. There will be Wild player photographs and autographs, NHL alumni autographs, a live broadcast from KFAN 100.3 FM, as well as tours of the press box and Wild locker room.
The NHL has implemented a significant change from last year regarding the free-agent interview period that begins next Wednesday.
In a memo sent yesterday to all teams and subsequently forwarded by the NHL Players’ Association to all agents, the league will now allow clubs and agents to discuss general parameters of a potential contract for a pending restricted and unrestricted free agent.
Last year if you remember, Commissioner Gary Bettman sent a last-second memo reminding clubs that they could not discuss contract parameters at all during the interview period prior to free agency, which begins this year on July 1.
In the June 18 memo (read over the phone to me by an agent), the league states, “After discussions with a number of general managers, we have revised and hopefully clarified with regard to last summer the permissible parameters of player contract and communication during the applicable interview periods.
“Please be advised that clubs are permitted to discuss the potential interest in as well as general parameters of a potential future contractual relationship with another club’s pending RFA or UFA during the applicable interview periods. The clubs may not enter any agreements or make any binding offers, promises, … oral or written concerning the terms of a potential SPC (standard players contract) with another club’s pending RFA or UFA.”
So in other words, teams and agents can now discuss the general parameters of a deal, as in, “I’ll be looking for a seven-year deal at around $5 million annually,” etc., meaning now players and agents at least know where each other is at heading into July 1 and know who’s in the game and who isn’t.
Last year, there seemed to be confusion where nobody had any idea of what could and couldn’t be discussed during the interview period. Some teams/agents apparently followed the rules, some teams didn’t, which created a conundrum that ticked off the teams that did follow the rules.
It’ll be interesting to see if this revision leads to some quick deals as free agency opens July 1.
This revision could also be potentially significant for a team like the Wild. Minnesota would love to find a way to add a scoring forward and a defenseman this summer. It probably can’t achieve both though IF both players it targets want long-term, lucrative contracts.
But if GM Chuck Fletcher learns prior to free agency that one of the players he covets would be interested in a short-term deal, it may allow Fletcher to fill two holes by extending a long-term offer to somebody else, maybe a defenseman.
So, that’s the good part of this NHL revision. Fletcher can now at least discuss general parameters to any potential deal with any potential free agent he covets to figure out what things the Wild may or may not be able to accomplish in free agency.
As I wrote the other day, the Wild would like to fill multiple holes this summer, but it also has to make sure it can re-sign all of its restricted free agents the next two summers. So it wants to be, as Fletcher said, “mindful,” with any long-term deal it gives out to an unrestricted free agent.
This summer, Nino Niederreiter, Darcy Kuemper, Justin Fontaine and Jason Zucker are restricted free agents that need to be re-signed. Next summer is the biggee when Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin can all be restricted free agents (some may receive contract extensions later this summer or into next season, Fletcher has said previously).
Good day from partly cloudy, mostly humid Minneapolis. Here's a Wild update:
1. Preseason schedule has been announced: Six-game schedule with home-and-homes (so to speak) with Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
Training camp is expected to begin Sept. 18.
Sept. 22 at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.; Sept. 25 at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m.; Sept. 27 vs. Winnipeg, 7 p.m.; Sept. 29 vs. Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.; Oct. 2 at St. Louis, 7 p.m.; Oct. 4 vs. St. Louis, 7 p.m.
Tickets will go on sale later this summer.
My guess is the Wild then heads to Duluth on Oct. 5 for a few days of practice. Just conjecture, but it fits before the opener later that week and the Wild loves the facilities and ability to do some team bonding up in UMD Country.
2. Last I heard, the NHL plans to release all schedules Sunday. Weird day to do so, but that's always a fun day. As I mentioned the other day, no outdoor game this year. The league is scaling back to one stadium series game. Also, for a change, I heard the Wild's on the road New Year's Eve!
3. I plan to host a draft/free agency live chat on startribune.com next Friday (Round 1 is later that night). Time to be announced.
4. The Wild's expected to sign undrafted free agent defenseman Guillaume Gelinas on July 1. The signing was first reported (I believe) by TVA Sports in Quebec. It's a verbal commitment right now because as of June 1, there was a freeze for undrafted North American free agents (the Wild signed undrafted forwards Brady Brassart and Zack Mitchell in March) until July 1.
Gelinas, 21, was named the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's best defenseman this past season after scoring 23 goals and 92 points in 67 games for Val-d'Or. He scored another 34 points in 24 playoff games for a team that lost the Memorial Cup to Edmonton.
Wild's trying to put an influx of skill on AHL Iowa after a very tough season in which the Baby Wild lacked skill, health and was probably too old.
Gelinas is skilled and competitive but 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, so initially the AHL will be a decent step.
So, it's a flier.
Maybe Gelinas turns out to be Jared Spurgeon, who also had a terrific junior career (139 points in his last three years; harder to score in the W than the Q, so apples and oranges in terms of stats) before not being signed by the Islanders and then going untouched through another draft.
Maybe Gelinas turns out to be Michel Periard. Who? He's just a name that kind of jumped into my head because he was of similar stature and had similar stats in the Q (100 points his last year, I think) to Gelinas probably 15 years ago. Chuck Fletcher's Florida Panthers took a flier on him and he never played North American pro hockey beyond the A.
My point: Risk-free move, but let's be realistic with expectations. Maybe he turns out to be a player. Maybe he doesn't. When the Wild signed Spurgeon, I probably put a single line into the paper. Same thing with Brassart and Mitchell. Heck, when the Wild signed Niklas Backstrom as the first-ever European free agent under the previous CBA, I put a single paragraph. All he did was become the Wild's all-time goaltending leader in games and wins.
It's just hard to know with undrafted players until the Wild gets its grip on them and has a chance to develop them.
5. The salary cap is expected to be close to $70 million when it's announced next week. The Wild's will be a shade under after a slight bonus overage. Fletcher told me during the playoffs that Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Jonas Brodin hit bonuses. Capgeek.come has it as Niederreiter and Haula earning each $212,500 for plus-minus and Brodin $425,000 for time on ice.
That's $825,000 in bonuses. But I'm told the Wild didn't go over the cap by that much, so the overage on next year's cap will be less. Either way, the overage shouldn't impact the Wild in its offseason business because Fletcher will always try to be at least $2 million or more under the cap so the team can make in-season injury callups and potential trades.
6. Lot of questions as to whether the Wild may pursue Cup champ Willie Mitchell in free agency. My guess: It makes sense if the Wild's unable to re-sign Clayton Stoner. Stoner and Mitchell seemingly would play the same role (third-pair, left-shot, physical D). As I mentioned last week, the Wild will try to re-sign Stoner, but maybe his solid postseason will allow him to cash in as a UFA more than the Wild's willing to commit. Stoner will have to decide that.
7. Some questions from you as to whether the Wild may pursue Shawn Thornton now that Boston's moving on from the rugged winger. I've heard through sources that the Wild would like to re-sign Cody McCormick, but Thornton is arguably a better, tougher player (more expensive, too), so maybe the Wild holds off on trying to sign McCormick just to see if it has a shot at Thornton. I don't see why there's a rush to re-sign McCormick, so if it were me, I'd wait to see what Thornton is thinking. I'm sure he'll have a lot of interest though.
Interesting dynamic to this year's draft. The free-agent interview period begins Wednesday. This is a new wrinkle thrown into this CBA where teams are allowed to court July 1 pending free agents, bring them to cities to check it out, etc. Well, the entire NHL will be in Philadelphia from Wednesday-Saturday night or Sunday morning, so one wonders if the draft becomes a free-agent recruiting party.
It certainly makes sense for agents to bring their free agents to Philly and line up meeting after meeting.
The Stanley Cup Finals are over. The Los Angeles Kings are champions again. Marian Gaborik and Willie Mitchell have hoisted the Stanley Cup, and now it’s time for the league to really ramp up – not close shop – as the June 27-28 NHL draft in Philly and the July 1 opening bell of free agency looms.
The Wild completed its organizational meetings Wednesday, so I got GM Chuck Fletcher on the horn late Thursday to talk a bit about the official start to the offseason. Here's the article from Saturday's paper, but to expand on that, please read below:
1) Of the pending unrestricted free agents, the Wild likes the ruggedness defenseman Clayton Stoner and center/winger Cody McCormick brings and is interested in trying to re-sign both. Fletcher didn’t confirm this, but this is what I’m hearing via sources. Stoner, amazingly drafted 10 years ago by the Wild (I’m getting old), had a quality season and led all blue-liners in hits. McCormick had a solid postseason. Obviously, it’s a two-way street. In the case of Stoner, perhaps he can really cash in if he becomes a free agent, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks. If the Wild loses Stoner, it could change the team’s offseason path because it would need to find physicality to a blue line that doesn’t have a lot of it. GM Chuck Fletcher reached out to Stoner’s agent for the first time Thursday.
“Players have to decide whether they want to come back and then if they want to come back, usually the market is somewhat transparent,” Fletcher said.
Dany Heatley and Mike Rupp will move on. So likely will Matt Moulson. He helped the Wild get into the playoffs with some huge goals down the stretch, but he was largely unproductive and hurt in the playoffs. The good thing is the Wild’s at a juncture where it has so many kids here locked and more coming and so many guys on long-term deals that it can afford to take draft-pick swings like it did at this past trade deadline in future years, too. With Darcy Kuemper, Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom all under contract, there’s just no room currently for Ilya Bryzgalov (I’ll write more about the goaltending situation later this month, but as of now, there’s not a lot of flexibility and Kuemper, Harding and Backstrom are the guys and the Wild may just have to bank again on two of them always being healthy). The Wild likes Nate Prosser, but if you look at the depth chart, the role Prosser will continue to play here is an in and out defenseman. So Prosser is expected to test free agency in an attempt to become a regular elsewhere. If there’s not a job to his liking, the Wild may be interested in re-signing him next month (barring jobs being full).
2) Of the Wild’s restricted free agents, Kuemper, Nino Niederreiter, Justin Fontaine, Jason Zucker and Jon Blum will soon be tendered qualifying offers to retain their rights. Kuemper, Fontaine and Blum have arbitration rights. As I’ve mentioned before, some of the RFA’s in Iowa won’t be retained. My guess is the most well-known name cut loose will be 2008 first-round pick Tyler Cuma. Fletcher said, “If a kid doesn’t have a chance with us, I don’t want to bury him. Let him go somewhere else for a shot.” Let’s be honest: That’s Cuma. With the guys on the big club and Matt Dumba, Christian Folin, Gustav Olofsson and others developing, he has just got no shot.
3) The Wild spent much of the meetings trying to project what production will come from Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and others up front and Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon and even Folin, Dumba, Olofsson, etc. on the back end in future years. The Wild tied for 24th in the NHL this past season in goals for (199 non-shootout). That’s 33 more than a few years ago, but even Fletcher called that season “horrific” and said it’s imperative the Wild improves offensively in a conference where there are so many good teams. So the determination last week is while the kids will continue to grow offensively and be a big part of the building of this franchise, for the short-term at a minimum, the Wild feels there’s still room to add a veteran to help improve the offense.
But if these kids will be better and score more in two or three or four years than a player the Wild’s signing to big money, then a long-term deal for a 30-something may make less sense.
Fletcher says the Wild’s at a stage in its growth because of its improved depth and youngsters that it doesn’t have to chase players. It can afford to be patient, he says, if the right move doesn’t present itself.
Via trade, there’s a certain acquisition price the Wild is willing to pay. After trading his first-round pick last year in the Jason Pominville swap, Fletcher would prefer not to do so again. The Wild chooses 18th in the June 27 first-round and doesn’t currently own a second on June 28. Any trade for a proven scorer may necessitate a first-round pick being dealt, so if Fletcher stands firm on not trading his, it could take Minnesota out of the running for any of the big names via trade.
Fletcher also wants to avoid trading the “kids we worked so hard to accumulate.” In other words, he would prefer not to trade the Granlunds, Coyles, Ninos, Haulas, Dumbas, Olofssons, etc.
Via free agency, the Wild has to make sure it can afford to re-sign all of its kids. While it has a ton of cap space this year, Granlund, Coyle, Haula, Brodin, Scandella and Folin all have expiring contracts next summer. So, as Fletcher said, “We want to be a little bit careful. It’s easy this year to just go out and add a guy, but unless it’s a one-year contract, you have to be pretty mindful.”
You will hear this term a lot leading into free agency: There is a “price point” the Wild is willing to reach for certain players. Thomas Vanek is no longer a given. Four or five months ago, I think it was a given. But the bright future that many of the kids provide the Wild coupled with Vanek’s tough postseason with Montreal has changed things.
The Wild has a lot of players 28 and older, a lot of players 24 and younger. You don’t want to get too many players north of 30 on long-term deals, so there’s a specific price point I think the Wild’s willing to reach with Vanek. I don’t get the impression the Wild’s willing to sign him to a long-term deal anymore. Vanek will have good options in free agency, so is he really going to sign in Minnesota for two or three years? Hard to believe, especially after reportedly turning down a seven-year, $49 million deal with the Islanders. While that contract probably won’t be on the table with any team anymore, he certainly should still be able to get decent term of four or five years with some teams.
Some fans who email me or tweet me are clamoring for Paul Stastny. He was outstanding against the Wild in the playoffs and his competitiveness and work ethic would be a perfect fit in my opinion on a Wild team who’s M.O. at a minimum in the playoffs was hard work. BUT, he will command bigtime money and term AND I still believe he’ll re-sign in Colorado once the Avs figure out a way to move some money in the next few weeks.
Gaborik likely will re-sign with L.A., so stop asking.
On defense, the most intriguing name is Matt Niskanen. He’s a good Minnesota boy, and if he doesn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh, the Wild would have a terrific chance to sign him. But he is coming off a career year and is only 27, so he will be looking to cash in on a long-term deal.
There’s two ways to improve offensively if you’re Fletcher: Getting a scoring forward or an offensive blue-liner. “We’ll look at both,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher sounds more comfortable with his top-four (Ryan Suter, Brodin, Scandella and Spurgeon) than last summer when the group was more of an unproven commodity, especially Scandella … and Brodin going into his sophomore year. Now Fletcher knows what to expect from this group: “If we go with those four guys as our top four, there’s more certainty from my standpoint in terms of knowing what they’re able to do versus last year, and last year worked out OK.”
And with Folin maybe on next year’s team (big right-shot D who can hammer the puck) and Dumba (right-shot D in the future who can hammer the puck) and Olofsson coming down the pike, maybe it makes more sense to try to sign an offensive defenseman on a one-year deal or a two-year deal (Dan Boyle, whom Fletcher knows from his days in Florida and I don’t think will be signing with the Islanders) than Niskanen on a long-term deal.
If you get a defenseman on a short-term deal (Boyle or somebody else), by the time his term is up, Dumba and Olofsson should be ready to step right into the Wild lineup. In other words, signing a veteran to a short-term deal gives the Wild a stopgap to develop the kids.
That may be the way they’re leaning. If you sign Niskanen to a long-term deal, it changes the Wild’s path a good chunk. Eventually the Wild would likely have to trade one of the kids it so believes in because after all, there’s only six defensemen that play on a nightly basis.
In fact, this could be the same philosophy at forward. Sign a veteran forward that can help offensively for two or three years and by the time that player’s contract is up, the kids are starting to hit that mid-20s age range that the Wild has almost nobody at currently.
“This is the first time really in a few years we’re returning a lot of players that have pretty well-defined and good roles on our team,” Fletcher said. “There’s not nearly as many question marks. There have been some years where we had to go out and do something at a certain position. This year I think we can look at ways to upgrade the team, and if we do so, great. But if we need to be more patient and wait to the end of the summer or into the season or even next summer, we have that flexibility.
“Clearly, our young guys are going to have to be a big part of this, but whether it’s this summer or sometime in the future, we certainly anticipate getting into the trade market or free-agent market.”
I’ve used a lot of words above to try to convey what Fletcher says succinctly below:
“In previous years, we had to do something because there were positions we had to address. This year, it’s all about getting better and if something doesn’t make sense, we can wait and save our cap space for whatever – August, November, trade deadline or next year. There’s risk in doing that, but there may be less risk in doing that than making a bad deal just to make a deal.”
4) It’ll be interesting how Fletcher conducts himself at the draft. As you know, Fletcher has a history of small (acquiring Kyle Brodziak) or gigantic (Brent Burns for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first) trades at the draft.
The Wild’s in a different position this year though than in recent drafts.
Last year, the Wild had a highly tradable commodity in Cal Clutterbuck. As you know if you read the coverage leading up to last year’s draft, it was all but certain Clutterbuck was being traded last June. The Wild could have traded him for years but waited until his RFA year where it needed to decide whether to commit to him long-term. Clutterbuck got the Wild Niederreiter. Also last year, the Wild was looking to unload cap space to become cap compliant thanks to the sinking cap because of the lockout. So it was working to trade Tom Gilbert (eventually used a compliance buyout on him) and was working to change the personality of its team by dealing Setoguchi. The Wild wasn’t able to do so at the draft, but when certain teams missed out on free agents, Fletcher was able to trade Setoguchi to Winnipeg last July and in turn sign Matt Cooke.
“I’m not sure we have that player [to trade] this year,” Fletcher said.
This year, the tradable commodities are mostly guys the Wild has no desire to trade. It’s not moving the veterans on long-term deals (including Mikko Koivu, Fletcher says), it’s not trading its budding youngsters (the kids mentioned above). Now, all the kids in the organization can’t all play here. Just like Johan Larsson being thrown into the Pominville deal, there are kids – maybe the Jason Zuckers or some of its kids in the minors or in juniors – that could potentially be on the move if Fletcher chooses to go the trade route.
If the Wild can trade a rehabbing Backstrom and unload the final two years of his contract by retaining salary and cap space, it would almost certainly do so. There’s a reason the Wild ad nauseum lately has been saying publicly that Backstrom is feeling better than he has in years. Brodziak has one year left on his deal and almost certainly will start next season as the Wild’s fourth-line center, so he is on the trading block.
But as of now, I wouldn’t expect a splash via trade (although Fletcher has surprised us before). We’ll see. I know Fletcher said he’s looking forward to seeing which players – expected and unexpected – hit the market in the next two weeks. There will be some big names on the move at the draft this year (Jason Spezza, maybe Mike Richards, maybe Joe Thornton, maybe Ryan Kesler; Wild’s reportedly not on his trade list, maybe, dare we say, Nick Leddy!).
“I don’t know what we’ll end up doing,” Fletcher said. “There’s teams really actively looking to do things. If that happens where there’s a trade and then another trade, that just gets the ball rolling and gets the market juiced up and suddenly there’s players available you didn’t even know would be available. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks to see what’s out there.”
5) The NHL schedule is expected to be released June 22. As of now, that Dallas-Wild outdoors came at Target Field may not come into fruition for this season. I hear the Wild, by the way, has a pretty difficult October with a lot of road games.
6) I’d suspect the Wild heads to Duluth to end camp like the previous two seasons.
7) The assistant coaches are expected to get their new contracts wrapped up the week of June 22 because Fletcher is traveling this upcoming week.
8) Fletcher said as of now, he’s not planning to use his second compliance buyout. That buyout window begins in a few days.
9) Draft and free agency coverage will begin to ramp up the week of June 22. The draft should be fun this year. It’s so late, the new free agency interview period in the NHL will be draft week, meaning theoretically, with the entire league in Philly, agents could line up free-agent meetings with teams in Philly.
Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said he had two goals for Mike Yeo when he made him an NHL coach three years ago: Win games, and develop young players. Yeo said his ambitions were to create a culture and identity for his team that would provide the foundation for long-term success.
Both men said Friday they were happy with the progress toward those goals, but both emphasized they are not satisfied. They spoke at a news conference at Xcel Energy Center to discuss Yeo's multi-year contract extension, which was announced six days ago. Fletcher and Yeo both said there is a lot of work yet to be done, but they are happy with the direction in which the team is going.
Highlights of the news conference:
--Fletcher said he did not consider a coaching change. He waited until the end of the season to talk about the contract extension, he said, because "the right time to do these things is at the end of the year.'' Fletcher added, "Mike is the only guy who was going to be here.''
--Yeo said he never became nervous about being re-signed because Fletcher reached out to him quickly. Still, he said he was "very relieved'' to have it done.
--Fletcher praised Yeo's work with young players and his adaptability in difficult situations, as injuries forced the Wild to deal with constant lineup changes. "You'd be hard-pressed to name a player that isn't better,'' he said of the players' development over the season.
--Both Yeo and Fletcher said they expect the Wild's coaching staff to remain intact. Fletcher said he already has re-signed the front-office and amateur scouting staffs; the next step is to re-sign the assistant coaches and pro scouts, and he hopes to have that completed by the end of next week.
--Fletcher revealed that defenseman Keith Ballard had sports hernia surgery after the season and is recovering well. Erik Haula, he said, did not need surgery for the broken jaw he suffered in the world championships but is drinking "a lot of milkshakes.'' Josh Harding is feeling well, he added, and Niklas Backstrom's rehabilitation is going smoothly.
Yeo sounded as if he wished next season started tomorrow. "Winners have an attitude that they're never satisfied,'' he said. "We've gotten a lot of pats on the back. We have to make sure we understand that the work starts right now. I believe we have a group that is extremely committed to winning.''
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