CHICAGO – Erik Haula is looking forward to a fresh start.
After being relegated to the fourth line in Minnesota for much of last season, Haula is excited for the new opportunity he'll receive with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights after signing a three-year, $8.25 million deal Wednesday.
He said there's no bitterness that Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher worked to ensure Haula would be the Vegas-bound Wild player in expansion.
"I'm really excited. It's a fresh start," Haula said by phone Thursday from the island of Capri, where he was wrapping up an Italian vacation with his girlfriend. "You knew where you were going to be going into camp with Minnesota, but here, I get a chance to compete for those top spots, which is the chance you want. I understand that nothing's ever given, and I've learned that throughout my days. But hopefully I can go in there and make a really good impression and get a chance to play some of those top minutes."
Fletcher wished Haula well but said, "He's up for a contract this year, he's going to be an unrestricted free agent in a year, and with our cap situation, it just made it a little bit more difficult to keep him long term."
Haula, 26, had nothing but good things to say about the Wild and his teammates.
"Just getting a chance to come into the league, I'll always be grateful," Haula said. "And what a great job they've done with their leadership with Mikko [Koivu]. I owe him a lot. Everything I've learned from him, from being a pro and everything that comes with it."
Haula will head to his native Finland after Italy, then is excited to check out the new digs in Vegas. He's an avid golfer, so he should love a lifestyle where golf is a year-round possibility. Plus, there's getting to go inside refreshing ice rinks when the weather's warm.
"I really don't know what to expect. It's pretty hot there," Haula said, laughing. "I'm excited to make a trip over and get a better feel for everything. I think I'll really enjoy it. There's a lot of hype around the team, and the team looks really good. I'm just excited to get there and get things going.
"But Minnesota will always be home. My girlfriend's from there, all my friends are in Minnesota pretty much. I'm still going to train in Minnesota. It's home to me. Always will be."
Prospect Alex Tuch, dealt to Vegas in part for the Golden Knights to select Haula and to pass on any of the Wild defensemen, also is looking forward to the new opportunity but thankful to the Wild.
"[Wednesday] was a very crazy day for me," Tuch said. "It started with a rumor and turned into a life-changing phone call. To be a part of a historic event like the 2017 expansion draft is amazing. I understood the risk of the draft, and leaving the Minnesota Wild organization will be difficult. They have been amazing to my family and I over the past few years, and I wouldn't be where I am without the support of such a great organization."
Coaching search close
Fletcher said the Wild is getting closer to the end of its assistant coaching search. Multiple sources say the Wild plans to hire Bob Woods, coach Bruce Boudreau's longtime friend and confidant, to replace Scott Stevens on the Wild bench.
Woods, who has won Calder Cups in the American Hockey League as a head coach, assistant coach and player, played for Boudreau and coached with Boudreau in Hershey.
•The Wild has not had contract talks with defenseman Christian Folin but plans to reach out to his agent before Monday's deadline to tender a qualifying offer.