The Wild will open the exhibition season tonight against the St. Louis Blues with a fairly full lineup that includes 10 regular forwards and four regular defensemen, plus roster hopefuls Cody Almond, Robbie Earl, Marco Scandella and Justin Falk. Niklas Backstrom will play two periods, Anton Khudobin one.
The game isn't televised, so for in-game updates and some play-by-play and tidbits, be sure to follow me at twitter.com/russostrib.
It's the longest active sellout streak in the NHL and third-longest recorded sellout streak in NHL history behind Colorado (487) and Detroit (452). Technically, the league only counts sellout streaks involving regular-season and postseason because most teams don't sell out the preseason, so some may debate that the Wild's sellout streak remains intact until it fails to sell out a home game in the regular season, which likely will happen early.
But the Wild, if it fails to sell out tonight or one of the remaining two exhibition games, will consider the streak snapped, I'm told.
I had lunch earlier this month with Craig Leipold, and here was the quote by the Wild owner on this anticipated subject:
"We recognize that we missed the playoffs the last two years. We recognize the economy is such that’s it’s just a tough time to ask people to make the financial commitment that we asked of them year in and year out. As a result, we’re having a little bit of hiccup in our ticket sales. We hope we can still sell out every game. We think there will probably be some games, some Tuesday and Thursday games earlier in the year when there are other things going on in this market, that cause people not to come down. And if we don’t sell out those games, fine. We just move on to the next night and work on the next sellout streak."
As for the news from the morning skate,
-- Coach Todd Richards talked a lot about Nick Schultz, the veteran defenseman who looks solid in camp and looks to rebound from an up and down year last year. Richards said he felt responsible for a lot of Schultz's struggles after so much talk of a more offensive team from the back end. In other words, Schultz's specialty is defense, so he should be used more like a shutdown defenseman, or as I always label him, a matchup defenseman. I've got to look it up, but I unearthed a stat this summer that Schultz had I believe the fourth-most ice time shorthanded of any defenseman on the team. That made very little sense to me. I'll write more about that in tomorrow's paper after a good conversation I had this morning with both Richards and especially Schultz.
-- Robbie Earl continues to look great. Richards said Earl looks even faster to him, and fast has always been Earl's specialty. As I've been alluding a lot on here -- more than alluding, actually. Saying is more accurate -- I think Earl's got a real good chance to make this team. If the Wild in fact decides to place young guys like Casey Wellman and Cody Almond in the minors for further development if it appears as if they'll only receive limited ice time here, it makes all the sense in the world for Earl to be one of the guys to stick. GM Chuck Fletcher said fourth or fifth year pros are different than first or second, and they'd me much more willing to accept a lesser role. I think he's specifically referring to guys like Earl, Warren Peters, Drew Bagnall, etc. Earl, after trying to get a one-way contract elsewhere early in free agency, eventually settled for a two-way deal here because he knows there's good opportunity and the team knows him. In other words, since he was always the first option to be called up last year, he figured Minnesota provided the best chance to be a regular in the NHL. But like I said, I've got a feeling he'll be on that charter flight to Finland.
-- Marco Scandella will be in the lineup tonight. He's likely to start in Houston. He hasn't played a lot of hockey in the last eight months due to his junior suspension for a blow to the head of an opponent, appendicitis and a foot injury he came to camp with. He was slow to get going in Traverse City, but he started to play better late and had a good second scrimmage in this training camp after a tough first one. He's a good one, though, folks, so keep an eye on him tonight.
-- The Wild will begin talking about some of these tryout guys like Colton Jobke, Jared Spurgeon, Josh Caron and Brandon Buck. I'd assume the Wild signs a couple of these guys. If they like them, which they especially do Jobke, it makes sense because then they don't 1) waste a draft pick next June; 2) potentially lose them in the draft if somebody chose them before that player fell to their slot. Also, if you sign them now, their contract slides until they turn pro. So in the case of Jobke, the three-year entry-level deal could theoretically be five years or even six if they were to put him back in junior as an overage. Right now, you'd only have to pay a signing bonus and the contract wouldn't be included in the maximum 50 allowed by teams.
-- I've gotten some emails from Spokane Chief fans wanting to know why the Wild didn't promote tryout Tyler Johnson to training camp, yet he hasn't been reassigned yet to Spokane. In Game 1 at Traverse City, Johnson suffered a Grade 1 shoulder sprain. So even though he's not Wild property, the Wild's brought him back to Minnesota to do the right thing, treat him, rehab him and then they'll return him to his junior team.
-- The Wild's trying to figure out what they're going to do as far as a third goalie (insurance) in Finland. They'd love it to be Dennis Endras, who plays in Germany, but he's 4-1 right now with his DEL team and they're likely not too willing to let Endras leave the team for some practice in Finland. So while the Wild are still working on this, I'm going to presume that Anton Khudobin or Matt Hackett will be going to Finland.
More after tonight's game.