Darcy Kuemper vs. Michael Hutchinson tonight when the Wild faces off with the Winnipeg Jets.
Wild is 5-6-4 in its past 15. Jets are 9-1-4 in their past 14. I’ll be on Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show and first intermission.
Where to start?
1. Mikael Granlund is week to week with what looked like a left wrist injury. It is not a concussion. He landed funny when Dustin Byfuglien slammed him into the glass the other night like a pillow.
According to sources, Granlund will undergo surgery, and that could be happening today. I’d expect an update after tonight’s game or tomorrow from Columbus, but I am told this could have been much worse and it’ll be as little as three or four weeks to as much as a couple months.
Granlund underwent successful surgery today on a broken left wrist and will miss approximately four weeks, the Wild announced.
Coach Mike Yeo said this morning, “A very tough void for us to fill.”
On Granlund and Jonas Brodin being hurt while being tossed around like rag dolls, I asked Yeo if the Wild is big enough: “We’ve got big bodies too and for the most part we played a pretty hard game, a pretty physical game in that one. And we’re going to need to do more of the same tonight. We know what their gameplan is and we’re going to be ready for that.”
Basically, this is why Stu Bickel and Brett Sutter are in tonight and why 6-foot-5 Tyler Graovac was recalled to make his NHL debut.
2. Yeo said Brodin is feeling much better and there’s a chance he’ll meet the team in Columbus, although my guess is the Wild will be careful and will only send him to Columbus if he’s 100 percent. As of yesterday, Jason Zucker and Niklas Backstrom were still sick and since they really haven’t done much of anything on the ice since before Christmas (Backstrom did skate Saturday morning before leaving the ice and rink early), I’d guess Columbus is a no-go.
Zach Parise said he has never seen anything like what the Wild has gone through illness wise in his career. The Wild has just been a sick, unenergetic team for awhile now, although it played well Saturday and like usual just found a way to lose.
3. Matt Hackett, a Wild draft pick that the Wild sent to Buffalo in the Jason Pominville package is on waivers. The Wild has talked internally about whether it’s worth claiming him, sources say. However, he hasn’t played hockey for a long time because of reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL. So if you could get him to Iowa, it would be a no-brainer to claim him. But since the only way to get him there would be to in turn put him on waivers (other than a 2-week conditioning stint, which likely isn’t close to how long he’ll need to be able to play and get back to form), claiming Hackett may make little sense even though he’d immediately become the Wild’s best goalie prospect if taken.
We’ll see what happens at 11 a.m. Tuesday (I’ll be on a plane fyi with no Internet, so you’ll find out elsewhere). Regardless, the Wild needs better goaltending – plain and simple. Just can’t win in the NHL with average goaltending,
and the Wild’s goals against and save percentage has skyrocketed the past 15 games despite not giving up any more shots against than it did prior. I’ll toss up some specific numbers later to illustrate this.
In the first eight games, Kuemper was 6-2 with a 1.62 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and three shutouts. In the past 15, he is 5-8 with a 3.35 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.
In the past 18 games, the Wild's goaltending has taken a turn for the worse.
In the past nine games, the Wild has allowed 29 shots per game, in the nine before that 29.1. So almost exact.
However, in the past nine games, the Wild's goals against is 4.11 and save percentage is .858 for a 2-4-3 record. In the nine games before that, the Wild's goals against was 2.22 with a .923 save percentage and 6-2-1 record.
Kuemper is feeling better though. He thinks he ate some bad chicken and lost eight pounds.
Dany Heatley’s on waivers, too! Wild had no interest in Nashville’s Derek Roy. It has had ample opportunity to get him before and never bit. He’s got skill but no foot speed.
4. Graovac will make his NHL debut tonight at MTS Centre, an arena in which he scored in during the preseason.
The 6-foot-5, 206-pound center leads Iowa with 12 goals, six power play tallies and 86 shots and ranks tied for first on the team with 24 points in 31 games this season. He will center Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine on the third line tonight.
Mikko Koivu will take Granlund’s spot on the top line between Parise and Jason Pominville, yo-yo Charlie Coyle will move from right wing to second-line center with struggling Nino Niederreiter and elevated Thomas Vanek and Kyle Brodziak will center Sutter and Ryan Carter on the fourth line.
Erik Haula is scratched. More on that in a sec.
Ryan Suter will be paired with Jared Spurgeon. Marco Scandella will be paired with Christian Folin and Nate Prosser, scratched the past two, will play on the left with Stu Bickel, who had his first Wild assist and first Wild fight on Saturday.
Graovac and Sutter bussed eight hours from Grand Rapids to Des Moines yesterday and arrived around 6 a.m. They both woke up to phone calls from director of minor-league operations Jim Mill around 11.
Mill to Graovac: “Grao, call me ASAP, which was a little nerve-racking,” Graovac said.
It was too late to fly to Winnipeg from Iowa, so they took a car to MSP and got on a 9:45 p.m. flight to Manitoba. So long travel day: “We’ll be running on adrenaline,” Sutter said.
Sutter was thrilled for his Iowa teammate, Graovac: “He was like a kid on Christmas morning yesterday. It was a fun day with him.”
Graovac said, “Lots of emotion. When I hit the ice, I felt normal and felt comfortable out there. Very exciting for sure.”
What can he bring? “Bring a little size, I bring speed. If they need me top-six or bottom-six, I can bring both. Honestly. I have a lot of confidence in my game right now. I have had a good start in Iowa and I’ll do what they need me to do and I’ll do the best I can at it.”
The kid’s got a swagger about him and if you read my stuff during those Octagon pre-training camp skates, he was sensational. GM Chuck Fletcher called him the most improved player in the organization when he sent him to the minors Sept. 30 so he could play a top role there as opposed to limited minutes there.
“He had a really good training camp for us,” Yeo said. “He’s earned the opportunity to come up and show us what he can do. With the Granlund injury, there’s a void to be filled there. Big body, I think a guy who could skate and I’m excited to see how he comes in and performs tonight.”
Funny stuff, but last year, Graovac’s first pro fight was with yesterday’s travel partner, Sutter, then the captain of the Charlotte Checkers.
Sutter hit Zach Miskovic from behind and Graovac jumped to his defenseman’s defense.
“Bad penalty by Grao,” Sutter quipped. “They were going on the power play.”
Graovac said he won the fight “obviously,” although, “I can’t feel these three teeth because of it,” Graovac said, pointing me toward three upper chiclets. “I did hit him with one uppercut. He couldn’t take my reach. He couldn’t go over, so he got me through with one under right in the cheek. I can’t feel my teeth still.”
5. Bigtime message being sent to Haula tonight. Haula was scratched in the Tuesday game before the holiday break against Philadelphia, then returned Saturday against Winnipeg, didn’t play well and will be scratched tonight.
To be benched in a game where the Wild is without its No. 1 center, this is a wakeup call if there ever was one. The Wild isn’t happy with him offensively (three goals, one assist, minus-5 in 30 games), but it’s his defense and lack of skating that Yeo says is the root of the problem.
Yeo said the two had a long talk today and watched video with the coaches.
“It’s kind of an odd time to scratch him with the fact that we’re losing Granny, but what it comes down to, we need the player that we know that he can be and we need him more than ever,” Yeo said. “There’s been a lot of conversations and a lot of things that we’ve tried to do to get him to play at the level that we know he’s capable of.
“We made it very clear as far as some of the things that he needs to bring and the way that he needs to play in order to be effective and we’ve got to get him back that way.”
Yeo basically admitted that he messed up playing him in Montreal last month. That game put him over the waiver threshold. And since there is no chance Haula gets through waivers, the Wild is stuck having him find his game here rather than go to Iowa.
“It’s not a confidence thing,” Yeo said. “It’s an understanding of how he has to play the game and a willingness to do it. He’s a young kid that had an awful lot of success and a lot of attention put on him last year, so sometimes you need a bit of a reminder and unfortunately sometimes those reminders are a little bit cruel.”
6. Chatted with former Gopher Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, etc., about the Jets today and may write about how good they’ve been and why in next Sunday’s column.
Wheeler was ready to fight Koivu on Saturday.
“He took a good whack at my stick. If he wanted to [fight], I was ready for him,” Wheeler said, smiling.
Koivu wasn’t willing though.
On playing the Wild, Wheeler said, “That building has brought out the best of me in my career. I love going back there, I love competing against that team. They’ve been tough to play against. It’s always been a good challenge for our group and good challenge for me individually to see how we stack up against those guys.”
Wheeler said the Jets would love to separate themselves further from Minnesota, which is nine back of them. “It’s never too early to start thinking like that.”
Ladd took eight stitches from a high-stick from Cooke Saturday on the right side of the nose and under the eye. He said he felt it was unintentional.
Evander Kane is out until February with lower-body injury, Jets coach Paul Maurice said. Kane blocked a shot in that game, so that’s probably it.
Seeya on tube and on Twitter tonight and the paper tomorrow.