Afternoon from Xcel Energy Center. I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission tonight, and if you’re coming to the game, stop by Tom Reid’s on West 7th at 4 p.m. to listen to Jim Souhan and I tape our malepatternpodcasts.com podcast. There will be giveaways for some who ask questions.
Long blog, but worth reading because there’s a lot of interesting stuff, some funny lines by Fletcher on the Wild’s lack of cap space and because I WORKED HARD ON IT!!!
-- As I alluded to in today’s article here, the Wild got relatively good news from the MRI on Zach Parise’s right knee. He has a sprained medial collateral ligament, which makes him week to week. The Wild’s not giving an exact timeframe because the team will just monitor Parise’s recovery as each week goes on.
It could have been worse.
“I think it’s great news,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “He’ll be out for a few weeks. Hopefully he’ll be back as soon as possible, but all things considered in terms of knee injuries, it was the best-case scenario.”
Fletcher said Parise’s sprained MCL is a little different than the one that’s expected to keep Justin Fontaine out four to six weeks, so “it’s a little bit harder to kind of give clarity to the recovery time, so that’s why we’re going to say week to week. It certainly isn’t months, it’s not days. I mean, he’ll clearly be out this week, but next week we’ll have a better feel for how the recovery is going.”
A few years ago if you remember, Parise took an Alex Steen shot off the foot. He was supposed to be out awhile, but suddenly was out there a few days later in practice. He stubbornly tried to play through it until he could play no more and missed a good chunk of time with a fracture in that foot.
“And the thing with Zach, too, is you’re managing the injury, and you’re also managing Zach,” Fletcher said. “I mean, Zach would probably want to play tonight, so I think we want to make sure that we do what’s right for Zach and for the team long-term. He’s such a great competitor. You saw it the other night. Most players would not have been able to come back, and he managed to come back and even then, the doctors had to say, ‘Listen, you’ve got to come out.’ It’s a long season. You expect injuries. Every team has them, and the way the game is now, you almost have to assume every player’s going to miss 5-10 games over the course of a year, and hopefully this will be Zach’s turn and he’ll come back rested and healthy and ready to help us for the last 60-odd games for the year.”
The Wild’s forward depth is starting to take a hit with Parise, Fontaine and Tyler Graovac hurt.
-- Christoph Bertschy has been recalled to make his NHL debut tonight. More on him below. He’ll be the fourth player in Wild history to wear No. 47 in a game, and it wouldn’t shock me if the Wild shuffle players back and forth between Minnesota and Iowa for awhile. For instance, maybe Kurtis Gabriel makes sense to debut against Winnipeg on Tuesday.
Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter
Jason Pominville-Mikael Granlund-Charlie Coyle
Thomas Vanek-Erik Haula-Christoph Bertschy
Chris Porter-Ryan Carter-Jordan Schroeder
Fletcher, on the Wild’s depth: “I think we have good depth, but players like Zach Parise are irreplaceable. You don’t have a player in Iowa you can call up that can just put on Zach’s jersey and go out and play the same role. I think Mike [Yeo] is going to try some different things. We’ll see what works. Charlie Coyle can play center and wing, and we can move him up. And Thomas Vanek obviously can move throughout the lineup, so we think we have good players that can step in and play a bigger role and pick up some power-play time here and there. … I think the important thing for us is we just have to get back to our identity. We have to play the right way, and I’m not sure we’ve played to that identity on a consistent basis this year, and this will give us an opportunity to refocus and hopefully play the right way and get back to the way we know how to try to win games here.”
On if Iowa and their lack of depth is a concern if the Wild has more injuries, Fletcher said, “I think we’re in the same place we’ve always been. If you look at it last year, I think our first two callups were Schroeder and Sutter and this year it was Schroeder and Bertschy, and we’ve still have Sutter, who’s played lots of games, and Brett Bulmer and Fedotenko’s played 800 games in the league and Kurtis Gabriel’s knocking on the door and Zack Mitchell, who’s really improved. We would have liked to have Dalpe, and we’d hoped to have even better depth. Losing Dalpe certainly is a blow. He’d probably be up here now, but I think we’re in a similar spot than we have been in years past.”
-- The Wild hasn’t had to place Graovac or Fontaine on LTI Exception yet to go over the cap because the Wild is just below the $71.4 million ceiling. If you don’t understand LTI, I explained it in the above article and on yesterday’s blog, so give that a read.
The Wild had about $648,000 in cap space, which prorated I believe is about a $778,000 player. Bertschy makes just above 775K, which caused Fletcher to joke sarcastically, “We’re a steak dinner for six at Manny’s away from the cap, so we’ve got lots of space as long as somebody doesn’t order the double baked potato. We’ve got lots of room.”
“I just looked at it yesterday,” Fletcher said. “There’s 15 teams in the league right now that either in LTI or within $1 million of the cap. It’s the nature of the business. The cap probably didn’t grow the way a lot of us thought it would last year, and with the Canadian dollar [at 75 cents] (remember, Canadian teams take in Canadian money but pay players in American, so it affects revenues), it’s been a tighter cap environment the last few months, and a lot of teams are dealing with it. we have the ability to go into LTI if we need to, but right now we’re fine.”
But one more injury? Fletcher said, “No, one more doubled bake potato.”
-- Compounding things is the fact that it’s like impossible to make a trade this early in the season in the NHL.
Said Fletcher, “It’s hard to make trades at the best of times because you’re trying to find a team that has what you need and they need to need what you have. That’s hard enough nevermind balancing out the dollars. But now it has to be a dollar for dollar trade as well. Some of the teams that are well below the cap are budget teams and are probably at their number even if they’re not at the cap. So as the season goes on and more of the salaries and dollars get paid, it gets a little bit easier. But you have to be very creative this time of year. I don’t exactly recall how it was last year, but I can’t believe there are 15 teams basically within a million of the cap at this time of the year, so we’re tight. It’s makes it more difficult. I think right now everybody else wants to see how their team is. You like to give your team 20, 25 games to sort itself out, and most of us are in that process now.”
Nate Prosser is day-to-day with a back injury, Fletcher said. “Again, we’re fortunate there. He took a cross-check kind of in the lower back, on the side, and his ribs are fine. We were a little concerned there. He’s sore, but hopefully it won’t be too long.”
I believe it was James Neal, who got Parise and charged Coyle, that got Prosser. Said Fletcher, “He was on fire that game.”
The trainers stuck Bertschy in Fontaine’s stall, which not so coincidentally was between the Austrian Vanek and Swiss countryman Nino Niederreiter.
Niederreiter speaks Swiss-German, which is what Bertschy speaks. Vanek speaks Austrian-German, which is very different, but Bertschy said he understands Vanek perfectly.
Bertschy has a gigantic mop of hair. Niederreiter quipped, “His haircut is not typically Swiss.”
Bertschy got the call at 4 o’clock yesterday and was here by 8:30.
“I’m pretty excited and obviously a little nervous,” Bertschy said. “I didn’t expect it that soon, so it was pretty shocking. I’ll try to do my best and not be too nervous.”
He called his family and are very excited.
“I’m a fast guy, speed player, bring energy, can finish checks. I’m small, but I’m still strong and battle hard defensively and skilled offensively,” he said when asked to give himself a scouting report.
Yeo on tonight’s lines: “I think hopefully we get to a situation where we can just roll the lines and everyone is on top of their game and we don’t have to make a lot of switches. I think the main focus has to be on our team game. That is No. 1 how we’re going to have success and No. 2 that’s how you’re going to build chemistry with the guys you’re playing with. We talked yesterday about needing guys to step up and taking advantage of this opportunity. You have to use that to motivate yourself, to come out and bring your best game, but you also have to make sure you’re not trying to do things that are outside of your game, things that will take away from the things that will make you successful. It’ll be interesting to see how we react tonight.
Yeo on Bertschy: “I thought he had a pretty good camp and I thought he got better as camp went on. I’ve been told that he’s doing a really good job down in Iowa and he’s been their best, most consistent player there. So he’s got skill, but what I do like is he’s a real competitive kid – that’s from what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen so far. He’s obviously not a huge guy, but he plays bigger than his size, he’s willing to finish checks, and he’s willing to go to the hard areas and obviously he’s got an awful lot of speed.
Yeo on how big of an opportunity this is for Haula: “He’s earned it. That’s the only thing I can say. Just want to make sure that he keeps doing the same things that he’s been doing. His game has been getting better as the season has gone on. I think that his speed has become more of a factor in his game and so I’m hoping that he’s ready for this. I think the thing that’s going to be real important is the line is going to have a bit of a different identity to it than what he’s been playing, but his game can’t change. He’s got to keep doing the things that he’s been doing to get his game to this level. And if he can do that, then he’ll be a good complement.”
Devan Dubnyk vs. Ben Bishop tonight. This will be Dubnyk’s 51st start with the Wild. He has yet to lose consecutive games in regulation, so he’ll be trying to avoid that tonight.
The Lightning has scored one or fewer goals in five of the past seven games (2-4-1). Bishop has four consecutive losses despite a 1.77 goals-against average during that span, allowing just seven goals.
Jason Zucker has a career-high seven-game point streak. Mikko Koivu has at least a point in nine of his past 10 games. Mikael Granlund and F Jason Pominville have one point and no even-strength points in the past nine games. Pominville has no goals in 12 games this season. The Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov has points in four straight games. Victor Hedman leads the Lightning with 11 points, Steven Stamkos leads with seven goals.
The Wild is 11-5-2 all-time vs. the Lightning, 7-2 in Minnesota.