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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Antti Raanta's decision is made; Matt Cullen talks about his future

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: May 31, 2013 - 12:30 PM
Antti Raanta, the highly-touted goalie from Finland I wrote about in my end-of-the-year analysis and today’s newspaper, has tweeted he made a decision on his NHL future. Of course, he has everybody holding their breath as to where he’s signing.
 
The Wild’s in hot pursuit. If Raanta has chosen Minnesota though, the team says as of this moment at least, it doesn’t know yet. So who knows if something should be made of that? You'd think they'd know if it were them.
 
Technically, he couldn’t sign until Saturday.
 
As I wrote today, the Wild hasn’t closed the door on trying to re-sign Niklas Backstrom, but the goal in signing Raanta would be to hopefully find the next Niklas Backstrom – a late-maturing, late-blooming, undrafted European free agent that could potentially be a long-term solution in goal.
 
Raanta, 24, who represented Finland in the recent world championships, went 21-10-11 with a 1.85 goals against average and .943 save percentage during the regular season for Assat Pori. That earned him league MVP and Best goalie honors.
 
He then backstopped his team to the SM-liiga title with a 1.45 goals against average and .955 save percentage, which was good for the Jari Kurri Trophy – Finland’s equivalent to the Conn Smythe.
 
Basically, it was a season for the ages and he won everything he possibly could win.
 
Edmonton and Winnipeg are reportedly also after Raanta.
 
Again, even if the Wild signs Raanta, this wouldn’t be in lieu of Backstrom or another potential No. 1 goalie. The hope is a guy like Raanta could battle for a roster spot in camp, but it’s inconceivable to me that the Wild would sign Raanta now and just anoint him the No. 1 without seeing how his game translates to the NHL.
 
But after trading Matt Hackett and with Josh Harding’s health situation uncertain, the Wild will need to add a goalie or two to the stable via free agency, trade or the draft this summer anyway. Adding Raanta would add additional depth with Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson, who is expected to come over to North America next season, also in the fold.
 
But Raanta is a talented goalie, said to be very quick and obviously emerged onto the scene the past two years in Finland.
 
I also wrote about Matt Cullen today. He has returned to his home in Fargo and is already working out and skating in Moorhead.
 
On the end of the season, Cullen said, “It was about as disappointed as I think I’ve ever been. I really felt we missed an opportunity this year probably more than maybe any other time in my career. Maybe it’s because of where I’m at in my career and being from Minnesota and not knowing if this was my last season in Minnesota. It was really a tough one to handle.”
 
Cullen said he’ll be open-minded once he hears from the Wild.
 
“I feel good about where my game and body is at,” Cullen said. “I know I’m getting older and later in my career, but I feel better than I’ve ever felt on the ice. It helps keep you feeling young and excited get work this summer.”
 
He had a quality season and proved his value when he went down with a knee injury April 1. The Wild lost five of its next six games.
 
As I wrote today, Cullen can play center or wing, is strong on special teams, helped jumpstart Devin Setoguchi, mentored Jason Zucker, is a shootout specialist and routinely is stellar in the faceoff circle.
 
Since Mikael Granlund still doesn’t appear ready to take on these roles, it would be hard for the Wild to externally replace all that Cullen brings, especially with limited funds. If you don’t bring back Cullen, you’d probably have to go out and spend more money on a greater term in free agency.
 
Still, Cullen had a good year, feels good about his game and this could be his last contract or one of his last contract. To sign Cullen, the Wild will have to ante up. So this is very much up in the air.
 
Cullen says, “I understand they have serious cap issues. I’ll say this, I’m anxious to hear from them and I really commend the job that Chuck Fletcher has done. Obviously getting Zach (Parise) and Ryan (Suter) speaks for itself, but man, the job (Jonas) Brodin and (Charlie) Coyle did this year, and Zucks to a certain extend when he was here. The impact those guys had, that’s pretty unique to have guys that play that kind of role and big minutes and be so good at such a young age. So I’m very optimistic about the future.”
 
After the organizational meetings next week that’ll determine the direction of the offseason – No. 1 goalie, No. 2 center, etc. – the Wild will then look at its restricted free agents – guys like Cal Clutterbuck, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Justin Falk.
 
There’s other issues that need to be dealt with, and I’ll be writing about those in the near future.
 
That’s it from me. I’ll update the blog once it’s known where Raanta is signing.

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