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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Is this the calm before the Wild storm?; Fletcher endorses Dany Heatley

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 27, 2014 - 2:23 PM

Afternoon from Philly, where I’m about to throw on a shirt and tie and head to the ex-First Union Center/ex-Wachovia Center/ex-I-think-Cores States Center or something/now-Wells Fargo Center.

The NHL Draft, again, starts at 6 p.m. CT (Round 1) on NBC Sports Network. Rounds 2-7 is Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. CT on NHL Network.

For real-time NHL and Wild news, follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib.

Twenty minutes ago, the Wild’s head honchos were supposed to begin its final pre-draft meeting. This is typically where GM Chuck Fletcher presents the best trade scenarios he has got on the table and the coaches and key front-office peeps and even the owner weigh in on what’s worth it, what’s not.

I just ran into a team exec at Starbucks who said it’s a very difficult, confusing time right now with this free-agent interview period. He said on one side you have the trade options, the other side you have the free-agent options. You’re trying to get a sense if you’ve got a shot for one of the free-agent options to fill a certain need, but you truly don’t know if you do, so do you pull the trigger and give up big assets for one of the trades?

He said his head was spinning trying to make sense of things because one thing may affect two other things you do or try to do.

I can imagine that’s exactly what Fletcher is dealing with. There’s no doubt Fletcher has been on the phone with GMs trying to improve his roster. He has talked to several agents about free agents.

Do you wait and hope you get one of the free agents knowing price and term can get out of whack? Or, do you pay a price by trading a young player or top pick?

It’s a tough call depending on what you’re getting and what you’re potentially giving up. But as Anaheim just showed, it’s trying to get better by adding Ryan Kesler. As St. Louis and Chicago are likely to prove, they’re trying to get better by adding a Jason Spezza via trade or a Paul Stastny via free agency (Chicago reportedly missed on Kesler, so one would assume it’ll go hard after the others).

So in the West especially, it’s not like the Wild can just sit and rest on its laurels that it advanced past the first round and expect things to go similarly next season. Remember, this is a team that still only scored 199 non-shootout goals. The one thing the playoffs proved is home-ice advantage would be huge for the Wild. If the Wild can figure out a way to get itself 25 or 30 more goals next season, that could be the difference between home ice and not.

The question is how does Fletcher look to improve? By waiting for free agency, which is always a risk because you may not get your player, or by swinging a deal tonight and giving up a significant asset or two?

We shall see. No doubt there are quality players on the block today. The question is the cost. But is also always seems Fletcher has something up his sleeves.

By the way, this team exec became like the eighth source to confirm for me that Kyle Brodziak is being shopped.

As for everybody’s favorite topics – Thomas Vanek and Matt Niskanen.

Vanek: His agent had a frank, good conversation with Fletcher this week to see if the Wild’s envisioned fit and term for a contract aligns with Vanek’s. About eight teams have called on Vanek, four or five considered serious. As I’ve mentioned, Vanek (barring a trade for a scorer by the Wild) will likely have the ability to decide whether he wants to play in Minnesota on a short-term deal vs. more term and money elsewhere.

Niskanen: His agent was scheduled to meet with Fletcher face-to-face this afternoon. The sense is the Wild’s got a lot of interest. The issue is Niskanen, 27, is coming off a career year and will have a chance to get a seven-year deal at big money somewhere. Now, maybe Niskanen would take less term and money to play in Minnesota. Who knows? But obviously, the Wild would need to pony up to get him off more term and money elsewhere. The question is how much does the Wild feel is too much. Niskanen is getting married Saturday and I believe is holding off his honeymoon so he can make a decision hopefully Tuesday on his future.

On another subject, Dany Heatley, 33, who has 372 goals and 791 points in 863 regular-season games, is set to become an unrestricted free agent. He was scratched in six of the final eight games and the first two games of the playoffs.

Fletcher’s hope is Heatley can latch on elsewhere as a free agent.

“Dany was a consummate professional for us,” Fletcher said. “He scored some big goals for our franchise, but even as his role decreased, the job he did mentoring our young players. The time he spent with Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle almost on a daily basis after practice working with them on positioning and shooting pucks, meanwhile these are the guys that are taking some of his ice time way, yet he’s out there helping them get better? The way he treated our staff, the way he treated the trainers, he’s a tremendous human being.

“I really believe he can help a team and I believe he will get another opportunity. He’s got such high character, he’s such a tremendous human being, I hope for him he gets an opportunity and it works out great.

“I talked to [Avs coach] Patrick Roy, and he thought one of the key things in that [first-round] series was in Game 3 [with the Wild down 0-2], Heatley went back in the lineup and our bottom six started contributing a lot more. He thought that was a big turning point in that series. He expressly mentioned Dany Heatley. That’s interesting because that’s from the opposing coach, but Dany had a tremendous series. He made the play on the winning goal [in Game 7]. The pass he made to spring Niederreiter and Brodziak on the 2-on-1 was an unbelievable pass. He had six points in that series in five games. There’s a lot of guys, but we don’t win that series without Brodziak, we don’t win that series without Heatley, Kuemper, Bryz. All kind of unsung heroes, but you could look at guys like Heatley and Brodziak as being key guys.”

On an aside, seems Fletcher is really stressing Brodziak there, too, for some reason, eh?

Talk tonight, but again for real-time news, follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib.

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