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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

It's Sept. 1, and Kuemper, Niederreiter remain unsigned; Nick Seeler transferring to Gophers

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: September 1, 2014 - 12:57 PM

It’s Sept. 1 (happy Labor Day everybody), meaning in 17 days, Wild players report to training camp for physicals and fitness testing. On Sept. 19, players take the ice for the first time. The only question right now is whether Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper will be there with the rest of their teammates.

As of now, both restricted free agents remain unsigned, meaning their contract squabbles with the Wild threaten their on-time arrival to camp. General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Friday at the State Fair that conversations remain ongoing but gave no indication that either is close to being signed. There’s more than a dozen quality restricted free agents around the NHL still unsigned, including (per capgeek.com) Niederreiter’s junior linemate Ryan Johansen (Columbus), St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz, Boston’s Torey Krug, Colorado’s Tyson Barrie (Edmonton just signed Justin Schultz to a one-year, $3.675 million deal, so there’s a potential comparable), Dallas’ Brenden Dillon and Cody Eakin, Boston’s Reilly Smith, Anaheim’s Devante Smith-Pelly, the Rangers’ John Moore, Nashville’s Ryan Ellis and Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser.

Usually, this stuff works itself out right before camp begins. Kuemper is 24. Niederreiter turns 22 on Sept. 8, so at such young ages and with such competition in camp, it certainly won’t help matters if they miss the start of camp.

From the Wild’s perspective, Fletcher is at least painting this as, “not a concern,” because goalies Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom are healthy and ready to go. Up front, the Wild has a number of forwards competing for top-6 or bottom-6 roles. For instance, Niederreiter’s late arrival could open the door for Jason Zucker, who has a big camp ahead of him. If you remember, last year, Zucker had a sub-par camp and then injured his groin at the same time Mikael Granlund began to excel in camp. That pretty much set in stone Zucker’s start in Iowa. Justin Fontaine has the ability to play any role. This year, the Wild also has players like Cody Almond, Stephane Veilleux, Kurtis Gabriel, Brett Sutter, Michael Keranen and Jordan Schroeder that will battle for roster spots up front. So, there’s some insurance.

“We’d rather have a contract done, but these things happen. You’d like everything to be clean and simple, but it doesn’t always happen that way,” Fletcher said. “We’ll continue to try to etch into it.”

The Niederreiter negotiations, to me, are the most compelling because of how many Wild forwards can become restricted free agents next summer – Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula. Fletcher said again that in the next couple months, he’ll talk to the agents of all of next summer’s potential RFA’s (including Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella) to “try to get ahead of it.” (aka, extensions). “In some cases, we may need to wait until next summer.”

But with so many young players to re-sign soon, Fletcher feels he has to get the Niederreiter deal right or it’ll affect the others.

Also, Fletcher told me as of now he’s not anticipating signing any more unrestricted free agents. It’s too early to say if he’ll invite any unsigned free agents in for tryouts. Few unsigned players would accept tryouts at this early juncture anyway (last year, the Wild invited David Steckel. He didn’t make the team, started in Iowa and eventually signed with Anaheim). Fletcher says he’s probably at least answered the phone call of agents for more than a dozen unsigned free agents. Some I know of include Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Malone, Paul Bissonnette and George Parros.

Fletcher’s leaning toward seeing what the Wild has in camp and then reacting if he needs to.

“Obviously things change. I mean, if we had a couple long holdouts, maybe that changes the thinking, but as of now, I want to give the kids like Zuck a chance,” Fletcher said. “Like, Justin Fontaine is a pretty good hockey player and was pretty good in that Chicago series. This guy has a chance to be a 20-goal scorer. If you keep bringing in vets, how are these kids ever going to play?”

-- Nick Seeler, a fifth-round pick by the Wild in 2011 and former Eden Prairie High defenseman, has transferred from the University of Nebraska-Omaha to the University of Minnesota, according to sources. @hammyhockey on Twitter was the first to report the news last week.

Seeler left UNO last month. He will have to sit out this season for the Gophers but will be allowed to practice. Not playing for a year obviously isn’t the most ideal scenario for his development, but it is what it is and he’ll at least be able to practice daily with one of the best college programs in the country and work with Don Lucia, Mike Guentzel and Grant Potulny.

Seeler is 21, so he is too old to play junior. So his options were to sign with the Wild and play in Iowa, play in Europe or transfer schools and sit out a year. From talking to the Wild, it was pretty clear early on that getting his education was very important to Seeler and his family, so this route makes sense.

Gopher fans should like Seeler next year. Real good player and brings a nastiness that intrigues that Wild and should make him a fan and coaching favorite at the U. Here's his bio.

-- Again, if you missed my Q and A at the State Fair with coach Mike Yeo, here is the link. Also, the inaugural Mike Yeo Classic, a bass tournament to raise money for local Minnesota charities, takes place on Lake Minnetonka on Sept. 9. For more information on how to fish with Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine or Keith Ballard, click this link.

-- Important dates: The Traverse City prospects tournament is Sept. 12-16. The roster can be seen on the previous blog. Camp starts Sept. 19 on the ice (players report Sept. 18). Sept. 20, regular-season single-game tickets are on sale at 10 a.m. at Xcel Energy Center’s box office and 12 p.m. at Ticketmaster and wild.com. Preseason single-game tickets are on sale now. Sept. 22 is the first preseason game in Winnipeg. Sept. 27 is the first preseason game at home vs. Winnipeg. The regular season opens Oct. 9 vs. Colorado at 8 p.m.

-- And to refresh your memory,

WILD DEPTH CHART

Here’s a look at how the Wild is shaping up to look like this season. The depth chart is my opinion. Obviously, lines change, roles change, etc., and Yeo said lines Day One will change by Day Two as he experiments throughout camp.

In parentheses, each player’s cap hits with some assistance from the web site, www.capgeek.com.

Forwards

Left wing                         Center                          Right wing

Zach Parise ($7.5+M)       Mikael Granlund (900K)  Jason Pominville (5.6M)

Thomas Vanek ($6.5M)   Mikko Koivu (6.75M)     Charlie Coyle (900K)

Matt Cooke (2.5M)            Erik Haula (900K)           Nino Niederreiter (RFA)

Jason Zucker (900+K)        Kyle Brodziak (2.83 M)    Justin Fontaine (1M)

Cody Almond (550K)

Vying for spots: Zucker, Almond, Stephane Veilleux (587,500), Brett Sutter (600K), Michael Keranen (792,500), Jordan Schroeder (600K), Joel Rechlicz (600K), Brett Bulmer (780K), Kurtis Gabriel (667K), Zack Mitchell (615K), Tyler Graovac (747,500), Zack Phillips ($863,333), Brady Brassart ($836,667), Raphael Bussieres ($759,167), Curt Gogol ($551,667).

Defensemen

Left Defense                     Right Defense

Ryan Suter (7.5+M)          Jared Spurgeon (2.66M)

Marco Scandella (1.025M) Jonas Brodin (1.4+M)

Keith Ballard (1.5M)          Christian Folin (925K)

Jon Blum (675K)

Vying for spots: Folin, Blum, Matt Dumba (894,167), Justin Falk (700K), Stu Bickel (600K), Gustav Olofsson (795K), Guillaume Gelinas ($596,667), Colton Jobke ($551,667).

Goalies

Niklas Backstrom (3.42M)

Josh Harding (1.9M)

Darcy Kuemper (RFA)

* Kuemper can be sent to the minors without waivers even if he receives a one-way deal.

Vying for spots: Johan Gustafsson (665K), John Curry (600K).

  

Total cap hit roughly: $57,413,008.

Available cap space: $10.88 million roughly (I based this on a $68.3 million salary-cap ceiling; NHL salary cap next season is $69 million, but the Wild will be charged a bonus overage of a little less than $700,000). Note, the $10.88 million excludes re-signing restricted free agents Niederreiter and Kuemper. The Wild will almost certainly not be a cap ceiling team for the first time in a long time. Its actual payroll (real dollars paid out) is at above $67 million, and all teams have internal budgets.

ADVERTISEMENT

Houston 2 FINAL
St. Louis 5
Washington 9 FINAL
Atlanta 8
Miami 5 FINAL
Boston 3
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 1
Baltimore 4 FINAL
Toronto 5
Detroit - LP: J. Mantiply 4 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: C. Torres 5
Cincinnati 5 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Los Angeles 10 FINAL
Milwaukee 1
San Francisco 12 FINAL
Texas 3
Chicago WSox 0 FINAL
San Diego 5
Kansas City 11 FINAL
Cleveland 9
Seattle 4 FINAL
Los Angeles 7
Colorado 0 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 7 FINAL
Arizona 2
Pittsburgh 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Chicago 84 FINAL
Indiana 98
Sacramento 114 FINAL
Orlando 119
Utah 89 FINAL
Philadelphia 83
Miami 97 FINAL
Washington 99
Toronto 94 FINAL
Charlotte 103
Cleveland 97 FINAL
Atlanta 106
Boston 104 FINAL
New Orleans 98
Detroit 93 FINAL
Houston 103
LA Lakers 90 FINAL
Memphis 97
Phoenix 108 FINAL
Brooklyn 100
Denver 111 FINAL
San Antonio 120
Dallas 40 3rd Qtr
Golden State 52
Columbus 3 FINAL
New Jersey 2
Minnesota 3 FINAL
Carolina 1
Buffalo 2 FINAL
Ottawa 3
Calgary 5 FINAL
Detroit 2
Edmonton 1 FINAL(SO)
Chicago 2
Pittsburgh 3 3rd Prd
Anaheim 0
Longwood 68 FINAL
Char Southern 60
Ark-Pine Bluff 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 75
Southern Ill 45 FINAL
Wichita State 56
Winthrop 67 FINAL
Radford 66
Evansville 67 FINAL
Illinois State 71
Towson 69 FINAL
Elon 74
Gardner-Webb 72 FINAL
High Point 71
Samford 76 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Northern Ill 71 FINAL
Ball State 67
Bowling Green 75 FINAL
Buffalo 77
Brown 69 FINAL
Dartmouth 75
Toledo 59 FINAL
Eastern Mich 85
Akron 77 FINAL
Kent State 79
Ill-Chicago 72 FINAL
Oakland 69
Miami-Ohio 65 FINAL
Ohio 95
Columbia 46 FINAL
Penn 54
Cornell 53 FINAL
Princeton 66
Central Mich 62 FINAL
Western Mich 74
Bradley 46 FINAL
Northern Iowa 71
Morehead State 77 FINAL
Murray State 80
Yale 62 FINAL
Harvard 52
Furman 73 FINAL
Citadel 56
Coll of Charleston 56 FINAL
Drexel 48
UNC-Asheville 57 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 74
Texas Tech 74 FINAL
Baylor 77
Pacific 58 FINAL
San Francisco 62
Loyola-Chicago 81 FINAL
Indiana State 53
Detroit 53 FINAL
Cleveland State 70
Belmont 46 2nd Half 8:59
Eastern Ky 46
Loyola Marymount 4 1st Half 15:23
Santa Clara 14
Chicago 0 2nd Half 25:00
Los Angeles 1
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
(21) George Washington 77
Wake Forest 68 FINAL
(16) Duke 77
Furman 55 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 68
Monmouth 61 FINAL
Quinnipiac 82
Michigan State 60 FINAL
(4) Maryland 70
Belmont 65 FINAL
UT Martin 71
Arkansas 36 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 58
Mercer 56 FINAL
East Tenn St 66
Richmond 45 FINAL
Fordham 46
Miami-Florida 61 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 77
Siena 61 FINAL
Iona 71
Washington St 48 FINAL
(9) Arizona State 67
Ark-Pine Bluff 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 51
(23) Rutgers 57 FINAL
(24) Northwestern 62
Tennessee St 71 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 59
Loyola Marymount 50 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
(18) Texas A&M 65 FINAL
LSU 71
Cincinnati 76 FINAL
UCF 66
Saint Josephs 61 FINAL
Dayton 80
UCLA 62 FINAL
(19) Stanford 67
Santa Clara 42 FINAL
San Diego 51
Virginia Tech 43 FINAL
(7) Florida State 82
SMU 59 FINAL
Memphis 71
Lehigh 75 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Rhode Island 53 FINAL
Duquesne 66
North Florida 35 FINAL
(20) Fla Gulf Coast 74
Kennesaw St 54 FINAL
Jacksonville 55
USC Upstate 45 FINAL
Northern Ky 64
Lipscomb 69 FINAL
Stetson 92
Nebraska 65 FINAL
(14) Iowa 74
Saint Peters 57 FINAL
Marist 62
Navy 60 FINAL
Bucknell 49
Lafayette 56 FINAL
American Univ 79
Colgate 45 FINAL
Army 48
Georgia 41 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 75
Dartmouth 71 FINAL
Brown 53
Penn 50 FINAL
Columbia 36
(13) Princeton 70 FINAL
Cornell 37
Kansas 49 FINAL
Kansas State 57
Harvard 68 FINAL
Yale 63
(15) North Carolina 75 FINAL
(10) Louisville 77
San Jose St 99 FINAL
UNLV 97
Houston 39 FINAL
Tulane 64
Utah State 58 FINAL
Colorado State 76
Colorado 68 FINAL
(8) Oregon State 65
New Mexico 66 FINAL
Wyoming 55
Minnesota 71 FINAL
Ohio State 83
(12) Kentucky 76 FINAL
(11) Miss State 67
San Diego State 44 FINAL
Nevada 50
Niagara 57 FINAL
Fairfield 65
Texas Tech 40 FINAL
West Virginia 59
Boise State 42 2nd Half 4:31
Fresno State 43
Washington 0 1st Half 20:00
California 0

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question

Countdown to great deals

Bid March 15-23

    ADVERTISEMENT

    ADVERTISEMENT

    ADVERTISEMENT

    ADVERTISEMENT

    Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

    ADVERTISEMENT