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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Rick Wilson to be named #mnwild asst. coach; What's your Wild depth chart?; Checking in w/ Hitch; Backstrom's mask

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: August 10, 2010 - 1:20 PM

Finally, after several candidates and many, many days of knowing which of those candidates it wanted to hire and after many, many days of this blog sitting and waiting to be posted, the Wild's expected to name longtime NHL assistant/associate coach Rick Wilson as an assistant later today.

I hear the i's are being dotted and the t's are being crossed at least.

Before we continue, just an fyi, goodbye -- for a few weeks. I'm leaving the keys to this blog platform to Kent Youngblood if there's news or other stuff while I'm away. Twitter should be on hiatus, too, other than some Chelsea updates from the Opening Day of the British Premier League this weekend.

A former University of North Dakota defenseman, Wilson brings a ton of experience to the Wild's relatively-inexperienced bench. He has spent the past 20 years as an assistant or associate coach with the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Wilson began coaching hockey 24 years before Todd Richards’ playing career even ended. In fact, when Wilson began coaching his alma mater, the University of North Dakota, in 1978 as an assistant, Richards was just 12 years old.

He turns 60 today and summers in Bemidji. As I've mentioned on here and Twitter, the delay had to do with working out the contract because Tampa Bay and Dallas each have to pick up a portion of his two-year deal. 

After spending one season with the North Stars in 1992-93, Wilson moved to Dallas with the franchise’s relocation and spent the next 15 seasons with Dallas. Over that time, Wilson helped guide the team to seven division titles, two conference championships, two President’s Trophies and a 1999 Stanley Cup.
 
The Stanley Cup was won as Ken Hitchcock's assistant. I talked to Hitchcock about Wilson, and he raved about the hiring. He calls Wilson's "loyal" and a "big believer in the game being played the right way." He works specifically with the defensemen and getting them to play the right way, Hitchcock said.
 
Here's a few quotes:
 
Here's some quotes from former NHL coach Ken Hitchcock if you want to use:  "We had a lot of success [in Dallas]. He works with young defensemen and molds them, like he did the group in dallas, and he has a great relationship with the older guys. His strength is getting the defensemen to play the right way. He’s a big believer in proper positional play and believes strongly that everything starts from your net out. Protecting your goalie is the prime asset he really believes in.
 
More Hitch: "He was really valuable for me because I came in with a bunch of new ideas, and things that worked in the minors did not in the NHL. The players were too good, were too smart, and they figured it out quickly. He really helped me make the necessary adjustments to what was able to work in the NHL. He has a great ability to tell you down the line, 'this is where this type of system is going to go,' or 'this type of gameplan’s going to go in this direction.' He always knew where the end game was.'"

Wilson was the Stars’ associate coach to Dave Tippett his final six seasons there, focusing on the defensemen and penalty kill. During that time, the Stars finished top-three in fewest goals against four times.

Wilson was also the Stars’ interim head coach for 32 games in 2001-02, going 13-11-7-1. He also was co-coach with Cap Raeder with the Kings for 15 games in 1990-91.
 
He also spent eight seasons coaching the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders – six as an assistant, winning a Memorial Cup in 1985. He began his coaching career as an assistant with his alma mater, the University of North Dakota, where the Fighting Sioux won an NCAA championship in 1980 and two WCHA championships.
 
Drafted by Montreal in the 1970 NHL Amateur Draft, Wilson spent four seasons (1973-77) in the NHL with Montreal, St. Louis and Detroit. He scored 32 points in 239 games.
 
So does Wilson's hiring indicate a change in how the defensemen will play? I hear Wilson is rigid in the way he thinks the defensemen should play, and while I'm told he'll always defer to the head coach, many people I've talked to say Wilson often scoffed in Dallas at letting the defensemen roam free. And a big part of Richards' system is allowing the defensemen to be a big part of the offense. But the Wild gave up 42 more goals last season than 2008-09, so maybe something's giving here.
 
Whether it's me or Kent, one of us should be speaking to Richards today.
 
--Just a quick update on Hitchcock's status. Hitchcock, the veteran NHL coach, lost his job as Columbus' coach last season, but he's got two more years left on his contract at very good money. His plan is to continue working for the Blue Jackets when it comes to projects with the owner and President ("it'll be good experience"), and maybe even scouting.
 
He had some coaching opportunities this offseason, but those were to spend a couple years in a certain situation (probably New Jersey) and then turn it over to somebody else (probably John MacLean, who wound up getting the job). Hitchcock said he's in no rush to get a coaching job and he's fully prepared to take next year off and wait for the next "right" opportunity.
 
He's got no interest in TV.
 
"I want to watch hockey. I want to go to American League games and NHL games, and really focus on the next opportunity. If it comes in the middle of the year, great, but I'm going to make sure I go to the right place," Hitchcock said.
 
Hitchcock is currently spending the summer in Kelowna, B.C., plans to take part in this month's NHL Research, Development and Orientation camp in Toronto and then will return to Columbus for the season.
 
--Here's my Wild depth chart as of now (that for some reason I can't un-bold). What do you think the initial lines should be coming out of camp (assuming the team is healthy)? Remember, there can be a 23-man roster:
 
Forwards
 
1: Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Pierre-Marc Bouchard*
 
2: Guillaume Latendresse-Matt Cullen-Martin Havlat
 
3 or 4: Chuck Kobasew-Kyle Brodziak-Antti Miettinen
 
3 or 4: Eric Nystrom-John Madden-Cal Clutterbuck (I'm dubbing this the 'Keep Your Head Up' line)
 
Brad Staubitz, James Sheppard
 
Vying for spots: Casey Wellman, Robbie Earl, Cody Almond, Colton Gillies
 
*Assuming Bouchard is healthy.
 
Defenseman
 
Nick Schultz-Brent Burns
 
Greg Zanon-Marek Zidlicky
 
Clayton Stoner-Cam Barker
 
Vying for spots: Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Tyler Cuma, Justin Falk
 
Goalies
 
Niklas Backstrom
 
Josh Harding
 
Salary cap
 
$56,652,693 against $59.4 million cap
 
--Also, Wild single-game preseason tickets go on sale August 20 and Wild single-game regular-season tickets go on sale Sept. 11. 
 
Lastly, because there's always a lastly, the Wild announced last Thursday that 15-year-old Peter Best of Plymouth (aka the 5th Beatle) was the winner of the Niklas Backstrom Goalie Mask contest. Backstrom chose the winner himself. Best will be invited to maskmaker Todd Miska's studio to watch him make the mask to Backstrom's specifications. Best will also get to present Backstrom with the mask at training camp, which begins in St. Paul on Sept. 17.
 
The mask, which Backstrom will wear this season, features the skylines of Minneapolis and Saint Paul adorned by wolves, the Finnish flag and the team’s 10th anniversary mark covered by the Wild’s crest.
 
Here it is:

 

 

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