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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Unhappy Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky: 'I can't be quiet'

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild coaching, Wild news, Wild pregame skate Updated: January 31, 2012 - 3:55 PM


As I hinted at this morning, this Marek Zidlicky thing has hit a breaking point.

Zidlicky is unhappy, something I learned this morning when the veteran defenseman came looking for me to offer his opinion on the fact that tonight against his former team, the Nashville Predators, he’ll be scratched for a third consecutive game.

Zidlicky was critical of coach Mike Yeo, the way he has been treated and the fact that he loves the game too much to sit idly by if the Wild keeps scratching him.

While Zidlicky didn’t say he has asked for a trade, he indicated he is willing to waive his no-trade clause if this continues.

“I can’t be quiet,” Zidlicky began during our sitdown, which you can read more details about in tomorrow’s Star Tribune. “I think three games healthy scratch, it’s more than just like a healthy scratch. [Yeo’s] put me in this position that I am in right now. It’s not easy for me. It’s good for team probably because the guys played pretty well the last two games, but for me, I did everything what he wants me to do. I played like 17, 18 minutes ice time, I play just third, fourth line, I stood on the blue line, I didn’t do anything what I did years before. He said everything I do with the puck and without the puck, it’s wrong. So I have a little different opinion.”

Zidlicky said that since he doesn’t get out with top guys, he spends most his shifts in the defensive zone and “if you spend most time in our zone, you can’t do anything. It can be anybody.” He said he has tried to tell Yeo twice what’s wrong with the power play and who can play the power play, but Yeo told him it wasn’t his business.

“He doesn’t like what I’m doing,” Zidlicky said. “If I’m an offensive player, I’m supposed to play with the top guys. He should show me, ‘You are that guy, and you will be out there the last minute when we need to score.’ There was a lot of times when I just laid on the bench and just wait for my chance. We had a couple meetings about that after 10, 15 games in the season, and I can’t change my style. That’s what I know. That’s for sure. He wants to play easy hockey. I tried everything what he wants, but apparently it doesn’t work.”

Zidlicky, who turns 35 Friday, said of Yeo’s system: “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t my style. I tried to explain it to him couple times, but he wants something different. I don’t think I can change something when you are like 34 years old.”

Zidlicky’s no-trade and no-move clause lasts through the draft. I asked Zidlicky if he has asked to be traded. He paused long.

“That’s, that’s the option, too. That’s only what I’m thinking right now because I still love hockey. That’s my whole life. Every player likes hockey and nobody likes to be healthy scratch three games, four games. It doesn’t help yourself, it doesn’t help your team, it doesn’t help anybody. I’m just thinking it’s pretty tough right now for me. My son, he’s in first grade and he needs both parents here. So it’s very tough. I don’t want to be selfish, go somewhere and I will be happy and leave my son here in the school. So, we will see. I just wanted to say something about this situation because a lot of guys are writing something different about me and I just wanted to tell you my opinion.”

However, to be clear, I asked again if he’s willing to waive his no-trade. He essentially said he wants Yeo to tell him where he stands and that if he continues to be scratched, he’d rather be elsewhere.
“If he doesn’t have a place here for me, OK, I will take that. Just talk to me more and just tell me what’s my position,” Zidlicky said. “It’s not easy. I like the hockey. I like to play. I’m never thinking about myself. I’m never thinking how many scores I will have after the season. I just do my best for team. I enjoy the hockey. That’s the key. If you don’t enjoy the game, you’re done.”

After Zidlicky sought me out this morning, I went to get a response from Yeo. That will come later tonight I believe, but Zidlicky’s comments to me did trigger a long meeting between Zidlicky and GM Chuck Fletcher.

Fletcher has chosen to keep the contents of that meeting private, but you can bet this is a distraction Fletcher doesn’t want to infiltrate the locker room.

Fletcher has a lot of respect for Zidlicky and believes in him as a player, but there is zero doubt Fletcher will investigate trading Zidlicky now. If he finds a fit, it’ll be up to Zidlicky as to whether or not he wants to move.

He has one more year left on his contract at $4 million. He has no goals and 11 assists in 34 games and is a minus-9 the past 13 games and was a minus-5 in Philadelphia and Toronto (the last two games he played).

In the past 15 games without Zidlicky, the Wild is 12-3. In the past 16 games with him, it was 2-10-4.
Do I think Zidlicky can be moved? He’s obviously not had a very good season, but he has performed very well throughout his NHL career, is a power-play specialist and everybody covets a right-shot defenseman with a big shot. So, I do think it’s possible.

“Z is a talented player, and he at times can be quite creative, almost to a fault,” Preds coach Barry Trotz said this morning. “He has a tremendous skill level. He was an important player for us a few years back. Players go through that.”

I get how frustrated Zidlicky is. This guy cares a lot, he’s got a lot of pride. He’s competitive. But after two wins in a row, it was doubtful Yeo was going to change the lineup tonight and you can bet the team’s not happy that after two wins in a row, this was the forum Zidlicky decided to air his grievances.
The team was losing with Zidlicky in the lineup, and after the last two losses on that ghastly road trip, Yeo had to do something. You can’t just keep pulling guys, like Justin Falk, or sending guys that are performing well to the minors, like Nate Prosser, because you don’t want to bruise a veteran’s ego.

So how does this end? Stay tuned.

 

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