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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Koivu to return to normal line; Lundin done for the year; "Play the Kids"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: March 21, 2012 - 3:42 PM

As mentioned on the previous blog, captain Mikko Koivu will return from a shoulder injury Thursday night against Jarome Iginla (like the Flames need anybody else when facing the Wild) and the Calgary Flames.

Koivu will return to his normal line -- between wingers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. Heatley, for one, will likely welcome Koivu's return. He has one goal in the past 16 games (that late goal in the Wild's shocking waning-minute comeback March 1 in Montreal) and no points in the past eight.

Coach Mike Yeo said he'd monitor Koivu's ice time, but "knowing Mikko, he's not going to be too pleased" to not get normal minutes, Yeo said, so expect Koivu to play regularly.

"It should provide a big lift for our group," Yeo said. "It’s a big lift for all of us. We’re excited to have him back in there. What a leader he is for us as far as emotionally what he puts into a game and his will to win every night and skillwise what he can add to our group."

On my Twitter, this blog and emails, I keep seeing, "Why bother?"; "Why don't they shut him down?"; "Now they may win and ruin our draft pick" comments and questions.

Hey, I get it. As I've contended through my history covering this team, the Wild's mediocrity has kept it from ever getting top-5 picks. They're always just good enough to get the 10th pick. My theory with this team has always been, "Hey, if you're not going to make the playoffs, really don't make the playoffs."

BUT -- No team is going to forbid its captain to play with 10 games left in a season if he's ready. As Yeo says, the Wild's trying to change the culture of being a losing team, so it refuses to just tank the last 10 games. Said Yeo this morning, "We're not packing it in."

As somebody else high up in the organization said to me this morning, "As painful as it might be to not get a top-5 pick now, trust me, losing games is a lot more painful."

Now if there was a Mario Lemieux in the 2012 draft, I'd probably campaign for the Wild to tank it like Eddie Johnston and the Pittsburgh Penguins allegedly did late in the 1983-84 season.

What else? I chatted with Erik Christensen again this morning and talked to him more in depth for a bit of a deeper story on him. I said yesterday that would appear in Thursday's paper. I may actually hold that to advance his first game against his previous team, the Rangers, next week.

Defenseman Mike Lundin underwent successful surgery on a sports hernia last week and is done for the season. It'll be a 2-3-month recovery and he's expected to have a full one. That'll put a wrap to his Wild homecoming obviously. The former Apple Valley High standout played 17 games featuring two assists. He started the season with a back problem, played hurt all year and spent many nights as a healthy scratch. Unfortunate return to Minnesota for a good guy.

Justin Falk has started skating and may be able to return from a knee injury sometime next week.

I wanted to point something else out that also lately I'm seeing on the comment section of the blog a lot. I keep on seeing it's time to "play the kids" and call em up from Houston.

Essentially, that's not allowed in the NHL. You're allowed three four non-emergency callups after the trade deadline and the Wild's exhausted that. So the only callups still permitted are emergency callups. That's why Matt Hackett had to go back the second Niklas Backstrom returned. That's why if a Chad Rau was called up for an injured forward, he'd have to go back the second the Wild was healthy at forward.

With 10 games left and one extra forward on the roster now that Koivu's coming back, there will certainly be more "emergencies," but they couldn't be permanent unless there were other injuries.

The same goes with a guy like Brett Bulmer. I've gotten questions about whether he'll be on the Wild roster this season if Kelowna goes out in the WHL playoffs. He can only be recalled in an emergency situation once Kelowna's season is over. The Wild wouldn't be allowed to just put him on the roster unless, again, it's in an "emergency" situation. 

His next game played in Minnesota this year, by the way, would burn a year of his contract because it'll be his 10th game. That means it'd make him a restricted free agent after two more seasons instead of three and most importantly, an unrestricted free agent in six years, not seven. But I don't think the Wild would be too concerned if it burns a year. So if Kelowna loses in the playoffs and the Wild's in an emergency situation, there is a chance we see Bulmer again this season. Otherwise, he'd be Houston bound most likely.

As for all the Jason Zucker questions I keep getting, when DU is eliminated, if the Wild and Zucker opt for a contract, I don't see the Wild giving him games this year. Just my opinion. I think the more likely scenario IF he's healthy is games in Houston.

In fact, a number of prospects could be getting amateur tryouts soon in Houston, like Notre Dame's Sean Lorenz. My guess is he's with the Aeros in Chicago by the weekend.

Lastly, finally, after almost a month of being sick like many of his HIFK teammates, Mikael Granlund is expected to return for the first game of IFK's playoff series with Jokerit tomorrow.

Koivu's Turku team? Donezo. Finished 10th.

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