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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Locked-out NHLers start beer league; Some Wild employees take paycuts; Lockout web chat Tuesday

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: September 17, 2012 - 6:42 PM

 

Columnist Rachel Blount, video producer Shari Gross and I trekked miles and miles down to St. Louis Park this morning to watch a bunch of locked-out NHLers skate in a glorified beer league. More on that in a jiffy.
 
Here is a video with Rachel and I talking about the lockout and here is a video produced by Shari where you can hear from Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Devin Setoguchi and Niklas Backstrom.
 
On Tuesday at 2 p.m., please return to www.startribune.com/wild, where I will be hosting a live chat about the lockout. Please come armed with questions and I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can in an hour’s time.
 
During an all-company meeting at 2 p.m., a group of Wild executives announced to a staff of 200+ Wild employees that there are no layoffs planned imminently. Of course, if this lockout lasts a long time, those plans could change.
 
Also, it was also announced that any employee making what I’m told is $70,000 or more a year will receive a paycut. That includes mostly executives and higher-compensated employees on the business side and coaches, management and broadcasters on the hockey ops side.
 
According to sources, there’s two levels of salary reductions depending on the position. Some are receiving a 30 percent cut in pay on the overage over 70K, others are receiving a 35 percent cut in pay on the overage over 70K.
 
Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka said, “We wanted to have the impact be least for those who could least afford it.”
 
On the previous blog, I outlined the options season-ticket holders have. Here's exact details from the Wild.
 
“We’ve had a most remarkable summer and our fans have responded in an incredible way,” Majka said. “We are as excited as they are to start the season. I have heard both sides of this negotiation say they want to play hockey, and I believe them when they say that. So I’m going to take the hopeful position that we will have a settlement relatively soon and I’m still hopeful we can play a full season.”
 
Down at St. Louis Park Center today, several guys were there skating, including Wild players Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Kyle Brodziak, Devin Setoguchi, Darroll Powe, Torrey Mitchell, Stephane Veilleux, Tom Gilbert, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner and Jake Dowell. Sorry if I missed anybody.
 
Matt Cullen’s usually there, as is Cal Clutterbuck, but congrats to he and his wife on the birth of their first child.
 
Prospects like Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson and Jonas Brodin are also in town but have to rent their own ice because technically they’re not locked out. They’ll report to Houston camp Sept. 28, and I do hear it’s looking good that the first 2 ½ days will be at Xcel Energy Center.
 
Some NHLers include Dustin Byfuglien, Keith Ballard, Paul Martin, Kyle Okposo, Taylor Chorney, Tim Jackman, Alex Goligoski, Andrew Alberts, Ryan Carter, Jack Hillen, John Scott, Davis Drewiske, Matt Smaby, Nate Thompson and Mike Lundin. Sorry if I missed anybody.
 
Agents Ben Hankinson and Chris McAlpine are running the scrimmages, with McAlpine, a former NHL defenseman, even suiting up as a goalie today. Local skating instructors Troy Stevens and Andy Ness have been running the drills.
 
Tuesday, refs will be hired so there are more structured scrimmages. Brodziak did say there are almost too many guys, it’s hard to get reps and that the Wild guys may eventually go on their own and rent their own ice.
 
Read the coverage in Tuesday’s paper please. Some real good quotes.
 
The biggest challenge for these guys will be staying mentally focused if it starts to look like they don’t have that light at the end of the tunnel of NHL hockey. These guys are usually ready for camp now. So how do you stay motivated?
 
“We’re used to going pretty heavy right now,” Setoguchi said. “It’s going to get old, but it has to be done. You have to make sure you’re ready to go once the lockout’s resolved.”
 
Setoguchi, by the way, is in tremendous shape, which is the biggest shame of the delay. Remember, last summer his training when severely affected when he was hit by a car standing INSIDE his chiropractor’s office. Reminder of that story, here.
 
Some NHLers are already heading to play in Europe. None of the guys at St. Louis Park today have decided to leave to play elsewhere. Yet.
 
Backstrom might make that decision in a few days. Koivu can play for Turku, but they have some more investigating to do. NHLers returning to Finland do have major tax implications and insurance issues.
 
On Europe, Backstrom said, “That’s a really good option. I want to play hockey. But it’s what you think is the best thing for you because you’re still under NHL contract. You have to be ready when the season starts. Maybe it’s best to stay here and practice or maybe it’s best to go to Europe and play some really good hockey. There’s some good players, good teams, and they take really good care of you.”
 
On if he worries how this is his last year of his contract and how he may have played his last game with Minnesota if the lockout costs the season: “I worry about Teemu Selanne. I skate with him back home. He’s 42 years old. You look at the good things he’s done for this league, and now suddenty this could be his last year. That wouldn’t be the right way for a future Hall of Famer to go out of the game. He should be out there playing every night, but now they’re not giving us a chance to do that. It’s unfair.”
 
On the union: “Normally we’re a team of 23. But now we are a team of 700. This is about future NHL players. It’s not about today. It’s about tomorrow.”
 
On bargaining: “You can’t sit at the table by yourself. You have to have someone to talk to. We want a fair deal. If we got a fair deal, it could be done in a week. But it’s not up to us. So it’s hard to say how long it’s going to take. I hope it’s going to be one day, two days. But it’s not up to us.
 
“It’s been a great summer for the fans, especially here. The whole organization has been really excited. Now we don’t know when we’ll get a chance to play at Xcel again. It’s tough for the fans. They haven’t done anything wrong. It’s up to the players and the league to get a deal done.”
 
Backstrom feels for the neighborhood businesses that will be hurt, “the people who work at the rink, during games, during practices. It’s tough for all the people that shouldn’t be hurt here. Hockey is in way too good a place to have this happen now. Hockey came back last time. I hope it’s not going to screw up everything now.”
 
Like I said, a lot more in Tuesday's Star Tribune and please come back Tuesday at 2 for that live chat I'm hosting.

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