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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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.
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).
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).
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.
Wild players report for physicals and fitness testing Sept. 18 with camp officially opening on the ice Sept. 19, but as always, the Wild will take part in a prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
The information and roster is below.
If you missed yesterday's Q and A with Wild coach Mike Yeo at the Star Tribune booth at the State Fair, here is a replay. Good primer for training camp.
I will also be at the State Fair KFAN booth with Paul Allen on Friday starting at 9:55 a.m. talking Wild.
MINNESOTA WILD TO PARTICIPATE IN 2014 NHL PROSPECTS TOURNAMENT IN TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN, SEPTEMBER 12-16
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher today announced the National Hockey League (NHL) club will participate in the 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., Sept. 12-16. Wild prospects will compete in the tournament’s Gordie Howe Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues. The Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars and New York Rangers will play in the Ted Lindsay Division.
Minnesota’s roster features a total of 12 Wild draft picks: G Alexandre Belanger (2013, 7th round), LW Raphael Bussieres (2012, 2nd round), C Reid Duke (2014, 6th round), D Matt Dumba (2012, 1st round), D Tanner Faith (2014, 5th round), RW Kurtis Gabriel (2013, 3rd round), C Tyler Graovac (2011, 7th round), G Johan Gustafsson (2010, 6th round), RW Pavel Jenys (2014, 7th round), D Dylan Labbe (2013, 4th round), C Chase Lang (2014, 6th round) and D Gustav Olofsson (2013, 2nd round) along with four free agents signed during the 2013-14 season: C Brady Brassart, D Christian Folin, D Guillaume Gelinas and RW Zack Mitchell. Iowa Wild Head Coach Kurt Kleinendorst and Assistant Coach Steve Poapst will lead the Wild prospects.
Fans can visit www.wild.com for tournament updates including reports from Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. Minnesota is set to open its 2014 Training Camp presented by Andersen Windows on Friday, Sept. 19. A complete training camp schedule and roster will be announced prior to the start of training camp.
2014 MINNESOTA WILD TRAVERSE CITY PROSPECTS TOURNAMENT ROSTER
FORWARDS HT WT SHOOTS BORN BIRTHPLACE 2013-14 TEAM LGE GP G A PTS PIM ACQ
82 Olivier Archambault 6-0 190 Left 2/16/93 Le Gardeur, Quebec Quebec QMJHL 38 19 27 46 37 INVITEE
80 Jessey Astles 6-2 205 Left 6/4/93 Coquitlam, British Columbia Tri-City WHL 50 11 9 20 67 INVITEE
62 Brady Brassart 6-2 196 Right 6/15/93 Vernon, British Columbia Calgary WHL 70 35 50 85 94 FA/14
49 Raphael Bussieres 6-1 198 Left 11/5/93 Longueuil, Quebec Iowa AHL 61 5 14 19 51 EN/12
75 Reid Duke 6-0 189 Right 1/28/96 Calgary, Alberta Lethbridge WHL 62 15 25 40 91 EN/14
53 Tyler Graovac 6-4 205 Left 4/27/93 Brampton, Ontario Iowa AHL 64 13 12 25 29 EN/11
63 Kurtis Gabriel 6-4 214 Right 4/20/93 New Market, Ontario Owen Sound OHL 60 16 35 51 99 EN/13
47 Reid Gardiner 5-11 185 Right 1/19/96 Humboldt, Saskatchewan Prince Albert WHL 70 22 22 44 39 INVITEE
57 Ryan Graham 6-2 205 Left 5/6/96 Calgary, Alberta Saskatoon WHL 70 15 8 23 37 INVITEE
81 Pavel Jenys 6-2 198 Left 4/2/96 Brno, Czech Republic Brno Czech 29 2 0 2 4 EN/14
76 Chase Lang 6-1 182 Right 9/13/96 Nanaimo, British Columbia Calgary WHL 68 10 15 25 52 EN/14
59 Zack Mitchell 6-0 184 Right 1/7/93 Caledon, Ontario Guelph OHL 67 31 52 83 40 FA/14
67 Andrew Ryan 6-3 202 Left 1/15/94 St. John’s Newfoundland Halifax QMJHL 56 27 28 55 52 INVITEE
71 Ryan Walters 6-0 190 Left 7/30/91 Rosemount, Minnesota Nebraska-Omaha NCHC 34 6 24 30 16 INVITEE
DEFENSEMEN HT WT SHOOTS BORN BIRTHPLACE 2013-14 TEAM LGE GP G A PTS PIM ACQ
55 Matt Dumba 6-0 183 Right 7/25/94 Regina, Saskatchewan Minnesota NHL 13 1 1 2 2 EN/12
Portland WHL 26 8 16 24 37
73 Tanner Faith 6-3 211 Right 10/5/95 Terrace, British Columbia Kootenay WHL 10 0 1 1 9 EN/14
5 Christian Folin 6-3 210 Right 2/9/91 Gothenburg, Sweden UMass-Lowell HE 41 6 14 20 31 FA/14
34 Guillaume Gelinas 5-10 185 Left 6/14/93 Quebec City, Quebec Val d’Or QMJHL 67 23 69 92 81 FA/14
68 Alex Gudbranson 6-2 204 Right 9/3/94 Orleans, Ontario Sault Ste. Marie OHL 66 7 8 15 76 INVITEE
78 Dylan Labbe 6-2 194 Left 1/19/95 St. George, Quebec Shawinigan QMJHL 63 9 18 27 20 EN/13
23 Gustav Olofsson 6-4 191 Left 12/1/94 Boras, Sweden Colorado College NCHC 30 4 4 8 20 EN/13
79 Hunter Warner 6-2 202 Right 9/21/95 Eden Prairie, Minnesota Waterloo/Fargo USHL 50 2 10 12 127 INVITEE
GOALTENDERS HT WT CATCHES BORN BIRTHPLACE 2013-14 TEAM LGE GPI W-L-OT SO GAA SV% ACQ
50 Alexandre Belanger 6-1 184 Left 8/19/95 Sherbrooke, Quebec Rouyn-Noranda QMJHL 52 28-18-3 1 3.23 .881 EN/13
31 Johan Gustafsson 6-2 202 Left 2/28/92 Koping, Sweden Iowa AHL 40 12-20-4 1 2.98 .903 EN/10
70 Brandon Whitney 6-5 208 Right 5/11/94 Kentville, Nova Scotia Victoriaville QMJHL 41 13-18-7 4 3.25 .906 INVITEE
2014 MINNESOTA WILD PROSPECTS TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE*
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12
2:30 p.m. Minnesota vs. Columbus
3:00 p.m. Buffalo vs. Carolina
6:00 p.m. New York Rangers vs. Dallas
6:30 p.m. Detroit vs. St. Louis
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13
2:30 p.m. Carolina vs. Dallas
3:00 p.m. Minnesota vs. St. Louis
6:00 p.m. Buffalo vs. New York Rangers
6:30 p.m. Detroit vs. Columbus
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 15
2:00 p.m. Dallas vs. Buffalo
2:30 p.m. Columbus vs. St. Louis
5:30 p.m. New York Rangers vs. Carolina
6:00 p.m. Minnesota vs. Detroit
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16
2:00 p.m. Seventh Place Game (4th Howe vs. 4th Lindsay)
2:30 p.m. Fifth Place Game (3rd Howe vs. 3rd Lindsay)
5:30 p.m. Third Place Game (2nd Howe vs. 2nd Lindsay)
6:00 p.m. Championship Game (1st Howe vs. 1st Lindsay)
* All times listed are Central
Going to the Minnesota State Fair? Toss this in your calendars: Wild coach Mike Yeo will visit the Star Tribune booth on Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 1:30 p.m.
On the back patio of our booth, I will conduct a Q and A with Yeo regarding the upcoming season. If you attend, please come on by and you can even ask a question yourself. Or, if you cannot attend, tweet me at @russostrib that morning and I’ll try to ask Yeo your question. The Q and A will be streamed live on www.startribune.com/wild.
If you have attended these in previous State Fairs with Yeo or GM Chuck Fletcher, it’s always a good, candid chat and fun time for the many who attend, so please join. You can even get free Star Tribune Chap Stick!
I will also be broadcasting with Paul Allen at the KFAN booth at 9:55-10:55 a.m. Friday, August 29, so stop on by.
--Speaking of the Wild, the team just announced that preseason single-game tickets will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. Regular-season single-game tickets will go on sale Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. at Xcel Energy Center’s box office and noon at Ticketmaster and all other locations. Tickets start at $32. The team also announced the return of the five-game pack. Those are available at the State Fair and wild.com/5game.
--Throughout the Twin Cities, the pre-training camp skates run by Octagon (Ben Hankinson and Chris McAlpine) and Neil Sheehy have started. Those include Wild players and Minnesota-based NHLers, college players and some elite high school players. I checked out the Octagon skate a few times this week and players like Zach Parise, Josh Harding, Keith Ballard, Ryan McDonagh, Dustin Byfuglien, Derek Stepan, Ryan Malone, Matt Carle, Ryan Jones, Alex Goligoski, Clayton Stoner, Stephane Veilleux, Matt Cooke, Matt Hendricks, Drew Stafford, Kyle Okposo, Tim Jackman, John Scott, Mark Alt, Nate Condon, Davis Drewiske were there. Sorry if I missed a few. I was also impressed young Wild players like Christian Folin and Kurtis Gabriel are already in town.
“I just want to get used to everything and give myself the best possible chance [to make the team],” Folin said.
“I want to be the best I can be,” Gabriel said.
Malone looked good and with his legal issues soon behind him from Tampa, one would think somebody signs him (Rangers have talked to him) or he attends a training camp on a tryout.
--The guy who looked really good was Harding. He hasn’t played an NHL game since Dec. 31, so it was a good sign to see him back on the ice and looking like he hasn’t missed a beat. Remember, he led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage last year. If you remember, he was practicing every day of the Chicago series, so he was close to returning last postseason. Health-wise now, he says he feels great and on the ice, he looks great.
So, that’s a good sign. Fletcher also said last week that Nik Backstrom continues to feel good and should be ready to go when camp begins Sept. 18.
--All this is interesting because durable veteran Ilya Bryzgalov, who went 7-1-3 down the stretch of the regular season to help the Wild make the playoffs (lone regulation loss was that meaningless finale vs. Nashville), wants to return to the Wild, his agent tells me.
“Ilya would very much like to return to the Wild and further the success the team had down the stretch last year,” agent Ritch Winter said. “It was one of the most satisfying experiences he has had in his career.
“Ilya loved his teammates in Minnesota, loved the city and loved and appreciated the support he received from the coaching staff and Wild fans. He would love to be a part of helping this team to enjoy the success they had together last year.
“He has instructed me to do all I can to facilitate a return to the Twin Cities even if it requires him to compromise somewhat to accommodate the budget issues facing the team if that becomes a possibility.”
The issue is roster room. Harding assures Fletcher he is ready to go. Same with Backstrom. Right now, Darcy Kuemper remains unsigned, but the Wild is working toward re-signing him.
Fletcher has great respect for Bryzgalov, but he has said that with Harding, Backstrom and eventually Kuemper occupying three of the 23-man roster, it’s tough to simply sign Bryzgalov.
From the previous blog, Fletcher said he intentionally communicated with Backstrom and Harding to make sure they were OK and there were no issues he was unaware of in case he needed to react and address the situation by signing Bryzgalov or somebody else.
But Fletcher said, “everything’s a go with both goalies” and “this is how we’re going to start.”
“If something happens, like any player at any position, we’ll react,” Fletcher continued. “There’s always a way to react if you need to, but at this point, we’re comfortable with our situation. They’re quality goaltenders and I’m not losing any sleep over it. We have confidence in them and this is how we’re going to start. There’s no reason to doubt their ability. If they’re healthy, we’ll be fine. And God forbid if a situation happens like last year, then we’ll deal with it. We have three goalies. It’s not like we have one. We have three. We feel we have depth, quality and quantity, and there’s just no reason to doubt the players that are there.”
For Fletcher’s full quotes, see the previous blog.
So, right now, Winter will continue to talk to Fletcher, but if all the goalies remain healthy, Fletcher may be unwavering here.
-- On Sept. 6 at Fogerty Arena at 6 p.m., there will be an NHL Alumni Game to honor Wyatt Klute, a 14-year-old freshman at Blaine who has been diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma. For more information on the game, go to http://www.wyattklute.com
--Here is the Wild's Fox Sports North broadcast schedule for this upcoming season:
2014-15 Minnesota Wild – FOX Sports North Schedule
Date Day Opponent Time
Oct. 11 Saturday at Colorado 8:00pm
Oct. 17 Friday at Anaheim 9:00pm
Oct. 19 Sunday at Los Angeles 2:00pm
Oct. 23 Thursday Arizona 7:00pm
Oct. 25 Saturday Tampa Bay 7:00pm
Oct. 27 Monday at NY Rangers 6:00pm
Oct. 30 Thursday San Jose 7:00pm +
Nov. 1 Saturday Dallas 7:00pm
Nov. 4 Tuesday Pittsburgh 7:00pm
Nov. 6 Thursday at Ottawa 6:30pm
Nov. 8 Saturday at Montreal 6:00pm +
Nov. 11 Tuesday at New Jersey 6:00pm
Nov. 13 Thursday Buffalo 7:00pm
Nov. 15 Saturday at Dallas 1:00pm
Nov. 16 Sunday Winnipeg 4:00pm
Nov. 20 Thursday at Philadelphia 6:00pm
Nov. 22 Saturday at Tampa Bay 6:00pm +
Nov. 24 Monday at Florida 6:30pm
Nov. 26 Wednesday Los Angeles 7:00pm
Nov. 28 Friday at Dallas 7:30pm +
Nov. 29 Saturday St. Louis 7:00pm
Dec. 3 Wednesday Montreal 6:00pm
Dec. 5 Friday Anaheim 7:00pm +
Dec. 9 Tuesday NY Islanders 7:00pm
Dec. 11 Thursday at San Jose 9:30pm
Dec. 13 Saturday at Arizona 7:00pm
Dec. 16 Tuesday at Chicago 7:30pm
Dec. 20 Saturday Nashville 7:00pm
Dec. 23 Tuesday Philadelphia 6:00pm +
Dec. 27 Saturday Winnipeg 6:00pm
Dec. 29 Monday at Winnipeg 7:00pm
Dec. 31 Wednesday at Columbus 6:00pm
Jan. 2 Friday Toronto 7:00pm
Jan. 3 Saturday at Dallas 7:00pm
Jan. 8 Thursday Chicago 7:00pm
Jan. 10 Saturday Nashville 1:00pm
Jan. 15 Thursday at Buffalo 6:00pm
Jan. 17 Saturday Arizona 8:00pm
Jan. 19 Monday Columbus 7:00pm
Jan. 20 Tuesday at Detroit 6:30pm
Jan. 27 Tuesday at Edmonton 8:30pm
Jan. 29 Thursday at Calgary 8:00pm
Feb. 1 Sunday at Vancouver 2:30pm
Feb. 7 Saturday Colorado 7:00pm
Feb. 9 Monday Vancouver 7:00pm
Feb. 10 Tuesday at Winnipeg 7:00pm
Feb. 12 Thursday Florida 7:00pm
Feb. 14 Saturday Carolina 7:00pm
Feb. 16 Monday at Vancouver 9:00pm
Feb. 18 Wednesday at Calgary 8:30pm
Feb. 20 Friday at Edmonton 8:00pm+
Feb. 24 Tuesday Edmonton 7:00pm
Feb. 28 Saturday at Colorado 9:00pm
Mar. 3 Tuesday Ottawa 7:00pm
Mar. 5 Thursday at Washington 6:00pm
Mar. 6 Friday at Carolina 6:00pm
Mar. 8 Sunday Colorado 5:00pm
Mar. 10 Tuesday New Jersey 7:00pm
Mar. 13 Friday Anaheim 7:00pm
Mar. 14 Saturday at St. Louis 7:00pm
Mar. 17 Tuesday at Nashville 7:00pm
Mar. 19 Thursday Washington 7:00pm
Mar. 21 Saturday St. Louis 1:00pm
Mar. 23 Monday at Toronto 6:30pm
Mar. 24 Tuesday at NY Islanders 6:00pm
Mar. 27 Friday Calgary 7:00pm+
Mar. 28 Saturday Los Angeles 7:00pm
Apr. 2 Thursday NY Rangers 7:00pm
Apr. 4 Saturday Detroit 6:00pm
Apr. 6 Monday Winnipeg 7:00pm
Apr. 9 Thursday at Nashville 7:00pm
+ airs on FOX Sports North Plus
All Times Central
Schedule Subject to Change
Five weeks from Thursday, the Wild opens training camp, but we are still very much in the dog days of summer.
Other than #ALSIceBucketChallenge’s, the NHL is on unofficial hiatus, and that still includes your Wild.
There’s really little of note going on.
Coach Mike Yeo and his staff are back in town and are preparing for camp. So is General Manager Chuck Fletcher. It’s been a week of meetings as the Wild has met to plan its training camp schedule, tries to determine how many exhibition games the prospects, youngsters and vets will play, decides whether the team will take a bonding trip at the end of camp or maybe even between Games 2 and 3 of the season (oddly, the Wild has five off-days) and even stuff like the likelihood of a father-son trip, etc.
Fletcher has also spent the month dialing up some veterans to check in. Two include the goalies, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.
Backstrom had season-ending abdominal surgery and hip surgery last season and Harding didn’t play in 2014 due to complications with multiple sclerosis. Fletcher has talked with both the past two weeks to ensure that they’re still both well and that he doesn’t need to go out and sign a free agent, like Ilya Bryzgalov, who remains unsigned despite going 7-1-3 down the regular season’s stretch to guide Minnesota into the playoffs.
“Everything’s a go with both goalies,” Fletcher said of Backstrom and Harding. “Everybody seems to be feeling pretty good, and at this stage, knock on wood, all of our players who were banged up at the end of the season is feeling better. Josh has felt good. Right now we’re not expecting any issues for anybody with respect to passing training camp medicals.
“Now’s the time of the year, with about a month to go, you want to reach out and make sure there’s no issues you don’t know about so if there is something you have time to help the process. With Josh and Nik, you’re just trying to reach out and see how they’re doing. They’re both doing really well.
“There’s still some quality goaltenders out there. Ilya’s out there and a few others, so there’s that type of option out there. But we’re happy with the quality of our goaltending. When guys have been healthy, they’ve performed well. Darcy [Kuemper] also showed some glimpses of what we hope he’ll become, so we’re comfortable with those three goaltenders. People always ask if I’m worried about it, and I’m not worried about it. You never know what’s going to happen. Injuries can happen to anybody and certainly you can’t predict things, but guys are healthy and typically when Backstrom and Harding are healthy, they play well. If something happens, like any player at any position, we’ll react. There’s always a way to react if you need to, but at this point, we’re comfortable with our situation. They’re quality goaltenders and I’m not losing any sleep over it. We have confidence in them and this is how we’re going to start. There’s no reason to doubt their ability. If they’re healthy, we’ll be fine. And God forbid if a situation happens like last year, then we’ll deal with it. We have three goalies. It’s not like we have one. We have three. We feel we have depth, quality and quantity, and there’s just no reason to doubt the players that are there.”
Speaking of Harding, check out his #ALSIceBucketChallenge. I told him he should have worn his mask.
-- Kuemper and Nino Niederreiter remain unsigned and there have been no conversations since I blogged two weeks ago. Fletcher said, “There’s been nothing lately. In the near future, I’m sure I’ll speak with both agents and we’ll just continue the process. I’ll reach out to them in the near future. We’re over a month ‘til camp. We’ll keep plugging along.”
Again, for more on their situations specifically, read this blog.
-- Nick Seeler, a junior defenseman at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, has stunningly left college at this late juncture. It seems to have caught the Wild off guard, too, the team that drafted the former Eden Prairie High defenseman in the fifth round in 2011. There are apparently no off-ice issues and just a decision made by the family to leave the program.
The problem is his choices are limited now. He is 21, so he is too old to play junior. He can go to Europe. He can transfer colleges, but he couldn’t play next season. So that may leave the only option as turning pro with the Wild.
“We’ll have some conversations with Nick and his family,” Fletcher said. “[Director of Player Development] Brad Bombardir has already had a lot of conversations with Nick and his family and we’ll just continue that dialogue. We’ll try to figure out the best path for him and his career, whether that’s going to a different college or turning pro. I think every option is on the table. We’ll just try to sit down and decide what ultimately makes sense for Nick and the organization. This just kind of happened. The timing, the middle of August, isn’t what you’d normally expect, but it is what it is, and we’ll just kind of deal with it and make the best decisions we can for his development. At this point, nothing’s been decided. We’ll take a little time. Ultimately, Nick will have to decide what he desires to do and then we’ll have to make the decision for everybody.”
-- It has been reported that the Wild, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have shown interest in former Arizona Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette, aka @biznasty2point0, the second-most followed NHLer on Twitter and the genius behind this:
Selfishly, the colorful player would be a sportswriter’s dream, and if you’ve read my features on Bissonnette before, you know I have enjoyed writing about him.
Fletcher likes him, too, from their days in the Pittsburgh organization, but this sounds more like Biznasty’s agent, Mark Guy, called Fletcher and Fletcher fielded the call and at least entertained the proposition. But it has gone no further to this point.
“I’m always speaking to agents,” Fletcher said. “There’s probably 15 guys without contracts right now whose agents are calling weekly or a couple times a week and I’ve had lots of conversations with all of them about potential fit and scenarios with different players. We’re always talking to agents. I’ve spoken to our scouts and coaches about players. I mean, this is what you do late in the summer. You’re always looking to see if there’s somebody out there that fits, that you have a role for, that would make sense. But at this point, I haven’t made offers to any unrestricted free agents that are out there and I don’t know that we will. You never know, but at this point, I don’t know that we will. We’re definitely comfortable starting with what we have right now, but you’re not doing your job if you’re not taking calls and making calls and asking questions. That’s the best way to characterize it.”
Here are a few other Wild #ALSIceBucketChallenge's, and if you missed the others, see the below blogs:
Last blog, I presented to you some Ice Bucket Challenge's from Zach Parise, Keith Ballard and Stephane Veilleux. More Wild peeps are joining the fun to raise awareness and money for ALS research.
Ballard challenged me, so naturally, I challenged Wild captain Mikko Koivu, along with Kevin Falness and Paul Fletcher.
Koivu accepted my challenge as you can see below. In recent minutes, coach Mike Yeo also accepted equipment manager Tony DaCosta's challenge and paid it forward -- so to speak -- to Wild TV broadcasters Mike Greenlay, Anthony LaPanta and Kevin Gorg, as you can see below.
Koivu has challenged Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Suter, along with assistant athletic therapist John Worley. I know Brodziak and Worley have accepted, as has Charlie Coyle accepted Cities 97's Paul Fletcher's challenge.
All for a good cause. Some videos for your viewing pleasure.
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