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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Update: Wild announced Harding will not need surgery on a fractured right foot sustained in an off-ice incident Sunday. Out indefinitely.
Update 2: Bryzgalov has accepted a pro tryout with the Wild, according to sources. He is expected to arrive Thursday. Nothing is close with Darcy Kuemper. Things can obviously change with one phone call. However, other than a couple texts, there have been no phone conversations between GM Chuck Fletcher and Kuemper's agent as of 5 p.m.
With the Wild set to start training camp Thursday, coach Mike Yeo and General Manager Chuck Fletcher voiced frustration Wednesday morning over goalie Josh Harding’s sudden ankle injury and the contract dispute the team is having with young goalie Darcy Kuemper.
“All I can tell you is my full attention is on that guy right there,” Yeo said, pointing to veteran Niklas Backstrom on the ice during Wednesday’s informal practice. “He’s the one who is here, he’s the one who put in the work.
“You make plans over the summer. I mean, my staff, we’ve been making plans on who’s practicing, what practices we’re going to have, who’s playing in the exhibition games and this was under the assumption we would have Kuemps and Hards and obviously things have changed dramatically.
“We’ve gone from talking about three goalies to sitting here talking about one (Backstrom). I put on the cool face last year pretending we weren’t frustrated about [our goaltending issues], but we’re not even Day One into camp and we’re already talking about it.”
Added veteran Jason Pominville: "Knock on wood. Hopefully nothing else happens. Hopefully we don't get that 'here we go' feeling again."
Yeo and Fletcher planned to meet with Harding on Wednesday to try to figure out how the off-ice injury occurred (more on that below). Fletcher also hopes to talk with Kuemper’s agent, Jeff Helperl, and has already reached out to Ilya Bryzgalov’s agent about a potential tryout. There are also other options like Tomas Vokoun and Martin Brodeur.
As of now, Fletcher said he doesn’t know how long Harding will be out. But it is very clear this is a long-term injury.
“I’m frustrated and I’m disappointed,” Yeo said. “I’m disappointed for our guys that we’re here before Day One of camp, and we’ve got a lot of guys that put in a lot of work and this is what we’re sitting around talking about. I’d rather us talk about the excitement around our team and the work that these guys put in.
“I think Backy deserves our full attention right now. Things could change obviously as early as today, but right now he’s the guy who’s here, he’s the guy who’s putting in the work. He’s the guy who put in the work over the summer, but again, things could change, but he’s looked good and he’s the guy who is here.”
Things could change because the Wild is working toward trying to re-sign Kuemper, an unsigned 24-year-old restricted free agent who is fighting for a one-way contract.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported earlier this week that Kuemper wants a one-year worth $850,000. Asked if that’s true, Fletcher said Wednesday, “I don’t know. There hasn’t been a lot of communication. I made the last offer and he turned it down. He’s indicated he wants a one-way deal, but I don’t recall if he ever presented anything formally.”
Asked if Harding’s injury puts more pressure on signing Kuemper immediately, Fletcher said, “The situation itself doesn’t change he dynamic. You want to get it done because he’s a good, young goalie, he’s somebody we think has potential to be a good player, but anytime you get into a situation where you’re missing camp, it’s just not healthy. The goal is always to get a contract done. Whether Josh is healthy or not healthy doesn’t really have any impact. You always want to get it done, but you’ve got to do what’s right. We’ll just keep working through it and hopefully get it done.
“The longer it goes the more concern you get just because anytime players miss camp, they tend to have to catch up, particularly in the case of a goaltender, you really need to get back in the flow of things, get your timing. That’s my concern right now. The longer it goes, the more difficult it is for any goaltender to be on top of his game.”
Yeo also addressed the Kuemper situation for the first time, saying, “I’m very frustrated about that to be honest with you. We’re doing what we can here. I understand that there’s both sides to this, but I’m looking at it from our team standpoint, and there’s a very good opportunity there for someone like Kuemps to come in and really prove that he can be a fulltime NHL goalie.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity for him. Not only am I looking at it from a competitive standpoint for our team, I’m looking at the development of this player. I’ve been around long enough to know that if players miss time in training camp, if they miss training camp, then they’re playing catchup the whole season. I think even more so for a young player, I think even more so for a goaltender. It’s going to be a difficult thing.
“I know Chuck and his staff, they’re doing what they can here. But at the same time, you have to remember we’re making decisions not based on just one guy. There’s a trickledown effect that people have to be where they need to be [in a salary structure]. Otherwise you end up losing good players. We have a bunch of good players that we want to keep. Chuck is doing everything he can. I understand there’s a business side of it, but just from my standpoint, I’m frustrated and a little bit disappointed for the guys we have here right now that we’re going through this.”
Yeo also wanted Kuemper to know that he couldn’t care less if he’s on a one-way contract or a two-way contract, whether he requires waivers to get to the minors (he doesn’t) or not. If he’s one of the two best goalies on the team at the end of camp, in Yeo’s mind, he’s on the team regardless of contract.
“I’m not in the negotiations. I don’t know what the numbers are that we’re talking about, but I know one thing that Chuck always gives me and my staff the freedom to take the best players,” Yeo said. “If Kuemper is a good player, he’s going to be here regardless of what his contract situation is. The contract doesn’t mean anything to me.”
As for Harding, Yeo and Fletcher said they plan to meet today.
Details are murky right now, but there was apparently some kind of incident or altercation with a teammate.
“I still don’t know all the details and most likely whatever the details are, I’m not sure I’ll discuss them publicly,” Fletcher said. “Whatever happened we have to figure out. Clearly, it’s bad for Josh, it’s bad for our team. We just have to figure out what happened. But I’m not sure I want to get into a whole public expose of what happened. We’ve got to speak to the players and figure out what happened.”
Harding is in the final year of a contract worth $2.1 million. The Wild once suspended forward James Sheppard for an off-ice ATV accident days before camp that resulted in season-ruining knee surgery. Asked if the Wild conceivably could do the same thing with Harding, Fletcher said, “I don’t want to get into hypotheticals. I just want to hear what happened and figure it out. The bottom line is Josh was arguably our No. 1 goalie going into camp with how he played last year and he was feeling healthy. The bottom line is right now he’s not available to us and that diminishes our depth at that position and it hurts our team. That’s the bottom line right now. However it happened, it’s important to get the answers, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to change the situation. We’ve got to certainly figure out what happened, but now we have to figure out the best way to proceed going forward. That has to be the priority. Our division got better and we have a lot of work ahead of us and this is not the ideal way to start your season.”
Backstrom and John Curry were the Wild goalies in its final informal skate today. Players report for fitness testing and physicals Thursday with the first on-ice session Friday.
Defenseman Ryan Suter is back with the team but didn’t skate today.
Early in camp, players will be split amongst three groups so they can get more reps and conditioning in practice, as opposed to afterward. In the first three days of camp, each group will take part in two scrimmages.
Saturday’s practices from 8:30 a.m.-1 are open to the public and free. The scrimmage starts at 9:25 a.m. The first exhibition game is next Monday in Winnipeg. Regulars are expected to play four or five exhibition games of the six. Day 5 of camp starts the special teams work.
Training camp hasn’t started and the Wild already has serious goaltending issues.
Josh Harding, looking to resurrect himself after missing last season’s second half because of complications from multiple sclerosis, has been sidelined by an ankle injury, multiple sources said Tuesday.
The team, experts when it comes to bad luck with its goaltending health, was totally caught off guard Monday when Harding limped into the trainer’s room. For a month, Harding had been feeling great off the ice and looking great on the ice. He even sat down last week with the Star Tribune to talk about how much he was looking forward to this season.
But suddenly, Harding didn’t take part in the team’s captain’s practices the past two days at Xcel Energy Center, is walking with the use of crutches and will miss at least the start of training camp when players take the ice Friday. The injury did not occur on the ice, sources say.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher was scheduled to return to the Twin Cities from Traverse City, Michigan, where the Wild participated in a prospect tournament, on Tuesday night. The Wild does not yet know the extent of the injury or how long Harding will be out, although it’s expected to be awhile.
Fletcher is expected to meet with coach Mike Yeo, Harding and athletic therapist Don Fuller on Wednesday, as well as speak with team orthopedic surgeon Joel Boyd.
Harding didn’t reply to text messages Tuesday.
With veteran Niklas Backstrom healthy and Harding set to be ready, the Wild had been playing hardball with unsigned restricted free agent Darcy Kuemper. Harding’s injury could have implications on the negotiations with the young goaltender.
Kuemper was seeking a one-year, one-way contract, while the Wild was offering a two-year deal with the first year being a two-way and the second year being a one-way as of last week.
Kuemper’s agent floated that his client, who at least then had little leverage, was contemplating offers from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
If Harding is out long-term, the Wild also has unsigned unrestricted free agent Ilya Bryzgalov as an option.
Last season in 12 regular-season games with the Wild, Bryzgalov went 7-1-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. In the playoffs, he went 3-6-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.
Bryzgalov, 34, made clear publicly through his agent last month that he wanted to return to the Wild. It’s believed Fletcher has already reached out to Bryzgalov to see if he would be willing to come to training camp on a tryout.
Backstrom, whose 189 wins rank first all-time on the Wild, has so far looked good in his skates. Two seasons ago, he tied for the league lead with 24 wins but sustained a sports hernia minutes before Game 1 of the playoffs. Last season, Backstrom sustained myriad injuries and never felt completely healthy coming into the year. He went 5-11-2 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.
He ultimately underwent season-ending abdominal and hip surgeries. He is now 36 with two years left on his contract.
“This is an opportunity for him,” Yeo said Monday before knowing that Harding was injured. “Backy’s kind of been the forgotten soldier right now. Nobody even talks about him. He’s won a lot of hockey games for us, there’s been many games where I know he stole games for us. He’s a guy who can come in and do that again this year. I think he’ll be motivated.”
Last week, Harding sat down with the Star Tribune for an interview. That article was supposed to appear in Tuesday’s editions. In the story, Harding discussed how great he felt on and off the ice and how he was looking forward to this season.
“It’s one of those summers where everything clicked and I feel even better than I did last summer and feel like I’m in better shape,” said Harding, 30. “With the year of knowledge of what I’m dealing with, with a different mind-set and different mentality about what I did this offseason, I think it’s definitely going to help out tremendously.
“I just feel … great. Physically, mentally, knowing everything that’s been working for me, I believe I’m going to show I’m capable of playing a full season. I just feel … great.”
Last year, Harding was in the midst of a sensational season, reeling off 18 victories by Dec. 17 before missing a road trip for what even doctors felt would be a minor adjustment to his treatment.
That season, one in which Harding led the NHL with a 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, would be stopped in its tracks. He returned to start two games, including one where he clearly wasn’t right and the Wild blew a three-goal lead to the Islanders. He didn’t play again after Jan. 1 – the second season in a row he missed significant time due to the debilitating illness.
It’s clear Harding had a relapse.
“Without going into big details, one plus one equals two. The changing of the medication, the changing of the treatment over the Christmas break, things happened and things happened quick,” Harding said.
But Harding had been feeling great since the springtime and came close to returning in the playoffs. Conditioning was the only reason why he couldn’t. Last week, even Harding said the only thing that has kept him from being an everyday No. 1 is health. Even before being diagnosed with MS, Harding was often derailed by injuries, whether it being to his knee or hip.
Asked last week what his biggest objective was this season, Harding didn’t hesitate: “To stay healthy the entire season and be available for every game and give the team whatever they need from me and try my best and have fun while I do it.”
Minnesota Wild players report for training camp Thursday (on ice for the first time Friday), and this afternoon the team sent out its training-camp roster. Thirty-five players are on it, with several other additions coming soon from the current Traverse City prospect tournament.
The team will hold an open practice at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. Fans can enter through Gate 1 beginning at 8:30 a.m. There will be concessions available. Single-game tickets go on sale at the box office at 10 a.m.
The first exhibition game is one week from today in Winnipeg.
I'll be on KFAN in-studio Tuesday at 10:15-10:55 a.m.
2014-15 MINNESOTA WILD TRAINING CAMP ROSTER
LEFT WING HT WT SHOOTS BORN BIRTHPLACE 2013-14 TEAM LGE GP G A PTS PIM ACQ
24 Matt Cooke 5-11 205 Left 9/7/78 Belleville, Ontario Minnesota NHL 82 10 18 28 54 FA/13
40 Curt Gogol 6-1 190 Left 9/21/91 Calgary, Alberta Worcester/Iowa AHL 56 4 2 6 204 TRD/13
36 Michael Keranen 6-1 176 Left 1/4/90 Stockholm, Sweden Ilves Tampere Finland 52 17 35 52 47 FA/14
11 Zach Parise 5-11 195 Left 7/28/84 Minneapolis, Minnesota Minnesota NHL 67 29 27 56 30 FA/12
26 Thomas Vanek 6-2 217 Right 1/19/84 Vienna, Austria BUF/NYI/MTL NHL 78 27 41 68 46 FA/14
19 Stephane Veilleux 6-1 200 Left 11/16/81 Beauceville, Quebec Minnesota NHL 21 0 2 2 21 TRD/12
16 Jason Zucker 5-11 186 Left 1/16/92 Newport Beach, California Minnesota NHL 21 4 1 5 2 EN/10
CENTER HT WT SHOOTS BORN BIRTHPLACE 2013-14 TEAM LGE GP G A PTS PIM ACQ
12 Cody Almond 6-2 217 Left 7/24/89 Calgary, Alberta Geneve-Servette Swiss 44 18 16 34 75 FA/14
21 Kyle Brodziak 6-2 210 Right 5/25/84 St. Paul, Alberta Minnesota NHL 81 8 16 24 61 TRD/09
64 Mikael Granlund 5-10 186 Left 2/26/92 Oulu, Finland Minnesota NHL 63 8 33 41 22 EN/10
56 Erik Haula 5-11 192 Left 3/23/91 Pori, Finland Minnesota NHL 46 6 9 15 29 EN/09
9 Mikko Koivu 6-3 217 Left 3/12/83 Turku, Finland Minnesota NHL 65 11 43 54 24 EN/01
10 Jordan Schroeder 5-9 180 Right 9/29/90 Prior Lake, Minnesota Vancouver NHL 25 3 3 6 2 FA/14
27 Brett Sutter 6-0 200 Left 6/2/87 Viking, Alberta Carolina NHL 17 1 1 2 9 FA/14
RIGHT WING HT WT SHOOTS BORN BIRTHPLACE 2013-14 TEAM LGE GP G A PTS PIM ACQ
54 Brett Bulmer 6-4 212 Right 4/26/92 Prince George, B.C. Iowa AHL 43 11 8 19 79 EN/10
3 Charlie Coyle 6-3 221 Right 3/2/92 East Weymouth, Mass. Minnesota NHL 70 12 18 30 33 TRD/11
14 Justin Fontaine 5-10 175 Right 11/6/87 Bonnyville, Alberta Minnesota NHL 66 13 8 21 26 FA/11
22 Nino Niederreiter 6-2 208 Left 9/8/92 Chur, Switzerland Minnesota NHL 81 14 22 36 44 TRD/13
61 Zack Phillips 6-0 194 Right 10/28/92 Fredericton, New Brunswick Iowa AHL 76 12 21 33 16 EN/11
29 Jason Pominville 6-0 185 Right 11/30/82 Repentigny, Quebec Minnesota NHL 82 30 30 60 16 TRD/13
28 Joel Rechlicz 6-4 220 Right 6/14/87 Brookfield, Wisconsin Hershey AHL 25 1 1 2 87 FA/14
DEFENSEMEN HT WT SHOOTS BORN BIRTHPLACE 2013-14 TEAM LGE GP G A PTS PIM ACQ
58 Corbin Baldwin 6-5 215 Left 2/5/91 Winnipeg, Manitoba Iowa AHL 64 0 1 1 129 INVITEE
2 Keith Ballard 5-11 208 Left 11/26/82 Baudette, Minnesota Minnesota NHL 45 2 7 9 37 FA/13
4 Stu Bickel 6-4 207 Right 10/26/86 Chanhassen, Minnesota Hartford AHL 24 1 7 8 85 FA/14
7 Jonathon Blum 6-1 190 Right 1/30/89 Long Beach, California Minnesota NHL 15 0 1 1 0 FA/13
25 Jonas Brodin 6-1 180 Left 7/12/93 Karlstad, Sweden Minnesota NHL 79 8 11 19 22 EN/11
44 Justin Falk 6-5 215 Left 10/11/88 Snowflake, Manitoba New York Rangers NHL 21 0 2 2 20 FA/14
74 Colton Jobke 6-0 190 Left 4/20/92 Delta, British Columbia Iowa AHL 11 0 0 0 4 INVITEE
6 Marco Scandella 6-3 210 Left 2/23/90 Montreal, Quebec Minnesota NHL 76 3 14 17 20 EN/08
46 Jared Spurgeon 5-9 185 Right 11/29/89 Edmonton, Alberta Minnesota NHL 67 5 21 26 16 FA/10
20 Ryan Suter 6-1 198 Left 1/21/85 Madison, Wisconsin Minnesota NHL 82 8 35 43 34 FA/12
GOALTENDERS HT WT CATCHESBORN BIRTHPLACE 2013-14 TEAM LGE GP W-L-OT SO GAA SV% ACQ
32 Niklas Backstrom 6-2 194 Left 2/13/78 Helsinki, Finland Minnesota NHL 21 5-11-2 0 3.02 .899 FA/06
33 John Curry 5-11 185 Left 2/27/84 Maplewood, Minnesota Iowa AHL 19 7-9-2 1 2.62 .920 FA/14
37 Josh Harding 6-2 202 Right 6/18/84 Regina, Saskatchewan Minnesota NHL 29 18-7-3 3 1.65 .933 EN/02
35 Darcy Kuemper 6-5 205 Left 5/4/90 Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Minnesota NHL 26 12-8-4 2 2.43 .915 EN/09
2014-15 MINNESOTA WILD TRAVERSE CITY 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 CATCHESBORN BIRTHPLACE 2013-14 TEAM LGE GP 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
Harding's Hope, the nonprofit founded by Wild goalie Josh Harding, donated $83,000 today to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Upper Midwest Chapter, to help fund direct financial assistance for families affected by MS.
"Thanks to the generosity of donors and partners, Harding’s Hope is proud to announce our first year gift of $83,000 to the MS Society programs," said Harding's Hope advisor Lana Quinn of QuinnMcCauley. "We hope that through this season’s ‘Make the Save’ campaign we can increase that amount for next year.
"Camp opens next week and Josh’s focus returns to the ice, but off ice we will continue to work to raise funds for people living with MS and hope hockey fans everywhere will join us."
“This generous donation will make a tremendous impact in the lives of families struggling to cope with
the financial burden of this lifelong disease,“ said National MS Society, Upper Midwest Chapter President
Holly Anderson. “We extend our deepest gratitude to Harding’s Hope for their dedication to helping
people with MS live their best lives.”
Harding’s Hope raises awareness and funds to support people living with MS. Today, the charity also transitioned to a new web site, www.hardingshope.org.
“On behalf of Harding’s Hope and all those affected by MS, we are thankful to the hundreds of individuals and organizations that contributed this past year to make this donation possible,” Harding said.
The four Society programs chosen for funding include chore services, care partner relief, exercise and wellness, and aids for daily living ― all designed to help people with MS stay strong and independent, and remain in their homes and communities.
I sat down with Harding last week and will be doing an article on him in the next few days. Harding, who led the NHL last season in goals-against average and save percentage, has looked great on the ice the past month and is determined "to show I’m capable of playing a full season."
“I’m excited for this season and I don’t know if I’ve felt this good in my life," he said.
Game 7’s overtime hero has re-signed and is ready to pick up where he left off.
One week before players are set to report for training camp, Nino Niederreiter, the young power winger who scored the Western Conference quarterfinals clinching goal last season for the Wild, agreed to terms on a three-year, $8 million contract Thursday.
“I’m glad it’s over and I’m part of the Wild family again,” Niederreiter said by phone from Portland, Ore., where he’s skating with the Western Hockey League Winterhawks and working with his power-skating instructor. “I think it’s all about now. The season’s coming up and I think I found a way to score goals in the league and felt I got better and better as last season went on, so now I’m very happy to focus and not worry about the contract situation.
“Now I just want to go out there and play and really, really work on things.”
The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Niederreiter, 22, scored a career-high 14 goals and 36 points in 81 games last season. He was plus-12, which ranked fourth on the team, and ranked second with 175 hits. In 13 playoffs games, he scored three goals and six points and led the team with 40 hits. In Game 7 of the first round against Colorado, Niederreiter scored two goals, including the winner in overtime, and assisted on Jared Spurgeon’s late third-period, overtime-forcing goal.
“I’m very happy the way the playoffs went,” said Niederreiter, who was also one of Switzerland’s best players in the Olympics. “It’s still tough the way we lost Game 6 [against Chicago], but at the end of the day, we have to look forward. I’m happy I had a chance to perform in the playoffs and now I just have to keep it up going forward here.”
Niederreiter said he will be in Portland until Sunday and plans to be on the ice with his teammates during informal practices Monday. Players report for camp next Thursday and skate for the first time next Friday.
Niederreiter’s agent said earlier this week that Niederreiter turned down a lucrative contract offer to play in Russia. Goalie Darcy Kuemper, the only unsigned Wild player left, is mulling over some potential opportunities in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Earlier this week, Kuemper’s agent said he is asking the Wild for a one-year, one-way contract. The Wild has offered Kuemper a two-year deal, the first year being a two-way, the second being a one-way.
I'm excited and happy to stay a part of the WILD family :) pic.twitter.com/PfJ4ybxWip— nino niederreiter (@thelnino25) September 11, 2014
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