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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First of all, I’m sorry to report my Thursday online chat has been scrapped. I’ll have to postpone until next week because the Wild has pushed back Thursday’s practice so Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick can arrive in time and Friday I’ll need to hustle to the airport after practice to fly to Dallas.
But I’ll do my best to answer as many questions here as I can.
Matt Moulson will wear No. 26 here. And Cody McCormick No. 8.
OK, have a good night.
No, seriously, as for the trade of Moulson and McCormick from Buffalo for Torrey Mitchell and two second-round picks, heck of a deal in my estimation. As I say often, Chuck Fletcher is nothing if not bold, and always has something up his sleeve.
I always find the maturation of an organization fascinating, and it’s interesting how the Wild has transitioned from being a trade-deadline seller to a buyer the past two years.
Last year, the Wild arguably paid a big price for Jason Pominville (two prospects and a first were the highlights), but Pominville had another year left on his deal and the Wild was obviously immediately interested in extending him, which it did by five years starting next year right before this season.
This year, Fletcher looked into doing similar “hockey trades,” but in the end, he likes the chemistry of this team, wanted to avoid trading a first-round pick for a second consecutive year and didn’t want to trade any of his top prospects. So early this morning, when he quickly realized he may be able to consummate a “draft pick” deal for Moulson with Sabres GM Tim Murray, that’s where he began to focus.
Other GM’s were dangling their rentals and asking for prospects like Matt Dumba, Gustav Olofsson and Kurtis Gabriel, Fletcher said, and he had no interest. The other thing that made the Moulson/McCormick swap so intriguing was Fletcher would be able to include Mitchell, who wanted out, in the deal. That’s no slight against Mitchell, but he was playing a fourth-line role, so he’s replaced by the gritty, hard-nosed McCormick and the Wild gets out from under the $2.5 million salary and $1.9 million cap hit Mitchell had owed to him next season. That’ll create more roster and cap flexibility.
Now, before I get more into detail of what Fletcher/Moulson said during today’s availability, I try my best to answer two questions I see I’ve been asked most on Twitter (since most people seem to want news in abbreviated 140-character like methods, this will save those people from having to read through the rest of the minutia included on what’s bound to be a super-sized blog).
1. What will the lines look like? Well, I don’t have the answer for you because we’ll see an initial taste as to what coach Mike Yeo is thinking at Thursday’s practice. But my shot in the dark for at least Thursday’s practice is similar to what I guessed on Twitter earlier today, but it has changed a little.
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Dany Heatley
Cody McCormick-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine-Nino Niederreiter
I think at least in Thursday’s practice, we’ll see these top 2 lines. We saw earlier this season putting Heatley on the fourth line didn’t work, so maybe they eventually go with a Moulson-Koivu-Heatley line and Cooke-Coyle-Nino on the third. That would mean the fourth would be a combination of McCormick, Haula, Brodziak and Fontaine.
Yeo will have a lot of options and I’m sure there will be tinkering. For instance, I’m not sure what he’s thinking, but maybe McCormick plays against the rugged teams (Wild played St. Louis three times down the stretch and could be staring at the Blues in the first round) and sits against the faster teams.
Obviously, there are always injuries, too, so no lines are set in stone. If the Wild’s healthy, I think it’s clear that Jason Zucker will initially have to return to Iowa when he gets healthy.
2. Does trading for Moulson preclude the Wild from signing Thomas Vanek if it so wishes in the offseason?
Well, only if at the end of the day the Wild re-signs Moulson. And it’s honestly way too soon to think about it. As of now, it’s a rental. Now, if Moulson plays so well and fits in so well and the Wild does damage in the playoffs, yes, the Wild I’m sure would absolutely consider re-signing Moulson.
“You never know,” Fletcher said. “I’m open-minded.”
Moulson also echoed that, but he too said it’s the last thing he’s thinking about right now: “We’ll see what happens. I think that’s the last thing I’ve thought about right now is free agency. I have a million other things going through my mind,” like “getting to a new team and trying to help them win.”
So again, so many things can happen between now and July 1. The cap isn’t unlimited. The Wild has to analyze its needs going into next season and how much money it can spend in certain areas. The biggest priority will be figuring out its goalie situation. Then it’ll figure out everything else.
I do think it's fair to say the Wild was in on Vanek. I think it's also very clear to say that Islanders GM Garth Snow held onto his cards WAY too long and got caught in a gigantic way. He basically wound up having to trade Vanek to Montreal for a mid-level prospect and MAYBE two draft picks if Montreal makes the playoffs. Not good after acquiring Vanek for Moulson, a first and a second.
Regardless, put Vanek in the back of your head and … don’t ask me again about him until May, maybe June.
Fletcher says he drove to the Wild’s offices today not knowing if he would be able to make a trade. If he couldn’t, he would be OK with that because he’s been very happy with the current team and how it’s been playing.
But he felt he owed it to the players to kick some tires and try to improve the team and “reward” them for a job well done the past few months. He said it’s important to send messages in this business.
But, he didn’t want to trade his prospects or his first.
He zeroed in on Buffalo because the Wild has been scouting the Sabres for weeks (humorously, the day after that late-January bogus report out of Buffalo came out that the Wild made an offer for Ryan Miller and a trade could be imminent, assistant GM Brent Flahr was in town scouting looking at guys like Miller and Drew Stafford. Miller didn’t even start the game). Fletcher has also had tons of trade talks with Tim Murray and they discussed several scenarios about many different things.
“As the day wore on, we got fortunate,” Fletcher said. “We got fortunate to get in a situation where Buffalo was willing to discuss a draft-pick trade with us. It’s a good deal for them. They get two draft picks. And from our standpoint, we were able to acquire a very good goal scorer in Matt Moulson, a big, energetic, gritty guy in Cody McCormick, who we feel will be very important for us down the stretch. And perhaps as importantly, we were able to move some cap space for next season. So we accomplished the things we set out to do and were able to do so by moving a couple draft picks over a three-year span. Coming into today with about $4-plus million in cap space on a full year basis, we’re pretty happy with what we were able to accomplish.
Moulson was intriguing because the Wild, if you didn’t know, have to work really hard some nights to score goals. Minnesota ranks 25th in the NHL at 2.36 goals per game, so thank goodness for its goaltending and sixth-best goals against.
“Historically, this team has not been a high-scoring team,” Fletcher said. “We have not been the last couple years. I do believe however the last six, eight weeks, we’re probably scoring [2.74] goals per game. So we have been better offensively lately, but when you look at our club, you probably wouldn’t describe us as a high-end offensive team. I think that’s fair. … If we can add somebody that can help us score another goal every other game or something to that effect, we think that’ll make a big difference.
On the lines and options Yeo now has at his disposal, Fletcher said, “We’re trying to get to a place where we have at least three lines that can score and play defense. A lot gets made out of line combinations and who plays with whom, and I understand that, and if Zach’s playing with Mikko and all these different things, but ultimately to be successful, and I think we saw this a little bit in the playoffs last year, you need to have more than one line that you can rely on. Mike has experimented a lot this year with different line combinations; I think that’s great. I think all the players are used to playing with different players. But obviously these two players will give us more depth and if we can get to a place where we have two or three lines that teams have to worry about offensively, two power-play units that teams have to worry about, so you maybe don’t even have a No. 1 and a No. 2 unit, you have a 1A and a 1B, that makes you much more difficult to coach against, to play against and to gameplan against, and I think that’s where we want to get to.”
As I mentioned on a blog last week when the Wild acquired Brad Winchester (he’s in Iowa), it’s very clear the Wild has made a conscious decision to try to get bigger the last few years. Look back at that blog (I think it posted last Wednesday in Edmonton), but it had all the players I’m talking about on there.
“And even look at the draft last year with Olofsson and Kurtis Gabriel who’s really come on this year and [UMD’s] Carson Soucy,” Fletcher said. “We really are trying to get bigger. First you try to get skill, then hopefully you can add some size. It’s a big man’s league. Maybe some people would disagree with me, but I really truly believe that the officiating standards change as the year goes on and what’s a penalty early in the year is not necessarily a penalty later in the year and that’s OK. But you have to be able to skate through hooks and interferences and some of the other things that are a little more prevalent. It becomes a bigger man’s game – or more of a competitive man’s game. You have to compete and certainly size helps, but I think that’s an area every team looks to this time of year and we’ve made a conscious effort in that regard.”
How does this year compare to the Pominville deadline deal? “Last year with Pominville, he had a year left on his contract so we were prepared to pay a big price. We really felt we needed to add more talent and with Pominville you’re getting a guy that was a captain in this league, who has a tremendous amount of character and a very good two-way player. But he’s also a talented offensive player. We wanted more talent to play with Koivu and Parise and Suter and to play with our top end guys. We’re becoming a more talented team as we see the evolution of Granlund and Coyle and Zucker and Niederreiter and these types of players. This year there was a little bit more risk I suppose because Moulson’s contract is expiring. But yet any time you’re paying second-round picks for good hockey players, to me, it’s a really good move. We’re very comfortable with the gamble. We’re fortunate – our scouts do a great job. They nail picks left and right. So to give up a second-round pick, to me they’ll probably hit on the third. And so I’m able to take some chances with our picks because of the way our scouts draft.”
On making a trade with his buddy Tim Murray (friends from Florida and Anaheim), Fletcher jokingly said, “No, he was tough. But fortunately I have some good background information on him that he doesn’t want revealed. No, Timmy did a great job today. He picked up some picks and some prospects and that team will turn around quickly. He knew what he was doing. He moved a couple pending UFAs and got a couple second round picks for them so it’s a good deal for him and a deal we’re very, very comfortable making with where we’re at as a franchise right now.
On today’s market: “It was a different market. To me, prices went down a little bit this year. You saw basically a lot of pretty good hockey players who are pending UFAs getting traded for the equivalent of two second-rounders, or a second-rounder and a prospect. Certainly situations like that as opposed to late first-round picks. Teams seemed to hold on to their first-round picks this year. The other interesting thing about it is there were a lot of goal scorers that were traded and a lot of goalies. I can never remember another year where this many talented goaltenders switched teams. And you go through the list and some of them may be a little bit older, but again really well-recognized, established goaltenders were traded. I’ve never seen a year like that, and a lot of goal scorers and very few defensemen. Some years there’s more defensemen. Every year has a different tone, but I think you saw teams pulling back a little bit this year unwilling maybe to trade that first-rounder or that elite prospect, and maybe offering seconds and third-round picks instead, which obviously we were very happy with.”
“It’s difficult to move first-round picks,” Fletcher continued. “We did it last year and, again, we’re thrilled, but in this cap system you have to draft and develop. First-rounders are typically anywhere from 50 to 90 percent success rate depending on where in the first round you select. Second-rounders can be 25 to 30 percent, so there’s a massive drop-off. You’ve got to hold on to your first-rounders a lot. Occasionally you’ve got to step up, and again, it was a great decision for us last year. This year to me it was not, we wanted to hold on to our firsts and we did and that’s a good thing.”
Moulson said, “Minnesota is an incredible hockey state. The fans of Minnesota, it’s pretty easy to see how passionate they are. It’s exciting to go to a team that’s doing extremely well right now and a great fan base. I’m just excited to get there and help this team win any way I can.”
On what he knows about the Wild: “I think when you’re in different conferences you don’t see the other too much. But obviously you follow the league and see the love that the Wild have been getting and playing extremely well obviously. They’ve got some great players, so I’m excited to be a part of that group and try to get some wins.”
On Buffalo: “Obviously there’s been a lot of change. I think I’ve gone through the most change I’ve ever had in my career this year being traded from the Islanders and going through some changes in Buffalo, but obviously I’m very thankful to the Sabres – they took my family and I in. It was a quick transition there. I think my son was two-weeks-old when I got traded. It was a little bit of a whirlwind but obviously I made some pretty close friends in the last couple months, but I guess I’ve been rumored for a while that they’d probably try to shop me off again. So I’m definitely a lot more ready for it this time than the last time around. It’s something I was prepared for and got my family prepared for. We’re just excited to be part of the Wild family now.”
Who does he know on the Wild: “I know Nino a little bit. Zach Parise is good friends with Kyle Okposo so I know him by association, and I was able to text with him. I feel like I know him pretty well just through Kyle Okposo so other than that I don’t know too many guys, I didn’t know too many guys when I went to Buffalo, so I don’t really see that as a problem. The hockey group takes guys in and makes them feel pretty welcome right away.”
I didn’t talk with McCormick today. I’ll talk to him after Thursday’s practice, but like Moulson, the Buffalo writers say he’s a great guy and a player that should help.
OK, that’s it for me. I've got to do my Wild Minute and get upstairs, watch a period or two of high-school hockey and get home. Talk to you after Thursday’s practice.
With season-long scuttlebutt that the Wild may look to sign free-agent-to-be Thomas Vanek this summer, the Wild beat Wednesday’s trade deadline by acquiring the player traded for Vanek earlier this season.
The Wild traded two draft picks -- Winnipeg's second rounder in 2014 acquired in the Devin Setoguchi trade and the Wild's second rounder in 2016 -- and fourth-line winger Torrey Mitchell to the Sabres for power winger Matt Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer, and hard-nosed forward Cody McCormick.
Moulson, 30, has scored 17 goals and 38 points in 55 games this season between the Islanders and Sabres. He was acquired in October for Vanek, a conditional first-round pick and a second-round pick. He is the last year of his deal with a $3.133 million cap hit.
McCormick, 30, has scored 59 points and 503 penalty minutes in 358 games. He’s in the last year of his deal at $1.2 million.
Moulson has scored 135 goals and 262 points in 377 games, developing terrific chemistry with superstar John Tavares on Long Island, where he was one of the most popular players.
He has perennially been one of the NHL’s most durable players. He played all 82 games in three consecutive seasons from 2009-12, topping 30 goals in each, including a career-high 36 goals and 69 points in 2011-12.
Moulson has scored 47 career power-play goals, including 14 in 2011-12, the third-most in the NHL. He is also known as a player who thrives on the road. In 2011-12, Moulson scored 23 goals on the road, the second-most in the NHL behind Steven Stamkos.
From March 17-April 3, the Wild plays eight of 10 games on the road.
Moulson is a skilled power winger who protects the puck terrifically on the cycle and is known for possessing a hard wrist shot.
Mitchell, 29, scored five goals and 12 assists in 103 games, including only one goal in 58 games this year.
According to sources, Mitchell asked to be traded, although he denied that Tuesday.
Mitchell, a hard-working, fast forward, signed a three-year, $5.7 million deal with the Wild two summers ago. That happened on July 1. On July 4, the Wild signed Zach Parise. The Wild also didn’t know for sure if Pierre-Marc Bouchard would be healthy to start that season. He wound up being ready.
So Mitchell came to Minnesota thinking he’d have a chance to be third-line right wing. After Parise and Bouchard were inserted, Mitchell fell down the depth chart. Since, the Wild has added youngsters like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. So Mitchell has been saddled on the fourth line pretty much since he got to Minnesota.
But I mentioned on the blog this exact scenario. My gut said the trade request would wind up burning Mitchell because at $1.9 million next year, he'd be such an easy throw-in for a rental to Buffalo if the Wild couldn't get Drew Stafford done. Now Mitchell misses the playoffs this year and the Wild gets out of his $1.9 million cap hit and $2.5 million salary next year.
The Wild was in on Stafford. I was told this afternoon, and I need to report it out more, that any Stafford deal would be contingent on another complicated trade the Wild would have to make elsewhere to basically move a player.
I'll be hosting a live online chat on startribune.com Thursday at 3 p.m. Bad news: Chat's been postponed. The Wild's now having an afternoon practice Thursday so the three new additions, Moulson, McCormick and Ilya Bryzgalov will be able to join.
Update: Jake Dowell cleared waivers.
Biggest trade thus far was a blockbuster, with Lightning captain Martin St. Louis going to the Rangers (the lone team he requested to be traded to) for captain Ryan Callahan, a first round pick and a second round pick. Lots of conditions in the deal; Tampa gets another first if the Rangers go to the conference finals, Rangers get a pick back if Callahan re-signs.
As always, the trades will come rapid-fire eventually. The issue is the domino hasn't fallen on Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Mike Cammalleri and Ales Hemsky -- five scoring rental forwards. The second one goals, the other should follow quickly.
I created a false alarm this morning when I was told Gaborik to the Kings was done. I had to do a mea culpa even though trust me, the source was as good as it gets. The deal still seemed imminent for a bit and still could happen, but the Kings are now ticked with Columbus, doesn't want to get left at the altar and have moved on looking at some of the other rentals. The Jackets are still shopping Gaborik. Ottawa was one team involved but reportedly is after Hemsky too. So if they go Hemsky, maybe it still winds up L.A. with Gaborik, but it obviously wasn't the done deal I was told.
As for the Wild, quiet right now. They're in the holding pattern everybody else seems to be in. As always, once 2 p.m. creeps closer, the deals will rapidly flow throughout the NHL.
Good morning. After weeks of stories and working the phone and hiding behind flower pots in front of Chuck Fletcher’s office, it’s finally the trade deadline.
Starting tomorrow, I can mail in the rest of the season.
When the clock strikes 2, no more trades can be made (actually AHL trades can still be made. Remember your beloved Filip Kuba? His NHL career actually took off because of a post trade-deadline move in Florida. The Panthers defenseman was dealt to Calgary for Rocky Thompson. I remember sitting in the press box in Pittsburgh in, I think 2000, when I got the press release and thinking, uh, I thought there can’t be any trades anymore!)
Here is a trade tracker you can pay attention to at work and school (I'm not condoning not working or studying) today.
As you know by now, the Wild acquired Ilya Bryzgalov from the Oilers yesterday to give the team goalie depth with Niklas Backstrom shut down and Josh Harding unlikely to return this season. The trade was indeed for a 2014 fourth-round pick (There seems to be some Twitter confusion because it sounds like a site or two has mistakenly put Edmonton’s price paid for Viktor Fasth next to the Bryzgalov trade on their charts).
What happens today?
Fletcher was in on the Jaroslav Halak trade. He didn’t want to give a prospect and/or a second-round pick, so he pulled the trigger on the easiest trade (fourth-round pick) and was able to save some cap space in the process.
That gives him the flexibility to make more moves today. As I reported in today’s newspaper and on last night’s blog, multiple sources tell me the Wild is very interested in Drew Stafford, who has been playing at a consistently high level for some time for the Sabres. There have been lots of conversations between Fletcher and Sabres GM Tim Murray lately and the big question is whether Murray is indeed willing to trade Stafford, 28, and what the price would be.
He wouldn’t be a rental. He has another year left on his contract at a pretty attractive $4 million (remember, the cap is going up), so this would be more of a “hockey trade” (one of my favorite terms; I’d love to know who coined it).
So it could cost a second-tier prospect, salaried player (Wild would need to trade some cash unless it just puts Backstrom or Harding on LTIR, which allows you to top the cap ceiling by their cap hit if you need the space) and/or a pick.
Stafford is very good friends with Zach Parise from their days at Shattuck and North Dakota, he’s a former teammate of Jason Pominville. (By the way, even though I'm mentioning Stafford on here, I'm not saying it's going to happen. I'm sure Fletcher has many balls in the air and this is just one I've heard about).
The question that I haven’t connected all the dots on? If the Wild acquires Stafford, where’s he fit? I'd think somebody would need to depart in that trade or another one.
I’d think you’d want him to be your second-line right wing.
If you figure, the lines currently are:
this could lend further credence to why I keep hearing from sources that Kyle Brodziak can be had today.
If you slid Stafford or acquired another top-6 right wing and traded Brodziak, you could slide Coyle back to the position coach Mike Yeo says he feels Coyle has grown “leaps and bounds” in this season – center.
A Cooke-Coyle-Niederreiter line would be intriguing.
I talked to Brodziak yesterday in a general sense (not about him personally, just so you know the context), and he said, “It’s a tough part of the year. There’s a lot of uncertainty around the locker room, but we’re professionals, we’ve dealt with it before and tune it out best we can. We’ve done a really good job this year putting ourselves in here in a good position. Everyone in here feels really good about the group that we have. We just want to keep building so we can tap into the potential of this team.”
Brodziak, the first player Fletcher ever traded for as the Wild GM in 2009, also has another year on his deal ($3 million salary, $2.833M cap hit).
Another player who could be dealt today is Torrey Mitchell, so if Mitchell got dealt and Brodziak stayed, you could shuffle your lines in other ways.
I mentioned yesterday that TVA Sports reporter Renaud Lavoie tweeted yesterday that sources told him that Torrey Mitchell asked to be traded. Mitchell and his agent Kent Hughes each denied the report in separate texts, but after those denials, I also had two sources confirm the Mitchell trade request.
Fletcher didn’t respond to my inquiry, which makes you think that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Mitchell, a hard-working, very fast forward, signed a three-year, $5.7 million deal with the Wild two summers ago. That happened on July 1. On July 4, the Wild signed Parise. The Wild also didn’t know for sure if Pierre-Marc Bouchard would be healthy to start that season. He wound up being ready.
So Mitchell came to Minnesota thinking he’d have a chance to be third-line right wing. After Parise and Bouchard were inserted, Mitchell fell down the depth chart. Since, the Wild has added youngsters like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. So Mitchell has been saddled on the fourth line pretty much since he has gotten here.
So if Mitchell wants out, that’s why. The problem he may run into today though is with a very manageable $1.9 million salary next year and an appetizing age to rebuilding teams (29), he could very easily be included in a deal to say Buffalo. Let’s just say the Wild can’t get Stafford done and chooses a rental (Matt Moulson, Thomas Vanek), Mitchell again would be an easy throw-in.
So if Mitchell did ask out now (which I understand he denies), he may regret it because it could cost him a playoff berth. If it’s true he wants to move on so he could play more, he may have been better off just riding this out the rest of the season and then asking out after the season. I would assume it would be simple to trade a fast, hard-working 29-year-old with one year left on his contract during the offseason. Now he could conceivably wind up in a losing situation today.
Another name potentially being floated is Dany Heatley, who has a limited no-trade clause. I’ve even heard his hometown of Calgary, although I’m not sure why a non-playoff team would need an expiring contract. But Fletcher and Flames acting GM Brian Burke did meet during the entire second intermission of Monday’s Wild-Flames game.
It also wouldn’t shock me if Fletcher tried to bring in another depth defenseman.
Rosters are unlimited now as long as you don’t go over the cap.
I'll be hosting a live online chart Thursday at 3 p.m. CT, incidentally.
I’ll update the blog when there’s news later.
The Wild has indeed added goalie insurance, but it wasn’t Jaroslav Halak or Martin Brodeur.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher pulled the trigger on Ilya Bryzgalov this afternoon, sending the 2014 fourth-round pick he received in the Jason Pominville trade last year from Buffalo to the Edmonton Oilers. Fletcher had been talking to Buffalo about Halak, but the price would have been a prospect and/or draft pick. Also, Bryzgalov is much cheaper, so theoretically, this gives Fletcher the opportunity to make more moves by Wednesday's 2 p.m. trade deadline if he so wants. The Wild can add roughly $3 million in players without giving up salary.
Fletcher acknowledged that was a big part of it. He called Bryzgalov's cap hit and salary "manageable," that the Wild wasn't willing to trade young players or higher picks in this type of situation and this allows him to maybe be more active later today or Wednesday.
The urgency to add a goaltender is because Niklas Backstrom is being shut down because of a recurring abdominal injury that likely needs to be repaired, Fletcher said. Fletcher said the assumption is Backstrom will likely be sidelined until next season. for the remainder of the season.
"I give Nik a lot of credit," Fletcher saud. "I think a lot of goaltenders probably would have shut down a month or two ago and he’s battled through it all year. I’m not quite sure he’s ever been healthy this season. ... Our goal for Nik is to get him healthy for next year."
Fletcher said Backstrom was quite emotional today and to say something about his character, he even practiced again today. "That's him," Fletcher said.
It was obvious Backstrom had something serious wrong. He said Jan. 8 that he thought it was related to his offseason sports hernia surgery and he saw his surgeon during the Olympic break. He said they figured out what was wrong but it was up to the team to disclose.
This is premature, but to answer the question I'm being asked a ton on Twitter, if it's true Backstrom is considered sidelined until next season, I'd think the Wild wouldn't be able to buy him out. You can't buy out an injured player. Also, because Backstrom was over 35 when he signed, the Wild would be charged with his cap for the remaining two years if he was bought out. Also, he is not eligible for a compliance buyout because he was signed under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Bryzgalov will wear No. 30 and may make his Wild debut Sunday against St. Louis at home.
"It's a new challenge and great opportunity," Bryzgalov said during a conference call with us today. Below is his Edmonton presser. He's a character. Edmonton writers say he was very accomodating, great to deal with and very good in net since Ben Scrivens' acquisition. He had a cool goalie mask there, too, his boy and girl, who live in New Jersey, did the colorings, I believe. He also wore 80 in Edmonton because it was the year he was born and in his one year in the KHL, he had eight shutouts ("eight and zero, get it?")
Bryzgalov, 33, known as an enigmatic goalie and true character as was documented in HBO’s 24/7 a few years ago (see YouTube), has been a No. 1 in Phoenix and Philadelphia. He's a big butterfly goalie that relies on positioning but has athleticism. With structure in front of him, he's had success in the league.
In an NHL career that has taken him from Anaheim to Phoenix to Philadelphia to Edmonton, Bryzgalov, a native of Russia, is 213-157-50 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
Philly bought Bryzgalov out of the last seven years of his contract last summer. He’ll receive $1.643 million a year through 2027-28.
"Ilya’s a good guy. He’s colorful. He’s known to have a few good sound bites now and again," Fletcher said. "At the bottom of it, there was a lot of pressure there in Philly. He played very well for them at times and there were situations that did not go as well. He played well in Phoenix, ... Anaheim, ... Cincinnati. He’s played in three Olympics, was second-team All-Star one year, he’s won over 200 games in the NHL, so to add a goaltender of that caliber for what we felt was a very manageable price made a lot of sense to us."
Earlier this season when Niklas Backstrom sustained a knee injury, Fletcher inquired about signing Bryzgalov. He was bought out last summer by the Flyers. As I reported Sunday, Fletcher spent the entire second intermission of last Thursday's game with Oilers GM Craig MacTavish, the Wild was offered Bryzgalov and the price would likely be cheap (probably a mid-round pick). The Wild still owns its fourth-round pick this year even by this trade and nine picks in the draft, including one in every round (three sixths).
I think we’re going to find out soon that Backstrom is going to be shut down with an abdominal injury. Just a hunch because Backstrom declined comment today and it’s been abundantly clear he’s been laboring through something.
I asked coach Mike Yeo if Darcy Kuemper would continue to be the No. 1. He has started 15 in a row. Since assuming the Wild’s No. 1 job Jan. 7, Kuemper is 11-2-2 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. He has won five in a row, allowing six goals in that span.
“We’ve said all along with Kuemps, we’re going to take it day-to-day. He’s a young kid,” Yeo said. “With that said, there’s no question that he’s done enough that we’re going to keep giving him opportunity to get out there and show what he’s done. So, yeah, … we’re in large part where we are right now because of the job that he’s done, and we’re aware of that. We love his potential, but more than that, we love the way that he’s playing right now.”
We will see if the Wild does anymore today or tomorrow. It's been a busy day in the NHL with Anaheim gearing up for something big by unloading Dustin Penner (Thomas Vanek? Matt Moulson? Ryan Callahan?; Ryan Kesler?), with Roberto Luongo getting dealt to Florida, Andrew MacDonald to Philly, etc.
It's been reported by very respected TVA Sports' reporter Renaud Lavoie, who broke the Luongo trade, that Torrey Mitchell has asked to be traded. Mitchell and his agent Kent Hughes deny it, although I have sources who say Renaud's report is accurate.
It would make sense. Mitchell, signed to a three-year deal two summers ago, has been saddled as a fourth-liner for most his two seasons so far.
Kyle Brodziak's having a down year. Dany Heatley's in the last year of his deal, as are Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser.
My gut says the Wild makes another to try to get better. I do hear the Wild has had ongoing discussions with Buffalo about Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville's former teammate and Zach Parise's teammate from Shattuck-St. Mary's and North Dakota.
The Wild is 9-2-2 in its past 13 and has won five in a row, so there’s also always the risk of messing with chemistry of a good “team” around the trade deadline if you do too much and add or delete players.
Yeo said, “We like our group. We believe we can win with this group.” But obviously, the Wild will weigh the chemistry its team has gained these past two months with the need to maybe get better.
Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Matt Cooke had the day off from today's skills practice. Nate Prosser also wasn’t out there. As I mentioned the other day, his wife is due with their second child any moment.
The Wild has placed Jake Dowell on waivers as a gesture to help him find a job. It gives 29 teams a chance to claim Dowell off waivers. If he clears, he’ll stay in Iowa.
Also, with Mikko Koivu back, Stephane Veilleux was reassigned. Also, for the second time in three days, the Wild signed an undrafted junior free agent. Saturday, it was Calgary Hitmen leading scorer Brady Brassart. Today, it was the Guelph Storm’s Zack Mitchell. The 21-year-old forward ranks fourth on the Storm and 18th in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with 77 points (29-48=77), including nine power-play goals and six game-winning goals, in 62 games this season.
“Zack is an intelligent, two-way winger who is having a tremendous season for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League,” said Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “We’re excited to add another quality young forward to the Minnesota Wild organization.”
Good afternoon from the Rexall Place, a building that has housed some of the greats -- Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Mike Greenlay.
The Wild practiced this afternoon and plays an actal game against the Oilers on Thursday night -- the first of back-to-back games. The Wild plays in Vancouver on Friday. The Wild has won 12 of its past 14 in this arena and has won 18 times here -- its most in any arena.
These are no longer division foes .
John Curry was called up as goalie insurance in case Niklas Backstrom didn't handle today's practice well. He looked good on the ice, and coach Mike Yeo planned to talk with Backstrom afterward to see how healthy he is. If he's healthy, Yeo indicated that Backstrom could start Thursday's game against the Oilers.
He's 25-4-1 all-time against Edmonton with a 1.91 goals-against average and .928 save percentage and at Rexall Place, he's 8-3-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
The rationale behind maybe starting Backstrom over Darcy Kuemper is his success in this arena (although he's been pulled here three or four times, I believe) and mostly that Friday's game in Vancouver is huge. A win over the Canucks, who had lost seven in a row before the break, could put a whole world of hurt on their playoff chances. So maybe you save Kuemper for that game.
The Canucks are 10th in the West and a point out of a wildcard spot.
The other option is start Kuemper, who had started 12 in a row before the break and is 8-2-2 in his past 13, back-to-back, which he's done in his pro and junior career. We shall see Thursday.
Captain Mikko Koivu rotated in and out of lines during today's practice. Yeo didn't rule him out for the game vs. Edmonton, but he did say back-to-back games may be tough after ankle surgery Jan. 6. So that made it sounds like Thursday is doubtful but Friday is possible.
"I thought he looked good," Yeo said. "He continues to progress. I don’t want to say that he’s in or he’s out for tomorrow. Obviously back to back games might be tough for him. So that said, I don’t want to say that he’s in, I don’t want to say that he’s out. But those are the things that we’d have to consider along with making sure that he’s 100 percent. I know speaking to him today, he’s not quite there yet so we’ll see after today."
Marco Scandella won't play because of his sprained knee. Two practices is too quick. Jason Zucker isn't on the trip because of his leg injury, so he was placed on injured reserve with Scandella and Stephane Veilleux was called up.
The lines today:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Dany Heatley-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter
Stephane Veilleux-Erik Haula-Torrey Mitchell
Mike Rupp, the extra
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner-Keith Ballard
Steven Kampfer, the extra
In a trade today, the Wild sent Iowa defenseman Brian Connelly to the Chicago Blackhawks for former Badger Brad Winchester. Winchester will report to Iowa initially, but this was definitely a trade made for depth moves and Winchester will likely see games with the Wild.
Remember, after next Wednesday's trade deadline, the roster is unlimited as long as you don't go over the cap. Winchester, a former college teammate of Heatley and pro teammate of Brodziak, is a tough customer and adds some ruggedness (6-5, 230) to a smaller Wild lineup. He's got 390 games of NHL experience in seven seasons with Edmonton, Dallas, St. Louis, Anaheim and San Jose. He's also played 24 NHL playoff games, including scoring an overtime winner for the Oilers in 2006 against Detroit in the first round when they went to the Cup Finals.
He has 68 career points and 552 penalty minutes in NHL regular seasons.
"I think it’s great, and depth of a different type of player for us," Yeo said. "He’s a hard-nosed guy, he’s a guy that’s not fun to play against and he’s got that experience, so definitely a good move for us."
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