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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For the first time in Wild history, one of its players has been named an NHL Player of the Month/(renamed) first star of the month.
Not shockingly, Devan Dubnyk, who made 33 saves in last night's win at Colorado, got the honor after going 11-2-1 in February with a 1.64 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and three shutouts while starting all 14 Wild games last month. The Wild climbed from 12th in the West to having a three-point cushion on the second wildcard spot. It is one point back of Winnipeg, which hosts the Kings today, for the first wildcard spot.
Dubnyk allowed 23 goals in 14 games (including two that arguably should have been disallowed in Calgary and Colorado), allowed two or fewer goals in 11 starts and shut out Chicago, Colorado and Edmonton.
Overall, Dubnyk is 24-8-3 (2.15 GAA, .926 SV%, 6 SO) in 39 appearances this season, establishing career highs in wins and shutouts while ranking in the top five in the NHL in shutouts (t-2nd), goals-against average (3rd) and save percentage (5th). The 28-year-old Regina, Sask., native has started all 20 games since his arrival in Minnesota Jan. 14, posting a 15-3-1 record with a 1.64 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts in that span. He has allowed 32 goals in 20 games.
He is expected to start his franchise-record 21st consecutive game Tuesday against the red-hot Ottawa Senators. By the way, Monday is the first time since Feb. 11 that the Wild hasn't played every other day. It has played nine consecutive games without a back-to-back or two days between games.
The Wild's only other player of the month/star of the month honor was Josh Harding, the third star of the month in November 2013.
On another topic, I am being told that Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, captain Gabriel Landeskog and agitator Cody McLeod will all be fined for the antics with three seconds left last night.
Roy, for putting McLeod on the ice. McLeod, for jumping Mikael Granlund. Landeskog, for punching Mikko Koivu from bench to bench.
There will be no supplemental discipline for Sean Bergenheim, who checked Nathan MacKinnon and broke the youngster's nose when replays show his helmet hit MacKinnon in the face.
If the Wild put in a waiver claim for defensemen Tim Erixon or David Schlemko today, we won't know. Erixon was claimed by Toronto, Schlemko by Calgary -- two teams with higher waiver priority because they're lower in the standings.
Marco Scandella sustained what's believed to be a minor lower-body injury last night. Jared Spurgeon has missed five games with a concussion, although he started working out yesterday.
Prior to Scandella getting hurt, GM Chuck Fletcher said Saturday morning that he would "maybe" look to acquire a defenseman by Monday's 2 p.m. deadline.
But, he said, "[Jon] Blum’s played real well in Iowa lately. Justin Falk’s a guy that played against Chicago a couple years ago in the playoffs. Both those guys have playoff experience, and we’re expecting to get Spurgeon back here at some point. I mean, you never know. If you have a rash of injuries, you always want to make sure you have enough depth. But I do think when you look at Blum and Falk and [Stu] Bickel, those are three guys that have played in the league. So, not many teams have that kind of depth down on their farm club. Again, we’ll look around, but we’re not going to add a body for the sake of adding a body. If we can get somebody that fits, then we’ll look at that."
I wrote a trade deadline advance for Monday's paper where you can read more from Fletcher, coach Mike Yeo and Zach Parise.
Talk to you tomorrow barring news today. Make sure you follow me on Twitter on Monday at www.twitter.com/russostrib.
I will be on Fox 9 tonight at 10:35 with Dawn Mitchell.
Wild left wing Stephane Veilleux was placed on waivers today. With one roster spot open already, Veilleux would create a potential second roster spot if needed. Basically, the move gives the Wild the flexibility if it wants to make a trade in the next day or so (see below for one name the Wild has inquired about).
The trade deadline is Monday at 2 p.m. CT.
If Veilleux clears waivers, he won't necessarily be assigned to AHL Iowa. In fact, with no extra forwards or defensemen, he'll probably stay on the roster unless the Wild needs that spot prior to Saturday's game against the Colorado Avalanche.
By having Veilleux clear waivers, this again just allows the Wild that ability to send him to the minors IF it needs his roster spot because of a trade.
As I reported last week in this article (and frankly several articles recently), General Manager Chuck Fletcher is in the market for a depth defenseman.
In recent games, the Wild has had injury scares with defensemen Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella. Jared Spurgeon is already on injured reserve with a concussion, although coach Mike Yeo has said he is doing better. But all this was a reminder to Fletcher that even with Matt Dumba, fellow rookie Christian Folin and Nate Prosser playing well, it may behoove him to acquire a depth defenseman who can jump into the lineup if needed. There is little doubt the Wild needs another NHL body or two on the blue line, not just in case of injury, but performance. For instance, Dumba had a couple bigtime rookie moments the Wild did survive last night.
In Iowa, the only defensemen considered callup options remaining are Justin Falk and Jon Blum. Falk is the Wild’s only left-shot defenseman beyond Ryan Suter, Brodin and Scandella, meaning the Wild's one left-side injury away from having to recall Falk.
The Wild has inquired with the Columbus Blue Jackets about former University of Minnesota defenseman Jordan Leopold, sources say. The price is believed to be a mid-range draft pick. He was acquired from St. Louis for a 2016 fifth-round pick in November.
Leopold, 34, is most importantly a left-shot that could bring depth in case of injury. Good vision, moves the puck well, suspect at times defensively, good locker-room guy and again would be a depth player to have around for a playoff run.
He has scored 67 goals and 213 points in 677 games for seven teams (Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis and Columbus).
The former Hobey Baker winner won a national title with the Gophers in 2002, scoring 20 goals and 48 points in 44 games.
The top two defensemen on the open market are considered Edmonton's Jeff Petry and former Wild Zbynek Michalek, but Michalek has a concussion and Petry is a right-shot.
Other defensemen potentially available include Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen (coming back from blood clot and hasn't played all years), Carolina's Tim Gleason, Buffalo's Andrej Meszaros and Colorado's Jan Hejda. Others, too, but those are the most well-known names and Leopold is the only one I know the Wild has inquired about.
Again, for the Wild to give itself the flexibility to technially acquire two bodies, perhaps some other stuff is cooking, too. Remember, after Monday's deadline, rosters expand so injured players will be able to come back at any time without the need to create roster spots.
The Wild plays the Avs tomorrow night. The Avs are in Dallas tonight.
The Wild has shut out the Avalanche in three consecutive meetings (combined 9-0), the first NHL team to accomplish that feat since 2007-08. The Wild, 12-2-1 since the All-Star break and 14-3-2 in its past 19 games, has won six of eight on the road to climb over .500 on the road (15-14-2) for the first time since being 1-0 with a 3-0 win at Colorado on Oct. 11.
It is 14-3-3 in its past 19 games in Denver.
Devan Dubnyk is expected to start his 20th consecutive game, tying Niklas Backstrom's team record set in 2009. If all goes well, he has to be a candidate for February's First Star of the Month. The Wild has never had a Player of the Month.
By the way, Nino Niederreiter is the first Swiss-born player in NHL history to hit the 20-goal plateau.
That's it for now, although whether it's today, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, I'd expect the Wild to make a move for at least a defenseman.
I'll be on KFAN today at 4:30 p.m. CT, Saturday at 11:35 a.m. CT and Saturday night on Fox Sports North during the pregame show.
Matthew Hulsizer has become a minority owner of the Wild and minority owner Phil Falcone is out.
Hulsizer, a Chicagoan and former Amherst College hockey player, is CEO of PEAK6 Investments. Hulsizer has purchased 100 percent of Falcone's shares, which was down to less than 25 percent of the team after majority owner Craig Leipold purchased pieces of his stake over the past few years.
During a long comprehensive process that actually delayed this transfer for some time, Hulsizer got re-vetted by the NHL even though he has been vetted many times during his previous purchase attempts. Hulsizer met with the executive committee during the All-Star Game and was approved unanimously during a fax vote this week by the Board of Governors.
Leipold remains the team's majority owner.
As a result of this new agreement, there is no ability for any minority owner to obtain a majority stake in the team. That is different than the old agreement that did have a buy-sell clause. That meant there were mechanisms for Falcone to eventually become the majority owner by buying Leipold out or Leipold buying Falcone out.
That is no longer in this agreement with Hulsizer. Leipold said he's in for the long haul. "I'm planning to keep this for generations. This is becoming now a family investment."
"He is a hockey gooney," Leipold said, laughing, said of Hulsizer. "He's just a hockey guy. He loves hockey. He's a hockey fanatic. He watches all games at night. Now, he loves the Wild. For the last four months, during almost every game, I get texts from him and we kibbitz back and forth during the games. He's got a pretty good eye for talent and he's not shy to let me know what's going on with other players.
"He really believes in the analytical aspect of hockey. That comes from the business that he is in, in statistics and analytics of understanding stock markets and money funds and the value of international currencies. He's a numbers guy. He plays hockey today. He coaches his kids in hockey. He's going to be a fun guy to own the team with.
"Being a minority owner with a hockey team in a big hockey market, he's going to fit in real nicely. He loves the game. Let me tell you right now, he's made it very clear, he's only about winning. He's only about winning. That's what it's all about. That's why we hit it off so well. Listen, he doesn't ask about the financials of the team. He doesn't ask about the revenue and expenses. He asks one thing: How are we going to win?"
Leipold said, laughing, "That's the kind of guy I want, because frankly I do ask about revenue and I do ask about losses. It's only about winning. No question, he's a huge Wild fan right now. We both have one objective in mind and it's the same as Chuck Fletcher's and all of the players, and that's to win a Cup. That's the perfect partner."
Leipold said Hulsizer will probably make it to five games a year because he's not a fan of flying. "He drives over to Iowa to watch the American Hockey League games."
(Russo note: Hulsizer must be a glutton for punishment then. I kid, I kid, the Iowa Wild).
Falcone has had some well-documented troubles with the SEC, paying an $18 million fine two years ago.
"Phil was a really good partner," Leipold said. "Similar to Hulsizer, he was focused on winning the Cup as well. I like Phil. We spoke often. He had some personal reasons to exit the investment, and I respect that. But he's going to be a Wild fan forever and I've encouraged him to come back and watch games with me."
A quick hockey-related note: Forward Michael Keranen has been sent back to Iowa. He was scratched four times without making his NHL debut. The Wild's had an optional today. Rachel Blount is covering and she'll be on the Sean Bergenheim conference call this afternoon and blog afterward.
I am doing another podcast with Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan at 2:30 p.m. before my flight to Nashville. You can listen live at souhanunfiltered.com.
Here's the team's official release on Hulsizer:
The Minnesota Wild today announced changes in the makeup of its board of directors and investment partnership structure.
Matthew Hulsizer joins the board of directors as vice chairman and minority owner effective immediately. Hulsizer is co-founder and chief executive officer of PEAK6 Investments, L.P. based in Chicago. He is a passionate hockey enthusiast, played hockey at Amherst College and continues to play and coach in the Chicago area. Hulsizer’s ownership stake was unanimously approved by the NHL Board of Governors.
“I am very honored and excited to be a part of the Wild organization and to be partners with Craig [Leipold],” said Hulsizer. “As a life-long hockey player and fan, I have always dreamed of winning a Stanley Cup. Craig and I share a commitment to winning and we look forward to bringing the Stanley Cup to Minnesota.”
Also effective immediately, Philip Falcone, CEO and chairman of HC2 Holdings in New York, is vacating his minority ownership stake in the Wild after deciding to focus on other opportunities.
“It’s been a great seven years being part of the NHL and the Wild family,” said Falcone. “As a true Minnesotan, I’m as passionate about hockey and the Wild as I’ve ever been. Unfortunately given my New York City residency and schedule, I haven’t been able to enjoy this asset and spend as much time involved in the organization as I would have liked, so I’ve decided to pursue a different path. I wish Craig and the team nothing but the best and hope they can bring the Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey.”
“On behalf of the Minnesota Wild and the State of Hockey, I would like to offer Philip our sincere thanks for his support of the Wild and hockey in general over the past seven years,” Leipold said. “With Philip’s support, we were able to return the franchise to the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two years. He has been a terrific owner and partner during his tenure with the organization.”
With these investor changes, the Minnesota Wild board of director’s membership now includes Chairman Craig Leipold, Vice Chairman Matthew Hulsizer, Quinn Martin, Mark Pacchini and Jac Sperling.
The Wild got out in front of the rental market.
Just prior to Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Wild and Florida Panthers consummated a deal that brought veteran winger Sean Bergenheim to the Wild along with a 2016 seventh-round pick for a 2016 third-round pick.
“Sooner the better. No sense waiting to [Monday’s] deadline,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “Looking for a guy with some experience, looking for depth with three forwards out. We were looking to find a proven guy with playoff experience who’s willing to compete, go to the net and pursue pucks. Sean brings all those attributes.”
In 489 career games with the Islanders, Lightning and Panthers, Bergenheim has scored 95 goals and 179 points. He has especially produced in the playoffs with 12 goals and 17 points in 23 games.
He skates well, is strong defensively and can play up in a top-6 role if needed. He loves to shoot the puck.
Bergenheim, 31, frustrated with his lack of ice time and a string of healthy scratches in Florida, asked to be traded recently. The price all month had been a second-round pick.
Fletcher, who has been adamant that he won’t trade his first-round pick, top prospects or second-round pick after trading three in the past two years, traded this year’s third to Arizona for goalie Devan Dubnyk.
So Fletcher offered next year’s third and counterpart Dale Tallon finally took it for Bergenheim, who last played Feb. 12 at Minnesota.
“Sean was frustrated with his lack of ice time and came to me,” Tallon told Florida reporters. “He was injured a lot, injured a lot his whole career. But when he was healthy, he played hard, he played well. We had that big playoff run for us a couple years and had a good year that year and he had been injured ever since.”
Bergenheim filed a grievance against the Panthers in 2013 after the team claimed he sustained a sports hernia playing in Finland during the lockout and didn’t play him. Bergenheim said the injury occurred during that 2011-12 playoff run, and he won the grievance and got his salary.
Bergenheim, a 2002 first-round pick by the Islanders, is the Wild’s sixth Finn on the roster and is expected to meet the team Wednesday afternoon in Nashville, where he may debut Thursday. He had eight goals and 18 points in 39 games with the Panthers this season.
It would not be shocking if Bergenheim’s acquisition opens the door to trading veteran Kyle Brodziak, a center who has been playing wing the past few weeks and who’s in the last year of his contract.
The Wild has also inquired about Arizona skilled center Antoine Vermette, but the price is high right now. Fletcher is only looking to trade lesser assets, but the Wild has struggled all year in the faceoff circle beyond Mikko Koivu and Vermette’s seventh in the NHL in the circle.
The Wild is also in search of a depth defenseman, preferably a left-shot one.
With this Sunday's paper being eight days from the trade deadline and the fact that the last time I did something like this, fans were up in arms due to the Wild losing every night, I figured now would be a great time to do another Sunday Insider Russo's Rants Q and A.
Here's your shot to ask a question that may be answered in my Sunday column.
Here's the deal though: They have to be quick, easy-to-answer questions because space is at a premium in the newspaper and I'd like to include as many of your questions as possible.
So fire away, and understand that for space reasons, I may have to edit (trim) your question.
Try not to repeat questions asked by others and please don't use this space to comment on reader questions. This way I can easily snip out the questions I'll answer in my Sunday Insider.
You have until Friday early afternoon.
Thanks and talk to you after Friday's morning skates.
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