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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Posts about Vikings trade talk

You play Wild GM: Trades, free agency, buyouts, depth chart info

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 18, 2013 - 10:18 AM
With the salary cap dropping to $64.3 million next year, it should be an eventful few weeks in the NHL. There has been a lot of trade talk leaguewide and that should ramp up after Wednesday’s GM meeting.
I’ve talked to a handful of agents and managers the past week and it’s interesting times in the NHL. There’s been lots of trade talk throughout the league, but it’s hard to make moves currently because with so little money to go around, the second you pull the trigger on one thing, it could adversely affect other things you want to do.
As tight as the Wild’s cap situation, Minnesota’s actually in cap heaven compared to a few teams like Vancouver and Philly.
Several teams are going to have to do some work to get cap compliant this summer thanks to a $5.9 million drop. Then you have the teams that don’t normally get to the cap ceiling anyway because of budgetary issues.
So as Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said, “This is the tightest market the league’s ever seen. There’s just not a lot of money in the marketplace to spend, so it will be really interesting to see what happens this summer. The available dollars are a fraction of what they normally are. It’ll certainly have a big impact on what happens and more importantly what doesn’t happen.”
When you throw in the fact that a number of players will be added to the free-agent crop by way of compliance and regular buyouts, Fletcher said, “There could be a pretty vicious game of musical chairs. Come July 15, it could be a scary environment to be a player. You can analyze it all you want, but that’s just common sense when you consider the reduction of overall dollars available.”
As you can read in today’s newspaper here, the Wild’s cap next season will actually be a shade under $63.9 million because of a bonus overage incurred last year on Jonas Brodin. Essentially, the rookie hit performance bonuses that put the Wild over the cap. That penalty is incurred the following year.  
As far as I can tell, Brodin hit $637,500 in bonuses for hitting (defensemen thresholds) top-4 ice time, top-3 plus-minus, top-2 blocked shots. The NHL hasn’t announced the All-Rookie team yet (to be determined as to when), but if Brodin is named to it, he can get another $212,500 and make the max $850,000 in “A” bonuses under an entry-level contract.
As you can see on the depth chart below, the bonus overage means as it currently stands, before possible compliance buyouts, regular buyouts and trades, the Wild has about $6.2 million to spend this summer.
To put that in perspective, the Wild currently doesn’t have a No. 1 goalie locked up and Niklas Backstrom is coming off a contract that paid him $6 million.
So, just do the math. Not only does the Wild not have a No. 1 goalie yet, it hasn't re-signed restricted free agents Cal Clutterbuck, Jared Spurgeon and maybe Justin Falk.
So the reality is Fletcher will have to create some cap flexibility. Not everybody can come back. There will be trades, potential buyouts, etc.
(Remember, you can surpass the salary-cap ceiling by 10 percent during the offseason as long as you get cap compliant by opening night).
As I reported in today’s newspaper, Dany Heatley can’t be bought out because he is as of now deemed an “injured player.” He is doing well in his rehab and expected to be ready by training camp. Amazing bad luck for the Wild. A guy that never gets hurt (80+ games six of the previous seven years) gets hurt on the night it makes the Jason Pominville trade against his former team, San Jose, after an infraction from his former teammate, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, AFTER the final buzzer.
(Ironically, I'm hearing the man he was traded for – San Jose’s Martin Havlat – also has offseason abdominal surgery and thus can’t be bought out).
Pierre-Marc Bouchard will become a free agent July 5. Matt Cullen could very well, too, unless there are trades to create space in the next few weeks. And as we have all learned over the years, the closer the player gets to free agency, the more likely he is to test it.
Frankly, and this is Fletcher’s M.O. anyway, I’d think there will be some trades leading into the June 30 draft in Newark.
Fletcher says he’s been talking to anyone and everyone.
It really wouldn’t shock me if Clutterbuck were to be traded. He’s got value and has an expiring contract.
I hear the Wild’s been actively looking to trade Zenon Konopka. Mike Rupp plays a similar role and Jake Dowell’s contract turns into a one-way contract next year, so he should vie for that fourth-line center spot.
I also think if you do the math, if Tom Gilbert isn’t traded, my gut says he will be a compliance buyout just because it’s an easy way to get $4 million in flexibility. (Remember, because of the decrease in the salary cap, teams are permitted a total of two compliance buyouts that can be used this offseason and/or next. A compliance buyout allows you to buy out a player at two-thirds his salary and have the total cap hit forgiven). There are also still regular buyouts, which would likely be used on cheaper players (only you’d be charged the cap hit).
Also, if you use a compliance buyout on a player, you can’t re-sign that player for one year. So, to answer your question, no, the Wild can’t buy out Gilbert and re-sign him after July 5 at a cheaper salary/cap hit.
I’ve gotten lots of questions/emails regarding Heatley and whether he could be traded. Theoretically, yes, although he still has a limited no-trade clause where he’d provide a list of teams he wouldn’t go to. That hasn’t been asked of him.
As the roster currently stands, here is what I consider the depth chart. This is barring trades, buyouts, free-agent signings, so this will change. Cap hits (not salaries) are in parentheses. For more details, see the great capgeek.com.
So here’s a look. You can do the math yourself and see how tight things are. The Wild also wants to make external changes this summer. So if you were the GM, what would you do? How would you create space?
Left wing                         Center                          Right wing
Zach Parise ($7.5+M)       Mikko Koivu (6.75M)   Jason Pominville (4.505M)
*Jason Zucker ($833,333) *Charlie Coyle (975K)   Devin Setoguchi 3M
Cal Clutterbuck (RFA)     Kyle Brodziak (2.83+M) Dany Heatley (7.5M)
Mike Rupp (1.5M)           Zenon Konopka (925K) Torrey Mitchell (1.9M)
Extra: Jake Dowell (700K)
Unrestricted free agents: Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Some vying for spots: Mikael Granlund, Justin Fontaine, Stephane Veilleux
* Two-way contract; can be sent to the minors without waivers.
Left Defense                     Right Defense
Ryan Suter (7.5+M)          Jonas Brodin (1.4+M)
Marco Scandella (1.025M) Jared Spurgeon (RFA)
Clayton Stoner (1.05M)   Tom Gilbert (4M)
Extras: Nate Prosser (825,000) and Justin Falk (RFA)
Vying for spots: Matt Dumba
Unrestricted free agent: Brett Clark
No. 1 goalie to be determined
Josh Harding (1.9M)
Vying for spot: Darcy Kuemper
Unrestricted free agent: Niklas Backstrom
Buyout charge
Mark Parrish ($927,778)
Total cap hit roughly: $57,670,835
Wild’s cap ceiling next year is roughly: $63.9M
Available space roughly: $6.2+M before potentially re-signing Backstrom, Clutterbuck and Spurgeon
The next month really will be interesting to see how the Wild does the math and moves the shells around. I think there will be a lot more clarity once we see whom the No. 1 goalie will be (whether it’s Niklas Backstrom or another) and how much he costs.
It’ll be fascinating to see how this summer shapes up and what this roster looks like come training camp Sept. 11. Keep this depth chart at your side and compare it to the one after the offseason to see how much it changes.
Couple housekeeping items:
Suter is now on Twitter at @rsuter20.
I'll be on XM Radio on Wednesday at 8:45 a.m. I'm also filling in for Paul Allen from 9-noon Monday and Tuesday of next week.

Business as usual for the Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: August 4, 2012 - 10:17 AM
Good Saturday morning to you. Coming to you from the bumpy skies of 34,000 feet as I head to New York for a few days.
Since I've been on radio silence the past few weeks other than on Twitter (follow me at www.twitter.com/russostrib), I figured I should probably blog with a few Wild updates.
I chatted with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher for a half hour yesterday simply to check-in, and there really is nothing going on. If you follow the NHL, you know when it comes to transactions, most teams go on hiatus in August. The Wild is definitely one of those teams after doing all its business in June and July - particularly its July 4 Zach Parise/Ryan Suter fireworks.
The only restricted free agent not yet signed is Nick Palmieri (although Carson McMillan's paperwork isn't in yet), but according to the team, it's just a matter of time. That will give the Wild 49 of a possible 50 contracts. That means the Wild doesn't plan to sign anybody else this summer because it is saving the final contract for 2011 first-round pick Jonas Brodin.
Brodin signed a three-year deal last summer, but his contract only counts as one of the 50 if he plays in Minnesota or Houston. The Wild will decide in training camp whether Brodin officially turns pro here in North America or if he returns to Sweden next season.
The same goes with Matt Dumba, The 2012 first-round pick signed last month, but his contract only counts if he makes the team. Otherwise, because of his age, he will have to return to WHL Red Deer. If Brodin turns pro here in North America and somehow Dumba also knocks the door down in camp and makes the team, the Wild would then have to move a contract because it would be over 50.
Because the Wild has so many contracts and because it's less than $2 million from a $70.2 million salary-cap ceiling that will surely decrease when a new collective bargaining agreement is eventually finalized, I'd suspect the Wild trades a contract or two at some point for draft picks.
However, Fletcher has said over and over again, and again yesterday, that he has no plans of doing that until he sees how training camp plays out.
He sees no sense in trading a player or two now until he sees how camp shakes out. For instance, as you know, rarely has the Wild survived camp completely healthy, so why get rid of bodies for no reason now when the team is currently compliant when it comes to the cap and contract total?
Fletcher from Friday: "Just let things play out. Let's just see where we're at before we start making moves. We're deeper on defense, and up front, our depth is exceptional. We're as deep as any team in the league up front. And we have really good depth in goal. So I think the important thing is let's see where we're at and let's see where we are health-wise, let's see who plays well and who doesn't and let the players sort everything out for us - whether its from a health perspective or a performance perspective and make adjustments as we need to instead of guessing."
Contrary to the idiotic trade rumors invented by Twitter "insiders," Fletcher says he literally has nothing going right now in terms of trade talk with other teams.
So I should stand down if I'm assuming you're going to have to make a trade or two at some point? Fletcher: "If everyone plays to their level of expectations or even exceeds it or if everyone's healthy, then yeah, we're going to have a lot of players and that may make sense. But it just never happens that way. You always have a couple guys that play better than expected. There's always a couple guys that don't come into camp in shape or get hurt right away or don't play well for whatever reason. It happens every year. So, the good thing is this year I think we're protected against that possibility with the depth that we have. I've never been to a camp where everything went according to plan. That's why I keep saying, let it just sort itself out. I hope there's not a lot of injuries, but there always seems to be something. Somebody will overachieve but a couple guys may underachieve. Let's make our decisions based on what happens as opposed to what we think we'll see. Really, at this time of year, there's very little (trade) activity. Most teams want to get into camp before they make moves, so on a whole host of levels, instead of forcing something when we don't need to in the summer, let's let training camp happen and make decisions based on knowledge and go from there. We're certainly not hurrying to do anything. I'm just excited to have competition in camp. If there's disappointed players at the end of camp, then that's a nice problem to have because we haven't had that before."
The context there is Fletcher feels too many players have been given free spots in camp because of the lack of depth in Minnesota previously. That won't be the case this season with so many young prospects knocking on the door; the fact that the Wild signed forwards Zach Parise, Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell and defenseman Ryan Suter; have forwards Jake Dowell and Stephane Veilleux knocking on the door; have blue-liners like Steve Kampfer, Brian Connelly and Brodin pushing the Marco Scandellas, Justin Falks, Nate Prossers and Clayton Stoners.
As you know, the CBA expires Sept. 15. An agreement seems a long ways off considering the NHLPA hasn't even extended an official counter proposal yet.
While the season starting on time is undoubtedly in peril, it's business as usual around the Wild, Fletcher says. Sales execs are selling tickets, Fletcher and his staff have been setting up travel, coach Mike Yeo and his staff will be back in town next week to finish organizing training camp.
As of now, the Traverse City prospects tournament is a go, but I hear there's a very good chance that could be scrapped later this month if it appears a CBA is not imminent. This is not a tournament you can just cancel the day before. Teams spend a fortune flying prospects in for the tournament.
The Wild is proceeding like it's a go, but at some point the Red Wings (host team) will have to make a decision.
Hopefully you've been catching the "Becoming Wild" web vignettes on wild.com. The Wild's invested a lot of money flying local television producer Pat O'Connor around the world putting this cool thing together. Eventually, the show will return to Fox Sports North next month.
O'Connor has been to British Columbia to spend time with Dany Heatley on his boat, Alberta to do yoga with Kyle Brodziak, Moorhead to spend a day with Matt Cullen (Cully's Kids), went to Madison to watch Tom Gilbert's crazy workouts with his Badger buddies, hung out with Veilleux, traveled to outside Niagara Falls to visit Cal Clutterbuck.

Brunette's "European Vacation;" More Barker thoughts

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 29, 2011 - 9:53 AM

Cross Wimbledon off Andrew Brunette's Bucket List. 

As you can see in this article, Brunette and his wife flew to London on Monday to join up with Niklas Backstrom and his girlfriend to check out Wimbledon Thursday-Sunday. Today's all about touristy stuff, like Brunette taking a train today to check out Stamford Bridge -- home of his beloved Chelsea football club.

Brunette knows at this point his second stint with the Wild is likely over. He hadn't heard from the team as of yesterday and all indications are lately the Wild's direction now is younger and faster.

Brunette turns 38 in August and the Wild hasn't make the playoffs since his return to the team, so with Pierre-Marc Bouchard looking like he'll start off on the left side of Mikko Koivu in training camp and Devin Setoguchi looking like he'll start on Antti Miettinen's spot on the right, Brunette sees himself moving on.

In fact, as I reported on Twitter yesterday, Brunette has switched agents, firing his longtime agents, Don and Todd Reynolds, over the controversy they created last month when they criticized Rangers forward Sean Avery's stance on same-gender marriage. Todd Reynolds tweeted, "Legal or not, it will always be wrong."

The agents were under fire, Brunette wasn't thrilled with the "fiasco" they created and he's since hired veteran Don Baizley, the agent for many NHLer including Backstrom and Koivu.

So between the time change between London and North America, and between breaks at Wimbledon, Brunette will check in with Baizley a number of times Friday to see which teams have shown interest in him. My guess is the way Brunette lives and dies with the playoffs, he'll do his best to sign with a true playoff contender.

As for Cam Barker, I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher for awhile yesterday, and he wasn't about to speculate what happens with Barker today. One reason is you put players on waivers for a million reasons -- to get teams to take a contract, to spur trade talk by maybe one team wanting to move a contract they don't want for a contract you don't want, just to send a message and get an underachieving player's attention.

Trust me, the Wild's got Barker's attention.

The only thing that is clear right now is the Wild's not happy with Barker and the Wild's got a bunch of things cooking in different trade talks. So one reason Fletcher wouldn't speculate yesterday was because with things so fluid right now, maybe something happens that makes him revisit buying Barker out -- i.e. trading another defenseman or something like that. But Fletcher has indicated he's got his toes in a number of potential things right now.

My guess is Barker is still a goner, whether he's put on unconditional waivers today or the Wild trades him later this summer. Remember, in the NHL, waivers is not "waived" like other sports. Often times players clear waivers in the NHL and nothing happens. They just continue playing on the same team. I'd think that would be difficult in this current situation.

Either way, we should get a bit more clarity on Barker in a few hours.



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