This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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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Morning to you. I'll be on Joe Schmit's Sports Wrap on Channel 5 tonight, I think around 10:30 p.m.
NHL Draft is over. Only business yet to come: Qualifying offers must be tendered by 4 p.m. CT Monday; First buyout period ends Thursday and free agency begins Friday.
I'll write more about free agency as we get closer, but with the Wild in draft and development mode, the Wild trying to get out of the habit of overpaying for veteran free agents, the fact this free-agent class is below average, the fact that next year's free-agent class is potentially star-studded by free-agent class standards and the fact that most teams are trying to create cap flexibility due to the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations that will almost certainly result in a restructured (lower) cap ceiling, I wouldn't expect a splash from the Wild.
As has been reported many times the last month, the Wild is going to leave openings for players like Colton Gillies, Cody Almond, Casey Wellman, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser and others to try to challenge for spots. If they come to camp and don't earn spots, the Wild would react then to find players.
The Wild will sign one backup goalie this summer, whether that be Jose Theodore, Josh Harding or another. I'd think they'd have to sign at least one defenseman and I think they'd like to add maybe one character forward, prefarably via trade. You can see the depth chart below to see the open spots (as they stand this very moment at least; this could change).
Here's the coverage from today's paper:
My Insider on the fact that Chuck Fletcher's plan is clear to see now. May require patience, but the Wild's been spinning its wheels the last 3 years. The team has been trying to take short cuts with trades and some free-agent pickups, but most have been disappointing. This path just hasn't worked.
I've been preaching for years that this team was way behind the majority of teams in this league in terms of young talent. Well, it's clear they are now completely investing into trying to stockpile young talent. Now the hope is that many of these kids pay off and the team can build internally like most the great teams in this league did (Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, etc).
This above fact is not hard to see, by the way. Somebody wrote me today, saying "Name one!" I mean, are you serious? Just peruse the rosters of most the top or up-and-coming teams in the league. Most their stars/quality, impact players are homegrown talent. The Wild hasn't developed a top-6 forward since the 2002 draft (Bouchard). The Wild hasn't developed a top-4 defenseman since the 2003 draft (Burns).
You want to know why your favorite franchise is stuck in mud. Look no further than those harsh facts. If you've read me for awhile, you know my opinion has long been that building through youth the way those other teams do is the way to go. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I endorse this path now.
Once you build a strong number of assets, that's when those players either impact your lineup or that's when you can maybe swing for the big trade or the big free agent.
Wild notebook on drafting locals, Craig Leipold's delight when Mario Lucia was drafted, update on assistant coaching situation, update on Houston Aeros coach finalists, Charlie Coyle note, Big Buff update and Markus Granlund draft note
Here's the text from the link:
Here's a look at the Wild's depth chart for next season as it stands today. The TBDs indicate open spots that either need to be filled through the promotion of Wild prospects or external acquisitions (free agency or trades). Below each player are his 2011-12 salary and 2011-12 salary-cap hit. The salary-cap ceiling for next season is $64.3 million.
Line 1: Pierre-Marc Bouchard ($4.25 million salary, $4.08M salary cap hit); Mikko Koivu ($7.29M, $6.75M); Devin Setoguchi ($2.75M; $3M)
Line 2: Guillaume Latendresse ($2.6M, $2.5M); Kyle Brodziak ($1.3M, $1.15M); Martin Havlat ($5M, $5M)
Line 3: TBD; Matt Cullen ($3.5M, $3.5M); Cal Clutterbuck ($1.5M, $1.4M)
Line 4: Eric Nystrom ($1.4M, $1.4M); TBD; Brad Staubitz ($600K, $575K)
Note: Three or four spots are open depending on if the Wild keeps 13 or 14 forwards, seven or eight defensemen and two goalies make the team.
Vying for spots: Colton Gillies, Casey Wellman, Cody Almond, James Sheppard, Patrick O'Sullivan, Carson McMillan, Matt Kassian.
Unrestricted free agents: Andrew Brunette, John Madden, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew
Restricted free agents: Wellman, Sheppard, Gillies, O'Sullivan
Minor league unrestricted free agents: Robbie Earl, Jed Ortmeyer.
Line 1: Nick Schultz ($3.6 million salary, $3.5M salary cap hit); Marek Zidlicky ($4M, $4M)
Line 2: Greg Zanon ($2.1M, $1.933M); Jared Spurgeon ($535K, $527K)
Line 3: Clayton Stoner ($575K, $550K); Cam Barker* ($3.25M, $3.08M)
Note: One or two spots are open depending on if the Wild keeps 13 or 14 forwards.
* The Wild is considering buying out Barker by Thursday's deadline.
Vying for spots: Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk.
Restricted free agents: Falk.
Unrestricted free agent: Drew Bagnall.
Starter: Niklas Backstrom ($6 million salary, $6M salary cap hit)
Note: One spot is open.
Vying for spots: Dennis Endras.
Unrestricted free agents: Jose Theodore, Josh Harding.
• Actual 2011-12 payroll (as of today): $50,250,000
• Salary cap hit: $49,876,110
Notes: Includes bought-out Mark Parrish's $927,778 payoff and cap hit. ... This total also includes the 17 of a possible 23 players.
Some feel-good news early in Day 2 of the NHL entry draft when the hometown Wild trades its third- and fourth-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks for the second-to-last pick of the second round (No. 60).
With the selection, the Wild drafted Wayzata High School's Mario Lucia, the son of the U's Don Lucia.
Good wee hour of the morning to you.
I caught up with Clayton Stoner, who's brother tragically passed away last month. Here's that story
Also Judd Zulgad and photographer Jeff Wheeler got great behind-the-scenes access of Gabriel Landeskog before, during and after he was drafted. Check that out
As for the trade, I will write a column for Sunday's paper with my complete thoughts, but the plan is clear as day now.
The Wild's getting younger and is in absolute add talent mode. They added four forwards in last year's drafts in Mikael Granlund, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker. Tonight, they added three more forwards -- streaky but dangerous goal scorer Devin Setoguchi, stud college power forward Charlie Coyle (as integral to the trade happening as Setoguchi) and Zack Phillips, who scored 95 points this past season for Memorial-Cup winning Saint John.
They also with the No. 10 pick took puck-moving defenseman Jonas Brodin.
Folks, I'm nobody to preach to people that spend a fortune on tickets, merchandise, etc. But this path is how this franchise must go now. It's been spinning its wheels for too long, and now is looking to infuse young talent into the organization to catch up with the more talented teams in this league.
Unfortunately, the price tonight was Brent Burns. Snag him on your fantasy team next season because he'll have the ability to put up monster points skating with Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, Pavelski, Couture, etc, etc.
But Burns was the lone tradeable asset this team had that could fish three key pieces, and with his contract up in a year, the Wild had to make a tough decision whether to trade him or sign him. I'll go a lot more into all this in my column.
Burns was sad to leave but exhillarated by what's ahead. He was extremely excited to play for San Jose and in front of those fans. And you've got to think now the Sharks are confident they'll be able to sign him long-term. You don't give up three assets like they gave up only to lose a player in a year.
Setoguchi is a shooter on a pass-first team. You add him to the fold and think suddenly how many young, talented forwards are inside this organization now, the future's starting to look brighter if these guys can develop. Again, it won't happen overnight. But this process had to begin and be invested in. It'll take patience, but this is how the other teams got so far ahead of the Wild.
Here are some videos tonight of Chuck Fletcher, Jonas Brodin and Zack Phillips. Also, assistant GM Brent Flahr's comments are below. There should also be a webcam with Judd Zulgad and myself on the site by Saturday.
Here's Brent Flahr, and thanks to Brian Stensaas for transcribing
(Chuck deferred to you on the picks, so tell us about Jonas) An elite-skating defenseman, really good puck moving ability and really thinks the game well. He played in Farjestad and played regularly for most of the year. It’s obviously a huge step for a young player to make that step and keep his composure and sense. And with his composure and natural ability to play the game – he played well. I was over there for the championship series against the Adam Larsson’s and these players and he really played well. Then he joined the Under-18 team in Sweden partway through the tournament and really helped them out, got them to the final game. He’s a terrific skater and has a terrific mind for ther game.
(Did he move up a lot?) Maybe in some rankings. But I think most teams were pretty aware. I think some of the ratings don’t get to see him play regularly. Because he’s playing with men he doesn’t get all the first-team power play ice time. You see that in his statistics, but when you get to see him play with his peers you understand what he is and he’s obviously a high-quality prospect.
(Does the fact that he’s played against men put him ahead of some North Americans?) I think it’s easy to recognize his hockey sense and his ability to make quick decisions. He’s a young player playing with men and at a high level. He’s got very good composure and reads the play, moves the puck and gets out of his own end very well. It’s easier for him to make the transition to the pro game just because of his experience already.
(Was this your guy or was it a tough call?) We had a number of players there we had penciled for our first pick. We actually had Jonas a little higher. [Duncan] Siemens is a totally different kind of defenseman. Big, physical kid. For what we thought we need with mobility and skill on the back end, it was an easy choice.
(Couple years away?) He thinks the game so well, I’m not going to put any limits on that. We’ll talk to his people. Obviously he’s got to get physically stronger and put on weight.
(Will the scoring come for Jonas?) He’s a young guy, like I said. And That’s the way it works in Sweden. Young guys have to earn their time. I was there in the playoffs, and he scored the winning goal one game. Off the crossbar, I believe. You watch his feet, his vision and his skill and we’re confident the scoring will come. When he plays with the Under 18 team he plays so many minutes.
(Phillips knows where the net is) A very smart, heady player with good hands. Always in the right spot. A nose for the net. He’s a competitive guy who really stepped up in big games and that’s what we’re looking for.
(Average skater?) You look at him, and he has skill and competitiveness. But he’s not a big-framed kid. He’s going to have to get stronger and work on that. And he’s aware of that. He’s got some work ahead of him but we’re convinced he’s willing to do that and we’re looking forward to seeing it. He was injured during the Memorial Cup, actually. Give a lot of credit to him for playing with that.
(What do you remember about Coyle?) A terrific pick by them the year before. Came out of the Eastern Junior League out there, so it’s a big jump but he had a terrific year out in Boston University andwith the world junior team he played very well. Big, strong kid. Off the ice, he’s already very mature. He’s strong; plays in the hard areas. Goes to the net. Good hands in traffic. A power-forward frame. He’s a big piece to the puzzle here.
(At what point did the Burns trade come up?) We took a lot of calls, and a lot we dismissed easily. When San Jose put together a package we had to listen to, it made sense.
The Ottawa Senators hold a League-high 12
picks for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, to be held Friday, June 24 (round 1)
and Saturday, June 25 (rounds 2-7) at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul,
Minnesota. The Minnesota Wild, hosting the Entry Draft for the first time
in franchise history, are scheduled to make their first selection in front
of a hometown crowd with the 10th overall choice.
2011 NHL ENTRY DRAFT PICK SUMMARY (through June 21, 2011)
4. New Jersey
5. NY Islanders
9. Boston (from TOR)
11. Colorado (from STL)
15. NY Rangers
19. Edmonton (from LA)
21. Ottawa (from NSH)
25. Toronto (from PHI)
27. Tampa Bay
28. San Jose
30. Toronto (from BOS)
32. St. Louis (from COL)
34. NY Islanders
36. Chicago (from WPG) *
38. Nashville (from NJ)
40. Boston (from MIN)
41. St. Louis
43. Chicago (from CGY-TOR) *
44. Dallas **
45. Calgary (from NYR)
46. St. Louis (from BUF)
47. Florida (from MTL)
48. Chicago *
49. Los Angeles
50. NY Islanders (from MTL)
56. Phoenix (from PHI)
57. Calgary (from WSH-CAR-NYR)
58. Tampa Bay
59. San Jose
61. Ottawa (from BOS)
* Chicago will transfer pick # 36, 43 or 48 to Ottawa
** Dallas will transfer pick # 44 or 75 to New Jersey
63. NY Islanders (from COL)
65. Anaheim (from NYI)
69. No selection
70. Chicago (from TOR)
72. St. Louis
74. Edmonton (from CGY)
75. Dallas **
76. Florida (from NYR)
80. Los Angeles
81. Boston (from PHX)
84. Philadelphia (from PIT) ***
86. Toronto (from PHI)
87. Florida (from WSH)
88. St. Louis (from TB)
89. San Jose
91. Florida (from BOS)
*** Pick #84 is conditionally traded to Phoenix
94. Nashville (from FLA)
95. NY Islanders
99. New Jersey
102. St. Louis
106. NY Rangers
108. Winnipeg (from MTL)
110. Los Angeles
113. Montreal (from ANA)
114. Edmonton (from PIT)
118. Philadelphia (from TB)
119. San Jose
125. NY Islanders
127. NY Islanders (from WPG)
129. New Jersey
132. St. Louis
133. Winnipeg (from CAR-FLA)
134. NY Rangers (from CGY)
136. NY Rangers
140. Los Angeles
146. Detroit (from PHI)
148. Tampa Bay
149. Winnipeg (from SJ)
152. Toronto (from EDM)
155. Phoenix (from NYI)
159. New Jersey
162. St. Louis
166. San Jose (from NYR)
170. Los Angeles
171. Ottawa (from PHX-ANA)
173. Toronto (from ANA)
178. Tampa Bay
179. San Jose
185. NY Islanders
189. New Jersey
192. St. Louis
194. Winnipeg (from CGY)
196. Phoenix (from NYR)
200. Los Angeles
203. Toronto (from ANA) *
204. Ottawa (from PIT)
208. Tampa Bay
209. Pittsburgh (from SJ)
211. Chicago (from BOS)
* Pick #203 is conditionally traded back to Anaheim
Afternoon from beautiful Toronto, where I'm about to motor to the airport for a flight. I've got a wedding in Upstate New York this weekend, a couple hours from Binghamton.
Trust me, I wish I could be two places at once so I could catch the Houston Aeros play back-to-back games tonight and Saturday in Games 4 and 5 of the Calder Cup Finals. The Aeros hold a 2-1 series advantage.
But I won't be able to pull it off.
Great three days here in Toronto gathering stuff for our NHL Draft coverage. The NHL was beyond accomodating setting up interviews with athletes and giving access to folks. And of course, the NHL's brass and agents are always accomodating.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, potentially the No. 1 pick in the June 24-25 Draft in St. Paul,. addressing the media after today's fitness testing.
I sat down with GM Chuck Fletcher for an interview on tons of stuff a few nights ago. The pressing stuff appeared in today's newspaper with a link here. Talks about upcoming contract talks with Brent Burns, other issues on the table, like the speculation throughout the NHL that Cam Barker is buyout bait, and the coaching search.
However, I've got one name to add to the coaching candidate list. It's taken a few days, but I finally feel I've ironed it down well enough to report.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has interviewed longtime, well-respected Nashville Predators assistant Peter Horachek, according to multiple sources. Horachek is also very much a candidate for the Dallas Stars. You can read about him at this link
So, the names I've confirmed interviews for as of now are former Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish, whom I believe is a leading contender still (also Ottawa), former Pittsburgh and Montreal coach Michel Therrien, former Dallas, Philly and Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, Montreal Canadiens assistant Kirk Muller (candidate in Dallas and Ottawa who knows he may have to first become a head coach in the AHL) and Horachek.
As far as I know, Aeros coach Mike Yeo hasn't had his official interview yet, but as I wrote the other day, Fletcher's certainly spent enough time with him both during this Calder Cup playoff run and during Yeo's longtime stint as the Penguins' top assistant.
Couple other things:
I've gotten emails and tweets asking injury updates on Tyler Cuma and Brett Bulmer. From what I'm told, Cuma is progressing very well. He's working out with a personal trainer here in Toronto, came to Hamilton to watch "the boys" play in the Western Conference finals and may even attend games here in this championship round.
Bulmer has a minor knee injury...Bone, not ligament, I'm told, and if the playoffs continued rather than concluded in a matter of days, he'd be a couple weeks away.
That's it from me. Here's the Aeros' preview from the Aeros' PR, and remember, games can be listened to on aeros.com, watched on ahllive.com and down at Tom Reid's Pub:
HOUSTON AEROS (Western Conference Champions)
vs. BINGHAMTON SENATORS (Eastern Conference Champions)
BEST-OF-7 --- BROOME COUNTY ARENA (6:05 p.m. CST)
(HOU leads 2-1)
The Houston Aeros and Binghamton Senators square off in Game 4 of the Calder Cup Finals at Broome County Arena. The series is a best-of-seven with a 2-3-2 format. The Aeros have a 2-1 series lead after winning Games 1 and 3.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
--- Swept the Peoria Rivermen 4-0 in the first round.
--- Defeated Milwaukee in seven games in the second round.
--- Defeated Hamilton 4-3 in the Western Conference Finals
--- Defeated Manchester 4-3 in the first round.
--- Defeated Portland 4-2 in the second round.
--- Swept Charlotte 4-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
DID YOU KNOW?
--- The Aeros are the first AHL club ever to win a playoff series after relinquishing a 3-0 series lead (Conference Finals vs. HAM)
--- With wins over Milwaukee and Hamilton in the last two rounds, Houston improved to 6-0 all-time in AHL Game 7’s.
--- Houston and Binghamton both reached the 2011 Calder Cup Finals after missing the postseason entirely in 2010.
--- Binghamton is the eighth consecutive East Division team to represent the Eastern Conference in the Calder Cup Finals.
--- Houston’s hockey history actually pre-dates that of Binghamton. The Houston Skippers began play at the Sam Houston Coliseum in 1946, changed their name to the Huskies, and were coached by Toe Blake during the 1947-48 season. The team won the USHL crown that season. Binghamton’s first pro team was known as the Broome Dusters in the NAHL in 1973.
ALL-TIME AEROS PLAYOFF NOTABLES
--- The Aeros are 7-3 all-time in AHL Playoff series when they split the first two games.
--- In 2003, the Aeros split the first two games of each best-of-seven series on their way to the Calder Cup.
--- Houston is 10-6 all-time in AHL Game 4’s with a 5-2 record on the road.
--- The Aeros are 7-0 all-time in AHL best-of-seven series in which they have a 2-1 lead and are 5-2 in Game 4.
2011 AEROS PLAYOFF NOTABLES
--- Houston is 9-3 in games decided by one goal. All three losses have been in overtime.
--- When registering 40 or more shots, the Aeros are 4-1.
--- The Aeros are 7-2 when scoring first with a 3-0 road record.
--- Houston is 4-0 when leading after one period and 7-0 when leading after two periods.
--- Houston has outshot their opponents in 16 of 21 playoff games. They are 10-6 when doing so.
--- Opponents have scored first 12 times, but the Aeros have won seven of those games.
--- Houston’s 61 shots in Game 6 vs. HAM tied a team record for the second-most shots in one playoff game and were the most since Houston peppered Hamilton’s Ty Conklin with 84 shots in Game 2 of the 2003 Calder Cup Finals.
AEROS PLAYER NOTABLES
--- Jed Ortmeyer became the fifth Aeros player to score two goals in a game this playoff campaign when he notched a pair in Game 1 vs. BNG.
--- Aeros players have a combined 28 multi-point games in the playoffs, led by Patrick O’Sullivan (4), Jed Ortmeyer and Casey Wellman (3 each).
Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild)
Binghamton Senators (Ottawa Senators)
CALDER CUP FINALS SCHEDULE
2011 Calder Cup Finals (best-of-seven)
W2-Houston Aeros vs. E5-Binghamton Senators
Game 1 – Fri., May 27 – Binghamton 1 at Houston 3
Game 2 – Sat., May 28 – Binghamton 2 at Houston 1 OT
Game 3 – Wed., June 1 – Houston 2 at Binghamton 1
Game 4 – Fri., June 3 – Houston at Binghamton, 7:05 EST
*Game 5 – Sat., June 4 – Houston at Binghamton, 7:05 EST
*Game 6 – Tue., June 7 – Binghamton at Houston, 7:05 CST
*Game 7 – Thu., June 9 – Binghamton at Houston, 7:05 CST
PLAYOFF HISTORY, CONNECTIONS
--- This is the first time the teams have met in the playoffs.
--- The Aeros have never faced a team from New York in the postseason.
--- Binghamton’s Corey Locke is the Aeros single season (2009) playoff leader in points (23), goals (12) and PPG (6). Goaltender Barry Brust was an Aero from 2007-10.
--- AT HOME, Matt Hackett is 8-3 with a 2.17 GAA and .911 SV%. He went 3-1 at home in the Conference Finals.
--- ON THE ROAD, Hackett is 6-4 with a 2.74 GAA and .893 SV%.
--- Matt Hackett’s uncle, Jeff, led the Springfield Indians to a Calder Cup win in 1990 and was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy, annually given to the most valuable player of the playoffs. He went 10-5 that playoff campaign.
LAST GAME QUICK RECAP
Jon DiSalvatore had a goal and an assist and Nate Prosser scored the game-winner as the Houston Aeros defeated the Binghamton Senators 2-1 in Game 3 of the 2011 Calder Cup Finals before 4,710 fans at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena on Wednesday night. Patrick O’Sullivan assisted on both Houston goals while goaltender Matt Hackett made 28 saves in the victory, including 13 in the final 20 minutes.
AEROS SPECIAL TEAMS
POWER PLAY --- Is 1/9 vs. BNG… Went 6/30 vs. HAM… Went 6/32 vs. MIL in round 2… Went 3/24 vs. PEO in the opening round… Ranked 6th (20.2%) in the regular season… Jon DiSalvatore led the team with 14 PPG… Finished the season with goals in six-straight to set a season-high streak (18/45)…Also had goals in six-straight from Feb. 22-Mar. 4… Had multiple PPG in 16 games and was 12-2-0-2 in those games.
PENALTY KILL --- BNG is 2/11… HAM went 6/25and scored three SHG… MIL went 4/30 in round 2… The Ads scored a SHG in Game 5… PEO went 3/12 on the PP in the first round… Ranked 22nd (81.0%) in the regular season… Carson McMillan led the team with three SHG… Opponents were 16/46 on the PP in the final eight games of the season… Allowed at least a goal in a season-high seven straight (Mar. 22 – Apr. 2)… Held opponents to one or no PPG in 15 straight games until TOR went 2-for-5 on Jan. 23.
AEROS BROADCAST INFO
Follow the Aeros on News Talk 1070 KNTH and online at AEROS.COM with Joe O’Donnell providing the play-by-play call. Watch every game online at www.ahllive.com.
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