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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The Wild's on the verge of bringing back a familiar face.
Cody Almond, a fifth-round pick by the Wild in 2007, played the past two seasons in Geneva of the Swiss Hockey League.
But Almond is expected to re-sign with the Wild in the next few days, I have confirmed. The news was first reported by the Tribune deGeneve. Almond's decision to again chase his dream of becoming an NHL regular comes a few weeks after he signed a five-year contract to remain with his Swiss team.
This move comes two summers after the Wild couldn't reach a contract agreement with Almond, who was then an up-and-down minor leaguer who opted for a big contract in Switzerland.
At the time, it seemed a bit of an impatient move on Almond's part because he was just 22 and about to earn waiver rights, which would have given him a real good chance at making the following season's team.
But Almond is turning 25 later this month and by all accounts has developed into a pretty solid player. Over parts of three seasons, the Calgary native played 25 games for the Wild, scoring two goals in limited minutes on the fourth line. He's a big, left-shot center who can skate, hit, play with an edge and play wing, too. Last year, he broke out offensively with Geneva, scoring 18 goals and 34 points in 44 games with 75 penalty minutes.
For Almond to spurn a five-year deal with Geneva means he will likely be armed with a one-way contract from the Wild. That will give him an inside chance of making the team. Coach Mike Yeo knows him well from his time in Houston. Basically, he provides depth.
I added on a few Cody Almond articles from yesteryear. One is when he traveled almost 9,000 miles to play eight games in 10 nights -- four for Houston, four for Minnesota.
The other was in 2011 when Charles Barkley and Michael Strahan crashed the Wild's rookie dinner in Chicago.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
January 30, 2011 Sunday
MICHAEL RUSSO'S SUNDAY INSIDER;
The kids are all right;
Two sports superstars dropped in on the Wild's "rookie dinner," dispensing some advice with a little hazing mixed in.
BYLINE: MICHAEL RUSSO; STAFF WRITER, STAR TRIBUNE (Mpls.-St. Paul)
SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. 10C
LENGTH: 964 words
No matter what Cody Almond accomplishes in his hockey career, the Wild rookie always will consider singing for Charles Barkley and Michael Strahan "icing on the cake."
Last Sunday at the Chicago Cut Steakhouse, Barkley, the former NBA great-turned-TNT commentator, and Strahan, the former New York Giants star defensive end-turned-Fox commentator, were dining at the same restaurant where the Wild was having its rookie dinner.
Wild center John Madden used to live in the same neighborhood as Strahan when Madden played for the Devils and Strahan for the Giants, so next thing you know, "Sir Charles" and the NFL's single-season sacks record-holder entered the room to, as defenseman Nick Schultz said, "hold court for two hours."
Barkley and Strahan told stories, especially about past rookie dinners during their careers. Rookie dinners are a pro sports tradition where the rookies buy the team dinner.
"Suddenly, Charles started getting all these crazy ideas in his head. I was just like, 'Oh man, here we go,'" rookie defenseman Jared Spurgeon said.
Yup, the rookie hazing of Spurgeon, Cody Almond and Clayton Stoner began.
"We gave a speech, told a joke, did three skits and sang a song," Almond said, laughing. "All the boys were howling pretty good and [Barkley and Strahan] were loving it, too," Almond said.
Spurgeon, who made his NHL debut on his 21st birthday Nov. 29, sang Travis McCoy's "Billionaire," where Spurgeon wants to be "on the cover of Forbes magazine, smiling next to Oprah and the Queen."
Guess the teammates' reaction on that one. "It was the first song that popped in my head, and the lyrics are pretty easy," Spurgeon said.
Almond, 21, did a scene from "Step Brothers" where Will Ferrell sings Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About" -- the scene where John C. Reilly tells him, "You've got to know, that's a voice of an angel ... a combination of Fergie and Jesus."
"I got a positive reaction from it," Almond said.
Stoner, Spurgeon said, couldn't think of a song so "he just told some joke."
For Spurgeon, the thrill of meeting Barkley and Strahan just adds one more unforeseen experience during a dream few months.
"At the start of the year, I was never expecting to be at my first NHL rookie party," he said. "It was just great to hang out with the guys, laugh, tell jokes, eat some good food and meet Charles Barkley and Michael Strahan."
Spurgeon shelled out $5,000 for his share of the check. "It was the most expensive meal I've ever paid for and probably ever will," Spurgeon said, laughing. "I'll be eating microwaveable dinners for the next little while to save up some money."
Almond "got off the hook" and didn't have to contribute to the dinner bill because he didn't play during his four-game call-up. He said Barkley and Strahan jabbed each other over Barkley's Taco Bell commercials and Strahan's Subway commercials.
"They're two of the funniest guys I've ever met in my life. Strahan kept calling Bruno [Andrew Brunette] the 'White Oprah,'" Almond said, in hysterics.
The two former athletes also gave Wild players sound advice, telling them to cherish team dinners like that one.
Barkley told the players that they have "hit the lottery" and "have the best jobs in the world and to appreciate what you've got every day, always have fun coming to the rink in the morning and really take advantage of it because your careers are short and when it's over, you're going to miss it every day," Almond said.
Barkley spent much of his career reminding everyone that, "I am not a role model."
But he made quite an impression on Almond. "This is a great year for my development," said Almond, drafted in the fifth round in 2007. "I'm on the same page with all of management and the coaching staff. I'm going to keep developing and learning in the AHL. But next year is my year. Hopefully, next year I'll be there in Minnesota the whole season."
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
November 15, 2010 Monday
Prospect's callup turns into a travel whirlwind 2.36.2 news hed rej hed righerej righerej
BYLINE: MICHAEL RUSSO; STAFF WRITER, STAR TRIBUNE (Mpls.-St. Paul)
SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. 12C
LENGTH: 447 words
TAMPA, FLA. - Cody Almond slept in Sunday, waking up in Peoria, Ill., after 12 o'clock -- understandable considering the odyssey he's taken across North America the past 10 days.
On Monday -- providing he's not retrieved by the Wild again -- the Wild prospect will complete an exhausting schedule, flying from Chicago to Houston after playing Sunday in his fourth game in four nights, sixth in seven and eighth in 10.
That's even abnormal for an up-and-down minor-leaguer. The eight games consisted of four games with the Wild, four with the Houston Aeros.
"I'm ready to come up at any time, but it'll sure be nice to go home, get some clean clothes and sleep in my own bed for a change," Almond, 21, said.
Almond has been recalled and reassigned twice since Nov. 4, a whirlwind that's taken him from Houston to Minneapolis to Columbus to Vancouver (Abbotsford) to Minneapolis to Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale to Tampa to Chicago (Peoria) to, Monday morning, Houston.
That's 8,769 air miles.
"I'll tell you what, with the mileage, that might be a record," Aeros GM Jim Mill said. "It's excellent for career."
This season, Almond has played four games with the Wild totaling 24 minutes, 9 seconds, almost what the two-way center played Saturday alone in Peoria. The Wild decided it was best to return Almond to the Aeros after he played only 6 1/2 minutes at left wing Friday at Florida.
"There's positives and negatives to both," Almond said. "A lot of ice time [with Houston] will help me develop, but it also helps being called up just watching the guys and practicing up there and learning from the coaching staff."
Almond's 10 days traveling the continent was with very few clothes. When he found out he was being recalled, he was dropping off his girlfriend at the Houston airport. He didn't have time to return home and pack, so roommate Carson McMillan "threw a bunch of stuff in a bag for me" and rushed it to the airport.
"He's not the smartest packer," Almond said. "He didn't pack me [normal shoes]. All I have is flip-flops and dress shoes, and no coat. It's been a struggle, but I've made it work."
Almond has been wearing the same two suits, "and they've been under in the belly of the plane quite a few times, so I'm not looking too hot."
Wild right wing Justin Fontaine was the only one of the Wild's restricted free agents to file for arbitration by today's 4 p.m. deadline. He's one of 20 to do so in the NHL.
Fontaine's agent, Neil Sheehy, will continue to try to negotiate a contract with the Wild. He can do so up until the hearing, which will be scheduled from July 20 to August 4 in Toronto in front of an independent arbitrator.
Most of the time, a contract is worked out prior to the hearing. By any player filing for arbitration, it ensures he can't be signed to an offer sheet by another club and it ensures no holdout from training camp.
Darcy Kuemper and Jon Blum, the Wild's other two restricted free agents with the right to file for arbitration, did not do so. Restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker don't have arbitration rights yet.
Fontaine, 26, tied for fourth on the Wild last season with 13 goals and tied for 12th amongst NHL rookies. His 13 goals were the third-most ever by a Wild rookie. He also had 21 points in 66 games, was plus-6 and had a goal and assist in 12 playoff games.
WILD DEPTH CHART
Here’s a look at how the Wild is shaping up to look like next season. This will change undoubtedly throughout the summer as the Wild add and delete players.
Remember, at some point, the Wild’s expected to acquire a physical defenseman to replace Clayton Stoner. It may also look to replace the gritty element up front of Cody McCormick. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun -- the great Pierre LeBrun, I may add -- reports the Wild has shown interest in Steve Ott, the former Dallas Stars agitator/smack talker and Sabres captain who was dealt with Ryan Miller to St. Louis last season. He once fought Cal Clutterbuck twice in the same game after Ott ran Josh Harding either that game or the game before, I can't remember (video of that incident on bottom of blog). Ott can play center and wing and kills penalties.
Toronto has also shown interest in Ott, I have heard.
The Wild does lack toughness in my opinion (especially defensively), and when I say toughness, I’m not necessarily talking fighting. I just mean physicality, clearing bodies from the net … and some scare factor. There are times Mikael Granlund and Jared Spurgeon have been targeted. Heck, Nik Backstrom’s health really began to derail last season after Nazem Kadri ran him AFTER running Granlund in the same game.
So I’d expect a few moves may still be made, and if you look at the lines, certain players maybe on "my" depth chart's fourth line don't fit there and could be parlayed into pieces via trade at some point.
Note: The depth chart is my opinion. Obviously, lines change, roles change, etc. There are interchangeable parts, and as I mentioned, I’d expect a signing or two or a trade this summer.
In parentheses, each player’s cap hits with some assistance from the incredible web site, www.capgeek.com. The RFA’s will get done eventually. I’d think Justin Fontaine would sign a one- or two-year deal. I don’t even want to guess on Darcy Kuemper. If I’m Nino Niederreiter, I sign a one- or two-year deal, prove myself bigtime and then try to hit a homer on my next contract. But that’s me. Jason Zucker is a rare Group 1 free agent, meaning he has almost no rights. No arbitration, can’t sign an offer sheet, nada. So I’d think he takes his qualifying offer. Kuemper, Fontaine and Jon Blum have arb rights. That has to be filed by Saturday, and remember, if it happens, it’s just part of the process and usually a contract gets settled prior to the hearing. Arb, in my opinion, is usually a good thing because it guarantees no holdout, too.
Left wing Center Right wing
Zach Parise ($7.5+M) Mikael Granlund (900K) Jason Pominville (5.6M)
Thomas Vanek ($6.5M) Mikko Koivu (6.75M) Charlie Coyle (900K)
Matt Cooke (2.5M) Erik Haula (900K) Nino Niederreiter (RFA)
Jason Zucker (RFA) Kyle Brodziak (2.83 M) Justin Fontaine (RFA)
----------------- (13th forward)
Vying for spots: Zucker, Stephane Veilleux (587,500), Brett Sutter ($600K), Michael Keranen (792,500), Joel Rechlicz, Brett Bulmer (780K), Kurtis Gabriel (667K), Tyler Graovac (747,500), Zack Phillips, Brady Brassart, Raphael Bussieres, Curt Gogol, Zack Mitchell.
Left Defense Right Defense
Ryan Suter (7.5+M) Jared Spurgeon (2.66M)
Marco Scandella (1.025M) Jonas Brodin (1.4+M)
Keith Ballard (1.5M) Christian Folin (925K)
Jon Blum (RFA)
Vying for spots: Folin, Blum, Stu Bickel ($600K), Matt Dumba (894,167), Gustav Olofsson (795K), Guillaime Gelinas, Colton Jobke.
Niklas Backstrom (3.42M)
Josh Harding (1.9M)
Darcy Kuemper (RFA)
* Kuemper can be sent to the minors without waivers even if he receives a one-way deal.
Vying for spots: Johan Gustafsson.
Total cap hit roughly: $54,287,758.
Available cap space roughly: $14 million roughly (I based this on a $68.3 million salary-cap ceiling; NHL salary cap next season is $69 million, but the Wild will be charged a bonus overage of a little less than $700,000). Note, the $14 million excludes re-signing restricted free agents and excludes whoever will be the 13th forward. Also, always take the available cap space number and subtract a few million because GM Chuck Fletcher will always try to leave space for injury callups and in-season acquisitions.
Wednesday morning update: I'll post updated depth chart later on after we see if the Wild makes any more moves today. The Wild has also made another two-way contract signing, adding right wing Joel Rechlicz, 27, of Brookfield, Wisconsin. Minor-league, 6-foot-4, 235-pound bruiser who has played 26 NHL games for the Islanders and Caps. Will start with Iowa, meant to add toughness. Nicknamed the "Wrecker," played some junior hockey in Minnesota. I put his YouTube montage on the bottom of the blog.
Where to start?
Like #PariseWatch and #SuterWatch before, #VanekWatch is officially over.
Thank goodness. One more Vanek question, and my head would have exploded, so just like Thomas Vanek said he was still having trouble coming to terms that he actually signed with the Wild, so was I.
“This is a place that I’ve spent a lot of time in the past 10 years or so and I think what intrigued it the most was obviously with Zach signing here and Suter signing here, this team is getting really good and is very good,” Vanek said. “About a year ago when I made my decision to go to free agency, this was definitely a team that I had in mind. For it to come true today, I’ve still not come to terms with it. I’m extremely thrilled to be a part of the Wild and of a group like this. I’m just happy.”
Can’t wait ‘til the next #-----Watch!
OK, where to go with this blog, which is a supplement to the newspaper coverage, so please check that out, too, online later tonight on www.startribune.com/wild and of course in print. Here's the main Vanek article and the notebook on Stoner leaving and the depth signings, etc.
Some news, some tidbits (maybe about the Division of Death that is the Central; My Cities97 buddy, Paul Fletcher, texted me Division of Death and I kinda like it) and then I’ll give you the highlights of the Vanek, GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo pressers.
The Wild still needs a physical defenseman to replace Clayton Stoner, who hit the mother lode today with a four-year deal worth, wait for it, $3.25 million annually. They wanted Willie Mitchell, but the Florida Panthers wooed the ex-Wild and two-time Cup champ with crazy money $4.25 million a year for two years. Then take into consideration the no state income tax in the great state of Florida, and it’s easy see why he sprinted for the humidity.
The Wild also lost gritty forward Cody McCormick, who went back to Buffalo, although there may not be a sprint to replace his role immediately if at all.
So, what to do? What to do, particularly because the list of physical defensemen still available is pretty yucky.
“Well, certainly we'll have to look at it,” GM Chuck Fletcher said. “We're probably still looking at a defenseman as well to maybe round out our group. Right now it's been insanity out there. I think this is the biggest spending day, if not the history of the world, the history of the NHL. I mean, it's just been crazy. So my first thought is to just go home and come back tomorrow and maybe the tide will turn and management will get the upper hand and we'll get some better deals. But it's a difficult task to get into this market right now. The prices are high. The terms are long. Thomas may be one of the only players who took a pay cut and a term cut to come anywhere. Everybody else is doubling or tripling their salary, so it's good for the players, but it's maybe not the market we want to be in right now."
More on the spending spree? Fletcher said, “I didn't expect this. Maybe I'm naive. We were consistently under-bidding on a few other players, I'll tell you that. I don't know if other teams were, but the prices caught me a little off guard for maybe what you would consider role players or bottom-of-the-lineup type players. But I definitely think some mistakes have been made today on some players, so I think we'll be a little bit patient and let things sort out."
He says he's tempted to go home, yet I hear he's still at headquarters working, so maybe they're not done for the night.
If I’m Fletcher, after seeing the list of names still out there (go to capgeek.com and click free agents and you can filter through the, uh, yucky physical defensemen; I should be a scout), I’d investigate the trade market first (Johnny Boychuk, perhaps?). But we’ll see if he pounces on one of the available free agents tonight, Tuesday or later this week if he finds a value signing.
--He did sign Stu Bickel, the big, tough, Twin Cities suburbanite who played on a local college team. Bickel is signed to a one-year, two-way deal that pays him $600,000 in the NHL or $150,000 in Iowa. He’s played NHL games for the Rangers, so he can play some games if the Wild needs him.
The Wild also signed Brett Sutter, one of Darryl’s boys. He was the Charlotte captain and is a gritty center who can play NHL games, too. His contract is a two-year, two-way deal.
“Hard-working character guy who plays the way you would expect a Sutter to play,” Fletcher said.
The Wild also made the Guillaume Gelinas signing official, making them probably the only organization in history who has had two Guillaumes.
--At the strike of 11, the Wild immediately got in on Vanek and Jarome Iginla. I hear it was right in on Iginla until the end, but once it got down to business on Vanek and the parameters of a deal began to materialize, it focused in on Vanek. After Vanek signed his three-year, $19.5 million deal (no-move clause, $5.5M, $6.5M, $7.5M), Iginla signed with Colorado.
“We didn’t know what the numbers would be until today,” Fletcher said. “We expressed early on that the term would have to be a little bit shorter, preferably three years, which would work well for what we have coming. Today we got into the numbers, it took a couple hours, but fortunately we were able to arrive at where we are right now. There were other players we spoke with and considered and came close on a couple other players, but at the end of the day, this seemed like the right decision.”
Was this your master plan after signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who incidentally each collected $5 million signing bonuses today (final installment of their $25 million signing bonuses paid out in three years)?
“It even started before then with Mikko [Koivu],” Fletcher said. “People forget, at the time, we weren’t a very good hockey team and Mikko signed a long-term deal with our team a year prior to becoming a UFA. That was our flag in the ground. I really believe if we had lost Mikko at that point, we would be competing for top-five picks right now. We would be at the bottom and we wouldn’t have anybody. Zach and Ryan came in here in part because there was a player like Mikko. I think [Jason] Pominville elected to stay here because of the players that were here prior to him. And now obviously Thomas. It’s a great marketplace. We have a great fan base. Ownership has stepped up again and again to that commitment to winning, and I think the players see that. But it takes good players to get good players and we’re starting to get some pretty good players here.”
On Vanek turning down better offers, Fletcher said, “There’s been other players over the years here that had connections to Minnesota or homes here that said they would love to come here and then they went elsewhere (ahem, Paul Martin). So it’s not always a slam dunk. I don’t know all the particulars, but it’s pretty evident that Thomas turned down more money and more term to sign here. So you never know how that’s going to play out. Put yourself in his shoes. Somebody offers you seven years and $40, $50 million, it’s not easy for anybody to walk away from that no matter how much you have in the bank. We did the best we could. We liked our situation in terms of opportunity for him to play, role for him to play in, we felt we have a very good leadership group here and some players he was familiar with. We knew he liked the marketplace, but at the end of the day, we were coming at him from a three-year contract angle and I think there was some concern in that sense that we may not be able to get him, but I give Thomas credit, he looked at our situation, we worked hard, and we’re extremely pleased to be where we are right now.
“This guy has been a premier scorer since he entered the league. He still managed to have 68 points this year despite playing in three cities. What we were looking for as much as anything, we really wanted a right shot, we really wanted somebody who could play with top players and we wanted somebody who could help our power play. We’re a team that prides itself on our defensive structure and we feel we can defend, but we only scored 2.4 goals per game. With Thomas, maybe that pushes us closer to 2.6 or 2.7 or whatever the number is. Maybe some nights we have a little more breathing room, maybe he gets a big power-play goal that wins us a game in the third period so we don’t have to go into overtime and get to the shootout. Scoring goals is a big part of winning games and he’s a game breaker. The things he does well are things that we need.”
One reason the Wild had to improve offensively today?
Dallas, a team on the rise, traded for Jason Spezza and signed Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal. St. Louis signed hometown boy Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million deal. Chicago signed Brad Richards to a one-year, $2 million deal. Iginla signed a three-year, $16 million deal with Colorado. And remember, last weekend, Nashville acquired James Neal.
“It's pretty daunting looking at the TSN scroll this morning and seeing every single player went to the West,” Fletcher said. “It seemed like everybody came to our division. So it's only going to get more difficult to make the playoffs, and we're going to have our hands full to make the playoffs next year and once you get in anything can happen, but it's a battle just to get in and I think we recognize that and I know the coaches recognize that and I think we're excited about the challenge."
On Stoner leaving, Fletcher said, “I had a great conversation with Clayton, and first of all he's very excited to go to Anaheim. They were the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season, so he tripled his salary, got a four-year contract and went to one of the better teams in the West. So he's thrilled. Clayton's a great guy, character guy, and fought a lot battles for this franchise and certainly a very well-liked teammate. Well-liked by management and coaching. I was thrilled for him, to be honest with you, on a personal level. I certainly expressed that to him as well as thanked him for his years of service. He had a tough role, and he did it with class and he did it consistently, so we're certainly very appreciative of what he did for us."
--As for Mr. Vanek, he said, “My top priority was to sign here. Obviously I had some other options that I had to think of, but once we agreed on this term and the money, I thought it was a fair deal for both sides. I’m very happy I’m here.
“The best thing I’ve done in my career so far was win the NCAA championship with the Gophers. So to be a part of the Wild now and go after the big prize and having a chance to do it in Minnesota is beyond my wildest dreams.”
On where he’ll play next year, he said, “We haven’t talked about that. I still can’t put into words how exciting it is, but now I’m just worried about getting my kids these jerseys and hopefully they can hang on to them for a lot longer.”
On his maligned postseason, he said, “It certainly wasn’t my best one I can tell you that. But I’ll take the blame for that. It’s not always easy moving around and being away from my family like I have been. But those are not excuses those are just factors that do factor into me. Family is big on me. It was tough at
the end. I thought once I got traded for the second time, it took me a little longer to find a place on the team. But the guys were great and I have nothing but good things to say about that organization. I
thought I was fitting in pretty well. Had a good run. And then once I got moved in the playoffs, it just kind of went away.”
On the Wild, “I wanted to join an organization that had a chance to win. That’s why I was willing to sign for three years and not worry about going higher. I have a lot of belief in myself that I can play for another seven, eight years at this level. So to play for an organization that’s willing to trade for guys, sign guys and wants to win, that’s important.”
On turning down the Islanders today, “I thought the line I played on there with Johnny Tavares and (Kyle) Okposo was the best line I’ve been on. But at the end of the day I made my decision to go to this and I’m not going to regret it. Definitely I’m not.”
--Thomas, did you wear a Wild hat at the Super Rinks in Blaine Saturday like Twitter said you did? “No, I don’t leave my house much.”
Well, the rumor exploded on Twitter, and Twitter never lies, Thomas: “You probably started that,” he said, laughing.
See, I’m off to a good start with Vanek.
--Yeo, who was dressed like he was about to head to the beach after the presser, met with Vanek on Sunday.
Your reaction- “Obviously we’re very pleased. When it comes to a day like this, I think that what you’re really trying to do is you look at the group that you have and you try to address needs. Thomas certainly fills some very big needs for us.”
Where do you see him in the lineup- “He’s not going to be third line. He’s not going to be fourth line and he’s not going to play defense, or center, or goalie. Obviously, I think what we’ve really done, especially over the last couple years here, is upgrade the skill of our top two lines. And with that, I think its important to have interchangeable parts. He’s played some right wing, but he’s played more on the left side. How we piece our lines together, we’re not sure on that for sure. In training camp we’re going to try a couple different scenarios and see how they play out. But again, we have the pieces where we can move them around and we have the pieces in the places where they belong. You do something like this and obviously it’s going to make your first and second lines stronger, but what you have to take into consideration is by doing this you’re also making your third line stronger and I think that’s what’s really important for us here.”
Fit beside lines- “When we talk about addressing needs, there’s a lot of things we do very well as a team; the way we defend, the structure that we play with. There’s no question that we do have some skill but we don’t score goals easily. And we’re going to continue to try and look to see what we can do as a group to try to improve that, but when you can add players, personnel-wise, that bring that kind of skill, bring that kind of creativity and that kind of ability, that’s going to increase the scoring. It’s not just about that player, it’s about what they do for the players they’re playing with as well. There’s been times where we play against a team and there’s some players that maybe need five or six chances to score a goal. There’s other players that might need two or three, and Thomas is certainly one of those guys who can capitalize on those opportunities.”
Sense MN has become a desired destination- “I think so. I think an awful lot of the credit has to go to the players that first off made the commitment to our organization and showed the belief in what we have going on here, but also the work that they’ve put in. I think that people are recognizing that we’re a team that’s on the rise with the players that we have, with the young players that we have and the leadership group that we have. A lot of it also goes to the job that Chuck has done and the knowledge and the awareness of everybody outside our organization that we have an owner that will do just about anything it takes to put a winner on. And you add in the fact that this is an amazing place to live with a tremendously passionate fan base, it’s not hard to figure out why a lot of people would want to come here.”
Need a finisher- “Yeah, obviosuyl you go back and you look at the things that have gone wrong when you lose and you look at a power play in a certain game where if you would have scored one more goal on that power play. You look at a couple missed opportunities. It’s hard when you don’t score. There’s many times where we force ourselves to play a near perfect game, and that becomes very difficult on a team. Now our challenge is to make sure we continue to do the things well that we do because we added a great player, a very skilled player, a very talented player, but that said, I don’t think we can just sit here now and say that we’re going to be one of the top scoring teams in the league. We have to continue to be strong in the areas that we are and I’m hoping we just got stronger in an area where we needed to.”
So much happening in division- “I think what I’m feeling is the same thing that the rest of our division is feeling, and that they’re throwing us in that category too. I have a lot of respect for the league. I do believe that we play in the toughest division in the league. It’s going to be, you heard Chuck say it, it’s going to be tough for us to make the playoffs, and our players have to be aware of that, but at the same time we’re capable of an awful lot here. So we should look forward to that challenge. There’s positives in that. Obviously you have to play at a high level, you’ve got tough competition. But that said, I think we saw it at the end of the year, when you start playing at that level consistently, then you’re a team that can do an awful lot.”
--I talked to Keith Ballard for awhile today and he's rehabbing from sports hernia surgery. Ballard and Vanek had been in touch throughout the process. He answered questions about the Wild for Vanek and did some “arm-twisting."
“It was tough for him,” Ballard said. “He had the luxury of coming off a pretty significant [seven-year, $50 million] deal, and I don’t think he’s looking at this as his last contract either. Last week he told me he didn’t just want to come here because this is where he lives. He said several times he thinks we’re a legitimate contender and likes our team. That’s what you want.
“We have a really good team and we got better today.”
-- OK, that's it for me. I'm in the arena's dungeon of a press room all alone at 8 p.m. and I am scared. I'm starting to hear things creaking.
Thursday, I’m getting out of town for the weekend, so the depth chart I posted the other day, I’ll update it and put it on my blog Wednesday. And, maybe there will be more news Wednesday.
Here's the release on Rechlicz and the You Tube highlights:
Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher today announced the National Hockey League (NHL) club has agreed to terms with forward Joel Rechlicz (pronounced REHK-lihj) on a one-year, two-way contract. Rechlicz, 27 (6/14/87), collected two points (1-1=2) and 87 penalty minutes (PIM) in 25 games with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League (AHL) in 2013-14. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound native of Brookfield, Wis., has recorded one assist and 105 PIM in 26 career NHL games with the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. He has notched six points (3-3=6) and 886 PIM in 187 career AHL matches with Albany, Bridgeport, Hershey and Portland. He ranked second in the AHL with 267 PIM in 2011-12 and was named Hershey’s AHL Man of the Year for his outstanding contributions to community and charitable organizations.
#VanekWatch is officially over. Thomas Vanek is coming home.
The Austrian-born left winger, who led the Gophers to a national championship 11 years ago and has settled in the Twin Cities, has agreed to a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Wild less than two hours into free agency.
“About a year ago when I made my decision to go to free agency, this was definitely a team that I had in mind,” Vanek said. “For it to come true today, I’ve still not come to terms with it. I’m extremely thrilled to be a part of the Wild and of a group like this. I’m just happy.”
He has a full no-move clause and left money and term on the table from other teams. He'll earn $5.5 million in 2014-15, $6.5 million in 2015-16 and $7.5 million in 2016-17. He'll wear No. 26.
“Thomas is an elite offensive talent who showed a strong desire to play in Minnesota,” said GM Chuck Fletcher. “We are excited to welcome him to our organization.”
Vanek, 30, the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft with the Buffalo Sabres, saw his stock fall during a tough postseason for the Montreal Canadiens, but he brings with him a history of goal scoring.
Since the start of 2005-06, Vanek has scored the eighth-most goals in the NHL (277 goals in 663 games), third-most power-play goals (113), 556 points and is tied for 11th with 0.42 goals per game.
“He’s always a threat when he has the puck, and when he doesn’t have the puck, he always finds ways to get himself available,” Jason Pominville, his former Buffalo linemate, said to me by phone yesterday. “He would step in and help our power play right away. As a net-front presence, he’s always there with screens and always finds a way to get his stick on the puck.
“He’s so good at tipping pucks, it’s crazy.”
My guess: Coach Mike Yeo is aware of the Pominville/Vanek chemistry but will start camp with Parise-Granlund-Pominville because he liked that line down the stretch and Vanek-Koivu-Coyle.
Vanek scored 57 goals and 113 points in 83 games over two years for the Gophers. He led the team in scoring both years, was a WCHA Rookie of the Year and his 31 goals as a freshman is second in school history. In 2003, he was the Frozen Four MVP, beating Michigan in overtime and scoring the winning goal in the national championship game against New Hampshire.
"I've been a little bit nervous for the last week or so, knowing that it was a good possibility but also knowing there would be other good offers out there," said former Gophers teammate Keith Ballard. "Thomas said he would keep me in the loop and I tried to do a little arm-twisting here and there. I answered some questions for him, and I was just hoping something would work. I'm very excited."
Added Ballard: “It was tough for him. He had the luxury of coming off a pretty significant [seven-year, $50 million] deal, and I don’t think he’s looking at this as his last contract either. Last week he told me he didn’t just want to come here because this is where he lives. He said several times he thinks we’re a legitimate contender and likes our team. That’s what you want.
“We have a really good team and we got better today.”
Jarome Iginla has signed a three-year deal with Colorado.
In more Wild news, Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick returned to Buffalo. The Wild will still be looking to replace Clayton Stoner (Willie Mitchell?) and maybe McCormick. By signing Vanek, third line could be Cooke-Haula-Nino. That leaves Zucker, Brodziak, Fontaine as the other forwards, so if the Wild does sign another forward, there's a bit of a logjam and also leaving little room for new kids to make the team.
The Wild has signed Charlotte Checkers captain Brett Sutter to a two-way deal. He's LA Kings coach Darryl Sutter's son. Signing is for depth, could play games, but will likely start with Iowa. The center has played 54 games for Carolina and Calgary. Most his career has been spent in the minors.
The Wild has also signed defenseman Stu Bickel, the Chanhasssen native and former Gopher, as a depth defenseman to a one-year, two-way deal.
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