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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A five-hour meeting between the NHL and NHLPA just broke up at 1 a.m. ET and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said the sides moved closer together on a few issues but remain apart on others. Still work to be done.
There was a mediator involved in today's meetings. Commissioner Gary Bettman said the sides will meet Thursday morning at the mediator's request.
The good news is Fehr did not hand Commissioner Gary Bettman a letter informing him the union will disclaim interest -- i.e. dissolve, i.e. walk away from representing the players and becoming a "trade association."
That's good news because if the union dissolves, lawsuits could be filed, things become a whole lot more complicated and basically it's completely unknown what could happen next. The season could very well be in peril if that were to happen.
Last month, the players voted to authorize the union to disclaim interest by midnight Jan. 2 if no deal was near.
Since no disclaimer was filed, union reps are still acting on the players' behalf. If that's the case, one would believe there's enough traction to keep on trucking as an actual union.
The big issue today according to multiple reports has been pensions. Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, teams were responsible for 3/4 of the pensions.
As the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard wrote here, "Thursday’s proposal said that the pension plan would be funded from the players’ share of annual revenue, and it also specified that “$50 million of the ‘Make-Whole’ payment amount of $300 million will be allocated and set aside to fund potential underfunding liabilities of the Plan at end of CBA,” according to a document obtained by ESPN.
The NHL and NHLPA therefore are debating which side would be liable to make up the difference in payments if league revenues in any given year do not provide adequate funds to match the players’ projected pension number."
Bettman said tonight the pension issue is complicated and the league hopes to satisfy the players.
Again, Bettman has said a deal must be struck by Jan. 11 with the goal to start training camp Jan. 12 and a 48-game season Jan. 19.
In Wild injury news if training camp were to start Jan. 12, defenseman Marco Scandella is currently out of Houston's lineup with a groin injury, but he should be ready by the 12th. Jared Spurgeon left Switzerland with a groin injury, but he is back skating.
The length of training camp would determine how many players from Houston come up to Minnesota for a look. Obviously, Scandella and Mikael Granlund will be up to camp, but the Wild will have to gauge if any of its NHL guys have injury issues.
For instance, Pierre-Marc Bouchard is feeling good. But he has been out for more than a year. He hasn't been cleared to play yet and hasn't passed the final big hurdle -- real contact. So would he be able to play right away if there's only a seven-day camp with no exhibition games?
Maybe that opens the door for a Jason Zucker or a Charlie Coyle or a Johan Larsson. All three have been great in Houston. Others playing real well down there up front include Justin Fontaine, who has an upper-body injury, Nick Palmieri and David McIntyre.
If the lockout ends, the Wild will likely sign Palmieri, who is on an AHL deal, to an NHL deal. He has been that good. Nine goals, playing a big man's game, driving the net, using his size, says GM Chuck Fletcher. He's liked McIntyre, too, saying, he's been consistent, a pest, a great penalty killer. He is plus-15.
Today was the eight-week checkup for defenseman Jonas Brodin, who underwent surgery for a broken collarbone. If all went well, the hope was he good intensify his upper-body strength training. He has been skating. But obviously, he would start in Houston some time down the road and isn't a candidate to start with the Wild if there's a season.
More and more players are starting to roll into town in case the season starts. Tom Gilbert, who lives in Madison is back. Devin Setoguchi tweeted he is in town.
Mikko Koivu is back in Finland and only returning if a deal is struck.
In Gophers news, I'll be at availability Thursday, but I had Don Lucia on KFAN today and he said Erik Haula will likely miss at least the next 3 games. The hope is he is back by the North Dakota series Jan. 18-19.
Remember, the world junior championships continue in the wee hours of Thursday morning with a 3 a.m. semifinal showdown between Canada and the U.S. It's on NHL Network and NHL.com live.
Be there or be square.
After working past midnight on New Year's Eve and all day New Year's Day, the NHL extended a "comprehensive response" to the NHLPA's comprehensive response to the NHL's latest proposal late Tuesday night.
Basically, the NHL and NHLPA are in a negotiating game of ping-pong, which is very much a good thing.
Guests today include Gophers coach Don Lucia (12:35 p.m.), St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock (1:20 p.m.), Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch (1:35 p.m.), Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall (12:15 p.m.) and WCCO's Mark Rosen from 2-3.
The NHLPA took the NHL's latest response last night in order to digest it and likely respond to it today. There's a very good chance the two sides meet again.
"In our response, there were certain things that the Players' association asked for that we agreed to, there were some things that we moved in their direction and there were other things that we said no," Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in New York. "But that's part of the process."
Three proposals have been exchanged in the past five days. A deal must be struck by Jan. 11, or the season likely will be canceled. The plan is for training camp to start by Jan. 12 and a 48-game season to begin Jan. 19 if a collective bargaining agreement can be reached.
Realisticallty, a deal must be reached before Jan. 11 in order to get it fully down on paper, lawyered up and ratified.
The NHLPA has until midnight tonight if it wants to file a disclaimer of interest and dissolve the union, but with both sides creeping closer, that's unlikely. The NHLPA could always vote as a membership again to file a disclaimer of interest at a later date if things go haywire.
But I don't see that happening. I truly believe a deal will be struck in the coming days. There's several part of the pact that has already been agreed upon, and as RDS reported last night, the NHLPA is willing to do a 10-year CBA now under certain conditions and the sides are close to an agreement on revenue sharing.
The main things being tackled now are pensions and what the upper limit of the salary cap will be starting in 2013-14. The NHL's proposal of $60 million was unacceptable to the NHLPA.
"The fact that we're involved in a continuous process is something that I'm glad to see, but we're clearly not done yet," said Bettman.
But players I talk to are confident and more and more players are starting to trickle back from Europe in anticipation of camps starting.
I'm up early because I couldn't fall back to sleep after my 3 a.m. wakeup call to watch the U.S. Czechs. No contest as the Americans won big, 7-0, in the quarterfinals to advance to a 3 a.m. CT Thursday rematch against Canada. The U.S. lost 2-1 to Canada a few days ago. The game can be seen on NHL Network and NHL.com.
Johnny Gaudreau had a hat trick today and has five goals in two games, showing why Don Lucia said after the Gophers' 8-1 win over Boston College on Sunday that the win should have an "asterisk" on it because the Eagles were without Gaudreau and two injured veteran defensemen.
Riley Barker had two goals, JT Miller had a goal and two assists, Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones had four assists apiece and John Gibson had the shutout with 31 saves. Trying to decipher the boxscore, but I think the Americans went 5 for 12 on the power play and there were 18 or 19 power plays in the tightly-called game.
OK, that's it. Give me a listen please on the radio if you want to hear some Vikings, puck talk and a little bit of everything with Rosie. And of course I'll be up at 3 a.m. for the semifinal, although I've been keeping the tweets to a minimum because I don't want to wake up anybody who happens to get my tweets texted to their phones.
Get ready folks. NHL season on the horizon.
The 13-3-3 Gophers' men's hockey team jumped three spots in the rankings today to overtake Boston College for the No. 1 team in the nation in the USCHO.com poll.
This was thanks to an 8-1 pasting of the now second-ranked Eagles on Sunday night to win the Mariucci Classic.
So the fifth-place team (three points behind St. Cloud State with two games in hand) in the WCHA is No. 1 in the country.
Nick Bjugstad scored a career-high four points, Kyle Rau had two goals and an assist and 12 Gophers had points, including goalie Adam Wilcox, who made a career-high 32 saves.
The bad news though is Wild prospect Erik Haula left the game in the third period after being slashed across his hands.
Coach Don Lucia emailed me tonight that Haula is week to week with an upper-body injury and is doubtful for the Gophers' Jan. 8 game against Notre Dame.
I am hearing from multiple sources that Haula, the Gophers' most consistent forward this season, has a potential fracture in one of his fingers. A few years back, another Finnish center, one that's captain of the Minnesota Wild, missed a month when he broke a digit.
Again, the Gophers don't play next until Jan. 8 against No. 3 Notre Dame. That could feature a father-son battle between Don Lucia's Gophers and Notre Dame freshman Mario Lucia.
Despite the U.S. world junior team expected back into the country only the day before, one would assume Mario Lucia will want to be in the lineup.
However, Don Lucia said before the holiday tournament that he will likely give freshman defenseman Mike Reilly, who scored the winning goal in the Americans' 9-3 win over Slovakia today, the game off to rest for the weekend series Jan. 11-12 against Alaska-Anchorage.
In NHL lockout news, the NHLPA tendered a counterproposal today. Talks are done as the NHL reviews the counter. The two sides plan to get together New Year's Day. Maybe their New Year's resolution is to play hockey this year.
In Wild news, Torrey Mitchell has signed with the ECHL San Francisco Bulls.
Remember, I'll be hosting for Common on KFAN from 12-3 on Wednesday, so please tune in.
Happy New Year everybody!
One night after shutting out Air Force, 4-0, the Gophers will return with the same group of 18 skaters against No. 1 ranked Boston College.
Originally, the plan was to play A.J. Michaelson tonight, but the fourth line of Ryan Reilly, Christian Isackson and Justin Holl was so effective last night, Michaelson will sit.
Here is the line chart for both teams:
Kyle Rau-Nick Bjugstad-Nate Condon
Sam Warning-Erik Haula-Zach Budish
Tom Serratore-Travis Boyd-Seth Ambroz
Ryan Reilly-Christian Isackson-Justin Holl
Seth Helgeson-Mark Alt
Jake Parenteau-Ben Marshall
Brady Skjei-Nate Schmidt
Destry Straight-Pat Mullane-Steven Whitney
Kevin Hayes-Bill Arnold-Brendan Silk
Quinn Smith-Patrick Brown-Brooks Dyroff
Cam Spiro-Michael Sit-Danny Linell
Teddy Doherty-Patrick Wey
Michael Matheson-Colin Sullivan
Travis Jeke-Peter McMullen
With the NHL and NHLPA still having no plans to meet at the moment as the league hits crunch time toward the possibility of the 2012-13 season being canceled, the Gophers' men will be back in action this weekend for the Mariucci Classic.
No. 1-ranked Boston College, Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville will be in town for games Saturday and Sunday.
The 11-3-3 Gophers take on Air Force on Saturday at 7, then meet Boston College on Sunday at 7. That game will be the first time the two teams meet since BC beat the Gophers 6-1 in last season's
national championship game Frozen Four.
That's obviously a huge storyline this weekend, as well as using the 11-2-1 Eagles as a measuring stick as the Gophers look to kickstart a second half following a first half most would consider just par because of the expectation level heading into this season.
The Gophers have been practicing since Christmas night. They were understably sluggish but have gotten better as the week's gone on, coach Don Lucia said. Goalie Mike Shibrowski, who has been hurt since early November, has returned to practice and can return to the nets anytime the Gophers need, Lucia said.
Forward A.J. Michaelson missed Wednesday's practice with the flu but should be fine for this weekend. The Gophers are without defenseman Mike Reilly, who is at the world junior tournament in Ufa, Russia, and was plus-4 today in a 8-0 pounding of Germany.
Couple other storylines this weekend:
Boston College Jerry York can set the NCAA men's hockey wins mark Saturday if the Eagles beat UAH. It would be York's 925th win, breaking longtime Michigan State coach Ron Mason's mark of 924.
"It's kind of neat that he has the opportunity to do that here and our fans will have the opportunity to see history being made," Lucia said.
Also, Air Force is coached by Frank Serratore, the father of Gophers hard-hitting junior forward Tom Serratore. Frank is a native of Coleraine, Minn., and boasts a squad made up of 11 Minnesotans. He is in his 16th season at Air Force, having led the Falcons to five Atlantic Hockey Association championships and five NCAA appearances, including last year. This year, they're 5-7-4.
Saturday night, from the bench level, Frank Serratore will watch his son play in person for the first time in his collegiate career.
"I’m sure it’ll hit me when warmups come around on Saturday," said Tom Serratore. "My mom, sisters and brother are going to have a little more nerves going."
Serratore said he is fairly sure most his family will be wearing Air Force blue, but he hopes they will wear maroon and gold Sunday.
Frank Serratore is a true character. He's the epitome of it's not a job, it's a passion.
Here is a Q&A about facing his son (some great quotes here):
On playing his son: "I hope it’s fun. I hope it’s fun. I haven’t thought a whole lot about that because I’ve got to prepare my team to play the No. 4 team in the country on their Olympic size sheet. Tom came home for Christmas and people tried to get us into it a little bit, and we tried to avoid it. He wanted to skate with our guys over at the Academy, though, and I did make him dress in the visitors’ room. I said, ‘That’s your home over there until after Saturday night, my friend.’"
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