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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Wild owner to fly team to Bob Suter's funeral

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: September 10, 2014 - 11:57 AM

An update on the tragic loss of Bob Suter, Ryan's dad and the Wild scout, ...

Ryan Suter issued this statement through Wild PR: The sudden loss of my father has been difficult for myself and our family - my dad was my hero and he taught me about life, hockey and what was truly important - family. He will be missed greatly and his legacy and spirit will be with us every day. He lived with the motto “it’s all about the kids” and forever he will be remembered by this. My family and I also want to say thank you for the tremendous outpouring of support we have received from the hockey community around the world. It means a lot to us to know how much he was loved and will be missed.

Tom Sagissor, the former Badger and close family friend of the Suters, called this morning. As you can imagine, Tom is incredibly broken up by the loss of his friend. Tom and Ryan drove to Madison last night and Ryan plans to put out a statement through the Wild today. The family is obviously devastated.

Funeral plans are still pending, but Tom said Wild owner Craig Leipold has been incredibly supportive and plans to fly the entire team and family members to Bob's funeral.

"I just think that says huge things about Craig and the organization," Tom said. "Bob was a fantastic guy, just a great father and he was great to kids and good to the game of hockey. All those kids were just affected by him and his ability to keep people in the game."

Bob Suter, who died at the rink he co-owned with his son, was, as ESPN's John Buccigross so poignantly said below, a rink rat.

In a story last year, Ryan Suter told me he never grew up dreaming of playing in the NHL. He figured he would go to the University of Wisconsin like his dad and uncle, Gary, and then work at the rink with his dad. His father was always at that rink, whether it was sweeping the locker rooms, resurfacing the ice or devoting his time to the kids who love to skate down at Capitol Ice.

Some tweets from yesterday:

As I mentioned on yesterday's blog, Bob Suter scouted the USHL and Wisconsin high schools the past two years for the Wild. He was a big reason the Wild drafted defenseman Gustav Olofsson.

"Bob was a tremendous asset to our scouting staff," assistant GM Brent Flahr said. "He loved the game of hockey, he was around rinks all of his life, and he had a natural eye for talent. He put countless miles on his truck in order to scout games for us and he loved to talk hockey. He was a lot of fun to have at meetings, he had a great sense of humor, and was just a positive guy to be around. It was a sad day for all of our staff and he will be greatly missed."

Len Boogaard statement on arrests stemming from son Derek's death

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: September 9, 2014 - 4:53 PM

Boogaard Family and Corboy & Demetrio Statements about Drug Charges

Len Boogaard, the father of the late Derek Boogaard, has issued a statement regarding today’s arrest of Jordan Hart and Oscar Johnson:

“We miss Derek every minute of every day.  Every effort to hold accountable those that contributed to my son’s addiction and death is commendable. My family and I appreciate the tireless and persistent work of the New York Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.  It is our hope that their hard work will save other families from the heartbreak we endure.”

Corboy & Demetrio attorneys Thomas A. Demetrio and William T. Gibbs are representing the Estate of Derek Boogaard.

  

“The indicted defendants carelessly and maliciously preyed upon Derek Boogaard’s addiction with total disregard for his well-being,” Gibbs said. 

“Addiction to prescription drugs is an unfortunate epidemic.  Today, alone, nearly 100 more people will die from a prescription drug overdose.  This can, and must, be stopped – arresting drug dealers, eliminating immoral health care providers, enacting and enforcing patient review and prescription drug monitoring programs, ensuring better access to effective drug abuse treatment and increasing public awareness of the severity of this problem are all important and necessary steps towards ending this plague,” Gibbs added.

Minnesota Wild statement on the passing of Bob Suter

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: September 9, 2014 - 5:23 PM

Earlier today, Bob Suter, a member of the "Miracle on Ice," a Wild scout and the father of Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, passed away in Wisconsin of an apparent heart attack. Ryan Suter was on the ice with the Wild at an informal practice at Braemar Arena when his wife, Becky, arrived clearly broken up.

Ryan Suter immediately left the ice and departed the rink with his wife. Teammates like friend Zach Parise were stunned to learned the news after practice.

My thoughts and prayers are with Suter and his entire family. Some of my most enjoyable times covering the team the past few years was talking to Bob about Ryan's rise and talking to Ryan about the love and admiration he had for his father.

Bob Suter scouted the USHL and Wisconsin high schools the past two years for the Wild. He was a big reason the Wild drafted defenseman Gustav Olofsson.

"Bob was a tremendous asset to our scouting staff," assistant GM Brent Flahr said. "He loved the game of hockey, he was around rinks all of his life, and he had a natural eye for talent. He put countless miles on his truck in order to scout games for us and he loved to talk hockey. He was a lot of fun to have at meetings, he had a great sense of humor, and was just a positive guy to be around. It was a sad day for all of our staff and he will be greatly missed."

A statement from the Wild:

"We are very saddened by today’s news that Minnesota Wild Scout Bob Suter suddenly passed away. The Wild organization sends its condolences to the entire Suter family during this difficult time. Not only was Bob a great hockey ambassador, he was a terrific person off the ice who will be greatly missed by all of us."

Nino Niederreiter spurns KHL offer, closing in on re-signing with the Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news, Wild training camp Updated: September 9, 2014 - 9:21 AM

It’s clear there’s still work to be done, but Nino Niederreiter’s agent, Andre Rufener, said Tuesday morning that he’s “very positive” his client will sign a new contract with the Wild by the time players report for training camp next Thursday.

The agent said Niederreiter is such a “Wild at heart,” the 22-year-old winger wanted no part of a giant contract offer from a “very good” Kontinental Hockey League team all summer long.

“We are close [to a contract with the Wild] and I really hope and I truly believe that we can get it done,” Rufener said by phone from Switzerland earlier this morning. “It’s in our best interest to get it done before camp, so that’s what we’re trying to do.

“I’m very positive about it [getting done]. I will be disappointed if we could not get it done. We’re very close and we cannot let that slide through our fingers from both sides.”

Rufener and the Wild have exchanged a plethora of ideas on contracts ranging from two to six years, the agent said, with General Manager Chuck Fletcher coming up with another “new, interesting idea” on a long-term contract Monday.

“We have to take a look into this,” Rufener said. “It’s interesting and it’s a possibility. At this point, it’s not clear yet. Terms are not clear yet. There’s still several options. We’re working on it and Chuck tells me, too, that it’s in our best interest to get this done in the next week, by next Wednesday. That’s what we want to do.”

Niederreiter, who scored 14 goals last season after coming to the Wild from the Islanders in the Cal Clutterbuck trade in June 2013, came up large in Game 7 of the first round of last year’s playoffs against Colorado. He scored two goals and one assist, including setting up Jared Spurgeon for a late tying goal and scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime.

“He is in great shape. He had a great summer,” said Rufener. “He practiced really hard. He’s really motivated.”

Fletcher, who declined to comment on negotiations with unsigned Darcy Kuemper and Niederreiter on Monday, has previously said it is important to get the Niederreiter deal correct with so many contracts to young players expiring next summer (most notably Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Erik Haula and Marco Scandella).

“The negotiations have gone a little longer than we all expect,” Rufener said. “That didn’t bother us at all because we have a good relationship with the Wild. Of course, it’s a tough negotiation. I understand Chuck’s side with all the contracts coming up in the next year, but of course on the other side I have to protect my player. We are negotiating Nino Niederreiter’s contract and I’m going to make sure he gets what I think he deserves in my opinion. This contract will not affect any other contract or any future contract. Where we’re at right now, it’s going to be a fair deal.

“But I understand Chuck’s point. He understands my point. It’s just a normal, in my opinion, good negotiation where everybody is negotiating in good faith.”

In fact, Rufener said he has had an “unbelievable offer” from a KHL team in his fingertips for two months and Niederreiter will be “leaving over a million and a quarter bucks net after taxes on the table playing in Minnesota and not Russia. That’s a lot of money. This guy is a Wild at heart. A Wild at heart.

“I told Nino up front, ‘this [KHL offer] might be the only leverage we have,’ but it’s not really leverage because Nino made clear he wants to play in the NHL and for Minnesota.”

Niederreiter is scheduled to arrive in Minnesota on Wednesday and even without a new contract yet is expected to skate in the Wild’s informal practices until camp begins next week.

Kuemper's agent on KHL threat: "Darcy has to play somewhere this year"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news, Wild training camp Updated: September 8, 2014 - 5:05 PM

As an addition to the previous blog (which can be read here) on unsigned goalie Darcy Kuemper’s contract stalemate with the Wild, I subsequently spoke by phone with Kuemper’s agent, Jeff Helperl, about his negotiations with General Manager Chuck Fletcher.

“Basically, Chuck and I are stuck,” said Helperl, who confirmed he has spoken to teams in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League about signing Kuemper if he is unable to get a contract done with the Wild.

Helperl said he is asking the Wild for a one-year, one-way contract (not big term at big money, as previously reported), meaning he would be paid his NHL salary whether he plays in Minnesota or at American Hockey League Iowa.

Helperl said the Wild is offering Kuemper a two-year deal. The first year would be a two-way deal (meaning Kuemper is paid a lower salary if/when he plays in the AHL and a higher salary if/when he plays in the NHL) and the second year would be a one-way deal (NHL salary in either place). Jason Zucker signed a similarly-designed contract earlier this offseason.

Kuemper doesn’t require waivers to get to Iowa, which Helperl knows means Kuemper could be destined with Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom both under contract.

“It comes down to Darcy has to play somewhere this year,” Helperl said. “Minnesota, they’re stuck on giving Darcy a two-way deal and I think Darcy deserves more. I’ve basically told Chuck, ‘we’re looking at a one-way deal on a one-year contract.' They want to do a two-year contract. I just kind of told him where things are at. By no means are we shooting for the moon at all. I just want to get a one-way contract and get Darcy playing more games, and wherever that’s going to be, it’s going to be.”

Helperl said last weekend, there was a two-day window where KHL teams were able to discard players. He said, “I had [KHL] teams contact me, so that’s where it all started from.”

Asked if that means Kuemper will sign with the KHL if the Wild doesn’t offer him a one-way contract, Helperl said, “Well, he’s going to play somewhere, so it could happen.”

From the Wild’s standpoint though, Kuemper does have a chance to play “somewhere” even on a two-way contract. If he doesn’t make Minnesota out of camp, he would start in Iowa. If he proves in camp that he’s the Wild’s best goalie, the two-way is insignificant because he would make his NHL salary with the big club anyway.

This sounds more like Helperl is just trying to design the contract to give Kuemper the best chance to play games in the NHL as opposed to the AHL. In other words, if Kuemper's on a one-way, the theory is the less likely the Wild would be to send him to Iowa because the team would have to pay him his NHL salary there.

I asked Helperl if Kuemper really would prefer to play in Russia over potentially playing in Iowa: “He needs to get going. He needs to get playing. He needs to try to figure out where things are at [in his career],” Helperl said. “I’ve never seen him more confident as a player and how hard he’s worked this summer. Basically, Chuck and I are stuck, so that’s where it’s at. It’s easy as it can be.”

Wild players officially report for training camp next Thursday with players taking the ice for the first time next Friday. Is there a deadline as to when Kuemper will decide on the KHL?

“The days are coming where camp is going to get started. We’ll see when camp starts and see where we’re at,” Helperl said. “It’s an ongoing, moving target all the time. I last spoke to Chuck I think last week and I don’t think we moved very far ahead. It’s pretty simple. We’re looking for a one-year, one-way deal.”

In the meantime, Harding and Backstrom are skating daily and are ready for training camp. Helperl said, “Chuck keeps reminding me over and over again how healthy they are and how good they’re looking right now, so what am I supposed to do from that?”

Most KHL deals have NHL out-clauses. If Kuemper chooses the KHL, I asked Helperl if his contract would have an out-clause that would allow Kuemper to return to the Wild if the team gets into a goaltending pickle like last year. Helperl said, “I don’t know that. I don’t know how the contract’s going to be worded. I don’t know that.”

Fletcher declined to comment on Kuemper.

Wild players are skating together daily until training camp. Helperl said he’s not sure yet if Kuemper will take part in that. “We’ll see how talks go from now to then.”

Unsigned Nino Niederreiter told me he arrives back in Minnesota on Wednesday. He is expected to take part in these captain’s practices. As I mentioned on the previous blog, the hope is that a contract is agreed upon in the next week so he reports to camp on time.

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