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 Wild news

NHL watching, but Thomas Vanek's agent reiterates client is in no criminal trouble

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 31, 2014 - 1:07 PM

While the National Hockey League said Friday it will continue to keep an eye on a federal illegal gambling and money laundering case in Rochester, N.Y., that Thomas Vanek has testified in as the government’s prime witness, the Wild forward likely won’t face league discipline unless he faces criminal charges or bet on hockey.

Vanek’s agent, Steve Bartlett, told the Star Tribune Friday that “Thomas is not in any way, shape or form involved in any illegal activities or in trouble here.”

Vanek bet on football and was paying off a gambling debt, according to Bartlett.

Vanek’s in the news again because a defense attorney for a man who pleaded guilty to illegal gambling and conspiracy to launder money Thursday alluded to the fact that the check his client helped launder came from Vanek while he played for the New York Islanders.

In an interview with WHEC-TV’s Berkeley Brean in Rochester, N.Y., lawyer Jim Wolford, who represents Mark Ruff, said the $230,000 “check that was identified as far as the money laundering was a New York Islander check.”

That check, apparently endorsed over to the men, was to pay off a gambling debt, Ruff admitted in court.

Asked what he was implying by saying the check was a New York Islander check, Wolford told WHEC-TV, “Thomas Vanek was here [in federal court], what, a couple months ago? I think at the last hearing he was playing for the Islanders.”

When asked if he was inferring the check came from Vanek, Wolford said, “It came from the Islanders. … Put it this way, I was a little surprised when I heard on the news that Mr. Vanek was claiming complete innocence with respect to this entire operation.”

Bartlett was incensed by the lawyer’s comments.

“If you read it quickly or you listen to his comments, it almost alludes to the fact that Thomas vanek was involved in money laundering, which is totally false,” Bartlett told the Star Tribune. “He is not the subject of any investigation or criminal charges or anything whatsoever. He was a witness against this guy who was the bookmaker. He was the guy that wanted money and Thomas paid it to him. Thomas wasn’t involved in any bookmaking activities.

“Now people are like, ‘Oh, Thomas was a money launderer. That’s totally false. He was the bettor. He bet on football games. Obviously that’s what he was testifying to. It doesn’t take Einstein to figure that out.”

In July, Vanek was in a federal court in Rochester as part of an ongoing gambling investigation stemming from the June arrest of three men on gambling and money laundering charges. The three men – Ruff, his brother, Joe, and another man -- were allegedly conducting an illegal gambling business out of the Marina Restaurant and Bar in Charlotte, N.Y., since Jan. 2012.

At the time, Vanek released the statement, “Representatives of the U.S. Federal Government have asked for my cooperation in an investigation.  I am not the subject of any investigation or prosecution.  I will fully cooperate with the U.S. Federal authorities in their investigation or in any proceedings arising out of it.”

Wolford told the Democrat & Chronicle that the $230,000 was a small portion of the overall debt owed by the gambler who paid with an Islanders check. The total of the debt was more than $1 million, he said.

I contacted the National Hockey League last night and heard back this morning.

“We will obviously follow up on the ‘facts’ suggested in the article to satisfy ourselves that we are on top of the situation,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Star Tribune.

In the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, the only mention of gambling comes in Exhibit 14.2: “Gambling on any NHL game is prohibited.”

There has been no allegation that Vanek bet on hockey.

This apparently was a football ring. If Vanek was betting on football, it is unlikely that the NHL will take any action. As long as Vanek wasn’t part of the gambling ring or involved in money laundering and faces no criminal charges, Vanek and the Wild likely have nothing to worry about.

Since Vanek is cooperating with the federal investigation, that would lead one to believe Vanek won’t be facing charges.

The Wild held an optional practice Friday, and Vanek left without commenting.

Vanek, in nine games with the Wild, has no goals and leads with seven assists. His two third-period assists last night on Kyle Brodziak goals helped the 6-3 Wild rally to beat the San Jose Sharks in a shootout.

John Moore suspended five games for hit on Erik Haula

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 29, 2014 - 5:16 PM

The Wild didn't practice today, so injury updates will have to wait most likely until the morning skate, but coach Mike Yeo wasn't confident that Jonas Brodin would be able to play against the San Jose Sharks and Erik Haula might.

As reported in today's paper, the Wild is concerned Brodin could be longer. As for Haula, Yeo said yesterday that he wasn't diagnosed with a concussion, but the team wanted to be cautious because of how often concussed players show symptoms a few days later. The Wild especially has experience with that.

John Moore, the New York Rangers defenseman who struck Haula on Monday with an illegal check to the head in the second period, was suspended five games today by the NHL. He had an in-person hearing and could have been suspended more than five games, but the NHL's Department of Player Safety gave him five games. That number means Moore won't be able to appeal the suspension to a neutral arbitrator. Not saying that's why he got five, just pointing out the significance of it being less than six.

Here is the video

The gist of the video: After Haula snaps a shot on net as Moore closes in, Moore drives his shoulder into Haula. The initial contact, the league says, was with Haula's shoulder, but the main point of contact on the hit was Haula's head.

Stephane Quintal notes Haula is eligible to be checked here, that the hit wasn't late, but if Moore's to render this extremently difficult check, "his timing and angle of approach must ensure that he hits squarely through the body and that Haula's head is not the main point of contact. Moore does neither. Haula’s head absorbs the brunt of Moore’s shoulder."

Moore, a repeat offender, loses $51,859.75 in salary because his lost money is based on 5, 82 game checks rather than 5 days of salary.

In the meantime, the Wild opens a three-game homestand against Brent Burns, the NHL's leading scorer among defensemen (yeah, he's a blue-liner again), and the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.

I'll be on KFAN live from the penalty box from 9:55 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Thursday and on Fox Sports North Plus Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and during the first intermission.

Some highlights from my preview box:

-- The Wild has outshot all eight opponents this season (274-181), averaging the second-most shots per game (34.2) and allowing the fewest (22.6).

-- D Marco Scandella, who scored his third career winning goal Tuesday, is tied with D Ryan Suter for first on the team with a plus-8. Scandella has been an even or better in every game.

-- C Ryan Carter, a White Bear Lake native, has an assist in five of the past six games and leads the Wild with 16 hits. LW Jason Zucker has three goals and an assist in the past three games.

-- G Darcy Kuemper will probably get a chance to bounce back after allowing five goals in the third period Monday at the Rangers.

-- The Wild’s power play is 0 for 26 and has gone eight straight games without a power-play goal, which is tied for the team record according to the Elias Sports Bureau (five times).

-- The Wild has been shorthanded the fewest times in the NHL (22), has the NHL’s third-best penalty kill (90.9 percent) and is tied for the second-fewest minor penalties (29).

-- According to Elias, last night's 4-3 win over Boston marked just the third time in Wild history the team has won a game in regulation time when trailing by two goals in the third period. The other such occasions: Jan. 16, 2004 vs. PIT (trailed 2-0 and won 4-2) and Dec. 18, 2007 vs. NSH (trailed 2-0 and won 3-2). So, first time on the road.

-- I wrote an article for Thursday's paper on the Wild's ongoing attempt to spark offense from Mikko Koivu and goals from Thomas Vanek, so give that a read.

Brodin, Haula sidelined; Vanek-Koivu split, new power-play units tonight vs. Bruins

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 28, 2014 - 6:15 PM

Good evening from TD Garden, where the Wild visits the Bruin at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT minus two key players. The game can be seen on NBC Sports Network and heard on KFAN. If you get NESN, I'll be on there at 6:45 p.m. ET.

Just got done with coach Mike Yeo's pregame availability, and here are the highlights:

--Defenseman Jonas Brodin is injured. I mentioned to you after last night's game that he sustained an injury to his hand, but Yeo said he's sore in a couple different spots today and it is very clear that Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher are fearful Brodin could be hurt somewhat seriously. He'll see the Wild's docs tomorrow.

Justin Falk will make his season debut in Brodin's place tonight. Stu Bickel was also recalled and Keith Ballard and Christian Folin were placed on injured reserve to make room. They can come off whenever they're ready.

"You look at that hit [by Chris Kreider], [Brodin] went into the boards and it’s pretty much like being in a car crash, so he’s sore today," Yeo said. "He’s a really tough kid. It’s a pretty amazing that he was able to come back and play last night to be honest with you. We’ve seen him do this over and over again. He’s tough. If he’s sore, we’re a little bit concerned."

--Kreider wasn't suspended by the NHL, but Rangers defenseman John Moore has been invited for an in-person hearing after being assessed a match penalty for launching his elbow into Erik Haula last night. Moore could be suspended six games or more.

Haula won't play tonight. Kyle Brodziak, scratched in five straight after two pretty decent games to start the season, will play and be given a good opportunity, Yeo said.

On Haula, Yeo said, "It was pretty much our call to keep him out. We were told he’s not diagnosed with a concussion, but sometimes those symotoms, a couple days later you end up finding out. So we have to make sure and protect the player in this case. We’re not 100 percent confident that he’s not at a risk of going out and playing tonight and taking another hit.

"We have to look at the big picture and have to be concerned about the player’s health."

-- Yeo will scramble the bottom three lines tonight. I'll update the blog after warmups with the lines, but Yeo would only say that Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville won't be broken up.

Lines 2 through 4




Suter is with Spurgeon, Scandella is with Prosser, Falk is with Dumba

But I asked preemptively if he were to split Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek, what would be the reason.

"We have to try something different for one," Yeo said. "There’s been signs that it might be coming, but there’s been other times where it’s not coming fast enough. We have to be willing to try different things. It doesn’t mean that they wont play together again."

Vanek has one shot the past three games and no goals this season. Other than a seven-shot game in Anaheim, Vanek has two or fewer in the other six.

Asked if that's a concern, Yeo said, "Yeah. I don’t want to say concern, but we have to make sure that we’re looking at everything we can. He was brought here to add offense and we’ve definitely seen his playmaking ability and some of the plays he has set up, but we definitely want to find a way on our end to try to get him on the scoresheet in the goal column as well."

-- The 0 for 24 power play will be scrambled, too.

"Bottom line, we’re starting to get in our own way here, and that’s what’s bothering me," Yeo said. "I think we have the most power-play shots in the league, and even last night, we probably had 10 power-play shots and we missed the net on four great opportunities, but I didn’t like our power play last night at all.

"Some of the things that make us a dangerous group when we’re on top of our game, we’re starting to lose those things. So we can try any combination we want, but the players have to really figure it out and make sure they have the right focus going out there."

He noted that like the Rangers' PK, the Bruins' PK will read the clips and be ready for a hungry power play. So it's up to the Wild to actually go out there hungry, and he didn't feel the Wild matched the Rangers' PK last night.

-- Parise has a deep, ugly-looking cut on his face from his right nostril to the middle of his upper lip on the right side. Took 10 stitches, and he said he only got real scared when he saw all the blood on his visor and the ice.

But he calmed down once he realized he could see and had his teeth. He returned late in the second, but he said he'll see the docs when he gets back to Minnesota to get them restitched.

"Hopefully it doesn't scar up too bad," Parise said. "I don't like them road stitches. Get them done at home."

On today's team attitude, Parise said, "The way I always approach these things, last night's game -- win or lose, mentally if you're in the right place, has no impact -- it shouldn't -- on tonight's game. It happens. It's going to happen to every team. We'll be on the other side of it some time later in the year. But it doesn't and it shouldn't impact our game tonight. It has no bearing on it whatsoever."

Charlie Coyle signed to 5-year, $16 million extension

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 22, 2014 - 5:24 PM

Ten days after the Wild signed defenseman Jonas Brodin to a six-year, $25 million extension, center/right wing Charlie Coyle is the next of the young core to re-up.

The Wild avoided restricted free agency next summer with Coyle by signing him to a five-year, $16 million deal this afternoon. The deal starts next year, averages $3.2 million a season.

“We’re very excited to get Charlie Coyle signed through the 2019-20 season,” said GM Chuck Fletcher in a release. “Charlie’s size, overall skill set, and character give him a chance to emerge as a top power forward in the game and we’re happy he will be doing that in the State of Hockey for years to come.”

"I’m really excited," Coyle said on a conference call. "Just to move forward with this organization, obviously I’m happy with where I’m at right now. It’s just going to be nice to know that I’m here for another five years. I’m just really, really thrilled and excited and happy right now.”

Coyle, who had a strong final 10 games of last season and solid playoff (played a large chunk secretly with two separated shoulders), was the big piece in the June 2011 Brent Burns deal. It could not have happened without Coyle being involved.

"If he just does what he’s doing right now, he’s still a big, valuable piece of our team," assistant GM Brent Flahr said. "You see the trust he has with the coaching staff. Everybody wants to play with Charlie Coyle on a lot of occasions just because of his size and the way he plays his all-around game.

"We think he’s just emerging. It’s just the tip of the iceberg with the guy right now. You see how hard he works, the time he puts into the game. He’s the type of player you win with. For him, we had no issues going term with him."

Director of Hockey Administration was the Wild's lead voice in the Coyle negotiations.

Flahr did the Brodin contract. And Fletcher is doing the Mikael Granlund one.

As I reported in Tuesday's paper here, Coyle was very intrigued by a long-term extension. As of now, it appears as if Granlund isn't interested in one.

As I wrote in the story, Before the season, Nino Niederreiter signed a three-year, $8 million contract averaging $2.67 million per year, topping out at $3.5 million his final season. It’s a bridge deal that will give the Wild power winger the opportunity to score more than his career-high 14 goals in order to potentially receive a home-run third contract.

For similar reasons, it appears as if Granlund has little interest in signing a long-term extension. Granlund, the Wild’s No. 1 center, has a chance to pile up points the next few years, so waiting for the longer term could enable Granlund to earn mega dollars in a third contract.

A two- or three-year deal not only benefits Granlund, it’ll allow the Wild more time to analyze how good Granlund can become and also make certain health isn’t an issue. He does have a concussion history.

Nothing is imminent, I'm told. Dialogue has been positive and ongoing, but there's no deadline here, so it could be weeks or months or even into the offseason.

Fletcher also said he wanted to stagger these deals and so far Darcy Kuemper expires in 2 years, Nino in 3 years, Coyle in 6 and Brodin in 7 (those two, the extensions don't start until 2015-16).

As for Coyle, he'll skate on the right side of the Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu line to start Thursday's game vs. Arizona.

Besides Granlund, Marco Scandella, Erik Haula and Christian Folin are the NHL restricted free agents next summer -- as of now. The Wild hasn't really gotten into contract talks with Haula and Folin as of yet, sources say, which is nothing to be worried about. It just wanted to focus on the Big Three, and then Scandella to follow. But some of these will undoubtedly go into next summer, which is very normal.

The Wild has reached out to each but told some the timing may not be right.

"I think it’s in everyone’s mind that they want to move forward with each other," Coyle said. "We want to keep this core group going. We’ve got a good team in that locker room with the older guys and the vets that we have and our younger guys, it’s nice to go through this kind of stuff with them."

Coyle said he owes everything to his family.

From the press release:

Coyle, 22 (3/2/92), has collected two points (1-1=2), a plus-3 rating and 10 penalty minutes (PIM) in four games this season with Minnesota. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound forward owns 46 points (21-25=46), 71 PIM and 164 hits in 111 career NHL games with the Wild while averaging 16:19 in TOI/game. The native of East Weymouth, Mass., recorded 30 points (12-18=30) in 70 games last season and ranked third on the team in hits with 108. He established career highs in hits, faceoffs won, shots and TOI in a game last season. Coyle registered two goals in 40 seconds in the second period vs. COL (1/11/14) for his first multi-goal game and fastest two goals scored by a Wild player at home. He ranked tied for third on the team in playoff scoring with seven points (3-4=7) in 13 contests.
    Coyle was acquired from the San Jose Sharks with Devin Setoguchi and a 2011 first-round selection (Zack Phillips) in exchange for Brent Burns and a 2012 second-round selection (Pontus Aberg) on June 24, 2011. He was selected by San Jose in the first round (28th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Wild puts Bickel on waivers; NHL honors Kuemper

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 13, 2014 - 11:10 AM

The Wild placed defenseman/right wing Stu Bickel on waivers this morning. I had a feeling a roster move would be made today. With no games 'til Friday, keeping this many players is just wasting cap space and money. Plus, at some point, the Wild had to activate Justin Fontaine off injured reserve. 

Fontaine has recovered from a strained glute. 

The hope is Bickel will slide through waivers because the team values his versatility and toughness. We'll see tomorrow if other teams do as well. 

Bickel was made expendable especially by the recent signing of Ryan Carter, who brings grit and toughness to the fourth line. And with two rookie defensemen making up the third pair, the Wild's not going to make its first waiver move defensemen Keith Ballard or Nate Prosser. 

Kuemper honored

Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper, who opened the season with back-to-back shutouts of Colorado, is the NHL's Second Star of the week. He had 46 saves in the two games.

Tomas Plekanec of Montreal is the First Star after getting four goals as the Habs started 3-0.

Sidney Crosby of the Penguins was the Third Star. He has six points, including three goals, in two games.


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