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.
Also find Russo on Facebook.
Email Michael to talk about hockey.
Going to the Minnesota State Fair? Toss this in your calendars: Wild coach Mike Yeo will visit the Star Tribune booth on Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 1:30 p.m.
On the back patio of our booth, I will conduct a Q and A with Yeo regarding the upcoming season. If you attend, please come on by and you can even ask a question yourself. Or, if you cannot attend, tweet me at @russostrib that morning and I’ll try to ask Yeo your question. The Q and A will be streamed live on www.startribune.com/wild.
If you have attended these in previous State Fairs with Yeo or GM Chuck Fletcher, it’s always a good, candid chat and fun time for the many who attend, so please join. You can even get free Star Tribune Chap Stick!
I will also be broadcasting with Paul Allen at the KFAN booth at 9:55-10:55 a.m. Friday, August 29, so stop on by.
--Speaking of the Wild, the team just announced that preseason single-game tickets will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. Regular-season single-game tickets will go on sale Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. at Xcel Energy Center’s box office and noon at Ticketmaster and all other locations. Tickets start at $32. The team also announced the return of the five-game pack. Those are available at the State Fair and wild.com/5game.
--Throughout the Twin Cities, the pre-training camp skates run by Octagon (Ben Hankinson and Chris McAlpine) and Neil Sheehy have started. Those include Wild players and Minnesota-based NHLers, college players and some elite high school players. I checked out the Octagon skate a few times this week and players like Zach Parise, Josh Harding, Keith Ballard, Ryan McDonagh, Dustin Byfuglien, Derek Stepan, Ryan Malone, Matt Carle, Ryan Jones, Alex Goligoski, Clayton Stoner, Stephane Veilleux, Matt Cooke, Matt Hendricks, Drew Stafford, Kyle Okposo, Tim Jackman, John Scott, Mark Alt, Nate Condon, Davis Drewiske were there. Sorry if I missed a few. I was also impressed young Wild players like Christian Folin and Kurtis Gabriel are already in town.
“I just want to get used to everything and give myself the best possible chance [to make the team],” Folin said.
“I want to be the best I can be,” Gabriel said.
Malone looked good and with his legal issues soon behind him from Tampa, one would think somebody signs him (Rangers have talked to him) or he attends a training camp on a tryout.
--The guy who looked really good was Harding. He hasn’t played an NHL game since Dec. 31, so it was a good sign to see him back on the ice and looking like he hasn’t missed a beat. Remember, he led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage last year. If you remember, he was practicing every day of the Chicago series, so he was close to returning last postseason. Health-wise now, he says he feels great and on the ice, he looks great.
So, that’s a good sign. Fletcher also said last week that Nik Backstrom continues to feel good and should be ready to go when camp begins Sept. 18.
--All this is interesting because durable veteran Ilya Bryzgalov, who went 7-1-3 down the stretch of the regular season to help the Wild make the playoffs (lone regulation loss was that meaningless finale vs. Nashville), wants to return to the Wild, his agent tells me.
“Ilya would very much like to return to the Wild and further the success the team had down the stretch last year,” agent Ritch Winter said. “It was one of the most satisfying experiences he has had in his career.
“Ilya loved his teammates in Minnesota, loved the city and loved and appreciated the support he received from the coaching staff and Wild fans. He would love to be a part of helping this team to enjoy the success they had together last year.
“He has instructed me to do all I can to facilitate a return to the Twin Cities even if it requires him to compromise somewhat to accommodate the budget issues facing the team if that becomes a possibility.”
The issue is roster room. Harding assures Fletcher he is ready to go. Same with Backstrom. Right now, Darcy Kuemper remains unsigned, but the Wild is working toward re-signing him.
Fletcher has great respect for Bryzgalov, but he has said that with Harding, Backstrom and eventually Kuemper occupying three of the 23-man roster, it’s tough to simply sign Bryzgalov.
From the previous blog, Fletcher said he intentionally communicated with Backstrom and Harding to make sure they were OK and there were no issues he was unaware of in case he needed to react and address the situation by signing Bryzgalov or somebody else.
But Fletcher said, “everything’s a go with both goalies” and “this is how we’re going to start.”
“If something happens, like any player at any position, we’ll react,” Fletcher continued. “There’s always a way to react if you need to, but at this point, we’re comfortable with our situation. They’re quality goaltenders and I’m not losing any sleep over it. We have confidence in them and this is how we’re going to start. There’s no reason to doubt their ability. If they’re healthy, we’ll be fine. And God forbid if a situation happens like last year, then we’ll deal with it. We have three goalies. It’s not like we have one. We have three. We feel we have depth, quality and quantity, and there’s just no reason to doubt the players that are there.”
For Fletcher’s full quotes, see the previous blog.
So, right now, Winter will continue to talk to Fletcher, but if all the goalies remain healthy, Fletcher may be unwavering here.
-- On Sept. 6 at Fogerty Arena at 6 p.m., there will be an NHL Alumni Game to honor Wyatt Klute, a 14-year-old freshman at Blaine who has been diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma. For more information on the game, go to http://www.wyattklute.com
--Here is the Wild's Fox Sports North broadcast schedule for this upcoming season:
2014-15 Minnesota Wild – FOX Sports North Schedule
Date Day Opponent Time
Oct. 11 Saturday at Colorado 8:00pm
Oct. 17 Friday at Anaheim 9:00pm
Oct. 19 Sunday at Los Angeles 2:00pm
Oct. 23 Thursday Arizona 7:00pm
Oct. 25 Saturday Tampa Bay 7:00pm
Oct. 27 Monday at NY Rangers 6:00pm
Oct. 30 Thursday San Jose 7:00pm +
Nov. 1 Saturday Dallas 7:00pm
Nov. 4 Tuesday Pittsburgh 7:00pm
Nov. 6 Thursday at Ottawa 6:30pm
Nov. 8 Saturday at Montreal 6:00pm +
Nov. 11 Tuesday at New Jersey 6:00pm
Nov. 13 Thursday Buffalo 7:00pm
Nov. 15 Saturday at Dallas 1:00pm
Nov. 16 Sunday Winnipeg 4:00pm
Nov. 20 Thursday at Philadelphia 6:00pm
Nov. 22 Saturday at Tampa Bay 6:00pm +
Nov. 24 Monday at Florida 6:30pm
Nov. 26 Wednesday Los Angeles 7:00pm
Nov. 28 Friday at Dallas 7:30pm +
Nov. 29 Saturday St. Louis 7:00pm
Dec. 3 Wednesday Montreal 6:00pm
Dec. 5 Friday Anaheim 7:00pm +
Dec. 9 Tuesday NY Islanders 7:00pm
Dec. 11 Thursday at San Jose 9:30pm
Dec. 13 Saturday at Arizona 7:00pm
Dec. 16 Tuesday at Chicago 7:30pm
Dec. 20 Saturday Nashville 7:00pm
Dec. 23 Tuesday Philadelphia 6:00pm +
Dec. 27 Saturday Winnipeg 6:00pm
Dec. 29 Monday at Winnipeg 7:00pm
Dec. 31 Wednesday at Columbus 6:00pm
Jan. 2 Friday Toronto 7:00pm
Jan. 3 Saturday at Dallas 7:00pm
Jan. 8 Thursday Chicago 7:00pm
Jan. 10 Saturday Nashville 1:00pm
Jan. 15 Thursday at Buffalo 6:00pm
Jan. 17 Saturday Arizona 8:00pm
Jan. 19 Monday Columbus 7:00pm
Jan. 20 Tuesday at Detroit 6:30pm
Jan. 27 Tuesday at Edmonton 8:30pm
Jan. 29 Thursday at Calgary 8:00pm
Feb. 1 Sunday at Vancouver 2:30pm
Feb. 7 Saturday Colorado 7:00pm
Feb. 9 Monday Vancouver 7:00pm
Feb. 10 Tuesday at Winnipeg 7:00pm
Feb. 12 Thursday Florida 7:00pm
Feb. 14 Saturday Carolina 7:00pm
Feb. 16 Monday at Vancouver 9:00pm
Feb. 18 Wednesday at Calgary 8:30pm
Feb. 20 Friday at Edmonton 8:00pm+
Feb. 24 Tuesday Edmonton 7:00pm
Feb. 28 Saturday at Colorado 9:00pm
Mar. 3 Tuesday Ottawa 7:00pm
Mar. 5 Thursday at Washington 6:00pm
Mar. 6 Friday at Carolina 6:00pm
Mar. 8 Sunday Colorado 5:00pm
Mar. 10 Tuesday New Jersey 7:00pm
Mar. 13 Friday Anaheim 7:00pm
Mar. 14 Saturday at St. Louis 7:00pm
Mar. 17 Tuesday at Nashville 7:00pm
Mar. 19 Thursday Washington 7:00pm
Mar. 21 Saturday St. Louis 1:00pm
Mar. 23 Monday at Toronto 6:30pm
Mar. 24 Tuesday at NY Islanders 6:00pm
Mar. 27 Friday Calgary 7:00pm+
Mar. 28 Saturday Los Angeles 7:00pm
Apr. 2 Thursday NY Rangers 7:00pm
Apr. 4 Saturday Detroit 6:00pm
Apr. 6 Monday Winnipeg 7:00pm
Apr. 9 Thursday at Nashville 7:00pm
+ airs on FOX Sports North Plus
All Times Central
Schedule Subject to Change
Five weeks from Thursday, the Wild opens training camp, but we are still very much in the dog days of summer.
Other than #ALSIceBucketChallenge’s, the NHL is on unofficial hiatus, and that still includes your Wild.
There’s really little of note going on.
Coach Mike Yeo and his staff are back in town and are preparing for camp. So is General Manager Chuck Fletcher. It’s been a week of meetings as the Wild has met to plan its training camp schedule, tries to determine how many exhibition games the prospects, youngsters and vets will play, decides whether the team will take a bonding trip at the end of camp or maybe even between Games 2 and 3 of the season (oddly, the Wild has five off-days) and even stuff like the likelihood of a father-son trip, etc.
Fletcher has also spent the month dialing up some veterans to check in. Two include the goalies, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.
Backstrom had season-ending abdominal surgery and hip surgery last season and Harding didn’t play in 2014 due to complications with multiple sclerosis. Fletcher has talked with both the past two weeks to ensure that they’re still both well and that he doesn’t need to go out and sign a free agent, like Ilya Bryzgalov, who remains unsigned despite going 7-1-3 down the regular season’s stretch to guide Minnesota into the playoffs.
“Everything’s a go with both goalies,” Fletcher said of Backstrom and Harding. “Everybody seems to be feeling pretty good, and at this stage, knock on wood, all of our players who were banged up at the end of the season is feeling better. Josh has felt good. Right now we’re not expecting any issues for anybody with respect to passing training camp medicals.
“Now’s the time of the year, with about a month to go, you want to reach out and make sure there’s no issues you don’t know about so if there is something you have time to help the process. With Josh and Nik, you’re just trying to reach out and see how they’re doing. They’re both doing really well.
“There’s still some quality goaltenders out there. Ilya’s out there and a few others, so there’s that type of option out there. But we’re happy with the quality of our goaltending. When guys have been healthy, they’ve performed well. Darcy [Kuemper] also showed some glimpses of what we hope he’ll become, so we’re comfortable with those three goaltenders. People always ask if I’m worried about it, and I’m not worried about it. You never know what’s going to happen. Injuries can happen to anybody and certainly you can’t predict things, but guys are healthy and typically when Backstrom and Harding are healthy, they play well. If something happens, like any player at any position, we’ll react. There’s always a way to react if you need to, but at this point, we’re comfortable with our situation. They’re quality goaltenders and I’m not losing any sleep over it. We have confidence in them and this is how we’re going to start. There’s no reason to doubt their ability. If they’re healthy, we’ll be fine. And God forbid if a situation happens like last year, then we’ll deal with it. We have three goalies. It’s not like we have one. We have three. We feel we have depth, quality and quantity, and there’s just no reason to doubt the players that are there.”
Speaking of Harding, check out his #ALSIceBucketChallenge. I told him he should have worn his mask.
-- Kuemper and Nino Niederreiter remain unsigned and there have been no conversations since I blogged two weeks ago. Fletcher said, “There’s been nothing lately. In the near future, I’m sure I’ll speak with both agents and we’ll just continue the process. I’ll reach out to them in the near future. We’re over a month ‘til camp. We’ll keep plugging along.”
Again, for more on their situations specifically, read this blog.
-- Nick Seeler, a junior defenseman at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, has stunningly left college at this late juncture. It seems to have caught the Wild off guard, too, the team that drafted the former Eden Prairie High defenseman in the fifth round in 2011. There are apparently no off-ice issues and just a decision made by the family to leave the program.
The problem is his choices are limited now. He is 21, so he is too old to play junior. He can go to Europe. He can transfer colleges, but he couldn’t play next season. So that may leave the only option as turning pro with the Wild.
“We’ll have some conversations with Nick and his family,” Fletcher said. “[Director of Player Development] Brad Bombardir has already had a lot of conversations with Nick and his family and we’ll just continue that dialogue. We’ll try to figure out the best path for him and his career, whether that’s going to a different college or turning pro. I think every option is on the table. We’ll just try to sit down and decide what ultimately makes sense for Nick and the organization. This just kind of happened. The timing, the middle of August, isn’t what you’d normally expect, but it is what it is, and we’ll just kind of deal with it and make the best decisions we can for his development. At this point, nothing’s been decided. We’ll take a little time. Ultimately, Nick will have to decide what he desires to do and then we’ll have to make the decision for everybody.”
-- It has been reported that the Wild, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have shown interest in former Arizona Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette, aka @biznasty2point0, the second-most followed NHLer on Twitter and the genius behind this:
Selfishly, the colorful player would be a sportswriter’s dream, and if you’ve read my features on Bissonnette before, you know I have enjoyed writing about him.
Fletcher likes him, too, from their days in the Pittsburgh organization, but this sounds more like Biznasty’s agent, Mark Guy, called Fletcher and Fletcher fielded the call and at least entertained the proposition. But it has gone no further to this point.
“I’m always speaking to agents,” Fletcher said. “There’s probably 15 guys without contracts right now whose agents are calling weekly or a couple times a week and I’ve had lots of conversations with all of them about potential fit and scenarios with different players. We’re always talking to agents. I’ve spoken to our scouts and coaches about players. I mean, this is what you do late in the summer. You’re always looking to see if there’s somebody out there that fits, that you have a role for, that would make sense. But at this point, I haven’t made offers to any unrestricted free agents that are out there and I don’t know that we will. You never know, but at this point, I don’t know that we will. We’re definitely comfortable starting with what we have right now, but you’re not doing your job if you’re not taking calls and making calls and asking questions. That’s the best way to characterize it.”
Here are a few other Wild #ALSIceBucketChallenge's, and if you missed the others, see the below blogs:
Last blog, I presented to you some Ice Bucket Challenge's from Zach Parise, Keith Ballard and Stephane Veilleux. More Wild peeps are joining the fun to raise awareness and money for ALS research.
Ballard challenged me, so naturally, I challenged Wild captain Mikko Koivu, along with Kevin Falness and Paul Fletcher.
Koivu accepted my challenge as you can see below. In recent minutes, coach Mike Yeo also accepted equipment manager Tony DaCosta's challenge and paid it forward -- so to speak -- to Wild TV broadcasters Mike Greenlay, Anthony LaPanta and Kevin Gorg, as you can see below.
Koivu has challenged Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Suter, along with assistant athletic therapist John Worley. I know Brodziak and Worley have accepted, as has Charlie Coyle accepted Cities 97's Paul Fletcher's challenge.
All for a good cause. Some videos for your viewing pleasure.
If you haven't heard of the #IceBucketChallenge yet, it is a social media craze that was created by former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who is suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Athletes, celebrities and regular folks just like you have been challenging each other to douse themselves with buckets of ice water to raise awareness for the debillitating disease. If challenged, you have 24 hours to complete the challenge and challenge three others, in addition to donating $100 to ALS research.
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin and Wild left wing Stephane Veilleux challenged the Wild's Zach Parise. Earlier today, Parise accepted the challenge, poured ice water over his head and in turn challenged NHL stars Travis Zajac, Justin Faulk and Kyle Okposo.
Here is the video Parise sent me:
Here is the very funny Veilleux Ice Bucket Challenge
With the beautiful Minneapolis skyline in the background, here is Martin's challenge of Parise, Andy Greene and James Neal.
And of course, this was bound to happen!
So, I obliged
After a year with the New York Rangers, free agent defenseman Justin Falk is returning to the Wild.
The team signed Falk, 25, to a one-year, two-way deal on Friday. The 6-5, 215 pounder played 21 games for the Rangers last season, with two assists and 20 penalty minutes.
Drafted in the fourth round in 2007 by the Wild, Falk played in 108 games from 2009-13. He had a goal and 14 assists, and 100 penalty minutes, with Minnesota. Basically, a depth signing.
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