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 player moves

Jason Zucker, Jake Dowell reassigned to Iowa; Fontaine, Dumba among those staying

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 29, 2013 - 9:50 AM

The Wild has assigned Jason Zucker and Jake Dowell to Iowa of the American Hockey League, trimming its roster to 22 players this morning.

Obviously disappointed, Zucker left the Xcel Energy Center with his bag and sticks and declined to comment.

Again, as the Wild has said over and over this camp, in its mind, whoever didn't make the opening-night roster simply won't be in the lineup opening night vs. L.A. on Thursday. It's not, "not making the team."

With Iowa in such close proximity and so many players on contracts that allow the Wild to send them up and down freely, this could happen for some time.

Zucker will be back at some point. But against big, tough L.A., coach Mike Yeo must feel he needs rugged Zenon Konopka in the lineup, meaning one of the kids will be scratched.

Zucker would be that guy. He's admitted to feeling sore since his groin injury, Mikael Granlund has also had a quality camp and the second power play has two shooters in Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. Zucker is a shooter, Granlund a puck distributor.

We haven't talked to Yeo or GM Chuck Fletcher, but to send Dowell down and go below the maximum 23, the Wild is likely looking to save precious salary-cap space since Dowell would be the clear extra forward. This also would allow the Wild to sign David Steckel at any time if it wants.

So, as of now, UMD-Bulldog Justin Fontaine is on the team. Same with Granlund, Niederreiter and Matt Dumba.

And of course, Coyle.

By the way, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are practicing today here at the X, as well as Torrey Mitchell. The Wild heads to Duluth for two days after practice.

Opening Night roster as of now (must be submitted at 4 p.m. Monday)

Forwards

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville

Dany Heatley-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine

Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell

Mikael Granlund-Zenon Konopka-Nino Niederreiter

(If it were me, I'd switch Fontaine and Niederreiter, but Fontaine's been on that line most of camp, so I'll put him there for now)

Defensemen

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon

Keith Ballard-Matt Dumba

Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser

Goalies

Niklas Backstrom

Josh Harding

Injured: Mike Rupp (knee)

More later

Wild roster cut to 28, plus practice update

Posted by: Rachel Blount Updated: September 24, 2013 - 4:09 PM

The Wild cut its roster to 28 players Tuesday morning, sending 11 players to its AHL affiliate in Iowa and putting seven others on waivers with the intent of assigning them to Iowa on Wednesday.

Forward Erik Haula and Carson McMillan, both of whom had performed well in camp, were among Tuesday's cuts. Haula, Raphael Bussieres, Josh Caron, Kris Foucault, Tyler Graovac and Zack Phillips are the forwards sent to Iowa; defensemen who will join them are Corbin Baldwin, Colton Jobke and Kyle Medvec. Goalies Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson also were assigned to Iowa.

Players placed on waivers with intent to send to Iowa: Forwards McMillan, Stephane Veilleux and Chad Rau; defensemen Jonathon Blum, Brian Connelly, Steven Kampfer and Jon Landry. Kurtis Gabriel also was assigned to Owen Sound of the OHL.

Mikael Grandlund is practicing today, but Mikko Koivu is not. We'll have an update later.

UPDATE: Koivu did not practice Tuesday because his fiancee is in labor. Wild coach Mike Yeo expects him in the lineup for Wednesday's preseason game against St. Louis. Granlund, who has what the Wild is calling a "slight upper-body injury,'' looked good in practice. Yeo said if Granlund is feeling fine, he will play Wednesday.

Other post-practice notes Tuesday:

--Yeo sounded doubtful that forward Mike Rupp (offseason knee surgery) will be ready to go when the season starts. "That's going to be a stretch,'' Yeo said. "He's feeling better. I'm not going to rule it out. But he's got to get some quality practice time in. He's got a lot of catching up to do.''

--The coach lauded Haula's speed, positioning and ability to read plays. But he said none of the players cut Tuesday were going to make the opening-night roster, so it was best to move them along. "The young kids, the prospects, they need to play,'' Yeo said. "So let's get them on their way and get them started.''

--Forward Justin Fontaine was happy to have a locker in the main room, squeezed in next to the stereo and the goalies. To keep it, Yeo said, he will have to put the puck in the net or create a chance for someone else to do the same. "He's going to have to be a guy who contributes offensively,'' Yeo said. "He's going to have to be a guy who's creating and making plays.'' Fontaine said the coaches want to see him refine the details of his game, particularly when it comes to following the Wild's systems.

--Defenseman Matt Dumba had a place in the main locker room, too: a temporary stall with a folding chair. He wasn't complaining. Yeo continued to laud Dumba for working his way out of a jam in Monday's 2-1 shootout victory over Columbus, when Dumba persevered after two lousy periods and righted himself in the third. "That was a big step for me,'' Dumba said. "I calmed myself down and found my game. ... That was huge for me.''

Wild close to signing Nashville Predators defenseman Jonathon Blum

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 11, 2013 - 2:24 PM
Agent Gerry Johannson says the Wild is one of many teams in the running for Nashville Predators free-agent defenseman Jonathon Blum. The agent says nothing is finalized, but according to NHL sources, it's all but signed, sealed and delivered and Blum will indeed be signing with Minnesota as early as Friday.
 
“We’ve talked to Minnesota and a number of teams,” Johannson said. “They are definitely in the running.”
 
General Manager Chuck Fletcher has said the past week the Wild will likely sign a defenseman with NHL experience to a two-way contract. Blum, a 2007 first-round pick by Nashville, likely fits that two-way mold. He would vie for a roster spot come the fall if not have the opportunity to be a first callup option.
 
The Predators didn’t tender Blum, 24, a former Western Hockey League star from the Vancouver Giants, a qualifying offer presumably because the threat of his winning a one-way arbitration case and Nashville’s logjam on the blue line. He became an unrestricted free agent last Friday. It was clear from reading Josh Cooper's stuff in the Tennessean the past few years that Blum has talent but needed a fresh start. Just wasn't working there.
 
The 6-1, 195-pound right-shot blue-liner has scored seven goals and 22 points in 91 NHL games. In four years with the Giants, Blum, their former captain, scored 49 goals and 204 points. He was WHL and CHL Defenseman of the Year in 2009. He scored 66 points that year playing on a team with Winnipeg’s Evander Kane. He won a Memorial Cup in 2007. His Giants teams record four consecutive years of 100 points. He is their all-time leader in assists (138).
 
The Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., native represented the U.S. in the world juniors twice. He’s a product of the California Wave (you may have seen that documentary on them a few years back, called In the Crease).
 
Here’s a story on Blum in the Vancouver Sun last week.
 
Here’s a story on Blum in the Vancouver Province last week.
 
The Wild's depth chart on the blue line for roster hopefuls now looks like:
 
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Keith Ballard
Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon
 
Vying
Nate Prosser
Jonathon Blum
Matt Dumba

Matt Cullen moving on from Minnesota; Keith Ballard coming to Minnesota

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 4, 2013 - 6:34 PM
 
 
The Wild’s about to lose one Minnesotan, but it will gain another.
 
Wild center Matt Cullen will become a free agent when the market opens at 11 a.m. CT Friday. The veteran had a conversation with Chuck Fletcher last night where the general manager informed him he could not extend a contract offer.
 
However, defenseman Keith Ballard, the Baudette native and former University of Minnesota star, has agreed to terms with the hometown Wild. Ballard, 30, was bought out of the final two years of his contract by the Vancouver Canucks this morning. It's a two-year, $3 million deal -- much less than the Tom Gilbert $4 million cap hit. The buyout is why Ballard could agree early. The signing won't be official until Friday.
 
"It is exciting in the sense that I’ve enjoyed playing here on a visiting team," said Ballard, saying he got interest from a half-dozen teams. "I love the building, I’ve got great memories playing here in the three years in college and playing in front of these fans. And I know the support that the team gets. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be nice to be closer to family and friends, but at the same time, this isn’t a big homecoming celebration.
 
"There’s a lot of work to be done to reestablish my career. It’s an important year for me. I’m not overly wrapped up in that side of it. I’m just focused on putting all my efforts into having a good year and helping the team do well."
 
Ballard, a left-shot D will play the right side in Minnesota. In 545 career games with Phoenix, Florida and Minnesota, the two-time Gophers national champ has scored 36 goals and 165 points.
 
In 193 games with the Wild, Cullen scored 33 goals and 101 points. He scored an additional 11 goals in the shootout.
 
Cullen is coming off a strong season, still has the legs of a 20-something and has won a Cup in Carolina. He has scored 202 goals and 562 points in 1,073 games in 15 seasons with Anaheim, Florida, Carolina, the Rangers, Ottawa and Minnesota.
 
The Wild never made Cullen an offer.
 
“Chuck said all along he wasn’t going to do that unless he could make a legitimate offer,” Cullen said. “That’s a pretty classy move. He called me last night and we talked a little while and he said it’s a tough call to make, but he just can’t find the room to make an offer. So that was it.
 
“It was a sad night in the Cullen household last night. We were pretty disappointed, but understanding of the situation.”
 
Cullen, the former Moorhead High standout and St. Cloud State Huskies center, said he leaves Minnesota with good memories.
 
“I really enjoyed my time there,” Cullen said. “It was more than I would have ever imagined as far as playing at home and raising my kids there and being part of the organization and watching the organization grow from where it was three years ago to where it is now. I just leave with a lot of positive memories. It was a great experience for me. It was a lot of fun. Obviously, I would have liked to have won more games, but last year was one of the most enjoyable seasons playing hockey, and to go on that note, not many guys play pro hockey in their home state.
 
“Now it’s time to move on.”
 
Cullen said he doesn’t know if he’ll sign exactly Friday, but there’s been “plenty of interest.”
 
“It’s kind of interesting because all along in the back of my mind I expected it would eventually work out with Minnesota,” Cullen said. “Now it’s a completely different mindset, and I took last night to regroup and gather my thoughts and emotions and start thinking about the future here.
 
“For me, the priority is going to a place where I have a chance to win along with the family situation.
 
“Chuck was great though. He could have made this a lot more difficult than he did, but I got the strong impression that he tried awful hard, but it’s just one of those things. It’s a tough cap situation.”
 
It’s unclear if the Wild will look for a No. 2 center in free agency or just hand the baton in camp to Charlie Coyle or Mikael Granlund.
 
As for Ballard, I talked to him earlier as you saw on the previous blog, and he said Minnesota is an option.
 
It's an option now.
 
“I did need a change, so to me, the buyout is a good thing,” Ballard said. “In my meetings at the end of the year with management in Vancouver, we all agreed that however it worked out, I needed a change. It’s a funny feeling. In a lot of ways I’m very excited, but it’s disappointing that it got to this. I’m so excited for the opportunity and what’s going to come this next season.
 
“There’ been so much adversity in Vancouver the last few years, and I’ve gone through a lot. If anything my belief in myself has gotten better. Not right away. There was some up and down there, but it’s a fact, I know I can play at a high level in a long time.”
 
On playing in Vancouver, Ballard said, "It was a battle to find the right fit. I had a few injuries. It was a different role than I was accustomed to. There were a lot of different situations that took place. There weren’t one or two things that went wrong. At the same time, I really, truly loved my time in Vancouver. The guys I played with, it was a great group. It’s bittersweet right now. I’m really excited to be moving on and getting a fresh start, but it’s hard leaving people you were close to and a city and a fan base that I really enjoyed playing in front of."

Tom Gilbert buyout process will begin with Wild; Ryan Suter a First-Team All-Star

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 3, 2013 - 12:53 PM
The Wild has placed Tom Gilbert on unconditional waivers. That is the first necessary step to buy out the remaining one year of the veteran defenseman’s contract.
 
When Gilbert clears Thursday, the Wild plans to use one of its two allowable compliance buyouts on the 30-year-old native of Bloomington.
 
“Due to the NHL salary cap decreasing this season, we needed to make this difficult decision to give the team more flexibility,” said GM Chuck Fletcher in a statement. “We thank Tom for his time with the Wild and wish him the best going forward."
 
Gilbert will receive $1 million in each of the next two seasons (two-thirds of his $3 million salary), but it will free up an additional $4 million of salary cap space this summer for the Wild. This will be the second time Fletcher has bought out a player. Two years ago, he bought out Cam Barker.
 
The Wild won't necessarily just run to free agent Matt Cullen and re-sign him now. The move is designed to give Minnesota more flexibility this offseason. One can assume the Wild will now need to add a defenseman or two this offseason.
 
Gilbert would be free to sign with any team other than Minnesota once free agency opens at 11 a.m. CT Friday.
 
The Wild has already begun making calls on potential replacements. Starting at 11:01 p.m. CT last night, free agents were free to receive calls from other teams.
 
Fletcher said after Sunday’s draft that he expects there could be bargains in free agency because so many players could lose the game of musical chairs with so little money in the system. Fletcher also believes some players may be willing to take two-way contracts (smaller salary in the minors) or accept pro tryouts.
 
Gilbert, acquired from Edmonton at the trade deadline two seasons ago for veteran defenseman Nick Schultz, scored three goals and 18 points in 63 games for his hometown Wild.
 
While this is a move that likely would not have occurred if the Wild didn’t need the cap space, Gilbert did struggle at times last season. He was minus-11 and had to endure a few healthy scratches and decreased ice time. Prior to the season, Gilbert and center Kyle Brodziak, who also had a rough season, each were hit with a type of pneumonia. While neither used the sickness as an excuse, both players lost a lot of weight and Gilbert himself was actually hospitalized.

In other news, Ryan Suter was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team. He led the NHL in average ice time (27:16), playing over 30 minutes 10 times. He was second amongst defensemen in assists (28) and third in points (32).

The news comes a few days after his partner, Jonas Brodin, was named to the NHL's All-Rookie Team.

As you can see below, Alex Ovechkin made First and Second Team at different positions. First time this has ever happened and one reason why there was such a delay in the announcement.

2012-2013 NHL First All-Star Team


GP W L OT GAA SV% SO
 

G Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets 38 21 11 6 2.00 .932 4

GP Mins. G A Pts
 

D P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens 42 23:14 11 27 38
 

D Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild 48 27:16 4 28 32
 

C Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins 36 21:06 15 41 56


RW Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals 48 20:53 32 24 56
 

LW Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins 48 18:01 22 30 52

2012-2013 NHL Second All-Star Team


GP W L OT GAA SV% SO
 

G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers 43 24 16 3 2.05 .926 2

GP Mins. G A Pts


D Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim Ducks 48 23:27 6 18 24


D Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins 35 25:38 5 33 38


C Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks 47 19:20 23 25 48


RW Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning 48 21:59 17 43 60


LW Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals 48 20:53 32 24 56

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