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Russo's Rants

Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Haula files for arbitration; Columbus player fires Twitter darts at Reilly

Unsigned Wild center and restricted free agent Erik Haula filed for salary arbitration in advance of Sunday’s 4 p.m. CT deadline. The majority of players who file for arbitration annually end up settling with their teams before the arbitration hearing, which will be scheduled for later this month (see Justin Fontaine last year).

Arbitration is a normal process in the collective bargaining agreement. While it can be a contentious process if two sides actually end up presenting their cases in front of a neutral arbitrator, the one good thing about arbitration is it guarantees a solution.

In other words, without a shadow of a doubt now, a contract between Haula and the Wild will be complete 48 hours after the hearing (if there ever is one), or well before training camp. In other words, there is no risk now of a contract dispute like Darcy Kuemper had with the Wild until the eve of training camp last September.

Haula had a tough 2014-15 season, scoring seven goals and seven assists in 72 games with a minus-7 and being stuck in coach Mike Yeo’s doghouse for much of his sophomore year. He was scratched in eight of 10 playoff games, scoring once in two games. Haula was one of the Wild’s best penalty killers, however, being on the ice for seven power-play goals against in 153 minutes, 47 seconds of shorthanded ice time (second among Wild forwards behind now-departed Kyle Brodziak). The Wild had the NHL’s top-ranked PK.

If a contract isn’t settled between the Wild and Haula, the two sides will exchange briefs 48 hours before the scheduled hearing. The Wild will elect whether or not Haula would be awarded a one- or two-year contract. Each side will also attach a salary figure it believes Haula deserves. The arbitrator then decides the salary with the term the Wild chooses.

Again, even if the sides get to the point where it exchanges briefs, the Wild and Haula can settle on a contract right up until the hearing. That happened one year with Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

Even if the Wild elect a one- or two-year term in arbitration, the team can negotiate a contract of any term with Haula’s agent and settle beforehand.

By Haula filing for arbitration, this does potentially open up a second buyout window for the Wild. This would not seem to affect Niklas Backstrom though because according to Backstrom’s recently-hired new agent, Jay Grossman (who coincidentally happens to be Haula’s agent), Backstrom isn’t expected to be medically cleared from elbow surgery until at least training camp.

Christian Folin and Jon Blum also remain unsigned as of now. Folin’s one of those weird Group 1 free agents where he’s not really free. He can’t go to another team and the Wild holds exclusive rights.

Blum also has arbitration rights and can file by 4 p.m. My guess is he won’t and will be traded at some point to give the defenseman and good citizen a fresh start in another organization.

In other news, Brandon Dubinsky showed some holiday spirit in the wee hours of this morning with a couple tweets, one to Wild defenseman Mike Reilly, who became a free agent by not signing with the team that drafted him, Dubinsky’s Blue Jackets. This will be a story line next season because Jackets star Ryan Johansen also tweeted June 17, “We didn’t want him anyway.”

One of Dubinsky’s 2 a.m. tweets, a response to a Wild fan asking if he has ever heard of the playoffs, was particularly well-crafted.

I'll toss a screen capture of his predictably deleted tweets up later, but the one aimed at Reilly said, "Final thought of the holiday.....Mike Reilly made a tough choice ... #werenotincollege #burntbridges #CBJ>MNW #werule #gophers[stink]"

Uh, except Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, of course!

Kyle Brodziak signs with Blues; bargain options for the Wild

Good morning from the woods of Michigan, where I'm on a mini vacation.

Kyle Brodziak's long tenure officially ended last night when he signed a one-year, $900,000 contract with the St. Louis Blues.

While part of me is surprised at the contract Brodziak had to settle for, I had a feeling it would be difficult for him to get the third-line money he'd be seeking from the Wild and others. Not because of Brodziak the player, but because if you look at the rosters of most teams in the league right now, there were a number of fourth-line center/wing spots open, but not a lot of third-line center spots.

Some felt Arizona would be an option before free agency, but when the Coyotes reacquired Boyd Gordon from Edmonton, that took a landing spot away from potentially Brodziak.

As I wrote on a blog (that I can't find right now) recently, there is so little money in the system right now, it would behoove every free agent to sign early so they're not locked out of a spot by Day 2 and 3. After the first day of free agency, it would be very tough for some players -- even quality ones -- to find jobs. My guess in my Insider at the draft and free agency preview from Wednesday's paper was that Fletcher would be quiet on Day 1 and then wait into free agency to look for some bargains.

I know Fletcher said, "This is our team right now," Wednesday, but I still see holes and we'll see if that happens now. There are still some decent players available that may be forced to sign one-year deals and come cheap.

Fletcher said Wednesday, "never say never," about Chris Stewart. I took that to mean that if Stewart finds out in free agency that a $3 million-a-year deal wasn't out there and he'd come back for like $1 million, he'd still be in the cards. I think Stewart could still be an option.

But there are other forwards out there, too, like former Wild Joel Ward as a third-line wing option, Chris Porter as a fourth line wing option or Eric Fehr, Marcel Goc, Mike Santorelli (I believe the Wild had interest before the trade deadline), Tyler Kennedy, Stephen Weiss, Jiri Tlusty, Shawn Mathias and James Sheppard as center options.

Fletcher has said before that he doesn't want to "box out" the kids and then suddenly later in the summer pursues guys like Mike Modano and John Madden (eventually signing Madden) or signs Petr Sykora, etc. I can't imagine that the Wild really believes it doesn't need at least another NHL-caliber forward if it could get him on a bargain.

I know the Wild would love Tyler Graovac to make the team. But Fletcher has also told me there's no chance he wants him to be the Wild's fourth-line center.

Go to or the other cap sites to see the free agents still available.

I like the Tyson Strachan signing. He has 184 games of NHL experience, has been a quality up and down defenseman and judging from the four or five text messages from beat writers yesterday, he's a good citizen.

As for Brodziak, it'll be weird walking into the Wild room and not seeing him in there. Only Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom have been on the team longer.

He ranks seventh in Wild history with 446 games, eighth with 72 goals, eighth in points with 169 and seventh with 715 shots (I know, imagine where he'd rank if he didn't miss the net or hit the post so many times).

Like Clayton Stoner though, I think the Brodziak haters will learn next season there was some real value to his game that the Wild will miss.

Besides the fact he's a solid penalty killer and a great teammate, as I've long said, Brodziak got so many scoring chances because he was usually in the proper position. He plays the system to a T. Yes, he's limited with the puck but very good without the puck.

That's it for now. Erik Haula remains unsigned. No worries here, even if he decides to file for arbitration by Sunday's 4 p.m. deadline. Christian Folin is also unsigned, but he's one of those weird Group 1 free agents where he's not really a free agent. He can't sign with any other team and the Wild owns exclusive rights. So basically, he has to take what the Wild wants to give him. I haven't looked it up, but I think his qualifying offer is a mandatory 5 percent raise (but not positive).

Here is the updated Minnesota Wild depth chart:

Here’s a look at how the Wild is shaping up to look like next season. This will change throughout the summer as the Wild add and delete players.

The depth chart is my opinion. Obviously, lines change, roles change (maybe Coyle to wing eventually), etc.

In parentheses, each player’s cap hits.


Left wing                              Center                                    Right wing

Zach Parise ($7.5+M)       Mikael Granlund ($3M)       Jason Pominville (5.6M)

Jason Zucker (900+K)      Mikko Koivu (6.75M)          Thomas Vanek ($6.5M)  

Nino Niederreiter (2.66M) Charlie Coyle (3.2M)       Justin Fontaine (1M)

Ryan Carter (625K)              Erik Haula (RFA)                  ---------------------------


Vying for spots: Jordan Schroeder (600K), Tyler Graovac, (747,500); Brett Sutter (600K), Zac Dalpe, Ruslan Fedotenko, Michael Keranen (675K), Marc Hagel, Brett Bulmer (RFA), Kurtis Gabriel (667K), Zack Mitchell (615K), Brady Brassart ($836,667), Raphael Bussieres ($759,167), Grayson Downing (692,500), Pavel Jenys (688,333), Christoph Bertschy (575K), Jared Knight (761K).


Left Defense                     Right Defense

Ryan Suter (7.5+M)         Jonas Brodin (4.1+M)

Marco Scandella (4M)     Jared Spurgeon (2.66M)

Mike Reilly (2.025M)       Matt Dumba (894,167) 

Nate Prosser (625K)

Vying for spots: Christian Folin (RFA), Tyson Strachan, Jon Blum (RFA), Gustav Olofsson (795K), Guillaume Gelinas ($596,667), Dylan Labbe (692,500), Zach Palmquist (692,500), Alex Gudbranson (610K), Hunter Warner (598,333).


Devan Dubnyk (4.33M)

Darcy Kuemper (1.25M) 

Niklas Backstrom (3.42M)

Vying for spots: Brody Hoffman (925K), Stephen Michalek.

*Likely to sign a veteran No. 3 goalie

Total cap hit roughly: $68,096,342 ($71.4 million ceiling).

*Includes $500K buyout cap hit for Matt Cooke.

**Excludes Reilly’s bonus for purposes of calculating the cap.

Available cap space: $3,303,658. This does not include players like Schroeder, the unsigned Folin and others vying for spots and Haula.

If injured goalie Niklas Backstrom is still on the roster as a third goalie come the season, the Wild would have to keep two extra skaters opposed to three. That could mean Folin starts in the minors if Reilly makes the team.

Remember, that cap space is deceiving because the Wild needs to leave a cushion for injuries and flexibility to make in-season adjustments (i.e. trades).

TV Listings

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