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Russo's Rants

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

Russo: Thoughts on Dubnyk, Mike Reilly and trades

It has been 2 ½ weeks since the Wild’s season came to an end for a third consecutive season at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Wild completed amateur scouting meetings last week. That’s where the staff organizes the draft list heading into the June 1-6 NHL combine in Buffalo.

General Manager Chuck Fletcher has spent the past few weeks trying to let the disappointment and emotion of the sweep to the Blackhawks dissipate.

As I reported Friday, Fletcher was scheduled to begin conversations with goalie Devan Dubnyk’s representative today. He also will meet with owner Craig Leipold, assistant GM Brent Flahr, coach Mike Yeo and some of the brass on the business side this week to begin talk about the Wild’s offseason plans. This is also typically where they put the budget together for the upcoming payroll.

As a refresher, the salary cap ceiling is expected to be around $71 million leaguewide next season. Before offseason moves, the Wild’s cap for next season is already around $61.9 million for nine forwards, five defensemen and two goalies including Niklas Backstrom next season.

Rosters are a maximum of 23 players. This figure is also before re-signing Dubnyk and restricted free agents Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Christian Folin. I can’t convey this enough: Unless there are significant trades prior to July 1, there is just no feasible way the Wild will be active in free agency for big names. You can just do the math yourself. So please remember that first before you throw a big name at me on Twitter asking if the Wild will be interested.

The Wild will hold organizational meetings June 8-10. This is where Fletcher, Flahr and their lieutenants get together with the coaching staff and the analytical folks currently putting together their research and begin going through the roster. This is where they discuss who may be expendable, who could be trade bait and also what went wrong against the Blackhawks.

I chatted with Fletcher before the weekend for the first time since his end-of-the-season news conference with Yeo.

Fletcher said he has used the past few weeks trying to get organized so he can begin reaching out to teams and start the process of trying to figure out what players may be available via trade and what teams may have interest in some of their players.

1. On Dubnyk and Granlund, he’ll begin communication with them so he has a good sense of what they’ll cost heading into the organizational meetings.

He believes Dubnyk will get done in time: “It was a pretty good fit for both parties.”

I got some Twitter questions asking if Andrew Hammond’s three-year, $4 million contract with Ottawa establishes the market. Simple answer: Not at all. Hammond has played 24 NHL games. Dubnyk has played 231 and has been a No. 1 in Edmonton and Minnesota.

The Wild will not be offering Dubnyk $1.3 million per year. The market for Dubnyk is basically whatever another team will pay him as a free agent (couple that with the fact there’s no obvious answer for the Wild if Dubnyk leaves).

Now, maybe Dubnyk takes less to stay in a place where he was a solid fit, but this was a $3.75 million goalie in Edmonton. For the Wild to sign him, the deal will obviously average well north of $3 million per.

The final figure will depend on term. Give him three years, the average salary/cap hit is probably more. Give him four or five years, and the Wild can probably get the average salary/cap hit to a more comfortable number. Two years makes little sense to me. 1) Why would he take two years? 2) Two years basically means you have to talk to him about an extension next summer if he has a big year.

As I mentioned recently, the biggest concern is that free-agent interview period in late June. I’d think the Wild would want to avoid it getting to the point where Dubnyk says, “Let me see what else is out there, and I’ll circle back to ya.”

2. Fletcher said it’s too premature to start thinking about what players may be traded. I still think the Wild could make news around the June 26-27 draft, but Fletcher said, “We have a lot of players under contract and the core of the team is under contract. We’ll see. We can just bring back our team. We don’t really have to go out and do a whole bunch here. I’ll take a look and talk to other teams and see what may be available.”

Fletcher wouldn’t talk specific players.

I still firmly believe the Wild may dangle Jared Spurgeon this summer. He’s due $3.6 million this upcoming season and is a year away from restricted free agency. He will command a long-term deal at significant dollars the Wild may not be able to (or want to) afford with Matt Dumba emerging. I’m sure the Wild’s very conflicted about this. Besides the fact that he’s one of the Wild’s best puck possession defensemen and a good citizen, the Wild found him, the Wild developed him.

Similarly, there’s a lot to think about with Mikael Granlund (long-term health concerns, how much can he produce in his career), and a lot will depend on contract negotiations. If those talks go off the rails, he could be dangled, too. If either or both of these guys could lure a pure goal scorer or upper echelon center, Fletcher may have to think long and hard about it.

3. On the limited cap space, Fletcher admits, “We certainly had more room most years. This year, we don’t have as much and that’s a product of doing what we can to try to win now. We still have more than several teams. There will be quite a few teams in tough situations here this summer. I think ours is a manageable situation. It depends how much we want to do and at this point I’m not even sure how much we want to do. I like our team. I like a lot of pieces and we have to be smart about what we’re going to do going forward.

“Losing the way we did stings to put it mildly. But after beating St. Louis, I don’t think many people were asking us to make massive changes. So you have to be careful changing direction after four games. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t disappointing. We’ve got to figure out what happened and why. But the way the system’s set up for every team, not just ours, it’s not really set up that you can make kneejerk reactions and change directions quickly, nor would we want to. We have good personnel. We just have good personnel that didn’t play very well in one series, there’s no question. We’ll figure out in early June why we didn’t play better, why weren’t we able to take a step? I just want to let some of the emotion die down and be rational.”

Because so many teams are already crunched up to the cap ceiling heading into the summer, I don’t think it would be easy to trade any of the high-priced vets even if Fletcher wanted to.

And Fletcher said he doesn’t necessarily want to.

“I just want to be careful here,” he said. “For four months everything went right, and then we lost four games. I like a lot of things, but I want to figure out what I don’t like and correct it.

“But I’m not looking to sacrifice multiple pieces this offseason. I’d like to keep as much of the team together as we can. We’ll see how it plays out. But I’m not going in looking to gut this team. I like our players, I like our team. I think we showed for a lot of this year that we’re a darn good hockey team. Certainly we had a bad seven days in May against Chicago, but I don’t have a bunch of complaints with our group from Jan. 15 on.”

4. No decision has been made about buying out Niklas Backstrom. Fletcher said again no decisions on anything will be made until after organizational meetings. And, with Backstrom, I can’t imagine anything will be done until Dubnyk is re-signed and also until Fletcher exhausts all avenues in an attempt to trade Backstrom (retaining cap hit/salary would be cheaper than a buyout, although I’d think being able to trade him would be awfully hard).

5. One area Fletcher admitted needs to be remedied is the power play. He’ll talk to Yeo this week. I asked if assistant coach Andrew Brunette’s role may change, and Fletcher said, “The power play certainly wasn’t Bruno’s problem.”

6. It’ll be interesting to see what changes occur in Iowa. Fletcher called the Baby Wild a “disaster” during his end-of-the-season side session and has indicated there will be changes. Coach John Torchetti, who took over for Kurt Kleinendorst in November, will return. The rest of the coaching staff could be altered though.

Goaltending really hurt Iowa last season, and it’s likely Johan Gustafsson, a restricted free agent, returns to Sweden (the Wild would still own his rights). The Wild signed Brody Hoffman out of the University of Vermont. My guess is the Wild will sign a goalie or two this summer, maybe a veteran type with NHL experience, for Iowa (John Curry is unrestricted, Darcy Kuemper can’t be sent to Iowa without waivers). Also, Stephen Michalek, who lost a year of eligibility at Harvard because of a school-wide academic scandal, is still petitioning the NCAA to try to get that year back. If he doesn’t, the Wild may sign him.  

Up front, the Wild has signed draft picks Pavel Jenys and Christoph Bertschy and college free agent Grayson Downing to try to infuse some skill.

On the back end, the Wild has signed draft pick Dylan Labbe and college free agent Zach Palmquist.

One of Iowa’s biggest problems last season was that back end. Gustav Olofsson missed basically all year with a shoulder injury and Dumba and Folin were mostly up with the Wild. That killed Iowa’s skill and puck-moving ability from the blue line.

Excluding Dumba and Folin, Olofsson and Labbe are really the Wild’s only two high-end prospect defensemen that are pro right now.

7. Because of the lack of skill on Iowa’s blue line and the shortage of top prospects there, there is no doubt the Wild will be one of several teams that pursue former University of Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly when he becomes a free agent June 15 (can’t sign with a team until July 1).

Reilly, a fourth-round pick by Columbus in 2011, has decommitted from the U.

There are entry-level contract parameters, so it’s not like any team can swoop in with better offers than others (in fact, he could make the most money by simply signing with Columbus).

So Reilly will likely go to whatever team he sees the best fit and opportunity. The question is whether Reilly would look at the Wild and see a door open with Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella signed long-term and Dumba looking like he has a long future here.

Nobody, other than Columbus, can talk to Reilly yet. I thought Reilly would end up signing in Columbus, but when it didn’t happen immediately, it became obvious he would test free agency (the Jackets will apparently still be in the mix).

It makes total sense for the Wild to go after him because of Reilly’s intelligence, mobility and skill and the Wild’s need for that amongst its prospect pool (documented above in the Iowa section).

But that’s also why Reilly will have several teams calling.

Chicago makes a ton of sense, and frankly, I bet the Hawks will be one of the frontrunners if not the frontrunner. I also hear the Rangers, Kings and Oilers have significant interest.

Reilly’s dad, Mike, is an investor with the Wild’s ownership group. Some wonder if that would give the Wild the inside track, but that could work the other way, too, and create awkwardness or an appearance of impropriety that both sides may want to avoid (future contract talks, future potential trades, Reilly being called up ahead of other defensemen or vice versa, etc.).

We shall see.

That’s a lot of words. So, to write my opinion simply: I have been asked A TON on Twitter by Wild fans whether I think the Wild signs Reilly.

My answer to you: It’ll be up to Reilly.

There is no doubt the Wild will pursue him. There is no doubt most teams will. Since all offers will be similar, Reilly, by becoming a free agent, will get to choose where he sees the best fit and opportunity.

If he feels it’s Minnesota, he’ll probably sign here. If he feels it’s somewhere else, he’ll probably sign there.

That’s his right.

8. I'll be in KFAN's studio with Paul Allen on Wednesday at 9 a.m.

9. Forgot to put this: To show you how erratic NHL coaching is, I did some tabulations: Yeo, who is still the youngest coach in the NHL by five years (41, this is before Detroit probably hires 41-year-old Jeff Blashill), is the fifth-longest tenured coach in the NHL.

Coach                                  Years  Regular-season games

Claude Julien, Boston          8         622

Joel Quenneville, Chicago   7         536

Dave Tippett, Arizona          6         458

Jack Capuano, Islanders     5         359

Mike Yeo, Wild                     4         294

Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis      4         281

Darryl Sutter, Los Angeles   4        261

Tyler Johnson: The one that got away from the Wild

I have reported this before, but since there seems to be such a misconception out there among some Wild fans or frankly misreporting nationally, I figured I should rehash the Tyler Johnson story.

First of all, if you’re a Wild fan and don’t know the story, put down your lunch and find a garbage can or toilet because you’re about to be sick.

Johnson, the 24-year-old budding star of the Tampa Bay Lightning who leads the NHL with 12 playoff goals (tied for Lightning team record in six fewer games than Ruslan Fedotenko and seven fewer games than Brad Richards), was at the Wild’s 2010 development camp and in a Wild uniform at the 2009 and 2010 Traverse City prospect tournaments as an invitee.

He may be the “one that got away” as I labeled it last year, but that doesn’t mean the Wild didn’t try to sign him.

Here’s what happened (and this is according to Johnson himself when I interviewed him after a morning skate Feb. 4, 2014, in Minnesota, and Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr over multiple conversations the past two years):

First of all, this is a kid that was draft eligible three years in a row. There were 632 kids drafted in those three drafts, and nobody, including Tampa Bay, drafted him.

In 2009 (a few months after Fletcher was hired as GM), scout Paul Charles invited Johnson to the Wild’s prospect tournament in Traverse City before the 2009 training camp. Teams do this mostly for the purpose of filling out rosters when they don’t have enough kids to fill a team.

Johnson played well in the tournament, returned to Spokane of the WHL, scored 36 goals and 71 points in 64 games, wasn’t drafted by anybody again and was invited to the Wild’s development camp a few weeks later. He impressed and was invited back for the Traverse City tournament.

This is unfortunately where things went awry: The Wild was very interested in signing Johnson after the tournament. But Johnson told me he hurt his shoulder the first or second shift (I can’t remember right now) of the first game of that 2010 Traverse City tournament (the year the Wild won the tournament) and missed the rest of the tournament.

He was talking to the Wild about a contract at that time, but when he hurt his shoulder, the decision was made to let him go back and play his overage year of junior. Coincidentally, the Wild signed Johnson’s Spokane teammate Jared Spurgeon after that same Traverse City tournament (Johnson and Spurgeon won the Memorial Cup together in 2008). Spurgeon was drafted by the Islanders in 2008, but then not signed by the June 1, 2010, deadline. He went back into the 2010 draft, wasn’t drafted by any of the 30 teams and thus became a free agent, eventually signing with the Wild.

Unfortunately for the Wild, Johnson goes back to Spokane after hurting his shoulder and ends up having a monster 53-goal, 115-point 2010-11 season. Johnson told me about 10 teams came after him and he received contract offers from Tampa Bay, Minnesota and what has since been reported as Chicago.

Johnson sat down with his dad and went over the depth charts of those three teams. In the 2010 draft, the Wild selected Mikael Granlund, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker.

Johnson told me he just saw a clearer path to the NHL and more opportunity with the Lightning. So he decided to sign with them over Minnesota and Chicago. Obviously, the right decision for himself (to say the least).

If you’re the Wild and Wild fans, it obviously stings.  One really does have to wonder if history would have changed if he didn’t hurt his shoulder that one game in Traverse City. Would the Wild have signed him in mid-September like Spurgeon rather than waiting and then trying to sign him after his giant year in Spokane?

In hindsight, just terrible bad luck and timing for the Wild. That’s life.

But this was not the case of the Wild cutting him from two camps like this is little league (that seems to be the perception of some). Teams bring tons of invitees to development camp and prospect tournaments annually. The vast majority go home without a contract.

It’s easy to say in hindsight the Wild should have gotten it done. It’s easy to say in hindsight the Wild was smart enough to bring him to camp but not smart enough to finish it off.

But unfortunately in Johnson’s case, this may have been the late bloomer of the century.

Not drafted three years in a row by 30 NHL teams. Not invited to prospect tournaments and development camps by 29 teams, including Tampa Bay.

Look at it this way: If any of the 30 teams knew he’d be this good, he would have been a first-round pick, not passed over 632 times by 30 teams and signed as a free agent after a tremendous overage year in junior.

The Wild’s being painted as the dumb guys here, but frankly, the whole league whiffed.

That’s a testament to what this kid has accomplished the past two seasons.

Teams are so leery of smaller players even if the skill is obvious (it’s not like Johnson was a secret; he won a Memorial Cup, combined for 132 points from 2008-10, played on the U.S.’s world junior team in 2009 and 2010).

This is not the first time a little guy makes NHL teams look stupid.

Johnny Gaudreau was passed over 103 times in 2011 before Calgary took him.

Dan Boyle was undrafted, signed by the Florida Panthers because former Miami University coach Billy Davidge was a scout there, eventually traded to rival Tampa Bay for squat and became a star.

Martin St. Louis, a future Hall of Famer, was undrafted and bought out by the Calgary Flames.

Spurgeon, unsigned by the Islanders, undrafted again by 30 teams, coming off a solid playoff, will next season be a $3.6 million hockey player and is a year away from getting a big, long-term contract.

Ray Whitney, coincidentally a former Spokane player. The “Wizard” was placed on waivers by his hometown Edmonton Oilers and picked up by the Florida Panthers. He scored 32 goals that season and ended a 1,330-game, 1,064-point playing career with a 2006 Stanley Cup.

Like I said, it stinks. Johnson is no doubt the one that got away from the Wild.

I’m sure Fletcher rehashes everything in his mind almost nightly this postseason. Somebody jokingly asked me on Twitter if I think Fletcher takes a shot every time Johnson scores this playoff. Probably.

But every decision is a no-brainer in hindsight, and judging from what Johnson told me, this just seems like a case of the worst luck ever.

For the Wild. Not the Lightning.

In Wild news,

The Wild re-signed restricted free agent Michael Keranen to a one-year, two-way contract. Keranen, 25, who did not make his NHL debut last season (was called up but never played), tied for second on the Iowa Wild in scoring with 37 points and led Iowa with 27 assists.

The Swedish-born Finn scored 17 goals and 52 points for Ilves Tampere in Finland’s Elite League in 2013-14. He ranked tied for first in the league in scoring and tied for second in assists and received the Lasse Oksanen Award given to the best player during the regular season.

I figured Keranen may just return to Finland. But Keranen re-signing shows just how much he wants to play in the NHL. We’ll see if a year’s experience transitioning to the North American pro game gives him a good foundation as to what he needs to work on this summer. Keranen, a good buddy of Mikael Granlund, saw Granlund improve dramatically his second year after a big 2013 summer back in Finland.

By all accounts, Keranen showed steady progression the last few months of the season. When you have the rights to a skilled forward like Keranen, bringing him back makes sense. Maybe the Wild can find a diamond in the rough. We shall see.

Nothing else going on with the Wild. The team just completed amateur scouting meetings. The Wild will begin contract negotiations with Devan Dubnyk's reps next week. Organizational meetings (where many decisions will start to take form) are June 8-10. I'll blog early next week again on all of this.

Have a great weekend.

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