The questions are fast and the answers are furious as Michael Russo responds to web readers in the first edition of Blog Bag.
We used to do mail bags, but we live in a new era. Since I average one letter a month and hundreds of blog questions a week, here's the first edition of the "Russo's Rants" Blog Bag:
Galen0624 asks, "Will the NHL pursue a TV contract with ESPN?"
Russo: Versus does a quality job, but leaving ESPN was a mistake of gargantuan proportions. The NHL is only a rumor in most places. The NHL needs to return to ESPN, even just to get games on muted TVs in every sports bar. At least people would know the league still exists. Last Saturday, there were 13 NHL games. I didn't even turn on my hotel TV in Phoenix; there was zero shot of seeing an NHL highlight.
Brian asks, "Will the Wild choose between signing Brent Burns or Pierre-Marc Bouchard to a long-term contract extension, given the need to re-sign Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston?"
Russo: One reason the Wild hasn't re-signed Demitra and Rolston is to make sure the team doesn't lose Burns or Bouchard. But it should be proactive about signing the two youngsters now -- for two reasons. 1) Teams couldn't swoop in and steal the two up-and-comers next summer, and 2) It will give the Wild an idea if it has the salary cap room to afford Demitra and Rolston. It's risky to wait on Demitra and Rolston. Both know they could make a fortune on the open market next summer.
GreenStar asks, "Is there any noticeable change with the team or in the locker room now that Manny Fernandez is gone?"
Russo: Other than teammates not having to walk on eggshells any more or defensemen having to worry about having their Achilles' tendons slashed at if they got in his way on the ice, there's been no noticeable change. Bluntly, the Wild is just much more comfortable playing in front of Niklas Backstrom. He's so calm, he's so poised, he'd never consider calling out a teammate. In recent years, Fernandez also gave up a lot of goals late in games. Backstrom? He's 25-1-3 when leading at ANY point in a game, is 16-0 when leading after two periods, has given up a tying goal in the last five minutes once and has given up two goals or fewer in 16 of his past 17 regular-season starts.
Dice asks, We have one of the best enforcers in Boogey, but what are we doing about having an agitator?
Russo: You'll never see the Wild solely have an agitator if he also can't play. The Wild is trying to develop complete hockey players, but those with an edge, such as James Sheppard and Colton Gillies. Danny Irmen is a true competitor and eventually should play a hard-nosed role in the NHL. The closest the Wild has to a true agitator in the minors is Aaron Voros, who impressed in training camp.
Goldyshuffle asks, "Jacques Lemaire stated he envisioned Harding playing 30-35 games. With Backstrom off to a great start, has Lemaire backed off?"
Russo: Backstrom, who led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage last season, deserves, at least at the start, a chance to solely take the No. 1 reins. I think goalie rotation talk by Lemaire was too premature. But Harding is not just a future stud, he's a stud now. The Wild wants to make sure Harding, 23, continues his development by playing, not playing caddie.
Brett Leeson asks, "Are the Wild keeping cash aside for a rental player late in the season if a playoff push becomes reality?"
Russo: The Wild wants the flexibility to make a move or two, but don't expect stupidity like mortgaging the future the way Atlanta (Keith Tkachuk), Nashville (Peter Forsberg) and the Islanders (Ryan Smyth) did last season. None made it past the first round.
For more Blog questions, go to www.startribune.com/russo
Michael Russo firstname.lastname@example.org
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