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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Realignment allegedly off; Wild's Swedes reach pinnacle; Wild recoups and Bouchard hurt

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild practice Updated: January 6, 2012 - 10:44 PM

In my Winnipeg gamer about a rivalry being born, I couched realignment a few times in there with the term, "pending NHLPA approval." I got three emails from readers calling me a moron. Well, it was never a done deal, as you can see below...

The National Hockey League announced
today that it will not move forward with implementation of the Realignment
Plan and modified Playoff Format recently approved by the NHL Board of
Governors for the 2012-13 NHL season because the NHLPA has refused to
provide its consent.

“It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve
a Plan that an overwhelming majority of our Clubs voted to support, and
that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members
of the hockey community, including Players,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner
Bill Daly. “We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to
satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the Plan with no success.
Because we have already been forced to delay, and as a result are already
late in beginning the process of preparing next season’s schedule, we have
no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the Realignment Plan
and modified Playoff Format for next season.”

“We believe the Union acted unreasonably in violation of the League’s
rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to
pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate.”

As a result of the League’s decision today, the NHL will maintain its
current alignment and Playoff Format for the 2012-13 season.

Now before you panic, this is the first pawn in a big chess game. The collective bargaining agreement expires before next season. Negotiations are about to begin, according to Gary Bettman, around the All-Star break. You can bet this is just one big piece of leverage NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr wasn't going to just give away. You can bet this will be part of the negotiation. I don't buy yet that realignment is dead for next season.

As for the deadline being because of the NHL schedule, bogus! The NHL schedulemaker was able to book Winnipeg into the league in June because there were several drafts of the schedule -- just like there could be this time. Don't buy that for a sec either.

NHLPA will issue statement soon, but issues with travel and playoff structure are apparently the union's big concern. The playoff structure, I'm not a fan of either. I don't like how two conference have a 4 out of 7 chance of making the playoffs and two conferences have a 4 out of 8.

Anyway, remember this date, because things are bound to get ugly during the upcoming CBA negotiations. Today was the start.

An email I just received from Wild owner Craig Leipold:

"To say I am disappointed in the actions of the nhlpa to deny consent to implement realignment for next season is an understatement. Our fans were universally excited to be playing against midwestern teams in the previous old Norris Division. 

"I'm disappointed for our fans, our employees and our players. It appears everyone wanted this to happen except the leaders of the players union. I pledge to Wild fans to continue to pursue this realignment plan as aggressively as possible." 

Here is a statement from Fehr:


“On the evening of December 5, 2011, the NHL informed the NHLPA that they proposed to put in place a four-conference format beginning with the 2012-13 season. As realignment affects Players’ terms and conditions of employment, the CBA requires the League to obtain the NHLPA’s consent before implementation. Over the last month, we have had several discussions with the League and extensive dialogue with Players, most recently on an Executive Board conference call on January 1. Two substantial Player concerns emerged: (1) whether the new structure would result in increased and more onerous travel; and (2) the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.


In order to evaluate the effect on travel of the proposed new structure, we requested a draft or sample 2012-13 schedule, showing travel per team. We were advised it was not possible for the League to do that. We also suggested reaching an agreement on scheduling conditions to somewhat alleviate Player travel concerns (e.g., the scheduling of more back-to-back games, more difficult and lengthier road trips, number of border crossings, etc.), but the League did not want to enter into such a dialogue. The travel estimation data we received from the League indicates that many of the current Pacific and Central teams, that have demanding travel schedules under the current format, could see their travel become even more difficult. On the playoff qualification matter, we suggested discussing ways to eliminate the inherent differences in the proposed realignment, but the League was not willing to do so.

The League set a deadline of January 6, 2012 for the NHLPA to provide its consent to the NHL’s proposal. Players’ questions about travel and concerns about the playoff format have not been sufficiently addressed; as such, we are not able to provide our consent to the proposal at this time. We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so.”



Wild prospect Jonas Brodin showing off his gold medal

Afternoon from Calgary, where the Wild arrived a couple hours ago from its few days up in Banff, Alberta, and I'm probably about to write the world's longest blog.

I'll be on KFAN on Dan Barreiro's show at 5:20 p.m. CT, and also in a bit of a hockeycentric show, I'll be hosting for Paul Allen on KFAN from 9-noon Monday. So get ready for some hockey talk. Getting some good guests lined up.

I'll get into the world junior tournament in a bit, but just some news: Pierre-Marc Bouchard missed the past two practices and is questionable against the Calgary Flames on Hockey Night in Canada with a lower-body injury (appears to be groin). Defenseman Clayton Stoner has been activated off injured reserve and will likely play the Flames, so the Wild's at 23 men with eight defensemen. That means the Wild can't call up a forward, meaning Brad Staubitz, scratched the past two games, will return if Bouchard can't play. Actually, my guess is Staubitz plays regardless.

They'll see how Bouchard feels in the morning, but today, the top line stayed intact, Matt Cullen centered Casey Wellman and Nick Johnson, the Wild united a Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck line and Warren Peters centered Colton Gillies and Staubitz.

The Flames should be surly thanks to a 9-0 pasting from the Boston Bruins. Chris Butler was a minus-7. Jay Bouwmeester and Miguelito Backlund were minus-5's.

Jarome Iginla, who scored his 300th goal against the Wild and is the all-time leading scorer against the Wild, is one goal from 500, so ..... the Wild's already trailing 1-0. 9:17 p.m. CT puck drop Saturday because of a ceremony to honor my bud Olli Jokinen's 1,000th game.

Thank goodness the Wild only has four more games west of the Central time zone. If there's a game story in Sunday's paper, it'll be a coup.

On Banff, “It seemed like it was a breath of fresh air getting up the air and clearing the head,” coach Mike Yeo said. “It would have been a long couple days to come and sit here after that last game and have a couple days in the hotel thinking about it, so to get there and clear the heads and have two real good practices up there, I feel real good about where we’re at right now.”

Curling was cancelled, but the players went to a hot springs or something.

“Overall, the couple days have been real good for everybody just to reflect on where we’re at after the first half of the season and use that toward where we’re going in the second half,” Yeo said. “There’s a pretty clear sense that No. 1 we have to get back to playing our game and No. 2 is if we do that, we should be a really confident group. It’s not like we’re losing games and we’re playing our game really well. So it’s not like we’re not good enough. There’s things that are preventing us to getting to our game right now mentally and emotionally and hopefully this break can allow us to clear our heads.”

Yeo said the team spent a lot of time together and had very healthy conversations about what it will take to be a tough team to play against.

The Wild built an identity in the first part of the year and slowly with the injuries, that identity vanished. Why? Because players’ identities changed.

Example: Why did Brodziak lead the Wild in goal scoring when he didn’t have to score? But the second players started to drop and he started to feel he had to score, why hasn’t he scored since? The Wild’s 1-7-3 in its past 11. He has one goal in that stretch.

Same with Cullen. Why is Powe, a strong shutdown forward, a minus every night now? Same with Marco Scandella (only as a defenseman).

Players moved into different positions, started to think they had to do more, changed the way they were playing that made them successful and now they’ve forgotten what made them successful as individuals and a team.

I was talking to Yeo about this in the lobby just now. The other thing I truly believe is Wild players started to buy into how good they were. When we were on those two west coast swings in December, every single city we went to, reporters were assigned to do how the heck are the Wild so good stories. The national guys also converged on the team in San Jose after the Board of Governors meetings.

So every city we went to, players are being asked, “Why you so good, why you so good, why you so good?” It’s just natural. Everybody’s telling you you’re so good, you start to think, “Heck, we’re good.”

“It’s easy to get a little, I don’t want to say complacent, but just to forget what you have to put into it,” Yeo said.

Now the Wild’s got to somehow find it back – its game and its swagger. Every team goes through ruts every year. When Boston came and played the Wild last year, I remember talking to an executive from their team about how absolutely terrible they were. They won the Cup.

When Ottawa went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007 and they played the Wild, I remember talking to Bryan Murray during a rough stretch about how bad they were. There’s countless examples of this. Every team goes through this. The key is coming out the other side in a positive way and getting back on track.

This is a new experience for this team. We’ll see if they can do it.

“Times like this can make you stronger,” Yeo said.

The good news is if they can get out of the next 9 out of 12 on the road stretch, they play 18 of their final 29 at home and 10 of their final 14. Trips will be easier. Of the 20 games played in the Pacific and Mountain Time zones, after tomorrow, 16 will be done. The Wild has three trips to Denver and one to Phoenix the rest of the way.

I mentioned in my Mikael Granlund blog yesterday, I think, I attended my first-ever world junior tournament yesterday, and it was a fabulous experience.

I'll write more about it in my Sunday Insider, but the Sweden-Russia game was a great experience. Sweden just dominated. I mean, in a gold-medal game, 39-4 shot advantage after two periods. I've never heard of such a thing in a game like that. I mean, this wasn't Sweden-Latvia.

But on the 58th shot, Mika Zibanejad, the Persian Prince, stole a puck, buried his head and buried a breakaway goal in overtime for a 1-0 lead.

That delivered gold to Wild prospects Johan Larsson, Jonas Brodin and Johan Gustafsson. All three were terrific. Larsson's got more skill than I ever imagined and he works bloody hard. It was good for me to see Brodin. You hear so many good things about him, but then you look at the stat sheet and wonder why the heck he never gets points. The kid skates better than few players I've ever seen. He skated backwards better than many do forwards. He was so poised after a tough game against Finland and he shoots the puck well. And Gustafsson could have gotten rusty with the little action, but he made the save of his life with 30 seconds left.

I talked to the three prospects after the game. I'll have quotes in my Sunday Insider and also my Sunday game notebook from the Flames game. But Larsson made it very clear he is coming to North America next season and his intent is to do everything he can to earn a spot with the Wild. If he doesn't, he'll be in Houston. Brodin also is going to do everything to try to earn a job, but he may need further development in Sweden. As I wrote in today's Granlund piece here, it's either Wild or Sweden most likely for Brodin. If he's not strong enough to play for the Wild, the Wild's likely not putting a 19-year-old in Houston. Remember, he's only 18 now. Gustafsson is a few years away from coming over, and unlike Larsson and Brodin, he's not signed yet.

The fans delivered on an atmosphere standpoint. The Canadians were rooting for Sweden, chanting, "LET'S GO SWEDEN!" Just a really cool experience for me to be at.

Here's some more pics, and check out the midseason package in Saturday's paper. I will also put up a midseason stats pack on the blog Saturday for you to see. Talk to you Saturday after the skates.



Johan Gustafsson



Johan Larsson


Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Golden State 10 1st Qtr 9:55
Orlando 0
Brooklyn 10 1st Qtr 9:02
Philadelphia 3
Portland 8 1st Qtr 9:34
Charlotte 2
Washington 4 1st Qtr 10:46
Cleveland 4
LA Clippers 6:30 PM
New York 6:30 PM
Toronto 6:30 PM
Milwaukee 7:00 PM
Sacramento 7:00 PM
Utah 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Indiana 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Denver 8:00 PM
Memphis 9:30 PM
LA Lakers
Winnipeg 0 1st Prd 16:54
Buffalo 0
Washington 0 1st Prd 15:18
NY Islanders 0
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
NY Rangers 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 6:30 PM
Toronto 6:30 PM
Los Angeles 7:00 PM
Chicago 8:00 PM
Calgary 9:30 PM
San Jose
Robert Morris 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 61
Rochester College 35 FINAL
Eastern Mich 68
Marist 68 FINAL
Fresno State 64
Butler 74 FINAL
North Carolina 66
Liberty 50 FINAL
Morgan State 51
Denver 57 FINAL
Belmont 78
American Univ 64 FINAL
Hampton 60
Sacred Heart 72 FINAL
James Madison 79
Northeastern 54 FINAL
Massachusetts 79
Samford 71 FINAL
Kennesaw St 84
Coastal Carolina 61
Hawaii 75 FINAL
East Carolina 73
Missouri 74 FINAL
Chaminade 60
Oklahoma 75
North Florida 72 FINAL
Elon 65
Oral Roberts 69 FINAL
Milwaukee 66
Chicago State 61 FINAL
Western Carolina 66
Purdue 75 2nd Half 2:37
BYU 77
Furman 54 FINAL
Duke 93
San Francisco 48 2nd Half 13:02
Evansville 57
Wisconsin 8 1st Half 15:46
Davidson 5 1st Half 16:14
Albany 4 1st Half 15:35
Colgate 7
Canisius 6:00 PM
Longwood 4 1st Half 15:59
George Washington 9
Delaware State 2 1st Half 17:51
Iona 2
Trinity Baptist 4 1st Half 16:45
Jacksonville 6
Cleveland State 5 1st Half 16:13
Louisville 5
St Johns 10 1st Half 15:45
Minnesota 8
PSU-Harrisburg 5 1st Half 16:40
Navy 3
Richmond 10 1st Half 15:50
NC State 8
Grambling St 8 1st Half 15:23
Notre Dame 10
Georgia State 13 1st Half 14:50
Oakland 9
Campbell 8 1st Half 15:19
Ohio State 9
Goucher 2 1st Half 18:15
Towson 2
Bryant 2 1st Half 15:18
Vermont 7
Miami-Ohio 0 1st Half 19:30
Virginia Tech 0
Mount St Marys 2 1st Half 16:45
Wake Forest 7
Lafayette 6 1st Half 15:33
Yale 10
UMKC 2 1st Half 18:45
Youngstown St 0
Kansas State 6:30 PM
Va Military 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Lehigh 7:00 PM
UC Riverside 7:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Morehead State 7:00 PM
Miss Valley St 7:00 PM
North Texas
UNC-Asheville 7:00 PM
South Carolina
Tenn Tech 7:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Texas Southern 7:00 PM
Radford 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American 7:00 PM
Wayne St-NE 7:00 PM
South Dakota
Northern Ill 7:30 PM
Fla Gulf Coast 7:30 PM
Green Bay
Carroll (MT) 8:00 PM
Florida A&M 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Auburn 8:00 PM
Oregon State
Eastern Ky 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Stetson 8:00 PM
Northern Ky 8:05 PM
Eastern Wash
Utah Valley U 8:05 PM
Idaho State
Florida 8:30 PM
Georgia 8:30 PM
Northwestern 8:30 PM
Northern Iowa
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Arizona 9:00 PM
San Diego St
Utah State 9:00 PM
UC Davis
Alabama State 9:30 PM
North Dakota
Portland State 10:00 PM
Tulsa 10:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Pacific 10:30 PM
Missouri State 11/27/14 1:00 AM
Colorado State
Ohio U 24 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 21
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Kennesaw St 74 FINAL
Seton Hall 77
Northern Ill 46 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 55
Illinois-Chicago 40 FINAL
Northwestern 61
UT Martin 75 FINAL
Samford 79
Niagara 63 FINAL
Binghamton 52
Radford 47 FINAL
Pittsburgh 72
East Tenn St 69 FINAL
Indiana 97
North Dakota 72 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 52
Marshall 49 FINAL
Cornell 58
LSU 5:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Oral Roberts 21 2nd Half 18:51
Ark-Little Rock 25
Boise State 5:30 PM
Evansville 3 1st Half 16:23
(22) West Virginia 8
(4) Tennessee 5 1st Half 15:38
Chattanooga 8
Delaware State 10 1st Half 12:59
Mount St Marys 15
Bradley 3 1st Half 18:33
Columbia 0
Providence 4 1st Half 17:37
Dayton 0
Presbyterian 10 1st Half 12:45
Xavier 8
Albany 2 1st Half 16:43
Canisius 4
VA Commonwealth 7 1st Half 16:13
William & Mary 2
Alabama A&M 3 1st Half 15:50
Alabama 14
Colgate 8 1st Half 15:09
(22) Georgia 11
Memphis 2 1st Half 19:35
Southern Ill 2
Oakland 6:30 PM
(16) Michigan State
Utah Valley U 6:45 PM
UC Davis
Butler 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American 7:00 PM
(6) Texas
McNeese State 7:00 PM
(7) Texas A&M
Milwaukee 7:00 PM
Northern Ariz 7:00 PM
Jackson State 7:05 PM
Chicago State
Indiana State 7:05 PM
South Alabama
Kansas State 7:30 PM
Santa Clara
Long Beach St 8:00 PM
Iona 8:00 PM
Fresno Pacific 9:00 PM
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