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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Wild players: "Relieved, happy and excited" to get going

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild training camp Updated: January 6, 2013 - 11:37 AM
 
Wild players and executives and employees all awoke to the good news that the lockout was over and they can return just like all the fans this morning.
 
“I don’t know how long it’s been since our last game – eight months or something like that – you’re relieved, you’re happy and excited all at the same time,” goalie Niklas Backstrom said. “It feels almost like your first hockey game all over again.”
 
Added veteran Matt Cullen, “Finally. Awesome news, huh? Really excited, Holy cow. It’s been such a long deal, and it’s been such a sad thing for the game, so to be able to put it behind and get a deal done and get back on the ice, I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
 
Guess what? Next week, for real, you’ll get to see Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in Iron Range Red.
 
I'll be on KARE11 at 5 p.m. tonight and Rosen's Sports Sunday on WCCO at 10:35. I haven't slept in 24 hours and haven't shaved, so please forgive me in advance.
 
Here is the Wild depth chart with the caveat that this is the way Mike Yeo planned it BEFORE the lockout, so maybe his thinking has changed. (Lots of questions about if the Wild is affected by the new cap restrictions. No. Teams are allowed to spend $70.2 million this year. The Wild's at 68. Team's can have a cap of $64.3 million next year. Wild has a little more than $50 million locked in now).
 
Also, Marco Scandella is hurt and Pierre-Marc Bouchard has yet to be cleared from a concussion. He is feeling better and is close, but he’s missed more than a year and hasn’t cleared the last major hurdle – contact. So there’s a chance he is not ready to start the year.
 
If that’s the case, Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson or Charlie Coyle would likely land that spot. More on this in Monday’s newspaper, but they can’t all make the team because of a shortened training camp that won’t allow “tryouts” and because the Wild has a set amount of players up front, meaning there’s really only that one open spot assuming Bouchard isn’t ready and nobody else is hurt.
 
As I reported in today’s paper, Mikael Granlund was pulled from last night’s lineup in Houston after warmups because GM Chuck Fletcher didn’t want to risk injury in case the lockout ended and training camp was on the horizon.
 
As of now, the league and the union are putting everything on paper, lawyering it up and then putting it to vote. The hope is to do that relatively rapidly so training camp could start by midweek and a 50-game schedule starts Jan. 15 (next Tuesday). If it can’t be expedited, look for a 48-game schedule to begin Jan. 19 (Hockey Day Minnesota).
 
It will be an all-conference schedule. The question is how they divide it up. The Wild does need a schedule to begin redistributing tickets and selling tickets to both potential season-ticket holders and those who are looking for individual tickets.
 
“We are very excited about today’s news that a tentative agreement is in place,” said Matt Majka, Minnesota Wild Chief Operating Officer. “Like our fans, we look forward to the final approval of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and seeing our team back on the ice. Further information will be provided as soon as we receive it from the NHL.”
 
The big thing now is getting everybody to camp (Mikko Koivu is in Finland and returning likely Tuesday, Dany Heatley is in Kelowna and plans to come to town Tuesday). Players may be on different fitness levels coming to a shortened camp (few Wild players played elsewhere during the lockout). They’ll have to prioritize what they do in a shortened camp. For instance, they won’t have time to do fitness tests and don’t want to risk injury. Jelling together as a team will be interesting.
 
But the good news is, as Cullen said, “The majority of us have been skating together here now for quite a long time. Seeing the level of play that we have on the ice with the guys we brought it and not being able to play a game has been painful. We’re in pretty good position, we’ve added a lot of good guys. We’re in good condition, so I don’t think it’ll be a major issue getting going forward.”
 
Said Backstrom, “It feels almost like the first week of July when we signed Suter and Parise, you start to look at the young players and how good they’re playing [in Houston], it feels like the summer when we were excited for the team to get to camp. I’m excited to get to the rink and get to know the guys and see where we are as a team.
 
“It’s going to be fun and it’s going to be hard and tough, probably good times and bad times, but that’s what you’re waiting for. This is my seventh season. On paper it should be the strongest team we have had so far. But it’s early. We have to make it a strong team on the ice, too.”
 
With Scandella and Jonas Brodin (another month with a broken clavicle) hurt, the Wild is down to six defensemen and few ready to start right away from Houston. Brian Connelly, the Aeros’ best D, may have gotten banged up last night. The Wild will assess Scandella’s health in camp. If he’s out more than a few days, it may need to acquire a defenseman.
 
But with the Wild set to probably sign Nick Palmieri, that will give Minnesota 50 max contracts. That means if it chooses to pick up a defenseman, it’ll have to be a body for body trade OR trade a body for a draft pick or future considerations to open up space to sign a free agent.
 
As you can see here, the free-agent D available are thin. Chris Campoli, 28, may regret getting into it earlier in the lockout with Craig Leipold during a contentious conclusion to a November bargaining session.
 
I will update the blog throughout the day, but for details on the CBA (and realignment question), see previous blog or www.startribune.com/wild.
 
------------------------
 
Today, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman released the following statement after news the NHL owners and the NHL Players Association have reached an agreement to end the NHL lockout:

“After months of discussions that seemed to go nowhere, the NHL players and NHL owners have finally come together to save what is left of the 2013 season. Fundamentally, the end of the lockout means business owners in or near the Xcel Energy Center can get back to doing what they do best - supporting the fans of the Minnesota Wild. We know this lockout has had a profound effect on business owners and workers in Saint Paul and our community is thrilled the players and the owners have reached an agreement. Let’s play hockey!”

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