Michal Russo opens his Blog mailbag for the first time this season.
Bloggers ask, I answer
cntrygntlmn: Why play Ryan Suter 30 minutes in a 5-1 blowout win over Calgary?
Russo: Jared Spurgeon missed most the second period and Keith Ballard part of the third with injuries.
orion715: Who goes out when Mike Rupp gets healthy?
Russo: Maybe nobody. He may need to wait for an injury, and I can foresee him being spotted in whenever coach Mike Yeo feels the need for toughness.
Waferthin: In theory, could the Wild use a compliance buyout on Niklas Backstrom if Josh Harding continues his torrid streak?
Russo: In theory, yes. If you use a regular buyout on a player who signed a contract when he was 35 or over, you’d still be charged with a cap penalty. But that’s not the case for a compliance buyout. Again, … in theory. I’m not saying that’s in the cards.
Milesmike: Does Yeo get a contract extension this year?
Russo: My guess is they wait until the end of the year to see what transpires with the season. I think he should have gotten a one-year extension before the season. I don’t think it’s fair to coaches to be in the last year of their deal.
rsmaggiemae1949: I never understood why the Wild did not give Nate Schmidt at least a look?
Russo: While maybe they didn’t heavily pursue, Schmidt told me it was a moot point, saying, “[Zach] Parise did it the right way. Make a name for yourself elsewhere. It’s too much pressure playing at home when you’re young.”
Hockeybias: What Minnesotans do you see playing in Sochi?
Russo: Parise and David Backes will make up the leadership core. Derek Stepan and T.J. Oshie have real quality chances. Most fascinating will be the blue line. Ryan McDonagh and Paul Martin should be there, but mobility and puck-moving will be key, so one would assume Justin Faulk has a great shot and maybe even Nick Leddy. Dustin Byfuglien’s booming shot is also intriguing.
Megami: Was Justin Fontaine just buried on the depth chart?
Russo: He was a college free agent and he needed to learn the pro game and pay his dues. Fair or not, teams usually focus on their own high draft picks, but Fontaine couldn’t prove anything else in the minors and is showing this year why the minors are so valuable.
mudhen26: At what point do you put Dany Heatley and his cap hit aside and play the best top six or nine forwards?
Russo: I actually think the Wild has stumbled on the proper role at this juncture. As long as the team is healthy and Heatley’s being professional enough to skate on the fourth line, he gets those minutes against forwards that aren’t as defensively sound and gets spot power-play time.
Nickinny: If the Wild doesn’t go after Thomas Vanek next summer, who are some defensemen they may pursue?
Russo: They still could use some physicality and a booming shot on the back end, so two that jump out are Dion Phaneuf and Andrei Markov. I don’t feel Phaneuf is the same intimidating player he once was in Calgary and Markov is 34 with knee issues. Two very intriguing names are the Rangers’ Dan Girardi and Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik, and we know there’s a history with Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher with Orpik.
icedice34: How’s Jason Zucker’s AHL season going?
Russo: The reports out of Iowa are that Zucker hasn’t played well. He needs to learn the nuances of the pro game, like playing in the defensive zone and reading plays. The Wild wants him to play an extended stretch down there to develop. The same could be said for Erik Haula, although he had a better training camp.
Waferthin: What’s the word on Zack Phillips?
Russo: I lump Phillips and Brett Bulmer in the same category. They both need to continue to develop, and Bulmer needs to find a way to stay healthy. Iowa is a good place for both of them right now.
NHL short takes
Pity the Panthers
Nothing ever changes in Florida. It’s like “Groundhog Day.”
The most unstable franchise in hockey for a decade fired its latest coaching staff Friday, highlighted by Kevin Dineen’s dismissal. Pete Horachek takes over as interim coach, with one of the assistants becoming Edina resident John Madden, the former Wild center.
Since Bryan and Terry Murray were fired as general manager and coach on Dec. 31, 2000, the Panthers have had seven GMs and eight coaches. They’ve had multiple ownership changes and player turnover. The Panthers prove no stability gives you no chance.
It’s an endless cycle. Every time somebody gets fired, the plan is thrown out the window and you start over. A few years later, it happens again. And then again.
Bad rule needs to go
At this month’s GMs meetings, execs need to rid the aggressor penalty out of the rule book. Flyers goalie Ray Emery wasn’t suspended after skating the length of the ice and attacking Washington goalie Braden Holtby because technically there was no rule to enforce to sit him.
Emery was deemed the “aggressor” in the fight. Guess what? A player isn’t suspended two games until he gets three aggressors in the same season. So, in essence, Emery can assault two more players until he’s suspended.
Blue Jacket blues
Things are bad in Columbus. Fans and management are all over Marian Gaborik, and even coach Todd Richards, who never called out his team in Minnesota, lit into the Jackets after a loss to the Rangers, “That was embarrassing hockey.”
Wild’s week ahead
Wednesday: vs. Toronto, 6:30 p.m. (FSN+)
Friday: vs. Florida, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Player to watch:
Phil Kessel, Toronto
Five weeks after signing a whopping eight-year, $64 million deal, the former Gopher leads the Maple Leafs with nine goals and 18 points.
“Hopefully they come in bunches now. I’m not going to bet my life on it.” - Zenon Konopka after scoring his first goal since December 2011 on Tuesday against Calgary.
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