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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Marco Scandella sprains MCL; Mikko Koivu still not cleared to practice, Olympics in doubt

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: February 5, 2014 - 1:42 PM

The best possible news has come on defenseman Marco Scandella.

He didn’t blow out his knee. He has a sprained knee, coach Mike Yeo said this morning. I hear it’s a sprained right MCL, which is a similar injury to what Charlie Coyle had at the beginning of the season. He missed 11 games and a little less than four weeks.

It’s usually a 3-to-4 week injury, and the good news is that after Scandella misses Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators, the Wild has 20 days off for the Olympics before it resumes its schedule Feb. 27-28 in Edmonton and Vancouver.

So the hope it that Scandella will be ready by the time the season starts again or at least soon after. That’s also good news for the Wild because a Scandella long-term injury would likely force GM Chuck Fletcher into some kind of desperate trade for a defenseman before the March 5 deadline.

I don’t doubt he would still like to add a defenseman anyway, but with the cap situation limited for the Wild and almost every team in the league, there’s just no chance to address every single need before the deadline. A long-term loss to Scandella probably would have made defense the most pressing need.

“When you saw it happen last night, I knew right away what it was,” coach Mike Yeo said. “The fact that it’s not as serious [as we thought], the positive is the timing of it. Hopefully he doesn’t miss anything.

“You have to think time-wise, there’d be a good chance to have him back coming out of the break. If you’re going to do it, now’s the time to do it, for sure. We’ll have to make sure we stay on top of it. He’s had a really strong season for us. Very valuable piece. Coming out of that break, we’re going to need him. but we’ve been faced with this, guys have stepped up and we need them to do it again.”

Because Keith Ballard can play right D and the Wild lost a left D, Jonas Brodin moved from top-pair right D in today’s practice and took Scandella’s spot on the left side. Jared Spurgeon, a right D, moved up and took Brodin’s spot to the right of Ryan Suter. Nate Prosser moved back to second pair right D, while Clayton Stoner, scratched against Tampa Bay last night, will move back to his usual left side next to usual partner Keith Ballard.

Got it?

Stephane Veilleux was placed on waivers. When he clears Thursday, he’ll be assigned to Iowa for the Olympics. He was going to be scratched against Nashville so Justin Fontaine can get back to the lineup. Fontaine will likely play on the fourth line with Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell.

Yeo said the Wild would “really love to go into this break on a winning note.”

He doesn’t want players looking ahead to their time off. Again, the Wild will resume practicing Feb. 19.

Haula will likely be assigned to Iowa for the Olympic break. The Wild is meeting about that now.

There’s a rule that says you’re entitled to an Olympic break if you participate in 16 of your team’s last 20 games. Thursday is 15 for Haula.

Darcy Kuemper has started or been backup in the past 17, so he no longer can be sent to Iowa even if the Wild wanted to.

There are other complicated rules as well and I think Jason Zucker falls into one of those because it sounded today like Zucker now won’t be sent to Iowa.

Yeo said today, “There’s definitely a value in rest. It’s going to be a grind coming out of this break,” but then he added you don’t want young guys to get rusty.

Mikko Koivu will miss Thursday’s game and there is still no decision in terms of the Olympics, although it’s seeming increasingly unlikely.

“Mikko’s doing everything he can to come back,” GM Chuck Fletcher told me this morning. “It’s a six-to-eight-week injury that we’re trying to accelerate and have him come back in five, but not only is he not cleared to play right now, he’s not even cleared to practice with the team.

“There’s a lot of healing and work that needs to be done to get him to that position. If we can get him there, great, but I think people need to understand how hard he’s working to get healthy and come back. But it is what it is. Your body’s only going to heal the way it’s going to heal. There’s no magic wand here. He’s skating on his own, but it’s a long way from skating on your own to playing in a high-end international Olympic game.”

So, are you saying it’s doubtful?

“That’s not for me to say. I’m just trying to present the facts to you. Doctors are involved and we’ll see how his body continues to respond. But he won’t be cleared to practice with the team tomorrow. It’s not like this is just going to turn here in the next day or two. Once you start practicing with the team and taking contact, how long ‘til you’re able to play in a game, are there any setbacks? There’s a whole host of issues you have to look at. My only thing is I don’t want to rush it and I want to make sure we err on the side of caution. If he’s ready, great, but I don’t want to be gambling with his health and nor does Mikko. I give him lot of credit to have that surgery. A lot of people would not have had that surgery, so he’s doing everything he can to accelerate this. But he can only do so much.”

-- 2013 sixth-round pick Avery Peterson, who has 30 goals and 55 points in 22 games for Grand Rapids, was named a finalist for Minnesota Mr. Hockey today. He leads his team in goals, assists and points.

--The Wild made a minor-league trade, sending Chad Rau to San Jose for forward Curt Gogol. Rau, 27, played 299 games for Houston and Iowa and scored two goals in nine NHL games.

Gogol, 22, has four points and 149 penalty minutes in 40 games for Worcester this season. In 131 AHL games, he has 20 points and 455 penalty minutes. He'll head to Iowa.

I'll be on KFAN from 9:55 a.m.-10:35 a.m. Thursday.

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