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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Mikko Koivu, Marco Scandella return tonight; Talking goalies, trade deadline

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 3, 2014 - 2:27 PM

Wild and Calgary Flames tonight at the X.

The Wild has won five in a row at home and four in a row overall for the NHL’s longest winning streak. It’s 8-2-2 in its past 12.

Gary Bettman, the NHL’s beloved Commish, will be in the house tonight. He’s stopping over on his way back to New York from the Heritage Classic in Vancouver to get wined and dined by owner Craig Leipold, who wants nothing more than a Winter Classic (and a Stanley Cup) but has made clear he’d settle for a stadium series game if that helps his cause to get you fine hockey loving fans a Winter Classic.

I’m meeting with Bettman before the game and will let you know what he says.

I’ll be on Fox Sports North during their pregame show tonight and again during the first intermission. I’ll also me on SiriusXM at 3:30 p.m. CT.

Captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Marco Scandella will return to the Wild’s lineup tonight from a broken ankle and sprained knee, respectively. This effectively gives the Wild its first healthy lineup since the second period of the second game of the season, although obviously Josh Harding remains sidelined and Jason Zucker is working his way back from a leg injury.

Although, and don’t freak out all you Zucker fanatics, if the Wild continues to be healthy in its top-9, my guess is Zucker returns to Iowa once he’s cleared. Koivu and Scandella being activated off IR means the Wild’s at 23 players (or three healthy scratched per night). Zucker is skating on his own daily.

Koivu is expected to center Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle tonight.

“Very excited,” he said. “It’s been a long wait. Kinda frustrating all the time after the [Jan. 6] surgery. Very excited. Little bit nervous, but that’s part of the step to take to the game. It’ll be fun.”

The Wild was 11-4-2 without him.

Koivu said, “It makes it a lot easier when you’re out and the team’s winning. It’s easier on everyone. Now I’ll try to help the team on my part. I have to be very patient with my game and go step by step and build it up again, but I’m confident it’ll go well.”

Koivu, five points from being the Wild’s all-time leading scorer, was playing at his highest level when he was injured. He had eight points in his final five games before getting hurt, including three 2-point games, including two assists on Ryan Suter’s eventual hat trick while playing on the broken ankle.

He’ll also help bigtime in the faceoff circle as the Wild’s gone from a top-5 team to 15th in the NHL in the 17 games he has missed.

Scandella will also return to the lineup. He’s excited and is trying to get used to a knee brace.

Clayton Stoner will be scratched. My guess is he would have played if a couple of Calgary’s tough guys, like Kevin Westgarth, weren’t hurt.

“We’re excited to have [Scandella] back, a guy we definitely want to get back in the groove here, especially the level that he was playing at before he got hurt,” coach Mike Yeo said. “That said, our defensive group has been playing very well lately. It’s a tough choice, but at the same we’ve got to get him going.

“The message to Stony is he shouldn’t expect to just get sat every game. Been very pleased with his game. We all saw what happened in Edmonton and the way he was able to come back in that game. He’s been a warrior for us. He’s been a physical presence, and we’re going to need him. This is one game. This is a decision we made for tonight.”

I did get a question asking if the Wild’s sitting Stoner because it plans to trade him before Wednesday. I know he’s in the last year of his deal, but the Wild’s not very physical from the back end and I’d think the Wild would want Stoner if it makes the playoffs. In fact, I’d think the Wild would consider re-signing him eventually. So I think this is just a decision tonight as Keith Ballard stays in the lineup.

Stephane Veilleux was expected to be scratched up front with Mike Rupp, but he will now skate in warmups. If he plays, I’d think Torrey Mitchell sits.

Devan Dubnyk was put on waivers by Nashville. As you know, the Wild almost certainly will add a goalie by Wednesday’s 2 p.m. deadline.

If you take Dubnyk, it will cost no assets. But he’s in the middle of a terrible season with Edmonton and Nashville (11-18-3 with a 3.43 goals-against average and .891 save percentage). He’s 61-77-22 in his career with a 2.90 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.

To me, he makes sense if you plan to go with Darcy Kuemper the rest of the way with Niklas Backstrom as your backup and you don’t mind having Dubnyk ride the pine as a third goalie.

Otherwise, I think you can do better via trade. Obviously, it all has to do with what the price is for guys like Jaroslav Halak and Martin Brodeur. Carolina’s also got goalies available, and there’s always Ilya Bryzgalov.

Backstrom is dealing with an abdominal injury. He’s going on the ice every day like a good soldier, but since he said it’s up to the team to divulge what’s wrong with him, it’s obviously something significant. So if the Wild knows he has got an injury that will eventually need repair, this gives more credence to why the Wild’s looking so hard for quality goalie insurance.

At this point, the net belongs to Kuemper and it should. He deserves it and has shown he’s capable (10-2-2 in his past 15 starts). He was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week today after giving up 51 of 52 shots in two wins at Edmonton and Vancouver, excluding another 7 in the Vancouver shootout.

But another goalie is bound to be here in the next two days. Again, to answer the most oft-asked question I receive from people who clearly don’t read the blogs or article, if the Wild acquires a goalie, the Wild will likely go with three goalies the rest of the way (unless Backstrom’s injury is serious enough to result in immediately surgery).

Rosters are unlimited as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday barring you don’t go over the cap.

I have gotten a lot of questions about who could be trade bait from the Wild.

With such a bad 2014 draft, I’d think any draft pick is in play (especially Winnipeg’s second-rounder from the Devin Setoguchi trade), although Fletcher has said he’d prefer not to trade his first-rounder for a second year in a row.

I’d think Kyle Brodziak is on the block and Torrey Mitchell is expendable. Obviously, Rupp. I’d think the Wild would want to avoid trading defensemen unless it’s getting one back. Heatley has played well lately, but since he’s in the last year of his deal, he obviously would be tradable as long as a partner wasn’t on his no-trade list. Still, I’d think very unlikely. As for the prospects, it would not shock me at all if Zucker was bait IF the return was significant.

Also, another oft-asked and very good question, if you pro-rate the Wild's available cap space, the Wild could add roughly $5.5 million in players (cap, not dollars) at the deadline without giving up a player in return. If the Wild went over $5.5 million, it would need to trade a player or place Josh Harding on LTIR.

UPDATE: Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher today announced the National Hockey League (NHL) club has signed right wing Kurtis Gabriel to a three-year entry-level contract starting with the 2014-15 season.
 
    “We’re very happy with Kurtis’ progress this year and look forward to him developing within our organization,” said Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “He’s a hard-working kid that brings an intriguing package of size, physical competitiveness and character.”
 
    Gabriel, 20 (4/20/93), has recorded 42 points (12-30=42), including three game-winning goals, 86 penalty minutes (PIM) and a plus-4 rating in 54 games with the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound native of New Market, Ont., serves as an assistant captain and leads his team in assists, is third in PIM and fourth in scoring. He has tallied 91 points (30-61=91) and 278 PIM in 226 career WHL games during four seasons with Owen Sound. Gabriel was selected by Minnesota in the third-round (81st overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
 

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