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 update on Vanek, Niskanen, Stoner, McCormick, others

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 24, 2014 - 9:44 PM

Good evening everybody. I leave early Wednesday morning for the NHL draft, so I figured I'd check in. I will be hosting a live chat on www.startribune.com/wild in advance of the draft Friday at 11 a.m. CT.

Hopefully you have been reading the stories in the paper and on the Wild page of startribune.com. I didn't blog yesterday, but basically the news at the Wild's annual draft luncheon is General Manager Chuck Fletcher wouldn't mind moving back in the draft if it means picking up multiple picks.

Currently, the Wild owns the No. 18 pick in Friday's first round (6 p.m., NBC Sports Network). Rounds 2-7 starts at 9 a.m. Saturday and can be seen on the NHL Network. As of now, the Wild has no seconds, one third, one fourth, one fifth, three sixths and one seventh.

If the Wild sticks at 18, Fletcher said he doesn't anticipate taking a goalie, although he said there may be scenarios where he moves back and ultimately takes one. The top-ranked goalie in the draft is Boston College's Thatcher Demko, and regardless, it's not like any of the goalies in the drafts solves any perceived short-term issue. I'll be writing more about goaltending in the coming days.

The Wild also wouldn't mind moving up, although often times it's difficult to do that without a second-round pick.

Most times, any trade to move up or down will happen on the draft floor at the moment, so stay tuned.

-- Starting Wednesday, all teams will be permitted to talk to other team's pending restricted and unrestricted free agents. Free agency begins at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

As I wrote in Wednesday's paper, the Wild will be in contact with Steve Bartlett, the agent of Thomas Vanek. However, I also hear the Wild has significant interest in Paul Stastny if he gets to free agency (like many teams) and Matt Niskanen.

Stastny and Niskanen will command lucrative, long-term deals, so there's no way the Wild would be able to land both.

Vanek will also be seeking a long-term deal, but if he wants to play in Minnesota, he might have to settle for a short-term deal. If he would agree to that, that would allow the Wild to also go after Niskanen. If the Wild opts to go hard after Niskanen, I believe he'll sign here.

The good part of the interview period is Fletcher will get to learn in advance of free agency whether Vanek would ever entertain such a thing. If not, he can react.

This is all also barring a significant trade at the draft. Basically, what happens in the next week is up in the air because one thing will always affect the next.

I wrote this in Wednesday's paper, but I asked Bartlett if Vanek would agree to a short-term deal, especially after Vanek turned down lucrative offers from the Islanders and Sabres.

“I don’t think we’re absolutely entrenched on anything," Bartlett said. "Vanek is a very confident guy, somebody that is, I think, going to look at everything – the financial side, the family side, the team side.

“I don’t think we have anything cast in stone come Wednesday or July 1.”

Vanek scored five goals and 10 points in 17 games for Montreal in the playoffs. His ice time was limited at times and he was scrutinized, particularly in the conference finals against the Rangers.

But Vanek has 277 goals in 663 career games and the Wild finished 24th offensively last season (199 non-shootout goals). Vanek ranks eighth in the NHL in goals scored since the start of 2005-06 and his 0.42 goals per game is tied for 11th.

“I find it very hard to believe the body of work he brings to the table is going to get erased over one so-so series,” Bartlett said. “He still had a very solid season last year (27 goals, 68 points) despite all the baggage that goes with bouncing around like a yo-yo between three teams and living out of a hotel.”

With all the agents in Philly this week, you can bet Fletcher will be meeting with a number of them about their pending free agents.

While Fletcher has said he wants to add, he also says the term and dollars must be right this summer. The Wild has a lot of significant youngsters it must re-sign this summer and next and can't hamstring itself. That's why Fletcher keeps saying he may have to "lay off the pitch" this summer and not swing for the fence.

Other Wild tidbits:

-- If the Wild can't re-sign Clayton Stoner, I believe the team plans to pursue former Wild Willie Mitchell. During this interview period, Stoner will get to learn if there's potentially a more lucrative contract out there than the one the Wild is offering.

-- Cody McCormick met with his agent today and his agent plans to speak with Fletcher on Wednesday.

-- According to multiple sources, the Wild continues to shop Kyle Brodziak heading into this weekend. He has a year left on his deal and currently looks like the Wild's fourth-line center heading into next season.

-- The Wild continues to work on its restricted free agents -- Nino Niederreiter, Darcy Kuemper, Justin Fontaine, Jason Zucker and Jon Blum. No rush, Fletcher says.

-- The NHL Awards Show was in Vegas tonight. Ryan Suter, the Norris Trophy runner-up last year, finished fourth in Norris voting (meaning almost a finalist) and fifth in All-Star voting for defensemen, meaning just on the outside of being a First or Second Team All-Star.

-- Chuck Fletcher was seventh in GM of the Year voting.

-- Mike Yeo was 13th in Coach of the Year voting.

-- Jason Pominville was 12th in Lady Byng voting and was eighth in All-Star voting for right wings.

-- Zach Parise was tied for 11th in All-Star voting for left wingers.

-- None of the Wild's five starting goalies got a Vezina vote!

-- For all the winners, etc., go to NHL.com.

Talk to you from Philly.

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