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 goaltending, Kuemper, Nino, Seeler, Biznasty, Ice Bucket Challenge's

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: August 14, 2014 - 6:53 PM

Five weeks from Thursday, the Wild opens training camp, but we are still very much in the dog days of summer.

Other than #ALSIceBucketChallenge’s, the NHL is on unofficial hiatus, and that still includes your Wild.

There’s really little of note going on.

Coach Mike Yeo and his staff are back in town and are preparing for camp. So is General Manager Chuck Fletcher. It’s been a week of meetings as the Wild has met to plan its training camp schedule, tries to determine how many exhibition games the prospects, youngsters and vets will play, decides whether the team will take a bonding trip at the end of camp or maybe even between Games 2 and 3 of the season (oddly, the Wild has five off-days) and even stuff like the likelihood of a father-son trip, etc.

Fletcher has also spent the month dialing up some veterans to check in. Two include the goalies, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.

Backstrom had season-ending abdominal surgery and hip surgery last season and Harding didn’t play in 2014 due to complications with multiple sclerosis. Fletcher has talked with both the past two weeks to ensure that they’re still both well and that he doesn’t need to go out and sign a free agent, like Ilya Bryzgalov, who remains unsigned despite going 7-1-3 down the regular season’s stretch to guide Minnesota into the playoffs.

“Everything’s a go with both goalies,” Fletcher said of Backstrom and Harding. “Everybody seems to be feeling pretty good, and at this stage, knock on wood, all of our players who were banged up at the end of the season is feeling better. Josh has felt good. Right now we’re not expecting any issues for anybody with respect to passing training camp medicals.

“Now’s the time of the year, with about a month to go, you want to reach out and make sure there’s no issues you don’t know about so if there is something you have time to help the process. With Josh and Nik, you’re just trying to reach out and see how they’re doing. They’re both doing really well.

“There’s still some quality goaltenders out there. Ilya’s out there and a few others, so there’s that type of option out there. But we’re happy with the quality of our goaltending. When guys have been healthy, they’ve performed well. Darcy [Kuemper] also showed some glimpses of what we hope he’ll become, so we’re comfortable with those three goaltenders. People always ask if I’m worried about it, and I’m not worried about it. You never know what’s going to happen. Injuries can happen to anybody and certainly you can’t predict things, but guys are healthy and typically when Backstrom and Harding are healthy, they play well. If something happens, like any player at any position, we’ll react. There’s always a way to react if you need to, but at this point, we’re comfortable with our situation. They’re quality goaltenders and I’m not losing any sleep over it. We have confidence in them and this is how we’re going to start. There’s no reason to doubt their ability. If they’re healthy, we’ll be fine. And God forbid if a situation happens like last year, then we’ll deal with it. We have three goalies. It’s not like we have one. We have three. We feel we have depth, quality and quantity, and there’s just no reason to doubt the players that are there.”

Speaking of Harding, check out his #ALSIceBucketChallenge. I told him he should have worn his mask.

-- Kuemper and Nino Niederreiter remain unsigned and there have been no conversations since I blogged two weeks ago. Fletcher said, “There’s been nothing lately. In the near future, I’m sure I’ll speak with both agents and we’ll just continue the process. I’ll reach out to them in the near future. We’re over a month ‘til camp. We’ll keep plugging along.”

Again, for more on their situations specifically, read this blog.

-- Nick Seeler, a junior defenseman at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, has stunningly left college at this late juncture. It seems to have caught the Wild off guard, too, the team that drafted the former Eden Prairie High defenseman in the fifth round in 2011. There are apparently no off-ice issues and just a decision made by the family to leave the program.

The problem is his choices are limited now. He is 21, so he is too old to play junior. He can go to Europe. He can transfer colleges, but he couldn’t play next season. So that may leave the only option as turning pro with the Wild.

“We’ll have some conversations with Nick and his family,” Fletcher said. “[Director of Player Development] Brad Bombardir has already had a lot of conversations with Nick and his family and we’ll just continue that dialogue. We’ll try to figure out the best path for him and his career, whether that’s going to a different college or turning pro. I think every option is on the table. We’ll just try to sit down and decide what ultimately makes sense for Nick and the organization. This just kind of happened. The timing, the middle of August, isn’t what you’d normally expect, but it is what it is, and we’ll just kind of deal with it and make the best decisions we can for his development. At this point, nothing’s been decided. We’ll take a little time. Ultimately, Nick will have to decide what he desires to do and then we’ll have to make the decision for everybody.”

-- It has been reported that the Wild, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have shown interest in former Arizona Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette, aka @biznasty2point0, the second-most followed NHLer on Twitter and the genius behind this:

 

Selfishly, the colorful player would be a sportswriter’s dream, and if you’ve read my features on Bissonnette before, you know I have enjoyed writing about him.

Fletcher likes him, too, from their days in the Pittsburgh organization, but this sounds more like Biznasty’s agent, Mark Guy, called Fletcher and Fletcher fielded the call and at least entertained the proposition. But it has gone no further to this point.

“I’m always speaking to agents,” Fletcher said. “There’s probably 15 guys without contracts right now whose agents are calling weekly or a couple times a week and I’ve had lots of conversations with all of them about potential fit and scenarios with different players. We’re always talking to agents. I’ve spoken to our scouts and coaches about players. I mean, this is what you do late in the summer. You’re always looking to see if there’s somebody out there that fits, that you have a role for, that would make sense. But at this point, I haven’t made offers to any unrestricted free agents that are out there and I don’t know that we will. You never know, but at this point, I don’t know that we will. We’re definitely comfortable starting with what we have right now, but you’re not doing your job if you’re not taking calls and making calls and asking questions. That’s the best way to characterize it.”


Here are a few other Wild #ALSIceBucketChallenge's, and if you missed the others, see the below blogs:

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