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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Why Spurgeon?; Kassian and Earl switch places

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: November 29, 2010 - 11:23 AM

Morning from Calgary. Have some time to kill before I head to one of my favorite arenas, the Saddledome, so figured I'd say hello like Uncle Leo.

Up in Canada, we're being inundated with Grey Cup coverage. Congrats to Jose Theodore's and Pierre-Marc Bouchard's and Justin St. Pierre's Montreal Alouettes. Sorry to Josh Harding and his Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Also, the very sad news up here is Canada's native slapstick son, Leslie Nielson, died from complications from pneumonia. One of favorites. In fact, I quoted his character, Lt. Frank Drebin, in my Sunday column eight days ago.

Just got back from the concierge lounge, where as usual I chatted it up with the referees. Yes, refs and media stay at the same hotels in most cases.

St. Pierre and veteran Paul Devorski will be working tonight's game. Take advantage of Devo's 'Mo," because you won't to see it after tonight. His stache, like many in the NHL, is coming off tomorrow. He'll be working Thursday's Flames' game, too, clean-shaven.

As for tonight, follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/russostrib) in a little bit for Wild news. I can't imagine Jared Spurgeon flew to Calgary to not make his NHL debut, so either somebody's hurt (Marek Zidlicky?) or maybe he plays for former Spokane Chiefs teammate Justin Falk or inconsistent Cam Barker. I should know the starting goalie, too, and as I wrote today, I'd think it's Jose Theodore.

As I wrote today, too, the Wild needs better play from Mikko Koivu. Enough is enough. This is not a team talented enough to get sub-par play from its captain. And to me, he's lacked energy for some time. Just look at his backchecks. Eighteen points seem good, but six of his 14 assists are second ones, and he's scored goals in three out of 22 games.

As for the team, Matt Kassian and Robbie Earl switch places. Earl was just reassigned and Kassian will offer a tougher element in tonight's lineup in a tough building against an even more desperate team than the Wild. Kassian, like Spurgeon, is from Edmonton, so maybe their families can carpool south.

One of these days, I'll be able to write my Matt Kassian feature I've been hanging onto. He's got a great story, and after six years in the organization, it'd be nice to tell you more about him.

As for Spurgeon, who turned 21 today, I woke up to a few emails and tweets asking, "Why Spurgeon?"

I talked to Aeros GM Jim Mill this morning and Spurgeon was the callup over Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Maxim Noreau and veteran Drew Bagnall simply because the team feels he's the most deserving and playing the best down there right now.

Mill said he's been "very, very consistent" all year and has earned the chance. 

Right now, the Wild's having trouble getting pucks out of their zone, so they wanted a puck mover, which is why Bagnall isn't here. Bagnall's a guy that I'd think we'll see eventually when the Wild feels it needs an upgrade from a toughness standpoint back there.

Prosser was good in his three-game stint last year making a good first pass, so to me, he fits the mold. But right now, the Wild hasn't been happy with his play down in Houston. He's a first-year pro, so he'll get better. 

This is a temporary recall, so Spurgeon is the guy for now. If he plays, hopefully his debut goes a little better than Noreau's did in this building last year. Noreau's pregame nerves lasted to postgame in a shaky debut. 

I keep getting questions about LTIR. It is literally a non-factor for anything that's going on. When and if the Wild needs to spend over the cap, they'll throw Josh Harding or Gui Latendresse on retroactively. They're not wasting cap space by not putting them on now. Long-term injury is just to give teams the ability to spend over the cap by that player's salary. But when that player comes back, you have to get back below the cap. With Harding and Latendresse, it's not a big deal, but you can't just throw P-M Bouchard on IR and go add a $4.08 million player. If Bouchard comes to them next week or next month and says, "I'm ready," then the Wild's in a cap mess.

You don't bank cap space by putting players on LTIR. But again, there seems to be this concern about why the Wild hasn't put players on LTIR yet. They will when they need to.

I usually try not to engage fans, but to Mgala specifically, I usually get a kick out of how it's your life's joy to rip me daily, but on this one, try learning the rules just a little bit before you rip me publicly. On all the other instances you trash me, you're exactly right. You are the smartest hockey fan I know.

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