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 has sense of humor about its '0-for' power play

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: October 24, 2014 - 1:24 PM

The Wild’s 0 for 19 power play is taking on a life of its own. At least the players have a sense of humor about it.

When the room opened up to reporters today, the guys were laughing. The reason? The inside joke in the room was when anybody asked about the power play, they were going to say, “This is what happens” when the beat writers design it.

In practice today, coach Mike Yeo worked the power play with no penalty kill defending it.

Ryan Suter said the No. 1 unit was a good 20 percent. Darcy Kuemper, the dude who became only the second goalie since 1943-44 to shut out three opponents in his first four starts of a season, quickly corrected him that it was actually 10 percent.

Yeo said, “The second group was even better [than the first]. They didn’t have a goalie.”

The best power plays in the league are 20 percent. That means, Yeo reminded, that they don’t score 80 percent of the time.

“But if we don’t score right now every time, it’s just another one lumped on,” Yeo said. So Yeo said the challenge to his frustrated players is that if you don’t score on one, don’t let it ruin the next shift or the rest of the period or game.

In all seriousness, the Wild knows it needs to start scoring on the power play if for no other reason than to relieve the internal and external pressure. The power play leads the NHL in shots, so the 0-for is not because of a lack of chances or zone entries or good breakouts.

Wild hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night before heading out east for two games in two nights at the Rangers and Boston on Monday and Tuesday.

The Lightning plays Friday night in Winnipeg. Seven of the Lightning’s 21 goals have come on the power play and it has been stingy defensively, too.

Luckily for the Wild during this power-play drought is its penalty kill is third-best in the NHL at 93.3 percent.

In its three wins, the Wild has outscored opponents 10-0. In its two losses, it has been outscored 4-2.

So in five games, the Wild has surrendered only four goals and has allowed a league-low 22.8 shots per game. It has fired the second-most shots per game at 36.

So, the Wild needs to get its power play in order and it should be a pretty dangerous team, as Yeo said after Thursday’s 2-0 win over Arizona.

Yeo said of Tampa Bay, which stars Steven Stamkos and budding star Jonathan Drouin, “I know that they’ll be ready. That’s a team that plays fast, that’s a team that counters very quickly. They’re coming at you with every line, they attack aggressively.”

In Games 3-7 in the first round against Colorado, the Wild had Erik Haula pretty much shadow 18-year-old stud Nathan MacKinnon, who lit the Wild up in Games 1 and 2. In Games 3-7, MacKinnon scored one goal and was minus-6 in Games 6 and 7. In Minnesota, where Yeo controlled last change and could get Haula and Suter and Jared Spurgeon out against him, MacKinnon was shut down.

So expect Haula to be on the ice a lot with Stamkos on Saturday.

“I did grab Haulzy on the ice and let him know to make sure he’s ready,” Yeo said. “Whether he gets a full dose of it or a partial dose of it, with his speed against a fast, dangerous offensive line, he’ll see some action.”

Yeo is just excited to get games in now. The Wild theoretically could be 5-0 right now if it just took advantage of its power play in Anaheim and L.A. But Yeo feels “other teams are ahead of us” in terms of game speed and pace of play because they have played more games.

Yeo said, “The good news is that we still look like a pretty good team, but these games are going to make us better if we use them the right way.”

Keith Ballard and Christian Folin are still under the weather, so they didn’t practice today. So Yeo expects to go with Thursday’s lineup again Saturday.

Lightning backup Evgeni Nabakov, 16-8-3 all-time vs. the Wild with a 2.09 goals-against average, is expected to start for Tampa Bay.

That’s it for me. Have to write my Sunday Insider now, and be sure to check out Saturday’s paper for a crazy article you won’t even believe.

I’ll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m.

Postgame: 2 home games, 2 shutouts; Granlund contract update

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 23, 2014 - 11:21 PM

The Wild wasn’t overly great tonight, but it still felt like a pretty simple 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Darcy Kuemper, who has allowed two goals this season, recorded his league-leading and career-high third shutout of the season in only four starts. He made 26 saves for a Wild team that has allowed a league-low 22.8 shots per game and has registered 36 shots per game (second-most).

Charlie Coyle, one day after signing a five-year extension, scored his fifth career game-winning goal and Jason Pominville, in the first year of a new five-year deal, scored less than three minutes later.

Jared Spurgeon had two assists, was plus-2 and blocked five shots. Named first star after being the Star Tribune centerpiece today.

Evening from the Xcel Energy Center press box.

Before I get started, give my Friday game notebook a read, but I talked to Mikael Granlund’s agent, Todd Diamond, today and he confirmed what I have been writing all week.

The eventual Granlund extension “is not going to be as long as Coyle and Brodin, that’s for sure.”

But this is hardly a contentious negotiation. It’s just going to be a bridge deal because if Granlund piles up the points in a short-term new deal, the bigger deal will come in the third contract. It'll also allow the Wild to monitor his health.

“We feel a shorter term works in favor of both sides in a completely respectful manner,” Diamond told me. “Now we’re just trying to plug in the right numbers that satisfy both sides. Right now we’re both searching for the right answer. Eventually we’ll get there.

“I can’t tell you if it’s going to be Monday or one week or one month or six months, but eventually we will get there.”

Diamond also said fans shouldn’t freak if this does drag on. This will not become a nasty Ryan Johansen situation.

“The only deadline would be next training camp, but Mikael is not the type of person that would want to use that as leverage at all,” Diamond said. “That position would be uncomfortable and painful for him and wouldn’t really serve any purpose, so we obviously intend and hope to have it done well before then.”

As for the game tonight, coach Mike Yeo felt the Wild’s game was just a little off and it’s something he expected after yet another long layoff. He thinks the cure will be getting into a schedule will the Wild starts playing a lot, and tonight was the first game in a stretch of six games in nine nights.

He felt the Wild reacted to the play (in the first period especially) rather than being the team we saw the previous four games that dictated pace. The execution just wasn’t there, but the Wild got the big Coyle goal early in the second.

It’s not in the game notes, so I can’t find the stat, but the Coyotes have a ridiculous record when scoring first in the Dave Tippett era. So Yeo knew the first goal would be cool and Coyle too felt it calmed the team down.

Pominville soon made it 2-0 and the Wild took over until the power play killed momentum, going 0 for 3 in the second to bring its seasonlong drought to 0 for 19 in the first five games.

Yeo said it’s up to him to fix things, that the players are frustrated and it shows after the first or second scoreless power play. The personnel is there. The Wild’s getting chances and leads the NHL in power-play shots. But Yeo said it’s up to him to figure things out and once the team does, it’ll be a dangerous team.

The Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine line was real good in the second and third periods tonight and the first line created chances. The second line, Coyle did his job with the net-front presence Yeo so wants for that line, but again Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek didn’t create much beyond the Vanek to Spurgeon to Coyle goal.

There certainly were a good amount of Vanek turnovers and plays that died on each of their sticks.

But Yeo feels like the team, the line will get better with more games together. This was just their first as a line and again, Yeo doesn’t want to break up the top line or the Niederreiter-Haula duo at the expense of figuring things out on the second.

Matt Dumba was scary at times tonight, but the Wild survived. To be fair, there were turnovers from a lot of guys tonight, including vets like Vanek and Pominville.

Spurgeon, very good tonight. Same with partner Marco Scandella. I liked Matt Cooke’s game and other than one bad, bad, bad turnover by Ryan Carter, he was solid on the penalty kill. Same with Haula and Jason Zucker.

That’s it for me. Talk to you after practice Friday.

Mikael Granlund mum on his contract talks; Wild finally plays at home again

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: October 23, 2014 - 1:08 PM

Finally, a home game again!

For the first time since smoking Colorado 5-zip two weeks ago, the Wild returns home to host the rebranded Arizona Coyotes.

“That opening game just feels like an eternity ago,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Darcy Kuemper vs. Mike Smith in the net.

Keith Ballard and Christian Folin were expected to be the third pair tonight, but they both apparently fell sick at the same time. So Nate Prosser and Matt Dumba will get into the lineup tonight.

Wild lines:







Prosser-Dumba (although Dumba practiced at left D this week, too)

If you didn’t read my profile on Jared Spurgeon in today’s paper, give it a gander. Some fun stuff in there.

I’m also writing a crazy story for Saturday’s paper that you will most definitely be interested to read.

On the Wild signing Charlie Coyle to a five-year extension, Yeo said, “Real good thing for our organization. We saw it recently for Brods. It starts with a guy like Mikko and Zach and Suts and Pommer, our older core leaders, but these young guys are such an important part of our group, and Nino getting done earlier in the summer. We’re really excited to lock these guys up. We feel good about the group that we have here.”

Parise, on the Coyle re-signing, said, “It’s important for us. For him, he’s got that comfort of not worrying about that in the offseason. He can just play and know he’s all set for a long time. From a team standpoint, Charlie’s a really good player and I think he’s only going to get better. You don’t find a lot of guys with that size, skill and skating ability. They just don’t come around that often. You can play him anywhere in the lineup and he’s going to do well. Now if we can (looks left), there’s another guy hopefully we can get him [signed] soon also and we’ll be all set for awhile.”

That guy? Mikael Granlund.

Things change obviously, but as I have written a few times this week, as of now, Granlund’s camp doesn’t seem to be all too interested in a long-term deal. It seems focused on a two- or likely three-year bridge deal that’ll give the No. 1 center the chance to pile up big numbers the next two or three years and then hit a grand slam contract.

That type of contract also makes sense from a Wild standpoint because of Granlund’s history of concussions.

Granlund said of Coyle and Brodin, “They’re great players and great friends. I’m really happy for them.”

On his situation, Granlund said, “I better not say anything.”

On the short-term vs. long-term thing, Granlund said he would explain his reasoning as to which deal he chooses after he signs it.

He did make sure to say though, “I love this organization. I’ve been really enjoying my time here. I think this team is going to just get better. We’re going to have great years ahead of us.”

It’s so interesting for somebody like me who has covered this league for 20 years to see this whole new world the NHL has become. Pre-2004-05 lockout, teams owned player’s rights for 10 years or to age 30 before they could become unrestricted free agents.

Then, in a concession for the salary cap (or cost certainty, in Gary Bettman’s words), the players got liberalized free agency, meaning seven years or age 25. That’s how you can lose a Marian Gaborik for nothing like the Wild once did.

So what did that risk cause? Young kids on second contracts getting bigtime deals to chip off some arbitration years and unrestricted free-agent years. Teams have to ante up big bucks before they truly know what they’re paying for. Everything is based on projections. So youngsters get inflated contracts after their entry-levels and teams hope they’re right.

It never used to be that way. The benefit though? If you’re right, you’re getting them at quality prices during their peak years in the mid-20s as opposed to “overpaying” later to keep them from becoming free agents.

Maybe I’ll expand on this in my Sunday Insider. Maybe.

On tonight, Yeo said, “Execution is going to be key” against Dave Tippett’s structured Coyotes.

This is another edition of mentor (Tippett) vs. protégé (Yeo; Tippett’s former Houston captain).

“This is a team that plays very well positionally, well coached, you’re always going to be forced to deal with their structure, so if you’re not moving the puck effectively, then your transition game, your speed coming through the middle of the ice, it’s going to be a non-factor,” Yeo said.

Yeo also said the Wild can’t turn pucks over and feed into Arizona’s counter game. The D, guys like Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, love to join the attack.

First of six games in nine nights for the Wild.

“Hockey players want to play games. We know the importance of practice. We take it seriously. But at the same time, we’ve had a lot of it,” Yeo said of four games in the NHL season’s first 15 days. “So it’s time for us to start playing some games. This will present a new challenge. We have a lot of games in a short period of time, but we’re ready to play again.”

But he said the Wild must brace itself for a tough challenge tonight because it seems Arizona is always a tough opponent for Minnesota, especially in St. Paul.

Charlie Coyle signed to 5-year, $16 million extension

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: October 22, 2014 - 5:24 PM

Ten days after the Wild signed defenseman Jonas Brodin to a six-year, $25 million extension, center/right wing Charlie Coyle is the next of the young core to re-up.

The Wild avoided restricted free agency next summer with Coyle by signing him to a five-year, $16 million deal this afternoon. The deal starts next year, averages $3.2 million a season.

“We’re very excited to get Charlie Coyle signed through the 2019-20 season,” said GM Chuck Fletcher in a release. “Charlie’s size, overall skill set, and character give him a chance to emerge as a top power forward in the game and we’re happy he will be doing that in the State of Hockey for years to come.”

"I’m really excited," Coyle said on a conference call. "Just to move forward with this organization, obviously I’m happy with where I’m at right now. It’s just going to be nice to know that I’m here for another five years. I’m just really, really thrilled and excited and happy right now.”

Coyle, who had a strong final 10 games of last season and solid playoff (played a large chunk secretly with two separated shoulders), was the big piece in the June 2011 Brent Burns deal. It could not have happened without Coyle being involved.

"If he just does what he’s doing right now, he’s still a big, valuable piece of our team," assistant GM Brent Flahr said. "You see the trust he has with the coaching staff. Everybody wants to play with Charlie Coyle on a lot of occasions just because of his size and the way he plays his all-around game.

"We think he’s just emerging. It’s just the tip of the iceberg with the guy right now. You see how hard he works, the time he puts into the game. He’s the type of player you win with. For him, we had no issues going term with him."

Director of Hockey Administration was the Wild's lead voice in the Coyle negotiations.

Flahr did the Brodin contract. And Fletcher is doing the Mikael Granlund one.

As I reported in Tuesday's paper here, Coyle was very intrigued by a long-term extension. As of now, it appears as if Granlund isn't interested in one.

As I wrote in the story, Before the season, Nino Niederreiter signed a three-year, $8 million contract averaging $2.67 million per year, topping out at $3.5 million his final season. It’s a bridge deal that will give the Wild power winger the opportunity to score more than his career-high 14 goals in order to potentially receive a home-run third contract.

For similar reasons, it appears as if Granlund has little interest in signing a long-term extension. Granlund, the Wild’s No. 1 center, has a chance to pile up points the next few years, so waiting for the longer term could enable Granlund to earn mega dollars in a third contract.

A two- or three-year deal not only benefits Granlund, it’ll allow the Wild more time to analyze how good Granlund can become and also make certain health isn’t an issue. He does have a concussion history.

Nothing is imminent, I'm told. Dialogue has been positive and ongoing, but there's no deadline here, so it could be weeks or months or even into the offseason.

Fletcher also said he wanted to stagger these deals and so far Darcy Kuemper expires in 2 years, Nino in 3 years, Coyle in 6 and Brodin in 7 (those two, the extensions don't start until 2015-16).

As for Coyle, he'll skate on the right side of the Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu line to start Thursday's game vs. Arizona.

Besides Granlund, Marco Scandella, Erik Haula and Christian Folin are the NHL restricted free agents next summer -- as of now. The Wild hasn't really gotten into contract talks with Haula and Folin as of yet, sources say, which is nothing to be worried about. It just wanted to focus on the Big Three, and then Scandella to follow. But some of these will undoubtedly go into next summer, which is very normal.

The Wild has reached out to each but told some the timing may not be right.

"I think it’s in everyone’s mind that they want to move forward with each other," Coyle said. "We want to keep this core group going. We’ve got a good team in that locker room with the older guys and the vets that we have and our younger guys, it’s nice to go through this kind of stuff with them."

Coyle said he owes everything to his family.

From the press release:

Coyle, 22 (3/2/92), has collected two points (1-1=2), a plus-3 rating and 10 penalty minutes (PIM) in four games this season with Minnesota. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound forward owns 46 points (21-25=46), 71 PIM and 164 hits in 111 career NHL games with the Wild while averaging 16:19 in TOI/game. The native of East Weymouth, Mass., recorded 30 points (12-18=30) in 70 games last season and ranked third on the team in hits with 108. He established career highs in hits, faceoffs won, shots and TOI in a game last season. Coyle registered two goals in 40 seconds in the second period vs. COL (1/11/14) for his first multi-goal game and fastest two goals scored by a Wild player at home. He ranked tied for third on the team in playoff scoring with seven points (3-4=7) in 13 contests.
    Coyle was acquired from the San Jose Sharks with Devin Setoguchi and a 2011 first-round selection (Zack Phillips) in exchange for Brent Burns and a 2012 second-round selection (Pontus Aberg) on June 24, 2011. He was selected by San Jose in the first round (28th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Mike Yeo on Wild's schedule: "We’re our own biggest rivalry now"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: October 22, 2014 - 12:58 PM

After four games in the NHL season’s first 15 days, the Wild plays six in the next nine. Five are against playoff teams from a year ago except Thursday’s against Arizona.

“Too much time off,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We’re all sick of practicing right now. We’re our own biggest rivalry now. We just have to start playing some games.”

Good afternoon from Xcel Energy Center’s press room. Wild opens a two-game homestand Thursday against the Coyotes and Lightning before hitting the road for New York and Boston.

In Thursday’s Star Tribune, I wrote a very big profile on Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon. Some fun stuff in there, so please give that a read. Spurgeon has played more games in a Wild sweater than any current Wild defenseman.

I'll also be on KFAN live at 9 a.m. from the studio.

In Thursday’s game, Keith Ballard and Christian Folin will be the third pair. Matt Dumba and Nate Prosser aren’t expected to play. Darcy Kuemper will make his fourth start of the season. He allowed two goals in his previous three starts.

Kyle Brodziak is expected to be scratched for a third consecutive game. Remember, his scratch in Game 3 of last year’s playoffs was his only scratch of his Wild career prior to this string. In fact, prior to this, he only missed three regular-season games in his Wild career due to injury or illness.

The Wild is 0-2 without Brodziak this season, but Yeo doesn’t want to pull Ryan Carter.

First of all, Yeo noted that the Wild has scored two goals in its past two games and Carter assisted on both.

“He has a good idea what he needs to bring every night. Be a defensive physical presence,” Yeo said.

As for playing Ballard over Dumba, Yeo said he wants the left-shot in Thursday’s lineup, saying it helps the transition game, especially in the neutral zone, having a left-right ratio.

“We’re a speed team, and if we’re going to play fast, then you have to move the puck effectively,” Yeo said, “so we’ll see if that helps our transition game.”

As you know, the Wild’s power play is 0 for 16, yet it has generated the second-most shots on the power play in the NHL. It includes an eight-shot and seven-shot power play in Denver and L.A., respectively.

Teams often go through three- or four-game droughts during a season, but when it’s at the start of the season, it’s a lot bigger deal and there’s more conversation about it.

Asked how to stop frustration from creeping in, Yeo said, “That’s the problem. There’s frustration already. There’s frustration even when we work it in practice. It’s going to be a challenge for us. Our best power play in every game has been our first power play, and then if we don’t score, frustration creeps in and then next thing you know you start to get into your own way a bit.”

He said the Wild has generated 27 power-play scoring chances in four games, so you score on one or two of these, you’d easily have one or two wins. Heck, in L.A., the Wild went 0 for 5 on power plays that could have tied the game at 1-1 or 2-2.

So Yeo said the Wild much focus on what it has to do on the power play and not the end result. But no doubt, there will be a big breath of fresh air once the Wild finally scores one.

The Coyotes have the fifth-worst penalty kill in the West at this very early juncture in the season (4 goals allowed on 19 chances).

For Arizona, looks like Martin Hanzal is out. Sam Gagner, its biggest offseason pickup, has no points. Mikkel Boedker is off to a torrid start with five goals in five games.

We'll see who starts in goal. Mike Smith has allowed 16 goals in three games. Devyn Dubnyk has given up five goals in two games and helped earn them three of their five points.

Talk to ya Thursday.


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