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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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.

Wild practice: Charlie Coyle joins second line

Posted by: Rachel Blount under Wild practice Updated: October 21, 2014 - 1:57 PM

With another substantial break in the schedule--three days this time, between Sunday's 2-1 loss at Los Angeles and Thursday's home game against Arizona--the Wild held a long practice Tuesday. Charlie Coyle was the last player off the ice, two hours and three minutes after the workout started at Xcel Energy Center.

The team worked on a little of everything, including a power play that hasn't scored in 16 opportunities. Coach Mike Yeo also swapped the right wings on his second and third lines, elevating Coyle to the second line with Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek and putting Justin Fontaine with Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter.

Yeo is hoping Coyle's speed--and his familiarity with former linemate Koivu--can jump-start a second line that hasn't produced. Koivu has no points in the first four games, while Vanek has only one assist.

"This was our intention going into the season, to have (Coyle) start there,'' Yeo said. "Whether injuries or other factors came into play, or the play of him on the (Niederreiter-Haula) line, that’s a line we haven’t tried yet.

"Mikko and Charlie have had a lot of chemistry together in the past. They're both big bodies, they're both strong on the puck, and Thomas should fit that as well. One thing that excites us right now is the way Charlie is skating. His speed is very noticeable; it's been a real factor out there. We think adding that element to that line could really help.''

As for the power play, Yeo and several players said its failings lie in the details. Yeo urged the team to have a stronger presence in front of the net to make it harder for goalies to spot the puck. Zach Parise said more practice time should help.

"That's the biggest thing,'' he said. "I thought it was good in LA; we had good chances and good shots, but nothing was squirting free for us. I'm hoping we practice it more and everything will start to come.

"We can make cleaner passes; a couple of times, we were trying to set guys up for one-timers, and the pucks are in the feet or the passes aren’t flat. I thought it was good in LA for the most part. It's just that the finish isn’t there.''

Despite losing back-to-back games on their California road trip after starting the season 2-0, Parise said the Wild feels good about the way it's playing.

"I don’t think anyone is upset with the way we played,'' he said. "I think our game is in a good spot. We're playing a good style of hockey. I think we're playing an exciting style of hockey, I think we're playing in a way that’s entertaining and fun for the fans to see. If we keep playing like that, we're going to win more than we're going to lose.

"We just couldn’t find the back of the net in either one of those games. Are there areas we need to improve? Of course. But all in all, for where we are in the season, I think we're playing pretty good.''

RACHEL BLOUNT

Despite dominating large chunks of 2 games, Wild goes 0-2 with 2 goals in California

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 19, 2014 - 7:12 PM

Thomas Vanek said today’s 2-1 loss at Los Angeles “feels a lot like the other night again.”

Mike Yeo similarly said, “It’s almost the same script as the other night really. A lot of good things, but in the end not finding a way to win the game.”

In Friday’s 2-1 loss at Anaheim, the Wild, in Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau’s words, “dominated” a lot of the game. But it was the Wild’s lack of sharpness around the night that did it in. The Wild fanned on shots, shanked shots and wired shots wide.

In today’s game against the defending Cup champs, the Wild dominated from start to finish by actually putting pucks – lots of them – on net. But superstar goalie Jonathan Quick was there every step of the way. The Wild outshot the Kings 41-16 but lost by a goal to fall to 2-2 on the season and now sit dormant yet again until Thursday when Arizona comes to St. Paul (four games in the NHL season’s first 15 days).

Quick was awesome. He saw everything all game, constantly slithering all over the ice to find pucks. He was just zeroed in. At least the Wild got a goal on him – Matt Cooke at 6:47 into the third. The Blues similarly dominated the shot clock Thursday but Quick stole a 1-0 shootout win.

The super-fast Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli line, nicknamed, “That 70s line,” because Pearson wears 70, Carter wears 77 and Toffoli wears 73, now has accounted for 11 of the Kings’ 14 goals.

Today, Niklas Backstrom had no shot on both.

Mike Richards’ pass meant for Carter hit Ryan Suter’s skate and caromed right to Toffoli, who buried the puck. Backstrom said he got a piece of the puck and wishes he could have stopped it. The second goal, a Toffoli to Pearson one-timer in the third to put the Kings up 2-0, came after Marco Scandella fell behind the net, Christian Folin left the front of the net, Jason Zucker didn’t have his head on a swivel (his words) and Matt Cooke lost his guy. Basically, an overall breakdown in coverage after the Wild didn’t react well to Scandella falling.

Again though, Backstrom said Quick played great on the other end, so it’s his job to find a way to stop pucks for the Wild.

Still, not much he can do.

The bigger issue is dominating a game like the Wild has the ability to do yet again being unbelievably unable to finish. Tonight, the Wild went 0 for 5 on the power play despite tons of zone time and 14 shots. Those five power plays? Three came down 1-0, two came in the third down 2-1. It must score in those situations.

The power play is now 0 for 16.

“We’ll figure it out,” Zach Parise said.

I wrote about this in the notebook, but Thomas Vanek is without a goal in four games and has 13 shots. He has one assist. Linemate Mikko Koivu has no points.

“I think we have chemistry,” Koivu said. “I thought we had chances again. I thought there was a lot of stuff around the net. I think we’re doing a lot of things the right way, but in the end, it’s no excuse to say you’re playing good when you can’t capitalize on your chances.”

Vanek admitted he’s frustrated by the lack of offense.

“As a team and for myself, you just need that first one and hopefully it opens up,” said Vanek, who has scored 277 goals and 557 points in 667 games and signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Wild on July 1. “I don’t feel like I’m squeezing my stick quite yet. We had some good looks. They’re just not going in right now.”

He missed the final 13 minutes of the second period today when he was struck on the right thumb by Suter’s wrist shot. It was bandaided (new word) up after the game and he said it was “throbbing.” He said it was tough gripping his stick in the third, but it felt good enough to play.

The message after the game? Bottom line: The Wild’s game is very good right now. But it again frustratingly has trouble scoring.

“I like how we’re playing well,” Parise said. “Our systems, we’re playing very well. We’ll be fine. Played two very good teams. All things considered, of course you love to win the game, but when you look at it as a whole, we played very well in both the games. Again, we just couldn’t find a goal at the time we needed in both the games.”

Said Zucker, who escaped a scare in the second when he was kicked in the throat accidentally as he tripped Kyle Clifford, said, “We can’t hang our head here, especially if we battle and play like that. We’ll be OK.”

Koivu said, “It’s tough when you can’t score. We had great looks. We’ve got to keep doing that. It’s a matter of time that it’s going to go in. When you get that first power-play goal, you get the feeling and it’s going to get easier after that. In the end, it’s about scoring goals and winning games, and we didn’t do that.”

He also said, like Parise, “Defensively, I think the whole team is right where we want to be. So now just offensively we have to keep creating and doing a better job when we get around that net.”

Yeo said the snakebittness (another invented word by me) “maybe, it’s in our head a little bit.” He noted some missed nets and posts, and “maybe if it’s coming a little easier then we’re not trying to be so precise.”

He also said it’s important to make sure he properly evaluates the game and not overreact to the losses this early in the season, but the bottom line, the Wild needs wins and despite some dominance, the team needs to recognize it didn’t win, “so if we have to be better, let’s make sure we’re better.”

“We’ve got to hit the reset button” for Arizona and Tampa Bay this week, Yeo said.

That’s it for me. Red eye home for moi tonight. The Wild has the day off Monday and Rachel Blount is covering practice Tuesday. Barring news, you’ll hear from me next in Tuesday’s paper and after Wednesday’s practice (and of course on Twitter, where I’m sure I’ll be blabbering about something nonsensical).

Niklas Backstrom to make first start since January + lots of Wild updates

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: October 18, 2014 - 5:20 PM

The Wild and Los Angeles Kings play Sunday at 2 p.m. CT (Fox Sports North and Kool-108) in the first of a Staples Center doubleheader. Lakers and Jazz play in a preseason game later in the day.

I’ll be on FSN in the pregame show and first intermission.

Good afternoon from L.A., where the Wild practiced this afternoon at the famous luxurious arena.

As you can imagine, with the short turnaround between Friday night’s game and Sunday’s noon local time start, today’s practice wasn’t overly strenuous. It was all about execution around the net, not a shock considering the way the Wild lost, 2-1, Friday night 45 minutes south of here in Anaheim.

Say what you want about the dubious officiating – like missing too many men penalties or Eric Furlatt ignoring three guys (Getzlaf, Perry and Beleskey) all without gloves on one skirmish and somehow finding a way to put the Wild shorthanded or allowing Perry to sit on Erik Haula for 10 seconds or watching Zach Parise get cross-checked in front of the net on power plays and so on and so on and so on – and say what you want about a couple costly young mistakes by Wild players, the Wild lost the Ducks game because of a remarkable lack of sharpness around the net by several players on golden opportunities.

That’s why the Wild lost. Shanked shots, missed nets, whiffed pucks, one clanked post and Frederik Andersen stoning guys like Thomas Vanek, Parise and Jonas Brodin on terrific scoring chances.

So, that’s what the Wild worked on today heading into Sunday’s game against the defending Cup champs, who will be without Marian Gaborik, Jake Muzzin and Trevor Lewis.

As coach Mike Yeo intimated all week, despite Darcy Kuemper’s stellar start to this season, he feels he has to get Niklas Backstrom in a game because the Wild will need him. It plays next Monday and Tuesday at the Rangers and Bruins, so if you don’t play Backstrom now, he’ll be going on four weeks without a start if he gets the nod in Boston.

Sooooo, Backstrom, coming off season-ending abdominal and hip surgeries, will make his season debut Sunday against the Kings. It’ll be his first start since Jan. 11 and first appearance since Jan. 30. Remember, it was at L.A. last Jan. 7 that Backstrom was scratched from his start because he received a cortisone shot in his achy abdomen. Kuemper, who didn’t start since allowing four goals on seven shots in Toronto on Oct. 15, got the surprise nod at L.A. and made 39 saves in a shootout win during a game the Wild was outshot 40-17.

“I’m real happy with Kuemps’ game right now, but Backy had a great training camp, too, and we’re a team and I want to make sure everybody feels part of that team,” Yeo said.

Same forward lines are expected to play against the Kings, meaning Kyle Brodziak is expected to be scratched again. As expected, defensemen Nate Prosser and Christian Folin will play and Keith Ballard and Matt Dumba won’t. Again, this was the plan all week because Yeo doesn’t want defensemen sitting around and he believes Prosser and Folin should be able to play a heavy game against a heavy opponent.

The Wild’s power play is 0 for 11 with one shorthanded goal against. Yeo said after last night’s game it needs to be addressed, and today it was with two brand new units (in fact, other than arguably a flip in centers, the units I think the Wild should have started the season with).

The first unit today was Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Thomas Vanek with Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter at the points. The second unit was Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Charlie Coyle with Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin at the points.

Vets and youths.

“I think that young group can really challenge the first group,” Yeo said. “They’re really comfortable with each other. Sometimes the young kids go out there with an older guy and they defer.

“And you look at the personnel we have on the top group, there’s no question that that should be a dangerous unit too.”

Maybe it’ll get Koivu and Vanek going. Koivu, the all-time leading scorer for the Wild, has no points in three games. Vanek is searching for his first goal, although he had seven shots last night and some Grade A chances, so it should be coming.

Yeo said he’s really, really happy with Niederreiter and Coyle, especially Coyle.

“I’m looking at the scoresheet after the game last night and the way Charlie played, I’m just saying I didn’t play him enough,” Yeo said of Coyle’s 12:33 ice time (of course, part of the reason for the low ice time is he spent six minutes in the box).

Coyle had five shots last night, and that doesn’t count the pipe with the score tied, 1-1.

“He deserves more and he deserves more of an opportunity and he’s going to get that.”

Yeo reminded that the power-play goal the Wild actually should have scored in Denver was because of Niederreiter crashing the net and Coyle scoring (bad call, but the referee waved it off because Niederreiter was on Semyon Varlamov; he was pushed onto him by Jan Hejda).

So Yeo feels Niederreiter and Coyle will be two big bodies that’s going to cause some net-front presence and traffic on the power play (which is why, like the preseason, they should have been on there all along in my opinion)!

But Yeo said he wants the Wild to become a team where the players know that when they’re playing well, they should get rewarded, and Niederreiter and Coyle warrant more ice time.

On Coyle, Yeo said, “He’s creating things when he’s out there, playing with a physical presence, playing a big game and he’s been frustrating for a lot of these guys to play against, and I can understand why.”

One thing that bothered me about last night is Ryan Kesler’s run at Granlund, which he seems to have survived because he practiced today.

Kesler got a major charging penalty at the buzzer. What he did though didn’t cross the line into supplemental discipline, so basically there’s no repercussion at all for a very dirty play. Look at the replay and it’s clear that Kesler knew exactly what he was doing. It’s interesting, but Colie Campbell used to bring this up at GM’s meetings about how if a player is running around dangerously late in a game and gets a major like this, maybe there’s a traveling penalty and he has to serve it to start the next game. Maybe, the team isn’t shorthanded to start the next game, but the player has to sit.

There was never any appetite from the GM’s to do something like that, but what’s going to stop Kesler from doing this again and getting a free lick on an unsuspecting player when another team’s got their skilled players on the ice late in a one-goal deficit?

I brought it up to Parise today and he found it interesting until he remembered he got a cross-checking major on Kesler at the buzzer.

“Then I’d have to sit, too, so I don’t like it,” Parise said, laughing.

There are heavier teams than the Wild in the West – Anaheim, St. Louis, L.A. I asked Yeo again today how he counteracts that when the Wild’s not made up the same way.

“We’re a team that’s built on speed and I think that style of hockey, that brand of hockey is very exciting for the fans,” Yeo said. “I just felt in the game there were times where our speed was very frustrating for them and creating a lot of momentum for us, and there were times where they started to do things that should have warranted power plays for us.

“This is not to get into the debate of having tough guys. I love toughness too, but there’s no question it’s hard to build your team only around speed if that stuff isn’t taken care of by giving us a chance to go on the power play when that happens. Again I want to be careful what I say here, but I felt there were times in the game last game where we should have ended up on the power play and that’s a deterrent for that kind of behavior.”

But Yeo made clear he’s ready to move on and officiating was hardly the reason the Wild lost last night.

The Wild lost because a few players seemed to have holes in their sticks.

Yeo, by the way, gave Jason Zucker a pep talk on the ice. It was his pass into Matt Dumba’s skate that led to Corey Perry’s winning goal.

“With his speed, it’s just kind of a minor thing and these are learning moments,” Yeo said. “If he can have a bit of a shoulder check, he can realize that he has a little bit more time and space, that he’s part of the attack as opposed to just moving it to somebody. It’s just trying to get his feet going and with his speed, that could be such a factor for us. We saw it on his goal. As much as anything else, I wanted to make sure he knows that one mistake, that’s part of the game, that’s part of the process for a young player and he’s still developing and you’ve got to move on from that and learn from it.”

Basically, Yeo said the right play for Zucker was to look and see where the defenseman is. He said a pass is a fine play if it’s on Dumba’s tape, but the better play would have been to take the ice because then Zucker’s part of the attack and part of the rush as opposed to making a stationary play and then being behind the play.

OK, that’s it for me. See you on FSN on Sunday, on Twitter during the game and on here after the game.

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