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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Season-ticket conference call updates; Wild free-agent thoughts

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Vikings draft, Wild off-season news Updated: May 19, 2010 - 12:40 PM

(edited for typos/missing words Wednesday morning)

MISTAKE CORRECTED IN FREE-AGENT SECTION

Good beautiful day here from MPLS. I'll be on 1500 ESPN at 7:20ish CT tonight

The Wild held a season-ticket holder fan forum this afternoon with Wild owner Craig Leipold, GM Chuck Fletcher and VP of Customer Sales and Service Jamie Spencer:

Some things discussed:

-- Spencer announced that if you received a price increase for next season, there will be a price freeze for the following season (2011-12).

-- The team is coming up with "better ways" fans can "re-sell tickets."

-- Ten games next season, beer, soda and hot dogs will rollback to Year One prices. They're trying to improve the concessions with better variety and more healthy food options.

-- Further details of all the three men talked about can be found on wild.com

As for hockey stuff:

-- The Wild just completed its amateur scouting meetings. The Wild has three picks in the top-56 and four in the top-69. Last year, its second pick didn't come until 77. Now, I should stress, this is currently owns four picks in the top-69. Knowing GM Chuck Fletcher, he'll be wheeling and dealing picks at the draft in an attempt to move up, down, gather more picks, etc. Fletcher's philosophy is draft picks are currency, and when you have two seconds, you can try to maybe move up and get a late first (example when Anaheim traded two 2003 seconds to Dallas for the 28th pick to get Corey Perry when Fletcher was asst gm to Bryan Murray).

-- In early June, Fletcher will meet with the coaching staff and pro scouts to evaluate last season and figure out why the Wild was so inconsistent. Fletcher noted that the Wild was the seventh-best offensive team at home and worst on the road. Why is that? I got an email recently from a reader blaming goaltending. Statistically, Niklas Backstrom was actually worse from a goals against (2.82, .891) and save percentage standpoint at home than he was on the road (2.56, .917). So I think that's too easy to pin blame there. I think there are definitely players that play differently and are more intimidated on the road (the Wild's plus-minuses on the road look like a golf leader board). To win on the road, it takes structure and work ethic, and the Wild definitely lacked the systematic structure the first six weeks of the season and the last six weeks of the season. And I think coach Todd Richards must do a better job overcoming poor matchups on the road. Richards told me in Calgary at the end of the year when I asked about this subject that he believes matchups only win or lose you two or three games a year. I think most NHL coaches would definitely disagree, especially the ones who face the Wild. Of course, there's only so many times Richards can throw Mikko Koivu over the boards. But I think he played Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon too much on the road -- Zidlicky especially struggled on the road (minus-19). Unlike Jacques Lemaire, it seemed Richards didn't have a lot of faith in Nick Schultz as a matchup defenseman. That still confuses me. But even at home, and another team's coach pointed this out to me recently, the Andrew Brunette-Koivu-Antti Miettinen line routinely had to face the opponent's top defensemen. That shouldn't happen at home because you have last change.

-- Fletcher talked about the team's current unrestricted free agents (Boogaard, Nolan, Scott, Ebbett, Hnidy, Earl). He said he's had conversations with a few but indicated that they'll likely reach July 1. Usually this late, it always goes to July 1. And usually if it gets to July 1, players leave. The only example of a Wild UFA being re-signed after July 1 since I've covered the team (2005-present) off the top of my head was Wes Walz. I cant remember any unrestricted free agents since I've covered the team being re-signed this late before July 1. I knew there was one in June but couldn't remember. Now I have with help from a friend. June 7, 2007, Niklas Backstrom re-signed for two years at $6.2 million when he flew in for the Jennings ceremony in Ottawa. Before he flew home, the deal was signed and it signaled the eventual trade of Manny Fernandez (three weeks later).

My personal opinion -- they're moving on without Boogaard. In an age of guaranteed contracts, there's only so many spots available to use each offseason and the Wild needs spots to make internal (Casey Wellman being the closest youngster to possibly making the team) and external improvements. Barring trades, the returning forwards are Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Guillaume Latendresse, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Chuck Kobasew, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (if healthy) and James Sheppard (if qualified in late June to retain rights, and then if he makes the team -- no guarantee of either). So that's at least eight forwards, probably nine because at the very least they'll have to plan like Bouchard's playing and maybe 10. Well, typically 12 forwards dress and 13 are on the roster.

The Wild can't come back status-quo after such a disappointing season, so it needs roster spots to add offense, speed and the ability to create internal competition in camp so forwards like Wellman, Cody Almond and Colton Gillies have a chance to fight for roster spots. Same with D, where Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella and others deserve rights to fight for spots.

I think the Wild values Boogaard, but is there a deal that makes sense in terms of the Wild's limited cap space and needs? How much is Boogaard worth compared to how much can he get on the open market? There's probably a huge disparity between those two numbers, which likely means Boogaard's gone.

As for Nolan, he's going to want to see what the Wild does this summer. But the Wild's likely external moves will be via trade rather than free agency, so how long is Nolan willing to wait before he's satisfied? At this point, I'd think the Wild would want to get younger and faster rather than bringing back a 38-year-old. I'm a believer in Nolan, but -- and yes, I know he was playing hurt -- he did not play well after the trade deadline and that should be a concern.

But I do know Fletcher and Richards value Nolan tremendously, so maybe I'm wrong.

Anyways, there's some quick thoughts. Have a good night.

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