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 begins pro meetings, bringing in draft-eligible players; Finals overhead problem

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Stanley Cup, Wild news Updated: June 3, 2010 - 12:26 PM

Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher was in Philadelphia on Wednesday for the GM's Meeting and Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He was scheduled to return to Minnesota today to begin pro meetings with assistant GM Brent Flahr, assistant to the GM Jim Mill, coach Todd Richards, the rest of the coaching staff, the pro scouting department and other members of hockey ops.

The Wild's already had its pro meetings to discuss free agency and other team rosters for potential trades, so the main purpose of this meeting is to do a complete evaluation of the current Wild roster. Fletcher didn't want to do this immediately after the season when the raw emotion of the awful final six weeks and missed postseason could affect roster decisions. He didn't want anger or disappointment to factor into the evaluation.

Normally, these meetings would occur in May, but the team's conducting them now because Richards headed overseas as an assistant for the USA World Championship team.

These are important meetings because the Wild will go over next season's potential roster. It includes deciding which players could potentially be trade bait, where holes reside that must be filled, deciding whether any of the players that can become unrestricted free agents July 1 should have contracts tendered to them, discussing which youngsters have a shot at next year's roster and deciding if they should cut loose any restricted free agents by not extending qualifying offers later this month.

So you can see spots that are currently available, here's the current depth chart of players on one-way contracts (assuming all the unrestricted free agents depart and assuming there's no trades, which there most likely has to be if the Wild's going to make significant external improvements this offseason):

Forwards

Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Antti Miettinen

Guillaume Latendresse-Pierre-Marc Bouchard*-Martin Havlat

Cal Clutterbuck-Kyle Brodziak-Chuck Kobasew

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX-James Sheppard**-XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Youngsters vying for spots: Casey Wellman, Cody Almond, Colton Gillies

Unrestricted free agents that could be gone: Owen Nolan, Derek Boogaard, Robbie Earl, Andrew Ebbett

* Assuming Bouchard is healthy. I've been told he's lightly exercising.

** Assuming Sheppard is tendered a qualifying offer to retain his rights.

Defenseman

Greg Zanon-Marek Zidlicky

Nick Schultz-Brent Burns

Cam Barker-XXXXXXXXXX

Clayton Stoner

Youngsters vying for spots: Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Tyler Cuma, Justin Falk

Unrestricted free agents that could be gone: Shane Hnidy, John Scott

Goalies

Niklas Backstrom

Josh Harding

Including Mark Parrish's buyout charge and not including any of the two-way contracts or eventual salaries for restricted free agents Latendresse, Harding and Sheppard, I've got the Wild already at $45,424,443 against the salary cap next season. The cap ceiling, which will be announced later this month, is expected to rise about $2 million or to around $58.8 million.

The Wild's current cap is for 15 players on the possible 23-man roster.

I'd expect $5-6 million to go to Latendresse, Harding and Sheppard, so that'll only leave $7-8 million or so to go to youngsters that could make the team or to free-agent pickups.

Add the fact that this is a pretty weak free-agent class at forward (where the Wild has the most holes) to the Wild's already-limited cap space, and this is why I anticipate trades and not many free-agent signings as a way to attempt improvement. You can bet trade talks are starting to pick up in the NHL considering GM's have gathered a lot lately between the draft combine in Toronto and Wednesday's GM's Meeting in Philly. You'll read a lot more about this in the paper during the coming weeks.

Couple items:

-- Fletcher has had preliminary talks with Latendresse over a new contract. Again,as I wrote in this column, the big question is whether you sign Latendresse short-term or long-term. If the deal's not done by early July, Latendresse can opt for arbitration, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because it guarantees a resolution. If he chooses arbitration, the Wild can elect whether it's a one- or two-year deal, and contract negotiations can continue until an arbitration hearing in late July.

-- The Wild, which owns the No. 9 pick in the first round of the draft later this month, has returned from the combine. While it tested and interviewed several draft-eligible players at the combine, it's starting to bring in to St. Paul specific players they're targeting for further interviewing and medical and fitness testing. The Wild's convinced it will get a solid player even down at No. 9, and even though the Wild's short on upper-echelon forwards in the system, it will look to take the best player available no matter his position. I've gotten a lot of questions asking if they'd definitely take a forward, and the answer is: If there's a sure-thing defenseman or goalie available and he's next on their list, yes, they'd take the defenseman or goalie.

At No. 9, they are at the mercy of the teams in front of them. But Fletcher could move up, he could move down, he could look to trade for a second first-round pick on draft day if there's somebody left late that they're in love with. You'll read a lot more about this, too, in the paper during the coming weeks.

-- As for news from the GM's Meetings, blindside head hits were discussed and the league is moving toward a five-minute major and potential supplemental discipline. Red Wings GM Ken Holland also recommended a 10-minute overtime instead of five in an attempt to decrease the number of shootouts. His idea is for it to go from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3. This is a long way from happening, but it's on the table.Here's a story about the GM's Meeting.

-- Another awesome game last night as the Flyers made it a series, but I don't know why more people haven't complained about the overturned non-goal that awarded Scott Hartnell with a go-ahead goal last night for Philadelphia. From the NHL.com Situation Room blog: "Video review at 9:55 of the 2nd period of the Flyers' Chris Pronger shot conclusively showed via the overhead camera replay that the puck did cross the goal line. Good goal."

I don't buy it. There was no overhead. The overhead for some reason is about 20 degrees off the goal line toward the middle of the ice. The NHL's argument is you must see "white" between the puck and a goal line to award a good goal. The further the camera moves away from the goal line, of course you're going to see white when the puck is above the ice surface. I saw no definitive angle other than this alleged overhead that showed white. To me, if the only angle that showed white was last night's overhead, then sorry, that was not a definitive goal. The question is: Why is there no overhead in the Stanley Cup Finals that's directly above the goal line?

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