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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Posts about Wild news

Nino Niederreiter re-signs, agreeing to a 3-year, $8 million contract

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 11, 2014 - 4:38 PM

Game 7’s overtime hero has re-signed and is ready to pick up where he left off.

One week before players are set to report for training camp, Nino Niederreiter, the young power winger who scored the Western Conference quarterfinals clinching goal last season for the Wild, agreed to terms on a three-year, $8 million contract Thursday.

“I’m glad it’s over and I’m part of the Wild family again,” Niederreiter said by phone from Portland, Ore., where he’s skating with the Western Hockey League Winterhawks and working with his power-skating instructor. “I think it’s all about now. The season’s coming up and I think I found a way to score goals in the league and felt I got better and better as last season went on, so now I’m very happy to focus and not worry about the contract situation.

“Now I just want to go out there and play and really, really work on things.”

The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Niederreiter, 22, scored a career-high 14 goals and 36 points in 81 games last season. He was plus-12, which ranked fourth on the team, and ranked second with 175 hits. In 13 playoffs games, he scored three goals and six points and led the team with 40 hits. In Game 7 of the first round against Colorado, Niederreiter scored two goals, including the winner in overtime, and assisted on Jared Spurgeon’s late third-period, overtime-forcing goal.

“I’m very happy the way the playoffs went,” said Niederreiter, who was also one of Switzerland’s best players in the Olympics. “It’s still tough the way we lost Game 6 [against Chicago], but at the end of the day, we have to look forward. I’m happy I had a chance to perform in the playoffs and now I just have to keep it up going forward here.”

Niederreiter said he will be in Portland until Sunday and plans to be on the ice with his teammates during informal practices Monday. Players report for camp next Thursday and skate for the first time next Friday.

Niederreiter’s agent said earlier this week that Niederreiter turned down a lucrative contract offer to play in Russia. Goalie Darcy Kuemper, the only unsigned Wild player left, is mulling over some potential opportunities in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

Earlier this week, Kuemper’s agent said he is asking the Wild for a one-year, one-way contract. The Wild has offered Kuemper a two-year deal, the first year being a two-way, the second being a one-way.

NHL announces rules changes

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: September 11, 2014 - 2:33 PM

The "Spin-o-rama" in shootouts has been outlawed!

The NHL announced a few rules changes this year, and eventually experts will interpret them, criticize them and have officials fired for them, but before that happens, I'll just post them in the quickest way possible so you, the readers, can analyze for yourself.

It's Chris Miller here, subbing for Russo, who has been suspended from any comments about officiating, by me, until the season opener.

Here are the rules changes, from a release by the league:

Rule 1.8 – Rink - Goalkeeper’s Restricted Area

The trapezoid will be expanded by two feet from the goal post on both sides
of the net.

Rule 23 – Game Misconduct Penalties

A new Game Misconduct category will be created. Clipping, charging,
elbowing, interference, kneeing, head-butting and butt-ending move from the
general category into the same category as boarding and checking from
behind (“Physical Fouls”), whereby a player who incurs two such game
misconducts in this category would now be automatically suspended for one
game.

Rule 24 – Penalty Shot

The 'Spin-O-Rama' move, as described in Section 24.2 of the 2013-14 NHL
Rule Book, will no longer be permitted either in Penalty Shot situations or
in the Shootout.

Rule 38 – Video Goal Judge

Video review will be expanded in the following areas:

* Rule 38.4 (viii) has been modified to allow broader discretion to Hockey
Operations to assist the referees in determining the legitimacy of all
potential goals (e.g., to ensure they are “good hockey goals”).  The
revised Rule will allow Hockey Operations to correct a broader array of
situations where video review clearly establishes that a “goal” or “no
goal” call on the ice has been made in error.   The new expanded rule will
also allow Hockey Operations to provide guidance to referees on goal and
potential goal plays where the referee has blown his whistle (or intended
to blow his whistle) after having lost sight of the puck.

* In reviewing “Kicked in Goals,” Hockey Operations will require more
demonstrable video evidence of a “distinct kicking motion” in order to
overrule a “goal” call on the ice, or to uphold a “no goal” call on the
ice.

Rule 57 – Tripping

The rule relating to “Tripping” will be revised to specifically provide
that a two minute minor penalty will be assessed when a defending player
“dives” and trips an attacking player with his body/arm/shoulder,
regardless of whether the defending player is able to make initial contact
with the puck.

But, in situations where a penalty shot might otherwise be appropriate, if
the defending player “dives” and touches the puck first (before the trip),
no penalty shot will be awarded. (In such cases, the resulting penalty will
be limited to a two-minute minor penalty for tripping.)

Rule 64 – Diving / Embellishment

The supplementary discipline penalties associated with Rule 64.3
(Diving/Embellishment) will be revised to bring attention to and more
seriously penalize players (and teams) who repeatedly dive and embellish in
an attempt to draw penalties. Fines will be assessed to players and head
coaches on a graduated scale outlined below.

Incident #    Player Fine(s)    Head Coach Fine(s)
   1    Warning    N/A
   2    $2,000    N/A
   3    $3,000    N/A
   4    $4,000    $2,000
   5    $5,000    $3,000
   6    $5,000    $4,000
   7    $5,000    $5,000
   8    $5,000    $5,000

Rule 76 – Face-offs

To curb delay tactics on face-offs after icing infractions, in situations
where the defending team is guilty of a face-off violation, following an
icing, the defending player who is initially lined up for the face-off will
be given a warning, but will be required to remain in the circle to take
the face-off. A second face-off violation by the defending team in such
situation will result in a two minute minor bench penalty.

Rule 84 – Overtime

* Teams will switch ends prior to the start of overtime in the regular
season.
* The entire ice surface will undergo a "dry scrape" prior to the start of
overtime in the regular season.
* The procedure requiring the head coach to submit a list of the first
three shooters in the shoot-out has been eliminated.

Rule 85 – Puck Out of Bounds

There have been further rule changes made relating to face-off location to
avoid penalizing teams for plays intended to create bona fide scoring
opportunities.  Specifically, the following are "categories of plays” where
face-offs will remain in the attacking zone despite the fact that the
attacking team was technically responsible for the stoppage in play:  Shots
at the net by a player on the attacking team where:  (i) the shot breaks
the glass; (ii) the shot goes off the side of the net and deflects out of
play; (iii) the shot goes off the dasher boards or glass and deflects out
of play; (iv) the shot is tipped or deflected out of play by a teammate;
and (v) the shot becomes wedged in or on the exterior of the goal net.

                            *    *    *

   In addition, the following rule change will be enacted for the 2014
preseason and may be continued for the 2014/15 regular season if approved
by the League and the NHLPA.

Rule 1.9 – Rink – Face-off Spots and Circles  – Ice Markings/Hash Marks

The hash marks at the end zone circles will be moved from three feet apart
to five feet, seven inches apart (international markings).

 

Minnesota Wild's Traverse City prospects tournament roster

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: August 28, 2014 - 10:58 AM

Wild players report for physicals and fitness testing Sept. 18 with camp officially opening on the ice Sept. 19, but as always, the Wild will take part in a prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich.

The information and roster is below.

If you missed yesterday's Q and A with Wild coach Mike Yeo at the Star Tribune booth at the State Fair, here is a replay. Good primer for training camp.

I will also be at the State Fair KFAN booth with Paul Allen on Friday starting at 9:55 a.m. talking Wild.


MINNESOTA WILD TO PARTICIPATE IN 2014 NHL PROSPECTS TOURNAMENT IN TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN, SEPTEMBER 12-16
 
    SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher today announced the National Hockey League (NHL) club will participate in the 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., Sept. 12-16. Wild prospects will compete in the tournament’s Gordie Howe Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues. The Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars and New York Rangers will play in the Ted Lindsay Division.
 
    Minnesota’s roster features a total of 12 Wild draft picks: G Alexandre Belanger (2013, 7th round), LW Raphael Bussieres (2012, 2nd round), C Reid Duke (2014, 6th round), D Matt Dumba (2012, 1st round), D Tanner Faith (2014, 5th round), RW Kurtis Gabriel (2013, 3rd round), C Tyler Graovac (2011, 7th round), G Johan Gustafsson (2010, 6th round), RW Pavel Jenys (2014, 7th round), D Dylan Labbe (2013, 4th round), C Chase Lang (2014, 6th round) and D Gustav Olofsson (2013, 2nd round) along with four free agents signed during the 2013-14 season: C Brady Brassart, D Christian Folin, D Guillaume Gelinas and RW Zack Mitchell. Iowa Wild Head Coach Kurt Kleinendorst and Assistant Coach Steve Poapst will lead the Wild prospects.
 
    Fans can visit www.wild.com for tournament updates including reports from Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. Minnesota is set to open its 2014 Training Camp presented by Andersen Windows on Friday, Sept. 19. A complete training camp schedule and roster will be announced prior to the start of training camp. 
 
2014 MINNESOTA WILD TRAVERSE CITY PROSPECTS TOURNAMENT ROSTER 
FORWARDS                  HT     WT    SHOOTS   BORN     BIRTHPLACE                    2013-14 TEAM   LGE          GP   G     A     PTS   PIM                                        ACQ
82 Olivier Archambault   6-0     190    Left            2/16/93    Le Gardeur, Quebec             Quebec                QMJHL      38    19    27    46      37                                        INVITEE
80 Jessey Astles              6-2     205    Left            6/4/93      Coquitlam, British Columbia                            Tri-City      WHL        50    11      9          20                                        67      INVITEE
62 Brady Brassart            6-2     196    Right          6/15/93    Vernon, British Columbia    Calgary                WHL          70    35    50    85      94                                        FA/14
49 Raphael Bussieres       6-1     198    Left            11/5/93    Longueuil, Quebec               Iowa                    AHL          61    5      14    19      51                                        EN/12
75 Reid Duke                   6-0     189    Right          1/28/96    Calgary, Alberta                   Lethbridge           WHL          62    15    25    40      91                                        EN/14
53 Tyler Graovac             6-4     205    Left            4/27/93    Brampton, Ontario               Iowa                    AHL          64    13    12    25      29                                        EN/11
63 Kurtis Gabriel             6-4     214    Right          4/20/93    New Market, Ontario           Owen Sound        OHL          60    16    35    51      99                                        EN/13
47 Reid Gardiner             5-11   185    Right          1/19/96    Humboldt, Saskatchewan     Prince Albert        WHL          70    22    22    44      39                                        INVITEE
57 Ryan Graham              6-2     205    Left            5/6/96      Calgary, Alberta                   Saskatoon            WHL          70    15    8      23      37                                        INVITEE
81 Pavel Jenys                 6-2     198    Left            4/2/96      Brno, Czech Republic          Brno                    Czech         29    2      0      2        4                                        EN/14         
76 Chase Lang                 6-1     182    Right          9/13/96    Nanaimo, British Columbia  Calgary                WHL          68    10    15    25      52                                        EN/14
59 Zack Mitchell              6-0     184    Right          1/7/93      Caledon, Ontario                  Guelph                 OHL          67    31    52    83      40                                        FA/14
67 Andrew Ryan              6-3     202    Left            1/15/94    St. John’s Newfoundland     Halifax                 QMJHL      56    27    28    55      52                                        INVITEE
71 Ryan Walters              6-0     190    Left            7/30/91    Rosemount, Minnesota        Nebraska-Omaha NCHC        34    6      24    30      16                                        INVITEE
DEFENSEMEN               HT     WT    SHOOTS   BORN     BIRTHPLACE                    2013-14 TEAM   LGE          GP   G     A     PTS   PIM                                        ACQ
55 Matt Dumba                6-0     183    Right          7/25/94    Regina, Saskatchewan          Minnesota            NHL          13    1      1      2        2                                        EN/12
                                                                                                                                          Portland               WHL          26    8      16    24      37
73 Tanner Faith               6-3     211    Right          10/5/95    Terrace, British Columbia    Kootenay             WHL          10    0      1      1        9                                        EN/14
5 Christian Folin              6-3     210    Right          2/9/91      Gothenburg, Sweden            UMass-Lowell     HE             41    6      14    20      31                                        FA/14
34 Guillaume Gelinas      5-10   185    Left            6/14/93    Quebec City, Quebec           Val d’Or              QMJHL      67    23    69    92      81                                        FA/14
68 Alex Gudbranson       6-2     204    Right          9/3/94      Orleans, Ontario                  Sault Ste. Marie    OHL          66    7      8      15      76                                        INVITEE
78 Dylan Labbe               6-2     194    Left            1/19/95    St. George, Quebec              Shawinigan          QMJHL      63    9      18    27      20                                        EN/13
23 Gustav Olofsson         6-4     191    Left            12/1/94    Boras, Sweden                     Colorado College NCHC        30    4      4      8        20                                        EN/13
79 Hunter Warner            6-2     202    Right          9/21/95    Eden Prairie, Minnesota       Waterloo/Fargo    USHL        50    2      10    12      127                                        INVITEE
GOALTENDERS            HT     WT    CATCHES BORN     BIRTHPLACE                    2013-14 TEAM   LGE        GPI   W-L-OT  SO GAA  SV%                                        ACQ
50 Alexandre Belanger     6-1     184    Left            8/19/95    Sherbrooke, Quebec            Rouyn-Noranda   QMJHL    52      28-18-3   1    3.23   .881                                        EN/13
31 Johan Gustafsson       6-2     202    Left            2/28/92    Koping, Sweden                   Iowa                    AHL        40      12-20-4   1    2.98   .903                                        EN/10
70 Brandon Whitney        6-5     208    Right          5/11/94    Kentville, Nova Scotia         Victoriaville         QMJHL    41      13-18-7   4    3.25   .906                                        INVITEE
 
 
2014 MINNESOTA WILD PROSPECTS TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE*
 
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12
2:30 p.m.        Minnesota vs. Columbus
3:00 p.m.         Buffalo vs. Carolina
6:00 p.m.         New York Rangers vs. Dallas
6:30 p.m.         Detroit vs. St. Louis
                                      
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13
2:30 p.m.         Carolina vs. Dallas
3:00 p.m.        Minnesota vs. St. Louis
6:00 p.m.         Buffalo vs. New York Rangers
6:30 p.m.         Detroit vs. Columbus
 
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 15
2:00 p.m.         Dallas vs. Buffalo
2:30 p.m.         Columbus vs. St. Louis
5:30 p.m.         New York Rangers vs. Carolina
6:00 p.m.        Minnesota vs. Detroit
 
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16
2:00 p.m.         Seventh Place Game (4th Howe vs. 4th Lindsay)
2:30 p.m.         Fifth Place Game (3rd Howe vs. 3rd Lindsay)
5:30 p.m.         Third Place Game (2nd Howe vs. 2nd Lindsay)
6:00 p.m.         Championship Game (1st Howe vs. 1st Lindsay)
* All times listed are Central
 
 

Justin Fontaine agrees to two-year contract with Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 29, 2014 - 11:33 AM

Justin Fontaine, the 26-year-old Wild forward, will avoid a Friday arbitration hearing and sign a new two-year deal with the Wild this afternoon. The deal is expected to be worth $1 million annually ($950,000 in Year 1 and $1.05 million in Year 2).

Fontaine, the former University of Minnesota Duluth national champion, tied for fourth on the Wild and tied for 12th among NHL rookies last season with 13 goals. That goal total was third-highest ever by a Wild rookie. He had 21 points in 66 games and his plus-6 was tied for second all-time by a Wild rookie.

On Jan. 9 at Phoenix, he recorded his first career hat trick.

Fontaine is one of three remaining restricted free agents left to be signed by the Wild. The other two are the biggees, winger Nino Niederreiter and goalie Darcy Kuemper.

Kuemper, by all indications, could take awhile. It was difficult to get Kuemper signed to his initial entry-level deal and Kuemper had a quality rookie season, helping save the Wild's hide when Josh Harding was lost to complications with multiple sclerosis and Niklas Backstrom to another abdominal injury.

The Wild will again be relying on the uncertainty of Backstrom and Harding this season, which certainly seems to give Kuemper leverage in negotiations toward a new deal. Kuemper went 12-8-4 last season with a 2.43 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. He sustained a concussion at St. Louis when run by David Backes and was lost to another head injury in Game 7 of the first round when he was hit behind the net and his head hit teammate Ryan Suter.

Niederreiter could take awhile, too, but these things usually get done. Training camp doesn't start until Sept. 18, so there's plenty of time. Niederreiter scored 14 goals, 36 points and was plus-12 in 81 games last season. He was also the Game 7 hero against Colorado, scoring two goals (including the overtime winner) and assisting on Jared Spurgeon's late tying goal in the third period.

GM Chuck Fletcher told me earlier this month his goal is to sign Niederreiter to a two- to four-year deal.

Speaking of Fletcher, I am filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN (100.3-FM) today from 3-6 p.m. CT. The Wild GM will join be at 3:35.

Also on the show will be Lou Nanne, the Star Tribune's Lavelle E. Neal III, Paul Charchian and A.J. Mansour.

Wild takes Alex Tuch at No. 18

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 27, 2014 - 8:54 PM

The Wild took Alex Tuch, a 6-4 right winger who played for the U.S. national development team, with the 18th pick in tonight’s NHL Draft in Philadelphia.

Tuch has committed to Boston College, which is expected to again be a college powerhouse next season.

The Wild had Tuch in for a couple of interviews, and was known to be very high on him. His advisor, Steve Bartlett, is also Thomas Vanek’s agent.

"He's a big, strong winger with quality hands and an NHL shot," assistant GM Brent Flahr said in a text. "We feel that he has tremendous upside and we are very excited to add a potential power forward to our group of prospects."

Tuch is a power forward who was ranked 12th in the final Central Scouting rankings. He is from Baldwinville, N.Y., and grew up playing youth hockey in Syracuse.

Here is his NHL.com profile:

• In 2013-14, his second season with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Tuch tied for the under-18 team-lead with seven game-winning goals and a plus-35 rating. He ranked third on the club with 64 points (29-35—64) in 61 games.

• A two-time medalist with Team USA, Tuch won gold at the 2014 Under-18 World Championship (0-3—3 in seven games) and bronze at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (1-3—4 in 6 games). He was also part of the U.S. Under-18 team that finished first at the 2012 Four Nations Tournament.

• Growing up, he idolized his neighbor, Tim Connolly, a Syracuse native who played 11 NHL seasons with the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.

• In 2011-12, Tuch set the Empire Junior Hockey League scoring record with 101 points (44-57—101) in 40 games as a 15-year-old.

• He has committed to Boston College for the fall of 2014: “Boston College has always been my dream school. I can remember watching them in the Frozen Four when I was six years old.”

FAVORITES

NHL team: Buffalo Sabres
Shootout move: “Forehand, kick it off the skate, forehand, backhand, shot”
Goal celebration: “Fist pump on one knee”
Video game: NHL 14
Movie: Anchorman
TV show: Breaking Bad
Actor: Will Ferrell
Most played song: ‘City of Dreams’ by Alesso and Dirty South
Website: NHL.com
Sport (other than hockey): Lacrosse
Athlete (non-hockey): LeBron James

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