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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Evening from the lonely press room from Xcel Energy Center, my home away from home.
OK, lots of news to get to:
1. Ryan Carter. Why?
I got GM Chuck Fletcher on the horn this afternoon and he said he spoke with agent Neil Sheehy back in July and had several conversations, but at that time, Fletcher decided to get into training camp and see what he had and where players were at before adding more players.
“In the last couple days, talking to Mike [Yeo] and the coaching staff, they felt strongly that Ryan would be an upgrade. He has a lot of experience. He brings versatility to a club, he kills penalties, he shoots the puck, he has had playoff success. He brings good depth to a team and different dimensions to the bottom six and provides the coaches more options in terms of building rosters from game to game.”
The Devils wanted to re-sign Carter, but they didn’t have room. He spent all of training camp in New Jersey, but Carter just didn’t feel like he could wait any longer for GM Lou Lamoriello to open up a roster spot once the Wild came in with a viable offer.
Fletcher talked with Lamoriello today, and the GM “raved about him, not just the contributions that Ryan made to New Jersey, but the work ethic and character he brings. I don’t think you can ever have too much of that.”
When Justin Fontaine comes off injured reserve, the Wild will have to make a roster move. Stu Bickel seems the likeliest candidate, although we know how much Yeo values what he can bring.
The Wild also tried to trade Kyle Brodziak over the summer to no avail. I cannot imagine that has changed. No chance the Wild wants a $3 million fourth-line left wing or center.
Asked how Carter fits in once Fontaine returns, Fletcher said, “The coaches will have to tell me who they want to play in Game One. It just goes back to all the conversations about the opening night roster and how people speak about it too much. We’ll do what we have to do to put the team on the ice the coaches want for Game 1 and we may continually make adjustments after that. I think it’ll be a game to game scenario for the early part of the season.
“Based on what we do from game to game, we’ll react accordingly.”
In other words, there could be an Iowa shuttle for awhile based on the type of lineup Yeo wants from game-to-game. For instance, next week when the Wild travels to Anaheim and Los Angeles, maybe those are games Yeo will want Bickel to play. Maybe other times he’ll want Carter in the lineup against faster teams.
2. Christian Folin and Matt Dumba were paired together in practice today. Yeo said that is a likely pair Thursday against Colorado and after seeing them paired together for a few shifts in St. Louis and third period at home against St. Louis, he’s confident they can be trusted.
Dumba, a right-shot defenseman, told me he played the left side his entire draft year. Dumba admitted that when he wasn’t supposed to play against St. Louis in the finale, he figured he wasn’t making the team. He found out at 5:20 he was playing, and made the most of it with a third-period goal and his fourth power-play assist of the preseason.
“He had a good camp before that, but he had a real strong game again there,” Yeo said. “I would say before that game, we maybe had some decisions to make, whereas after the game there was no decision to be made.”
On the guys who made the team, Yeo said, “There’s usually nothing final about final cuts. But we feel that the guys that are here deserve to be here, whether it’s younger players or older players. We had a good camp. Guys did a good job and I think we’ve seen people get rewarded for that.”
On Folin, Dumba and Zucker outplaying vets, Yeo said, “Those guys all had good camps. I mean, they needed to make this team. None of them had a spot here, none of them were going to come here and play OK and have a chance to be still here today. So those guys have come in and had very strong camps. I think we gave those guys a good workload. We gave them the opportunity to succeed and we also gave them the opportunity to fail, and they went obviously in the direction toward succeeding. They had good camps, so they should be proud of that. Same message that I’ll give them, every day is a new day and they should feel real good about being here, but you have to make sure that you stay here.”
On Dumba’s defense, Yeo said, “We want to continue to develop that. We have to work on the areas of his game that he needs to improve and he needs to bring consistently to be an effective player in this league. That said, we have to make sure we’re not limiting him, too, because he does bring a dimension that we need as far as his ability to get up ice, his ability to create offense off the rush, his ability to create offense inside the offensive zone and on the power play. We want to increase the offense that we’re bringing from the back end and we believe he’s a guy who’s capable of doing that.”
Folin said, “I put everything out there that I had. After the Saturday night game, I just thought to myself, there’s nothing else I can do. I was just hoping for the best.”
Said Dumba, “It feels good, but nothing’s set in stone, I know that. You try to reach one goal and move on to the next.”
3. On Zucker making the team one year exactly after being cut, Yeo said, “Last year is last year. It wasn’t his best camp. He came in very determined this year and he knew that he had to make the team this year – there was no sense of entitlement. He scored, which is nice. But if he scored and didn’t do other things than he wouldn’t have made the team. Where he’s going to factor in, where’s he’s going to find a place in our lineup on Day 1, he did the things necessary for that. He was playing a competitive game, he was going to the hard areas, he was taking care of the puck, he was sound defensively, he was a strong penalty killer, and that’s going to get him the opportunity to work his way into other opportunities. If you want to look at Nino last year, that’s very similar to what he did. There were times when he was on the fourth line, there were times that he was on the first line. And maybe this is an opportunity for Zucker to prove that he can be in the lineup consistently and play in different roles and play different positions. Really for young guys that’s quite often how they work their way in full time.”
On making the team, Zucker said, “It’s huge. We all know we’re just getting started as far as work goes. It’s exciting and definitely what I set out to do. I’m excited to be here and grateful for the opportunity. I’ve worked really hard for it. Now I just have to perform. It is big in my mind. I want to prove to myself that I’m not a callup and I can play in this league. I’m definitely not satisfied with it. I want to get better and I want to get better every day. I don’t want to be just another guy. I want to be somebody who helps this team win on a daily basis.”
4. Yeo said he wants to have an everyday No. 1, but as of now, the goaltending is something they’ll evaluate every day. He said “the writing may be on the wall if you want to look at it that way for Game 1.”
Actually, I still don’t have a clue, although my gut says he goes with the vet, Nik Backstrom. I know it won’t be Ilya Bryzgalov.
He was released from his tryout because Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper are both healthy and Fletcher doesn’t want to carry three goalies on a 23-man roster.
Fletcher said Bryzgalov understood and will go home to Jersey to see his family and “decompress.” Fletcher wants to sign Bryzgalov to some kind of creative two-way contract or AHL deal and those talks will come in a week or two.
“As an organization, we really appreciate what he’s done for us,” Fletcher said. “I have an awful lot of respect for him from a personal level. He’s been a great fit for our organization. We’d like to find a way to keep him sharp and keep him ready in case something happens here or even elsewhere, but I can’t say enough good things about him. I’m a little perplexed why he can’t get a job in this league. There’s just a giant chasm between the perception of Bryz and the reality. He’s a quality goalie and a great guy and fit very well on this team. I just didn’t have any interest in carrying three goalies, and I think he understood that.”
Some people on Twitter joked that Fletcher should have subbed “humungous big” for “giant.”
5. Yeo on Bickel: “He brings an element that we don’t have. I think he’s done a good job up front. Even today at practice he looks good. If we decide that we’re looking for a certain degree of toughness in a particular game, then he’s a guy who could factor in. He has shown that he can play the game, too. We don’t want somebody who’s just going to go out there and play two shifts. We want somebody who’s going to bring some momentum and try to be physical on the forecheck. He understands that part of the game, plus he’s there to stick up for his teammates when needed.”
6. Justin Fontaine practiced today and felt good. He wants to play Thursday, but while Yeo said, “There’s a chance,” Yeo continued, “I’ll be cautious with that one. He’s missed a lot of time here in camp and I’ve since the pace of play increase since the first week of camp. So we have to make sure that we’re making the right decision and 100 percent confident that he’s ready to go.”
My guess is they hold him out the first two games with this glute injury and play him in Anaheim next week. That’ll give him basically two weeks more to heal.
7. If you remember last year, the Wild got burned a few times in the Colorado series by Patrick Roy pulling his goalie with a ton of time left for an extra attacker. So it was humorous today when Yeo practiced 6-on-5s.
I jokingly asked if he was practicing 6-on-5s or 5-on-6s.
Yeo, chuckling, “Both.”
The Wild did a lot of situational stuff today, like 4-on-4s, and Tuesday will really work special teams.
Here was Colorado’s lines today, courtesy of the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater.
8. One big reason why Erik Haula was back at third-line center today, my guess, is because of how successful he was tracking Nathan MacKinnon in Games 3-7 in the playoffs.
The Wild has agreed to terms with center/winger Ryan Carter on a one-year, two-way contract.
Carter, who hails from White Bear Lake and played at Mankato, will be paid $725,000 in the NHL or $350,000 in the minors. But he was signed to play with the big club. It's clear the Wild look at him as a better fourth-line option than Cody Almond or Stephane Veilleux, who were both placed on waivers today.
The Wild actually offered Carter a one-way contract, I'm told, but Carter chose the two-way for slightly more money because if it doesn't pan out here, he can be placed on waivers and potentially picked up by somebody. One other team wanted to sign Carter, and so did Jersey, but the Devils don't have the room.
Here is a feature I wrote on Carter, a hero in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, a few years back.
He'll practice the next two days and likely make his Wild debut Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche. He has gone through an entire training camp with the Devils.
Carter, who had 10 points in 62 games last season with New Jersey, has scored 31 goals and 68 points in 360 games with Anaheim, Carolina, Florida and New Jersey.
He can play both center and wing and is a hard-working, good-skating checking role player. He finishes checks, can kill penalties and plays a responsible game. And as you can see in that feature, he has been good in the playoffs before.
When Justin Fontaine comes off IR, the Wild will have to make another roster move now.
"I'm beyond excited," Carter said by phone from Jersey. "It should be fun. It's kind of been a whirlwind. It kind of happened fast and is starting to sink in.
"There's a lot to be excited about going there. Everything away from the rink aside, I get a chance to play with Zach again. He's a good friend of mine. And when you look at the team and the roster and to have a chance to win, that's something that's extremely important to me. Going there with a chance to play and a chance to win is really exciting."
I'll update this blog later with all the post-practice stuff today from the gents who made the team, but one thing: Yeo changed the lines late in practice. Here are the new ones:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Mikko Koivu-Thomas Vanek
Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker-Kyle Brodziak-Stu Bickel/Justin Fontaine
My guess is Carter will play in Bickel's spot on Thursday and Fontaine will stay on injured reserve until the Anaheim game (Game 3) because he has missed so much of camp with a glute injury.
You can see the D pairs and the goalies on the other blog. Like I said, I'll be back with a bigger blog regarding all of today's stuff.
The Wild's 23-man roster is set. It's actually at 22.
This morning, the Wild released goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from his pro tryout, placed Cody Almond and Stephane Veilleux on waivers and placed Justin Fontaine on injured reserve.
Fontaine is practicing though and close to a return.
What this means: Jason Zucker, Stu Bickel, Matt Dumba, Christian Folin and Nate Prosser have made the opening-night roster.
Don't close the door on Bryzgalov yet. GM Chuck Fletcher is expected to talk to his agent, Ritch Winter, later this morning about a two-way contract or AHL deal. It'll be up to Bryzgalov if he wants to accept.
Today was the waiver deadline to create space for tomorrow's 4 p.m. roster deadline. By placing two guys on waivers, the Wild can technically sign Bryzgalov to a two-way deal and fit him on the roster before he would have to go on waivers. It also means no roster move once Fontaine is ready to play, which is soon.
My guess is Fontaine goes to the Vanek-Koivu line once he's ready.
Also, Almond has an out in his contract where if he clears waivers, he can return to his Swiss team in Geneva rather than reporting to Iowa. Almond tells me he has no idea what he'll do yet, that he wants to put himself in the best situation to establish himself as an NHL player and he'll see what the next 24 hours brings.
Lines in today's practice:
Greetings from Xcel Energy Center, where I have the privilege of watching Wild practice while Mr. Russo makes his way back from St. Louis.
The Wild made some moves today, getting down to 27 players, which includes goalies Josh Harding and Ilya Bryzgalov. So that means some more moves need to be made to get the team down to the final roster of 23 plus injured players.
Today’s moves: The Wild put center Brett Sutter and wing Curt Gogol on waivers. Centers Tyler Graovac and Zack Phillips, wings Michael Keranen and Joel Rechlicz and defensemen Jonathon Blum, Justin Falk and Gustav Olofsson were sent to Iowa of the AHL.
Both Sutter and Gogol will be sent to Iowa should they clear waivers.
I’ll get back to you after practice is over.
At some point yesterday somebody asked me on Twitter if the Wild may claim Nate Prosser off waivers.
I immediately dismissed it. Wrong!
In a move that caught me by surprise, the Wild reacquired defenseman Nate Prosser this morning by snagging him off waivers from the St. Louis Blues (coincidentally tonight's Minnesota opponent in a preseason game).
Prosser, 28, a native of Elk River and product of Colorado College, played 126 games for the Wild over parts of five seasons. Here's that big personality profile I wrote on Prosser last season.
"I'm excited to get back to the locker room I'm so familiar with," Prosser said via text. "Pretty whirlwind of a day, but I'm excited to get back home and get that Wild jersey on."
The irony is the Wild had an internal debate this past summer about whether or not to re-sign Prosser. See this blog to refresh your memory. But Prosser wanted a one-way contract. The Wild wanted to sign him to a two-way contract. Now the Wild gets him back on that two-way.
I'm at the airport on my way to St. Louis, so I'll grab GM Chuck Fletcher prior to the game on the move.
But the old adage is you can never have too many NHL defensemen in your organization, so this was a move to add veteran depth. The coaches trust his game and he's a character kid, Fletcher said via text. If he doesn't make the team, Prosser would have to be placed on waivers again. He is on a two-way contract.
Basically, it sounds like right-shot depth if the organization decides there's not room for BOTH Christian Folin and Matt Dumba inside the top-6. As I have written a lot the past week, the only way BOTH make the team is if the Wild feels there's room for BOTH inside the top-6.
If there's a chance one would be the seventh or eighth defenseman, he'll go to the minors to develop.
Here's more from Prosser courtesy of my St. Louis Dispatch buddy Jeremy Rutherford:
Apparently, he had his house in Minny on the market. Hurried this morning and told agent not to sell.
Here's some quotes from his scrum:
"What a day here. I was just on the ice, expecting to go through a morning skate, got pulled off at like 10:50. Doug (Armstrong) said he doesn't know which team has claimed me yet, but he'll come back and talk to me at 11 and let me know. He came back at 11 and told me it was Minnesota. It's a pretty funny business, you know. You don't know what's going on. It's the nature of the business right now."
Going back to Wild?
"I know the coaches, I know the players. It's not like it's going to be unfamiliar to me. I'm going to go back to a place where I'm from obviously. I'm excited for this new journey."
Talk to Minnesota in summer, surprised their interested?
"We talked. There was a little bit of communication there from the beginning of July to mid-July. But then it just kind of broke off there. That's when I kind of looked elsewhere. I knew there was some interest but we couldn't keep waiting and waiting. That's when we moved on."
Get on their plane tonight?
"Yeah. They're here ... I'll probably just get on the plane with them tonight. I'm like literally at a loss for words. This whole situation, the way the summer went down, coming into camp here, a whole new organization, a whole new team ... put on waivers. I've never been put on waivers, so I didn't really know the situation at all. Get pulled off the ice and tell me the team that I've been playing for the last few years claims me ... what am I supposed to think. That's bizarre and exiting and funny business all wrapped up in one."
The Wild is playing a very young lineup tonight. The Blues are playing their big guns and toughies. It should be interesting. I'll update the blog with stuff from today's skate either right before my flight or from the air.
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