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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Afternoon from American Airlines Center, where the Wild and Dallas Stars play tonight.
It’ll be Minnesota’s first game since Monday, so it’ll be interesting to see how quickly players can adjust to the speed from the outset. Different playing than in practice.
It’s Mike Modano Night here at the Hanger. I wrote about No. 9 in today’s paper, so check that out here. Virtually everybody who’s anybody from Dallas and Minnesota North Stars history will be in the sold-out barn as Modano’s No. 9 rises to the rafters. He’ll join Neal Broten (No. 7), Bill Goldsworthy (No. 8) and Bill Masterton (No. 19) with banners on the rafters. Broten’s in the house, as are members of the family of Goldsworthy and Masterton. The ceremony starts at 6 p.m. and will be live on Fox Sports North.
Wild’s excited to play again and players were loose this morning going into a big game against the team five points behind in the standings.
Ilya Bryzgalov, already a beauty among teammates, comically came out of the locker room and asked GM Chuck Fletcher if he were a forward or defenseman growing up, would Fletcher have drafted him. Fletcher said, “Probably not.” Bryzgalov was blown away: “6-3, 214 pounds, I’d probably be a 70- or 80-point guy.”
Said Erik Haula, who humorously had his stall between the two goalies at the morning skate, just said, “Bryz is a funny guy.”
Darcy Kuemper will make his 16th consecutive start tonight. He’s 11-2-2 since Jan. 7 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. It’s no sure thing, coach Mike Yeo said, but there’s a “good chance” Bryzgalov will start his first game with the Wild on Sunday against the St. Louis Blues. The Wild has a 2 ½-hour flight home after the game, loses an hour because of the daylight savings change and the puck drop is less than 24 hours after the start of tonight’s game.
The Wild acquired another goalie to spell Kuemper as the Wild begins a crazy sprint to the finish of 20 games in 37 days. So it makes sense for Bryzgalov to start against the Blues.
First things first, tonight. The Wild has lost 18 of its past 19 games in Dallas (1-13-5). This is a house of horrors.
Matt Moulson has no clue about that. It was hysterical listening to him talk about how much confidence he has playing in Dallas. I’ve never heard a Wild player say that in my life.
But Moulson has seven goals and 10 points in eight career game against Dallas and seven points in four career games in Dallas, including a career-high four-goal game in Dec. 2011. His first game with the Sabres, last game with the Sabres and first game with the Wild will come against the Stars, so he says it’s “familiar.”
“It’s exciting to play against the team you’re battling with for position and to get into games that mean a lot,” Moulson said, a reference to the Sabres being out of it. “I had a little taste of that last year (with the Islanders) and it’ll be good to get back into it this year.”
Cody McCormick will also make his Wild debut, while Justin Fontaine and Nate Prosser are the scratches.
Prosser has become one of the Wild’s most efficient defensemen the past two months, so I was a little surprised he was scratched. He’s plus-8 in the past 19 games.
Said Yeo: “I mean it’s going to be tough every game. We’ve got seven guys who are healthy and who are playing well. That’s what I told (Clayton Stoner) last game. I didn’t want to just get in a situation where we just scratch one guy repeatedly. So, if we have to rotate things a little bit here, we have a lot of games coming up in a not a lot of time, so we’re going to need everybody healthy. We’re going to need everybody on top of our game. So we get (Stoner) back in and (Prosser) out tonight and then there’s obviously a good chance (Prosser) will get back in tomorrow. We’re not going to be in a situation where we just repeatedly sit somebody night after night. If everybody keeps performing the way that we have, then we’ll keep getting everybody in. We’ll make sure everybody stays on top of our game. Like I said, I think it’s something like 20 days in 37 days. There’s going to be plenty of opportunity for everybody there.”
On Fontaine being scratched, Yeo said it hurts him that he’s not on power play or penalty kill.
“I think more than anything else, I’m not disappointed with (Fontaine) but truth be told, Heater’s outperformed him in this last little bit. We’ve got a new guy that I want to get him in the lineup (McCormick). I want to blend his physical presence into our game, so it’s kind of that how’s you end up finding yourself out in that situation.”
On McCormick, Yeo said, “We have come into this building and not shown enough of a physical presence and I think he’s going to help us with that. That’s part of why Stonie’s in there too, but that said, I think it’s a good opportunity for him to start to get to understand our game, start to get familiar with our system and the players that he’s playing with, so yeah, we have to give him that chance for sure.”
On how he’ll decide which of his power-play units will go out first, “We’ve got two good units. Obviously, if a line’s out there, Mikko’s line’s out there for 30 seconds and they draw a penalty, the other line will go. But otherwise, it’ll be a bit of a rotation. It might be a bit of who’s going and who’s not. We got two units that we consider No. 1 units and so, right now it’s only about the team. This is not about individuals. This is not about anything other than our group and winning hockey games, and so if you’re splitting a power play and each group’s getting a minute, then there’s really no benefit to one group going out first. Quite often you could actually have the benefit of going out second because you’re not getting the top penalty killing unit off the hop too, so we’re just going to rotate it pretty much and whoever is going is going.”
On what scares him about Dallas, Yeo said, “What scares me about this hockey team or more so this game is I want to make sure we’re ready to go. The long layoff, for one thing, that’s why we focused on a lot of battle drills yesterday in practice and obviously we tried to stay sharp with our systems and making sure we’re practicing with pace, so we’re ready for that. But at the same time, you worry about a bit of a drop in your intensity and your focus when the game starts. But more than anything else, I want to see us come out and be aggressive, assertive with our game. Yeah, they’re playing well. I respect that and they’re a good team. That’s great, but so are we. So let’s make sure that when we drop the puck, we should be ready to fight. We know that they’re going to come at us but we got to be ready to go at them.”
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Rich Peverley
Erik Cole - Cody Eakin – Alex Chiasson
Antoine Roussel – Vernon Fiddler – Ryan Garbutt
Ray Whitney – Shawn Horcoff - Valeri Nichuskin
Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Brenden Dillon
Kevin Connauton – Sergei Gonchar
Wild and Calgary Flames tonight at the X.
The Wild has won five in a row at home and four in a row overall for the NHL’s longest winning streak. It’s 8-2-2 in its past 12.
Gary Bettman, the NHL’s beloved Commish, will be in the house tonight. He’s stopping over on his way back to New York from the Heritage Classic in Vancouver to get wined and dined by owner Craig Leipold, who wants nothing more than a Winter Classic (and a Stanley Cup) but has made clear he’d settle for a stadium series game if that helps his cause to get you fine hockey loving fans a Winter Classic.
I’m meeting with Bettman before the game and will let you know what he says.
I’ll be on Fox Sports North during their pregame show tonight and again during the first intermission. I’ll also me on SiriusXM at 3:30 p.m. CT.
Captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Marco Scandella will return to the Wild’s lineup tonight from a broken ankle and sprained knee, respectively. This effectively gives the Wild its first healthy lineup since the second period of the second game of the season, although obviously Josh Harding remains sidelined and Jason Zucker is working his way back from a leg injury.
Although, and don’t freak out all you Zucker fanatics, if the Wild continues to be healthy in its top-9, my guess is Zucker returns to Iowa once he’s cleared. Koivu and Scandella being activated off IR means the Wild’s at 23 players (or three healthy scratched per night). Zucker is skating on his own daily.
Koivu is expected to center Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle tonight.
“Very excited,” he said. “It’s been a long wait. Kinda frustrating all the time after the [Jan. 6] surgery. Very excited. Little bit nervous, but that’s part of the step to take to the game. It’ll be fun.”
The Wild was 11-4-2 without him.
Koivu said, “It makes it a lot easier when you’re out and the team’s winning. It’s easier on everyone. Now I’ll try to help the team on my part. I have to be very patient with my game and go step by step and build it up again, but I’m confident it’ll go well.”
Koivu, five points from being the Wild’s all-time leading scorer, was playing at his highest level when he was injured. He had eight points in his final five games before getting hurt, including three 2-point games, including two assists on Ryan Suter’s eventual hat trick while playing on the broken ankle.
He’ll also help bigtime in the faceoff circle as the Wild’s gone from a top-5 team to 15th in the NHL in the 17 games he has missed.
Scandella will also return to the lineup. He’s excited and is trying to get used to a knee brace.
Clayton Stoner will be scratched. My guess is he would have played if a couple of Calgary’s tough guys, like Kevin Westgarth, weren’t hurt.
“We’re excited to have [Scandella] back, a guy we definitely want to get back in the groove here, especially the level that he was playing at before he got hurt,” coach Mike Yeo said. “That said, our defensive group has been playing very well lately. It’s a tough choice, but at the same we’ve got to get him going.
“The message to Stony is he shouldn’t expect to just get sat every game. Been very pleased with his game. We all saw what happened in Edmonton and the way he was able to come back in that game. He’s been a warrior for us. He’s been a physical presence, and we’re going to need him. This is one game. This is a decision we made for tonight.”
I did get a question asking if the Wild’s sitting Stoner because it plans to trade him before Wednesday. I know he’s in the last year of his deal, but the Wild’s not very physical from the back end and I’d think the Wild would want Stoner if it makes the playoffs. In fact, I’d think the Wild would consider re-signing him eventually. So I think this is just a decision tonight as Keith Ballard stays in the lineup.
Stephane Veilleux was expected to be scratched up front with Mike Rupp, but he will now skate in warmups. If he plays, I’d think Torrey Mitchell sits.
Devan Dubnyk was put on waivers by Nashville. As you know, the Wild almost certainly will add a goalie by Wednesday’s 2 p.m. deadline.
If you take Dubnyk, it will cost no assets. But he’s in the middle of a terrible season with Edmonton and Nashville (11-18-3 with a 3.43 goals-against average and .891 save percentage). He’s 61-77-22 in his career with a 2.90 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
To me, he makes sense if you plan to go with Darcy Kuemper the rest of the way with Niklas Backstrom as your backup and you don’t mind having Dubnyk ride the pine as a third goalie.
Otherwise, I think you can do better via trade. Obviously, it all has to do with what the price is for guys like Jaroslav Halak and Martin Brodeur. Carolina’s also got goalies available, and there’s always Ilya Bryzgalov.
Backstrom is dealing with an abdominal injury. He’s going on the ice every day like a good soldier, but since he said it’s up to the team to divulge what’s wrong with him, it’s obviously something significant. So if the Wild knows he has got an injury that will eventually need repair, this gives more credence to why the Wild’s looking so hard for quality goalie insurance.
At this point, the net belongs to Kuemper and it should. He deserves it and has shown he’s capable (10-2-2 in his past 15 starts). He was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week today after giving up 51 of 52 shots in two wins at Edmonton and Vancouver, excluding another 7 in the Vancouver shootout.
But another goalie is bound to be here in the next two days. Again, to answer the most oft-asked question I receive from people who clearly don’t read the blogs or article, if the Wild acquires a goalie, the Wild will likely go with three goalies the rest of the way (unless Backstrom’s injury is serious enough to result in immediately surgery).
Rosters are unlimited as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday barring you don’t go over the cap.
I have gotten a lot of questions about who could be trade bait from the Wild.
With such a bad 2014 draft, I’d think any draft pick is in play (especially Winnipeg’s second-rounder from the Devin Setoguchi trade), although Fletcher has said he’d prefer not to trade his first-rounder for a second year in a row.
I’d think Kyle Brodziak is on the block and Torrey Mitchell is expendable. Obviously, Rupp. I’d think the Wild would want to avoid trading defensemen unless it’s getting one back. Heatley has played well lately, but since he’s in the last year of his deal, he obviously would be tradable as long as a partner wasn’t on his no-trade list. Still, I’d think very unlikely. As for the prospects, it would not shock me at all if Zucker was bait IF the return was significant.
Also, another oft-asked and very good question, if you pro-rate the Wild's available cap space, the Wild could add roughly $5.5 million in players (cap, not dollars) at the deadline without giving up a player in return. If the Wild went over $5.5 million, it would need to trade a player or place Josh Harding on LTIR.
UPDATE: Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher today announced the National Hockey League (NHL) club has signed right wing Kurtis Gabriel to a three-year entry-level contract starting with the 2014-15 season.
“We’re very happy with Kurtis’ progress this year and look forward to him developing within our organization,” said Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “He’s a hard-working kid that brings an intriguing package of size, physical competitiveness and character.”
Gabriel, 20 (4/20/93), has recorded 42 points (12-30=42), including three game-winning goals, 86 penalty minutes (PIM) and a plus-4 rating in 54 games with the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound native of New Market, Ont., serves as an assistant captain and leads his team in assists, is third in PIM and fourth in scoring. He has tallied 91 points (30-61=91) and 278 PIM in 226 career WHL games during four seasons with Owen Sound. Gabriel was selected by Minnesota in the third-round (81st overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Afternoon from heaven on Earth, Vancouver, where the Wild completes the tail end of a back-to-back tonight against the Canuckleheads.
Vancouver snapped a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a 1-0 win over St. Louis. The Wild is 12-4-2 in 2014. Since Jan. 2, the Wild ranks second in the NHL in win percentage (.722) and save percentage (.929), third in goals against (2.11), tied for third in points (26) and tied for fourth in wins (12).
Eddie Lack vs. Darcy Kuemper tonight -- just like a typical Canucks-Wild clash
Lack is coming off a shutout over the Blues. Kuemper will make his 14th straight start, by far a franchise record for a rookie (previous was four). Since Jan. 7, he is 9-2-2 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Over that stretch, he ranks tied for second among NHL goalies in wins, fourth in save percentage and sixth in goals-against average.
Ryan Kesler and young defenseman Chris Tanev returns to the Canucks' lineup tonight.
Mikko Koivu skated this morning and then said he's not playing tonight.
"Wait another day and get a good team practice on Sunday (Wild has day off Saturday because it arrives in Minnesota at 4:30 a.m. from Vancouver) and then look at it again [for Calgary on Monday]," Koivu said. "It's getting better and it's pretty much the same story it's been this whole week. It's slowly getting there and getting more comfortable on skates, but it's still not quite where I want to be, especially battles and things like that.
"It is what it is. But I think now we just got to put the emotions away and be smart and wait another day and see on Sunday, Monday where we're at."
Yeo said Mikael Granlund is fine (read last night's blog for what I'm alluding to) and that defensemen Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner, also banged up last night, are good to go.
"Those six [defensemen] battled real hard and played a real strong game yesterday. Certainly I don't think it would hurt Marco [Scandella] to have another day of practice, another day of rest," Yeo said.
Keith Ballard returns to Vancouver for the first time since signing with Minnesota last summer. He's obviously had previous returns to Phoenix and Florida, so he shouldn't be freaking out. He's coming off one of his best games in awhile, going plus-3 last night in a 3-0 win over the Oilers.
"I think I've played pretty well for the last few weeks before the break, so it feels good getting my game back again," Ballard said. "I thought I started the season real well and had a tough stretch after I got hurt [with a concussion, then broken ribs]. So it's a good feeling when things are going your way and you're contributing."
Good day from the Rexall Place, where the former Northwest Division rival Wild and Oilers clash tonight at 8:30 p.m. CT.
I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the 8 p.m. pregame show and first intermission to talk about the Wild and all the trade rumors running rampant throughout the NHL. I’ll also riff about them in my Sunday Insider this week as well.
The goaltending situation is something I feel the Wild is trying to address before Wednesday’s 2 p.m. deadline, but a lot could have to do with the next three games beginning tonight in Edmonton.
Darcy Kuemper, 8-2-2 in his past 13 appearances with a 2.18 goals-against average and .929 save percentage, will make his 13th consecutive start. Depending on how tonight goes, coach Mike Yeo even opened the door for Kuemper to start tomorrow’s game in Vancouver.
Here is my profile on Kuemper from today’s paper, and I have a couple extras on the bottom.
Yeo originally contemplated starting Backstrom tonight in Edmonton if he was healthy.
“We argued back and forth as far as whether Backy should play, whether Kuemps should play, whether Kuemps is capable of playing back-to-back games,” Yeo said. “There’s a lot of things, but bottom line is we just want to get off to a good start and we want to see if Kuemps can pick up where he left off.”
There is no doubt the game in Vancouver is a big game. The Canucks are one of the teams the Wild is bound to be fighting with the rest of the way to make the playoffs. But first things first, get the two points tonight, so I think it makes more sense to start Kuemper and then worry about Vancouver tomorrow.
Maybe Kuemper can start tomorrow. Maybe they come back with Backstrom. Last March, Backstrom did have a 35-save performance there during the Wild’s last visit last season to snap Minnesota’s 0-9-2 winless streak in Vancouver.
Yeo says Backstrom is feeling fine, although he has clearly been getting a bunch of treatment on his abdominal region lately and he was chatting with athletic therapist Don Fuller a few times during the skate.
Like I alluded to above, I just don’t see how the Wild doesn’t address the goaltending situation prior to Wednesday. Remember, Backstrom told me last month that he played the final month of last season with a tear in his “core muscle.” He told me last week he visited the surgeon who operated on his sports hernia and they finally figured out what’s ailing him. He said it’s up to the team to divulge it though.
So clearly he’s fighting through something serious. So to me, even if the Wild opts that it wants to ride Kuemper the rest of the way, my gut says they bring in some kind of goalie as insurance because, what if Kuemper gets hurt?
The question is what type of goalie? An experienced No. 2? Or do you wait as long as you can and hope the price comes down for a guy like Ryan Miller? As I’ve written many times, Chuck Fletcher and Sabres GM Tim Murray are close friends from their days in Florida and Anaheim. The Wild has inquired about Martin Brodeur, and I wrote him in last Sunday’s column.
Others maybe available? Jaroslav Halak, Cam Ward, Ilya Bryzgalov, whom the Wild inquired about before he signed with Edmonton.
Captain Mikko Koivu (ankle) and defenseman Marco Scandella (knee) won’t play tonight. Yeo said “tomorrow’s a new day,” so it’s possible the Wild doesn’t want to risk playing them back-to-back and Koivu and Scandella are possible for tomorrow. My guess is Scandella is less likely than Koivu, although that could have a lot to do with tonight’s final.
So Mikael Granlund, who finished third in the Olympics in scoring and made the all-tournament team, will center the top line with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville tonight.
I was going to do a Granlund lead note for my notebook for tomorrow’s paper, but I may hold that for Saturday’s paper with a morning skate doubtful tomorrow. He was real good today talking about playing with legendary good guy/hockey player Teemu Selanne in the Olympics.
I’ve got some good color on Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter rooming together in Sochi that I’ll write for tomorrow’s paper. Some funny stuff.
Yeo believes Granlund has a chance to do something special these final 23 games. He talked to Granlund about that yesterday.
“He’s flying, he’s flying,” Yeo said. “He should be used to playing at a high pace. Those are fast games that we got to watch in the Olympics, and the level that he played at, I’m hoping he can continue that on.”
Justin Fontaine is slated to skate on the second line with Dany Heatley and ChAHlie Coyle. Fontaine, a 26-year-old rookie who is third on the Wild with 12 goals, hails from Bonnyville, Alberta, which is 2 ½ hours northeast of Edmonton. He says he’s got 15 buddies and his entire family coming down for tonight’s game.
I’ll have more on Fontaine in Friday’s game notebook. For the rest of the lines, see yesterday’s blog.
I mentioned in the Kuemper piece how players tell me he goes into the room and apologizes to them when he gives up a bad goal.
I asked Kuemper about that and trimmed it from the article: “My job is to keep the puck out of the net. They’ve done a good job this year and don’t let anything faze them. I just want them to know that if I let in a bad goal it doesn’t mean I’m going to have a bad game. Or if I let one in that wasn’t a great goal it doesn’t mean that I’m out for the game. It was one and I’m going to turn around and be there for them and I know they’re going to be there for me.”
On that Toronto loss, he said, “That game you don’t want to say anything in front of the whole group. You feel bad and everyone knows you feel bad. You don’t always have to say something. They know what you’re feeling like. It was tough because those are the games that you feel like you’ve let them down. They stuck with me and when I came back up they didn’t shut down and they still had confidence in me and that helped me play with a lot of confidence.”
It’s funny how much the Wild players mess with Kuemper. When he stands up to give interviews, there’s a chorus of veterans chiming, “Uhhhhhhhh,” in the background because he kind of “Uhhhhh’s” a lot when he speaks.
“He’s a fun kid,” Dany Heatley said.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft who says he has never scored against Kuemper in the pros, played with Kuemper in Red Deer.
“He was a talkative guy in junior,” RNH said. “Everybody liked him in Red Deer. He is
outgoing. We played jokes on one another. He's a big guy in net. He's so well-positioned and he battles hard. Obviously with goaltending, it takes a little longer to get to the NHL level, but he's
worked his way up. He's taken advantage of his opportunity. That's huge. You have to capitalize on things and it's good to see. He wasn't a high draft pick but he got better as he got older, as a 20-year-old. My second year with him, when he was 20, that's when he really found himself. I do know his
weaknesses a bit though and I'll try and use that [knowledge] Thursday.”
See you on the tube and the Interweb tonight, and the newspaper tomorrow.
Very eventful morning down at Xcel Energy Center. Paramedics actually had to come out there twice, both Nashville related.
Pete Weber, the legendary NHL play-by-play man and only TV voice in Predators history, had a heart attack this morning and was taken to a local hospital from the arena.
Weber underwent a heart procedure and immediately felt the pressure leave his heart. I just visited him and thank God, he is resting comfortably in ICU. As I jokingly told him, I was worried I caused this because I did his radio show in Nashville last night.
Pete is as good a person as there is. I got to spend a weekend last June with he and his lovely wife, Claudia, at the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association conference in Salsbury, N.C. It was an awesome time, and Claudia is on her way to St. Paul now. Weber will remain in St. Paul through the weekend.
Weber thanks the doctors, paramedics and his ICU nurses.
"They did everything they could to calm me. I was more scared than anything," said Weber. "I thank everybody for their well wishes."
The second incident had to do with a scary scene in which GM David Poile, while standing in the tunnel between the visitor’s locker room and the bench, was struck by a deflected puck in the face.
He was immediately cut open and hit the deck. Nashville’s training staff and both Wild athletic therapists, Don Fuller and John Worley, treated Poile as paramedics were called.
Poile, under his own power, slowly walked himself from the trainer’s table to a stretcher so he could be taken by ambulance to local hospital for an examination. He looked groggy, had cotton in his nose and a puffed-up eye. He will remain there overnight for evaluation and observation. He took a lot of stitches, I'm told, and they're worried about a concussion and other facial damage. Remember, he is the U.S. GM too for the Olympics and is supposed to fly to Sochi on Sunday, so we'll see if that can happen.
"He's in the hockey world. He'll be ready to rock," Preds forward Eric Nystrom said.
According to a few Predators players, Shea Weber and Roman Josi were passing from board to board and a puck skipped on the ice, deflected off Josi’s blade and ricocheted into an unsuspecting Poile.
“Just looking at it, it was above the eye, so hopefully there’s no damage to the eye,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s the first thing you worry about, but it was a rocket that came across. That’s the danger of being in that tunnel. That’s why I always get nervous when you have kids or have staff from upstairs that want to stand in the tunnel. It seems like it’s real easy and safe, but it’s not. It was a hard, rocket pass that came across that skipped and hit him pretty flush, so we hope that everything’s fine there.”
Wild players are wearing white tonight. Polar Vertex Night, I guess.
Darcy Kuemper vs. Carter Hutton tonight.
Johan Gustafsson has been recalled to back up Kuemper because Niklas Backstrom is day-to-day with the same abdominal soreness that didn’t allow him to start in Los Angeles on Jan. 7 and travel to Dallas on Jan. 21.
The Wild has lucked out lately because there have been no back-to-backs since before the Christmas break. There are
five six after the Olympic break, so GM Chuck Fletcher may have to address the goaltending issue if Josh Harding won’t be able to return and Backstrom is going to be plagued by this nagging injury the rest of the way.
The hope from the team is that the Olympic break will be able to help Backstrom get to 100 percent.
If the Wild is comfortable going with Kuemper the rest of the way as No. 1 – and he’s given them every reason to think he can continue to get the workload – I wonder if Fletcher still looks to acquire an experienced goalie on a two-way contract as insurance. It’d be hard to get one on a one-way contract because if all of a sudden Backstrom is OK and Harding can come back, suddenly you’re overrun with goalies on a max 23-man roster.
This is nothing new to the Wild. The Wild’s goaltending situation has been, for lack of a better term, day-to-day all year starting with Backstrom straining his knee in Nashville the third game of the season.
“I know last year was a condensed schedule, but this year has felt every bit the same,” said Yeo, and he’s right because of the Olympics (Wild played 48 games in 99 days last year; this year it played the same amount of games in a league-low 101 days if I remember correctly). “Even though [Backstrom] hasn’t been the starting goalie, there’s also for that backup goalie a heavy workload. He’s got to make sure his game’s staying sharp in practice.”
So Yeo hopes the Olympics give him the rest he needs to get healthy because “we’re going to need him. With the amount of back-to-back games and amount of games we’re playing in a short period of time and just even sometimes to put a veteran guy in and a guy that’s been in those type of situations, certainly we’re going to need him.”
The Wild closes the Olympic break before most teams in the league and some teams start earlier than the Wild. The Wild also plays three games in the first nine days after the break, so the games in hand teams have on the Wild? They’ll catch up. That’s why tonight’s game is so important. The Wild needs the two points to continue to have a cushion on the teams behind them.
Nashville has a game at home against Anaheim on Saturday, so the Preds shouldn’t look past tonight’s game. The danger for the Wild is they could with five guys (maybe four if Mikko Koivu is ruled out) going to the Olympics and most every other player headed to the beach Friday and Saturday.
The Preds are playing well and have pushed themselves back into the playoff hunt, so Yeo expects Nashville’s best tonight and warned the Wild to beware of looking past tonight for the break.
After tonight, Yeo said he’ll tell the players to turn off their brains and forget about hockey for a little while. In fact, the Wild’s strength coach, Kirk Olson, will tell players to not do anything exercise-wise for four days and then give them a program to start up again before the players must report back for practice Feb. 19 at 2 p.m.
Players have all been weighed in so they have a baseline for what they should be once they report again. The team will then have a mini-training camp before its schedule resumes Feb. 27 in Edmonton.
But tonight, Yeo said, “We cannot have any letdowns.”
What else? Stephane Veilleux has cleared waivers and been assigned to Iowa. Marco Scandella is walking well on his sprained right knee and says he got lucky.
Also, I threw the Chad Rau trade on the blog yesterday and didn’t give you any foundation for understanding it because it was so minor. After getting a Twitter freak out, I realize now I probably should have explained the move.
First of all, minor-league trades are made every day in the NHL. Heck, Iowa made two yesterday. The only reason why this got a press release here in Minnesota is because Rau is on an NHL deal.
This is a trade that will never impact the Wild. The Wild runs two organizations and this was a move for Iowa.
Rau has been scratched more than a dozen times this year because Iowa has been forced to rotate veterans. Veterans are deemed to be any player that has more than 260 pro games I believe. You can only dress six in the AHL. Iowa has seven, so every night, one of the vets has to be scratched. That’s why David Steckel wanted out at the start of the year. Back then, Iowa had eight and two were scratched per night.
So, this was not fair to Rau, this wasn’t fair to Iowa. It’s a stupid rule when every night one “vet” has to see four ECHLers who aren’t as good as him play in Iowa’s lineup because one of them are not allowed to play.
Rau hasn’t been called up in two years. It’s not his fault the Wild is deeper today than it was when he got callups a few years ago and has players like Granlund, Niederreiter, Coyle, Zucker, Haula above him in the depth chart.
So in order to give Rau a chance to play every day and get a contract next year, the Wild traded him. They were doing him a favor. This was no slight of a beloved hometown boy, as some of my Twitter followers seemed to take it as.
This was a minor-league trade, so chillax. Like I said, I realize now I should have given you the context of the trade yesterday.
That’s it for me. I’ll be on Fox Sports North during tonight’s pregame show and first intermission.
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