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
Afternoon from MSP, where I’m about to hustle through this blog to get to my flight for Dallas.
Finally, after four off-days, the Wild will play Saturday night for the first time since Monday. Unusual break in the schedule and coach Mike Yeo said today he’s “excited to put to action” the work the Wild did this week.
Saturday night will be Mike Modano Night in Dallas. I wrote a feature on Modano for Saturday’s paper. His No. 9 is being retired by the Stars/North Stars franchise. Star-studded event (Norm Green will be there!) with a golf outing, private dinner tonight and then a ceremony tomorrow that’s supposed to be off the charts.
There’s a “green carpet” event as guests arrive. Fans are encouraged to show up three hours before the game with the ceremony starting 90 minutes before puck drop.
So I encourage you to read Saturday’s story.
The Wild is 1-13-5 in its past 19 in Dallas since March 21, 2003. The Wild snapped a 16-game winless streak there last season but has lost two there since, including arguably the worst game of this season Jan. 21.
The Wild’s feeling much better about its game since, is 14-4-2 this calendar year and has won five in a row.
Darcy Kuemper will make his 16th consecutive start. He is 11-2-2 in 16 starts since Jan. 7 (one no-decision) with a 1.95 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick are also expected to make their Wild debuts. Moulson looks really good on that line with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle (for the lines, see yesterday’s blog), by the way.
“We’re going to a building that typically we haven’t performed well in,” said Yeo, saying he wants his team ready for a good, intense game against a Stars team playing well right now.
During the Wild’s hiatus, the eighth-place Stars have pulled within five of Minnesota, ninth-place Phoenix within six.
Yeo doesn’t want to look past Saturday, but he doesn’t want Ilya Bryzgalov just sitting around either, so he said there’s “certainly a chance we put him in vs. St. Louis” on Sunday.
That’ll be a tough game for Minnesota. The clock springs forward after Saturday’s game, so the Wild plays in Dallas the night before and loses an hour on the way back. St. Louis plays in Denver also Saturday, but an afternoon game, so the Blues should be in Minnesota before the puck drops on the Wild’s game.
We had another fun one-minute press scrum with Bryzgalov today.
Q: How much are you looking forward to starting Sunday?
A: We practice to play in the game.
Q: How excited are you to play in front of the home fans?
A: Yeah, sure.
Q: Feel more comfortable in practice?
A: Yeah, better and better.
Q: Any superstitions or routines?
Maybe he just feels he’s been burned by the media before, so why bother? The Oilers writers say he was standoffish at the start of his tenure there, but he slowly but surely got better and became very cooperative.
He already had a Wild-esque mask today. Paul Deutsch, the gent who was the emergency goalie during warmups that one game a few years back, took Bryzgalov’s Oilers mask and wrapped a vinyl emblem around it with the BRYZ on the front. Looks pretty good.
Bryzgalov said he’s working toward getting his own painted mask.
Kuemper said Bryzgalov has been cool thus far.
On how he thinks playing time will be divvied ahead, Kuemper said, “I’m not sure how it’s going to work. That’s up to coaches. Things have been going well. I’ll take it game by game. Obviously I like getting out there and playing, so every opportunity I have, I’ll cherish it to the best of my ability.”
Clayton Stoner is excited to have McCormick on the team. They’ve been in two fights and “he’s a tough customer.” In Buffalo in October, McCormick bloodied Stoner’s nose during a scrap.
Talk to ya Saturday from Dallas.
Wild newcomers Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick and Ilya Bryzgalov, wearing his old Oilers gear, practiced for the first time with their new teammates and met with the media in person for the first time this afternoon.
The mood was tremendous around the Wild today, Zach Parise said.
“You could tell in the locker room before, and definitely on the ice,” he said.
Moulson and McCormick provided some good color on their day yesterday. Coincidentally, they were sitting side by side eating lunch outside at Jacksons, which is the restaurant attached to the Westin in Tampa, on Wednesday watching TSN’s TradeCentre on NHL Network when McCormick got a text from the Wild’s Jason Pominville asking if it’s true they were traded to Minnesota.
McCormick said it caught both off guard, so after doing “some digging” with their agents, they found out it was true.
Moulson knew he was all but guaranteed to be traded during the Sabres’ road trip, so he said he tried to pack as much of his life and clothes as possible into two bags. His wife will ship the rest from Buffalo.
Moulson and McCormick were both very complimentary about their time in Buffalo but are “real happy to be a part of this,” said McCormick.
Today was about meeting new teammates, learning the details of the Wild’s systems and getting to know the area. Moulson and McCormick landed at 10:30 a.m. and practiced by 12:30 p.m. Bryzgalov got in last night.
Moulson and McCormick will make their Wild debuts Saturday in Dallas (coincidentally, their second straight games in Dallas because that’s where the Sabres last played) and Bryzgalov will likely start his first game in a Minnesota sweater Sunday night at home against the St. Louis Blues.
I’ve made you wait long enough. The much-anticipated lines:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter
Dany Heatley-Erik Haula-Cody McCormick/Justin Fontaine
If you assume Haula will continue to center the fourth line and consider the fact that coach Mike Yeo indicated that McCormick will play Saturday, it appears as if Fontaine will be the odd man out at least for Saturday.
It'll be interesting to see Yeo's shootout lineup. Moulson is 7 for 12 this year (4th in the NHL) and 13 for 25 in his career. Yeo's 1-2-3 when they're in the lineup together is usually Parise, Koivu and Pominville. Parise and Koivu are each 3 for 9 this season and Pominville is 3 for 8. Parise has the second-most shootout goals than anybody in the NHL (35 for 78). Koivu is sixth n the NHL at 33 for 79. Pominville is tied for 21st at 21 for 55.
As GM Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday, the Wild’s goal is to have four deep lines and 1A and 1B power-play units.
We saw that today:
The units had interchangeable pointmen with Ryan Suter-Jason Pominville and Jonas Brodin-Jared Spurgeon. The three forwards were: Parise-Granlund-Heatley and Moulson-Koivu-Coyle.
“If you have two strong units, then you’re a much more dangerous team to play against, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Yeo said.
As Cooke and Parise told me today, what they love about the Wild’s depth now is that Yeo will have options. If there are injuries, if lines aren’t going, Cooke said Yeo can mix and match and “it kind of guarantees us two scoring threat lines.”
Yeo on his lines: “I liked the look of them before we went out on the ice and I liked the look of them after we came off the ice, too. I thought there was real good energy in our practice today. Obviously guys are excited. We felt really good about our team and where we were at going into this trade deadline and we feel that we’re a strong team now, we’re a deeper team. So we’re excited to put it to work now.”
And that’s what Yeo told the players before practice. He welcomed the trio of newcomers but told the group, “now the work starts.”
Parise and every player echoed the coach, saying it’s time to deliver these next 20 games in 37 days that begin Saturday.
“This is a tough conference that we play in,” Yeo said. “We feel that we’ve been getting better and have been narrowing the gap. This is another strong move to put us to another level, we believe. This is a great opportunity for us, but the work has to be put in. We’ve got to work now to build chemistry, we’ve got to work to make sure that we got everybody in the right roles and we’ve got to make sure that we’re working to continue to build as a team.”
Yeo, who used to be an assistant with Pittsburgh, said of Moulson, “Always a guy that you notice every game, finds a way to get chances, finds a way to be a factor in and around the net. And obviously he has the ability to put the puck in the net. But there’s more to his game than that. He’s a hard-working guy, he fits the identity that we have here, he’s going to complement the players that he’s going to play with very well. So it’s a guy we were excited to grab, that’s for sure.”
On McCormick: “I’m expecting that he’ll play in Dallas, give him a real good opportunity to get in and get comfortable with our game. And I would like to not just put him in for one game and take him out. I want to see what he can do here. I want to give him a chance to get comfortable with his game. He’ll get that opportunity this weekend. :
On Bryzgalov: “[Darcy] Kuemper has been playing great, but at the same time we need to protect him a little bit. And obviously Backy isn’t at 100 percent and he’s battled and we give him an unbelievable amount of credit for the way he’s handled things. It’s been in a real difficult situation. Kuemper has really stepped up when we needed him to. But you need some protection there and to get a guy of that caliber and not only give you minutes but win hockey games for you – we’re very excited about that.”
On his lines: “You look at the top two lines and certainly they’re put together with the idea that No. 1 they can go out and create, but they’re also going to be difficult to play against. They are lines that are going to pressure, they’re lines that are going to work, they’re lines that are going to be strong and should be good two-way lines for us. And with that our third and fourth lines are deeper as well and we feel they can go out and contribute any night for us too. Obviously we need those guys to have an identity and an important role as well. We like the depth that we have, we like the way that this looks right now, but when you have a deep team like this it also gives you more opportunity to try different things whether it’s mixing up the lines from night to night or game to game you have that opportunity. Certainly if all things are going well you’re probably going to keep things the same, but if they’re not there’s certainly more opportunity to make some switches too.”
On whether he talked to Heatley about being on the fourth line, Yeo said, “Yeah, Heatley was awesome. That’s the way he’s been all year. He just wants to be here and help the team. I know that we’re going to count on him down the stretch. This is a guy who’s elevated his play lately. He’s been scoring a lot of big goals for us and he wants to be a part of this group. What’s great about having a guy like Heater there is he can be effective on that line, but he’s going to push guys. If somebody is not getting it done above him then he can push them in a hurry. He’s got the ability to go out and score goals for us anytime.”
A lot of folks were tweeting me upset that Niederreiter wasn’t on the power play and Heatley is. Heatley has scored more power-play goals since 2001 than any player and has probably screened the goalie on 10 power-play goals the past two months. He’s the best net-front guy the Wild’s had on the power play – by far – so to me he should stick there.
McCormick is familiar with the Wild from his days with the Avalanche, and he said, “They come to play every night. It’s a high compete level in that dressing room and they bring it on the ice.”
On his game, “My game is a lot of grit, a lot of body contact. I like to play an in-your-face kind of style.”
Bryzgalov’s not the easiest guy to interview. He almost seems to intentionally try to make things feel uncomfortable with one or two word answers or making reporters squirm like one today who asked, “How were the last 24 hours for you?”
Bryz: “You want to know minute by minute.”
Reporter: “Excited for the opportunity?”
Bryz: “Oh yes.”
It’ll be an interesting contrast with Kuemper, who’s one of the most affable goalies I’ve ever covered.
Hopefully he doesn’t become a distraction like he reportedly was during his tenure in Philly.
Bryzgalov on potentially being the No. 2: “It’s not my call. I came here to work and work hard and bring the best of me to help the team to have the best success.”
On Kuemper, whom Bryzgalov got to watch shut out the Oilers last week, “He’s a good young kid with a promising big future. I saw a couple games he played. He played very calm, relaxed and good.”
He also took a subtle shot at the Oilers by saying practice was tough because it was a "higher pace" than he was used to in Edmonton. Ladislav Smid said something almost verbatim after his first practice after being traded from Edmonton to Calgary. After Bryzgalov's presser, I checked with Bryzgalov to make sure I heard his quote correctly and he repeated "way faster pace."
I'm also no goalie expert, but Bryzgalov did have a difficult practice. Just wasn't sharp, uh, stopping pucks.
I’ll be on KFAN at 5:55 p.m. I’ve also rescheduled my live startribune.com chat for Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Talk to you Friday. I’ll have to hustle for my flight after practice, so I’ll likely blog from the air. So please be patient for it.
First of all, I’m sorry to report my Thursday online chat has been scrapped. I’ll have to postpone until next week because the Wild has pushed back Thursday’s practice so Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick can arrive in time and Friday I’ll need to hustle to the airport after practice to fly to Dallas.
But I’ll do my best to answer as many questions here as I can.
Matt Moulson will wear No. 26 here. And Cody McCormick No. 8.
OK, have a good night.
No, seriously, as for the trade of Moulson and McCormick from Buffalo for Torrey Mitchell and two second-round picks, heck of a deal in my estimation. As I say often, Chuck Fletcher is nothing if not bold, and always has something up his sleeve.
I always find the maturation of an organization fascinating, and it’s interesting how the Wild has transitioned from being a trade-deadline seller to a buyer the past two years.
Last year, the Wild arguably paid a big price for Jason Pominville (two prospects and a first were the highlights), but Pominville had another year left on his deal and the Wild was obviously immediately interested in extending him, which it did by five years starting next year right before this season.
This year, Fletcher looked into doing similar “hockey trades,” but in the end, he likes the chemistry of this team, wanted to avoid trading a first-round pick for a second consecutive year and didn’t want to trade any of his top prospects. So early this morning, when he quickly realized he may be able to consummate a “draft pick” deal for Moulson with Sabres GM Tim Murray, that’s where he began to focus.
Other GM’s were dangling their rentals and asking for prospects like Matt Dumba, Gustav Olofsson and Kurtis Gabriel, Fletcher said, and he had no interest. The other thing that made the Moulson/McCormick swap so intriguing was Fletcher would be able to include Mitchell, who wanted out, in the deal. That’s no slight against Mitchell, but he was playing a fourth-line role, so he’s replaced by the gritty, hard-nosed McCormick and the Wild gets out from under the $2.5 million salary and $1.9 million cap hit Mitchell had owed to him next season. That’ll create more roster and cap flexibility.
Now, before I get more into detail of what Fletcher/Moulson said during today’s availability, I try my best to answer two questions I see I’ve been asked most on Twitter (since most people seem to want news in abbreviated 140-character like methods, this will save those people from having to read through the rest of the minutia included on what’s bound to be a super-sized blog).
1. What will the lines look like? Well, I don’t have the answer for you because we’ll see an initial taste as to what coach Mike Yeo is thinking at Thursday’s practice. But my shot in the dark for at least Thursday’s practice is similar to what I guessed on Twitter earlier today, but it has changed a little.
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Dany Heatley
Cody McCormick-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine-Nino Niederreiter
I think at least in Thursday’s practice, we’ll see these top 2 lines. We saw earlier this season putting Heatley on the fourth line didn’t work, so maybe they eventually go with a Moulson-Koivu-Heatley line and Cooke-Coyle-Nino on the third. That would mean the fourth would be a combination of McCormick, Haula, Brodziak and Fontaine.
Yeo will have a lot of options and I’m sure there will be tinkering. For instance, I’m not sure what he’s thinking, but maybe McCormick plays against the rugged teams (Wild played St. Louis three times down the stretch and could be staring at the Blues in the first round) and sits against the faster teams.
Obviously, there are always injuries, too, so no lines are set in stone. If the Wild’s healthy, I think it’s clear that Jason Zucker will initially have to return to Iowa when he gets healthy.
2. Does trading for Moulson preclude the Wild from signing Thomas Vanek if it so wishes in the offseason?
Well, only if at the end of the day the Wild re-signs Moulson. And it’s honestly way too soon to think about it. As of now, it’s a rental. Now, if Moulson plays so well and fits in so well and the Wild does damage in the playoffs, yes, the Wild I’m sure would absolutely consider re-signing Moulson.
“You never know,” Fletcher said. “I’m open-minded.”
Moulson also echoed that, but he too said it’s the last thing he’s thinking about right now: “We’ll see what happens. I think that’s the last thing I’ve thought about right now is free agency. I have a million other things going through my mind,” like “getting to a new team and trying to help them win.”
So again, so many things can happen between now and July 1. The cap isn’t unlimited. The Wild has to analyze its needs going into next season and how much money it can spend in certain areas. The biggest priority will be figuring out its goalie situation. Then it’ll figure out everything else.
I do think it's fair to say the Wild was in on Vanek. I think it's also very clear to say that Islanders GM Garth Snow held onto his cards WAY too long and got caught in a gigantic way. He basically wound up having to trade Vanek to Montreal for a mid-level prospect and MAYBE two draft picks if Montreal makes the playoffs. Not good after acquiring Vanek for Moulson, a first and a second.
Regardless, put Vanek in the back of your head and … don’t ask me again about him until May, maybe June.
Fletcher says he drove to the Wild’s offices today not knowing if he would be able to make a trade. If he couldn’t, he would be OK with that because he’s been very happy with the current team and how it’s been playing.
But he felt he owed it to the players to kick some tires and try to improve the team and “reward” them for a job well done the past few months. He said it’s important to send messages in this business.
But, he didn’t want to trade his prospects or his first.
He zeroed in on Buffalo because the Wild has been scouting the Sabres for weeks (humorously, the day after that late-January bogus report out of Buffalo came out that the Wild made an offer for Ryan Miller and a trade could be imminent, assistant GM Brent Flahr was in town scouting looking at guys like Miller and Drew Stafford. Miller didn’t even start the game). Fletcher has also had tons of trade talks with Tim Murray and they discussed several scenarios about many different things.
“As the day wore on, we got fortunate,” Fletcher said. “We got fortunate to get in a situation where Buffalo was willing to discuss a draft-pick trade with us. It’s a good deal for them. They get two draft picks. And from our standpoint, we were able to acquire a very good goal scorer in Matt Moulson, a big, energetic, gritty guy in Cody McCormick, who we feel will be very important for us down the stretch. And perhaps as importantly, we were able to move some cap space for next season. So we accomplished the things we set out to do and were able to do so by moving a couple draft picks over a three-year span. Coming into today with about $4-plus million in cap space on a full year basis, we’re pretty happy with what we were able to accomplish.
Moulson was intriguing because the Wild, if you didn’t know, have to work really hard some nights to score goals. Minnesota ranks 25th in the NHL at 2.36 goals per game, so thank goodness for its goaltending and sixth-best goals against.
“Historically, this team has not been a high-scoring team,” Fletcher said. “We have not been the last couple years. I do believe however the last six, eight weeks, we’re probably scoring [2.74] goals per game. So we have been better offensively lately, but when you look at our club, you probably wouldn’t describe us as a high-end offensive team. I think that’s fair. … If we can add somebody that can help us score another goal every other game or something to that effect, we think that’ll make a big difference.
On the lines and options Yeo now has at his disposal, Fletcher said, “We’re trying to get to a place where we have at least three lines that can score and play defense. A lot gets made out of line combinations and who plays with whom, and I understand that, and if Zach’s playing with Mikko and all these different things, but ultimately to be successful, and I think we saw this a little bit in the playoffs last year, you need to have more than one line that you can rely on. Mike has experimented a lot this year with different line combinations; I think that’s great. I think all the players are used to playing with different players. But obviously these two players will give us more depth and if we can get to a place where we have two or three lines that teams have to worry about offensively, two power-play units that teams have to worry about, so you maybe don’t even have a No. 1 and a No. 2 unit, you have a 1A and a 1B, that makes you much more difficult to coach against, to play against and to gameplan against, and I think that’s where we want to get to.”
As I mentioned on a blog last week when the Wild acquired Brad Winchester (he’s in Iowa), it’s very clear the Wild has made a conscious decision to try to get bigger the last few years. Look back at that blog (I think it posted last Wednesday in Edmonton), but it had all the players I’m talking about on there.
“And even look at the draft last year with Olofsson and Kurtis Gabriel who’s really come on this year and [UMD’s] Carson Soucy,” Fletcher said. “We really are trying to get bigger. First you try to get skill, then hopefully you can add some size. It’s a big man’s league. Maybe some people would disagree with me, but I really truly believe that the officiating standards change as the year goes on and what’s a penalty early in the year is not necessarily a penalty later in the year and that’s OK. But you have to be able to skate through hooks and interferences and some of the other things that are a little more prevalent. It becomes a bigger man’s game – or more of a competitive man’s game. You have to compete and certainly size helps, but I think that’s an area every team looks to this time of year and we’ve made a conscious effort in that regard.”
How does this year compare to the Pominville deadline deal? “Last year with Pominville, he had a year left on his contract so we were prepared to pay a big price. We really felt we needed to add more talent and with Pominville you’re getting a guy that was a captain in this league, who has a tremendous amount of character and a very good two-way player. But he’s also a talented offensive player. We wanted more talent to play with Koivu and Parise and Suter and to play with our top end guys. We’re becoming a more talented team as we see the evolution of Granlund and Coyle and Zucker and Niederreiter and these types of players. This year there was a little bit more risk I suppose because Moulson’s contract is expiring. But yet any time you’re paying second-round picks for good hockey players, to me, it’s a really good move. We’re very comfortable with the gamble. We’re fortunate – our scouts do a great job. They nail picks left and right. So to give up a second-round pick, to me they’ll probably hit on the third. And so I’m able to take some chances with our picks because of the way our scouts draft.”
On making a trade with his buddy Tim Murray (friends from Florida and Anaheim), Fletcher jokingly said, “No, he was tough. But fortunately I have some good background information on him that he doesn’t want revealed. No, Timmy did a great job today. He picked up some picks and some prospects and that team will turn around quickly. He knew what he was doing. He moved a couple pending UFAs and got a couple second round picks for them so it’s a good deal for him and a deal we’re very, very comfortable making with where we’re at as a franchise right now.
On today’s market: “It was a different market. To me, prices went down a little bit this year. You saw basically a lot of pretty good hockey players who are pending UFAs getting traded for the equivalent of two second-rounders, or a second-rounder and a prospect. Certainly situations like that as opposed to late first-round picks. Teams seemed to hold on to their first-round picks this year. The other interesting thing about it is there were a lot of goal scorers that were traded and a lot of goalies. I can never remember another year where this many talented goaltenders switched teams. And you go through the list and some of them may be a little bit older, but again really well-recognized, established goaltenders were traded. I’ve never seen a year like that, and a lot of goal scorers and very few defensemen. Some years there’s more defensemen. Every year has a different tone, but I think you saw teams pulling back a little bit this year unwilling maybe to trade that first-rounder or that elite prospect, and maybe offering seconds and third-round picks instead, which obviously we were very happy with.”
“It’s difficult to move first-round picks,” Fletcher continued. “We did it last year and, again, we’re thrilled, but in this cap system you have to draft and develop. First-rounders are typically anywhere from 50 to 90 percent success rate depending on where in the first round you select. Second-rounders can be 25 to 30 percent, so there’s a massive drop-off. You’ve got to hold on to your first-rounders a lot. Occasionally you’ve got to step up, and again, it was a great decision for us last year. This year to me it was not, we wanted to hold on to our firsts and we did and that’s a good thing.”
Moulson said, “Minnesota is an incredible hockey state. The fans of Minnesota, it’s pretty easy to see how passionate they are. It’s exciting to go to a team that’s doing extremely well right now and a great fan base. I’m just excited to get there and help this team win any way I can.”
On what he knows about the Wild: “I think when you’re in different conferences you don’t see the other too much. But obviously you follow the league and see the love that the Wild have been getting and playing extremely well obviously. They’ve got some great players, so I’m excited to be a part of that group and try to get some wins.”
On Buffalo: “Obviously there’s been a lot of change. I think I’ve gone through the most change I’ve ever had in my career this year being traded from the Islanders and going through some changes in Buffalo, but obviously I’m very thankful to the Sabres – they took my family and I in. It was a quick transition there. I think my son was two-weeks-old when I got traded. It was a little bit of a whirlwind but obviously I made some pretty close friends in the last couple months, but I guess I’ve been rumored for a while that they’d probably try to shop me off again. So I’m definitely a lot more ready for it this time than the last time around. It’s something I was prepared for and got my family prepared for. We’re just excited to be part of the Wild family now.”
Who does he know on the Wild: “I know Nino a little bit. Zach Parise is good friends with Kyle Okposo so I know him by association, and I was able to text with him. I feel like I know him pretty well just through Kyle Okposo so other than that I don’t know too many guys, I didn’t know too many guys when I went to Buffalo, so I don’t really see that as a problem. The hockey group takes guys in and makes them feel pretty welcome right away.”
I didn’t talk with McCormick today. I’ll talk to him after Thursday’s practice, but like Moulson, the Buffalo writers say he’s a great guy and a player that should help.
OK, that’s it for me. I've got to do my Wild Minute and get upstairs, watch a period or two of high-school hockey and get home. Talk to you after Thursday’s practice.
With season-long scuttlebutt that the Wild may look to sign free-agent-to-be Thomas Vanek this summer, the Wild beat Wednesday’s trade deadline by acquiring the player traded for Vanek earlier this season.
The Wild traded two draft picks -- Winnipeg's second rounder in 2014 acquired in the Devin Setoguchi trade and the Wild's second rounder in 2016 -- and fourth-line winger Torrey Mitchell to the Sabres for power winger Matt Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer, and hard-nosed forward Cody McCormick.
Moulson, 30, has scored 17 goals and 38 points in 55 games this season between the Islanders and Sabres. He was acquired in October for Vanek, a conditional first-round pick and a second-round pick. He is the last year of his deal with a $3.133 million cap hit.
McCormick, 30, has scored 59 points and 503 penalty minutes in 358 games. He’s in the last year of his deal at $1.2 million.
Moulson has scored 135 goals and 262 points in 377 games, developing terrific chemistry with superstar John Tavares on Long Island, where he was one of the most popular players.
He has perennially been one of the NHL’s most durable players. He played all 82 games in three consecutive seasons from 2009-12, topping 30 goals in each, including a career-high 36 goals and 69 points in 2011-12.
Moulson has scored 47 career power-play goals, including 14 in 2011-12, the third-most in the NHL. He is also known as a player who thrives on the road. In 2011-12, Moulson scored 23 goals on the road, the second-most in the NHL behind Steven Stamkos.
From March 17-April 3, the Wild plays eight of 10 games on the road.
Moulson is a skilled power winger who protects the puck terrifically on the cycle and is known for possessing a hard wrist shot.
Mitchell, 29, scored five goals and 12 assists in 103 games, including only one goal in 58 games this year.
According to sources, Mitchell asked to be traded, although he denied that Tuesday.
Mitchell, a hard-working, fast forward, signed a three-year, $5.7 million deal with the Wild two summers ago. That happened on July 1. On July 4, the Wild signed Zach Parise. The Wild also didn’t know for sure if Pierre-Marc Bouchard would be healthy to start that season. He wound up being ready.
So Mitchell came to Minnesota thinking he’d have a chance to be third-line right wing. After Parise and Bouchard were inserted, Mitchell fell down the depth chart. Since, the Wild has added youngsters like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. So Mitchell has been saddled on the fourth line pretty much since he got to Minnesota.
But I mentioned on the blog this exact scenario. My gut said the trade request would wind up burning Mitchell because at $1.9 million next year, he'd be such an easy throw-in for a rental to Buffalo if the Wild couldn't get Drew Stafford done. Now Mitchell misses the playoffs this year and the Wild gets out of his $1.9 million cap hit and $2.5 million salary next year.
The Wild was in on Stafford. I was told this afternoon, and I need to report it out more, that any Stafford deal would be contingent on another complicated trade the Wild would have to make elsewhere to basically move a player.
I'll be hosting a live online chat on startribune.com Thursday at 3 p.m. Bad news: Chat's been postponed. The Wild's now having an afternoon practice Thursday so the three new additions, Moulson, McCormick and Ilya Bryzgalov will be able to join.
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