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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Jordan Leopold talks about daughter's letter; Chris Stewart's debut leads to Jordan Schroeder's scratch

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 3, 2015 - 1:43 PM

Some light reading for ya, and I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show and first intermission.

Wild, 13-2-1 in its past 16, vs. the Ottawa Senators, winners of five straight including three on this road trip, tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold will make their Wild debuts and Sean Bergenheim his home debut.

Jordan Schroeder is the odd guy out tonight (and more on that in a few).

First the news:

Marco Scandella had, what coach Mike Yeo called, a setback and will be out at least a week. I’m hearing he has an oblique issue.

Jared Spurgeon skated today, looked good and Yeo said is a possibility for Thursday’s game at Washington. However, there’s no practice Wednesday, so maybe that’s a stretch.

Ryan Carter (upper body) skated for the first time today. Matt Cooke has been skating for a week. Both skating by themselves and are still a way’s off. Jason Zucker continues to work out off the ice and was in the shooter tutor ripping pucks today.

Also, Matt Dumba and Schroeder are definitely here the rest of the year. The Wild made a paper reassignment and recall yesterday that will allow Christian Folin to be sent to Iowa if it turns out he’s a healthy scratch for an extended period again. Players had to be on Iowa’s roster yesterday in order to play there again this season.

Teams get four non-emergency recalls after the trade deadline and this was one of them.

Lines tonight:

Parise-Granlund-Pominville

Vanek-Koivu-Stewart

Niederreiter-Coyle-Bergenheim

Haula-Brodziak-Fontaine

Suter-Brodin

Prosser-Dumba

Leopold-Folin

Devan Dubnyk will make his 21st straight start, setting a Wild record.

As I guessed on last night’s blog, my gut said Schroeder would be the odd guy out. It’s a shame because he has been playing so well, but the fourth line has been solid the past two games and all three are penalty killers partially responsible for the Wild’s 43 for 44 post-All-Star break 16-game run. And if Schroeder comes out, it leads to the most minimal disruption of the other lines.

“It was going to be a tough decision no matter who we took out of the lineup tonight,” Yeo said. “Obviously, you trade for a guy like Stewy, we’re going to put him in and that takes somebody out of the lineup, so it was going to be a tough decision one way or the other. It kind of came down to the fact that Schroeds doesn’t have a penalty-kill role, doesn’t have a power-play role right now. But things could change here in the near future. When it comes to the group, there’s always challenges when you add a couple new players and getting to the chemistry right off the hop.”

On the Vanek-Koivu-Stewart line, Yeo said he will be watching to make sure they have enough speed in tonight’s game. Stewart can skate well, but he is gigantic, so we will see his speed tonight.

Yeo said on that line, “We know with the Granlund line, there’s a lot of chemistry there, we’ve seen the way that the Brodziak line has been playing the last couple games for us. And Nino and Charlie have some real chemistry together. We feel that Bergy can be a real complement to that line in terms of his north-south mentality and being a guy that plays kind of a big game and a hard game along the boards. And he should be a tough guy to play against. We put three skilled players together as far as Thomas and Mikko, we know that both those guys have the ability to create and Stewy is a big body who’s going to go to the net and hopefully go retrieve a lot of pucks and be strong down low in the offensive zone. There’s no magic formula where you can just punch in a program and come out with the perfect combination. We have to try some things and see how it works out.”

I did grab Schroeder and he’s obviously disappointed. He has three goals and four assists in his past 11 games and is plus-8 in that stretch.

“Mike told me to keep my head up,” Schroeder said. “It’s obviously a difficult decision. That’s part of the business, that’s part of the game. Am I disappointed? Yeah. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone wants to play and contribute and I thought I’ve been doing a great job of just coming in here and making plays and using my speed. Next time I get in the lineup, I’ll be determined to prove to them that I need to stay in the lineup. That’s all you can do, be ready for the next time you get slotted in. It stinks, but that’s life. Sometimes you’ve got to take a few punches to make it. I’ve been through this before. Just keep my head up and keep working hard.”

Yeo said the one benefit of adding Stewart is “people probably looked at our team and we’ve felt it in games, I’ve seen it many times where teams think they’ve got an edge on us physically and they try to impose that in the game. Our team is tough in a much different sense than most people think. We respond well in those games, our guys continue to go to the hard areas, we win a lot of battles, but we’re not necessarily a physically imposing team in a lot of ways. I think Stewy changes a lot of that identity. I think just adding one player like that, all of a sudden you start to look like a big team. You look at some of the big bodies that we have out there, in this day and age, I think it’s how you play the game that’s most important. And if we play a big game, that could change that identity quickly. It’s going to take a little bit of time to figure it out, but we can’t allow for it to take too much time.”

At some point, Carter, Cooke and Zucker will be back, too. That means more difficult decisions.

“That’s what we have to deal with,” Yeo said. “We have one extra forward right now and arguably sitting a guy that played some really good hockey lately, and that’s not easy. We’ve got a couple guys that are on the mend that are not too far away. Things change quickly. We’ve got three games in four days right now and these types of things play out. We’re not looking too far ahead.”

Jordan Leopold addressed the media for the first time today.

He is very excited.

“This is home to me and this is pretty special,” the former Gopher said. “I got the phone call yesterday from Jarmo [Kekalainen] and didn’t know what to make of it. I’ve always dreamed of it and knew it was possible, but the fact that it becomes reality tonight is something special.”

On putting on the jersey tonight, Leopold said, “It will be pretty nuts, I anticipate there will be quite a lot of friends and family in the crowd. I heard from a lot of people yesterday, I turned my phone off for about 10 minutes and got about 150 texts. Anybody that knows me and has my number has contacted me, but it’s been great. The thing with my daughter writing the letter, it’s been a humbling experience.”

On that letter (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please look at the story in the paper and the past two blogs) written by actually his 10-year-old daughter (not 11), Jordyn, Leopold said, “That letter was written by my daughter back in January. With anybody that has kids, you know they take things upon themselves sometimes. She was writing a little bit persuasively at school and thought it was a good idea to write a persuasive letter. That was something our family shared, ended up putting it on Facebook. Friends and family saw it and some other wives through the years that can relate to it, it definitely has some sentiment. I actually told my wife maybe she should take that off before deadline, but it ended up staying on and going out there. A local friend who is on the radio (Paul Allen) ended up getting it from my wife and made it public just before the deadline. It is what it is, it’s a good story and I’m happy the media spun it the right way because really, in the end, this business is hard on families. It really is. Myself, with the experiences I’ve had over the years, it’s been crazy. But I woke up this morning and Carson Daly is reading the letter on the Today Show, and we’ve been contacted by everyone to get my daughter on TV. We’re quite humble people, the fame or whatever you call it, we don’t want it to get to their heads, but it’s nice. But like I said, there are many teammates that have reached out and said it was a good thing. I think the hockey community sees it that way as well. It has definitely been an interesting 24 hours.”

Asked how Jordyn reacted, Leopold, getting emotional, said, “My daughter is very shy. But my kids picked me up at the airport last night with open arms and it was special. I try not to get emotional, but it is. It’s a good thing.”

On what it will be like tonight, Leopold said, “As most people know, I won a national championship for the hometown team. Those days in this building are very special and they meant a great deal to me and my family. Anyone associated with Minnesota hockey has been excited about this story, and also the fact that my family has always wanted me to come home, and it’s time. Here I am. It’s going to be an emotional first five minutes, I can tell you that. But after that, it’s playing hockey again and doing what I grew up loving to do.”

He said it’s been an emotional 24 hours: “I didn’t think the letter was going to go viral, but it did. It’s something that I never asked for, all the attention but... my daughter doesn’t know what to think. … She’s pretty shy. Like anyone who has kids (knows), your kids can say some pretty funny things and do some pretty funny things.”

Leopold has been traded eight times. On yesterday, he said, “As a player going through it, you kind of joke around any time you get a phone call on deadline day even if it’s your dad or your mom or whatever it may be. Anything is possible. I’ve been traded four times on deadline. It’s never a comfortable feeling, you know it’s in the back of your mind. The good thing is I’ve been able to adapt pretty well to wherever I’ve been moved. That’s probably part of the reason I’ve been traded so many times. I’d like to look at that as a positive. People want you and feel you can fit in and help the team and that’s why I’m here.

“This team is hot right now. I’ve always followed the Wild. It doesn’t matter. They’re my hometown team, I can relate to the people, I want to see success at home and it’s good for the community. To have the opportunity to come back home is quite neat. We’ve just got to keep this thing on a roll. When you win hockey games and put streaks together, you know every night that when you come to the rink you’ve got a good chance of winning. That’s a good feeling.

On how tough this has been for his family living in Columbus, he said, “It’s not one of those things that people really see. The kids do suffer. Our wives definitely live a tough life at times. We aren’t asking for any sympathy. I can tell you that. It comes with the territory and we signed up for this. I chose to have kids at a young age. My career is not going to last forever. There’s more important things than hockey and the kids rank up there.”

On how tough it was in Columbus: “There were some discussions with management. Not a lot. But there was a time when we had 9 D men active on the roster and I was the ninth D man. I knew I was either going to get waived or traded at some point in time. But they were very respectful. I owe it to them for being respectful. They did the right thing and now I get an opportunity at home.”

By the way, Stewart called Leopold yesterday and started singing the Peaches and Herbs song, “Reunited.”

Stewart joked this is the third time he has played with Leopold: “I can’t shake him.”

He said, “I'm just happy this is over with, and I'm here now, excited to be a part of this team. I'm looking forward to the future and having a great run here. It's kind of still surreal. It's been a long 24 hours, but finally got in here last night and got a good night's rest. I think once the puck drops and all that's complete, the easiest thing is just playing hockey.”

On coming to a playoff contender, he said, “It's great. It's a dream come true. Last year, I was on the exact reverse situation. I went from St. Louis to Buffalo, who was dead last at the time. I wasn't too happy about that. So to be in the opposite shoes this time around, it's definitely a good feeling.”

On playing in the West again, he said, “I just think, me personally, it's a lot more physical brand of hockey. The East, I think it's a lot more high-offensive, run-and-gun, and a little bit looser defensively. I think going up against some of the bigger teams in the Western Conference will probably bring a lot more out of me.

“The way the team is set up and knowing the players in the room, I think my job's pretty simple. They've got the high-end skill guys here who can put the puck in the net. I think for me, I've just got to come in and bring that physical and that power element. When you're only worried about one or two or three things a game, it's really easier to play.”

Zach Parise talked about the trades, saying, “It sends a good message to us, that they’ve done it the last couple of years now. They’ve gone out at the deadline and got players. It just means that they believe in us, you know? They believe in what we’re doing. They think that just a little boost can help us even more.”

Asked how they incorporate Stewart into a team that’s running well, Parise said, “It’s never a problem. When you bring in guys, they want to come in and contribute. They know how we’ve been playing lately, and they want to contribute and they want to be a part of it. And these guys are no different than that. They want to help out in any way that they can. So to me, the chemistry thing is never going to be an issue.”

Digesting Chris Stewart/Jordan Leopold trades; What will the Wild lines look like?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild trade news Updated: March 2, 2015 - 11:05 PM

Evening from Xcel Energy Center, where I still sit at 8:30 p.m.

The most common question I received on Twitter this afternoon (and now evening) understandably is, “how will the lines shape up?”

The answer: I don’t know, but I’ll tell you on Twitter (@russostrib) around 10:40 a.m. Tuesday and on here soon after.

Coach Mike Yeo isn’t saying yet probably because he has yet to tell some undeserving soul that he’ll have to come out of the lineup initially for Chris Stewart. That’s just the fact of life when you acquire a player of Stewart’s ilk. I will get more into my opinions a little lower on this here blog.

Stewart is expected into the Twin Cities around 11 tonight and plans to make his Wild debut wearing No. 44 against the Senators, coincidentally one of the teams that were rumored to be hot after Stewart since the moment he was traded from St. Louis to Buffalo last year at this time in the Ryan Miller blockbuster.

Yeo said this morning he was optimistic Marco Scandella would be able to play against Ottawa, but GM Chuck Fletcher said a few hours ago Scandella is questionable and he anticipates that Jordan Leopold will make his Wild debut in a No. 33 sweater. Also, remember, Sean Bergenheim is expected to make his home debut Tuesday.

First of all, this Stewart trade was surprising. Everything I was hearing is the Wild had no interest because the price was unbelievably high all year long. But this was the very unique case where, "if the price drops, call me.”

As I’ve written a thousand times, Fletcher and Buffalo Sabres Tim Murray are the best of buds. They were together in Florida and Anaheim, and as you know by now, San Jose and Buffalo have been Fletcher’s two favorite trading partners. The past two trade deadlines, Fletcher acquired Jason Pominville, Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick from the Sabres. This morning, on his way to Wild headquarters, Fletcher phoned (Canadian verb) Murray and told him if the price shot down for Stewart, he’s sure Murray had his number in his cell phone.

Stewart had been the most rumored player in the NHL to be on the trading block for months, and Fletcher first started talking to Murray last summer, he said. But the price was never the right fit until Murray, who had a few deals fall through while maybe overreaching, called Fletcher with about 10 minutes left before the deadline. Buffalo agreed to pay half his salary, and Fletcher sent Murray another second-round pick, this one in 2017. Even Fletcher joked he always seems to send the Sabres seconds. But he refused to part with this year’s second.

As I quickly wrote on the previous blog, Stewart is a gamble only because he has long gotten under the skin of coaches for myriad reasons. Here are a few stories from Buffalo documenting that by Bill Hoppe.

But, Fletcher said, “As the season goes on, you get to know your team, you learn about your team. I think we’re a very fast team, we have a lot of skill. I like our depth, especially now. Probably the one fair criticism you could level at us is our lack of size. And Chris is a big, strong guy who brings a lot of toughness to our team, but yet he’s a player that has contributed offensively, can play on the power play, can really shoot the puck, he’s willing to go to the net. And we think with the type of players we have on the team, his skill set really complements our group really well.”

Basically, Fletcher feels Stewart can help the Wild compete against the more rugged teams in the West, especially the rest of the way when the Wild faces St. Louis three times and Winnipeg, L.A., and Anaheim once more each.

Plus, if the Wild gets the first wildcard spot, it could be facing the Ducks in the first round.

As I mentioned above, the lines. What to do, what to do?

First of all, somebody will be unhappy Tuesday. And whatever Yeo decides, some fans will agree, some will disagree. The decision won’t be easy.

If you would allow me, for your own sanity and health, I do suggest you don’t freak out too much because 1) When Yeo changed the lines heading into that Calgary game a few weeks ago, you know the same lines for the most part that have brought more balance to the Wild lineup than at any time I have covered this franchise, many fans freaked out then!!! 2) With so many games this month and with injuries being the nature of the beast in the NHL, whatever the lines are Tuesday will change at some point and whichever unlucky, undeserving player comes out will play again at some point!

So, the lines. Fletcher says it’s up to Yeo.

I have no clue what he’ll do. There are several ways to go here, and I’m talking out of my fingertips just as thoughts come to my mind.

1. Take out one of the fourth-liners of Erik Haula, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine, but that trio has been the best line the past two road games, combining for four goals. Also, Haula and Brodziak are bigtime fixtures on a penalty kill that is 43 for 44 in 16 games since the All-Star break. And Fontaine, it seems whatever line he’s on lately is the one that churns the best.

2. Take out Jordan Schroeder, which would be a real shame because he has brought speed and offense to the Wild lineup. But if you take Schroeder out, it would cause the least upheaval in your lineup because the fourth line stays intact, you can keep the first and second lines intact and just slide Stewart into a big third line with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle.

3. Sit Sean Bergenheim, which wouldn’t be fair either. But that way you keep your fourth line intact, keep that real good Niederreiter-Coyle-Schroeder line intact, keep what was a good Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line in Colorado together.

4. Yeah, I saw many of your thoughts on Twitter. Sit Thomas Vanek. Doubtful to say the least. My concern with replacing Bergenheim with Stewart on a line with Mikko Koivu and Vanek would be foot speed. Stewart’s speed used to be real impressive, but some have criticized that in recent years. We will see for ourselves.

But this is why my gut says unless Yeo is willing to take somebody out from that fourth line, Schroeder could be the poor odd guy out to begin with because then Stewart slides into the third line and Bergenheim stays with Koivu and Vanek.

5. Although, I can't get this out of my head and maybe he does fiddle with top three lines, puts Stewart with Parise and Granlund to add some size there, puts Vanek and Pominville together (previous chemistry) with Koivu, puts Bergenheim on one of the wings with Niederreiter and Coyle and keeps fourth line intact. I actually like these lines the best.

You think this is complex, wait til Matt Cooke, Ryan Carter and maybe Jason Zucker return.

AGAIN, WHATEVER YEO DECIDES, DON’T FREAK OUT (yet)!

I asked Fletcher about messing with the chemistry that has been so good (this team is fast, defensively-structured, hard-working, balanced, on pace for the most goals in franchise history).

“Assuming we’re healthy. We have three games in four nights starting [Tuesday], a bunch of back to backs. A very rigorous schedule the rest of the way,” Fletcher said. “It increases our depth, it increases our size, it improves our experience and that will be up to Mike. I’d rather have a lot of options than not enough. Our depth has certainly been tested in various areas this year up front and on defense. This was sort of the last opportunity to improve our depth prior to the end of this season. Hopefully this is a big upgrade for us. You never know when you make a trade – there’s risks. But adding Bergenheim with his speed and physicality and energy and adding Stewart with his size and proven track record of being able to contribute offensively as a power forward, I think those two elements have really improved our team.”

He added, “Our players are adaptable. They’ve moved. The great chemistry and the lines that were put together in October when we were winning are completely different than they are now. There’s going to be injuries. I know the coaches were very comfortable adding Chris. Competition is good, depth is good. The most important thing is we just need to keep winning games.”

Fletcher said he did his homework on Stewart, is comfortable with what he heard and after talking with him today, he’s incredibly motivated because this is a contract year. Stewart, again, can become a free agent July 1.

“It’s obviously been a difficult season for him in Buffalo in terms of the wins and losses,” Fletcher said. “He knows of our team quite well from playing against our team in Colorado and St. Louis. I know he’s excited to play with the group of players we have and be in a playoff race and compete hard for wins and making the playoffs, but also for a new contract.  I like where he’s at in terms of how we feel he’ll perform for us.”

Stewart was excited. He talked right before his flight to Minnesota from Tampa, where the Sabres were for the second trade deadline in a row.

“Minnesota has always been one of my favorite places to play. The fans there have been great and coming to that arena, they’re always fired up and ready to support that team. Being on the other end of it now, I’m sure it’ll feel a little bit different, but exciting.

“It’s going to be a great challenge. I look forward to it. It’s a fresh start and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Adding my size and my physicality to that lineup, I think that’s something they’re looking for.”

“I’m a big guy, a power forward, I have some pretty good speed and I like to play a hard-nosed game and get in the corners there and on the forecheck and create turnovers.”

He said, “Zach Parise reached out to me earlier. We have a mutual friend in Chris Porter, who is one of his good friends, so he reached out to me and said he was happy to have me on board and looks forward to meeting me [Tuesday].”

Fletcher basically said the size factor of Stewart was most intriguing: “I thought last year after we added Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick, we really needed Matt's goal scoring down the stretch, but Cody’s size and physicality really helped our team. I hope Chris can do the same. Maybe Chris is a hybrid between the two where he can chip in offensively and produce, but also bring that size and make us a little harder to play against. Again, we really like our team, we like our players, but that was probably an area we were a little deficient in.”

As for Jordan Leopold, I know a couple former Sabres like Pominville and Vanek were excited. The three lived on the same block in Buffalo.

Fletcher said he’s been talking to Columbus’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen for weeks about Leopold, but every time he thought he was on the verge of trading for him, another Blue Jackets injury occurred on their blue line.

“We were looking for depth, looking for a left shot defenseman and looking for a guy that has played in the playoffs and can move the puck. We want our defense to be mobile and have the ability to move the puck and his skill set certainly has those abilities in net. He’ll provide depth and a guy that we know can play and certainly he’s a player that has had a lot of success in this market and was eager to come home. I think we’ll get a lot out of Jordan Leopold.”

On daughter Jordyn’s viral letter (see previous blog), Fletcher said kiddingly, “I saw it today. A tremendous letter. After that, the pressure was immense. You can certainly feel for the family. Very good writer. In fact, we may have an opening on our communication staff. I’m telling you, it was a pretty powerful letter. She hit on a good few points. Again, we’re excited for Jordan. He was a star here in high school and a star in college and is very familiar with all of our players from the summer, from skating with them and skating with a few of them. We think it’ll be a good fit. You can’t have enough experienced, you can’t have enough defensemen.”

On Zack Phillips’ minor-league trade for Jared Knight, I hear Phillips asked to be traded because he read the tea leaves and knew he had no chance of ever playing here. As I’ve mentioned before, tons of skill, but no foot speed and many questioned his commitment to the game, especially off the ice.

“He’s very young and still a talented kid and hopefully he can find his way in Boston because he is a talented a kid,” Fletcher said. “But sometimes these things happen. Knight, similar thing has happened where he’s sort of hit a wall in Boston and probably needs a change and sometimes these trades can work well for both things. We’ll see. We need a lot of improvement in Iowa. It’s been a very, very disappointing season, so this will get the ball rolling down there and we’ll continue to address what we need to do to make that team better.”

OK, I’m out of breath. That was a long blog after writing three articles for the paper. I’ve got to try to get out of here and get some errands done because I need to be at the arena all day Tuesday and have an early flight to D.C. on Wednesday.

I will be on KFAN at 10:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission Tuesday and likely a podcast with Jim Souhan on souhanunfiltered.com at some point Tuesday afternoon, probably around 2:30 or 3. I’ll let you know.

Wild acquires Chris Stewart, Jordan Leopold; Scandella, Spurgeon updates

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild pregame skate, Wild trade news Updated: March 2, 2015 - 3:51 PM

The Wild has made two moves prior to the deadline, and one came out of the blue because the price dropped dramatically.

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray, who had been trying to trade Chris Stewart all year long for a huge return, may have overreached at the end. The Wild was able to snag the power forward for a 2017 second-round pick. The Sabres are also picking up half the $465,000 still owed to the free-agent-to-be.

Stewart is a gamble because his commitment, fitness, defensive reliability and work ethic have long been questioned. But when he is engaged, he is an absolute menace (listed at 6-2, 231 pounds) who can score and this is clearly a move to help the Wild compete in the playoffs against more rugged Western Conference teams.

He scored 28 goals as a second-year winger for the Colorado Avalanche in 2009-10 and a combined 28 goals for Colorado and St. Louis in 2010-11, and it has been downhill ever since. This year, he has scored 11 goals and 25 points in 61 games and is minus-30, tied for second-worst in the NHL.

Thirty-two of his 126 career goals have come on the power play. It'll be interesting to see if he plays the No. 1 unit because Thomas Vanek has had a propensity for turnovers, especially the past two games, on that unit. Stewart has 253 points and 510 penalty minutes in 443 games.

Don't know yet who comes out of the lineup. We'll get GM Chuck Fletcher soon, but the fourth line is playing great (Justin Fontaine seems to make every line lately churn) and Jordan Schroeder has brought offense and speed and Sean Bergenheim has just been added to the lineup.

So it'll be interesting how coach Mike Yeo proceeds with a lineup that is playing well, has been fast, hard-working and structured. Also, at some point, Matt Cooke, Ryan Carter and Jason Zucker should return. That's the risk with this trade: The coach may have to mess with four lines that have been going really well, which is a little surprising after Fletcher talked Saturday about not wanting to mess with the chemistry.

TSN, funny enough, had Stewart ready to come on when the trade went down and broke the news to Stewart live on TV.

His reaction: "The Minnesota Wild? Sounds good. ... I'm excited I'll get a chance to play in the playoffs. I had a rough start of the year, and I thought the last 30 games I definitely turned my game around.

"They definitely have a lot of skill in their lineup, so me personally, I'd like to bring that power forward game, bring that grit and get in there, forecheck, create turnovers and just use my presence, go to the net, score some ugly goals."

The Wild also acquired Leopold for a fifth-round pick and Justin Falk, whom sources say asked to be traded.

Leopold was acquired from St. Louis for a 2016 fifth-round pick in November.

Leopold, 34, is most importantly a left-shot that could bring depth in case of injury. Good vision, moves the puck well, suspect at times defensively, good locker-room guy and again would be a depth player to have around for a playoff run.

He has scored 67 goals and 213 points in 677 games for seven teams (Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis and Columbus).

The former Hobey Baker winner won a national title with the Gophers in 2002, scoring 20 goals and 48 points in 44 games.

This letter is courtesy of KFAN's Paul Allen, who received this letter written by Leopold's 11-year-old daughter and read it on the air today.

The Wild also made a minor-league move, sending 2011 first-round pick Zack Phillips to Boston for 2010 second-round pick Jared Knight. Phillips flamed out bigtime and was a source of much frustration for the Wild because he had all the skill without the commitment off the ice.

FROM BEFORE THE TRADES:

Once in Calgary, Todd Richards pulled a phone out of his practice garb and pulled Eric Belanger off the ice for his trade to Washington. Coach Mike Yeo said he didn't bring his phone on the ice today.

Yeo on the trade deadline: "Boring for us. I went into this day understanding and knowing – obviously things could change, but first off we like the team, we like the way that we’re playing right now – a lot of the moves that we’ve done, we did them early. You look at Duby (Devan Dubnyk), it speaks for itself what a good deal that was for our team. You look at Sean [Bergenheim], the two games that we’ve seen him, we’ve been very pleased with what he’s brought. Also looks like a good fit."

On the possibility of trading for a depth defenseman, Yeo said, "[Fletcher] has our support on that. That’s not because of the play because of the guys that are in the lineup right now. We’ve been very pleased with that group (Nate Prosser, Matt Dumba and Christian Folin) and what they’ve been doing and the progress of our young kids. But that said, you have to prepare for injuries and make sure you’re protected that way. We would welcome anything like that."

Stephane Veilleux was assigned to AHL Iowa to create two roster spots.

Also, injured defenseman Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon didn't practice this morning. Everybody else did.

Yeo said there was good news with Scandella and there's nothing structural with this undisclosed injury and nothing to worry about. He said Scandella is feeling better and Yeo is "optimistic" he can play Tuesday against red-hot Ottawa.

Also, defenseman Jared Spurgeon will miss his sixth straight game with what's believed to be a concussion, but he skated this morning, is feeling better and the hope is he can return Thursday in Washington.

Also, the NHL will announce today the Colorado fines for Patrick Roy, Gabriel Landeskog and Cody McLeod.

The Landeskog and McLeod fines will seem insignificant, but remember, there is a maximum players can be fined under the collective bargaining agreement. A non-repeat offender with no hearing can be fined half of one day's pay not to exceed $5,000. So the fines are to bring attention to the rest of the NHL that the incidents were unacceptable and to establish a history with the players for future potential discipline wrongdoings.

Kyle Brodziak on McLeod jumping Mikael Granlund with three seconds left in a 3-1 defeat: "Clearly frustration or somebody told him to go do that because there's no point. What did Granny do? Just shows no class and lack of emotional control or whatever it is."

Koivu didn't bite talking about Landeskog, saying it is what it is and part of hockey and an emotional game.

Yeo on Dubnyk winning NHL First Star of the Month: "Very pleased for him that he could accomplish that. We’ve benefited from his solid play along the way. Very deserving of it. Anytime any player wins any kind of award and gets any kind of recognition like that, there’s a lot of people that helped him along the way. Certainly I think the team and the game they’ve played in front of him deserves a lot of credit for that. But there’s no doubt he’s very deserving and we’re all very happy for him."

Dubnyk also credited the team and was very honored.

I'll be back if there's a trade or after the deadline.

Devan Dubnyk named NHL's first star of the month

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: March 1, 2015 - 3:39 PM

For the first time in Wild history, one of its players has been named an NHL Player of the Month/(renamed) first star of the month.

Not shockingly, Devan Dubnyk, who made 33 saves in last night's win at Colorado, got the honor after going 11-2-1 in February with a 1.64 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and three shutouts while starting all 14 Wild games last month. The Wild climbed from 12th in the West to having a three-point cushion on the second wildcard spot. It is one point back of Winnipeg, which hosts the Kings today, for the first wildcard spot.

Dubnyk allowed 23 goals in 14 games (including two that arguably should have been disallowed in Calgary and Colorado), allowed two or fewer goals in 11 starts and shut out Chicago, Colorado and Edmonton.

Overall, Dubnyk is 24-8-3 (2.15 GAA, .926 SV%, 6 SO) in 39 appearances this season, establishing career highs in wins and shutouts while ranking in the top five in the NHL in shutouts (t-2nd), goals-against average (3rd) and save percentage (5th). The 28-year-old Regina, Sask., native has started all 20 games since his arrival in Minnesota Jan. 14, posting a 15-3-1 record with a 1.64 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts in that span. He has allowed 32 goals in 20 games.

He is expected to start his franchise-record 21st consecutive game Tuesday against the red-hot Ottawa Senators. By the way, Monday is the first time since Feb. 11 that the Wild hasn't played every other day. It has played nine consecutive games without a back-to-back or two days between games.

The Wild's only other player of the month/star of the month honor was Josh Harding, the third star of the month in November 2013.

On another topic, I am being told that Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, captain Gabriel Landeskog and agitator Cody McLeod will all be fined for the antics with three seconds left last night.

Roy, for putting McLeod on the ice. McLeod, for jumping Mikael Granlund. Landeskog, for punching Mikko Koivu from bench to bench.

There will be no supplemental discipline for Sean Bergenheim, who checked Nathan MacKinnon and broke the youngster's nose when replays show his helmet hit MacKinnon in the face.

If the Wild put in a waiver claim for defensemen Tim Erixon or David Schlemko today, we won't know. Erixon was claimed by Toronto, Schlemko by Calgary -- two teams with higher waiver priority because they're lower in the standings.

Marco Scandella sustained what's believed to be a minor lower-body injury last night. Jared Spurgeon has missed five games with a concussion, although he started working out yesterday.

Prior to Scandella getting hurt, GM Chuck Fletcher said Saturday morning that he would "maybe" look to acquire a defenseman by Monday's 2 p.m. deadline.

But, he said, "[Jon] Blum’s played real well in Iowa lately. Justin Falk’s a guy that played against Chicago a couple years ago in the playoffs. Both those guys have playoff experience, and we’re expecting to get Spurgeon back here at some point. I mean, you never know. If you have a rash of injuries, you always want to make sure you have enough depth. But I do think when you look at Blum and Falk and [Stu] Bickel, those are three guys that have played in the league. So, not many teams have that kind of depth down on their farm club. Again, we’ll look around, but we’re not going to add a body for the sake of adding a body. If we can get somebody that fits, then we’ll look at that."

I wrote a trade deadline advance for Monday's paper where you can read more from Fletcher, coach Mike Yeo and Zach Parise.

Talk to you tomorrow barring news today. Make sure you follow me on Twitter on Monday at www.twitter.com/russostrib. 

I will be on Fox 9 tonight at 10:35 with Dawn Mitchell.

Avalanche loses to the Wild yet again, goes out swinging

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: March 1, 2015 - 2:41 AM

Mayhem in Denver as the Wild defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 to gain a three-point cushion on eighth and move a point from Winnipeg.

In a nasty, physical, action-packed, playoff-like affair, the Avalanche tried to run the Wild out of the building.

“I’d probably be frustrated too if we played a team and hadn’t scored on them in four games except on a dump-in,” Zach Parise said, grinning (you’ll understand what he’s referring to in a few paragraphs). “They’re taking their frustration out on us. We played a good game in spite of what they were trying to do.”

Twelve periods and 240 minutes of hockey now this season, and the only goal the Avalanche has scored against the Wild in four losses (outscored 12-1) arguably should have been wiped out by referees Chris Rooney and Dean Morton tonight.

Just 1:32 into the second period, a Maxime Talbot dump-in ricocheted awkwardly off the glass, into the crease and pinned under Devan Dubnyk’s right pad. Cody McLeod came charging in trying to jam at the puck and pushed Dubnyk over the goal line.

The ref blew the play down signaling no goal. But they went to review, and the NHL Situation Room correctly determined the puck lodged under Dubnyk’s pad when it went over the line. Tying goal.

However, Dubnyk’s pad only went over the line because McLeod pushed him over the line. Before it got to video review, Rooney and Morton probably should have disallowed the goal. That part of this was not reviewable.

“The ruling, I guess, was that McLeod had nothing to do with me going into the net, which is somewhat mindboggling,” Dubnyk said. “It didn’t seem to matter in the end. For us to respond like that after a goal that probably shouldn’t have counted, that’s a sign of a great hockey team.”

Erik Haula set up Justin Fontaine to make it 2-1 later in the second and Jason Pominville snapped a seven-game point drought in the third.

I paint the above picture though because fast forward to three seconds left with the Avs trailing 3-1. Coach Mike Yeo threw his players on the ice and Patrick Roy countered with five skaters, including Cody McLeod, who was running around all game long, getting into skirmishes by the bench, trash-talking constantly.

Basically, he was doing was Cody McLeod does.

The puck’s dropped and McLeod, from the left wing, skates right at center Mikael Granlund and drives him to the ice, then goes right after Charlie Coyle and gets into a fight.

 

“I should have saw it coming,” Coyle said. “He backed up and went right after Granlund. Just a stupid play on his part.”

This is textbook instigating, and in the last five minutes, warrants a one-game suspension and $10,000 fine for Roy if upheld by the NHL’s hockey ops department IF the refs call it instigating.

So what do you think Rooney and Morton determined after McLeod jumped a skilled player and started a fight and nearly triggered a brawl by the benches, one that including Gabriel Landeskog taking a swipe at Mikko Koivu from bench to bench?

That McLeod would indeed get a 2-5-10, but the two would be unsportsmanlike conduct, not instigating.

“I didn’t know what was called, but it’s got to be [an instigator],” Coyle said. “That guy’s out there with how many seconds left? Have to know that’s coming.”

There are rules in place to prevent what McLeod did, but you need the refs to actually call it.

“That’s garbage is what it is,” Yeo said of McLeod’s antics. “You feel it was going that way all game long. They were obviously very emotional all game long. In an emotional type of game, we did a good job of keeping our focus and I really think that was the difference in the end.”

Asked what he thought of Roy putting out McLeod, Yeo said, “We’ve seen the league respond to things like this. There’s rules in place to try to prevent things like that and I’m quite certain that they’ll take a good long look at that.”

We’ll see if the league does examine this and determines the only thing that kept this from being an instigator with less than five minutes left is that the refs decided not levy one for some unexplained reason.

(Note: I did not get to question Roy after the game because of a tight deadline due to 9 p.m. game and the fact his availability was during the Wild’s availability).

But the tone was set early in the game when the refs let a lot of stuff go, especially on Thomas Vanek and Coule. In the third, Nathan MacKinnon broke his nose on a check from Sean Bergenheim. The Avs accused Bergenheim of a head shot, but a screenshot I tweeted appears to show MacKinnon being nailed by his own stick.

Nate Prosser said, “We weren’t into the [stuff] after the whistles. We just wanted to stay levelheaded and get the win. They’re coming late. But we just wanted to make sure we were focused on getting the win before getting any extracurricular stuff.”

Added Erik Haula, who for the second game in a row scored a goal and assist, said, “We kept it cool and played the game the right way.”

Added Yeo, “We’ve proven, they’ve tried to do that against us in the past too and I think we respond pretty well to that. I think in some ways it gets some guys even a little bit more into the game. We’ve dealt with that before. I’m pretty impressed with the guys and have confidence they’ll have no problem dealing with that again.”

The Avs close the season series in Minnesota next Sunday. Maybe Stu Bickel will be in the lineup that day and we’ll see if McLeod would fight him instead of going after guys like Granlund.

In the meantime, as Yeo said, “Once the dust settles, we’ll be able to sit back and realize that was a really big win for us. ... In an emotional game, we did a good job keeping our focus and I really think that was the difference in the end."

The Wild beat Colorado for the eighth time in the past nine games including the playoffs and improved to 15-3-3 in its past 21 regular-season games in Denver.

The Wild killed seven penalties, including two abbreviated 4-on-3’s, a 5-on-3 and a 6-on-4. The Wild’s penalty kill is now 43 for 44 during the Wild’s 13-2-1 streak since the All-Star break.

“The penalty kill was huge,” Yeo said. “I feel bad for Duby. I thought Duby was great right from the start of the game and it’s a shame. I didn’t feel that their goal should have counted. I felt that he was clearly pushed into the net. It would have been nice for him to get the shutout. Overall I thought he played a real strong game, obviously backstopping the penalty kill, but those guys were huge, especially in that second period.”

Dubnyk made 33 saves and is an NHL-best 15-3-1 since Jan. 15 with a 1.64 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts.

He has got to be one of the frontrunners for February First Star of the Month. He was 11-2-1 with a 1.64 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and three shutouts.

Wild fans packed the Pepsi Center tonight and “DOOOOOOOOOO”ed after all his saves. He was impressed.

“When we were scoring goals, the place was erupting. It’d pretty cool to have that kind of support,” he said.

In the meantime, two big road wins at Nashville and Colorado, said Parise. “It’s something for us to feel really good about.”

The Wild has won seven of its past nine on the road.

Haula and Justin Fontaine scored goals and Kyle Brodziak had a long empty-netter wiped out. But that line was again terrific and Haula said the confidence with the three keeps growing. Jason Pominville also snapped a seven-game point drought with a big third-period goal.

Marco Scandella did seem to get injured. I thought it was from Matt Dumba’s stick because that was his final shift, but before that, he looked like he may have hurt himself when Matt Duchene cut to the net. Yeo said afterward there was too much discomfort for him to continue, to the Wild, already without Jared Spurgeon, played with five defensemen for half the game.

“We keep coming together as a group,” Prosser said. “Big loss of Scandy, we need him and Spurge, but us five took the bulls by the horns and picked up the slack and it was a big two points for us.”

The trade deadline is Monday at 2 p.m. The Wild already wanted a defenseman. We’ll see, depending on his severity, if this further forces the Wild’s hand and it gets one. Also, Tim Erixon and Dave Schlemko can be nabbed off waivers Sunday if the Wild valued them.

Yeo did say this morning that Spurgeon started to work out today.

Intense game to say the least. There was even a nasty fight in the stands between I believe a female Wild fan and male Avs fan.

That’s it for me. The Wild isn’t practicing Sunday. I’ll hop on here and blog if there’s any news, whether from a player acquisition standpoint or if the league chooses to hand out discipline from this game.

I’ll be on Fox 9 with Dawn Mitchell at 10:35 p.m. Sunday.

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