Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Posts about Wild news

Wild puts Bickel on waivers; NHL honors Kuemper

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 13, 2014 - 11:10 AM

The Wild placed defenseman/right wing Stu Bickel on waivers this morning. I had a feeling a roster move would be made today. With no games 'til Friday, keeping this many players is just wasting cap space and money. Plus, at some point, the Wild had to activate Justin Fontaine off injured reserve. 

Fontaine has recovered from a strained glute. 

The hope is Bickel will slide through waivers because the team values his versatility and toughness. We'll see tomorrow if other teams do as well. 

Bickel was made expendable especially by the recent signing of Ryan Carter, who brings grit and toughness to the fourth line. And with two rookie defensemen making up the third pair, the Wild's not going to make its first waiver move defensemen Keith Ballard or Nate Prosser. 

Kuemper honored

Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper, who opened the season with back-to-back shutouts of Colorado, is the NHL's Second Star of the week. He had 46 saves in the two games.

Tomas Plekanec of Montreal is the First Star after getting four goals as the Habs started 3-0.

Sidney Crosby of the Penguins was the Third Star. He has six points, including three goals, in two games.

Brodin, Fletcher on defenseman's contract extension; Fletcher raves about top-4 D

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 12, 2014 - 3:09 PM

Jonas Brodin, known already as a poised, cerebral defenseman, is as quick and efficient off the ice as he is on it.

How quickly did Brodin’s six-year, $25 million extension with the Wild materialize?

“We started talking two weeks ago probably. We talked before last night’s game and then we talked again after the game. And then … I signed the paper,” Brodin said.

OK. If all negotiations were that simple, eh?

Brodin said the extension made for a pretty fun ride home with his teammates after Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Avs.

Get used to seeing the 21-year-old Swede. One of the NHL’s most mobile blue liners is signed on through 2020-21.

“I’m really excited,” Brodin said. “I really like the organization, my teammates, the whole staff. I believe we can win. I’m really happy right now. I’m really confident my game will continue to develop.”

General Manager Chuck Fletcher said, “Clearly he’s a very important player on our team right now and we figure his importance certainly isn’t going to decrease over the years (laughing). If anything he’s going to continue to evolve and get better. He’s hopefully going to be one of our cornerstone players here for the next decade.

“To have him signed through 2021 is great. He’s a real big part of our present and our future. It came together very quickly. I give Brodin’s agent Peter Wallen and [assistant GM] Brent [Flahr] a lot of credit. They worked hard at it. Both sides agreed that this term would make sense for both the player and the team, and we were able to come to an agreement really quickly, which was nice.”

As Fletcher has said for some time, he wants to get ahead of next year’s restricted free agent crop. Excluding the minor-leaguers whose deals are up, the Wild’s pending RFA’s are Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Marco Scandella, Erik Haula and Christian Folin. He’ll try to stagger all of their next contract terms so they don’t all expire again at the same time.

Fletcher said he has reached out to most, specifically confirming Granlund and Coyle.

“The first thing you want to determine is what type of term they’re looking for,” Fletcher said. “Some guys prefer a shorter term and some players like the security, so if we can get an agreement on the right term for the player, everything else will usually follow suit. In the case of Brodin, the top young defensemen market is fairly well defined. Once we were able to agree on the term, it came together pretty quickly. Some markets aren’t as clearly defined as that market.

“But Brodin’s a little different in the sense that he has already emerged. I don’t think there’s any question as to the role he plays on our team. He just turned 21 and he’s played very well to date, but we only expect that he’ll continue to improve and become a much better player than he is today. In this case it came together quickly because there wasn’t a lot of difference of opinion as to how he fits now and where we see him going.

“In some cases, like specifically Brodin, there was a desire to talk now and try to pursue something and in other cases people want to see how things play out in the early part of the year. We’ve got to respect that, but we wanted to get a sense where people are at and exchange ideas. I could see one or two of them even happening next summer. There’s no urgency here. We want to make sure we get the right deal for the player and the team. I’m sure with that approach we’ll be able to chip away and get a couple of the guys signed, but I don’t expect we’ll get everybody signed right away. That’s just not realistic.”

Asked if he felt that seeing Brodin sign may trigger Granlund and Coyle to want to be locked up sooner rather than later, Fletcher said, “Yeah, potentially. Every negotiation is a little different, but there’s been communication with their camps. We’ll see. I don’t mind talking during the season as long as it doesn’t become a distraction. We’re open to finding solutions now. If we can’t easily reach agreements at this point, it’s not a big deal to wait until after the season either. They’re all good, young players, but Brodin was a guy we’re happy to commit to long-term. He’s a huge part of our team now and I think we all agree he’s only going to get better. Certain parts of his game will continue to evolve and mature. He just turned 21. That’s the scary thing. You think about the role he has on our team and the things he has already accomplished, and he’s just turned 21.”

As I wrote in Monday’s paper, we’re only two games into the season, so this is a real small sample size. But my goodness, the Wild’s top four defensemen of Ryan Suter, Brodin, Scandella and Jared Spurgeon have been just marvelous.

Fletcher concurred.

Suter is honestly ridiculous. I’m not sure all the things he does well can be seen on TV. You just have to watch him in person nightly. It’s pretty special, and all things considered with what he has had to go through the past month with the loss of his dad and the fact he didn’t skate the week before camp and only played two preseason games, it’s pretty impressive how great he was in Games 1 and 2.

We’ll let Fletcher pick up from here: “Spurgy’s Spurgy. It’s remarkable how consistent he is and Marco’s just a horse. And Brodin’s even quicker than last year, which is amazing. He’s certainly stronger and more confident offensively. Those four guys have been great since Day One of camp, which is important because we have two rookies (Folin and Matt Dumba) there. The rookies have been fine, but if one or two of your top four aren’t going, that’s where you can get into trouble. So thankfully, our top 4’s been not even just solid but very good.”

That's it for me. In next Sunday's column, I'll write more about the strategies with the pending RFA's and how this stuff comes together.

On Monday, Rachel Blount is covering practice for me from a daily point of view so I can sit down with a player after practice for a piece that will likely appear this week or next Sunday.

Again, the Wild next plays in Anaheim on Friday. The team will practice Monday and Tuesday in St. Paul, then head to So. Cal after practice Tuesday for a little fun in the sun before hitting the ice again Thursday in Anaheim for practice.

Wild signs defenseman Jonas Brodin to a 6-year extension

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 12, 2014 - 11:35 AM

The Wild is looking to get ahead of next year's large restricted free agent crop.

Today, the team signed mobile defenseman Jonas Brodin to a six-year, $25 million extension.

“We are very excited to get Jonas Brodin signed through the 2020-21 season,” said GM Chuck Fletcher. “He is one of the premier young defensemen in the NHL and has played a huge role on our team since entering the league as a 19-year-old. We’re confident that his game will continue to evolve in all areas and he will be a valuable part of our core for years to come.”

The 21-year-old 10th overall pick in 2011 broke into the NHL two years ago as a 19-year-old. He led all rookies in time on ice (23:12), 1:38 more than any other rookie, and was named to the NHL's all-rookie team. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.

He scored two goals and nine assists and was plus-3 in 2013. Last season, he scored eight goals and 11 assists.

He is off to an outstanding start this season. He has been a rock defensively, has an assist, five shots and is plus-5.

Fletcher has said since June that once the Wild got restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper re-signed entering this season, he wanted to begin working on next year's RFA's.

Brodin is the first to be signed. Standard deal. No no-trade or no-move. Last week, Fletcher said he had begun talks with all of them. The others are Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin.

Links to today's Star Tribune Wild preview

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 9, 2014 - 8:37 AM

Opening Night is tonight at 8 p.m. against the Colorado Avalanche.

This afternoon at 2 o'clock, I will be hosting a live chat on startribune.com/wild to preview the season. Please join, and if you arrive early, you can leave questions early.

I will also be on KFAN with Dan Barreiro previewing the season at 3:30 p.m. and on Fox Sports North's hourlong pregame show around 7:40 p.m.

Remember, the game is being televised on NBC Sports Network (play-by-play man John Forslund was stuck in a stuffy St. Paul elevator for 70 minutes yesterday, but luckily, he escaped and will be on the mic and Pierre McGuire) and broadcast on KFAN (100.3-FM, with Bob Kurtz, Tom Reid, and ugh, Kevin Falness on the call).

If you have the ability, please try to pick up today's Star Tribune for our Wild preview. Great pics by the talented Carlos Gonzalez, design by Bob Timmons and the rest of the Strib team and editing by Chris Miller, who has the unenviable job of having to read my copy daily and worse yet, communicate with me!

BUT, to make things easier, here are some of the links that you can find on the Star Tribune Wild page above.

Kid-Friendly: Wild counting on ascending youngsters Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jonas Brodin and Erik Haula.

My FOUR big keys to season success for the Wild

My notebook on Darcy Kuemper starting opener over Nik Backstrom, the fact coach Mike Yeo has tons of shootout choice and Matt Dumba and Christian Folin being a pair.

VIDEO of Michael Rand and I, in our cool shades, previewing the season.

Jim Souhan's column on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter

VIDEO of the Wild unveiling its massive scoreboard to the media yesterday

My game preview, which I put in part as my annual reminder that I do a game preview box before every game and it's on there where you can ALWAYS get the answer to the question, "What channel is the game on?"

Again, if you missed yesterday's paper, I did a feature on Matt Cooke playing the Avs for the first time, a story on Kyle Brodziak and also my NHL preview and predictions.

Tonight's Wild lines are expected to be:

Forwards

Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville

Matt Cooke-Mikko Koivu-Thomas Vanek

Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Charlie Coyle

Jason Zucker-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Carter

Defensemen

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon

Matt Dumba-Christian Folin

Goalies

Darcy Kuemper

Niklas Backstrom

Extras: Stu Bickel, Keith Ballard, Justin Fontaine (the last two are banged up), Nate Prosser

I'll be back later to update this blog after the morning skates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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