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.
Also find Russo on Facebook.
Email Michael to talk about hockey.
The Wild took Alex Tuch, a 6-4 right winger who played for the U.S. national development team, with the 18th pick in tonight’s NHL Draft in Philadelphia.
Tuch has committed to Boston College, which is expected to again be a college powerhouse next season.
The Wild had Tuch in for a couple of interviews, and was known to be very high on him. His advisor, Steve Bartlett, is also Thomas Vanek’s agent.
"He's a big, strong winger with quality hands and an NHL shot," assistant GM Brent Flahr said in a text. "We feel that he has tremendous upside and we are very excited to add a potential power forward to our group of prospects."
Tuch is a power forward who was ranked 12th in the final Central Scouting rankings. He is from Baldwinville, N.Y., and grew up playing youth hockey in Syracuse.
Here is his NHL.com profile:
• In 2013-14, his second season with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Tuch tied for the under-18 team-lead with seven game-winning goals and a plus-35 rating. He ranked third on the club with 64 points (29-35—64) in 61 games.
• A two-time medalist with Team USA, Tuch won gold at the 2014 Under-18 World Championship (0-3—3 in seven games) and bronze at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (1-3—4 in 6 games). He was also part of the U.S. Under-18 team that finished first at the 2012 Four Nations Tournament.
• Growing up, he idolized his neighbor, Tim Connolly, a Syracuse native who played 11 NHL seasons with the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
• In 2011-12, Tuch set the Empire Junior Hockey League scoring record with 101 points (44-57—101) in 40 games as a 15-year-old.
• He has committed to Boston College for the fall of 2014: “Boston College has always been my dream school. I can remember watching them in the Frozen Four when I was six years old.”
NHL team: Buffalo Sabres
Shootout move: “Forehand, kick it off the skate, forehand, backhand, shot”
Goal celebration: “Fist pump on one knee”
Video game: NHL 14
TV show: Breaking Bad
Actor: Will Ferrell
Most played song: ‘City of Dreams’ by Alesso and Dirty South
Sport (other than hockey): Lacrosse
Athlete (non-hockey): LeBron James
The NHL announced the 82-game regular-season schedules (41 home, 41 road) for all 30 teams this afternoon.
The Wild will be challenged early, playing five of its first eight games in a nine-game October on the road. Most bizarrely, after a home-and-home series Oct. 9 and Oct. 11 vs. Colorado to open the season, the Wild will probably will return home to practice (selfishly, I think Mike Yeo should do the right thing and take the team to Vegas ... or Hawaii) and won't play next until six days later Oct. 17 at Anaheim and Oct. 19 at reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles.
After a training camp that will last from Sept. 18-Oct. 8, those will be six long days. What left will there be for me to write about? (Joking).
-- The Wild will play 29 games vs. its Central Division rivals (this is what happens when there's 7 teams in each division in the West), with Colorado and Winnipeg coming to Minnesota three times and the Wild going to Chicago, Dallas (gulp; one win there since March 21, 2003, sad that I know that by heart?) and Nashville three times. The Wild plays St. Louis four times.
-- The Wild plays three games each vs. the Pacific for a total of 21 games with Anaheim, ARIZONA (no longer Phoenix), L.A. and San Jose coming to Minnesota twice and the Wild, like old times (long live the Northwest Division!), going to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver twice.
-- The Wild plays the 16 teams in the East one time each, home and away for a total of 32 games.
-- Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin and the Pens come to Minnesota Nov. 4, Stanley Cup champs come to Minnesota the first time Nov. 26 in the day before Thanksgiving game, for a change, the Wild will be on the road New Year's Eve at Columbus, the All-Star Game will be held in Columbus on Jan. 25 and the Wild closes the season at Chicago, at Nashville and at St. Louis.
-- After the All-Star Game, the Wild will play 18 home games and 18 road games during the stretch drive. Of those 36 games, 14 will be against the Central Division and 25 vs. the West.
-- The Wild has 13 sets of back-to-back, including a rare home back-to-back March 27-28 vs. Calgary and Los Angeles.
-- The Wild's longest homestand is five games March 27-April 6 vs. Calgary, L.A., the Rangers, Detroit and Winnipeg.
-- The Wild has seven three-game road trips and one four-game road trip, although that's a fake four-game road trip because the All-Star Game separates at Detroit with a Western Canadian swing to all three teams there.
-- Besides the first two games vs. and at Colorado, the only other home and home series is vs. Winnipeg on Dec. 27 and at Winnipeg on Dec. 29.
-- Judging by the time of the Jan. 17 game against Arizona, I assume that's Hockey Day Minnesota. The host city hasn't been announced.
-- As I mentioned last week, no stadium series game hosted by the Wild this season. For part of the reason why, see the previous blog.
-- Lastly, to answer my annual flurry of emails this time of year, my favorite road cities for various reasons: 1. Chicago; 2. Vancouver; 3. New York City; 4. Phoenix; 5. San Jose/Anaheim/L.A. circuit; 6. Washington; 7. Denver; 8. Montreal; 9. Boston; 10. Nashville; 11. Las Vegas (one day, I promise!).
There are so many other cities that are cool (some crummy ones, too), so don't be offended if I failed to mention yours.
Couple awesome Wild trips if you're looking for a few ideas: at Anaheim/LA in October; at Rangers/Boston in October because it's two incredible cities and a simple train ride or LaGuardia to Logan Delta shuttle; at Ottawa/MTL in November because it's a 90-minute drive between the two cities, the Canadian capital is one of my favorite places even though I failed to mention it above and you get an off-night in MTL; at TB/FLA in November because it's a short, relatively cheap Southwest flight between Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale or a 3-hour drive; at San Jose (squeeze in Napa if you can)/Glendale in December (weather!) and at Winnipeg in February because you really, really, really should experience what I'm going to have to experience (actually, more than likely, my backup).
On schedule-release day, I always realize how lucky I am to have this job. I mean, get paid to cover hockey AND travel for what's about to be my 20th year (10th covering the Wild)!!!
Who came up with this idea?
This morning I got an email from a Mankato student who's a hockey/journalism fanatic. He happened to mention he has never been out of the state of Minnesota besides North Dakota once and Wisconsin.
I couldn't get it out of my head for a few hours.
It was a great reminder how lucky I am to see the continent annually on the Star Tribune's dime (actually, the paper invests a lot more than a dime to our sports coverage) and then build the miles/hotel points to see the world during the offseasons fairly cheaply.
Of course, remind me of everything I just said when I undoubtedly whine to you on Twitter during travel delays and complain from Winnipeg this upcoming February (Brrrr).
-- If you missed, here's a Chuck Fletcher feature from today's paper mostly from the eyes of Craig Leipold.
2013-14 Minnesota Wild schedule
Mon. 22 at Winnipeg 7:00 p.m.
Thur. 25 at Pittsburgh 6:00 p.m.
SAT. 27 WINNIPEG 7:00 P.M.
MON. 29 PITTSBURGH 7:00 P.M.
Thur. 2 at St. Louis 7:00 p.m.
SAT. 4 ST. LOUIS 7:00 P.M.
OCTOBER (REGULAR SEASON)
THUR. 9 COLORADO 7:30 P.M.
Sat. 11 at Colorado 8:00 p.m.
Fri. 17 at Anaheim 9:00 p.m.
Sun. 19 at Los Angeles 3:00 p.m.
THUR. 23 ARIZONA 7:00 P.M.
SAT. 25 TAMPA BAY 7:00 P.M.
Mon. 27 at N.Y. Rangers 6:00 p.m.
Tue. 28 at Boston 6:00 p.m.
THUR. 30 SAN JOSE 7:00 P.M.
SAT. 1 DALLAS 7:00 P.M.
TUE. 4 PITTSBURGH 7:00 P.M.
Thur. 6 at Ottawa 6:30 p.m.
Sat. 8 at Montreal 6:00 p.m.
Tue. 11 at New Jersey 6:00 p.m.
THUR. 13 BUFFALO 7:00 P.M.
Sat. 15 at Dallas 1:00 p.m.
SUN. 16 WINNIPEG 4:00 P.M.
Thur. 20 at Philadelphia 6:00 p.m.
Sat. 22 at Tampa Bay 6:00 p.m.
Mon. 24 at Florida 6:30 p.m.
WED. 26 LOS ANGELES 7:00 P.M.
Fri. 28 at Dallas 7:30 p.m.
SAT. 29 ST. LOUIS 7:00 P.M.
WED. 3 MONTREAL 6:00 P.M.
FRI. 5 ANAHEIM 7:00 P.M.
TUE. 9 N.Y. ISLANDERS 7:00 P.M.
Thur. 11 at San Jose 9:30 p.m.
Sat. 13 at Arizona 7:00 p.m.
Tue. 16 at Chicago 7:30 p.m.
WED. 17 BOSTON 7:00 P.M.
SAT. 20 NASHVILLE 7:00 P.M.
TUE. 23 PHILADELPHIA 6:00 P.M.
SAT. 27 WINNIPEG 6:00 P.M.
Mon. 29 at Winnipeg 7:00 p.m.
Wed. 31 at Columbus 6:00 p.m.
FRI. 2 TORONTO 7:00 P.M.
Sat. 3 at Dallas 7:00 p.m.
TUE. 6 SAN JOSE 7:00 P.M.
THUR. 8 CHICAGO 7:00 P.M.
SAT. 10 NASHVILLE 1:00 P.M.
Sun. 11 at Chicago 7:00 p.m.
Tue. 13 at Pittsburgh 6:00 p.m.
Thur. 15 at Buffalo 6:00 p.m.
SAT. 17 ARIZONA 8:00 P.M.
MON. 19 COLUMBUS 7:00 P.M.
Tue. 20 at Detroit 6:30 p.m.
Sun. 25 NHL ALL-STAR GAME (Columbus, Ohio)
Tue. 27 at Edmonton 8:30 p.m.
Thur. 29 at Calgary 8:00 p.m.
Sun. 1 at Vancouver 2:30 p.m.
TUE. 3 CHICAGO 7:00 P.M.
SAT. 7 COLORADO 7:00 P.M.
MON. 9 VANCOUVER 7:00 P.M.
Tue. 10 at Winnipeg 7:00 p.m.
THUR. 12 FLORIDA 7:00 P.M.
SAT. 14 CAROLINA 7:00 P.M.
Mon. 16 at Vancouver 9:00 p.m.
Wed. 18 at Calgary 8:30 p.m.
Fri. 20 at Edmonton 8:00 p.m.
SUN. 22 DALLAS 7:00 P.M.
TUE. 24 EDMONTON 7:00 P.M.
Thur. 26 at Nashville 7:00 p.m.
Sat. 28 at Colorado 9:00 p.m.
TUE. 3 OTTAWA 7:00 P.M.
Thur. 5 at Washington 6:00 p.m.
Fri. 6 at Carolina 6:00 p.m.
SUN. 8 COLORADO 5:00 P.M.
TUE. 10 NEW JERSEY 7:00 P.M.
FRI. 13 ANAHEIM 7:00 P.M.
Sat. 14 at St. Louis 7:00 p.m.
Tue. 17 at Nashville 7:00 p.m.
THUR. 19 WASHINGTON 7:00 P.M.
SAT. 21 ST. LOUIS 1:00 P.M.
Mon. 23 at Toronto 6:30 p.m.
Tue. 24 at N.Y. Islanders 6:00 p.m.
FRI. 27 CALGARY 7:00 P.M.
SAT. 28 LOS ANGELES 7:00 P.M.
THUR. 2 N.Y. RANGERS 7:00 P.M.
SAT. 4 DETROIT 6:00 P.M.
MON. 6 WINNIPEG 7:00 P.M.
Tue. 7 at Chicago 7:30 p.m.
Thur. 9 at Nashville 7:00 p.m.
Sat. 11 at St. Louis 6:30 p.m.
The NHL has implemented a significant change from last year regarding the free-agent interview period that begins next Wednesday.
In a memo sent yesterday to all teams and subsequently forwarded by the NHL Players’ Association to all agents, the league will now allow clubs and agents to discuss general parameters of a potential contract for a pending restricted and unrestricted free agent.
Last year if you remember, Commissioner Gary Bettman sent a last-second memo reminding clubs that they could not discuss contract parameters at all during the interview period prior to free agency, which begins this year on July 1.
In the June 18 memo (read over the phone to me by an agent), the league states, “After discussions with a number of general managers, we have revised and hopefully clarified with regard to last summer the permissible parameters of player contract and communication during the applicable interview periods.
“Please be advised that clubs are permitted to discuss the potential interest in as well as general parameters of a potential future contractual relationship with another club’s pending RFA or UFA during the applicable interview periods. The clubs may not enter any agreements or make any binding offers, promises, … oral or written concerning the terms of a potential SPC (standard players contract) with another club’s pending RFA or UFA.”
So in other words, teams and agents can now discuss the general parameters of a deal, as in, “I’ll be looking for a seven-year deal at around $5 million annually,” etc., meaning now players and agents at least know where each other is at heading into July 1 and know who’s in the game and who isn’t.
Last year, there seemed to be confusion where nobody had any idea of what could and couldn’t be discussed during the interview period. Some teams/agents apparently followed the rules, some teams didn’t, which created a conundrum that ticked off the teams that did follow the rules.
It’ll be interesting to see if this revision leads to some quick deals as free agency opens July 1.
This revision could also be potentially significant for a team like the Wild. Minnesota would love to find a way to add a scoring forward and a defenseman this summer. It probably can’t achieve both though IF both players it targets want long-term, lucrative contracts.
But if GM Chuck Fletcher learns prior to free agency that one of the players he covets would be interested in a short-term deal, it may allow Fletcher to fill two holes by extending a long-term offer to somebody else, maybe a defenseman.
So, that’s the good part of this NHL revision. Fletcher can now at least discuss general parameters to any potential deal with any potential free agent he covets to figure out what things the Wild may or may not be able to accomplish in free agency.
As I wrote the other day, the Wild would like to fill multiple holes this summer, but it also has to make sure it can re-sign all of its restricted free agents the next two summers. So it wants to be, as Fletcher said, “mindful,” with any long-term deal it gives out to an unrestricted free agent.
This summer, Nino Niederreiter, Darcy Kuemper, Justin Fontaine and Jason Zucker are restricted free agents that need to be re-signed. Next summer is the biggee when Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin can all be restricted free agents (some may receive contract extensions later this summer or into next season, Fletcher has said previously).
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher held his end-of-the-year availability today, and I got him alone after on a few other subjects. We also got a smattering of players.
Here are the Fletcher highlights:
-- Fletcher made it abundantly clear that Mike Yeo is the coach of this team. Fletcher and Yeo will meet in the next couple days to iron out his contract.
-- Besides the entire coaching staff, the entire medical training staff, equipment staff, members of the scouting staff and front office also are in the last year of their deals. Fletcher explained that since this was his fifth year, he kept everybody in the last year of their deals for consistency so after the year he could evaluate everybody and everything. He did say that after he re-signs Yeo, the two will have a conversation about everybody and there could be some “tweaks.” One person who is staying? Brent Flahr, the Wild’s assistant GM, who ran the draft table the past four drafts. He has agreed to a new multi-year extension.
-- Fletcher told me as of now, he is not planning to use his last amnesty buyout. As I’ve told you before, I don’t even really see a candidate. Some have said Kyle Brodziak, who has a year left on his contract at $2.83 million. Unless there’s some major cap issue, amnestying Brodziak is unlikely because he can simply be traded around the draft or after July 1 if Fletcher so determines. Remember, even last year, nobody was interested in Devin Setoguchi at the draft. Suddenly, after teams missed out on some players after free agency began, Fletcher started to get calls for Setoguchi and ended up trading him to Winnipeg for a second. And, the Wild’s not using its compliance buyout on Mikko Koivu.
-- Speaking of Koivu and the fact he has four years left on his contract at $6.75 million cap hits per, I asked Fletcher about him today. He had one goal and six assists in the playoffs after being so good down the stretch of the regular season.
“Contracts are contracts, and that creates expectations. I get that,” Fletcher said. “He’s not a prolific goal scorer, so he’s never going to make everybody happy, but he can still make plays, was outstanding defensively, played hard minutes and won big draws.
“You look at Granlund and Haula, they’re a couple small guys who can scoot, but we need a big guy that can shut down Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Getzlaf, Jamie Benn. Mikko, Granny, Haulzy, that’s pretty good balance with two smaller guys who can scoot and a big guy.”
I asked Fletcher if Koivu’s role needs to change then and he said, “It’s an open book. Mike [Yeo] did a good job this year establishing that things are fluid and that he’ll adjust and react by matchups or situations or who’s going well. We want to get three lines that can all contribute with a versatile fourth line. We want to be a two power-play unit, three-penalty kill unit team. Mikko is a big part of that.”
-- On June 9, the Wild will hold its organizational meetings where the staff really starts to tackle next year’s roster. The restricted free agents that need to be re-signed this summer are Nino Niederreiter, Justin Fontaine, Darcy Kuemper and Jason Zucker. He has told all his unrestricted free agents (Ilya Bryzgalov, Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser, Dany Heatley, etc.) that he’ll be in touch after these meetings. My guess said the Wild would be interested in re-signing Stoner and maybe McCormick and Prosser, who are valuable in their roles. I do see Christian Folin taking over Prosser’s role though. McCormick was real good down the stretch for the Wild and personally I think Stoner is a no-brainer, but Fletcher said there’s no rush and he wants to evaluate everything and especially cap space. Because Jonas Brodin, Erik Haula and Niederreiter hit some bonuses, the Wild will hit an overage penalty again next season, so the Wild’s cap ceiling will actually be less than most other teams. The ceiling is projected at $69-70 million.
-- After the staff, the next priority is tackling the goalie situation. Basically, Fletcher said, “Stay tuned.” As I’ve said often, until the Wild figures out the situations to Niklas Backstrom (he not only had abdominal surgery, but he also had hip surgery recently) and Josh Harding (MS), it can’t just re-sign Bryzgalov (helped get 17 of 20 points in a 10-start stretch late) or another goalie.
Asked his plan, Fletcher said, “I wish I could sit here and tell you we had the answer right now. The doctors will play a part in this, the salary cap will play a part in this and we’ll try to make the best decisions we can.
“There’s a realistic chance we need to have three goaltenders next year.”
Fletcher said he has no reason to believe Backstrom won’t be healthy by training camp. As for Harding, who didn’t play since Dec. 31, Fletcher said, “As difficult as it is for us, it’s more difficult for him. He’s got a real battle ahead of him, and he’s handled it the best he can. I’ve been told that there’s a very reasonable chance that he’ll be healthy and be able to play next year. You never know. It’s a vicious illness. We’ll deal with it day to day and we’ll go from there.
“Josh is a young guy and he showed this year that despite what he’s battling, he can play at a high level. We’ll go through this summer. We’ll see how things progress and training camp will be training camp.”
-- Next summer, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Erik Haula and Marco Scandella are set to become restricted free agents.
Later this summer, after the Wild tackles the unrestricted free-agent market, Fletcher may look to extend some of next summer’s restricted free agents in advance. He would love to stagger the terms so their contracts no longer expire at the same time.
“You better have an eye on three to five years down the road,” Fletcher said. “Cap space is not malleable. Once you use it, it’s gone. We have to make sure we preserve enough of it to keep the kids we want to keep, and I think that’ll have a major impact in what we do this summer.”
What’s that mean? It could affect going after Thomas Vanek or others. Plus, some of these kids look like they’ll develop into top-6 forwards.
“A lot of young players stepped up and showed they can handle the big stage,” Fletcher said.
Plus, the Wild has so many kids not even here yet, like Zucker, Matt Dumba, Gustov Olofsson, Tyler Graovac, Kurtis Gabriel, etc.
If the Wild doesn’t acquire a so-called finisher externally, Fletcher said, “We think we have some kids that can finish that area already here.” Fletcher noted that these kids are 21 or 22 and typically there’s a statistical upswing when until you’re 24 or 25, so for instance, the ceiling for guys like Niederreiter should be more than 14 goals and Coyle more than 12.
All the kids, from Niederreiter to Coyle to Mikael Granlund, said their goal is to get better this offseason.
-- Not shockingly, Coyle downplayed the fact he played with two separated shoulders. One happened in Game 4 in the first round, one happened in Game 3 this round. He said all players played banged-up and would do what he did.
Fletcher said guys like Koivu were banged up and Moulson had an oblique and groin injury that hampered him all postseason, but he didn’t want to make any excuses.
Similarly, I talked to Jason Pominville. He had two goals and was second on the team with nine points. He didn’t want to use the excuse that he was banged up.
“Everyone’s banged up,” Pominville said. “If I’m playing, I’m fine to go, I’m not going to use any of those excuses. But it’s always tough. If you lose a game and you miss a chance or two, you always wonder, ‘Could I have been the difference tonight?’ I would have liked to have had one or two more goals here or there.”
Pominville is very excited about the prospects of this team because of the major strides the youngsters made this season.
--Fletcher is excited by the step the Wild took this year and the culture created.
In his five years, “We’ve been able to bring in certain types of players. Talent’s very important, but we put an emphasis on character. We have a group of players that play hard. Our best players, our highest-paid players have a top-end work ethic. They want to win. They are not selfish, and that set the tone for our group.”
But Fletcher said the Wild’s in the toughest division in the league and it’s such a fine line between not only making the playoffs but advancing through.
“We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re just going to show up and make the playoffs and pick up where we left off,” he said. In other words, it’ll take a lot of hard work again next season just to get in, and then once in, anything can happen.
Obviously, it's the offseason. Other than the eventual re-signing of Yeo and staff news, there won't be a ton of news until the middle of next month. So don't be surprised if things quiet down, meaning I'll be taking some time to decompress, too.
As always, follow me on Twitter at @russostrib. I'll also be filling in for Paul Allen on KFAN Tuesday and Wednesday, so I'm sure I'll have some hockey guests on there.
Like I said the other day, I hope you enjoyed the Star Tribune coverage of the Wild this season. Talk to you in September (kidding).
Mike Yeo had his end-of-the-year presser this afternoon here at Xcel Energy Center. It came on the day the Wild could have been prepping for Game 7 in Chicago had it beaten the Blackhawks on Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of what-ifs and there’s a bit of an empty feeling that there was more hanging there for us,” said Yeo, who admitted he’s still “bitter” because he wishes there was a hockey game tonight. “But what I want [the players] to take out of it is the belief that we can beat anybody. We have an end result in mind here, and that’s to win the Stanley Cup. And we’ve been building toward that and we should believe that’s an attainable goal for us.”
Hello from the arena’s press room, where I’m wrapping up from the day.
I wrote about Yeo’s presser in Friday’s newspaper and Michael Rand was here producing a video, so you’ll get to hear from Yeo himself on www.startribune.com/wild.
On Friday, GM Chuck Fletcher will hold his end-of-the-year availability, so we’ll have a chance to pepper him with questions about next year’s roster, his thoughts on this season and next and maybe find out some injury information. The players were getting physicals today, so Yeo didn’t want to divulge anything yet.
Yeo, who will begin decompressing next week by going fishing (his second passion), will meet with Fletcher next week regarding a new contract. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few days at least.
Unlike three years ago when Yeo was promoted from the franchise’s Houston farm team, this contract will require actual negotiations as opposed to Yeo’s first contract when he was handed a three-year term and salary on par with rookie coaches.
Kinda like when I walked into my first sports editor’s office (the great Fred Turner) when I got my first pro beat – the Florida Panthers – and he told me my salary and I said, “thank you very much” and walked out.
Like I said, I wrote a lot of Yeo’s comments in Friday’s paper, but he is happy with the strides the Wild has made but feels incomplete because the Wild didn’t reach its ultimate goal, one he believes was completely attainable this year.
Yeo feels he has grown as a coach, and along with the leadership group of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, created an identity of defensive structure and being a hard team to play against.
He joked that he’s shocked he hasn’t gone until the ice (which is still out at the arena) and broken the “darn” partition that caused the bad bounce.
“You heard that and you knew that the puck was going to be changing direction, and especially where it hit, it’s a good chance that when it does it’s coming out toward the front of the net,” he said. “I’ve watched it too many times over and over again.”
He doesn’t blame any Wild player on the ice, saying the players were getting into a puck support mindset because they figured it would be a rimaround to the left around the glass. They weren’t in a defensive posture, and by the time it popped out, there was very little reaction time beyond Suter doing his job and tying up Peter Regin.
Unfortunately, of all players to be coming, it was Patrick Kane, the biggest big-game moment player in the NHL. Nobody scores bigger playoff goals than that guy.
Still, Yeo knows the Wild didn’t lose because of a bad bounce. They lost because they didn’t capitalize on countless opportunities in Games 5 and 6, and that again will be the goal of this offseason. Players must work to improve individually, but Fletcher may have to continue to look externally for so-called finishers and Yeo said he and his staff will continue to “take a hard look at our game” to see areas the team can improve.
Yeo admitted expectations have risen and one area he wants the team to improve is its killer instincts. That means staying away from the ups and downs that so describe this team and in games going for the throat when it has the lead.
Why? Because the Wild, even though it’s in the toughest division in the NHL, wants home-ice advantage in the playoffs next year. Yeo thanked the fans for bringing it this postseason, saying they brought a new meaning to home-ice advantage, and that’s why it’s important for the Wild to achieve that in next year’s postseason.
Yeo said he’s not taking anything away from Chicago because in the end, the Wild didn’t win and the Blackhawks deserved to and “are very worthy of moving on,” that they know how to find ways to win even in games they are outplayed.
But he said what’s so hard is he believes the Wild could have won this series and moved on to bigger and better things.
“We could have [won the Cup] this year. That’s the hard part for me. I know it’s hard, but we could have,” Yeo said. “We were playing great hockey night in night out, consistent hockey. Never perfect, but it never is. We’re playing the best teams in the league.
“I believe that we’ve taken some real steps toward that goal, but I’m also realistic that it’s really hard. It’s really hard. We should look forward to that challenge. That’s what makes it so great. That’s why one team’s left standing at the end of the year, and they’re happy and everybody else is trying to get that way.”
Talk to you Friday.
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