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 has indeed added goalie insurance, but it wasn’t Jaroslav Halak or Martin Brodeur.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher pulled the trigger on Ilya Bryzgalov this afternoon, sending the 2014 fourth-round pick he received in the Jason Pominville trade last year from Buffalo to the Edmonton Oilers. Fletcher had been talking to Buffalo about Halak, but the price would have been a prospect and/or draft pick. Also, Bryzgalov is much cheaper, so theoretically, this gives Fletcher the opportunity to make more moves by Wednesday's 2 p.m. trade deadline if he so wants. The Wild can add roughly $3 million in players without giving up salary.
Fletcher acknowledged that was a big part of it. He called Bryzgalov's cap hit and salary "manageable," that the Wild wasn't willing to trade young players or higher picks in this type of situation and this allows him to maybe be more active later today or Wednesday.
The urgency to add a goaltender is because Niklas Backstrom is being shut down because of a recurring abdominal injury that likely needs to be repaired, Fletcher said. Fletcher said the assumption is Backstrom will likely be sidelined until next season. for the remainder of the season.
"I give Nik a lot of credit," Fletcher saud. "I think a lot of goaltenders probably would have shut down a month or two ago and he’s battled through it all year. I’m not quite sure he’s ever been healthy this season. ... Our goal for Nik is to get him healthy for next year."
Fletcher said Backstrom was quite emotional today and to say something about his character, he even practiced again today. "That's him," Fletcher said.
It was obvious Backstrom had something serious wrong. He said Jan. 8 that he thought it was related to his offseason sports hernia surgery and he saw his surgeon during the Olympic break. He said they figured out what was wrong but it was up to the team to disclose.
This is premature, but to answer the question I'm being asked a ton on Twitter, if it's true Backstrom is considered sidelined until next season, I'd think the Wild wouldn't be able to buy him out. You can't buy out an injured player. Also, because Backstrom was over 35 when he signed, the Wild would be charged with his cap for the remaining two years if he was bought out. Also, he is not eligible for a compliance buyout because he was signed under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Bryzgalov will wear No. 30 and may make his Wild debut Sunday against St. Louis at home.
"It's a new challenge and great opportunity," Bryzgalov said during a conference call with us today. Below is his Edmonton presser. He's a character. Edmonton writers say he was very accomodating, great to deal with and very good in net since Ben Scrivens' acquisition. He had a cool goalie mask there, too, his boy and girl, who live in New Jersey, did the colorings, I believe. He also wore 80 in Edmonton because it was the year he was born and in his one year in the KHL, he had eight shutouts ("eight and zero, get it?")
Bryzgalov, 33, known as an enigmatic goalie and true character as was documented in HBO’s 24/7 a few years ago (see YouTube), has been a No. 1 in Phoenix and Philadelphia. He's a big butterfly goalie that relies on positioning but has athleticism. With structure in front of him, he's had success in the league.
In an NHL career that has taken him from Anaheim to Phoenix to Philadelphia to Edmonton, Bryzgalov, a native of Russia, is 213-157-50 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
Philly bought Bryzgalov out of the last seven years of his contract last summer. He’ll receive $1.643 million a year through 2027-28.
"Ilya’s a good guy. He’s colorful. He’s known to have a few good sound bites now and again," Fletcher said. "At the bottom of it, there was a lot of pressure there in Philly. He played very well for them at times and there were situations that did not go as well. He played well in Phoenix, ... Anaheim, ... Cincinnati. He’s played in three Olympics, was second-team All-Star one year, he’s won over 200 games in the NHL, so to add a goaltender of that caliber for what we felt was a very manageable price made a lot of sense to us."
Earlier this season when Niklas Backstrom sustained a knee injury, Fletcher inquired about signing Bryzgalov. He was bought out last summer by the Flyers. As I reported Sunday, Fletcher spent the entire second intermission of last Thursday's game with Oilers GM Craig MacTavish, the Wild was offered Bryzgalov and the price would likely be cheap (probably a mid-round pick). The Wild still owns its fourth-round pick this year even by this trade and nine picks in the draft, including one in every round (three sixths).
I think we’re going to find out soon that Backstrom is going to be shut down with an abdominal injury. Just a hunch because Backstrom declined comment today and it’s been abundantly clear he’s been laboring through something.
I asked coach Mike Yeo if Darcy Kuemper would continue to be the No. 1. He has started 15 in a row. Since assuming the Wild’s No. 1 job Jan. 7, Kuemper is 11-2-2 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. He has won five in a row, allowing six goals in that span.
“We’ve said all along with Kuemps, we’re going to take it day-to-day. He’s a young kid,” Yeo said. “With that said, there’s no question that he’s done enough that we’re going to keep giving him opportunity to get out there and show what he’s done. So, yeah, … we’re in large part where we are right now because of the job that he’s done, and we’re aware of that. We love his potential, but more than that, we love the way that he’s playing right now.”
We will see if the Wild does anymore today or tomorrow. It's been a busy day in the NHL with Anaheim gearing up for something big by unloading Dustin Penner (Thomas Vanek? Matt Moulson? Ryan Callahan?; Ryan Kesler?), with Roberto Luongo getting dealt to Florida, Andrew MacDonald to Philly, etc.
It's been reported by very respected TVA Sports' reporter Renaud Lavoie, who broke the Luongo trade, that Torrey Mitchell has asked to be traded. Mitchell and his agent Kent Hughes deny it, although I have sources who say Renaud's report is accurate.
It would make sense. Mitchell, signed to a three-year deal two summers ago, has been saddled as a fourth-liner for most his two seasons so far.
Kyle Brodziak's having a down year. Dany Heatley's in the last year of his deal, as are Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser.
My gut says the Wild makes another to try to get better. I do hear the Wild has had ongoing discussions with Buffalo about Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville's former teammate and Zach Parise's teammate from Shattuck-St. Mary's and North Dakota.
The Wild is 9-2-2 in its past 13 and has won five in a row, so there’s also always the risk of messing with chemistry of a good “team” around the trade deadline if you do too much and add or delete players.
Yeo said, “We like our group. We believe we can win with this group.” But obviously, the Wild will weigh the chemistry its team has gained these past two months with the need to maybe get better.
Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Matt Cooke had the day off from today's skills practice. Nate Prosser also wasn’t out there. As I mentioned the other day, his wife is due with their second child any moment.
The Wild has placed Jake Dowell on waivers as a gesture to help him find a job. It gives 29 teams a chance to claim Dowell off waivers. If he clears, he’ll stay in Iowa.
Also, with Mikko Koivu back, Stephane Veilleux was reassigned. Also, for the second time in three days, the Wild signed an undrafted junior free agent. Saturday, it was Calgary Hitmen leading scorer Brady Brassart. Today, it was the Guelph Storm’s Zack Mitchell. The 21-year-old forward ranks fourth on the Storm and 18th in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with 77 points (29-48=77), including nine power-play goals and six game-winning goals, in 62 games this season.
“Zack is an intelligent, two-way winger who is having a tremendous season for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League,” said Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “We’re excited to add another quality young forward to the Minnesota Wild organization.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will be in Wild owner Craig Leipold’s center-ice suite tonight to take in the Wild vs. Calgary Flames game.
But not too close.
Leipold reminded Bettman that nobody, even the leader of the NHL, can sit in the seat next to the jumpy owner during games. So Bettman will keep his distance.
Bettman did take a car ride with Leipold today thought to the Twins’ Target Field and the Gophers’ TCF Bank Stadium to tour the facilities for a possible outdoor game. He called both facilities “very, very attractive.”
The Wild didn’t take part in a stadium-series game this season (the league had four on top of the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic) in part because Leipold has been holding out for the Winter Classic. After the 2015 Winter Classic was awarded to the Washington Capitals, Leipold changed his tune and informed the NHL he would take a stadium-series game if it helps the Wild’s cause to get the NHL’s actual Winter Classic.
“Craig has been discussing with me the possibility of playing a stadium game for a long time and we discussed it again today,” Bettman said late this afternoon. “It’s something we know the club wants, that Craig wants and the fans want, and we’ll be responsive. I can’t give you a date or a venue yet. … The fans, the hockey environment, the weather, this is the State of Hockey after all … “We’re very focused on Minnesota.”
Bettman indicated the Wild would get a stadium-series game before a Winter Classic because “It’s easier to focus on because we have more opportunity to satisfy the demands.”
“I’m not making any promises” as to if the Wild will get one next season.
There has been a lot of chatter that one reason the Wild hasn’t gotten the Winter Classic is because NBC hasn’t felt the Wild can draw a national audience. Bettman didn’t confirm that, but when I asked if NBC and HBO have a say in the venues and opponents, Bettman said, “We consult with them in terms of getting their input as to what makes sense from a television standpoint.”
The NHL has indicated the league will have fewer outdoor games next season. There has been much debate that there have been too many in a short amount of time and it takes the uniqueness away.
“Despite all of the debate about what the right number is, you can’t really overdo these,” said Bettman, pointing out the six games (including Winter Classic and Heritage Classic) drew 375,000 fans.
“It has become such a big fan favorite event, such an in-market phenomena,” said, Bettman, although he agree you “don’t want to do too many” because it should be a national television attraction and “it pushed our organization to the limits.”
“We’re specializing in staff red-eyes,” he joked.
--On expansion: “There’s a lot of interest. We’re hearing from multiple groups in Seattle, … in Vegas, in Kansas City, in Quebec City. We haven’t decided to engage in a formal expansion process, but as we always do, we listen to expressions of interest. … There may be good reasons to expand, there may be not. It’s not something we’ve seriously considered yet.”
(Russo note: Expansion’s coming. The league is perfectly set up for 32. Seattle will obviously be one, and even though people always seems to poo-poo Vegas, my sources tell me this is a legit option as MGM Resorts builds an arena behind New York-New York).
--On the state of the league: “Look at the last year, we now have long-term labor peace, we have two very significant long-term major media contracts for national rights in Canada and the U.S., we sold three franchises over the summer. We’re probably the most stable and in the best position we’ve ever been in.”
--on potential rule changes, like 3-point games in the standings, etc. He said the league’s playing at 95 percent capacity in the regular season, over 100% in the playoffs, “revenues have never been higher, TV ratings have never been higher, the game on the ice has never been better followed and received and praised. … I don’t think the game’s in need of any urgent changes.”
-- On the future of the Olympics, “We went to Sochi to have a nice tournament and we did. Nobody has given any serious discussion or thought as to what we do next.”
Owners are starting to scoff at going to the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, in large part to the several injuries that took place in Sochi, the 14-hour time difference, the stopping of the momentum of the NHL season, etc. In fact, the Wild was one a number of teams that voted against going to Sochi.
“It’s not all good and it’s not all bad,” Bettman said. “It’s a balancing act and some of that balance gets affected by where the Olympics are. When we were in Vancouver and Salt Lake City, it was easy to tip the scales. When you’re in other places, not so easy.
Bettman said Russia was easy because of the hockey tradition there. He noted that’s not the same for Korea, but he added, “Nobody, nobody has begun the process of evaluating what comes next. We’re focused on our season.”
--Bettman talked about how the NHL is the leader in video review and how the other league comes to them to see how they do it. In fact, it’s been reported that the NFL wants to have a centralized video review system like the NHL.
But Bettman said they can’t review everything and coach’s challenges are problematic because “continuous play means we can’t review everything because we may find ourselves unwinding the clock. We don’t want to do anything that we can’t get right with certainty.”
He did say the NHL will “continue to study what applications we can put technology to use to help get more decisions right,” like on my gripe that goalie interference should be reviewed (for example, referee Brad Meier wiping out Keith Ballard’s goal in Vancouver on Friday even though Erik Haula didn’t touch Eddie Lack; supervisor Mick McGeough acknowledged to me that Meier erred).
“But it’s the reason our officials have the toughest job, this game is fast and it’s continuous and you don’t want to disrupt the game,” Bettman said of too many reviews and thought of coach challenges.
But Bettman said the NHL continues to try to minimize the number of referee and linesman mistakes by “coaching and critiquing and holding officials accountable.”
The Wild has signed Calgary Hitmen free-agent center Brady Brassart to a three-year entry-level deal and I hear the team is close to signing hard-nosed prospect Kurtis Gabriel, 20, a 2013 third-round pick, to his three-year, entry-level contract. An announcement on that should come in the next couple days.
Brassart, 20, has scored 33 goals and 75 points, including 10 power-play goals, six game-winning goals, a plus-17 rating and 90 penalty minutes in 62 games with the WHL Hitmen this season. The 6-foot-2, 196-pounder leads Calgary in scoring, is tied for first in assists and second in goals and PIM.
“Brady has had a strong overage season and we are very happy that he chose to sign with the Minnesota Wild,” said assistant general manager Brent Flahr in the press release. “He’s a good-sized center that plays a mature two-way game. He can play in all situations and we look forward to his transition to professional hockey next season.”
As for Gabriel, the 6-foot-4, 218-pound forward is the fourth-leading scorer with 11 goals and 40 points in 52 games for Owen Sound in the Ontario Hockey League. He will officially turn pro in the fall.
If you remember, the Wild faced a tough decision in training camp as to whether or not to sign him then and send him to Iowa or return him to Owen Sound for his overage year so he could play big minutes and a big role for Owen Sound. I think they're happy with its decision.
Gabriel is a character kid, very physical, tough and, most intriguing, has size.
In fact, that's the most intriguing thing about the Wild's next rung of prospect forwards. The Wild's not the biggest team in the world, so it's made a conscious effort the last few drafts to add players with size.
They have Gabriel, Brett Bulmer, Tyler Graovac, Raphael Bussieres, Adam Gilmour, Mario Lucia and Avery Peterson off the top of my head. Add Brassart now, too. I'm just talking forward. Defense, guys like stud Gustav Olofsson, Daniel Gunnarsson, Carson Soucy and Nick Seeler are all big.
Obviously, Matt Dumba plays physically, too.
Wild's got the day off today before practicing Sunday in St. Paul. They're coming off a big four points on two games in two nights to Edmonton and Vancouver.
They were running on fumes in the third period in Vancouver, but Darcy Kuemper stood tall and the work ethic exuded on the ice was beyond impressive.
Since becoming the Wild’s No. 1 goalie Jan. 7, Kuemper is 10-2-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. He has made 14 consecutive starts, has won four in a row (four goals allowed) and is 11 for 11 against shooters in two victorious shootouts.
Again, it'll be interesting how Chuck Fletcher proceeds as Wednesday's deadline arrives. The Wild is in the market for a goalie.
Buffalo would love to trade Jaroslav Halak to Minnesota, so we'll see if anything evolves there if the price is right. I know I indicated last night that there may not be a lot of interest, but he's 28, has put up good numbers throughout his career and with the Wild's goaltending situation, there's no doubt the Wild's in the market for a goalie. Halak's numbers are stellar (24-9-4 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .917 save percentage), but there's always the question of how much is that to do with Ken Hitchcock's system.
We'll see how things play out if the price is right. There's no doubt Fletcher and Sabres GM Tim Murray are talking.
There's Martin Brodeur (could be a good mentor for Kuemper), Cam Ward and his exorbitant contract, maybe Tim Thomas if Florida's willing to move him, Ilya Bryzgalov.
We shall see.
The Wild is 13-4-2 in 19 games in 2014 heading into Monday's game vs. Calgary, a game Kuemper's parents will be in attendance for.
Entering tonight, the Wild has a seven-point lead for a playoff spot, but it's idle from Tuesday to Friday, so Monday's two points would be key.
Anyhoooo, that's it. I have to board a plane. As expected John Curry and Steve Kampfer were returned to Iowa.
Talk to you Sunday.
Good afternoon from the Rexall Place, a building that has housed some of the greats -- Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Mike Greenlay.
The Wild practiced this afternoon and plays an actal game against the Oilers on Thursday night -- the first of back-to-back games. The Wild plays in Vancouver on Friday. The Wild has won 12 of its past 14 in this arena and has won 18 times here -- its most in any arena.
These are no longer division foes .
John Curry was called up as goalie insurance in case Niklas Backstrom didn't handle today's practice well. He looked good on the ice, and coach Mike Yeo planned to talk with Backstrom afterward to see how healthy he is. If he's healthy, Yeo indicated that Backstrom could start Thursday's game against the Oilers.
He's 25-4-1 all-time against Edmonton with a 1.91 goals-against average and .928 save percentage and at Rexall Place, he's 8-3-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
The rationale behind maybe starting Backstrom over Darcy Kuemper is his success in this arena (although he's been pulled here three or four times, I believe) and mostly that Friday's game in Vancouver is huge. A win over the Canucks, who had lost seven in a row before the break, could put a whole world of hurt on their playoff chances. So maybe you save Kuemper for that game.
The Canucks are 10th in the West and a point out of a wildcard spot.
The other option is start Kuemper, who had started 12 in a row before the break and is 8-2-2 in his past 13, back-to-back, which he's done in his pro and junior career. We shall see Thursday.
Captain Mikko Koivu rotated in and out of lines during today's practice. Yeo didn't rule him out for the game vs. Edmonton, but he did say back-to-back games may be tough after ankle surgery Jan. 6. So that made it sounds like Thursday is doubtful but Friday is possible.
"I thought he looked good," Yeo said. "He continues to progress. I don’t want to say that he’s in or he’s out for tomorrow. Obviously back to back games might be tough for him. So that said, I don’t want to say that he’s in, I don’t want to say that he’s out. But those are the things that we’d have to consider along with making sure that he’s 100 percent. I know speaking to him today, he’s not quite there yet so we’ll see after today."
Marco Scandella won't play because of his sprained knee. Two practices is too quick. Jason Zucker isn't on the trip because of his leg injury, so he was placed on injured reserve with Scandella and Stephane Veilleux was called up.
The lines today:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Dany Heatley-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter
Stephane Veilleux-Erik Haula-Torrey Mitchell
Mike Rupp, the extra
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner-Keith Ballard
Steven Kampfer, the extra
In a trade today, the Wild sent Iowa defenseman Brian Connelly to the Chicago Blackhawks for former Badger Brad Winchester. Winchester will report to Iowa initially, but this was definitely a trade made for depth moves and Winchester will likely see games with the Wild.
Remember, after next Wednesday's trade deadline, the roster is unlimited as long as you don't go over the cap. Winchester, a former college teammate of Heatley and pro teammate of Brodziak, is a tough customer and adds some ruggedness (6-5, 230) to a smaller Wild lineup. He's got 390 games of NHL experience in seven seasons with Edmonton, Dallas, St. Louis, Anaheim and San Jose. He's also played 24 NHL playoff games, including scoring an overtime winner for the Oilers in 2006 against Detroit in the first round when they went to the Cup Finals.
He has 68 career points and 552 penalty minutes in NHL regular seasons.
"I think it’s great, and depth of a different type of player for us," Yeo said. "He’s a hard-nosed guy, he’s a guy that’s not fun to play against and he’s got that experience, so definitely a good move for us."
Wild center Mikael Granlund, who won a bronze medal at the Olympics, was named to the Olympic All-Star team after Canada's gold-medal win over Sweden today.
Granlund led Finland with seven points and 20 shots and all Finnish forwards in ice time at 18 minutes, 15 seconds a game. Here is the rest of the Olympic awards.
If you didn't read my Sunday Insider on the Wild's goaltending situation heading into the March 5 trade deadline, here that is.
The Wild held an outdoor practice this morning at the John Rose OVAL in Roseville. Afterward, defenseman Marco Scandella skated with strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson. We'll find out Monday if Scandella practices with the team.
My guess is the Wild will recall a couple players later today. With Jason Zucker hurt and Mikko Koivu up in the air, my guess is Erik Haula is one. Another will likely be a defenseman.
Nino Niederreiter is back in town and may practice Monday. I believe Granlund, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were due back today.
Talk to you Monday and I'll update the blog later if the callups are announced.
The Wild, five points up in the playoff race with Phoenix and Dallas, resumes its schedule Thursday in Edmonton. It'll practice at the X Monday and Tuesday and in Edmonton on Wednesday.
I'll be on Rosen's Sports Sunday tonight on Channel 4. I'll be on "Hockey This Morning" on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio Monday at 8:25 a.m. and on KFAN with Dan Barreiro at 5:15 p.m. Monday.
|Vikings (33)||Gophers injuries (2)|
|Gophers on TV (1)||Gophers coaches (2)|
|Gophers players (7)||Gophers game day (6)|
|Gophers postgame (12)||Gophers awards and honors (1)|
|Gophers post season (1)||St. Cloud State (1)|
|Wild news (467)||Bears (5)|
|Lions (1)||NFL draft (1)|
|Packers (2)||Super Bowl (6)|
|Vikings fans (3)||Ex-players (1)|
|Injury report (1)||On the road (184)|
|Rookies (36)||Roster moves (14)|
|Vikings draft (91)||Vikings trade talk (3)|
|Fighting (3)||Stanley Cup (28)|
|Wild coaching (32)||Wild game coverage (390)|
|Wild management (15)||Wild off-season news (421)|
|Wild player moves (125)||Wild practice (333)|
|Wild pregame skate (349)||Wild trade news (37)|
|Wild training camp (121)||Adrian Peterson (4)|
|Ben Leber (1)||Bernard Berrian (1)|
|Brad Childress (3)||Brett Favre (5)|
|Jared Allen (2)||Leslie Frazier (1)|
|Brad Childress (3)||Leslie Frazier (1)|
|NHL news (1)||2010 Winter Games (5)|
|Olympic hockey (27)||Olympic luge (3)|
|Olympic ski jumping (2)||Olympic skiing (2)|
|NHL draft (7)||Gophers sports (3)|