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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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.
Mike Yeo alluded to it last night, but in the coming days when the Wild has its end-of-the-year access, we're going to find out the rigors that some players were playing under.
One I can tell you for sure after digging a little today:
Charlie Coyle was playing with both a separated left shoulder and right shoulder, sources say. It was very noticeable to me in Chicago that he was playing hurt in Game 5, and last night, it was very apparent he was having trouble catching passes and stick-handling.
A few times, he went to the bench and grimaced visibly, so much so that I mentioned it on Twitter. Says everything about the talented kid, don't you think?
Yeo said after the game, "The way that our young kids performed, I’m very proud of them. ... You’ve got guys that are getting needles to numb the pain. They’re battling through an incredible amount so what you see out there is only scratching the surface of the way they’re paying the price, physically, mentally emotionally, like I said it’s hard to win."
We'll find out many others I'm sure, but Nate Prosser was also playing with a broken finger since the first round. As I've mentioned, I'm pretty sure we'll find out Jason Pominville was hurt, too.
Erik Haula tweeted that he is heading to Minsk to represent Finland in the world championships. Haula is the only Wild player participating, I'm told.
As for Yeo, there have been no conversations yet about a new contract, sources say, but GM Chuck Fletcher is expected to talk to him soon. Unless something goofy happens, I'd think after some negotiations, Yeo signs a multi-year extension soon.
I'll will be in studio with Barreiro from 5:30-6:30 tonight on KFAN.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly are in the house tonight to take in the Wild's first second-round home game in 11 years.
Bettman came by the press room to say hello, and here he is on a couple brief subjects.
He said the divisional rivalries in the first two rounds of the playoffs are "what we envisioned," especially in terms of engagement from the fans.
"Buildings are more than 100 percent full, our TV ratings nationally are up, our digital platforms and social media is up."
He pointed out that of the second-round rivalries -- Wild vs. Hawks, Ducks vs. Kings, Bruins vs. Habs and Rangers vs. Pens, nobody's traveling more than 400 miles.
On the 8:30 p.m. starts to make sure every game can be seen nationally, Bettman said, laughing, "You’re asking me because you’re worrying about your deadline, but in this digital era, deadlines have become largely irrelevant." (I'd disagree, but ...)
As far as the fans, Bettman said, "The fact of the matter is we’re trying to satisfy the greatest demand for all the fans throughout North America, so it’s a balancing act. We think we’re doing it as sensibly as possibly. We think it’s worked well. It’s been a fair balance."
On a stadium-series outdoor game in Minnesota (I reported today the Wild's getting one at Target Field probably next year; Wild wants Chicago, NHL wants it to be Dallas), Bettman said, "We know of the interest. You know I was here looking at venues. I have nothing to announce, but," he said with a sly smile, "we’re very focused."
Matt Cooke, suspended seven games for injuring Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie with a knee-on-knee hit Monday night, addressed the media this afternoon.
Cooke didn’t field questions but made an unwritten statement.
“First and foremost, I want to say that I’m disappointed and sorry that Tyson Barrie can’t play for the Colorado Avalanche tonight. I wish that he could. Unfortunately, it was not my intent to collide with him knee-on-knee. It was my intent to finish my check. Playoffs are a hard and physical time and it’s my job to be physical. I’ve led my team in hits in all three games and it’s an intense time. I’ve led my team this year in hits and in this series.
“Since March 20, 2011 (the elbow to Ryan McDonagh that resulted in a 17-game suspension), I’ve been a changed player. I’ve approached the game differently, I think differently about the game.
That The stats that I’ve collected over those three seasons prove that I’m a changed player and the plays that I make and the plays that I don’t make prove to that point as well. At the end of the day, this situation was not my intent.”
Cooke has until tomorrow night to decide if he will appeal his suspension to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Cooke didn’t respond when I asked if he would.
Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said this morning, “It doesn’t matter the number of games [Cooke received]. It doesn’t replace Tyson Barrie. We want to see Tyson on the ice tonight.”
Zach Parise wouldn’t discuss his opinion of Cooke’s suspension length nor the perceived inconsistency in the league’s decision-making process when it comes to suspensions (i.e. Bryan Bickell leading with his knee on Vladimir Sobotka last weekend and getting nothing):
“I don’t know what they look for. It’s not fair for me to comment on it, but I have got my opinion.”
On Cooke, Parise said, “You’ve got to know when he’s on the ice because he finishes his hits. So when you’re playing against him, if you’ve got your head down, he’s going to come after you and try and hit you. He’s one of those players where you just got to know where he is.”
Coach Mike Yeo is excited to finally drop the puck on Game 4 at an absurdly late 8:30 local time.
“It’s amazing a couple days between games in the playoffs feels like a week. Good day off, good practice yesterday, and now I can’t wait to hurry up and wait ‘til 8:30 tonight,” he joked.
As you know because you READ TODAY’S COVERAGE, Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine line. Also, Kyle Brodziak, scratched Monday, will center Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.
Darcy Kuemper vs. Semyon Varlamov. Kuemper made 22 saves in his first career shutout in his first career playoff start Monday.
“Honestly, I don’t think it would even matter who would be in net for them,” Roy said. “I think we had only four scoring chances all night long. They played really well. I mean, they tracked really well, they came back hard in the middle of the ice. They played with great urgency. I mean, they had a solid game. I have to give it to them. I don’t want to take anything from [Kuemper], but at the same time, I thought he had an easy game and I’m sure Bryzgalov could have done the exact same thing.”
On Cooke’s sentence, Yeo said, “We always definitely respect and accept what the decision is from the league, and with that, it’s just real important that we all put it behind us.”
On if Cooke will continue to provide a leadership role on team (he can practice and travel and be around all team functions, and he did skate today with the team), Yeo said, “For me, I’m focused on the game tonight, so to sit here and say that I spent the morning trying to make a plan for Matt Cooke, I haven’t. We’re playing Colorado tonight and I’m focused on the guys that are in the lineup. There will be time for some of those decisions.”
Matt Cooke’s 100th career playoff game was his last for awhile.
The NHL threw the book at Cooke on Wednesday by suspending the Wild’s physical winger seven games for his knee-on-knee-hit that injured Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie’s left knee in Monday’s playoff game.
If the term of the suspension is not fully served during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the remaining games will be served at the beginning of the 2014-15 regular season.
It is the second-longest suspension in NHL history for kneeing. Bryan Marchment, who made kneeing an artform, got eight games in 1998 for kneeing Kevin Dineen in the regular season.
In the video, the NHL explains that Cooke was leading with his left knee and "After Barrie releases the puck, Cooke continues in this posture, further extends his knee and makes contact with Barrie's left knee. The play is entirely in front of Cooke from the moment he steps on the ice and begins striding toward Barrie well before impact is made."
The video continues, "Seeing Cooke coming at him, Barrie takes evasive action and moves to his right in an attempt to avoid contact. While this evasive action might have worsened the extent of the injury, it should have been entirely predictable to Cooke that Barrie would attempt to avoid contact."
Cooke, who met with league officials Wednesday afternoon with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, has the right to appeal the suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman within 48 hours. If the ruling is upheld, Cooke would then have the right to appeal to a neutral arbitrator within seven days. If he appeals, Cooke cannot play until the appeal is heard and ruled upon.
Barrie is expected to miss four to six weeks.
Even though Cooke had mostly kept it clean the past three years, there is no doubt Cooke’s history of past on-ice transgressions played a giant role in the severity of the suspension.
In the video, it says, "The distance traveled with an extended knee, the further extension of the knee to ensure contact, the force of the impact and the resulting injury to an opponent merit supplemental discipline. These factors, combined with Cooke’s history, warrant a more significant penalty than the most recent suspensions that have been imposed for kneeing."
(Chris Porter got four games, James Neal five, but he kneed a guy in the head)
Cooke had previously been suspended five times for a total of 20 regular-season games and seven playoff games and fined four other times. He had not been suspended since March 2011. In that incident, Cooke, then a Pittsburgh Penguin, elbowed the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh and was suspended the final 10 regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs, which lasted seven games.
“Everybody’s well-informed about who he is and what he does, it speaks for itself,” Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said this afternoon. “There’s no place for that in the game. Look at the guy he hit, one of our top D, he’s going to be out for the foreseeable future. I don’t even know if there’s a place for [Cooke] in this game. It’s disgusting what he’s done to guys’ careers.”
Cooke’s most notoriously known for his head-shot on the Bruins’ Marc Savard in March 2010. Cooke wasn’t penalized or suspended, but the elbow led to the league cracking down harder on head shots. Savard returned in the 2010 playoffs, but he was limited to 25 games in 2010-11 after suffering another concussion and hasn’t played since.
On and off the ice, Cooke has worked to try to alter his agitating, hard-nosed style since the McDonagh eye-opener. Cooke knew if he didn’t clean up his act, he would be out of the league. So he worked with coaches on the ice and watched video off the ice.
He hasn’t had a major penalty since the McDonagh hit and has cut down his penalty minutes dramatically.
Until the Barrie incident, there were several examples during his first season with the Wild that he was a reformed player.
Cooke had a solid regular season for the Wild, but he was taking his game to a new level in the playoffs. He had an assist in three games, was a big part of the Wild’s 10 for 11 penalty kill and was tied for third in the NHL with 18 hits.
“The way he plays, he gives confidence to the whole team,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “We’re going to support him whatever happens. Now it’s a chance for somebody else to come into the lineup and do that job for us … in a different way. Obviously you can’t find another Matt Cooke. … We’ll miss him, but at the same time, he’s going to support us, we’ll support him and we’ll move on.”
Coach Mike Yeo has also raved all season about Cooke’s leadership.
“He’s a great player, great guy to have in the room,” center Erik Haula said. “He’s our physical presence out on the ice. We’re just going to have to replace that. Of course, he’ll be missed.”
Koivu said he hasn’t seen the Barrie incident, but “everything happens fast. We’ve seen those hits before. We will see them in the future. No one’s trying to do that, but it’s hockey. It happens very fast and you’re trying to be physical.”
On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.
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