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.
For more on Kampfer, here's a good profile that was written last year by CSNNE. Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr knows Kampfer well as part of the Anaheim scouting staff that drafted him in 2007.
Also, I'll be on KFAN with Paul Allen at 9 a.m.
Here is Chuck Fletcher talking late this afternoon on a conference call.
Fletcher on Greg Zanon, traded to Boston for Steve Kampfer: “Heart and soul player, blocked shots, physically competitive every night and gave us everything he had every game he played. He did everything we asked of him and he was a very good teammate.”
On Nick Schultz, traded to Edmonton for Tom Gilbert: “Represented the Minnesota Wild as well as any hockey player could represent us, both on the ice, off the ice, played 743 regular-season games for our team, was part of the Wild team that had a run back in 03, popular teammate, great in the community, good family man, was a very solid defensive defenseman and played very hard for us.”
“Today’s trades were not about getting rid of those players as much as adding different pieces for us going forward.”
Getting puck moving defensemen for defensive guys: “I’ve heard some characterizations of Tom Gilbert as an offensive type of guy. I’m pretty familiar with Tom. Tom played in Wilkes-Barre a few years ago when I was general manager of that team on loan from Edmonton. … I think Tom is a strong puck mover and has the ability to contribute offensively, but ideally he has a very solid two-way game. He logs a lot of minutes. When the Minnesota Wild played Edmonton this year, Tom Gilbert was often playing on [a shutdown] line with Ladislav Smid. He’s a guy that can play in any situation, he moves the puck well and he does have an offensive component. But I don’t know if I’d characterize him purely as an offensive defenseman. I don’t think that’s fair to his talents. Our ability to transition the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone is an area we wanted to improve.”
On Kampfer: “He’s going to start off in Houston. He’s missed some time this year. He’s been down in Providence getting some ice time. We felt it would be best for him to go down. John Torchetti is a great coach. We play the system in Houston that we do here in Minnesota and give him a chance. I think between [Providence and Boston], he’s only played 20-odd games. He’s a young guy, he needs to play, let him get his confidence, get his game going and he can learn from there instead of just throwing him into the fire. We’re carrying six defensemen. We do expect Clayton Stoner back hopefully within two weeks and Steven is available if anybody gets hurt. So we have depth. … He’s not big in stature (5-11). He’s competitive. He’s mobile. He can move the puck. He’s spent last year with the Bruins for a lot of the year and was the seventh defenseman for a lot of this year. He did have an injury earlier this season that knocked him out for awhile. … We feel he has some upside and provides us some depth for this season and going forward hopefully can be a guy that can be part of our group.”
When Gilbert trade talks started: “Even though we’re in the same division, I do talk to Tamby (Steve Tambellini) quite a lot. I remember having a conversation about Tom Gilbert three summers ago to be honest with you when I first took the job. He’s one of those types of players I just felt would help our team. Over the last couple days the conversations picked up. They were looking for a particular fit and we were looking for a particular fit. It’s a trade that probably benefits both clubs in terms of the types of players that they have on their team.”
How agonizing is it to trade a popular teammate like Schultz? “Extremely hard. There’s been a lot of people singing his praises today and rightfully so. It was a hard conversation. This was a hockey trade. This was not a salary dump or dumping a player that we didn’t appreciate or we didn’t value. You’re trading a good player for a good player. That’s always difficult. We felt going forward we needed to … add a little bit more puck-moving ability to our back end. Over the next couple seasons, we hope to add more and more talented, young forwards. It’s no secret we’ve struggled offensively this season and I think this is a natural evolution for our team. I can tell you one thing: There would have been a lot of other pieces I would have preferred to move besides Nick Schultz, but Steve Tambellini knows the players and knows the league. It wasn’t an easy price, let’s put it that way.”
Lots of salary cap space, flexibility this summer? “At least last summer, we felt we were a bit stuck in terms of not being able to get over the hump for the present and maybe not having enough assets going forward. … We’re very cognizant of the fact that over time here we have to add more NHL talent, too. Part of our push as we get better will be from young players, part of it will be from adding NHL players. In order to do that, you either need cap space or you need young assets to trade, and the good news is we feel we have both. Whether it’s this summer or this winter, we think we’re in the best position we’ve ever been in terms of being going out and get better quickly.”
Big fish is next objective? “It’s funny. I was talking to [Chicago GM] Stan Bowman the other day and their big break was Brian Campbell. They had all these young players and they went out and got a player to come play for them and they took off. Again, whether that’s a trade, and we have assets now, again we have some good, young players, we have some extra picks now, or whether it’s free agency, whether it’s a trade next year during the season, at some point we want to go out and try to add some top-end guys. I think keeping Mikko Koivu here was extremely important for our franchise. I think adding Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi was very important, particularly a guy like Heatley, who’s a top offensive player in this league. So I think we’ve made some strides. But clearly when you look at our team this year, we have a good core of players. But we just need a few more. And that’s our challenge. And how quickly we get there, I can’t say. But we’ll certainly try. That’s the next step for us as a franchise.”
On not doing anything else: “If you look at the trades we made, all three of them (including Zidlicky), all of them we feel can help our team right now. We’re competing for a playoff spot. We have some work to do. But we’ve won three of our last four games. We’ve shown a lot of heart recently. And I feel we have the capability at taking a run at this. We’re always interested in adding younger assets, and I think for the most part, we were able to accomplish both. We were not looking to sell players. We were not looking to dump players off our team just to pick up draft picks. We had some opportunities. It was a non-starter. We weren’t interested in being quote-unquote sellers.
On not trading Harding: "Josh is somebody that can very well be part of our future going forward. He’s a big part of our present. I wasn’t looking to sell him. If there was ever a hockey trade that makes sense, you’d consider him. But we were not looking to just to move Josh Harding or sell him. He’s won a lot of hockey games for us. He’s a young goalie and we haven’t dismissed the idea of attempting to re-sign him for the future.
Todd Richards is the new coach of the Columbus Bluejackets.
Richards, fired as coach of the Wild after last season, takes over on an interim basis after Scott Arniel was fired this morning. Richards had been Arniel's top assistant.
Columbus has the worst record (11-25-5) in the NHL. Richards' appointment will last the remainder of the season; he was 77-71-16 with the Wild from 2009-11.
The Bluejackets' next game is Tuesday night in Chicago.
Arniel was 45-60-18 since starting the 2010 season as head coach.
Richards, 45, was 38-36-8 in 2009-10 with the Wild and 39-35-8 last season.
All day, as I sat in this very spot not burning calories and consuming coffee, I was looking forward to going out tonight. But the weather stinks and I've got no life anyway.
So I'll blog.
I'll do my best to not make this a long, convoluted blog because I do want to get out of here, but it may be a bit all over the place because I have some leftovers that I couldn't squeeze into the paper, such as quotes from Cam Barker and Josh Harding and Jose Theodore and Chuck Fletcher.
But I'll start with this. I love Twitter (follow me at www.twitter.com/russostrib ) because it's obviously a great means of information, but it also gives me a great gauge of what Wild fans are thinking in real-time.
Unfortunately, on the day it was revealed Mike Yeo was the next Wild coach, and on the day of Yeo's news conference, and on draft night when the Wild took Jonas Brodin, traded Brent Burns an hour before deadline (thanks Chuck) and drafted Zack Phillips right at deadline, I didn't get to read a single tweet the fan base sent me. (Sorry, but all your comments that I'm certain were brilliant and witty and thought-provoking went for naught because I was just swamped).
Today, because frankly I wasn't manic dealing with, say, the six signings and one trade my colleagues in Florida had to deal with, I got to read every word you wrote me.
And as I was writing my stories tonight for Saturday's Star Tribune that you plan to purchase, I began to wonder: How come very few people ranted to me throughout the day that the %$@!^#& Wild didn't sign a single %&$*%I@! sole (other than re-signing Josh Harding and signing draft pick Kyle Medvec to an entry-level deal)?
I started wondering, "Is this apathy setting in, did folks just get out of here for the long weekend or are fans starting to buy what Chuck Fletcher's selling?"
So instead of wondering, I took the question to the masses. Yes, of course, I got the few with a couple choice things to say back about the Wild, but take a look at a sampling at the majority of responses:
@russotrib Happy Wild showed restraint. My fellow season ticket holders may disagree
@Russostrib I think the Wild have all their ducks in a row and are smart to build through the draft and trading for a while
@Russostrib The last two drafts have been good/great IMO, along with failed FAs means I'm ready be patient for once.
@Russostrib I'm glad we're not overpaying for second tier players. #stillwantMaddenback
@Russostrib I think we all kind of expected it. Atleast Fletcher has a clear vision for this team now. If he can keep drafting well, I'm in!
@Russostrib we are quiet. why? It is amazing what honesty from a GM and management team can do for fans.
@Russostrib i like the youth movement, keep cleaning.
@Russostrib Harding will be back in a Wild sweater, Fletcher has a good plan, Yeo has the reins. I'm good :) Will miss Bruno though (:
@Russostrib I think we're buying into the formula. In two years I hope to see a @mnwild free agent FRENZY to setup for our REAL Cup run!
@Russostrib maybe it's cuz many of us see that fletch has a plan and we see the future as u pointed out in ur post-draft write up?
@Russostrib Nope. Reality has set in Mike. Build from within. I'm excited!
@Russostrib They see how overpriced all the deals are. Best deals this year are the ones not being made.
@Russostrib besides Richards there hasn't been anyone I would break the bank for, lots of average players getting big deals today.
@Russostrib maybe Fletcher managing expectations in his post-draft presser worked? Maybe they realize these are ridiculous deals?
@Russostrib prices are high, and I think most are satisfied with the direction they are headed
@Russostrib We're getting smarter. Subpar UFA class and losing Barker keep us quiet.
@Russostrib cause fans know they actually have enough guys after harding signed, in chuck we trust
@Russostrib I think this is the right approach; allowing the younger players to compete for the open spots instead of overpaying for vets.
Obviously this small sample doesn't express the opinion of every Wild fan, but these were the majority of the tweets I got back. Now, I don't know if the article/blog comments are vastly different, and I'm not naive enough to believe every Wild fan is jovial with the direction of the Wild, but all these responses did get me thinking.
As one of the fans alluded to above, Doug Risebrough was derided for his "manage expectations" line in the news conference before he was fired.
But sometimes as a GM, it's imperative to clearly, succinctly get your message out there, explain to the fans who invest so much into your product what your vision is for the future.
Fletcher's done that the past couple months, but especially weeks. Everybody's not going to buy into it, but you've got to convey it nonetheless.
Some want to use the negative connotation that the Wild's "rebuilding." Chuck Fletcher would rather use the term "building."
Whatever it is, if Fletcher doesn't make it abundantly clear that the Wild's going the draft and development model, that they're going to fill the majority -- not all, but the majority -- of its holes from within, Wild fans perhaps storm the gates today.
But I do think a lot of Wild fans are tired of the losing, are tired of a franchise stuck in mud, see the fact that the Wild hasn't drafted and developed players nearly as well as other franchises, see the fact that the stars on most other teams are homegrown, and these fans are at the point where they just want to see a clear vision of how the Wild gets from Point A to Point B.
As I wrote in that Sunday Insider, there are no short cuts to success, and for too long, the Wild tried to do two things at once -- draft and develop, while signing expensive free agents and trying to accelerate the process through trades like Cam Barker and Chuck Kobasew. It didn't work.
Now, this could take awhile. There's going to be growing pains. Trust me on that. I'm not going to sit here right now and tell you I believe this team will be better next year. The first wave of kids are coming now, and they're not the top-end of the Wild's growing prospect pool. But it's the next wave of kids where I think you'll start to see some skill in the development pipeline -- guys like Granlund and Larsson, who I'm telling you I keep hearing incredible things about, and Coyle, who was San Jose's No. 1 guy on its reserve list and San Jose's No. 1 guy on last season's Hockey News Future Watch edition.
And then these kids need to, well, develop.
So like I've said for awhile, it may take patience. There could be tough times ahead where we all need a reminder when we snap what the larger picture is. But as long as the Wild brass is right about these kids -- not every one will make it, but the more kids you stockpile, the better the likelihood that you'll find some real deals -- this should prove worth it.
We shall see.
But at the very least, we know what the path is now. The goal of this team is to build from within, keep cap flexibility, fill holes internally, and when the time is right to hit that home-run with a truly top-end player via free agency or trade, pounce. When that is, we'll have to stay tuned. But I'd think that's at least a summer away.
We continue, and since this blog's gone longer than expected like most my late-night blogs, I'll try to make it snappy:
-- Now with all that said, that doesn't mean the Wild will be completely silent the rest of the summer. It just didn't sign anybody on Day One during a crazy, spendy day. As I mentioned on one of the blogs today, I personally see holes and think they could use at least one more NHL-experienced defenseman. They made some calls today, but I think they'll let the dust settle a little bit and then revisit whether there are some fits out there.
Fletcher said he's had a lot of conversations with agents for signings and teams for trades, and he'll see if he can make something happen.
Here's Fletcher on some subjects:
On today in the NHL: "There’s been a lot of money spent today. It’s been an interesting day. We’ve been watching it. We’re in our warrom and looking at everybody’s cap situations and rosters, and a lot of big contractual commitments were made. It’ll be interesting to see how some of these things work out over the next season or two, or 10."
-- Cam Barker talked to the Edmonton media today:
How disappointing was it in Minny: "Toughest year of my life, no question. Everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. I had a couple of injuries. It was extremely frustrating. I'm glad to move on, I'm really motivated and I want to prove people wrong. That's going to drive me to training camp and into next season."
Being bought out? "I didn't look at it as such a bad thing. Obviously it's not the best circumstance. In terms of your career, you don't wish for this. But it's worked out for the best. I wish those guys in Minnesota the best. No hard feelings."
He said, "It’s going to be exciting. Just to get back to the team I started with. Me and Backy (Niklas Backstrom) have had a lot of years together now. We know each other well. I know what he wants of me. I know his routine and when to stay out of his way in a couple situations (laughs). I’m just proud to be a Wild and honored to be with Nik again."
He said Kyle Brodziak will continue to run the music in the locker room even though that was Harding's old job. "I like Brodzy's music. One less thing for me to worry about in my book."
Morning to you. I'll be on Joe Schmit's Sports Wrap on Channel 5 tonight, I think around 10:30 p.m.
NHL Draft is over. Only business yet to come: Qualifying offers must be tendered by 4 p.m. CT Monday; First buyout period ends Thursday and free agency begins Friday.
I'll write more about free agency as we get closer, but with the Wild in draft and development mode, the Wild trying to get out of the habit of overpaying for veteran free agents, the fact this free-agent class is below average, the fact that next year's free-agent class is potentially star-studded by free-agent class standards and the fact that most teams are trying to create cap flexibility due to the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations that will almost certainly result in a restructured (lower) cap ceiling, I wouldn't expect a splash from the Wild.
As has been reported many times the last month, the Wild is going to leave openings for players like Colton Gillies, Cody Almond, Casey Wellman, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser and others to try to challenge for spots. If they come to camp and don't earn spots, the Wild would react then to find players.
The Wild will sign one backup goalie this summer, whether that be Jose Theodore, Josh Harding or another. I'd think they'd have to sign at least one defenseman and I think they'd like to add maybe one character forward, prefarably via trade. You can see the depth chart below to see the open spots (as they stand this very moment at least; this could change).
Here's the coverage from today's paper:
My Insider on the fact that Chuck Fletcher's plan is clear to see now. May require patience, but the Wild's been spinning its wheels the last 3 years. The team has been trying to take short cuts with trades and some free-agent pickups, but most have been disappointing. This path just hasn't worked.
I've been preaching for years that this team was way behind the majority of teams in this league in terms of young talent. Well, it's clear they are now completely investing into trying to stockpile young talent. Now the hope is that many of these kids pay off and the team can build internally like most the great teams in this league did (Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, etc).
This above fact is not hard to see, by the way. Somebody wrote me today, saying "Name one!" I mean, are you serious? Just peruse the rosters of most the top or up-and-coming teams in the league. Most their stars/quality, impact players are homegrown talent. The Wild hasn't developed a top-6 forward since the 2002 draft (Bouchard). The Wild hasn't developed a top-4 defenseman since the 2003 draft (Burns).
You want to know why your favorite franchise is stuck in mud. Look no further than those harsh facts. If you've read me for awhile, you know my opinion has long been that building through youth the way those other teams do is the way to go. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I endorse this path now.
Once you build a strong number of assets, that's when those players either impact your lineup or that's when you can maybe swing for the big trade or the big free agent.
Wild notebook on drafting locals, Craig Leipold's delight when Mario Lucia was drafted, update on assistant coaching situation, update on Houston Aeros coach finalists, Charlie Coyle note, Big Buff update and Markus Granlund draft note
Here's the text from the link:
Here's a look at the Wild's depth chart for next season as it stands today. The TBDs indicate open spots that either need to be filled through the promotion of Wild prospects or external acquisitions (free agency or trades). Below each player are his 2011-12 salary and 2011-12 salary-cap hit. The salary-cap ceiling for next season is $64.3 million.
Line 1: Pierre-Marc Bouchard ($4.25 million salary, $4.08M salary cap hit); Mikko Koivu ($7.29M, $6.75M); Devin Setoguchi ($2.75M; $3M)
Line 2: Guillaume Latendresse ($2.6M, $2.5M); Kyle Brodziak ($1.3M, $1.15M); Martin Havlat ($5M, $5M)
Line 3: TBD; Matt Cullen ($3.5M, $3.5M); Cal Clutterbuck ($1.5M, $1.4M)
Line 4: Eric Nystrom ($1.4M, $1.4M); TBD; Brad Staubitz ($600K, $575K)
Note: Three or four spots are open depending on if the Wild keeps 13 or 14 forwards, seven or eight defensemen and two goalies make the team.
Vying for spots: Colton Gillies, Casey Wellman, Cody Almond, James Sheppard, Patrick O'Sullivan, Carson McMillan, Matt Kassian.
Unrestricted free agents: Andrew Brunette, John Madden, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew
Restricted free agents: Wellman, Sheppard, Gillies, O'Sullivan
Minor league unrestricted free agents: Robbie Earl, Jed Ortmeyer.
Line 1: Nick Schultz ($3.6 million salary, $3.5M salary cap hit); Marek Zidlicky ($4M, $4M)
Line 2: Greg Zanon ($2.1M, $1.933M); Jared Spurgeon ($535K, $527K)
Line 3: Clayton Stoner ($575K, $550K); Cam Barker* ($3.25M, $3.08M)
Note: One or two spots are open depending on if the Wild keeps 13 or 14 forwards.
* The Wild is considering buying out Barker by Thursday's deadline.
Vying for spots: Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk.
Restricted free agents: Falk.
Unrestricted free agent: Drew Bagnall.
Starter: Niklas Backstrom ($6 million salary, $6M salary cap hit)
Note: One spot is open.
Vying for spots: Dennis Endras.
Unrestricted free agents: Jose Theodore, Josh Harding.
• Actual 2011-12 payroll (as of today): $50,250,000
• Salary cap hit: $49,876,110
Notes: Includes bought-out Mark Parrish's $927,778 payoff and cap hit. ... This total also includes the 17 of a possible 23 players.
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