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

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Posts about Wild player moves

Wild brings back Nate Prosser, claiming him off waivers from St. Louis

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 2, 2014 - 12:14 PM

At some point yesterday somebody asked me on Twitter if the Wild may claim Nate Prosser off waivers.

I immediately dismissed it. Wrong!

In a move that caught me by surprise, the Wild reacquired defenseman Nate Prosser this morning by snagging him off waivers from the St. Louis Blues (coincidentally tonight's Minnesota opponent in a preseason game).

Prosser, 28, a native of Elk River and product of Colorado College, played 126 games for the Wild over parts of five seasons. Here's that big personality profile I wrote on Prosser last season.

"I'm excited to get back to the locker room I'm so familiar with," Prosser said via text. "Pretty whirlwind of a day, but I'm excited to get back home and get that Wild jersey on."

The irony is the Wild had an internal debate this past summer about whether or not to re-sign Prosser. See this blog to refresh your memory. But Prosser wanted a one-way contract. The Wild wanted to sign him to a two-way contract. Now the Wild gets him back on that two-way.

I'm at the airport on my way to St. Louis, so I'll grab GM Chuck Fletcher prior to the game on the move.

But the old adage is you can never have too many NHL defensemen in your organization, so this was a move to add veteran depth. The coaches trust his game and he's a character kid, Fletcher said via text. If he doesn't make the team, Prosser would have to be placed on waivers again. He is on a two-way contract.

Basically, it sounds like right-shot depth if the organization decides there's not room for BOTH Christian Folin and Matt Dumba inside the top-6. As I have written a lot the past week, the only way BOTH make the team is if the Wild feels there's room for BOTH inside the top-6.

If there's a chance one would be the seventh or eighth defenseman, he'll go to the minors to develop.

Here's more from Prosser courtesy of my St. Louis Dispatch buddy Jeremy Rutherford:

Apparently, he had his house in Minny on the market. Hurried this morning and told agent not to sell.

Here's some quotes from his scrum:

Prosser

"What a day here. I was just on the ice, expecting to go through a morning skate, got pulled off at like 10:50. Doug (Armstrong) said he doesn't know which team has claimed me yet, but he'll come back and talk to me at 11 and let me know. He came back at 11 and told me it was Minnesota. It's a pretty funny business, you know. You don't know what's going on. It's the nature of the business right now."

Going back to Wild?
"I know the coaches, I know the players. It's not like it's going to be unfamiliar to me. I'm going to go back to a place where I'm from obviously. I'm excited for this new journey."

Talk to Minnesota in summer, surprised their interested?
"We talked. There was a little bit of communication there from the beginning of July to mid-July. But then it just kind of broke off there. That's when I kind of looked elsewhere. I knew there was some interest but we couldn't keep waiting and waiting. That's when we moved on."

Get on their plane tonight?
"Yeah. They're here ... I'll probably just get on the plane with them tonight. I'm like literally at a loss for words. This whole situation, the way the summer went down, coming into camp here, a whole new organization, a whole new team ... put on waivers. I've never been put on waivers, so I didn't really know the situation at all. Get pulled off the ice and tell me the team that I've been playing for the last few years claims me ... what am I supposed to think. That's bizarre and exiting and funny business all wrapped up in one."  

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The Wild is playing a very young lineup tonight. The Blues are playing their big guns and toughies. It should be interesting. I'll update the blog with stuff from today's skate either right before my flight or from the air.

Josh Harding suspended; Darcy Kuemper signed to 2-year deal

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 18, 2014 - 9:06 PM

Thanks to Josh Harding’s broken foot, Darcy Kuemper got his one-way contract.

On the eve of players taking the ice for the first time, the Wild conceded in its standoff with its young goalie by signing Kuemper to a two-year, $2.5 million contract.

“I’m super excited to continue this journey with the Wild and can’t wait to see and get back on the ice with my teammates,” Kuemper said in a text message.

The move comes a day after veteran Ilya Bryzgalov agreed to a tryout and hours after General Manager Chuck Fletcher met with Harding to try to establish how he got injured in an off-ice incident Sunday involving an altercation with a teammate.

Soon after the meeting, Fletcher made the decision to suspend Harding. During the time he recovers, Harding won’t be paid a prorated portion of his $2.1 million salary and he won’t count against the Wild’s salary cap. The paperwork was filed and all parties were notified late Thursday.

In the meantime, Fletcher said Thursday night that Kuemper’s signing won’t affect Bryzgalov’s tryout. If Kuemper’s not one of the top-2 goalies in training camp, the Wild can sign Bryzgalov and assign Kuemper to Iowa of the American Hockey League without waivers.

If that happened, Kuemper would be paid his $1 million salary there. Bryzgalov also gives the Wild insurance if veteran Niklas Backstrom were to get hurt.

Kuemper, 24, who went 12-8-4 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .915 save percentage last season, arrives in the Twin Cities on Friday morning. Both Kuemper and Bryzgalov are expected on the ice for the first day of camp.

Bryzgalov, who went 7-1-3 down the stretch last season for the Wild, wanted to return to the Wild all summer. Finally, Harding’s injury forced the Wild to offer him a tryout.

“He did a great job for us last year,” coach Mike Yeo said of Bryzgalov. “I spoke to Bryz [Wednesday] night and he’s really excited to be coming back to our team. I know he really enjoyed this group and playing here. He’s motivated and he’s excited.”

Bryzgalov, 34, may be quirky, but he’s as smart as they come. He was well aware he could be just biding time for the Wild to sign Kuemper.

Fletcher made no promises and Bryzgalov still accepted the tryout. He wants to keep his NHL career alive. Yeo wouldn’t promise Bryzgalov, who has 220 career wins, how many exhibition games he may play, “but he will get an opportunity.”

A day before, Yeo also said Harding’s injury presented an “unbelievable opportunity” for Kuemper to prove he can be a fulltime NHL goalie.

One thing that is uncertain is how much Bryzgalov has skated this summer considering he was unable to land a job.

“I didn’t get too much into that with him, but if he comes in the first couple days of camp and he’s not at his best, we’re not going to panic because we know what he’s capable of,” Yeo said. “We’ll just have to see how long we think it can take him to get back to his level. That fact that we have a good understanding of him already and what he can do, that certainly helps him.”

Walking with the aid of crutches and a boot on his right foot, Harding arrived Thursday for his meeting with management. Fletcher said Wednesday it was important to get to the bottom of how Harding busted up his foot Sunday.

The injury, one that will sideline Harding for a minimum of two months, threw the Wild’s goaltending depth into a state of flux.

Harding’s only worry is getting his foot better. He declined to comment further, while Fletcher wouldn’t comment on the Harding meeting and subsequent suspension.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falk returning to Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: August 1, 2014 - 4:33 PM

After a year with the New York Rangers, free agent defenseman Justin Falk is returning to the Wild.

The team signed Falk, 25, to a one-year, two-way deal on Friday. The 6-5, 215 pounder played 21 games for the Rangers last season, with two assists and 20 penalty minutes.

Drafted in the fourth round in 2007 by the Wild, Falk played in 108 games from 2009-13. He had a goal and 14 assists, and 100 penalty minutes, with Minnesota. Basically, a depth signing. 

Justin Fontaine agrees to two-year contract with Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 29, 2014 - 11:33 AM

Justin Fontaine, the 26-year-old Wild forward, will avoid a Friday arbitration hearing and sign a new two-year deal with the Wild this afternoon. The deal is expected to be worth $1 million annually ($950,000 in Year 1 and $1.05 million in Year 2).

Fontaine, the former University of Minnesota Duluth national champion, tied for fourth on the Wild and tied for 12th among NHL rookies last season with 13 goals. That goal total was third-highest ever by a Wild rookie. He had 21 points in 66 games and his plus-6 was tied for second all-time by a Wild rookie.

On Jan. 9 at Phoenix, he recorded his first career hat trick.

Fontaine is one of three remaining restricted free agents left to be signed by the Wild. The other two are the biggees, winger Nino Niederreiter and goalie Darcy Kuemper.

Kuemper, by all indications, could take awhile. It was difficult to get Kuemper signed to his initial entry-level deal and Kuemper had a quality rookie season, helping save the Wild's hide when Josh Harding was lost to complications with multiple sclerosis and Niklas Backstrom to another abdominal injury.

The Wild will again be relying on the uncertainty of Backstrom and Harding this season, which certainly seems to give Kuemper leverage in negotiations toward a new deal. Kuemper went 12-8-4 last season with a 2.43 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. He sustained a concussion at St. Louis when run by David Backes and was lost to another head injury in Game 7 of the first round when he was hit behind the net and his head hit teammate Ryan Suter.

Niederreiter could take awhile, too, but these things usually get done. Training camp doesn't start until Sept. 18, so there's plenty of time. Niederreiter scored 14 goals, 36 points and was plus-12 in 81 games last season. He was also the Game 7 hero against Colorado, scoring two goals (including the overtime winner) and assisting on Jared Spurgeon's late tying goal in the third period.

GM Chuck Fletcher told me earlier this month his goal is to sign Niederreiter to a two- to four-year deal.

Speaking of Fletcher, I am filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN (100.3-FM) today from 3-6 p.m. CT. The Wild GM will join be at 3:35.

Also on the show will be Lou Nanne, the Star Tribune's Lavelle E. Neal III, Paul Charchian and A.J. Mansour.

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