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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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."
Whenever you have a good, young player it’s tough to make a deal. But if we didn’t get Cal in return, it’s not something we would have considered. We got a quality player that’ll be inserted into our lineup to help our team win.
(Problems with Nino?) I’m not going to speak from (Niederreiter’s) perspective, but for us, no.
You’ve got to give up something to get something, and that’s what we did.
I had some foresight that I might be traded ahead of the draft, so it wasn’t a total shock. It’s a good situation for me and I’m excited.
I’ve known John (Tavares) since he came into the OHL as a fresh-faced, 14-year-old. We go back a ways. And he’s obviously a great player. It bodes well for the franchise going forward.
It’s tough to leave (Minnesota) for sure. It would have been a whole lot tougher if it were a midseason thing -- the summer is a little different, you have a little more time to let it sink in.
On a day where there is expected to be a flurry of activity, the Wild started things off with a minor move -- dealing defenseman Justin Falk to the New York Rangers for a 2014 sixth-round pick and the rights to pesky right wing Benn Ferriero.
The Rangers had to trade an expiring contract, so we will see what the future holds for Ferriero. The Wild could be just doing the Rangers a favor.
Ferriero, a decent depth player the past few years for the Rangers and Sharks, is a restricted free agent. The Wild hasn't talked to his representatives, so we'll see if he ends up being a depth player for the Wild.
Ferriero, 26, has one assist in four games for the Rangers last year. He had 30 points in 57 games for AHL Connecticut and Wilkes-Barre.
In 96 career games for San Jose and the Rangers, Ferriero has scored 14 goals and 23 points. Two of those goals have come against Minnesota.
Falk was a restricted free agent that the Wild had yet to tender a qualifying offer. But he's an NHL defenseman, so the Wild knew it could at least get a pick for him. This also gives Falk new scenery and a chance to become an everyday player.
The 6-foot-5 2007 fourth-rounder had 15 points in 108 games for the Wild. He was in and out of the lineup this past season and Falk said his agent and the Wild kept him up to date the last few days that a trade may be on the horizon.
“I’m excited about the new opportunity here,” Falk said. “It’s a new chapter that I’m looking forward to. I’m thankful of the opportunity Minnesota gave me to get into the league. This is a new opportunity to continue to develop. That’s my main concern. I felt I didn’t quite develop the way that I would have liked this last year. I want to continue to build my career, and this is a new start in New York.”
The Wild's blue line now looks like this:
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon (unsigned)
Clayton Stoner-Tom Gilbert
Scandella spent most of last season in the minors. Gilbert may be traded or bought out. Prosser couldn't get much playing time.
So one thing we know: The Wild will be in the market for a defenseman or two this summer.
I've been reporting that the asking price for Cal Clutterbuck today has been a second and a prospect. I hear one concept the Wild has explored the past few days is getting a defenseman back in a trade for Clutterbuck.
One team that has shown a lot of interest the past few days is Pittsburgh. The Wild has had interest in the past in Simon Despres, but the one guy I keep hearing is Virginia, Minn., native Matt Niskanan.
The draft starts at 2. As of now, the Wild has eight picks -- the first coming at No. 46. The Wild continues to try to trade into the first round.
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