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 trade news

Wild acquires Brad Winchester; Lineup updates vs. Oilers

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 26, 2014 - 5:30 PM

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 crying.

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."

Assessing Clutterbuck-Niederreiter trade; Flahr on Wild's draft selections

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 30, 2013 - 10:25 PM
I’ll write more on this in Tuesday’s newspaper in a Wild Insider regarding a look at the rest of the summer, but it’s clear the Wild’s not done. Do the math, and there are still holes. Jared Spurgeon isn’t re-signed, although GM Chuck Fletcher tonight progress has been made. Matt Cullen isn’t re-signed, although I still have serious doubts he’ll be back. Tom Gilbert hasn’t been bought out yet. That is likely coming provided the Wild wants that $4 million of cap space to make some moves this summer. The Wild would then be thin on the back end and will likely look to upgrade there. Fletcher thinks he can get some bargains later in the summer, maybe with guys that can't find jobs that would take two-way deals or tryouts. And it sure sounds like Fletcher has other things cooking right now from a trade perspective.
I will post an updated depth chart on Monday. I will also be on KFAN at 9:55 a.m. Monday and am filling in for Common from 12-3 on Tuesday.
For scouting reports and thoughts about the draft from assistant GM Brent Flahr, see below.
As for the Clutterbuck trade, I ran into Ray Ferraro and Pierre McGuire in the hallway a few hours ago. This is the way they summed it up:
Ferraro: “Niederreiter’s upside is a lot bigger. I mean, to me, this is a no-brainer. They traded Cal Clutterbuck for a first-round pick. They got the fifth overall pick, a potential goal scorer, for a bowling ball. I don’t mean that as disrespect to Cal. But they traded a goal scorer for a guy that hits.”
McGuire: “I have no problem with Cal Clutterbuck. He’s a useful player. He played junior with Tavares, so there’s chemistry there. But Nino Niederreiter, his upside is gigantic. You’re not talking about an eight-to-12 goal scorer. You’re talking about a guy who can score 20 to 30. Tremendous talent. Clearly there was an issue between he and the Islanders. I mean, I was there for the playoffs and he wasn’t even part of the equation.”
Writers I talked to tonight like the New York Post’s Larry Brooks also agree this was a no-brainer try by the Wild. Brooks said sure Niederreiter may flame out, but the talent is obvious and he thinks he’s going to be a player.
Clutterbuck was only 25 and obviously physical, but the way the Wild is currently set up, there was going to have to be a time where they move him. The hope is that a guy like Brett Bulmer, who is physical, bigger and plays with a mean streak, will eventually take his role. Obviously, Bulmer still has some development to do after a tough first full year pro.
But Clutterbuck, on the Wild, did not look like he would turn out to be the 20-goal scorer I always thought he would become at least. The physicality also seemed to lessen, and I think with a player as physical as Clutterbuck, you have to start to worry if he’s going to wear down and break down.
But as you know from how often I quote Clutterbuck, I’m a fan and I think he’ll be an effective player on the aggressive, fast Islanders. And he gets to play with John Tavares, his Oshawa linemate, again, so maybe he’ll put up points.
I asked Fletcher about losing the physicality, and Fletcher said, “I think we’re a pretty physical team, and we have a lot of grit in our bottom six and a lot of size and the player we added in Niederreiter, if he’s able to make our team, is a big man. He’s 210 pounds and plays in the hard areas. So I’m not worried about physicality. Goal scoring is always something you want to focus on.”
The Wild hopes Niederreiter, who has scored everywhere but the NHL, can develop into a natural goal scorer and power winger. He is only 20. He only has two goals and an assist in 64 NHL games, but he was playing on the fourth line on Long Island. That was why the relationship became rocky. Ask anyone in the New York media, and the belief is Niederreiter was only up in 2011-12 so the Islanders could get to the cap floor. Finally, he asked to be traded, and the Islanders responded by not even bringing the kid to camp.
Fletcher says the Wild had interest in drafting him in 2010, but he went fifth and the Wild chose ninth, where it took Mikael Granlund. The Wild also has Charlie Coyle (28th overall), meaning it has three players from that 2010 first round now.
Read the story in the paper for the coverage and quotes, and again, I’ll provide a follow Tuesday.
Here is Flahr on Niederreiter: “He was a bigtime prospect who deserved to be drafted where he was. He’s 20 years old. He stepped into the league and he wasn’t ready. Last year he was a very good in the American Hockey League and led their team in scoring in the first half. Obviously he was a little frustrated and I don’t all the details behind that. I think they asked for a change in scenery.
“He’s a big body, can really shoot the puck and plays a power game, but he’s also a goal scorer. He projects out to be a top-6 forward with size and scoring ability, which is what we’re looking for. We had to pay a price in Clutter, who was a popular guy and physical impact. But to get a potential scoring winger, they’re hard to come by.”
Flahr says he has a natural ability that can’t be taught and he should challenge for a spot. Niederreiter gives the Wild another Olympic participant (Switzerland).
On the draft, Flahr was very happy (of course, I’ve never met a head scout that wasn’t happy after a draft).
The Wild drafted seven players – six skaters. All were 6-1 and over. The Wild want to add size and competitiveness.
Here is Flahr on the kids:
Gustav Olofsson (46th overall)
Position: D
Ht./wt.: 6-2, 185
Age: 18 (Dec. 1, 1994)
Born: Boras, Sweden
Team: Green Bay (USHL)
2012-13 stats: 63 games, 2 goals, 23 points, 59 penalty minutes
Flahr: “He’s a kid we targeted. He’s a kid that really shot up our draft board throughout the year. He basically played high school hockey in Colorado last year, which is a real low level, and stepped in the USHL, and right from the first tournament of the year, he looked like a player and just get better and better. His mobility, instincts for the game, moving the puck and going back into tight situations. Some of the reads he makes, we were very impressed. His dad is a huge man. He’s already a big kid and he has lots of room to fill out. We’re excited for his future.”
Kurtis Gabriel (80th overall)
Position: RW
Ht./wt.: 6-3, 189
Age: 20 (April 20, 1993)
Born: Newmarket, Ont.
Team: Owen Sound (OHL)
2012-13 stats: 67 games, 13 goals, 28 points, 100 penalty minutes
Flahr: “Late bloomer (undrafted last two years). He has a huge impact in games because of his physicality. He’s a kid that plays in straight lines. He hits like a train and he likes to drop the gloves. He’s a real character kid and a kid that has really come on and made himself a player.”
Dylan Labbe (107th overall)
Position: D
Ht./wt.: 6-1, 180
Age: 18 (Jan. 9, 1995)
Born: St-George, Quebec
Team: Shawinigan (QMJHL)
2012-13 stats: 61 games, 7 goals, 28 points, 57 penalty minutes
Flahr: “Was a kid, he played a team that was decimated after their Memorial Cup, so they had no players. He stepped in as basically a first-year guy and logged 35-plus minutes a night as a kid that’s not very physically strong. But a very intelligent player, really smart with the puck, plays the game with a lot of poise. He’s going to have get physically stronger, but he’s going to have a huge role on his team again next year. He actually made the Canadian Under-18 team at the end of the year, but he was hurt in the exhibition game.”
Carson Soucy (137th overall)
Position: D
Ht./wt.: 6-4, 191
Age: 18 (July 27, 1994)
Born: Viking, Alb.
Team: Spruce Grove (AJHL)
2012-13 stats: 35 games, 5 goals, 15 points, 71 penalty minutes
Flahr: “Tier-2 Alberta. Going to Duluth next year. Big kid, 6-4, good mobility and really moves the puck well. Obviously he’s a couple years down the road, but with his size and range and ability to play the game, our guys were excited.”
Avery Peterson (167th overall)
Position: C
Ht./wt.: 6-2, 193
Age: 18 (June 20, 1995)
Born: Grand Rapids, Minn.
Team: Grand Rapids High
2012-13 stats: 23 games, 23 goals, 54 points, 2 penalty minutes
Flahr: Local kid. He’s got to grow into his body, but he was a quality, quality high school player. Good two-way player, good-sized kid, good skater. He’ll have to spend some time in the gym getting stronger. He’ll need some time at the NCAA level.”
Nolan De Jong (197th overall)
Position: D
Ht./wt.: 6-1, 165
Age: 18 (April 25, 1995)
Born: Victoria, B.C.
Team: Victoria (BCHL)
2012-13 stats: 51 games, 5 goals, 24 points, 16 penalty minutes
Flahr: “Mobile defender. Rated highly earlier in the year because of his mobility. He’s a physically weak kid, but good size. Going to Michigan next year. Our guys feel he has a chance to play down the road.”
Alexandre Belanger (200th overall)
Position: G
Ht./wt.: 6-0, 170
Age: 17 (August 19, 1995)
Born: Sherbrooke, Que.
Team: Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
2012-13 stats: 44 games, 3.46 GAA, .875 SP
Flahr: “Had a strong playoffs against a good Quebec team from being a backup goalie for most of the year.”

Clutterbuck dealt to Islanders, reunited with Tavares; Wild acquires El Nino

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 30, 2013 - 5:53 PM


Early look at the trade...Clutterbuck and Garth Snow quotes are below
Chuck Fletcher didn’t trade into the first round of Sunday’s NHL draft, but in the mind of the Wild general manager, he did the next best thing.
Fletcher traded hard-hitting fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck and one of its two 2013 third-round picks to the New York Islanders for the Swiss kid known as “El Nino” -- Nino Niederreiter, a 20-year-old projected power forward who was drafted fifth overall in the 2010 draft.
“Two years from now it’ll be interesting to see how many of the kids that were selected today are at the level that Nino is right now,” Fletcher said. “This is a guy that’s knocking on the door. All the hype around the top picks today, and deservedly so, were on this guy two years ago and we’re just two years further down the road.”
The highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history, Niederreiter finished 10th in goal scoring in the American Hockey League last season, scoring 28 goals and 50 points in 74 games for Bridgeport. He’s a European who decided to play Canadian juniors early, scoring 130 points in 120 games for the Portland Winterhawks.
"I’ll try to bring my size, my physical play as a power forward, and would like to bring the game I played in junior. I’m capable of scoring goals," Niederreiter said.
Clutterbuck, 25, a third-round pick in 2006, scored 62 goals and 110 points in 346 games for the Wild. He gained a reputation as one of the NHL’s most physical forwards, leading the league in hits (1,010) his first three full seasons.
But Clutterbuck was in the last year of his deal, coming off a tough year and the Wild, which is also strapped for salary-cap space, felt it was time it could parlay him into a player it hopes can contribute offensively.
“We’re acquiring a 20-year-old guy who’s been a proven goal scorer at every level short of the NHL so far,” Fletcher said.
Clutterbuck’s will be reunited with John Tavares, the No. 1 pick in the 2009, draft. The two were linemates in Oshawa, where Tavares was a superstar.
Fletcher said there was a lineup of teams in the East that sought Clutterbuck. He told teams from the West not to bother.
The trade gives the Wild three of the 30 first-round picks in 2010 (Mikael Granlund, 9th overall and Charlie Coyle, 28th overall). In fact, two hours before that 2010 draft, Niederreiter said the Wild, which was undoubtedly taking a forward with its first pick, called Niederreiter for one final meeting.
There, he said, the Wild told him how much it was interested in selecting him. The Islanders chose him four picks earlier.
But the relationship between Niederreiter and the Islanders became strained last year when he was called up from Bridgeport and played a handful of minutes a night on the fourth line. He was in and out of the lineup.
The summation by many in New York and Niederreiter’s camp was that the Islanders only had Niederreiter on the team so they could stay above the cap floor.
Niederreiter asked to be traded. That upset the Islanders. Niederreiter wasn’t invited to training camp, nor put on the playoff roster despite the fact he had a strong year in the minors.
“I didn’t have a strong year [in 2011-12], I didn’t get the chance I was hoping for, and then I didn’t get invited to camp, but I knew I had to work as hard as I can,” Niederreiter said. “I never really heard anything from the team, so I was just a little bit of disappointed about that. I wanted to see if they still wanted me and stuff.
“Now I got a new opportunity and I’m very excited about it.”
He has a $2.795 million cap hit, but that's including performance bonuses. You can go 7.5 percent over the cap, and his bonuses are major award-laden. So it may not be an issue. If it is, that's a good thing.
Fletcher said it's good to have four guys on two-ways like Niederreiter, Coyle, Granlund and Jason Zucker and nothing will be promised to them.
Islanders GM Garth Snow

We got a good young player that’s established in the NHL. We love the element of grit and he obviously has had success putting the puck in the net and creating offense. He brings immediate help and we’re happy about the trade.

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.

More later
Here's a Clutterbuck-Tavares story from a few years ago
If you want to witness a trash-talking extravaganza tonight, keep an eye on Cal Clutterbuck during warmups.
Just for fun, the Wild’s king of smack is planning to hurl a bunch of one-liners at the direction of Islanders prized rookie John Tavares, the No. 1 overall pick in last June’s draft.
“Just to get him thinking, I’ll be in his ear,” Clutterbuck said, laughing. “I know too many things about him, so it’ll be easy. Some of them I probably won’t even use because I’d probably break his heart if I did. I’ll make sure to tell him I still run his show.
“I’m excited to know what it’s like to play against him.”
Clutterbuck sure loved playing with Tavares, who scored the most goals in Ontario Hockey League history (215).
“He definitely helped my career, which I’m appreciative of,” said Clutterbuck, 22, who’s three years older than Tavares.
At the 2005 OHL trade deadline, Clutterbuck was dealt to the Oshawa Generals. The Generals were awful and were able to draft Tavares, then a 14-year-old phenom, first overall after the league created an “exceptional player” clause so Tavares could enter a year sooner than rules permitted.
“I used to make fun of him being so young. I called him, ‘My little pigeon, my little puppet,’” Clutterbuck said.
For two years, Clutterbuck and Tavares were linemates. In 2006-07, Tavares scored 72 goals to break Wayne Gretzky’s OHL record for goals by a 16-year-old and registered 134 points. That same year, Clutterbuck scored 35 goals and 89 points.
When Clutterbuck, the Wild’s third-round pick in 2006, left for Houston the following season, Tavares’ production “slipped” to 40 goals and 118 points.
“I realized last year how much I missed Cal’s presence,” Tavares said earlier this year. “He always had guys looking over their shoulders. He made guys second guess things and turn pucks over, and that created a lot of opportunities for myself.”
Clutterbuck said the most infamous hit was on superpest Patrick Kaleta, the former Peterborough Pete who now plays for the Buffalo Sabres. Kaleta used to take runs at Tavares every game until …
“I hit him with a football block,” Clutterbuck said, laughing. “He was going into kill Johnny and I came out of nowhere and just hammered him. Just laid him out. He never hit Johnny again. Johnny was the franchise guy and my job was to make sure nothing too crazy happened to him.”
Tavares said Clutterbuck “wasn’t always the most-liked guy in the league. I think he probably was the least.”
After several false rumors minutes before the NHL draft that the Islanders were going to select Matt Duchene, Snow snatched up Tavares. He hasn’t disappointed, leading all NHL rookies with nine goals and 19 points.
“He’s exactly as good as everybody said he was,” Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said.
Like the debate currently going on now between 2010 draft-eligible OHL stars Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, every facet of Tavares’ game was picked apart last season.
“Go back and look what he did in junior hockey and just go look at his numbers. They’re ridiculous,” NHL analyst and former North Stars Director of Player Personnel Craig Button said. “I go back to [1984] with Mario Lemieux and Kirk Muller. There were public arguments that maybe Kirk should be No. 1.
“Mario Lemieux had more goals than Kirk Muller had total points. But people watched them so much, they were picked apart. It’s like in [2005]. People were saying if Phil Kessel was in that draft that Sidney Crosby might not go No. 1. That’s laughable.
“Last year, it was one thing if you were going to debate taking a 6-6 unique defenseman like Victor Hedman over Tavares. You can make that argument. But when people were trying to make the argument between Brayden Schenn and John Tavares, or Matt Duchene and John Tavares, I mean, come on.”
Clutterbuck found all the second-guessing of Tavares hysterical.
“There’s always been a question about his skating. Well, look at any level he’s played at, his skating has never hindered his ability to do anything,” Clutterbuck said. “He just manages to score. He’s 19 and he’s already a dangerous offensive weapon in the NHL. He’s going to score a lot of goals in this league.”


Wild trades Justin Falk to the Rangers; Wild needs defensemen

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 30, 2013 - 12:45 PM

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

Nate Prosser

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.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher: "We’re no longer a seller"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 3, 2013 - 6:36 PM
The Wild tried hard on Tuesday to trade for San Jose’s Ryane Clowe, but he wanted to go East.
In fact, this morning, from people I talked to, it was clear the Wild felt it offered a better package to the Sharks than they wound up receiving from the Rangers. But Clowe had the hammer with a no-trade clause and chose New York.
From seeing what the Wild was willing to give up to get Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville, you can bet what I was hearing is accurate.
As you know by now, the Wild traded Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett, a 2013 first-round pick and a 2014 second-round pick to the Sabres for Pominville, who has scored 20-or-more goals the past six seasons and twice 30, and a 2014 fourth-round pick. Pominville, when he arrives hopefully tomorrow, will be slotted on the right side of Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu for an all-Captain line.
Pominville is just an all-situation guy. PK, point on the power play, does all the little things, versatile, booming shot, etc.
I just talked on the phone to his linemate, Thomas Vanek, who said, "We all heard Darcy's (GM Regier) comments that he could be gone, but when it happens, I was shocked. It's part of the business, but we're losing, myself also, I'm losing a great teammate in the locker room, somebody I was with for eight years, and a good friend. He's such a great player and linemate. The Wild, they're lucky. Just a smart, good hockey player who can adapt to any situation and make his linemates better. He's going to really help them. We're going to miss him a lot. Jason is as good a guy as there is."
But big, big price from the Wild. Chuck Fletcher explains why below.
First of all, “We’re really excited. Our players have played hard and played well this year. I believe we’re improving as an organization. We’re starting to take some positive steps. It was important if we could find the right fit at the right piece, I think it was important for us to try to continue to upgrade our talent and improve our team.
“You never know what can happen, but today was an important today. We’re no longer a seller. We want to keep pushing forward and want to compete for talent. It’s just a good day for our franchise.”
On Pominville: “He’s scored 30 goals in the league, he’s had 70 points, he’s a team captain. He’s a hard-working, 200-foot player, and I think like some of our other top players, like Parise and Koivu and Backstrom and Suter and you can go right down the list, not only is he talented, he’s got a hard-working mentality and a high level of character.
“He plays the point on the power play, he kills penalties. He’s just a guy that brings a lot of dimensions and versatility and a player that could fit into a lot of different roles.”
You paid a huge price: “There’s no question, we paid a price. Jason’s a talented player, he’s not a rental, he has term left on his deal (one year), he’s the captain of his team and he’s a guy that we wanted. Anytime you want a good player who’s not a rental, you’re going to pay a price.
“(Assistant GM) Brent Flahr and his staff have done a great job for us. They’ve drafted very well. We’ve been able to apply a lot of young assets over the last few years, and the fact that we have really good depth in terms of talented young players, it allowed us the opportunity to pursue a player like Pominville. We have plenty of assets in the cupboard and plenty of talented, young players at evev position. The last few years, our focus have been to gather prospects and picks, but our team is growing and showing some positive signs, at times you’ve got to dip into that pool of talent that you’ve accumulated and pay some assets to get in this case an All-Star NHL player.”
Basically, the price was obviously high, but the way the Wild sees it, the foundation of the franchise for years is in place with top-liners Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu and No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter. Then, there future cornerstone forwards Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund and blue-chip defensemen Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba.
From there, the Wild is developing defenseman Marco Scandella, forwards Brett Bulmer, Zack Phillips, Tyler Graovac, Raphael Bussieres, is loaded with other college-level players from Mario Lucia and Erik Haula to Adam Gilmour and John Draeger.
It still has two hotshot goalie prospects with Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson, who plans to come to North America next year.
So since there’s only so many positions on a hockey team and so many contracts permitted to be handed out, the Wild felt it could afford to give up the hefty price and potentially lose a couple top draft picks.
“Hey, we recognize that we paid a price,” Fletcher said. “Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett are good, young hockey players. And anytime you trade a first-round pick, you’re obviously paying a significant price. But as a franchise we’ve spent a lot of time accumulating assets and trading for draft picks, and I think it’s a positive sign that as a franchise we’re now trading prospects and picks to acquire players. Typically that means you’re moving in the right direction. There’s always a balance. You can’t make these moves all the time. But if you never make them, how do you get better?”
Does this mean win now or bust though? “Again, he’s not a rental. He has term on his contract. And again, we still have a lot of really good young players. Brent and his staff have shown the ability to draft well and I have no doubt they will continue to. Our goal is to win as many games as we can. We feel we’re a competitive team, we have work to do, but we’re trending in the right direction. We want to keep pushing that. We’re not shy about our desire to get better. We’re going to be a competitive team for a long time.”
I asked Fletcher what this means going forward for guys like Backstrom and Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who are in the last year of their deals, and Dany Heatley, who is an amnesty buyout candidate this summer. The Wild is only $9 million from next year’s $64.3 million cap without buying out Heatley or maybe re-upping Backstrom or Cullen and before re-signing restricted free agents like Cal Clutterbuck and Jared Spurgeon.
“At the end of the year we’ll sort it all out. There’s a lot of hockey left to play. We have flexibility to do the things we need to do, but that’s a conversation for another day.”
By the way, the Wild still has two thirds this summer (one extra for Sheppard) and two sevenths and then all their picks from Rounds 2-7.
Right now, the hope is Pominville can meet the team in L.A. and debut tomorrow, but that is not set in stone yet. I have left messages for Pominville, known as one of the most accomodating athletes in the NHL by the way, but haven't talked to him yet. I'm sure he's swamped with his life being uprooted.
The Wild also acquired goalie Jeff Deslauriers from Anaheim for future considerations (nothing). He’ll take Darcy Kuemper’s spot in Houston until hopefully Josh Harding is ready to return.
Lastly, and I’ll leave you with this, Fletcher is always looking and thinking ahead. Pominville was Thomas Vanek’s linemate. They are very close. Vanek has been quoted in the past saying he wasn’t too keen being a part of a rebuild in Buffalo. He’s a free agent in the summer of 2014.
Is acquiring Pominville the precursor to pursuing Vanek, the former Gopher, in two summers? Just something to keep in your head from somebody who, if you’ve read me for awhile, guessed for three years that the Wild had its eyes set on the summer of 2012 to go after Parise.
It just makes sense. Regardless, the Wild keeps making bold moves, from the Brent Burns-Devin Setoguchi one, to the Dany Heatley for Marty Havlat one to signing Parise and Suter to this.
Its eventual goal, besides winning, of course, is to show all players in the NHL that Minnesota wants to win and should be considered a destination the way markets like Pittsburgh, the Rangers, Philly, Detroit always have been.
A lot more in tomorrow’s paper and the coming days. Oh, and there’s a game tonight, so more later. I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the second intermission tonight.


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