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.
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As you can imagine, tomorrow's Star Tribune is all about the Wild. Above the fold, below the fold, centerpiece, even A1.
So make sure you buy a copy, plus there may be some Vikings news in the middle of the sports section.
Maybe the longest practice of the Wild season this morning down at the X as players put in a "good work day," as Matt Cullen said, in an effort to fix what's been ailing the team lately, and really all season. The team goes into 20-minute lulls, and they're trying to figure out the reasons why. More on that in the paper.
In honor of the team I cover, and to be fair SBN's Bryan Reynolds gave me the idea on Twitter, I watched the beginning and end of practice and went for a 20-minute coffee break in the middle. And as Jess Myers joked on Twitter, there will be a blank three graphs right in the middle of my story in Tuesday's paper.
Oh, Twitter. Such comedy.
As for news, center John Madden and defenseman Marek Zidlicky missed practice with what coach Todd Richards called sore legs. Richards believes both should be able to practice Tuesday. Cal Clutterbuck is playing through a debilitating injury. No need to identify the issue, but he got hit right on the spot today and took a long time to get up off the ice. But he said he'll be OK and is able to play through the injury.
Guillaume Latendresse continues to be out of sight, out of mind. Chuck Kobasew didn't practice and is still a ways off.
Richards indicated that defenseman Clayton Stoner will play Wednesday against the big, bad Philadelphia Flyers. He also said with three games in four days starting Friday, two on the road and commercial travel potentially a problem during the holidays, the team will probably call up an extra defenseman at least before it hits the road for Denver.
He did indicate that the team was kicking around maybe bringing up another forward Tuesday. There are two forwards on waivers, too, as some fans have pointed out to me on Twitter and email today.
--Anaheim put White Bear Lake's Ryan Carter on waivers (and he's local, so the Wild owes it to Minnesotans everywhere to take a look).
--And Carolina put former Wild second-round pick Patrick O'Sullivan on waivers.
I doubt the Wild has interest in Carter because it didn't have interest in him when he was on waivers this past summer, but maybe O'Sullivan.
I'm not an O'Sullivan proponent, as you probably know by now. There's a reason why he's bounced around the league like a car on an icy I-94, but he is skilled and Pierre-Marc Bouchard continues to be the most heavily practiced injured player in the history of the NHL.
And since O'Sullivan is on a two-way deal, there'd be flexibility for any team to take him and then expose him to waivers again later in an effort to get him to the minors. So, what I'm saying, O'Sullivan could be good temporary help for any team that needs offense.
By the way, even if the Wild has interest in O'Sullivan, there's no guarantee he'd get to them if they put in a claim. Waiver rules go from last to first in terms of claim, so a number of other teams have first dibs.
Today was actually a fun day to be around the rink. I informed the football lovers that Brad Childress was fired while they practiced. I've given a lot of players a lot of news this week, strangely enough -- some sad (Pat Burns), some not.
As you can imagine and many of you probably experienced (I know I did), hearing some of the anecdotes as to what it was like for the players and coaches to drive home after the game Saturday due to the ice storm was pretty humorous. And these are guys who grew up in winter climates, so I felt a little better about how uncomfortable I was driving.
The staches are coming in well for the players as Movember comes close to an end. Remember, Friday is the team's effort at a Guiness World Record with their stached fans, so I'll rehash those details on that in Thursday's paper and blog. Mikko Koivu and Nick Schultz's staches turned blonde to brown overnight mysteriously enough.
Nik Backstrom joked that he thinks Derek Boogaard should get fined for skating over the red line to say hi to him the other night during warmups. Backstrom said he didn't hear from Boogaard said, but, "He was there. I felt it."
After practice, some players signed autographed pucks until their hands fell off. Others were taking part in a food drive.
OK, that's it from here. Kent Youngblood is covering practice Tuesday. Maybe there'll be some news.
Good morning back in the Twin Cities. It's actually 2:34 a.m. your time as I begin this blog, but I figured I'd get a couple things in here as I kill some time before heading to the rink for Carolina and Minnesota practices (11 a.m./1 p.m. Finland time today, with the Wild being the latter).
Here are the links to stories in Wednesday's paper, which I know you read anyway because there's nothing else going on sportswise in the Twin Cities with the Twins and Vikings:
Matt Cullen feature, essentially saying, he's ready to lead and perform. Also on that link is a video I shot yesterday.
Wild notebook leading with the roster moves, particularly the fact that it looks like Casey Wellman and Justin Falk have made the team. Of course, and this is the caveat, this is barring a trade or waiver pickup Wednesday.
If you go to my Twitter page and scroll down, I posted some other videos on there in the wee hours of the morning.
Falk and Wellman were all smiles this morning, knowing no news is good news. In sports, they usually come up to you and let you know you made the team. They just tell others they didn't. So Falk and Wellman were very relieved to be ignored wholeheartedly yesterday by management.
Of course, they're young, so they know they better never get comfortable.
As for the team's cap hit, the Wild technically are a little short of the cap because even though Wellman and Falk have $1.35 million and $741,667 cap hits accordingly, these are including potential bonuses and there's a 7.5 percent bonus cushion that allows you to go over the cap.
Wellman's salary is 900K and Falk is 605K, as an fyi.
Again, the Wild should get another $803K of cap relief when it suspends James Sheppard, and I do believe it's when and not if due to getting injured on an ATV days before training camp. Sjeppard is back home now taking a mental break, GM Chuck Fletcher said, but will return to the Twin Cities when the Wild gets back. While suspended, he wouldn't get paid but the Wild would continue to rehab him.
Fletcher won't comment on that. Josh Harding will not go on long-term injury relief yet. Fletcher says there's no rush and if the Wild ever needs to exceed the cap, it can put him on LTIR retroactively and spend up to his $1.2 million. Bouchard will open the season on IR.
Fletcher said the Wild will return home and build some salary-cap room. He's obviously talking about sending Anton Khudobin down to the minors, plus especially at home, I'd think the Wild won't keep too many extras around.
Finally, Opening Night is here, although it's Opening Morning for you. The game is at 11 a.m. Thursday on Versus and WCCO.
Marek Zidlicky didn't practice today. A shift or two after his goal the other night, we didn't see him again. I figured it was just because the Wild was playing eight defensemen and with the game starting to become one-sided, Richards just wanted to sit Zidlicky, who's been hampered by a charley horse. Turns out he has a groin injury. Richards said he's questionable for tomorrow, but Zidlicky said he wants to play and "we'll see."
Guillaume Latendresse did practice today on the fourth line with Kyle Brodziak. His "groins are great," said Richards, so Latendresse will likely play with Wellman or Brad Staubitz getting the nod on the right side. Falk should be in the lineup. If Zidlicky can't play, Clayton Stoner will.
Lots of interesting stuff at the skate:
-- Wellman was used as a guinea pig on the back board after practice. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw him lying against the wall with paramedics, doctors and trainers around him. But turns out they were just doing a test run if God forbid something happens to one of the players in these two games.
-- Cal Clutterbuck was miked up in practice today for a future show on NHL Network. Apparently a lot will have to be sliced on the cutting room floor. Clutter's got a potty mouth :)
-- Dennis Endras showed today as emergency goalie and he looked quick with good technique. He said his goal is to make the Wild next year.
-- I just saw Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr in the lobby meeting with 2009 sixth-round pick Jere Sallinen. When in Rome, ...
So can the Wild just turn the switch from a below-average training camp at least in terms of wins and losses to above average? They better, as I'll write in Thursday's newspaper. They cannot afford another slow start. Coincidentally, awful starts destroyed the seasons of both Carolina and Minnesota last year.
That's it for me for now. I'll update blog and Twitter later when we see if Kassian or Bagnall cleared waivers or if the Wild does anything. Rosters must be submitted at 2 p.m.
Good afternoon from the Twin Cities. Late blog for a morning scrimmage, I know, but I was distracted by the Dolphins-Vikings game. Twice the Dolphins coughed up the football immediately after Brett Favre interceptions, and alas, the Vikes still couldn't pull it out.
Purple is 0-2. When's Donovan McNabb available again?
Speaking of the Dolphins, I showed off downtown Minneapolis to the Phins media contingent last night. Fun, fun reunion with some old pals, reminding me how lucky I've been to work in two great sports markets with great colleagues at great papers. Tonight will be another reunion. For 10 years, I covered the Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel with colleagues Brian Biggane from the Palm Beach Post and David J. Neal from the Miami Herald.
We had went toe to toe competitively for a long, long time, yet we managed to put business aside and stay friends. They now cover the Dolphins, so we're doing dinner with the old agent of original Panthers captain Brian Skrudland. Should be a lot of laughs.
Enough about me, but last night put me in a nostalgic mood.
News of the day:
-- Pierre-Marc Bouchard got the go-ahead from a Denver doctor to ramp up the intensity in skates and the fitness room. He skated before today's practices with assistants Dave Barr and Darby Hendrickson and the goal now is to get into game shape. His head felt fine afterward. His legs and lungs were a bit heavy though.
Right now, he'll skate for a few days with the coaches before practice. The next step will be to join the team in practices, then start taking some contact.
There's no timetable as to a return, but Bouchard said his goal is still to be ready by the start of the season.
"He's excited. We're excited," coach Todd Richards said.
More on this in the paper.
-- Amazingly, with so much going on in town Sunday, 2,500 Wild fans made their way down to the X for this morning's scrimmage. I predicted a white rout, and rout they did -- 5-1 over the green team.
Nick Schultz got things started 13 seconds in off a pass from Twins season-ticket package partner Andrew Brunette. They must have spent the summer diagramming the play from Target Field. It worked to perfection.
Robbie Earl tied it for green from Clayton Stoner, but that would be all she wrote for the greenies.
Jon DiSalvatore from Carson McMillan and Brent Burns; Brunette from Antti Miettinen and Mikko Koivu; Burns from Koivu (great goal) and McMillan from Petr Kalus. Josh Harding got the win, playing the first half for white.
In reaction to Bouchard hand-picking Burns for his eventual first contact in training camp, there'll be a funny quote from 'ol Burnzie in tomorrow's paper, too.
-- I always say to people, Schultz reminds me a lot of Rob Niedermayer, whom I covered for awhile in Florida. As nice as can be, as mild-mannered as there is, but for some reason, there's something about these guys in scrimmages that always ticks the absolute you know what out of opposing "teammates."
For the last few years, Schultz has gone head-to-head with Petr Kalus, but they're now teammates in training camp, so Kalus is taking out his normal Schultz aggression on Nate Prosser, who by the way is having none of it. Prosser stood up to the intense Czech in both the last two days, which impressed me bigtime.
Today, Schultz got Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz to focus much of their energy on him after Schultz checked Nystrom, who did much of his own hard checking today on opponents, too. Nystrom and Staubitz went after Schultz a couple times, and later, Schultz became incensed when Guillaume Latendresse took a run at him a few seconds after he gave up the puck. But afterward, Schultz put it all behind him and said it was just competitive people being competitive. So did the other two, too.
-- The players got more and more crabbier as the scrimmage went on. Staubitz, taking exception to a hard hit from roster hopeful Justin Falk, dropped the gloves with the big defenseman. Remember, Staubitz, acquired for a draft pick from San Jose on the day of the NHL Awards ceremony (I remember because I was in Vegas), has had 20 fights in 82 NHL games.
Staubitz is a tough, good skating cookie, and he's only played forward for two years after spending his entire junior and minor-league career at defense. The one great strength of the Wild this year should be those third and fourth lines with good skating, hard-working guys like Nystrom, Staubitz, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, John Madden and as of now Chuck Kobasew.
I'll write more about Staubitz and Nystrom in Monday's paper. Incidentally, I'm digging the new room. Lots of good quotes in there, including the four new guys -- Matt Cullen, John Madden, Nystrom and today, I learned, Staubitz.
-- I think Falk's got a shot to crack the roster. Marco Scandella, after two days, looks to me like he'll need some time developing in the minors with Darryl Sydor. Like Tyler Cuma last year against Rick Nash in Columbus, Scandella's head was spinning trying to deal with Koivu, Brunette and Miettinen today.
Scandella not only was suspended last year in juniors, but he then got a appendicitis. So he's missed some hockey, and because he doesn't need waivers, I bet he goes down for some development with Cuma as long as the Wild remains healthy on the back end. So, Clayton Stoner's got No. 6. No. 7 to me will be either Falk, Prosser, who looks good and even though he's inexperienced at the NHL level, remember, he's 24, or Drew Bagnall.
And since the Wild will at least take eight D to Finland, maybe two of those three stick until the Wild at least returns to the States. I spent today really watching the young D. I'll spend tomorrow or Tuesday really looking at the young forwards vying for spots.
-- Koivu, Brunette and Miettinen line hasn't lost chemistry since April, and the Cullen, Latendresse, Marty Havlat looked very promising today. I think coach Todd Richards should just leave this line assembled for awhile to let the chemistry transpire.
-- It's taken one scrimmage for Brett Bulmer to show he's a pain in the butt to play against. The 2010 second-round pick might be Kristian Huselius skinny, but the guy's got guts and got into a chirping match with Cal Clutterbuck after one collision, which was undeniably rated NC-17. Very good sign for the youngster that will soon return to his junior team, Kelowna. Remember, Bulmer was the only 2010 top draft pick that was in Traverse City. No Granlund, Larsson or Zucker. Heck, no Haula, and the Wild still won the title, which is a good sign for the future. It seems at the very least the Wild's filling what was a barren cupboard of young talent.
-- Marek Zidlicky missed his second day today with a strained hammy, which allowed tryout Colton Jobke to play. Good opportunity, and he held his own and showed he's a very smart defenseman. At 18, he'll soon return to Kelowna also, but this is a free look at the undrafted free agent. Technically, the Wild can sign any of these tryout kids, from Jobke to Josh Caron to Brandon Buck to Jared Spurgeon, and they wouldn't count toward the Wild's 50-man reserve list. Their contracts would slide. All you'd have to pay is their signing bonus, and then if you like them, you don't have to waste a draft pick on them next June. For a team trying to add more and more young talent, I bet this is very much in the cards for some of these kids.
OK, I should write for the paper. Richards wasn't overly in love with today's scrimmage, which he felt lacked structure. He was considering scrapping tomorrow's scrimmage and practicing instead. We'll see. Talk to you Monday.
Good afternoon from the mothership -- Star Tribune headquarters, where people always know something's up when I actually walk in the building. It's just so rare.
Typically it's just a meeting with the editors, but today it was laptop issues.
Better now than Opening Night, which happened to me last year in Columbus when my laptop was hit by the same nasty virus I got today. Luckily, the crack Blue Jackets PR staff hooked me up with a laptop and IT guy, making what could have been a nightmare into a very slight blip (other than the awful game story I wrote after not watching half the game).
The office has been pretty quiet -- the calm before the storm with the Twins and Vikings playing downtown tonight at the same time. Chip and Judd have been hard at work chatting with Star Tribune readers, Kent Youngblood's been on the phone working stories and it only took me two hours to install a printer to print out my expense report.
Last night, I drove out to Eden Prairie to Velocity Hockey Center to watch the 3-on-3 tournament organized by Octagon Player Agency. Very fun time, with the red team beating the white team 22-21. Red was led by Wild players Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, Cal Clutterbuck and Cam Barker. Burns spent the night showing off with a ton of sweet plays. Schultz was scoring on breakaways and dekes.
In fact, there was a beautiful 2-on-0 between Burns and Schultz -- a scenario we probably won't see a lot once the Wild get started. Coach Todd Richards loves his defensemen getting involved in the offense, but a Burns-Schultz 2-on-0 might even be too much for the coach nicknamed inside the locker room, "Moose."
Chris McAlpine, the former player, now agent, was named Red MVP by Burns. He paraded a garbage can around the rink when it was over. McAlpine scored a really nice goal off a Schultz feed, swung and missed on a slap shot after Keith Ballard sneakily slashed his stick from the white bench, nearly decapitated a small child with his blade after the broken stick, jokingly snapped at colleague Ben Hankinson when the white team coach gave himself the authority to wave off a late red goal and most impressively, didn't accidentally tweet his cell phone number like he did last year.
Hankinson was hilarious, wearing a golf shirt, shorts and sandles while coaching, screaming at his players and yelling at goalie Cory Schneider that he wanted him to get more involved with the offense and "a good night for you will be four assists."
The white team had guys like Andrew Brunette, Ballard, Paul Martin, Dustin Byfuglien, Matt Carle, Stephane Veilleux and Mark Stuart. Martin and Ballard were awesome. Brunette had about 10 points. In fact, you've got to love 3-on-3 because during one sequence, Ballard and Brunette combined for three goals in like 30 seconds.
You know it's hockey season when I'm roaming a postgame locker room from a charity game. Ballard was jokingly heckling me, but as I told him, I waited the mandatory five-minute "cooling off" period. So, no angry, outspoken quotes from anybody. The white team cooled off by the time I got in there.
The event was for a great cause. Proceeds benefit Team Bisch, in support of Cohasset Elementary Kindergarten Teacher, Jackie Bischoff, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.
I'm told 225 tickets were sold, raising over $5,500. The highest game-worn jersey auctioned off was Big Buff's, which went for $225.
Just a really fun event down there. Tons of kids, who had a great time watching and getting autographs from their favorite players.
That's really about it. Things will be cranking up soon as Sept. 17 training camp opening fast approaches.
Really cool Nick Schultz mailbag is on wild.com. My favorite question is the last one from some guy named Kris, who resides in Schultz's tiny hometown of Strasbourg, Saskatchewan. Same spelling as Nick Schultz's brother, Kris, strangely enough.
Youngblood here. Wild coach Todd Richards, assistant coach Dave Barr and video coordinator PJ DeLuca finally did something Richards has wanted to do since being named head coach: attend a Vikings practice.
It wasn't just about being a fan. Richards said he is, and that part of it was fun. But it was more about observing how Vikings coach Brad Childress and his staff approach preparation for a game.
"We thought about doing this last year, but we didn't have a lot of time," Richards said. "This year we had some time to get down here to see exactly what the Vikings staff does to prepare for the day. It was very gracious of the coaches, Brad and his staff, to allow us in."
That included getting to Winter Park early to sit in on some meetings. Then Richards, Barr and DeLuca went out into the hot mid-day sun to watch the Vikings go through a relatively brief practice.
"We watched how they prepare, how they do things," Richards said. "We had a chance to witness some other things, too. It was a chance to see how things are done in a different sport."
And while the sports are obviously very different, there are some things Richards said he was able to take away from the experience. For example, how coaches relate to their players. Or how organized things have to be to get all the stuff done that needs to get done as an offense, defense and special teams prepares for a game.
"There are things that you can take from it," Richards said. "How you go about your day, trying to get your players to play a certain way, communication with the players. I was very impressed with the organization the coaches have. I was impressed by the meetings, the efficiency with which they went about their day."
For Richards, it was time well spent. "I truly enjoyed it," he said. "From a coaching standpoint and from a fan standpoint. It was great."
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