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 off-season news

Bill Daly on the NHL schedule delay

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 19, 2013 - 8:54 AM

UPDATE: The Wild is close to re-signing defenseman Tyler Cuma. He'll be the last restricted free agent to re-up.

All fans, teams and, ahem, the MEDIA would love to get a look at the official 2013-14 NHL schedule, but its release will be delayed at least one more day.

"The parties are still working through what we hope are 'final' details on the terms of NHL Player participation in 2014 Winter Olympics," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly e-mailed the Star Tribune. "But it won't be 'done' until we have a complete agreement. And next year's schedule is obviously dependent on whether an agreement can be reached expeditiously."

You know the league would have loved nothing more than to get this schedule out the past two days, especially since sports have basically been on hiatus in North America with Major League Baseball on All-Star break.

The unofficial draft of the Wild schedule calls for a 19-day Olympic break in February. Unofficially, the Wild opens the season with four games in a row at home and concludes with three games in a row at home. The Wild opens Oct. 3 against Los Angeles. Camp starts Sept. 11.

NHL schedules hopefully announced Thursday; Langenbrunner wants to play for Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 18, 2013 - 9:53 AM

UPDATE: The Wild re-signed former Minnesota-Duluth national champ Justin Fontaine to a one-year, two-way contract. The Houston Aeros' leading scorer from a year ago (56 points in 64 games) would have to pass through waivers to get to AHL Iowa if he doesn't make the Wild in September. The Wild is also close to re-signing Carson McMillan.

 

After much anticipation for the NHL schedules to be announced Wednesday, further patience is required. While all teams have drafts of their 2013-14 schedules, they cannot be released until an agreement is officially reached to have NHL players participate in the Winter Olympics in February.

It's basically a done deal. The Wild has a 19-day break in February already mapped out, but the final lawyerese is still being drafted apparently between the IOC, NHLPA and NHL. Hopefully, an agreement will be finalized Thursday, and the league can announce its schedules and division names.

You know that the league would have given anything for that announcement to come today. With Major League Baseball wrapping up All-Star break, the sports pages would have belonged to the NHL -- well, in theory.

The Wild opens at home vs. Los Angeles on Oct. 3.

I'll be on XM Home Ice at 8:25 a.m. CT Thursday, KFAN at 12:30 and CHED in Edmonton at 1:30. I'm also filling in for Paul Allen on KFAN from 9-noon Monday.

The Wild will likely have an Iowa coach in place by early next week.

Lastly, as I reported July 5, former USA/Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner, 37, a buddy and former linemate of Zach Parise, is not ready for retirement after season-ending hip surgery with St. Louis and would love to play for Minnesota.

The Duluth News Tribune quoted Langenbrunner saying as such in today's newspaper. The story can be read here.

Langenbrunner's agent has indeed reached out to Wild GM Chuck Fletcher to see if there's interest. But remember, Langenbrunner, a former Cloquet High standout and Duluth native, wanted to play for the Wild last summer, too, and there was never any traction after the Wild signed Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka hours into free agency.

My gut? The Wild may eventually be interested in bringing Langenbrunner in on perhaps a pro tryout. But as of now, it seems unwilling to extend an actual contract offer.

Cap space is tight, but this is less a cap space issue and more a roster spot issue. The Wild can only keep 13 forwards, maybe 14. But if you consider there's a 23-man roster, that's probably actually going to break down as 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies.

So if the Wild signs Langenbrunner (or another depth player with younger, faster legs than him; remember, there's several free agents out there who too would probably want to play for Minnesota or any team at this juncture), and then suddenly a Granlund or Niederreiter or Haula or Fontaine show in camp that they deserve a roster spot, they could be completely blocked from the spot because of the signing. 

There's no doubt Langenbrunner would bring a character presence and a bunch of intangibles to the Wild, or for that matter, any team. And according to the Duluth story, he feels great right now on the ice.

But as cool as it would be to have Langenbrunner in Wild colors, it may be very difficult unless there's another trade this summer to move a forward. But, like I said, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the Wild ultimately brings a couple players, maybe including Langenbrunner, into camp on tryouts rather than actual contracts from the outset.

Then, if those players on tryouts deserve a spot, or the Wild sustains injuries in camp, the Wild could then find a way to make something happen.

As of now, here is Minnesota's depth chart up front:

Forwards

 
Left wing                         Center                          Right wing
 
Zach Parise ($7.5+M)       Mikko Koivu (6.75M)   **Jason Pominville (4.505M)
 
*Jason Zucker ($833,333) *Charlie Coyle (975K)   Dany Heatley (7.5M)
 
Matt Cooke (2.5M) Kyle Brodziak (2.83+M) *Nino Niederreiter (2.795M)  
 
Mike Rupp (1.5M)           Zenon Konopka (925K) Torrey Mitchell (1.9M)
 
Extra: Jake Dowell (700K)

Some vying for spots: *Mikael Granlund, * Erik Haula, Justin Fontaine (close to re-signing), Stephane Veilleux, *Brett Bulmer, *Zack Phillips.

* Entry-level deals that don't require waivers to be sent to the minors.

Note: The depth chart is my opinion. Maybe a guy like Haula performs so well in camp, he gets the No. 2 center job. Maybe Granlund outperforms Niederreiter. Or, maybe Fontaine is so good, he makes the team and a guy like Mitchell moves up and plays third-line RW.

That's what camp will be all about.

Brent Flahr on the Wild's weeklong development camp

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 13, 2013 - 5:01 PM
The Wild’s annual summer development came to a close this afternoon with a scrimmage in front of 2,600 fans at the X.
 
Andrew Brunette, JB Spisso and Doug Schueller (St. John’s University) severely outcoached Brad Bombardir, Barry Karn, Andy Ness and injured prospect Louis Nanne.
 
Things will be slowly down for the Wild in the next little while. It’ll be filling out Iowa in the next little while with a few depth signings. Restricted free agent Kyle Medvec has re-signed, assistant to the GM Jim Mill said, and Justin Fontaine, Carson McMillan and Tyler Cuma shouldn’t be too far behind.
 
The Wild will look to stand firm, and with so many free agents still out there, maybe look for a bargain here or there (two-way contract and pro tryouts) as the summer goes on.
 
--The NHL looks like it will release the regular-season schedules for all 30 teams Wednesday. I’m hearing the Wild opens the season Oct. 3 at home against … Dustin Brown and the Los Angeles Kings. Brown’s final regular-season game last season was against the Wild at the X … for some reason.
 
--The Wild should also announce its new Iowa Wild coach within the next few weeks. Aeros coach John Torchetti is heading to the Kontinental Hockey League to coach Sergei Fedorov’s team in Moscow.
 
--Fun scrimmage to watch today. The biggest “ohhhh” moment came when Matt Dumba, as is his MO, laid up Erik Haula with a clean open-ice hit to the chest as Haula waltzed into the offensive zone. Haula popped right back up thankfully. Good to see Daniel Gunnarsson, a 2012 fifth-round draft pick, live and in person. He is returning for his final year in Lulea this year, but the 6-foot-5 defenseman has a lot of tools. Big shot, very smart. Should be a good player ultimately in the NHL.
 
Dumba and Haula had good weeks. So did Raphael Bussieres, a 2012 second-rounder, who didn’t take part in today’s scrimmage because assistant GM Brent Flahr said he sustained a minor injury Friday morning.
 
Speaking of Flahr, the assistant GM talked to me today about some of the prospects, their weeks and their future:
 
“The guys we expected to be good have been good. Haula’s an older guy (22) and he’s come in here highly motivated and he’s performed very well, as has been Dumba. You see guys like Gunnarsson show some of things he can do, and he’s made strides physically to get stronger. Still has work to do, but you just look at him, you can see some of the skill set in his 6-5 frame and some of his offensive dimensions.”
 
Will he be physical? “No, I don’t think that’s part of his game, but when you’re 6-5, you can’t teach that and his ability to skate and shoot. Really slides along the offensive blue line well.
 
“There’s a spectrum of age groups here, and when you’re looking at guys like [Adam] Gilmour and [Tyler] Graovac, these guys have skill. They’re going to take time to build their bodies and get stronger, but they’re making strides. Some of the young guys, like [Kurtis] Gabriel is a big, physical guy. [Gustav] Olofsson’s been good in the drills, but he’s not participating in the scrimmage because of wrist surgery.”
 
--On Gabriel, the Wild will make a decision in training camp whether to sign (they can actually sign him at any time) and send him to Iowa or have him return to OHL Owen Sound, where he could be the big fish on campus. It’ll have to do with his Traverse City tournament and training camp and what his role/ice time would be in Iowa as opposed to Owen South: “[Assistant coach Rick Wilson] said the first time he saw him, he skates like [Milan] Lucic almost. He’s a big dude. Just crushes you. He’s really worked hard, great shape. This has been great for him, the power skating and edge work and so forth. He wants to turn pro. But if he goes back to Owen Sound, he’ll probably be a captain and play big minutes. We’ll see.”
 
Brett Bulmer, a 2010 second-rounder, didn’t skate this week because of a lingering injury. He did off-ice work. After spending nine games with the Wild two seasons ago, Bulmer played in Houston last year and had a tough year. First, he struggled, maybe being an eye opener after hoping to be in Minnesota. Then he had a bunch of injuries. Flahr: “And then we had [Jason] Zucker, [Charlie] Coyle, [Mikael] Granlund here, and [Zack] Phillips, and all these guys he’s contending with. We had a deeper team than we did two years ago, so he didn’t get his chance and then he kept battling injuries, first with his knees, and then a concussion. So he could never quite get going, but he’s a very, very young guy. He’s only played a half year of pro hockey. He’s younger than a guy like Erik Haula even. He’s been around our organization a little bit, but he’s still a guy that we have huge plans for. He’s 6-3, he’s up to 218 pounds. He’s top-3 in fitness again. He probably needs more seasoning, but we really want this type of player going forward. Whether it’s the next year or the next year, we’re going to make sure he gets there.”
 
On Phillips, a 2011 first-round pick: “I think Phillips has taken strides physically. He looks stronger. Skating is coming, and you can’t teach what he can do with the puck with his hands and vision. But he’s worked hard here, he’s been a leader, taking care of a lot of the guys and getting places. When we drafted him, we knew it would be a few-, three-, four-year process before getting there. But with his hockey sense, vision and skill, his upside is there.”
 
Flahr talked highly of Johan Gustafsson, who backstopped Sweden to gold at world juniors two years ago with Jonas Brodin and Johan Larsson. He will play in Iowa (third year of pro hockey) this season as the No. 2 to Darcy Kuemper.
 
Grand Rapids High’s Avery Peterson, a 2013 draft pick, had his family and high school hockey team here today. They roared when he scored in the shootout. He’ll play at Sioux City (USHL) next year and is close to choosing his college. Cue Flahr: “I thought first day of camp he looked like a fish out of water. A lot of it’s due to his strength, and probably nerves. But he made significant strides each day. Like he’s really worked hard, and he’s coming out of high school, so to this level of hockey, it’s a huge jump. But he has offensive instincts and an ability to score in some of the 3-on-3’s. But he’ll have to put some time in and get stronger. He’ll be a good skater once he does, but you can tell he’s not as physically strong as some of the others.”
 
Flahr really likes Olofsson, too, the Green Bay (USHL) second-round defenseman who is tentatively going to Colorado College in the fall. Portland of the WHL owns his rights and they’re apparently putting pressure on him to go there instead. No chance the Wild gets involved in that decision Olofsson will have to make. At the draft, Olofsson said his heart was with CC, so we’ll see.
 
Flahr was happy with a lot of the invitees and said the ones that don’t have to report to college will likely be invited back for Traverse City tournament.
 
“Great week,” Flahr said. “We use this camp primarily has a development camp rather than evaluation with a lot of the power skating, stick-handling and putting them outside of their comfort level and trying to work on the skills that they don’t usually get to work on. This is more of a release for them. They’re exhausted right now with all the stuff we’ve put them through.”
 
 

Wild, Jonathon Blum agree to terms; Full prospects scrimmage Saturday

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 12, 2013 - 10:33 AM
Rather than a 3-on-3 tournament Saturday, the Wild will now hold a more visually-pleasing, fan-friendly full prospects scrimmage Saturday at Xcel Energy Center from 3-4:30 p.m. Gate One opens at 2:30.
 
Today, the Wild will hold simultaneous half-sheet 3-on-3 tourneys at 2:45 p.m. Gate One opens at 2:15.
 
Both sessions are free and open to the general masses.
 
The Wild has also officially announced that it has agreed to terms with free-agent defenseman Jonathon Blum to a one-year, two-way contract.
 
Blum, a 2007 Nashville Predators first-round pick, will vie for a roster spot. If he doesn’t make the team, he will certainly be a first callup option.
 
Remember, on all teams, one-way contracts usually rule the roost, so Blum is behind the one-way guys on the depth chart whether you agree he should be or not. The one thing he does have going for him: He’d require waivers to get him to the minors, so if he proves in training camp that he warrants a roster spot, you can bet the Wild would try to make room.
 
The Predators didn’t tender Blum, 24, a former Western Hockey League star from the Vancouver Giants, a qualifying offer presumably because the threat of his winning a one-way arbitration case and Nashville’s logjam on the blue line. He became an unrestricted free agent last Friday. It was clear from reading Josh Cooper's stuff in the Tennessean the past few years that Blum has talent but needed a fresh start. Just wasn't working there.
 
But it is a turbulent climate out there. The list of quality free agents that can’t get jobs right now is frankly amazing, and expected, because teams just don’t have the cap space with the cap dropping nearly $6 million. There is zero doubt, many NHL careers are in jeopardy, so you’re going to start seeing some quality names being forced to sign two-way contracts or pro tryouts. You get a 24-year-old former first-round pick on a two-way deal like Blum, it could end up being a steal.
 
The 6-1, 195-pound right-shot Blum has scored seven goals and 22 points in 91 NHL games for the Predators. In four years with the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, Blum, their former captain, scored 49 goals and 204 points. He was WHL and CHL Defenseman of the Year in 2009. He scored 66 points that year playing on a team with Winnipeg’s Evander Kane. He won a Memorial Cup in 2007. His Giants teams recorded four consecutive years of 100 points. He is their all-time leader in assists (138).
 
The Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., native represented the U.S. in the world juniors twice. If you want to read some articles written recently on Blum in the Vancouver papers, see the previous blog.
 
The Wild also signed defenseman Jon Landry to a one-year, two-way deal. He scored 33 points and had 57 penalty minutes in 72 games with Bridgeport last season. He's a 6-3, 220-pounder from Montreal.
 
UPDATED WILD DEPTH CHART (AS OF JULY 12)
 
Here is the updated depth chart. Chuck Fletcher has lately said in his mind, only two of the young prospects really “need” to make the team. That puts Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula in that pool of “vying for spots” players. It’ll be fun to watch that battle in training camp. If only two of the young kids really end up making it, perhaps Torrey Mitchell moves to the third line and a right wing like 25-year-old Justin Fontaine, who had a terrific year for the Aeros last year, challenges for a spot on the fourth line.
 
Forwards
 
Left wing                         Center                          Right wing
 
Zach Parise ($7.5+M)       Mikko Koivu (6.75M)   **Jason Pominville (4.505M)
 
*Jason Zucker ($833,333) *Charlie Coyle (975K)   Dany Heatley (7.5M)
 
Matt Cooke (2.5M) Kyle Brodziak (2.83+M) *Nino Niederreiter (2.795M)  
 
Mike Rupp (1.5M)           Zenon Konopka (925K) Torrey Mitchell (1.9M)
 
Extra: Jake Dowell (700K)
 
Some vying for spots: *Mikael Granlund, Justin Fontaine (RFA), Stephane Veilleux, *Erik Haula, *Brett Bulmer, *Zack Phillips.
* Entry-level contract; can be sent to the minors without waivers.
**Buffalo picking up roughing $795,000
 
Defensemen
 
Left Defense                     Right Defense
 
Ryan Suter (7.5+M)          Jonas Brodin (1.4+M)
 
Marco Scandella (1.025M) Keith Ballard (1.5M)
 
Clayton Stoner (1.05M)   Jared Spurgeon (2.66M)
 
Extra: Nate Prosser (825,000)
 
Vying for spots: Jonathon Blum, Matt Dumba (Must make the Wild or return to WHL Red Deer, not Iowa eligible because he’ll be 19), Steve Kampfer, Kyle Medvec (RFA)
 
Goalies
 
Niklas Backstrom (3.42M)
Josh Harding (1.9M)
  
Buyout charge
 
Mark Parrish ($927,778)
 
Total cap hit roughly: $62,753,868(includes Buffalo picking up Pominville’s portion)
Wild’s approximate cap ceiling next year (roughly $400,000 less than NHL): $63.9M
***Available space roughly: $1,146,132. This doesn't include others making the team. For instance, if Granlund makes it, his cap hit is $2.1 million. Remember also, the Wild needs to save at least $1 million of space for in-season injury callups.
***Cap hits for all Minnesota’s entry-level players inflated for potential bonuses (for example, Niederreiter’s salary is actually $810,000); teams can exceed the cap by 7.5% on potential performance bonuses, so Wild actually has more cap space than listed. 
 
 
 

Wild close to signing Nashville Predators defenseman Jonathon Blum

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 11, 2013 - 2:24 PM
Agent Gerry Johannson says the Wild is one of many teams in the running for Nashville Predators free-agent defenseman Jonathon Blum. The agent says nothing is finalized, but according to NHL sources, it's all but signed, sealed and delivered and Blum will indeed be signing with Minnesota as early as Friday.
 
“We’ve talked to Minnesota and a number of teams,” Johannson said. “They are definitely in the running.”
 
General Manager Chuck Fletcher has said the past week the Wild will likely sign a defenseman with NHL experience to a two-way contract. Blum, a 2007 first-round pick by Nashville, likely fits that two-way mold. He would vie for a roster spot come the fall if not have the opportunity to be a first callup option.
 
The Predators didn’t tender Blum, 24, a former Western Hockey League star from the Vancouver Giants, a qualifying offer presumably because the threat of his winning a one-way arbitration case and Nashville’s logjam on the blue line. He became an unrestricted free agent last Friday. It was clear from reading Josh Cooper's stuff in the Tennessean the past few years that Blum has talent but needed a fresh start. Just wasn't working there.
 
The 6-1, 195-pound right-shot blue-liner has scored seven goals and 22 points in 91 NHL games. In four years with the Giants, Blum, their former captain, scored 49 goals and 204 points. He was WHL and CHL Defenseman of the Year in 2009. He scored 66 points that year playing on a team with Winnipeg’s Evander Kane. He won a Memorial Cup in 2007. His Giants teams record four consecutive years of 100 points. He is their all-time leader in assists (138).
 
The Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., native represented the U.S. in the world juniors twice. He’s a product of the California Wave (you may have seen that documentary on them a few years back, called In the Crease).
 
Here’s a story on Blum in the Vancouver Sun last week.
 
Here’s a story on Blum in the Vancouver Province last week.
 
The Wild's depth chart on the blue line for roster hopefuls now looks like:
 
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Keith Ballard
Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon
 
Vying
Nate Prosser
Jonathon Blum
Matt Dumba

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