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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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.
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:
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.
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