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.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

Wild update on Vanek, Niskanen, Stoner, McCormick, others

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 24, 2014 - 9:44 PM

Good evening everybody. I leave early Wednesday morning for the NHL draft, so I figured I'd check in. I will be hosting a live chat on www.startribune.com/wild in advance of the draft Friday at 11 a.m. CT.

Hopefully you have been reading the stories in the paper and on the Wild page of startribune.com. I didn't blog yesterday, but basically the news at the Wild's annual draft luncheon is General Manager Chuck Fletcher wouldn't mind moving back in the draft if it means picking up multiple picks.

Currently, the Wild owns the No. 18 pick in Friday's first round (6 p.m., NBC Sports Network). Rounds 2-7 starts at 9 a.m. Saturday and can be seen on the NHL Network. As of now, the Wild has no seconds, one third, one fourth, one fifth, three sixths and one seventh.

If the Wild sticks at 18, Fletcher said he doesn't anticipate taking a goalie, although he said there may be scenarios where he moves back and ultimately takes one. The top-ranked goalie in the draft is Boston College's Thatcher Demko, and regardless, it's not like any of the goalies in the drafts solves any perceived short-term issue. I'll be writing more about goaltending in the coming days.

The Wild also wouldn't mind moving up, although often times it's difficult to do that without a second-round pick.

Most times, any trade to move up or down will happen on the draft floor at the moment, so stay tuned.

-- Starting Wednesday, all teams will be permitted to talk to other team's pending restricted and unrestricted free agents. Free agency begins at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

As I wrote in Wednesday's paper, the Wild will be in contact with Steve Bartlett, the agent of Thomas Vanek. However, I also hear the Wild has significant interest in Paul Stastny if he gets to free agency (like many teams) and Matt Niskanen.

Stastny and Niskanen will command lucrative, long-term deals, so there's no way the Wild would be able to land both.

Vanek will also be seeking a long-term deal, but if he wants to play in Minnesota, he might have to settle for a short-term deal. If he would agree to that, that would allow the Wild to also go after Niskanen. If the Wild opts to go hard after Niskanen, I believe he'll sign here.

The good part of the interview period is Fletcher will get to learn in advance of free agency whether Vanek would ever entertain such a thing. If not, he can react.

This is all also barring a significant trade at the draft. Basically, what happens in the next week is up in the air because one thing will always affect the next.

I wrote this in Wednesday's paper, but I asked Bartlett if Vanek would agree to a short-term deal, especially after Vanek turned down lucrative offers from the Islanders and Sabres.

“I don’t think we’re absolutely entrenched on anything," Bartlett said. "Vanek is a very confident guy, somebody that is, I think, going to look at everything – the financial side, the family side, the team side.

“I don’t think we have anything cast in stone come Wednesday or July 1.”

Vanek scored five goals and 10 points in 17 games for Montreal in the playoffs. His ice time was limited at times and he was scrutinized, particularly in the conference finals against the Rangers.

But Vanek has 277 goals in 663 career games and the Wild finished 24th offensively last season (199 non-shootout goals). Vanek ranks eighth in the NHL in goals scored since the start of 2005-06 and his 0.42 goals per game is tied for 11th.

“I find it very hard to believe the body of work he brings to the table is going to get erased over one so-so series,” Bartlett said. “He still had a very solid season last year (27 goals, 68 points) despite all the baggage that goes with bouncing around like a yo-yo between three teams and living out of a hotel.”

With all the agents in Philly this week, you can bet Fletcher will be meeting with a number of them about their pending free agents.

While Fletcher has said he wants to add, he also says the term and dollars must be right this summer. The Wild has a lot of significant youngsters it must re-sign this summer and next and can't hamstring itself. That's why Fletcher keeps saying he may have to "lay off the pitch" this summer and not swing for the fence.

Other Wild tidbits:

-- If the Wild can't re-sign Clayton Stoner, I believe the team plans to pursue former Wild Willie Mitchell. During this interview period, Stoner will get to learn if there's potentially a more lucrative contract out there than the one the Wild is offering.

-- Cody McCormick met with his agent today and his agent plans to speak with Fletcher on Wednesday.

-- According to multiple sources, the Wild continues to shop Kyle Brodziak heading into this weekend. He has a year left on his deal and currently looks like the Wild's fourth-line center heading into next season.

-- The Wild continues to work on its restricted free agents -- Nino Niederreiter, Darcy Kuemper, Justin Fontaine, Jason Zucker and Jon Blum. No rush, Fletcher says.

-- The NHL Awards Show was in Vegas tonight. Ryan Suter, the Norris Trophy runner-up last year, finished fourth in Norris voting (meaning almost a finalist) and fifth in All-Star voting for defensemen, meaning just on the outside of being a First or Second Team All-Star.

-- Chuck Fletcher was seventh in GM of the Year voting.

-- Mike Yeo was 13th in Coach of the Year voting.

-- Jason Pominville was 12th in Lady Byng voting and was eighth in All-Star voting for right wings.

-- Zach Parise was tied for 11th in All-Star voting for left wingers.

-- None of the Wild's five starting goalies got a Vezina vote!

-- For all the winners, etc., go to NHL.com.

Talk to you from Philly.

Breaking down the Wild's 2014-15 schedule; Russo's Roadie Tips

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild off-season news Updated: June 22, 2014 - 3:04 PM

The NHL announced the 82-game regular-season schedules (41 home, 41 road) for all 30 teams this afternoon.

The Wild will be challenged early, playing five of its first eight games in a nine-game October on the road. Most bizarrely, after a home-and-home series Oct. 9 and Oct. 11 vs. Colorado to open the season, the Wild will probably will return home to practice (selfishly, I think Mike Yeo should do the right thing and take the team to Vegas ... or Hawaii) and won't play next until six days later Oct. 17 at Anaheim and Oct. 19 at reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles.

After a training camp that will last from Sept. 18-Oct. 8, those will be six long days. What left will there be for me to write about? (Joking).

Some nuggets:

-- The Wild will play 29 games vs. its Central Division rivals (this is what happens when there's 7 teams in each division in the West), with Colorado and Winnipeg coming to Minnesota three times and the Wild going to Chicago, Dallas (gulp; one win there since March 21, 2003, sad that I know that by heart?) and Nashville three times. The Wild plays St. Louis four times.

-- The Wild plays three games each vs. the Pacific for a total of 21 games with Anaheim, ARIZONA (no longer Phoenix), L.A. and San Jose coming to Minnesota twice and the Wild, like old times (long live the Northwest Division!), going to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver twice.

-- The Wild plays the 16 teams in the East one time each, home and away for a total of 32 games.

-- Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin and the Pens come to Minnesota Nov. 4, Stanley Cup champs come to Minnesota the first time Nov. 26 in the day before Thanksgiving game, for a change, the Wild will be on the road New Year's Eve at Columbus, the All-Star Game will be held in Columbus on Jan. 25 and the Wild closes the season at Chicago, at Nashville and at St. Louis.

-- After the All-Star Game, the Wild will play 18 home games and 18 road games during the stretch drive. Of those 36 games, 14 will be against the Central Division and 25 vs. the West.

-- The Wild has 13 sets of back-to-back, including a rare home back-to-back March 27-28 vs. Calgary and Los Angeles.

-- The Wild's longest homestand is five games March 27-April 6 vs. Calgary, L.A., the Rangers, Detroit and Winnipeg.

-- The Wild has seven three-game road trips and one four-game road trip, although that's a fake four-game road trip because the All-Star Game separates at Detroit with a Western Canadian swing to all three teams there.

-- Besides the first two games vs. and at Colorado, the only other home and home series is vs. Winnipeg on Dec. 27 and at Winnipeg on Dec. 29.

-- Judging by the time of the Jan. 17 game against Arizona, I assume that's Hockey Day Minnesota. The host city hasn't been announced.

-- As I mentioned last week, no stadium series game hosted by the Wild this season. For part of the reason why, see the previous blog.

-- Lastly, to answer my annual flurry of emails this time of year, my favorite road cities for various reasons: 1. Chicago; 2. Vancouver; 3. New York City; 4. Phoenix; 5. San Jose/Anaheim/L.A. circuit; 6. Washington; 7. Denver; 8. Montreal; 9. Boston; 10. Nashville; 11. Las Vegas (one day, I promise!).

There are so many other cities that are cool (some crummy ones, too), so don't be offended if I failed to mention yours.

Couple awesome Wild trips if you're looking for a few ideas: at Anaheim/LA in October; at Rangers/Boston in October because it's two incredible cities and a simple train ride or LaGuardia to Logan Delta shuttle; at Ottawa/MTL in November because it's a 90-minute drive between the two cities, the Canadian capital is one of my favorite places even though I failed to mention it above and you get an off-night in MTL; at TB/FLA in November because it's a short, relatively cheap Southwest flight between Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale or a 3-hour drive; at San Jose (squeeze in Napa if you can)/Glendale in December (weather!) and at Winnipeg in February because you really, really, really should experience what I'm going to have to experience (actually, more than likely, my backup). smiley

On schedule-release day, I always realize how lucky I am to have this job. I mean, get paid to cover hockey AND travel for what's about to be my 20th year (10th covering the Wild)!!!

Who came up with this idea?

This morning I got an email from a Mankato student who's a hockey/journalism fanatic. He happened to mention he has never been out of the state of Minnesota besides North Dakota once and Wisconsin.

I couldn't get it out of my head for a few hours.

It was a great reminder how lucky I am to see the continent annually on the Star Tribune's dime (actually, the paper invests a lot more than a dime to our sports coverage) and then build the miles/hotel points to see the world during the offseasons fairly cheaply.

Of course, remind me of everything I just said when I undoubtedly whine to you on Twitter during travel delays and complain from Winnipeg this upcoming February (Brrrr).

-- If you missed, here's a Chuck Fletcher feature from today's paper mostly from the eyes of Craig Leipold.

2013-14 Minnesota Wild schedule

SEPTEMBER (PRESEASON)

Mon.     22                           at Winnipeg        7:00 p.m.            

Thur.     25                           at Pittsburgh      6:00 p.m.

SAT.       27                           WINNIPEG          7:00 P.M.

MON.    29                           PITTSBURGH      7:00 P.M.

Thur.     2                              at St. Louis          7:00 p.m.

SAT.       4                              ST. LOUIS             7:00 P.M.            

OCTOBER (REGULAR SEASON)

THUR.   9                              COLORADO         7:30 P.M.            

Sat.        11                           at Colorado         8:00 p.m.

Fri.          17                           at Anaheim         9:00 p.m.

Sun.       19                           at Los Angeles   3:00 p.m.

THUR.   23                           ARIZONA             7:00 P.M.

SAT.       25                           TAMPA BAY       7:00 P.M.            

Mon.     27                           at N.Y. Rangers 6:00 p.m.

Tue.       28                           at Boston             6:00 p.m.

THUR.   30                           SAN JOSE             7:00 P.M.

NOVEMBER

SAT.       1                              DALLAS 7:00 P.M.

TUE.       4                              PITTSBURGH      7:00 P.M.

Thur.     6                              at Ottawa            6:30 p.m.

Sat.        8                              at Montreal        6:00 p.m.

Tue.       11                           at New Jersey   6:00 p.m.

THUR.   13                           BUFFALO             7:00 P.M.

Sat.        15                           at Dallas               1:00 p.m.

SUN.      16                           WINNIPEG          4:00 P.M.

Thur.     20                           at Philadelphia  6:00 p.m.

Sat.        22                           at Tampa Bay     6:00 p.m.

Mon.     24                           at Florida             6:30 p.m.

WED.     26                           LOS ANGELES     7:00 P.M.

Fri.          28                           at Dallas               7:30 p.m.

SAT.       29                           ST. LOUIS             7:00 P.M.

DECEMBER

WED.     3                              MONTREAL         6:00 P.M.            

FRI.        5                              ANAHEIM           7:00 P.M.

TUE.       9                              N.Y. ISLANDERS                7:00 P.M.

Thur.     11                           at San Jose          9:30 p.m.

Sat.        13                           at Arizona            7:00 p.m.

Tue.       16                           at Chicago           7:30 p.m.

WED.     17                           BOSTON               7:00 P.M.

SAT.       20                           NASHVILLE         7:00 P.M.

TUE.       23                           PHILADELPHIA  6:00 P.M.

SAT.       27                           WINNIPEG          6:00 P.M.

Mon.     29                           at Winnipeg        7:00 p.m.

Wed.     31                           at Columbus       6:00 p.m.         

JANUARY

FRI.        2                              TORONTO           7:00 P.M.            

Sat.        3                              at Dallas               7:00 p.m.            

TUE.       6                              SAN JOSE             7:00 P.M.

THUR.   8                              CHICAGO            7:00 P.M.

SAT.       10                           NASHVILLE         1:00 P.M.

Sun.       11                           at Chicago           7:00 p.m.

Tue.       13                           at Pittsburgh      6:00 p.m.

Thur.     15                           at Buffalo            6:00 p.m.

SAT.       17                           ARIZONA             8:00 P.M.            

MON.    19                           COLUMBUS        7:00 P.M.

Tue.       20                           at Detroit             6:30 p.m.

Sun.       25                           NHL ALL-STAR GAME (Columbus, Ohio)

Tue.       27                           at Edmonton      8:30 p.m.

Thur.     29                           at Calgary            8:00 p.m.

FEBRUARY

Sun.       1              at Vancouver     2:30 p.m.

TUE.       3              CHICAGO            7:00 P.M.

SAT.       7              COLORADO         7:00 P.M.

MON.    9              VANCOUVER     7:00 P.M.

Tue.       10           at Winnipeg        7:00 p.m.

THUR.   12           FLORIDA              7:00 P.M.

SAT.       14           CAROLINA           7:00 P.M.

Mon.     16           at Vancouver     9:00 p.m.

Wed.     18           at Calgary            8:30 p.m.

Fri.          20           at Edmonton      8:00 p.m.

SUN.      22           DALLAS 7:00 P.M.

TUE.       24           EDMONTON       7:00 P.M.

Thur.     26           at Nashville         7:00 p.m.

Sat.        28           at Colorado         9:00 p.m.

MARCH

TUE.       3              OTTAWA             7:00 P.M.

Thur.     5              at Washington   6:00 p.m.

Fri.          6              at Carolina           6:00 p.m.

SUN.      8              COLORADO         5:00 P.M.

TUE.       10           NEW JERSEY       7:00 P.M.

FRI.        13           ANAHEIM           7:00 P.M.

Sat.        14           at St. Louis          7:00 p.m.            

Tue.       17           at Nashville         7:00 p.m.

THUR.   19           WASHINGTON  7:00 P.M.

SAT.       21           ST. LOUIS             1:00 P.M.

Mon.     23           at Toronto           6:30 p.m.            

Tue.       24           at N.Y. Islanders               6:00 p.m.

FRI.        27           CALGARY             7:00 P.M.                                                            

SAT.       28           LOS ANGELES     7:00 P.M.

APRIL

THUR.   2              N.Y. RANGERS   7:00 P.M.            

SAT.       4              DETROIT               6:00 P.M.            

MON.    6              WINNIPEG          7:00 P.M.

Tue.       7              at Chicago           7:30 p.m.

Thur.     9              at Nashville         7:00 p.m.            

Sat.        11           at St. Louis          6:30 p.m.

Wild opens season Oct. 9 vs. Colorado; Why no outdoor game?

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild off-season news Updated: June 21, 2014 - 9:56 AM

The Wild's schedule is expected to be released Sunday afternoon, but I have heard a few details through the grapevine -- one that is expected to be announced later Saturday.

The Wild will open the season Oct. 9 with a home-and-home against the Colorado Avalanche, the Central Division champs the Wild defeated in seven games in the first round a few months back. 

The Wild's supposed to continue to Anaheim and Cup champion Los Angeles after playing in Denver, but unless the Wild managed to get the NHL to squeeze another game in there, the Wild, last I heard, had five or six days off before playing its third game of the season in Anaheim.

Some other tidbits: The Kings come to Minnesota the first time Nov. 26. The Wild has a home-and-home with Winnipeg in December, plays in Columbus on New Year's Eve and closes the season with three games on the road in a bit of a meat grinder at Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis. That follows consecutive home games against the Rangers, Detroit and Winnipeg.

As I mentioned last week, no outdoor game this season. It was supposed to be in February against Dallas at Target Field.

According to an NHL source, the Wild is at the "top of the list" for a stadium-series game and was scheduled to have a game this year. What held it up was timing and logistics, the source said. The Wild wants to make this a huge event by having outdoor high school and college games accompanying the stadium series game.

The problem, I'm told, is the league wants the game to be here in February and for this upcoming season, the colleges had their schedules already booked and couldn't just insert an outdoor game into their schedules right before their playoffs. In addition, February is getting awfully close to Twins season and could cause havoc on Target Field's ... field.

The league source said, "At the end of the day, both of us determined that next year would be better. It's going to happen next year."

We'll see though. As we have learned, everything is subject to change (I reported during the playoffs the Wild would be getting a stadium-series game next season and now it isn't) and the Wild still would prefer the actual Winter Classic. The problem though is according to a league source the 2016 Winter Classic site has been determined. Although it hasn't been announced where, the game has not been awarded to Minnesota, so the soonest the Wild could host one is 2017.

Personally, I still hear there's more to this stadium-series thing that has nothing to do with the Wild and that's why the stadium-series games were scaled down this year to one. Next year, I'm told we're going to see more than one game again.

CELEBRITIES ANNOUNCED FOR 2014 WELLS FARGO MINNESOTA WILD ROAD TOUR

    SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild and Wells Fargo have announced the celebrities and exact locations for the annual Wells Fargo Minnesota Wild Road Tour, set for Tuesday, June 24 through Thursday, June 26. The Road Tour will lead up to the Summer Bash/NHL Draft Watch Party on Friday, June 27, at Xcel Energy Center.


    The Western Tour will feature Wild player Matt Cooke, alumni Wes Walz and Wild television analyst Mike Greenlay. The Northern Tour will have Wild players Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, as well as Wild radio personalities Tom Reid and Kevin Falness. The Southern leg features Wild players Erik Haula and Stephane Veilleux, alumni Antti Laaksonen and Wild television play-by-play announcer Anthony LaPanta.

Western Tour (Cooke, Walz, Greenlay)

Tuesday, June 24

Moorhead: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena (707 Main Ave. SE)

Fergus Falls: 3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. at Fergus Falls Community Ice Arena (340 Friberg Ave.)

Wednesday, June 25

Morris: 10:30-11:30 a.m. at Lee Community Center (101 S. County Rd. 22)

Marshall: 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Lockwood Motors Ice Arena (512 Fairgrounds Rd.)

Thursday, June 26

Worthington: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Worthington Arena (1600 Stower Dr.)

Blue Earth: 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Wells Fargo Bank (201 E. 7th St.)


Southern Tour (Haula, Veilleux, Laaksonen, LaPanta*)

Tuesday, June 24

Des Moines, Iowa: 11 a.m.-12 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena (833 5th Ave.)

Waterloo, Iowa: 4-5 p.m. at Young Arena (125 Commercial St.)

Wednesday, June 25

Mankato: 11 a.m.-12 p.m. at All Seasons Arena (1251 Monks Ave.)

Faribault: 2-3 p.m. at Faribault Ice Arena (1816 NW 2nd Ave.)

Thursday, June 26

Rochester: 12-1 p.m. at Graham Arena - Rink One (1570 Fairgrounds Ave. SE)

Red Wing: 3-4 p.m. at Prairie Island Arena (370 Guernsey Lane)

*June 25 and June 26 only

Northern Tour (Coyle, Zucker, Reid, Falness)

Tuesday, June 24

Silver Bay: 12-1 p.m. at Rukavina Arena (129 Outer Dr.)

Hibbing: 5-6 p.m. at Fairground Arena (1100 E. 25th St.)

Wednesday, June 25

Duluth: 12-1 p.m. at Duluth Heritage Sports Center (120 S. 30th Ave. W)

Pequot Lakes: 6-7 p.m. at Breezy Point Hockey Center (7370 County Rd. 11)

Thursday, June 26

Princeton: 12-1 p.m. at Princeton Ice Arena (511 Ice Arena Dr.)

Buffalo: 3-4 p.m. at Buffalo Municipal Airport (1305 County Rd. 134)

    The Wild will hold the Wells Fargo Summer Bash/NHL Draft Watch Party at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul on Friday, June 27, from 6-10 p.m. There will be Wild player photographs and autographs, NHL alumni autographs, a live broadcast from KFAN 100.3 FM, as well as tours of the press box and Wild locker room.

NHL makes significant revision to free-agent interview period rule

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild off-season news Updated: June 19, 2014 - 1:51 PM

The NHL has implemented a significant change from last year regarding the free-agent interview period that begins next Wednesday.

In a memo sent yesterday to all teams and subsequently forwarded by the NHL Players’ Association to all agents, the league will now allow clubs and agents to discuss general parameters of a potential contract for a pending restricted and unrestricted free agent.

Last year if you remember, Commissioner Gary Bettman sent a last-second memo reminding clubs that they could not discuss contract parameters at all during the interview period prior to free agency, which begins this year on July 1.

In the June 18 memo (read over the phone to me by an agent), the league states, “After discussions with a number of general managers, we have revised and hopefully clarified with regard to last summer the permissible parameters of player contract and communication during the applicable interview periods.

“Please be advised that clubs are permitted to discuss the potential interest in as well as general parameters of a potential future contractual relationship with another club’s pending RFA or UFA during the applicable interview periods. The clubs may not enter any agreements or make any binding offers, promises, … oral or written concerning the terms of a potential SPC (standard players contract) with another club’s pending RFA or UFA.”

So in other words, teams and agents can now discuss the general parameters of a deal, as in, “I’ll be looking for a seven-year deal at around $5 million annually,” etc., meaning now players and agents at least know where each other is at heading into July 1 and know who’s in the game and who isn’t.

Last year, there seemed to be confusion where nobody had any idea of what could and couldn’t be discussed during the interview period. Some teams/agents apparently followed the rules, some teams didn’t, which created a conundrum that ticked off the teams that did follow the rules.

It’ll be interesting to see if this revision leads to some quick deals as free agency opens July 1.

This revision could also be potentially significant for a team like the Wild. Minnesota would love to find a way to add a scoring forward and a defenseman this summer. It probably can’t achieve both though IF both players it targets want long-term, lucrative contracts.

But if GM Chuck Fletcher learns prior to free agency that one of the players he covets would be interested in a short-term deal, it may allow Fletcher to fill two holes by extending a long-term offer to somebody else, maybe a defenseman.

So, that’s the good part of this NHL revision. Fletcher can now at least discuss general parameters to any potential deal with any potential free agent he covets to figure out what things the Wild may or may not be able to accomplish in free agency.

As I wrote the other day, the Wild would like to fill multiple holes this summer, but it also has to make sure it can re-sign all of its restricted free agents the next two summers. So it wants to be, as Fletcher said, “mindful,” with any long-term deal it gives out to an unrestricted free agent.

This summer, Nino Niederreiter, Darcy Kuemper, Justin Fontaine and Jason Zucker are restricted free agents that need to be re-signed. Next summer is the biggee when Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin can all be restricted free agents (some may receive contract extensions later this summer or into next season, Fletcher has said previously).

Wild exhibition schedule; Wild expected to sign Gelinas on July 1; Other Wild thoughts

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild off-season news, Wild training camp Updated: June 18, 2014 - 2:16 PM

Good day from partly cloudy, mostly humid Minneapolis. Here's a Wild update:

1. Preseason schedule has been announced: Six-game schedule with home-and-homes (so to speak) with Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

Training camp is expected to begin Sept. 18.

Sept. 22 at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.; Sept. 25 at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m.; Sept. 27 vs. Winnipeg, 7 p.m.; Sept. 29 vs. Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.; Oct. 2 at St. Louis, 7 p.m.; Oct. 4 vs. St. Louis, 7 p.m.

Tickets will go on sale later this summer.

My guess is the Wild then heads to Duluth on Oct. 5 for a few days of practice. Just conjecture, but it fits before the opener later that week and the Wild loves the facilities and ability to do some team bonding up in UMD Country.

2. Last I heard, the NHL plans to release all schedules Sunday. Weird day to do so, but that's always a fun day. As I mentioned the other day, no outdoor game this year. The league is scaling back to one stadium series game. Also, for a change, I heard the Wild's on the road New Year's Eve!

3. I plan to host a draft/free agency live chat on startribune.com next Friday (Round 1 is later that night). Time to be announced.

4. The Wild's expected to sign undrafted free agent defenseman Guillaume Gelinas on July 1. The signing was first reported (I believe) by TVA Sports in Quebec. It's a verbal commitment right now because as of June 1, there was a freeze for undrafted North American free agents (the Wild signed undrafted forwards Brady Brassart and Zack Mitchell in March) until July 1.

Gelinas, 21, was named the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's best defenseman this past season after scoring 23 goals and 92 points in 67 games for Val-d'Or. He scored another 34 points in 24 playoff games for a team that lost the Memorial Cup to Edmonton.

Wild's trying to put an influx of skill on AHL Iowa after a very tough season in which the Baby Wild lacked skill, health and was probably too old.

Gelinas is skilled and competitive but 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, so initially the AHL will be a decent step.

So, it's a flier.

Maybe Gelinas turns out to be Jared Spurgeon, who also had a terrific junior career (139 points in his last three years; harder to score in the W than the Q, so apples and oranges in terms of stats) before not being signed by the Islanders and then going untouched through another draft.

Maybe Gelinas turns out to be Michel Periard. Who? He's just a name that kind of jumped into my head because he was of similar stature and had similar stats in the Q (100 points his last year, I think) to Gelinas probably 15 years ago. Chuck Fletcher's Florida Panthers took a flier on him and he never played North American pro hockey beyond the A.

My point: Risk-free move, but let's be realistic with expectations. Maybe he turns out to be a player. Maybe he doesn't. When the Wild signed Spurgeon, I probably put a single line into the paper. Same thing with Brassart and Mitchell. Heck, when the Wild signed Niklas Backstrom as the first-ever European free agent under the previous CBA, I put a single paragraph. All he did was become the Wild's all-time goaltending leader in games and wins.

It's just hard to know with undrafted players until the Wild gets its grip on them and has a chance to develop them.

5. The salary cap is expected to be close to $70 million when it's announced next week. The Wild's will be a shade under after a slight bonus overage. Fletcher told me during the playoffs that Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Jonas Brodin hit bonuses. Capgeek.come has it as Niederreiter and Haula earning each $212,500 for plus-minus and Brodin $425,000 for time on ice.

That's $825,000 in bonuses. But I'm told the Wild didn't go over the cap by that much, so the overage on next year's cap will be less. Either way, the overage shouldn't impact the Wild in its offseason business because Fletcher will always try to be at least $2 million or more under the cap so the team can make in-season injury callups and potential trades.

6. Lot of questions as to whether the Wild may pursue Cup champ Willie Mitchell in free agency. My guess: It makes sense if the Wild's unable to re-sign Clayton Stoner. Stoner and Mitchell seemingly would play the same role (third-pair, left-shot, physical D). As I mentioned last week, the Wild will try to re-sign Stoner, but maybe his solid postseason will allow him to cash in as a UFA more than the Wild's willing to commit. Stoner will have to decide that.

7. Some questions from you as to whether the Wild may pursue Shawn Thornton now that Boston's moving on from the rugged winger. I've heard through sources that the Wild would like to re-sign Cody McCormick, but Thornton is arguably a better, tougher player (more expensive, too), so maybe the Wild holds off on trying to sign McCormick just to see if it has a shot at Thornton. I don't see why there's a rush to re-sign McCormick, so if it were me, I'd wait to see what Thornton is thinking. I'm sure he'll have a lot of interest though.

Interesting dynamic to this year's draft. The free-agent interview period begins Wednesday. This is a new wrinkle thrown into this CBA where teams are allowed to court July 1 pending free agents, bring them to cities to check it out, etc. Well, the entire NHL will be in Philadelphia from Wednesday-Saturday night or Sunday morning, so one wonders if the draft becomes a free-agent recruiting party.

It certainly makes sense for agents to bring their free agents to Philly and line up meeting after meeting.

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