I was chatting with this high school hockey coach from Winnipeg today on the plane, and he knew I wrote an article on the plane for tomorrow, so he asked me, "So do you have to go work after we land?"
I said, "No. I've got this story in the can, unless Richards decides to suddenly practice or the Wild trade Sykora."
I was close. This was a relaxing day off.
The "Free Petr" Twitter campaign resolved itself today when GM Chuck Fletcher took it to the next extreme and freed Petr. Sykora was placed on 24-hour waivers. He'll either be claimed by another team at 11 a.m. Wednesday or clear waivers.
Now, as you probably know by now, waivers in the NHL is not "waived" in other sports. If you clear, you remain team property. You can be reassigned to the minors or you can remain on the club like nothing ever happened.
I've been assured that's not the case here. Sykora's career in Minnesota is over. That was clear this afternoon when Robbie Earl, who was also placed on waivers, practiced while Sykora was MIA and his locker was clean as a whistle.
If Sykora clears, both parties will have to resolve how this ends. Sykora's contract has a European assignment clause in there, but that has to be mutually agreed to and there needs to be a team to assign him to. Right now, there's no agreement in place overseas. And considering how much Fletcher likes and respects Sykora, I don't think he'd make him go to Houston (nor do I think Sykora would report).
As I reported in Phoenix, Fletcher has been trying to trade Sykora and so far has been unsuccessful. It would cost a team about $688,000 in salary and cap hit to take Sykora, who did score 25 goals in 60 games last year. If Sykora's not taken via waivers, that doesn't necessarily mean nobody's interested. In today's cap world, a team interested in Sykora may need the Wild to take some salary back, which could eventually happen via trade.
All this is speculative. We'll have to see how this shapes up. Maybe he'll be taken. Either way, his NHL career hangs in the balance tonight. Remember, Sykora's scored 20 or more goals in 10 straight seasons, but it took him all summer to latch onto a team. It'd be a shame if this is how it ends for the guy. He's a good, proud player.
I figured the Wild would eventually put Sykora on waivers if it couldn't trade him, but I didn't think it would happen this fast. The way players have been getting hurt on this team, I figured they'd hold on to him as insurance for a bit. But it was clear Todd Richards couldn't find him a spot on the top two lines, and frankly wasn't comfortable with him as a player. Fletcher's policy is to let Richards coach and not tell him who plays and where they play. So if the coach was going to continue to scratch him and his agent, Allan Walsh, was going to continue to call the Wild out publicly via Twitter, I think Fletcher just made the decision that he better pull the plug on this now before he let it become a real distraction in the room. Let's be honest, the Wild's not exactly the San Jose Sharks or Pittsburgh Penguins here. They don't have top-six forwards growing on trees. To throw away a player of Sykora's credentials, this has got to be the reason in my opinion.
Fletcher's by the way reserving comment until this all plays out.
I received lots of questions about Earl being put on waivers.First of all, this stuff about putting Sheppard on waivers is absurd. The Wild's not exactly overstuffed with young talent. You don't just throw a 21-year-old first-round pick on waivers. Why do you think Benoit Pouliot was here at the start of the year? He was because he required waivers. If the Wild risked waivers on him and he was claimed -- and he would have been -- no Guillaume Latendresse.
Earl will likely clear, and then we'll see if the Wild send him down or hang on to him right now. If both Sykora and Earl leave, the Wild will have no extra forwards with Sheppard back in the lineup. But with no injuries and a three-game homestand, perhaps the Wild send Earl back rather than wasting the salary-cap space with the trade deadline approaching. There's no sense having him sit in the press box -- although the Wild's won eight in a row with him in the lineup.
Whether there's something else brewing, there's no doubt Fletcher's working the phones. The last week or so, I've gotten tons of questions about whether the Wild's a buyer or seller, and that topic's what I originally wrote for tomorrow. That'll probably be in Thursday's paper now because of today's news, so you can read that to see Fletcher's thoughts.
As for Brent Burns, I heard him on the ice before I saw him. He was whistling and screaming and being Brent Burns. He picked a helluva practice to return in -- maybe the most intense in months as a very frustrated Richards got the team's attention by running the players through the gauntlet. There were some physical clashes and lots of players cursing away and smashing sticks on the ice.
Burns said he held up well. He'll practice again Wednesday and Richards even said Burns could conceivably play Thursday, which I'd think would be a little premature. I know John Scott was a minus-3 in five minutes yesterday, but I think Richards was being a tad optimistic there. Burns has one practice under his belt since Nov. 20, coming off a second concussion and you're going to throw him in against the Red Wings?
I'd think there's a better chance the Wild eventually sends Burns to Houston for a couple games on a rehab stint. We'll see. That's it for me. Good night.
Brian Stensaas on practice tomorrow. Russo Radio on KSTP at 6 p.m. Wednesday, so call up if you want to talk Sykora and more. I did get to a bunch of emails on the plane today, but I know I'm still like two months behind, ha. I'll do my best to get to them, but if you sent me War and Peace, probably not.
Just a tip: I'm more than happy to reply to emails. But if you want a guaranteed response from me, make your questions short, simple and to the point. If you're going to send me a newspaper article-sized email with 15 questions sprinkled throughout, there's a good chance I won't get to it.