With Opening Night 50 days from yesterday (August 14) and the NHL in the middle of its annual August coma (save for when the NHL and NHLPA meet once every eight Augusts or so in an attempt to avoid lockouts), I thought it would be a good time to write up a Wild update.
It won’t be long before the Star Tribune will be filled with hockey articles again.
--Players report for training camp Sept. 11. The Wild will hold physicals and fitness testing that day. Wild players will be on the ice for the first time Sept. 12, and the plan is for that to occur at Ridder Arena or Mariucci Arena because Blake Shelton will be playing Xcel Energy Center that night.
--The Wild prospects will be taking part in the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, Sept. 5-9. Players set to compete include Brett Bulmer, Raphael Bussieres, Kurtis Gabriel, Tyler Graovac, Erik Haula, Zack Phillips, Matt Dumba and Johan Gustafsson.
--Preseason tickets go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. Regular-season single-game tickets go on sale Sept. 14 at the Xcel Energy Center box office at 9 a.m. and noon at Ticketmaster. Full-season, half-season and 10-game rivalry packs are on sale now. The Wild’s documentary show, Becoming Wild, is expected to kick off in September.
--On Monday, the Wild is expected to release information regarding its state fair appearances and also what date the unveiling will be at the state fair of its new white road sweaters. It’s not yet firmed up, but as usual, I’ll be doing something at the Star Tribune booth one of the days and I hope to have a Wild guest for a Q and A.
--There’s been little free-agent news around the NHL for weeks, and that was expected with the salary cap dropping almost $6 million per team due to the lockout. If one assumes a team wants to keep roughly $1-2 million of cap room for injury callups and potential in-season moves, there are several teams around the NHL with almost no cap space (teams like Philadelphia, Vancouver, Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, San Jose, Detroit, Edmonton and Chicago. There’s actually more. Then, you have to take into consideration the teams with internal budgets that just don’t have cap room to add players. That means a lot of out-of-work players are in a bigtime state of flux, guys like Tom Gilbert, Doug Murray, Ron Hainsey, Mikhail Grabovski, Jamie Langenbrunner, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Whitney, Brenden Morrow and scores of others.
Some of these players will have to sign pro tryouts and hope a job opens up in training camp. Others will have to look toward Europe.
The Wild’s cap ceiling is a little over $64 million – about $280,000 less than the NHL ceiling because Jonas Brodin’s bonuses last season put the Wild over the cap. The Wild has about $3 million in space, but the Wild needs to leave injury callup space and room in case guys like Brodin and Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, etc., hit some entry-level bonuses.
I talked to Wild GM Chuck Fletcher for awhile this morning, and as of now, he’s not actively looking to sign players to tryouts. Also, most players won’t agree to tryouts until the days leading up to camp anyway.
But as of now, Fletcher says the current team is the team. However, Fletcher will meet next week with coach Mike Yeo and his staff, assistant GM Brent Flahr, assistant to the GM Jim Mill and front-office personnel Andrew Brunette, Brad Bombardir and Shep Harder to talk about the team. Fletcher said if there’s a player available that the staff, particularly Yeo and the coaches, has significant interest in, he would look into it.
But Fletcher says often times bringing a veteran in on a tryout “muddies the water” and he doesn’t want to block the abilities of youngsters like Coyle, Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and even Erik Haula or Justin Fontaine from making the team.
Training camp should be fun. Remember, after the lockout ended in January, there was a training camp of barely a week. Most teams couldn’t do fitness testing, they had to do a crash course on systems and everything frankly, players basically couldn’t try out. The team was the team.
This year will be 20 days and you can bet Yeo’s got 50 potential line combinations jotted down. There are several options in camp, everything from which youngsters make the team (from Niederreiter to Haula and Fontaine to Dumba), to who starts at No. 2 center, to what the top line will look like, to what wing guys like Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville play, to what the fourth line will look like, to defense pairs.
The story lines will be plentiful in camp.
Some other nuggets:
--Fletcher says he has had one preliminary conversation with the agent of Pominville regarding a contract extension. Pominville can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2014, if unsigned. Fletcher says there’s no rush and he would even be willing to talk once the season starts if Pominville isn’t extended beforehand. Fletcher says his preference is to re-sign Pominville, but the number and fit needs to make sense. Pominville sustained a concussion against Los Angeles in April and missed the first two games of the playoffs. When he returned, he still wasn’t himself. Pominville says he has felt 100 percent for awhile. In addition, I texted with Dany Heatley (shoulder) the other day. He is feeling good and will be ready by camp. Niklas Backstrom (sports hernia) has been on the ice since June and Clayton Stoner (upper body) is also cleared to return.
--Players have started to trickle into town. The Octagon camp begins Monday. Niederreiter is heading to Portland to skate with his former junior team.
--The Wild hired former NHLer Steve Poapst as Iowa Wild coach Kurt Kleinendorst’s assistant. He will be the lone assistant because Kleinendorst opted to hire a fulltime video coach, Tim Flynn. He’ll have plenty of support as Bombardir and Brunette will be down there often, as well as goalie coach Bob Mason.
--Josh Harding’s charity, Harding’s Hope, which will benefit those afflicted with multiple sclerosis, will host its kickoff event August 25 at The Pourhouse in Minneapolis from 1-5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.vitalculture.com/events/detail/2183.
Here is the Wild depth chart:
Left wing Center Right wing
Zach Parise Mikko Koivu Jason Pominville
*Jason Zucker *Charlie Coyle Dany Heatley
Matt Cooke Kyle Brodziak *Nino Niederreiter
Mike Rupp Zenon Konopka Torrey Mitchell
Extra: Jake Dowell
Some vying for spots: *Mikael Granlund, *Erik Haula, Justin Fontaine, Stephane Veilleux.
* Entry-level deals; don't require waivers to be sent to the minors.
Left Defense Right Defense
Ryan Suter Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella Keith Ballard
Clayton Stoner Jared Spurgeon
Extra: Nate Prosser
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)
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Devan Dubnyk and the Wild once again shut down Connor McDavid to take two points from playing Edmonton.
In the Friday morning skate, Nino Niederreiter was back with Erik Haula and Jason Pominville and Zach Parise was back with Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle.
Eric Staal scored the game-winner and Devan Dubnyk made 17 of his 35 saves in the third period as the Wild held on to beat Toronto, 3-2.
Since coming to the Wild two years ago, Devan Dubnyk is 69-41-11 with a 2.05 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and 14 shutouts in 125 games.
The Wild, which beat Edmonton in overtime on Sunday, looks to end the road trip on a winning note Wednesday against the Maple Leafs.