As the Wild reaches the tipping point to what it hopes is a third consecutive trip to the postseason, here’s the last Russo’s Rants Q&A of the 2014-15 season:
Brendonbryan: What would be the best and worst matchups for the Wild in the playoffs?
Russo: I still believe Nashville is the best matchup. The Wild has won in Nashville twice, has proved it can score against Pekka Rinne and is the deeper team. The Wild can play with Anaheim, but the Ducks almost always win by a goal. And despite the Wild’s two victories over the Blues recently, the playoffs are a different animal and the Blues’ size will present problems. However, the Blues have serious goalie issues.
dpelky21: What’s the timetable on Jason Zucker’s return?
Russo: He’s skating and shooting pucks daily, but there is a three-month timetable — or close to it — that the Wild medically might have to abide by (May 7). Coach Mike Yeo says he’s “a ways away from being cleared for contact.”
Olemon1169: What’s Mikael Granlund’s contract status?
Russo: Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle and Marco Scandella wanted long-term security. Granlund wanted a short-term bridge deal so in case he piles up points, he can hit a home-run contract in a few years. The Wild also preferred short term because of Granlund’s history of injuries. It’ll be fascinating to see how both sides proceed. Granlund has had a down year and got hurt again, and there have to be internal questions whether you can succeed long-term with a No. 1 center his size. Do you trade him or re-sign him, and if so, how long and how much?
Gopherhomer: What will the third and fourth lines be for the playoffs?
Russo: There’s a chance Zucker and Matt Cooke aren’t back for the start of the playoffs, so my guess is Ryan Carter gets in for Sean Bergenheim. If Zucker returns, I think that drops Nino Niederreiter to the third line and Justin Fontaine to the fourth line. If that’s the case, Erik Haula, Kyle Brodziak, Carter, Fontaine, Bergenheim and Jordan Schroeder are your fourth-line options.
Ben Gorman: What is Darcy Kuemper’s future with the organization?
Russo: Million-dollar question. His development has been severely hampered by the inability to send him to the minors without waivers. Does the Wild trade him this summer to give him a chance elsewhere or does it keep him as a $1.25 million backup and insurance policy after it inevitably re-signs Devan Dubnuk and buys out Niklas Backstrom?
Chunks: Any chance the Wild will sign Chris Stewart in the offseason?
Russo: Let’s see first how much of an impact he makes when it counts. While Stewart gives the Wild the type of rugged player it lacks, there is a price point. If Stewart is reasonable with term and salary, the Wild would be interested. If he wants to strike it rich, he might hit the open market.
joamon21: With Matt Dumba’s development this year, does Jared Spurgeon get moved in the summer?
Russo: Spurgeon might be expendable. He is a year from unrestricted free agency, so this is typically the summer you’d talk extension. The Wild holds Spurgeon with great regard, but if Spurgeon expects a huge payday (which is justifiable), the Wild has a decision to make.
cliche1234: What do you see as the final resolution for Josh Harding?
Russo: My guess is he’ll retire. It’s been another tough year for him with multiple sclerosis.
Andymeisner: Why didn’t the Wild move Brodziak at the trade deadline?
Russo: He provides depth, a right-shot center, a great penalty killer and the team was severely injured at the deadline.
Gerberrick: How good is the Grayson Downing kid the Wild just signed?
Russo: It’s mostly to provide depth in Minnesota and skill in Iowa. Likely won’t be ready to crack the Wild roster next season, but this is the type of move the Wild needs to do to improve the Baby Wild. Most the Wild’s top prospects are college kids, so they’re locked in their schools for a while.
jeff1716: How are things going between you and Patrick Roy?
Russo: We’re in dire need of a beer summit.
Gntlmncntry: Las Vegas still a go?
Russo: 2016-17. Bet it.
Tankapalooza has fans cheering for wrong team
It has been dubbed Tankapalooza 2015, but with the cellar-dwelling Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres playing twice in five days and battling it out for the best odds toward winning the draft lottery that would “earn” one of the franchises difference-maker Connor McDavid, the tension was palpable Thursday.
The first meeting Thursday in Buffalo was a back-and-forth affair with Sam Gagner delivering the Coyotes an overtime victory. Some would say the Sabres won Round 1, especially their fans, who cheered the winning goal and every Coyotes goal for that matter.
“It’s tough to get momentum when your fans are rooting against you,” Sabres defenseman Mike Weber said. “That’s the unfortunate part. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans. I don’t even know if disappointed is the word. They scored that first one, our fans are cheering. Delayed penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game. I don’t know. I don’t even know what to say.”
The Vancouver Canucks continue to play well under new coach Willies Desjardins. Forward Jannik Hansen told the Vancouver Province that it’s “two different worlds” under Desjardins and former coach John Tortorella.
Said Hansen, “John was ‘my way or the highway.’ The player-coach relationship was different. Willie is a lot more down-to-earth. I don’t think I’ve heard him chew out a player yet.”
Florida’s Jaromir Jagr has no plans to retire. Asked if he has another year left in him, Jagr joked (we think), “I’ve got another seven years left in me.”
Jagr, 43, ranks fifth all-time with 718 goals and 1,792 points.
Before Monday’s Wild-Maple Leafs game, Toronto defenseman Eric Brewer was honored for playing 1,000 games by being presented the customary silver stick. Earlier in the day, Brewer joked, “I should probably use it the way I’m handling the puck.”
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. N.Y. Rangers (FSN)
Saturday: 6 p.m. vs. Detroit (FSN)
Player to watch: Rick Nash, Rangers
Undoubtedly the Broadway Blueshirts MVP, he just achieved his third career 40-goal season.
« He was the big reason why we were able to get out of that first period not down 5-nothing. »
— Zach Parise on Devan Dubnyk after the Wild was outshot 16-5 in the first period of a 2-1 shootout victory Tuesday against the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y.