With the trade deadline a week from Monday and the Wild back in the playoff hunt, it’s a good opportunity for another Q and A. Questions were submitted on Russo’s Rants (www.startribune.com/russo) and on Twitter at @russostrib.
Awahl39: Does Mike Yeo need to get Darcy Kuemper or Niklas Backstrom playing time before the back-to-backs in March?
A: Kuemper hasn’t started in the NHL since Jan. 6, Backstrom since Jan. 13. It’ll be tough to play either without some action. It wouldn’t shock me if the Wild figures out some way under the rules to get Kuemper back to Iowa on a conditioning stint before those games.
theboust: Does Yeo not trust his backup goalies?
A: It could be painted that way. But with points absolutely necessary, Devan Dubnyk playing so well, and the fact Kuemper and Backstrom struggled, this is why Dubnyk has started 16 consecutive games.
Wildroadtripper: NHL in Las Vegas. Sounds like it will happen but when?
Biggeed_upnorth: If Chuck Fletcher doesn’t want to part with a first- or second-round pick, what does he give up?
A: He may look at one of his own unrestricted free agents like Kyle Brodziak, a restricted free agent like Erik Haula or someone in his prospect pool, like those playing in Iowa, college or junior. They can’t all play on the Wild.
Jlthomas58: Is the Wild considering re-signing Dubnyk?
A: Yes, but Fletcher doesn’t want to broach the subject with him until after the season. He doesn’t want to create any distractions and waiting shouldn’t be a risk. Dubnyk wants to stay.
21_dbm: Does Yeo keep his job if the Wild fail to make playoffs?
A: The fact he survived through the January turmoil and tons of injury and illness, and all it took was one goalie to get this team back on track, I’d say yes.
Brandon Foss: Why haven’t they put Stu Bickel in against physical teams, and now with Jared Spurgeon hurt, they call up Christian Folin?
A: Up front, with three penalty killers hurt, Yeo feels he can’t afford to put in a non-penalty killer that can’t play a regular shift. And the Wild doesn’t seem to have confidence in Bickel as a defenseman.
Wannabeapixie: If the Wild doesn’t make a deadline-move, will it affect the team’s morale like the Chris Simon trade in 2008?
A: That’s one way to look at it. But more simplistically, with so many injuries and the fact the team worked so hard to get itself back into the race, I think Fletcher knows he needs to add a few pieces. The Wild’s depth has been depleted with injuries to Jason Zucker, Ryan Carter, Matt Cooke and now Spurgeon.
jeff4649: With Mikael Granlund having regressed, should Fletcher be concerned he will never get this group a true No. 1 center?
A: The Wild believes wholeheartedly in Granlund’s skill and will, but with his durability and size, it needs to evaluate this offseason whether it can commit to him long-term.
Armchairgm: Assuming Dubnyk maintains his current level of play and is re-signed, any chance the Wild sends Kuemper to Iowa next year to get playing time and develop?
A: No. He’d be claimed off waivers in a heartbeat. If the Wild’s truly concerned that making him the backup will halt his development, a trade would be the most likely option.
mayor8: Will Backstrom be bought out this summer?
A: Fletcher won’t touch this question, but I don’t see how not.
Widespreadvanek: Will Josh Harding retire at the end of the season?
A: I have not spoken to him, but I don’t see how not. It’s a shame, but goaltending is just not conducive to somebody with multiple sclerosis when the triggers are heat, stress and exhaustion.
Svonbehren: What about Florida’s Tomas Fleischmann as a fill-in for Zucker?
A: Of the rental wingers, his skill is more intriguing than most and the Wild has inquired. The Wild has also inquired with Florida about Sean Bergenheim and Arizona about Antoine Vermette. As for defensemen, it has inquired about costly Andrej Sekera (Carolina), Jeff Petry (Edmonton) and Zbynek Michalek (Arizona).
butski29: Why Thomas Vanek and not Jarome Iginla?
A: The Wild pursued Iginla but didn’t want to give the 37-year-old a third year, especially in today’s NHL with strict buyout rules on players 35 and over.
butski29: Does Mario Lucia come back to Notre Dame for his senior year or turn pro?
A: If he wants to turn pro, the Wild will sign him, and my gut is the Wild would welcome that decision. He leads the defensively-strict Irish with 18 goals and [the Wild] wants to get him learning the pro game. His father, Don Lucia, told me last week the decision will be completely up to Mario.
demity44: We need some big bodies to stand up to the other team’s intimidators. Are there any prospects in the minors to fill this void?
A: Not any that are ready, but the Wild hopes Kurtis Gabriel develops into that player. The hope was Brett Bulmer would, but he was always a project and seems to be fizzling out fast.
Laknee: Matt Dumba. The real deal or the next James Sheppard?
A: He’s a 20-year-old defenseman with tons of tools that need to be developed. He’s not James Sheppard. It takes awhile for defensemen to develop. Marco Scandella is the perfect example. Teenage defensemen can’t all be special like Jonas Brodin, who was playing pro in Sweden when he came over and wowed the organization.
alexrue5: Since the Kevin Garnett trade, do you see a Marian Gaborik trade in the future?
A: I’ll go with no.
Wild’s week ahead
Sunday: 7 p.m. vs. Dallas (NBCSN)
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Edmonton (FSN)
Thursday: 7:30 p.m. at Nashville (NBCSN)
Saturday: 9 p.m. at Colorado (FSN)
Player to watch: Pekka Rinne, Predators
The 29th goalie taken in the 2004 draft is the biggest reason Nashville has been the NHL’s best team. Injured most of last season, Rinne has been in net for 34 of the Predators’ 39 wins.
« HE HAS A LOT OF FUN WHEN YOU’RE WINNING, AND HE HAS ZERO FUN WHEN YOU’RE LOSING. »
— Wild coach Mike Yeo on captain Mikko Koivu, who is playing his best hockey of the season.