I’ll be back Tuesday with a more detailed blog with General Manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo’s thoughts from the season-ending availability and the plan in the coming weeks, especially with Devan Dubnyk, and basically what I think you should expect this summer.
I wrote three stories for Tuesday's paper that'll be online this evening that will give you a sense of today's message.
But here is a quick blog from Michael Rand with a synopsis from today's availability.
As for the news:
1. Chris Stewart said he separated his right shoulder when he crashed into the end boards in Chicago in Game 2. He came back and played the rest of that game. He missed Game 3 and tried to skate in the morning skate of Game 4 but said, “I had nothing. It’s just frustrating. Want to get out there, want to help your team. Toughest job in sport is watching. Wasn’t a story book ending, but I’m still happy with the opportunity I had here.”
Stewart is in the last year of his contract. He had three goals in 20 games and no goals in eight playoff games. With the Wild $10 million from next year’s projected salary-cap ceiling before signing Devan Dubnyk and Mikael Granlund, I’ve got to think it’s very likely Stewart moves on.
Stewart helped solidify the lines down the stretch, but he’ll be looking for a decent deal as a free agent and that could be too much for the Wild.
“Hopefully there’s an opportunity for me to come back here,” Stewart said. “Me and the family both enjoyed our time here. Thought the fit was perfect. It’s a good group of guys here. I think the future’s definitely bright here.”
As for July 1, Stewart said, “That’s a couple months away. I don’t really want to think about it yet. There’s been a lot of hockey lately and a lot of moving. I’m just going to unwind and have some family time.
2. Jason Zucker broke his left thumb in Game 2 of the St. Louis series when nailed by the Alex Pietrangelo shot. He scored one goal in the eight games afterward.
“Pain-wise it wasn’t bad until the numbing wore off, but overall, I think the toughest part is once your thumb is numb, you can’t feel your stick very well, so stickhandling was a little bit tough,” Zucker said.
3. Defenseman Keith Ballard, who didn’t play since a Dec. 9 concussion (his fifth in five years), hasn’t decided if he’ll keep playing. The veteran of 604 NHL games is still symptomatic.
“I’d love to play, but I’ve got to feel better first,” Ballard said. “I don’t want to close the door and say, ‘Oh, I’m done,’ but I’m going to factor everything in and give it some time and see if I can get to a point where I can get on the ice and feel OK.”
He said, “Not much has changed. Still have days that I don’t feel well. Hopefully I start feeling better at some point and then decide. My day-to-day stuff has been pretty good. It’s been more when I’ve been on the ice and even working with the [Black Aces] last week. There’s days I just get headaches from it. You start getting dizzy a little bit.”
In the last year of his contract, Ballard said, “Treat it like a normal summer. It’s been five months since I’ve played, so I haven’t worked out that much. So you start there and build that back up and get on the ice at some point and see how it goes.”
4. The Iowa Wild was the worst team in the American Hockey League this past season one year after being the worst team in the Western Conference.
“Iowa was a disaster,” Fletcher said. “We have to get better. We have to look at everything there. That’s on me. They’ve supported us unbelievably well. Our attendance is top-10 in the league, and we haven’t been very good. They’ve given us more than we’ve given them, so we have to even that out.”
Fletcher is excited about Tyler Graovac, Gustav Olofsson and Zack Mitchell in Iowa, but most the Wild’s top prospects are still in junior and college (Alex Tuch, Louis Belpedio, Adam Gilmour, etc).
“We have our first-round pick. I didn’t trade that … yet,” Fletcher said, sarcastically, referring to the number of draft picks he has traded in recent years. “As I tell [assistant GM] Brent [Flahr], don’t get cocky, I’ve still got time. He just shudders and runs every time I walk into the room. But we’ll get another good player.”
John Torchetti is expected to return as coach and as you know, the Wild has signed a number of players the last few weeks, from college free agents like Zach Palmquist, Brody Hoffman and Grayson Downing to prospects like Pavel Jenys and Christoph Bertschy.
5. Kyle Brodziak isn’t positive was his future is. He can become an unrestricted free agent.
“Not really sure yet. First time I’ll ever be a UFA, so I don’t really know what to expect,” Brodziak said. “I haven’t had any conversations. Not really sure what they’re thinking yet, so I’m sure it’ll take some time for both sides to figure out what’s going to happen.”
Would he like to stay? “Ahhhhhhhh, yeah, I loved it here. I’ve been here for six years, started my family here, made a lot of really good friends. I have nothing bad to say about the organization, so right now, just not really sure what’s going to pan out.”
Considering the trust he has got from Mike Yeo, would he take a shorter-term, cheaper deal to stay here, Brodziak said, “I don’t know. There’s so many different ways to think about it. That’s why I think for myself and my family, it’s important for us to take some time right now and I guess weigh all the options. I have nothing bad to say about the way I’ve been treated, the way my whole time here. But right now it’s just a situation where it’s going to take some time to think about it and we’ll go from there.”
Fletcher said, “I thought Kyle had real strong second half, and I think [Jordan] Leopold came in and played really well for us; I think, to be honest with you, he played a bigger role than I anticipated at the time. I thought it might be part-time and (for depth), and he basically became a fulltime player.
“I think they all can play a role, it’s just again, with the cap system our first priority has to be figuring out our goaltending and then from there it’ll be simple math to see what we have left and what holes we want to fill based on what our coaches and our scouts say.
“Ultimately they have the final say. We can offer them what we think is right, and they have the right to say yes or no. So, we’re not completely in control of that situation.”
6. Mikael Granlund wanted a bridge deal (one or two years) at the start of the year.
“I won’t get into the details. I have had some conversations with [his agent] over the year, and we’ve chosen to wait until after the season. But I think we’ve had good, candid discussions. He’s an important part of our future, and we’ll try to see the right fit.”
7. Defenseman Nate Prosser sliced a finger when stepped on by Andrew Shaw prior the Blackhawks forward’s Game 3 goal. Fletcher said defensemen Marco Scandella hurt his hand in the first round and Jared Spurgeon was also banged up. Obviously you know Justin Fontaine had the groin injury that caused him to miss Games 3 and 4.
8. Niklas Backstrom’s nine-year career with the Wild may be over.
The Wild’s all-time leader with 194 wins and 409 games still his one year left on his contract, but the 37-year-old didn’t play since Jan. 13 and was scratched every game in the playoffs but one because Darcy Kuemper was sick.
“We’ll sit down and take a look at the overall picture and see what makes sense,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher likely doesn’t want to again carry three goalies on the Wild’s 23-man roster next season. Kuemper has another year on his contract and can’t be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. With the team looking to re-sign Devan Dubnyk, Backstrom may be bought out of the final year of his contract.
He was signed to a multi-year contract at 35 years old, so if the team goes this route, the Wild would save one-third of Backstrom’s $4 million salary ($1.3 million) but be charged with his full $3.417 million cap hit.
That’s why Fletcher will likely first try to trade Backstrom with the willingness of retaining some of his salary and cap charge.
“We haven’t made any decisions,” Fletcher said. “We’ve got a long way to go before we need to have any conversations like that.”
In two years since being re-signed to a three-year, $10.25 million contract, Backstrom played 40 games, going 10-18-5 with a 3.03 goals-against average and .894 save percentage. He played no games since allowing six goals in a 7-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Jan. 13. That was the final straw in Fletcher acquiring Devan Dubnyk the next day.
Backstrom is 194-142-50 with the Wild with a 2.48 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and 28 shutouts. He shared the Jennings Trophy (lowest goals against) with Manny Fernandez in 2007, backstopped the Wild to a Northwest Division title in 2008 and was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2009.
9. Josh Harding, 30, who missed all season with complications from multiple sclerosis after playing two games with Iowa, is expected to retire. His contract will expire June 30.
“I wouldn’t want to speak for him, but he has bigger issues than just hockey,” Fletcher said.
10. Asked if he’s OK having a 25-year-old Kuemper back up next year or if he’d consider trading him, Fletcher said, “We don’t even know what our goaltenders will be at this point.”
Like I said, I’ll be back later with more detail from today’s presser and locker-room availability that I’m sure you’ll be interested in. But I figured you'd want to read some stuff while you wait.