By Michael Russo
Alrighty, I’m back. Here are some partial Q&A’s you can peruse at your leisure. I’ll probably throw up some player quotes Tuesday.
Wound up trimming this out of Tuesday’s notebook, but Mikko Koivu will play for Finland in the upcoming world championships in Halifax and Quebec City. Niklas Backstrom has also been offered a spot.
Marian Gaborik has not decided whether he’ll play for Slovakia, while Pavol Demitra has declined. It’s believed Brent Burns and Pierre-Marc Bouchard will be offered spots with Canada.
Both Brian Rolston (U.S.) and Kim Johnsson (Sweden) said they would not play
Partial Doug Risebrough Q&A
On disappointing finish? “I felt that the team was at a way higher competitive level this year in the playoffs than last year. I felt that some guys made huge strides, not only during the season, which is what we expected. Koivu and Burns. Yes, I wish we had advanced, but I can’t look back and say that the team didn’t give its best. We did end up winning the division in a very competitive division. It took us 79 games to find out we’d be in the playoffs. But we ended up on top. I thought the team played well in stretches it had to play well. And I look at it, this is a league right now where you’ve got to have a real balanced perspective. The two Stanley cup finalists are out of the playoffs. That’s got to say a lot about what the product is.”
Overwhelmed by the summer laundry list? “No, because I could have done something about this. It’s my choice, and the advantage is flexibility. Some teams don’t have the same flexibility. That just means you can do something that’s the same or different. Some teams can’t do anything. They have to have the same. It was set up this way. Now, do I think it’s going to be a lot of work? Yeah.”
Have you decided who you want to keep? “No. I want to talk to the coaches. I always believe time is a better thing, see what’s evolving in the games, looking for trends. I haven’t come up with any ideas.”
Can you only sign one of Brian Rolston or Pavol Demitra? “Well, I don’t know. The reality of it is they’re both unrestricted and they both have a choice. It’s easy to say you’re only realistically going to sign one, but it depends what the negotiations end up. The difference today is the cap prevents you from doing everything. But we have opportunities. It’s just again, what’s the money and what’s the term? As a manager, I’ve got to start looking at what next year’s contracts are going to look like to decide what the flexibility’s going to be down the road. That could have an implication.”
Like you’re looking at James Sheppard’s third contract and he’s on his first type thing? “Exactly. As you’ve pointed out, you do have to retain the core. Clearly, the core that is youthful is more important than the core that’s older. Fortunately we’ve signed some of them long-term already. That reduces the concern for the flexibility. But if those contracts stretch beyond that, then I’m running into a problem.”
Rolston irreplaceable? “I don’t want to comment on Rolston and Demitra. But I will say this about Roli. I remember when we were trying to get legitimacy here. We were just an expansion team that was working hard and we were getting the same types of players. Then Rolston wanted to come here. That seemed to change a lot of people’s opinion of Minnesota. For a general manager that likes to remember a lot of things, that plays into it. I remember when players play hurt. I remember when players play hard. This has a bearing on how I’ll deal with Roli.”
Do you want to comment on Demitra? “No.”
Gaborik wouldn’t commit publicly that he’d sign an extension today, but he did say he doesn’t want a Hossa-type situation? “I think it’s a very good time for a very good conversation with Gabby. Obviously that discussion is about what does he want to do in the future and what do we want to do in the future, which gets down to contract discussion. But it’s even more than that. Players have to make choices and team’s have to make choices, especially when you’re going to make choices on significant players. You want to make sure everybody’s comfortable with where everybody’s going.”
Does his playoff performance change your opinion of him? “No. No. Let’s talk about that. Marian’s a streak scorer. You know more than anyone. I remember early in the season. I remember Pav saying to Marian, ‘Russo wants to talk to you. I don’t know why. You’re going to end up being a four-goal scorer this year.’ He had one goal in the first  games. He is a streak scorer. Why we want the players to work on being a team is that if we had advanced, maybe Gabby gets on a roll in the next one and we forget about the first one. I’m a realist about what his abilities are. Did he try? He tried like hell. Did he sometimes over-try? Yeah, he did. He was squeezing the stick. But that’s because he’s the best player, he’s trying to contribute. He did what he can do. This has no bearing. This just confirms to me some of the things about him. He is a streak scorer. But he also scored 42 goals being a streak scorer. He is somebody that can score five goals a game. But he’s also somebody that can go without scoring in five games. It hasn’t changed my opinion.”
You going to bring Branko back? “I’m not going to comment.”
What’s the difference with you telling me you’d bring back Foster? “One’s restricted and the other’s unrestricted. One really didn’t know what the choice the team was going to make. I could have made Foster unrestricted by not signing him. I wanted to alleviate that. If Foster was in his unrestricted year, he wouldn’t be treated any differently than Radivojevic. There is a distinction there. I would say Radivojevic’s injury is not a career-ending injury. This general manager doesn’t think ”
Has Toronto asked permission to talk to you? “I wouldn’t know that. They can’t ask me.”
Has Craig Leipold been asked permission? (Laughed, ignored question)
Would you be interested? “I don’t feel comfortable ever commenting about my own situation and I’m not going to deviate from that. All I’ll say is that I’m very happy with the present situation and I’m very comfortable specifically with the new ownership change. I arguably might have the best job in hockey right now. That’s all I need to say.”
Jacques back? “We always have a discussion about the team, about what our goals are, and about the staff. That’ll be the same discussion.”
Expect him back? “Yeah, but I’ve got to talk to him.”
Did the players tune him out at a time. I’m told by players his frustration level hit an all-time high in Raleigh, and you know about what he said to us in Atlanta? “Jacques is a coach that tries everything to make the team better. There were probably moments where he was frustrated. I think some of those frustrations were poor management decisions. I’m always a guy that believes players have to earn their contracts. So I don’t have any problem with players playing in the last year of their contracts. I might have had too many guys playing in their unrestricted years this year. That led to potentially more guys playing outside of the team. That was my mistake and that became Jacques’ problem. Now in saying that, it doesn’t mean I would have signed all of them. I might have traded some of them.”
Should you have done more at the deadline? “No, because you didn’t see the phone calls. I wish I could have done something more. And that’s why we tried. But it wasn’t going to be at the expense of any of the young players. Yes, I got tested by my counterparts, but I didn’t change that. And I’m glad I didn’t because those were the same people that gave us a lift in the playoffs and give us hope for the future. And predominately, it was not that type of trade deadline outside of Colorado. Most of them were minor additions, outside of Hossa, too. Colorado was unique. Foote says I’m going to waive my no-trade, I’m going to one place. And Forsberg says I want to go back to Colorado where I came from. I have to be realistic about that.”
What are your needs going into the summer? “Have to be realistic what’s out there. There will be change obviously. I just don’t know where that’s all going to be.”
You’re not adding stars, right? “How am I going to pay them?”
There are a lot of competitive, mid-range players available? “There’s always a chance to improve. I’ve never believed, you can’t begin to tell me that free agency on significant players works. You can’t. I’m looking at it and saying, ‘Why would I do it?’ I’m not going to do it. You’ve got to pay your own. Improvements, but it’s not necessarily going to be earth-shattering.”
Partial Jacques Lemaire
How disappointed are you? “You’re always disappointed when you’re out of the playoffs. You come next day and you see that the ice is gone. It is disappointing. But you’ve got to look at the season, at the playoffs how you played. I think we did well achieving the division title, especially when you look at how tight it is. Little things could make a huge difference by making or missing the playoffs. We stayed strong and finished first.
“We started the playoffs as well as we could start because by winning the title toward the end and only two, three games before the end of the season and reaching that first place, meant that our team’s ready for the playoffs. It’s a good way to get in the playoffs, feel good and all that. and we could see it. we started the playoffs, you could see the edge. We were on top, we were skating, we were aggressive. We didn’t have breaks.
“Individually, you could see well if Gabby would have scored, if Nik would have stopped the puck, a shot here or there or Johnny would have gotten a goal or butch or roli would have gotten two more, it’s easy after. But overall, I’m very pleased the way we played.”
That’s the biggest shame? “It is. It’s bad, the team was exactly what I wanted. That was my easiest time as a coach in the playoffs because the guys were at their best. Not winning the fifth game here, at that time, well we’re going to get the next one because we’re playing good and our confidence was there. It just didn’t happen though”
Seemed your defensemen simply were cooked by Game 6? “We never mentioned it. we were a little scared about the injuries we had on defense. We knew we were going to tax certain guys and at a time, we didn’t know if they were going to last. It caught up the last game. You could tell.”
Are you coming back? “Every year we sit down. Some years it’s always easier cause you’re young and you want to keep going because you’re young. Now I’m getting older and I just want to talk to doug. We do this every year though. This isn’t new. Every year we sit down and we talk how long we think we can go.”
I can’t imagine you just living the rest of your days not coaching? “It’s true. I love it. I love when I see the guys playing as good as I want, that I have a good team – team, team. the word team. not individuals. I love that. I enjoyed the playoffs. It’s too bad that we didn’t go further because everything the guys were doing, I just loved it.”
Did the players tune you out in the regular season? “The regular season, I think we did really well achieving the division title. That was a good accomplishment from our guys. But we had ups and downs and it was really hard. It was the most competitive season and the season that was the hardest to get the guys to play for the team. It was very frustrating at a time there. I was very frustrated at a time there, and maybe them too.”
What do you want to accomplish in your meeting with doug? “I can’t say. It’s between doug and I. I want to know certain things about things that I think about. And I want to get some answers.”
Do you feel Rolston has to be back? “Roli is a guy that I appreciate to coach. He’s a guy that is devoted to his job, knows what to do, takes his own responsibilities, doesn’t send his responsibilities to other players. Very easy to coach. I’ve really enjoyed Roli, but I can’t put Doug in that position.”
Does it bother you that you haven’t been given more at the last two trade deadlines? “I’m coaching the guys given me. We talk about different stuff, but I know how tough a job GM is. It’s hard to get players with the cap and everything that surrounds it. a GM job is not like the past. It’s a tough job now. I’m telling you. It’s hard, it’s unreal, unbelievable how hard that job is. You want certain guys and you’ve got eight other teams that are going to raise the price for that player and you’ve got a budget. It doesn’t stop. You can get players that the other team doesn’t want, but they don’t want them. But if you want a guy, you’ve got to pay.”
Timetable on decision? “Next few months. By the draft.”