By Michael Russo
– First, I’ve gotten a lot of emails inquiring about former University of Minnesota right wing Blake Wheeler’s plans. I talked to the Wild this morning, and the team did have conversations with Wheeler’s agent, Matt Keator.
However, I called Keator today, and while Wheeler hasn’t closed the door on the Wild, he has narrowed his choices down to teams that do not include the Wild.
“He loves Minnesota and loves living there, but we’re looking elsewhere because I think he wants to get a different life experience, explore a different part of the country and grow and mature and experience new things,” Keator said. “The Wild has shown plenty of interest. They’ve been great.
“But this is a special opportunity to choose where he wants to play and live. Blake has a chance to select where he’s going to play, live and work. Most guys have to wait until they’re 27, 28, 29, 30 to become free agents. This guy’s 21 years old and making this decision.”
The Phoenix Coyotes, who drafted Wheeler fifth overall in 2004, offered him the maximum entry-level contract they could under the collective bargaining agreement, but Wheeler opted to become a free agent.
While Wheeler, who led Breck to a state title in 2004, could begin talking to teams June 1, he can’t officially sign until July 1. …
– Keator, who is free agent Pavol Demitra new rep, said he wants to talk to GM Doug Risebrough to see if the Wild has closed the door on Demitra’s return.
“We haven’t reached any conclusion, at least in my book,” Keator said.
It’s believed Vancouver is the frontrunner for Demitra. …
– The Wild, I believe, is going to sign defenseman Erik Reitz to a one-year, one-way contract on Wednesday. That means Reitz has a great chance to make the team because he’d have to be paid his NHL salary in the minors and clear waivers to get there.
With Marc-Andre Bergeron here now, the Wild’s blue line shapes up to be Brent Burns, Kim Johnsson, Nick Schultz, Martin Skoula and Bergeron. Reitz will be a No. 6-7 and it’s uncertain when Kurtis Foster will be ready to return from his broken leg. He’s shooting for Nov. 1 and hoping to skate by training camp.
That means the Wild will likely have to acquire one more regular defenseman at least, probably via free agency.
– As for the big-shot Bergeron, I talked to Risebrough twice Tuesday, once before his flight to Toronto for the goalie equipment trimming meetings and once after. He believes Bergeron will be a guy who can play regular minutes, not just a bunch of power-play minutes. He says part of the motivation was to be a fill-in for Foster while he’s out, but “that doesn’t mean it’s one or the other. It will be an improvement to have both when Foster’s back.”
Bergeron has a club option for next year at $1.653 million. The Ducks almost certainly wouldn’t have exercised that. So why didn’t the Wild wait for free agency? Risebrough says other teams were interested in Bergeron, and Brian Burke was definitely going to trade him. In other words, he wouldn’t make free agency, according to Risebrough.