By Michael Russo
Note to self: Don’t ever drive by the U again before the Big Ten Opener. Reminded me of the Long Island Expressway as a kid.
Ready for the longest blog ever?
Tension-packed morning down at the arena. Apparently I touched a few nerves with my column this morning. The players obviously aren’t happy with me because of the “lack of talent” assertion in there and obviously management isn’t too fond of me right now. In fact, one member of management who used to have my job chirped me a bit. Hey, but that’s why I showed up this morning. I could have phoned it in. The early game provides the chance to write a live notebook after. But you can’t write something like that and not show your face the next day.
More on today’s column later in the blog.
Marian Gaborik is out again. Kim Johnsson is back and the biggest surprise, Owen Nolan, who is definitely not ready to play, asked Jacques to play. He will after missing the last 10 games with a leg injury (although Tom Lynn via spokesman said he hasn’t yet been medically cleared, but he expects him to be).
“It’s not 100 percent, but it’s good enough to go,” Nolan said.
Speaking of not being 100 percent, Gaborik did not skate this morning even though the team updated us yesterday that he was supposed to skate. Via a spokesman, Tom Lynn said today, “it was decided he needed to get a good skate without pain before a move into full practice.”
After today’s ”feeling out” skate, Lynn said the team decided to hold him out. Translation: He’s hurting again, meaning uh-oh.
(Just a quick insertion: I’d like to point out that when I headlined Dec. 20 that he was in discomfort, and thinking of resting if it continued and blah-blah, I was getting lambasted in a few circles for overblowing this story).
Back to Gaborik, he has often told us he doesn’t want to play unless he’s 100 percent. The team is freefalling. I’m pretty sure not all Wild players are playing at 100 percent. I asked Jacques Lemaire if he had a problem with having a player not willing to play at 100 percent, and he said, “Well, Nolan is not 100 percent and he asked me to play tonight. And I know he’s not 100 percent because he only had that little practice today.”
Pretty big indictment, although Lemaire later said when pressed further, “I don’t know how the guy feels … physically,” so give him the benefit of the doubt, essentially.
I asked to speak to Gaborik four times — three through a spokesman and one face-to-face and he said, “No.” I wanted to talk to him because the way it’s being painted, Gaborik doesn’t look good here and I wanted to give him the opportunity to defend why he’s not playing, tell us if it’s actually management not letting him play or something else is going on.
There’s a lot of smoke here. There’s major tension between Gaborik and management.
I’m still not 100 percent convinced he’s not being held out. I have been told the Wild continues to have trade talks, lately with L.A. again. And remember, back in October, I was told by solid sources that the Wild was talking a lot with L.A.
Lemaire also had some other choice things today on the team, which will be in tomorrow’s notebook. You will want to read these quotes (I have to save some stuff for the paper, please understand). Also, Marc-Andre Bergeron, whom I assume will be placed on injured reserve to free up a spot for Nolan, skated in a warmup suit this morning.
Looks like Pouliot and Gillies are out. Sharks didn’t skate today.
Had a fun night last night. Went to the Minnetonka-Edina game at the X.
Man, Edina’s first line is absolutely awesome. They’re like an NHL line — Marshall Everson, Connor Gaardner and Anders Lee. Look at their stats here. Imagine if Zach Budish didn’t injure his knee? Holy smokes.
Speaking of Lee, he just committed to Notre Dame. He’ll love playing for Jeff Jackson and assistant Andy Slaggert. Slaggert used to play there and was hired on by Ric Schafer, the former Minnesota high school star, when Schafer coached the Irish a long time ago. I’ve gotten to meet him a few times because I’m buddies with Schafer. In fact, Slaggert married Schafer’s niece.
Lot of info there for you to digest for really no reason at all.
Speaking of family, Andrew Prochno, who’s my aunt’s sister’s son (so a cousin of mine a lot removed I guess), scored both of Minnetonka’s goals.
I’m not comparing Andrew to Sharks star Dan Boyle, but quick story. Andrew scored a goal last night that reminded me of a goal I once watched Boyle score.
I covered Boyle with the Florida Panthers when he came out of Miami (Ohio). We were in Atlanta once, and Boyle, like Prochno did last night with his team down one goal, got the puck at center-ice, raced up the left-wing boards, wheeled around a Thrashers defenseman and scored an amazing goal top shelf, under the far post.
Rick Dudley, who was Tampa’s GM at the time, was at the game in Atlanta scouting. Soon after, Tampa traded a fifth-round pick (that later became the esteemed, uh, Martin Tuma in the draft) for Boyle in one of the biggest fleece jobs ever. Imagine, the Panthers traded their chief rival, Tampa, Dan Boyle for a fifth!
Anyway, I asked Dudley after the fact, “Was that goal in Atlanta why you traded for Boyle,” and he said, “Absolutely.”
Today, Boyle may be the most dynamic offensive defenseman in the NHL. And Martin Tuma’s ……….. I don’t know where.
I sat in the mom’s section last night with Andrew’s mom, and that was pretty hysterical stuff. Lots of nervousness and funny lines. Seems the biggest lack of confidence comes when their own sons have the puck.
Lastly, on today’s column, I know a lot of people inside the Wild ain’ t happy with me right now.
I have always considered myself an objective beat reporter. I don’t root. I tell it like it is (ask Mike Keenan, who grew tired of me real quick in Florida). And I have written a lot of positive stories about the Wild, the players on it and the GM, who I do have great respect for.
But as I once told Ray Whitney, who got angry with me after an article, “Ray, I’ve written a lot of good things about you, and you know what, you have to take the good with the bad.”
The Wild has lost nine of 11, and I don’t believe this just a slump. My job is to write for the fans, for the Star Tribune readership. And I believe I expressed the sentiment today that a lot of fans have felt for a long time (and incidentally, the midseason report is about 10 days from appearing).
The fans drive the NHL like no other sport. Hockey basically makes squat from TV, from merchandising, etc. The NHL is unique because the paying customers, for the most part, almost directly pay everybody’s salaries — players, coaches, management. That’s the biggest revenue stream.
The fans are upset. There’s serious problems going on right now inside this organization. I wrote it, and the fans deserve to have it written. That’s my job.
I like these players. But the overall team is not good enough, and that’s what I was writing. To make one point clearer from today, James Sheppard and Colton Gillies and these guys, they’re going to be fine players for this team. But point was, they’ve been asked to carry too much weight too soon in their careers because of management’s part inability/part conscious decision to not acquire proven NHLers.
And it’s part of the reason the Wild is where it is right now.
But you know what?
When the Wild goes on a winning streak again, when it makes a good trade again, when the players play well again and score big goals again, I’ll be there to report that, too.
Lastly, I’ve been absolutely slammed by emails. Please give me time and I’ll get back to you eventually.