By Michael Russo
Good day everybody. Just thought I’d jump on to say goodbye.
Not for good (unfortunately for some), but I’m heading outside the continental U.S. Saturday for a little more than a week. But I’ll have the cell phone, blackberry and laptop at my side, so I’ll be paying attention to the GM search as best I can on the sands of Hawaii.
How great were those Game 7’s last night, by the way? The conference finals should be extraordinary.
I did a Kevin Constantine story for Saturday’s paper. Remember, many considered him the potential frontrunner to replace Jacques Lemaire if Doug Risebrough was doing the hiring. But once Risebrough was fired, everything changed – for Constantine, too. Now his future is up in the air.
He should still be a candidate, especially after coaching the Aeros to at least the AHL’s Western Conference Finals. But it’ll be tougher for him just because of the perception he’s also a defensive coach, and the Wild’s new GM almost certainly will want to change the Wild’s style to a more up-tempo type in the post-Lemaire era.
I wasn’t able to squeeze in a lot of stuff about the Aeros, so I figured this would be a good venue for that.
Constantine never realized the Aeros had this run in them. After the team won its first four games, the Aeros battled inconsistency due to injuries and callups, including Cal Clutterbuck, Krys Kolanos, Peter Olvecky and John Scott.
Clutterbuck never left Minnesota after his Oct. 16 promotion, while Kolanos, Olvecky and Scott played a combined 72 games for the Wild.
“Whenever guys were gone, we weren’t that good to be honest,” Constantine said. “It just shows how much the players are the most critical factor in wins or losses. When we were healthy and had bodies, we put together runs.
“The turning point might have been when Kurtis Foster came down [on his rehab stint]. We won six in a row with guys like Foster, Kolanos and [Benoit Pouliot] all playing. So we went through stretches where we said, ‘Maybe this team has something.’”
Critics like me have blasted the Wild for not having much talent in the minors, and the reality is even though the Aeros have reached the AHL’s Final Four, they’re nothing without the scoring of veterans Kolanos (37 goals in 59 Aeros’ games), Corey Locke (15 playoff points) and Jesse Schultz (second-leading scorer in the regular season, injured right now), who all could become unrestricted free agents. And quite frankly, there’s a chance they all leave. Heck, a guy like Kolanos can probably make $1 million net in the KHL.
“Those guys carry us offensively, and then you try to wrap some detail around that,” Constantine said. “But I think there’s pieces here. I really do. I’m still a believer in Pouliot because I see talent and improvement. I just think sometimes in pro sports we’re not allowed to be patient, so sometimes it’s like now or never. But I think the guy’s going to be a good player. I don’t know what role. Don’t know if it’ll be a first- or second-line center role, but I think there’s a role for him as he matures through the business.
“[Justin] Falk, in the third [period Wednesday], looked like a very big, strong, calm defenseman. [Maxim] Noreau turned into a good defenseman. I don’t think the main future of the Wild are here, but I think there’s a lot of pieces here.”
Other bright spots include role players in Irmen and Robbie Earl, up-and-coming defenseman Marco Scandella, defenseman Clayton Stoner, who’s rebounded after years hampered by injuries, and goalie Anton Khudobin, who’s extremely unorthodox and raw but has carried the Aeros through the playoffs with injuries to goalies Nolan Schaefer and Barry Brust.
Remember, Carson McMillan’s there now practicing, and Cody Almond will be there too next year. And quite frankly, probably Colton Gillies.
Anyway, that’s my take on the Aeros. It was fun actually getting to see them play in Wednesday’s Game 7, 5-2 win at Milwaukee.
I also wrote a Tom Lynn feature that should appear some time in the next few days on what he’s been up to the last month and the job he’s done in Houston – which makes him at least a candidate to be the Wild’s next GM – or certainly a GM in this league somewhere someday.
Chuck Fletcher and Pierre McGuire are still the frontrunners, I believe, but knowing Lynn, he probably impressed in his initial interviews with owner Craig Leipold. I still think Leipold’s at the very least a week away from naming a GM. To me, it was necessary to have a far-and-wide search, and Leipold’s done a quality job with it.
Like I said, I’ll do my best to keep tab from Hawaii. Talk to ya later Wild fans.