Wild signs Tyler Cuma; Why no Gaborik?; Bad week for Koivu; Sunday scrimmage reminder

Posted on July 9th, 2009 – 1:31 PM
By Michael Russo

UPDATED FROM 11,323 FEET

Coming to you from 38,000 feet right now (yes, I paid $9.95 to blog this because I really couldn’t pull out blackberry as we were flying down the runway).

The Wild has signed 2008 first-round pick Tyler Cuma to a three-year, $2.625 million entry-level deal. An announcement is expected Friday. The Wild had until June 1, 2010, to sign this prized defenseman.

This doesn’t change the rules — Because of his age, if he doesn’t make the Wild in the fall, he’s got to be returned to Ottawa of the OHL. If that’s the case, his contract slides and the contract won’t start until he turns pro in likely 2010-11.

I still think it’ll be a longshot. Wild has seven defensemen on one-ways, barring a trade, and Cuma barely played any hockey last season at the junior level because of his meniscus injury.

Now that Delta’s got Internet on most its flights, this should be a fun upcoming season for you. Now I can tell you every time we hit turbulence or the guy next to me coughs on me — LIKE RIGHT NOW!

OK, they just served me a chef salad. It was good.

I might as well continue with this blog, eh?

How about Stephane Veilleux and Kurtis Foster signing with Tampa Bay? Both should fit in quite nice, and personally, they’ll be missed in Minnesota by this beat writer. My favorite Veilleux story I wrote is this one (click link). The guy was a true character — on and off the ice.

And Foster is by far one of the nicest, most down-to-earth guys I’ve ever covered. His return from a broken leg was inspirational, and as you know from when he was playing regularly, he was a go-to quote for the beat writers.

Speaking of which, before my flight, he had a pretty hysterical line. Noting that Veilleux was Mikko Koivu’s linemate, how Foster was one of Mikko’s best friends on the team and how his brother Saku declined the Wild’s contract offers, Foster said, “Pretty tough week for Mikko.”

This plane’s bouncing around the sky right now. Onward.

Remember, if you need a hockey fix, Sunday from 12:30-2:30 p.m., the Wild prospects will be scrimmaging down at Xcel Energy Center. You can see guys like Cuma, Colton Gillies, Nick Leddy, Petr Kalus, Matt Hackett, Cody Almond, Carson McMillan, Marco Scandella, former Shattuck roomies Alex Fallstrom and Erik Haula and the infamous Eero Elo, who according to google doubles as a Finnish hotel.

Incidentally, I’ll be there to blog, and quite frankly folks, that might be the last you’ll be seeing/hearing from me for some time. I’ve got time off on the horizon, and it’s been a busy offseason. So to ensure my battery’s running when camp starts, I hope you understand that unless there’s big news, my byline will probably be missing for awhile and the blog will be updated by somebody else.

Lastly, I’ve gotten a gazillion (in the dictionary now) emails about why the Wild made no offers to Marian Gaborik when the team portrayed like it would. To this point, GM Chuck Fletcher has declined comment on this subject, but let me tell you, Marian Gaborik was not re-signing here even if Fletcher did the P.R. thing and offered him a contract.

I wish Gaborik well. He’s the second-best scorer I’ve ever covered (Pavel Bure being Numero Uno). Gaborik was just a sensational talent and goal scorer. But he was not re-signing here. He turned down $78.5 million last fall. Every contract he’s ever signed with Minnesota has been a problem. Think Ron Salcer was just going to sign him up here days before he had his pick of teams? It just wasn’t happening, so to me, this is beyond a moot point. If the changes were made last summer, he probably signs on the dotted line. But this close to free agency, it just wasn’t going to happen.

The Wild entered this free-agent period $13 million under the cap with a to-do list of re-signing Gaborik/finding his replacement, adding a No. 2 center, signing two defensemen, re-signing Josh Harding, Benoit Pouliot, Kyle Brodziak and others.

The team wants to be $1.5 million under the cap for injury cushion/in-season trades or waiver pickups. That means it had $11.5 million to spend. Re-sign Gaborik at $7.5 mill, that would have left $4 million to sign two defensemen, a No. 2 center and re-sign the restricted free agents. Basically, re-signing Gaborik probably would’ve meant the team could not have even made a run at Saku Koivu.

So I think the Wild made the conscious decision to pursue Martin Havlat at $5 million so it would have $6.5 million to spend on two defensemen, Saku Koivu and the RFA’s. Unfortunately, Koivu didn’t sign. But that doesn’t change the fact that the team was making a fiscal decision to try to fill as many holes as possible, something that could not have happened if Gaborik was re-signed. Havlat is a nice replacement. The guy is a stud player when healthy, somebody that WILL do things that dazzle on the ice. He’s been basically a point-a-game player since 2002 (look at his numbers in 2006-07 especially).

Again, the caveat with him has been health, but the same can be said for Gaborik, too. As I mentioned last week, there were only two real replacements for Gaborik — Mike Cammalleri and Havlat — because Marian Hossa clearly picked his team and the Sedins were off the board before free agency started.

The Wild got one of them. The Wild could have gotten none of them.

Now, yes, the team didn’t get Koivu, but going out and just signing players for the sake of signing players is a stupid idea. The Wild can’t let itself get hamstrung by bad contracts. Quite frankly, the reason for the lack of flexibility now is because it has a few unmovable contracts.

So Fletcher is trying to be patient, search the trade market and if the right move comes up, he’ll pounce. But maybe that move doesn’t happen to camp, doesn’t happen until midseason, at the trade deadline or next summer.

To use a terrible cliche, Rome wasn’t build in a day. To expect that a new GM can come in and fill every single hole in one summer when the free-agent pool was so thin was unrealistic. Fletcher is trying to build long-term, so again, to sign an Alex Kovalev at 36 years old at $5 million per makes little sense. No doubt Kovalev can still play the game and would be an upgrade.

But you know what usually happens when you make short-sighted decisions like that? Something falls into your lap later in the summer or next season, and you can’t pull the trigger because you signed a 36-year-old at $5 million per. 

I can ramble on and on, but we’re descending and the flight attendant is giving me the stare-down. So like I said to you on July 1, after reading some of these comments lately and fielding some of the emails lately, I am worried for your health.

It ain’t so bad, folks. Calm down, take a deep breath, be patient, maybe listen to a little Cat Stevens to calm the nerves and enjoy your summer.

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