Anton Khudobin


Chuck Fletcher on Brodziak trade, draft; Dan Fritsche gone?

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Here is the Chuck Fletcher transcript, and I think I picked up on the end of Dan Fritsche’s Wild career. Right when they traded for Kyle Brodziak, I thought, “That makes Fritsche expendable.” I asked Fletcher if Fritsche will be qualified to retain his rights Monday, and you’ll see his answers below.

Talked to Todd Richards about Brodziak, too, for tomorrow’s paper. Remember, he coached him in Wilkes-Barre. You’ll see all that below and Tommy Thompson on the draft picks.

Chuck Fletcher

On Brodziak? Todd knows him better than I do. We shared a farm team with Edmonton in Wilkes-Barre three seasons ago and Kyle’s one of the leaders on the team and played really well for Todd and since then has had two successful seasons in the NHL. I got to know Kyle a little bit that season, and he’s a good fit for us. He’s a player who can slide up and down your roster. He’s a right-shot, he can take faceoffs, he’s well above average faceoff guy on the right side of the ice, he can also play wing, he can kill penalties, he shoots the puck well. So he brings a lot of versatility to the lineup and I think he’ll allow our coaching staff to give him different looks and move him around and bring some character and effort to the lineup every night.

Right-handed centers valuable? I think it’s very important, but he may be a right winger that takes faceoffs from the right side. That’ll be up to the coaches, but that element was very important. We were looking at other players here and they were left shots. I just felt the overall fit with Kyle was better for the lineup because of a) the familiarity of knowing him as a person and the fact he’s a right shot, the fact he’s second line, third line, fourth line, right wing, left wing, center. There’s a lot of things you can do with a Kyle Brodziak. There’s energy, there’s work ethic and there’s character.

Scoring ability? Clearly, I think he’s a better checker than an offensive player, but he’s a player that has scored goal in his career. He shoots the puck well and he’s a smart player and the way the game’s played now, you can’t just break your players up into offensive players and defensive players. You have to have every line who can contribute offensively and every line that can play away from the puck. The great thing about Kyle is he is versatile and if you put him out there will skilled players, he can shoot the puck when it gets on his stick, yet he is also very responsible.

In the works? Yes, going back almost a month.
Talked to him a lot last two days? No, a lot of things. Today the conversation shifted back to Kyle. We talked about it at different points in the draft.

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Talking Aeros hockey; Getting out of dodge for a bit

Friday, May 15th, 2009

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.

Aeros on brink of conference finals

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Anton “Borat” Khudobin continues to be the story of the playoffs for the Houston Aeros, who are one win over Milwaukee from advancing to the conference finals. Here’s the Houston Chronicle story from last night’s 2-0 Game 4 win over the Admirals as written by proud papa Andrew Ferraro.

Khudobin stopped 27 of 27 shots on his 23rd birthday, and Benoit Pouliot scored the winning goal as Kevin Constantine’s bunch continues to roll. Game 5 is in Houston on Saturday.

Incidentally, here’s a real good Bruce Dowbiggin story on Pierre McGuire in the Globe and Mail. And by the way, McGuire’s mostly sitting back in coach when he flies to all these places.

Russo Ramblings on GM search, potential changes, Masterton; Aeros take 1-0 second-round lead

Friday, May 1st, 2009

First things first, the Houston Aeros, behind goals from Krys Kolanos and a face from the past, Tomas Mojzis, and 27 saves from the revelation that is Anton Khudobin, beat the Milwaukee Admirals 2-1 in Game 1 of West Division Finals last night. Here’s the link.

Game 2 is in Milwaukee at 7 p.m. Saturday if you have a hockey yearning and want to hop on I-94 and drive east.

Kinda quiet in Wildland, eh? It’s weird covering a team without a general manager AND coach. I think Boston had that for awhile a few years ago because Peter Chiarelli hired Dave Lewis. And I was reminded, the Rangers went without a coach and GM from March to June 1, 2000, when Neil Smith and John Muckler were fired, and eventually Glen Sather hired.

I’ve been getting a few emails from fans wondering what’s taken so long. It’s been two weeks! Calm down. All I can tell you is be patient. This is a phenomenally critical decision. The GM is the most important hire in an organization. Screw this up, and the franchise is set back dramatically. So allow Craig Leipold & Gang the time to do a far and wide search (although, if you’re reading Mr. Leipold, I’m imposing a May 15 deadline because I’m leaving town the next day)  :)  

Leipold is keeping everything close to the vest, but here are some things I know from recent days:

– Leipold has formed a committee of confidants who are assisting him with the entire process. Chief among them is Jac Sperling, who is currently a board member for Minnesota Sports & Entertainment (MSE). He also currently owns and manages Grit Rock (Rodeo) Ventures based in Minneapolis. He was formerly Vice Chairman of MSE for Bob Naegele and prior to that was CEO of the Wild, while playing an instrumental role in returning the NHL to Minnesota back in 1997 and hiring Doug Risebrough. Sperling is well-respected and known throughout the hockey world.

– I was told yesterday that Sperling was on the phone recently with a long-time NHL team executive to go over the Wild’s list of 20-plus applicants. The list has been weeded down dramatically, and the interview process was supposed to really get started as early as yesterday (Thursday) and at the latest, Monday.

– Leipold has had phone conversations and email exchanges with several candidates. However, it’s tough to know the exact list Leipold’s interested in for a couple reasons. One is this: Several GM’s have contacted Leipold to recommend candidates, like assistant GM’s, letting him know he’s got permission to speak to them. I’ve found out a number of those identities this week, but I haven’t written their names because it’s so deceiving.

Yes, the Wild’s received permission to talk to these “candidates,” but that’s very different than the Wild contacting teams to talk to candidates. And I’ve since learned that the Wild, even though they’ve gotten permission to speak to some people, really aren’t considering some of the names I know but haven’t written (hope that makes sense).

– One name I keep hearing they’re really focusing on is Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Chuck Fletcher. It’s a sensitive topic right now because the Penguins are in the second round and nobody wants to create distractions for them. But the Wild wants to talk to Fletcher, has received permission to do so, and GM Ray Shero — whom Leipold knows well because he used to be assistant GM in Nashville — is really pushing for Fletcher. The Harvard-educated Fletcher is immensely respected, is young at age 41, in 16 years has been to three Stanley Cup Finals (Florida, Anaheim and Pittsburgh) and has been around the game his whole life (Cliff Fletcher’s son).

– I keep hearing that Pierre McGuire, the longtime NHL TV personality and former Hartford Whalers coach and Pittsburgh assistant coach – is “enamored” by people inside the Wild offices. I know he’s got friends inside NHL headquarters that are pushing his name. He’s long wanted to get back into management, and he knows everybody in the league. And because of his job, he’s probably seen more NHL players and prospects close up than any manager or scout around. I do hear he’s going to get an interview, and boy, you know he’d be aggressive and a quote.

– I still think Leipold is very intrigued by Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton and Director of Hockey Ops Mike Santos. I think he plans to talk to both — if it hasn’t happened already.

– And I keep hearing that Pat Quinn, Doug MacLean and Jay Feaster are very much interested in the job, with reciprocal interest from inside the Wild. I will say this: I keep hearing Quinn mostly wants to coach again, and although he’d take the GM’s job, he just loves coaching and most consider him a better coach. But one would think the Wild would allow the new GM to hire the coach.

– And you know there are always mystery candidates that haven’t been revealed yet. I’ve heard some very, very interesting names, but since I haven’t been able to confirm, I haven’t written them. Of course, if one of them is hired, I’ll probably beat myself up over not writing it for months.

– I know a lot of you are praying this team makes a big free-agency splash. I still think the smartest thing to do, and the thing these guys probably would do instead, is make their splashes via trade rather than free-agent signings.

What else do I feel like rambling about?

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Button interested in returning to Minnesota; Burns has shoulder surgery; Bergeron to have back surgery; Another big Aeros win; Elite League represented in final draft rankings

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

You’re not going to believe this. That “B’ joke I made yesterday? Not funny now.

Marc-Andre Bergeron is scheduled to have back surgery next week to address a disc issue that had been bothering him off and on for some time. His rehab time is expected to be six to eight weeks.

So, Eric Belanger now really shouldn’t leave the house. I’m just saying. Bad couple weeks for Backstrom, Burns, Bergeron, Boogaard, Brunette and Bouchard. Just dawned on me. Goalie Barry Brust has a broken foot in the minors. That’s why Anton Khudobin’s playing.

Burns had right shoulder surgery this morning. He’ll stay in the hospital overnight for precautionary reasons (anesthesia and concussion can’t be a good mix), but he is doing well, the team says. Shoulder will be immobilized for a month. It’ll take four months to heal, but he’s expected back before training camp. Acting GM Tom Lynn said Burns’ concussion symptoms have improved greatly.

By the way, I talked to former North Stars Director of Scouting Craig Button today, and he is very interested in the Wild’s GM job. Button, 46, is well-respected in the game and currently does analysis for NHL Network and writes for NHL.com.

He moved with the North Stars to Dallas, and worked there until 2000. He won a Cup with them in 1999. He then succeeded Al Coates as Calgary’s GM, and he worked there from 2000-03. Button is known to be an incredibly organized manager, one who delegates and works marvelously with not just hockey ops, but business ops. His strengths are in player development and personnel. 

Although, when Button discovers what happens to all people with a last name starting with ‘B,’ on the Wild, he’ll probably change his mind and steer clear.

In other news, the Aeros had another win win last night, beating Peoria on Maxim Noreau’s OT winner to take a 3-2 first-round series lead. Here’s the link to Andrew Ferraro’s story in the Houston Chronicle. Game 6 is Saturday in Peoria.

NHL playoffs continue to be awesome, although it’s a shame the Rangers won yesterday in spite of Sean Avery’s idiocy. It would have been fun to see John Tortorella finally scratch this guy from the lineup. He’s just a circus act. Thank goodness for the Rangers that they have such an exceptional penalty kill — the best in the NHL this past regular season.

Lastly, …

NHL SCOUTING LIST INCLUDES 25 ELITE LEAGUE ALUMNI

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Locke snaps deadlocked series

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

It’s been a tough few days for Tom Lynn as his life has suddenly been put into a state of limbo, but here’s some more good news for the Wild’s acting GM and Houston Aeros’ full-time GM: Corey Locke scored twice yesterday to put the Aeros up 2-1 in their first-round series with the Peoria Rivermen.

Here’s the link

Anton Khudobin gets the win again. Game 4 is on Monday.