Bob Mason


Wild signs D Shane Hnidy; Bouchard looking more and more like No. 2 center; Boogey-Havlat to fight for No. 24?; Coaching staff set

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

(updated) 

How excited is “Sheriff” Shane Hnidy to be a member of the Minnesota Wild this afternoon? He’s in the bush of Northern Manitoba fishing. I called his home number, got his wife and she told me he was out of town until Sunday and virtually unreachable. 

Next thing I know, I get a phone call two minutes later with about 17 numbers on the caller I.D.

It was Hnidy calling me from a satellite phone.

Hnidy, who lives eight hours north of here, feels like he just signed with his hometown team. He’s known throughout the league as a character, heart-and-soul, sandpaper guy. Hard hits, gets into a handul of fights a year.

Here’s a YouTube clip worth watching simply for the comical Jack Edwards absolutely losing his mind

So as expected, the Wild got its Nos. 4/5 and 6 with “hard” type defensemen (Greg Zanon and Hnidy) to complement the mobile, offensive types in the top-four.

This rounds out the top-seven. Barring a trade, the blue line will be Burns, Johnsson, Schultz, Zidlicky, Zanon, Hnidy, Scott.

Hnidy signed a one-year, $750,000 contract. He spent the last two years in Boston. In 477 NHL games, he has 14 goals, 57 points, is a plus-22 and 565 penalty minutes.

Also, it is looking more and more like Pierre-Marc Bouchard could be given the biggest look as the team’s No. 2 center. That, of course, is only if the Wild can’t sign Saku Koivu or can’t make a trade.

Chuck Fletcher again said today that Koivu is the only center-ice option minus a trade in free agency, and the team just continues to wait as he makes a decision. It’s up to him now, and like I said on the previous post, the team thinks he’s not signing here.

Todd Richards talked extensively today about how if the Wild doesn’t make another center pickup, he feels Bouchard “can be that guy.”

Winger Ruslan Fedotenko signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal to remain in Pittsburgh. He clearly just didn’t want to leave because I know for the fact the Wild and a number of other teams offered him multi-year deals.

Now, the Wild probably just waits until later in the summer to maybe sign another free agent or work on trades. Fletcher basically said today that Koivu is the one guy they’re still waiting on. I don’t sense a lot of interest in Alex Tanguay or Ales Kotalik. Again, you don’t build a team to sign players just for the sake of signing players. You build teams with the right guys, and to get stuck with a huge Tanguay contract when there could be better options before the season, into the season or even next summer, it just makes no sense.

So, if Koivu doesn’t sign here (and as mentioned on previous blog, it’s not looking good), I wouldn’t expect much news for a little while.

Marty Havlat was introduced to the media today. I bet my life last night to a couple buddles that Marian Gaborik already offered to sell his condo to Martin Havlat. I live!!!!!!!!!!

Also, Havlat’s first conversation was going to be with Derek Boogaard to see what he could do to entice No. 24 to leave his body. Boogaard had a good line to me, … which you can read in the paper :)

Update: Boogaard won; Havlat will wear 14

Development camp next week. Tyler Cuma was in, looked great and said his knee feels great.

Also, Mike Ramsey, Dave Barr (old Colorado assistant), Matt Shaw and Bob Mason will make up next year’s coaching staff. Add: Strength coach Kirk Olson did not have his contract renewed.

Here’s a funny one for you, which explains a major typo in today’s paper. Wild can never sign or play Brian Boucher. When I write Boucher in my MS word, it automatically changes it to Bouchard.

Another thing that’s been on my mind the last few days? Wonder how Gaborik’s groins will react to by far the worst ice in the NHL — Madison Square Garden?

Add: Wild minor-leaguer Corey Locke signed with the Rangers.

All this and much more in Saturday’s paper.

Walsh meeting with Veilleux today

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Just about to pack up and leave Montreal. The draft here was a tremendous experience. The passionate hockey fans here were in glee with every who’s who in hockey being in town.

I can tell you, I talked with a lot of other team’s scouts out around town last night, and many were very positive about the Wild’s draft, the fact Chuck Fletcher accomplished what he said he’d accomplish with moving down and grabbing draft picks and the picks of Leddy and Hackett specifically.

Assistant GM Tommy Thompson raved about the move Fletcher made because he so wanted Hackett.

“[Goalie coach] Bob [Mason] was saying of Hackett, ‘You think we have any chance to get him?’ and I said, ‘Don’t get your hopes up,’” Thompson said. “That shows the benefit of the trade that Chuck Fletcher made. Without that pick, we don’t get Hackett. If he turns into an NHL goalie, look how important that is. It was nice to have some picks; that allowed us to take some risks later on.”

Real quick, the only bit of news right now is agent Allan Walsh is on his way to Minnesota to meet with new client Stephane Veilleux, a pending free agent. Remember, Veilleux acted as his own agent last summer but as I reported in April, he hired Walsh for this summer.

“I’ve had several conversations with Chuck Fletcher. Stephane’s first priority is exploring all options with Minnesota and we have expressed those feelings to Chuck,” Walsh said.

Free agency is Wednesday and Fletcher planned to take a lot of today and think about free agency and whether he plans to make offers to Veilleux, Marian Gaborik (he will here, I’m told), Martin Skoula, Kurtis Foster and Marc-Andre Bergeron.

There will be news Monday as the Wild must tender qualifying offers to its restricted free agents by 4 p.m. The Wild’s RFA’s are Josh Harding, Kyle Brodziak, Dan Fritsche, Peter Olvecky, Benoit Pouliot, Danny Irmen, Robbie Earl, Clayton Stoner, Riley Emmerson and Paul Albers.

As I mentioned yesterday, it certainly seems a possibility that Fritsche could be out in Minnesota.

OK, I’ll be back on later tonight to clean out the draft notebook. Assistant GM hiring and assistant coaches should be in a matter of days, too.

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.

(more…)

Backstrom’s hip feeling good as new, excited about Richards’ system; Constantine, staff returning

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Just got off the phone with Niklas Backstrom, who infuriated me because he was sitting by the pool at the Palms.

Tough life, pal. Me, I just walked the Stone Arch Bridge. Nice, but not the same.

Backstrom’s jacked to be in Vegas, where I gave him some advice on must-see’s, like the “Love” Beatles’ Cirque du Soleil show at the Mirage. He’s a Beatles fan, as his girlfriend, Heidi. I gave him some other advice, too.

He’ll be up for the Vezina (Best Goalie) on Thursday night’s NHL Awards Show, which can be seen on VERSUS at 6:30 p.m. He’s a finalist with Boston’s Tim Thomas and Columbus’ Steve Mason. At the Show with Bax offering him support so to speak will be Heidi, Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, GM Chuck Fletcher and P.R. guru Ryan Stanzel — yes the same Stanzel who constructs the famed R.S.S. Feed on the Wild’s web site.

I talked to Backstrom about a variety of things that you’ll see in future sports sections, but here’s a few quotes I’ll offer up now.

On Vegas, Awards Show: “I haven’t been here before. Just to be part of it, it’s going to be one of the biggest days of your career personally. You never know if you ever get the chance to do it again. It really kicks in when you get here and you see all the guys – you know all these stars – and posters all over the city. I’ve never seen the Awards Show before. I don’t know how big it is. But when you get here, you start to feel it’s a pretty big thing.”

What do you think of Vegas: “I cant complain about the weather.”

How’s the surgically-repaired hip: “I feel really good actually. I’m going to see the doctor on Monday. I fly from here to Vail. I’m excited to see him there because it feels so good. I’ve never looked so forward to a doctors appointment before. Hopefully I’ll get permission to go full.

Nervous about being on camera and the Vezina? “Every athlete, you want to win. But when you go to a normal hockey game, you feel more that you want to win. It’s a great honor just to be here. You look at all the goalies, there’s only three who will be here tomorrow, but you look around the league, you could easily take 20, 30 goalies. So for sure it’s a great honor to even be here. Just looking back to where I have come from. Couple years ago, I played in Europe, and now you’re here up for such an award. I don’t want to say it’s enough. You want to be the best everyday and all the time. But it’s really good even to be here.”

Richards says the D will be running wild. Does that concern you? ”My job is going to be the same – stop the puck. If we win, it doesn’t matter how you play. That’s the only thing you’re concerned about – to win. If you’ve got a system that all the players believe in, and everybody really jumps into that, then every system is good. You look the way hockey is played now, you look at the good teams who were in the Final, even if they play some offensive hockey, I think everything starts from the defense. Even if it would be fun to have the 80s and 90s Edmonton Oilers here and score six, seven goals, I don’t think it’s possible in today’s NHL. So I think you can have a good offense, but everything still starts from the defense. Like I said, it doesn’t matter how we play, the only thing that matters is that we win.

You could be facing a few more odd-man rushes, but are you willing to give that up if it means you won’t have to be holding onto tie or one-goal games anymore? “It’s part of hockey. You have to live with that. You can’t worry about it. You have to make sure you’re ready for whatever happens. Goalies, we have to be there, we have to help the guys if that’s the case. On the other hand, if we play more offense, score more goals, maybe every now and then our goalies can make a mistake and we have a chance to win. So there’s some good and some bad things with every style. The only thing that matters is that you play good hockey. Then that gives you a chance to win.”

(more…)

“Chucky” holds conference call with print media; Highlights: He’s spoken to Gaborik, he plans to spend next week on coaching search, is working toward a Draft Day trade

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Busy Chuck Fletcher has been swamped with many things on his plate, so in the past week, he hasn’t had a chance to talk with the beat writers.

Fletcher held a conference call with the two newspapers and Associated Press this afternoon, and he discussed the coaching search, Gaborik and pro scouting meetings.

Highlights:

He spoke with Gaborik, although it was mostly just to introduce himself. Asked if he got an idea as to whether Gaborik is willing to consider staying rather than just automatically going to free agency July 1, Fletcher said, “I can tell you the conversation was not as much about the future as just introducing myself and having a general conversation. I’ll talk more in depth with [agent] Ron Salcer as I continue discussions with him.”

On whether he’s talked to Salcer about a contract, he said, “It’s starting to get to that point in time where I’ll probably respectfully decline to comment on the specifics of negotiations.”

That made it sound like there have been negotiations, but in a subsequent email I sent to Chuck, he said there have been no negotiations and that he meant that any future talks as far as a contract would be with Salcer rather than Gaborik.

– On the coaching search: He said he’s still closer to the beginning of the process rather than the end. “I’m trying to narrow it down to a smaller list of candidates. I’ve spoken with some candidates. There are still some candidates I intend to speak with in a little more detail. Next week, I’ll start to make some progress.”

He said it won’t be an exhaustive search of everybody because he has a good idea of his finalists. He said that’s because in Pittsburgh when he and Ray Shero fired Michel Therrien this past season, he and Shero reviewed and assessed different candidates and spoke to a lot of different people about candidates.

“I don’t think it’ll take lot of time once I can devote all my time and attention to the matter. Next week I’ll jump into it more aggressively.”

He said his timetable is still by the Draft, and he’s confident it’ll happen. And quite frankly, Fletcher leaves for the June 26-27 Draft on June 22, so my guess is a coach will be named by June 19 the latest.

The candidates still appear to be Todd Richards, Craig MacTavish, Peter Laviolette, I hear both Detroit assistants Paul MacLean and Brad McCrimmon and Kevin Constantine. There could be others. But these are the names I’m hearing mostly from myriad leaguewide sources.

– Fletcher made it extremely clear he’ll be looking to swing a trade at the Draft. He comes from a long list of teams that have made big trades at the Draft — Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha the biggest. He said he and his staff are compiling free agent and trade priority lists, and that’ll continue to be refined.

But because free agency is such a crapshoot, he’d like to try to fill some holes “in advance” of free agency, which means the Draft.

I keep hearing Josh Harding is the big piece they’ll be floating. I also confirmed again the Wild offered Benoit Pouliot around to everybody last summer, so you can bet that won’t change. I also hear Derek Boogaard — one year from unrestricted free agency — will be at least shopped.

– Lastly, he thanked Mario Tremblay and said he asked Mario if he wanted to be considered for an assistant coaching position and Mario thought it was best to move on, which is what Mario told me. He said once a new coach is in place, the first order of business would be to sit down with Mike Ramsey, Matt Shaw and Bob Mason to see if there’s a fit.

Tremblay over and out; MacTavish speaks — kinda, sorta

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

I spoke with Wild assistant coach Mario Tremblay this afternoon, or actually former Wild assistant coach Mario Tremblay. As expected, Tremblay said he’s moving on and will be leaving Minnesota.

Tremblay said he was informed by Wild GM Chuck Fletcher he didn’t make the short list of candidates to be head coach. He was disappointed but completely understood Fletcher’s decision. He said he’ll move on and look for another job. Rumors in Montreal are that he’ll join Jacques Martin’s staff as an assistant. Tremblay said he hopes that is the case, but he said he’s spoken to nobody with the Canadiens.

He said he had a wonderful nine years in Minnesota and wanted me to make sure to thank the fans. On a personal note, just a great dude to deal with for my purposes. He was a walking cartoon character.

He said he hopes Mike Ramsey’s not in the same boat. Ramsey is also in the last year of his contract, and he said he very much hopes the new coach retains Ramsey and that he deserves to stay. If Ramsey is not retained, I know for a fact Tampa Bay wants him as an assistant. But with young kids and roots here, I’m not sure Ramsey’s going to chase jobs or be willing to uproot his family from Minnetonka.

Bob Mason and Matt Shaw have one year left on their deals, Tremblay said, and like I’ve been writing on here, I think they have a tremendous chance of staying.

Mason has done an extraordinary job as the Wild’s goalie coach, and most smart new head coaches don’t mess with a goalie’s goalie coach without talking to that goalie, in this case Nik Backstrom. You should have heard the other end of the call in the summer of 2004 when I called Roberto Luongo during his honeymoon in Hawaii to get reaction about Clint Malarchuk being fired. Luongo’s response, “What the $^#%% did you just say?”

Oh, that Jacques Martin.

And trust me, from somebody that sees the behind the scenes of the Wild, Shaw made this coaching staff tick. He does all the legwork and video work and lots of the gameplanning. He’s a bright, young guy.

Also, I spoke with Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson today. Craig MacTavish hadn’t spoken publicly since he was let go, but Jim got MacT on the horn today. He wouldn’t comment on my report saying that he has been interviewed by the Wild, but he said he wants to coach again and won’t sit out forever.

Of the candidates I’ve reported, MacTavish knows the Wild better than any of them just because he’s coached against them six to eight times a year since 2000. Of course, since I began covering the team, the Wild had his number, too. MacTavish is considered a pretty defensive coach — not Jacques Lemaire defensive — but defensive. But he likes aggressive, up-tempo play, too.

I’m sure MacTavish had an impressive interview. If you know him, he’s a very engaging, personable, well-spoken guy, so I’m sure he charmed them.

OK, that is it for now.