Chuck Fletcher


Wild may offer contract to Petr Sykora

Friday, September 4th, 2009

As I guessed last weekend here, the Wild is considering making a contract offer to free-agent winger Petr Sykora, multiple sources tell me.

GM Chuck Fletcher, who knows Sykora better than most because he had him in Anaheim and Pittsburgh when he was assistant GM in both cities, is weighing the pros and cons of making an offer.

The pros: Sykora is a gifted goal scorer and as consistent as they come, topping 20 goals for 10 straight years (one of three active players, Jarome Iginla and Jason Arnott being the others).

The cons: He’s not the greatest skater, and he’d be in a skating system; and Fletcher still believes that if he waits a little longer, players could fall into his lap as teams are forced to create more salary cap flexibility as the season approaches or gets older. The Wild only has $2.4 million of cap room, so signing Sykora could hinder a later move.

But … 

Sykora, 32, is a two-time Cup winner who has 300 goals and 674 points in 921 games over 13 seasons with five teams. He’s a great guy, loved by his teammates and he’s a sharp-shooter when he gets the puck above the circles. He’s also 11 for 27 in shootouts. He’s back home in the Czech Republic awaiting an NHL team to sign with. He’d love to come to Minnesota, especially because he’s been linemates at the Olympics and World Championships in the past with Martin Havlat.

I’m told Sykora is the only free agent Fletcher is really considering right now. He has some interest in Maxim Afinogenov because of his speed, but he has not talked to Afinogenov’s agent at all. He has, however, talked with Sykora’s agent on and off all summer.

Like I said, no contract offer has been tendered yet, but Fletcher is considering maybe offering one next week.

He feels if he signs Sykora, it must be before training camp because he doesn’t want to sign any free agents who don’t have the benefit of a camp (to learn the system and get in shape). The only caveat there? If the Wild’s ravaged by injuries in camp, he’d consider free agents, of course. 

Unless there’s news, blog will likely be dormant until the middle of next week because I’m out of town.

Hockey’s getting closer

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Boy, I’m exhausted. It’s hard working everyday again, so hard I’m going to Florida in an hour for the long weekend :)

You may not see it in the paper yet, but I’ve been busy sitting down with people in preparation for the Star Tribune’s daily hockey coverage, which begins again late next week.

Just got back from the arena, where there are plenty of signs that hockey’s on the horizon. Equipment managers Tony DaCosta and Brent Proulx were running around, new strength coach Chris Pietrzak-Wegner was working out players and new video coordinator P.J. DeLuca was pulling clips of Wild games last year for new coach Todd Richards.

Got to meet assistant coach Dave Barr, and he and assistant Mike Ramsey were at their desks preparing for camp.

Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen arrived to meet Richards for the first time, and both looked in shape, tanned (well, tanned for two Finns) and ready to go. Marty Havlat gets to town for the first time since his initial press gathering tomorrow.

Richards, GM Chuck Fletcher, assistant GM Brent Flahr, Houston coach Kevin Constantine and Houston assistant coach Troy Ward also gathered the prospects and tryouts kids in the locker room for a meeting and highlight video as they prepare to travel to Traverse City for the prospects tournament.

So hockey is clearly on the horizon.

Players report for camp one week from tomorrow with on-ice sessions beginning in eight days (Sept. 13). Good news: The first two days of scrimmages (Sept. 13 and 14) are going to be open to the public.

The locker room area is a lot different than last year. Amazing what a fresh coat of paint and new carpet can do, but gone are all the pictures of players and big Wild moments that the team wallpapered the locker room with last year. That’s been painted over with “Champions Are … ” and Richards will likely have the players fill in the blanks. Richards also has added some inspirational messages all around, like his favorite, “The Man on Top of the Mountain Did Not Just Fall There.”

Richards also re-did his office, modernized the players lounge, added a room specifically for massages and modernized the fitness center. It looks good; the players should be happy.

Later today, the Wild is expected to release its new scouting staff. The team kept many, but replaced others. As I mentioned earlier this summer, Barry MacKenzie and Todd Woodcroft won’t be returning. As reported in July by Sid the Kid Hartman, part-time scout Glen Sonmor has retired from the NHL but will remain doing Gophers radio. Also, Marty Nanne, Lou’s kid, will be joining as a part-time scout.

Nanne is a former scout of the Florida Panthers, so he knows Fletcher well. In fact, yesterday Fletcher reminded me of the time in 2000 when Nanne begged the Panthers to take Paul Martin 58th overall. They took Vladimir Sapozhnikov instead. Nanne was so upset, he called the travel agent from the draft table to get out of Calgary.

Nine years later, uh, … the Panthers should have listened to Nanne.

That’s it for now, but when I land later tonight, I’ll publish a fresh blog you’ll be interested in. After tonight’s, unless there’s news, the blog will likely be dormant until mid-next week.

Update: The Wild announced changes to the team’s scouting staff today, adding Chris Kelleher (professional), Pavel Routa (European), Craig Channell (amateur) and Marty Nanne (Amateur/part time). Among the notable scouts who are no longer with the team: Marian Gaborik’s brother Branislav Gaborik and Glen Sonmor.

Pouliot found guilty of drunken driving

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Wild center Benoit Pouliot was found guilty Monday in an Ontario courtroom of drunken driving, the Ottawa Citizen reports in this link.

Stemming from an August 2006 arrest (I’ll look for my original story and link it here in a bit), Pouliot was fined $2,000 and has lost his license for a year. Pouliot, then 19, was found guilty of operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration level over the legal limit and refusing to provide police with a second breath sample.

Pouliot had more than 140 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood. The legal limit is 80.

Justice J. F. Réginald Levesque of the Ontario Court of Justice claimed Pouliot had repeatedly attempted to influence the investigation.

After being pulled over at around 2 a.m. on Aug. 18, 2006, Pouliot continued eating chips and drinking water while looking straight ahead, court heard.

When he was arrested after failing a roadside test, Pouliot asked the officer whether there was anything police could do instead of taking away his licence.

“Do you know who I am?” he then asked the officer, according to testimony Levesque summarized in his decision.

“The accused became cocky,” Levesque said, before describing how, when asked if he wanted to call a lawyer, Pouliot, who is now 22, said he wanted to talk to his uncle, an OPP officer from the area.

….

Before stepping into a car outside the L’Orignal courthouse Monday afternoon, Pouliot said he had “made a mistake and learned from it.”

When asked whether the decision would affect him in the coming season, Pouliot said, “I don’t need a car to play hockey, so I don’t see a problem at all.”

Pouliot, who spent much of this offseason here in Minnesota working out, is expected to have a quality shot of making this year’s roster because for the first time, the Wild must pass him through waivers to get him through the minors.

Pouliot has been a disappointment since the Wild drafted him fourth overall in 2005, but first-year GM Chuck Fletcher has told Pouliot the slate has been wiped clean.

On a completely separate note, I forgot to mention earlier, the Wild is trying to get Brett Favre to do the “Let’s Play Hockey” for the Oct. 6 home opener. Last Viking to do it was Adrian Peterson, and that went well — as can be seen here.

More context on Tanguay to Bolts, what the Wild does next; How about Sykora?

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Good Saturday morning to everybody. Wild players report for training camp two weeks from today with players taking the ice for the first time Sept. 13.

Regarding last night’s blog, RDS is reporting that free-agent winger Alex Tanguay has agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Lightning. This was a two-horse race between Minnesota and Tampa Bay, and the Wild’s offer — one-year, $2.5 million — was $500,000 more than Tampa Bay’s — at least originally. We’ll see when the numbers come out if the Lightning came up in price.

But when Tanguay sat on the Wild’s offer, it became extremely clear to me that Tanguay was going to Tampa Bay because the Bolts had promised Tanguay he’d be on a line with star center Vincent Lecavalier. But the Lightning had a lot more cap room than Minnesota, so I think Tanguay’s camp was just stalling with the hope of Tampa Bay coming up in price. We’ll see if they did.

Plus, look at the Lightning’s depth chart of top-six forwards, and Tanguay knew the Lightning needed him. Without him, Tampa’s second line was shaping up at Stephane Veilleux-Steven Stamkos-Brandon Bochenski. Now, you can put Tanguay-Lecavalier-Ryan Malone and potentially, believe it or not, Veilleux-Stamkos-Martin St. Louis.

In fact, Veilleux turned down a two-year deal in San Jose to take a one-year deal in Tampa because he was told there was potential of him playing on the second line.

The Bolts had about $51 million charged to the cap before Tanguay. The Wild is at exactly $54,403,494 (confirmed), so the Wild couldn’t go up a penny from its $2.5 million offer. In fact, if Tanguay had accepted the Wild’s offer, the team actually would have gone above the cap (you can go over the cap by 10 percent up until the last day of training camp).

The Wild could then have dumped salary by either making a trade or more likely starting second-year winger Colton Gillies in the minors. That would have brought the cap down to $55.86 million, giving the team barely enough room to make injury callups. The team also could have placed Craig Weller on waivers and started him in the minors to create another $600,000 of cap flexibility.

As it currently sits, the Wild has a little less than $2.4 million of cap space — really $3.4 million because I firmly believe that unless Gillies turns into a star in camp, the Wild will start him in the minors. That’s nothing against Gillies, who’s going to be a good NHLer, at all.

But inside the organization, a lot of people were unhappy with former GM Doug Risebrough handing jobs to James Sheppard and Colton Gillies even though Risebrough publicly said four years ago the Wild had made a transition and would no longer do this.

I’ve said this before, but most people around the league feels that inhibits development, not helps. Unless you’re going to be a star at 18, several teams like Detroit and New Jersey would prefer you to continue to be a star in junior, then gain confidence in the minors before making the giant jump to the NHL. For instance, Sheppard hasn’t even experienced being on a No. 1 power play in three years now. I don’t remember the Wild saying it was drafting him to develop into a third-line center.

Also, and this is the most important thing, your seven-year free-agent clock starts the second you play in the NHL. So the Wild has wasted two of Sheppard’s years toward free agency, and one for Gillies. In other words, Sheppard can become an unrestricted free agent in five years now because the Wild decided to use two of them for what was going to be his two most ineffective years anyway, rather than, say, two years in his mid-20s when his career would have been peaking.

This is the type of stuff that is so hard to recover from.

Personally, Tanguay going to Tampa isn’t the worst news for the Wild in my opinion. I was never sold. The Wild doesn’t need another playmaker. It needs another scorer, and I still firmly believe this league is going to see some very good players available next month or into the season. And quite frankly, you could even see good players on waivers.

As I wrote in today’s paper, Chicago, Vancouver, Detroit, Ottawa, Washington and Boston are over the cap right now. Chicago can get down by sending one of their goalies to the minors and Brent Sopel as well. I don’t know what Vancouver’s doing. The Canucks are over the cap and have about 26 players. Boston’s over if you consider Phil Kessel isn’t even signed.

Montreal, Philadelphia, Edmonton and Carolina are about $1 million from the cap. San Jose’s at $53.5 after yesterday’s trade, but with 17 players. So the only way it stays under is if it signs/keeps a bunch of 500K players.

Basically, my point is these teams have to create room somehow, so some teams with a little cap space should be able to get players cheaply via trade or for free (other than a little cash) via waivers.

The Wild has talked to San Jose this summer about Jonathan Cheechoo, I’ve been told. Whether the Sharks still want to move him after yesterday’s Christian Ehrhoff trade is another story though. I know the Wild would love to get Patrick Sharp, but as mentioned above, while Chicago eventually will probably have to trade a big player down the road, the Hawks can easily slip under the cap going into the season with a little nip and tuck. The Wild at one point was interested in Boston’s Kessel, but I don’t see how it could make the numbers fit now with only $2.4 million worth of cap space. It would have to give up salary to be able to sign him, and the Bruins can’t really take much salary right now.

I cannot make this any clearer. Other than what I reported to you near the Draft, all Dany Heatley/Wild trade rumors you read have been invented out of thin air. Unless something changes, the Wild has not had trade talks with Ottawa in six weeks regarding Heatley. Additionally, the Wild has no interest in Mike Comrie, I’ve been told.

So, in conclusion :)

the current roster will likely still be the roster at the start of camp, but by late September, there’s a decent chance GM Chuck Fletcher will have the ability to make some alterations. Have a good weekend everybody.

—————————————————————-

I will add this, however, and since I’m on blackberry now, I’ll just cut and paste from my twitter.com/russostrib, but I’ve always respected Petr Sykora’s game. I know Fletcher has talked to his agent about Sykora at some points this summer. His skating is the only big concern, especially with a potential top-six that includes Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan, but …

@russostrib: One who could jell perfectly w @martinhavlat is UFA Petr Sykora. Maybe he’d be a fit for #mnwild? All he does is score 20 goals a year.

@russostrib: Sykora didn’t play a ton in playoffs, but…savvy vet, grt guy, has been a consistent #nhl scorer (300 goals) & Fletcher knows him

Wild pursuing Tanguay; Correction on cap number; Third jersey teaser

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Wish me luck.

In 90 minutes, my wisdom teeth are going to be ripped out of their sockets with a pair of rusty pliers. At least, that’s how my dream portrayed the scene before I woke up in a cold sweat. :)

I’m hoping it won’t be that violent or painful.

As you read in this morning’s paper here, the Wild is trying to sign free agent Alex Tanguay. One correction from today’s story: I wrote the roster’s 23 players have a cap hit of $51,611,827 for 23 players excluding Colton Gillies.

Wrong.

This is why the Miami Herald’s David J. Neal always tells me, “Mike, you shouldn’t be doing math.”

Actually, the error occurred because for some reason I entered Kyle Brodziak twice in my excel file. I just re-did it and 23 players including Gillies comes out to $51,503,494 (includes Mark Parrish’s buyout). Obviously this figure is unofficial, also includes James Sheppard’s potential entry-level bonuses and could change depending on who makes the team.

As of now, the roster I’m using to determine this is:

14 Forwards: Martin Havlat, Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Eric Belanger, James Sheppard, Benoit Pouliot, Derek Boogaard, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Craig Weller, Colton Gillies.

7 Defensemen: Brent Burns, Kim Johnsson, Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Shane Hnidy, John Scott

2 Goalies: Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding

Back to Tanguay, what my little math gaffe doesn’t change is the fact that GM Chuck Fletcher doesn’t have unlimited cap space to spend on Tanguay. Fletcher decided to be patient all summer hoping that a bargain would fall into his lap. Maybe this is it.

Because of Tanguay’s shoulder injury last season and the fact that his production slipped the past two seasons, his stock fell this summer and he’s been left looking for work. Reading between the lines of what agent Ritch Winter said yesterday, it sounds as if Tanguay may sign a one-year deal so he can go to a team, try to have a “career year” and reestablish his market for a big payday next summer.

Minnesota and Tampa Bay seem to be two teams hot after him, and I was told a few weeks back, Tanguay would love to play in Tampa. But there’s no doubt he’s strongly considering Minnesota.

As I’ve said on here since mid-July, it’s of my opinion the Wild is a scorer short still.

However, the big question: Is Tanguay the right guy to fill that role?

The answer from a fan’s point of view depends on how much more patient are you willing to be. Tanguay is the best left on the open market, and I’m saying this because from everything I’m hearing, Nikolai Zherdev’s mind is at $4 million or Russia.

If you’re willing to be more patient, there should eventually be a trade to be made deep into training camp or in the early part of the season.

If you’re unwilling to be more patient, well, Tanguay’s a gifted playmaker. Problem is he’s a gifted playmaker, not a gifted scorer. As good as he is setting up guys, his history says quite clearly that he’s allergic to shooting the puck and isn’t the grittiest tool in the shed. And the Wild already has a gifted playmaker and perimeter forward in Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

So, to be effective, Tanguay would basically have to play with a guy like Marty Havlat on the top line.

Just remember though: If Tanguay’s the guy the Wild signs, the Wild will be sandwiched close to the cap, meaning that’s the move folks. If there’s any future big trade, it would likely have to come at the trade deadline rather than earlier.

Fletcher has shown some interest in Zherdev, but I think he’s concerned about Zherdev’s motivation to play in Russia. He’s shown interest in Petr Sykora after having him in Anaheim and Pittsburgh. But Sykora, as good a scorer as he is, isn’t the best skater in the world. Contrary to the rumor mongers out there, the Wild has zero interest in Mike Comrie.

Fletcher said if the Wild can’t sign Tanguay, he’ll likely go into camp and maybe the season with this team, discover who emerges and then re-adjust from there as the trade market unfolds.

Benoit Pouliot will be given his sixth last chance. He certainly seems determined to emerge. He stuck around most of the summer and from all reports I’ve been given is working his butt off in the gym. He’s got a great chance of making the team because he requires waivers to be sent to the minors, meaning 29 teams could claim him for zippo if he doesn’t make the team. Fletcher is also hopeful Sheppard makes one giant offensive step this season. As I’ve mentioned, Gillies can be sent to the minors without waivers, but he’s also looking good this summer.

Also, it seems almost guaranteed, Fletcher said, that backup goalie Josh Harding will be on the team when the season starts.

I’d talk more extensively about all of this, but I’ll save it for training camp. Be a little more patient, and the Wild will be in the paper again daily.

Lastly, I’ve gotten all these emails for third jersey sneak previews. This is why you should follow me at twitter.com/russostrib. If you did, you would have gotten some hints about a month ago.

I’d describe it as a pretty traditional front. Green. MINNESOTA WILD in sort of a cursive writing. And I think that “M” in Minnesota will be an “M” you’ll start seeing on a ton of Wild merchandise. :)

Anyways, I’m not officially back to work yet. Unless there’s news, the blog will continue to be dormant until early next month. But you’ll be getting multi-daily blog updates and tweets and articles and Facebook updates and webcasts and …. soon enough.

Does Zherdev make sense for the Wild?

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Maybe. Maybe not, and probably leaning toward the latter.

Nikolai Zherdev, the 24-year-old winger and former first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is suddenly an unrestricted free agent after the New York Rangers on Tuesday walked away from his $3.9 million arbitration award.

Zherdev scored a career-high 27 goals with Columbus in 2005-06 and a career-high 61 points with Columbus in 2007-08. Last season with the Rangers, he scored 23 goals and 58 points but disappeared in the playoffs and was largely criticized for a perceived lack of drive and determination. Zherdev can be maddening at times because he is so talented and goes through streaks of ineffectiveness. 

At some point the Wild must make another move in my opinion, but the above red flags and one other has me thinking the team will stay away from him.

Zherdev would always be a risk to just bail for the Continental Hockey League (KHL) mid-contract. The KHL would undoubtedly be interested in him and as the league keeps proving with guys like Radulov and Hudler, it’s willing to take NHL players without regard to whether they’re under contract.

According to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks here, Zherdev was seeking $4.75 million in arbitration. As you can read in Larry’s column, he does an interesting analysis of that contract desire. According to Larry’s research, 22 wingers under contract next season will earn as much as $4.75 million, and 13 of those came when they were signed as UFA’s or pending UFA’s. Of the remaining nine, only three are under 25 and they are Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Carter and Corey Perry.

As Larry writes, Zherdev’s not in that league.

If it were my decision, I’d just pass on Zherdev and continue to look at the trade route.

GM Chuck Fletcher has been patient because he’d love to add a No. 2 center or scoring winger via trade, whether it’s before the season or inside the season. But another reason he hasn’t made a stopgap signing with an inferior player is in case something unforeseen happened, like this.

But as has been written here before, once your money’s spent, it’s spent. So since Zherdev’s such a huge risk, I think Fletcher will remain patient and continue to rely on the fact that the teams at or near the cap will at some point be forced to trade players.

In other words, if at some point you truly believe you can somehow trade for a Jon Cheechoo or a Patrick Sharp or a Phil Kessel or another upper-echelon player, then you’ve pretty much got to pass on Zherdev. Remember, if you sign Zherdev to anything close to the lucrative deal he wants long-term, you’re taking yourself out of the game for anything else.  

Fletcher declined comment on Zherdev. Zherdev’s agent hasn’t called me back yet.  

But like I said, I don’t think the Wild’s interested and will continue to wait. What that means is if Fletcher makes what he’s been calling his “play,” it’ll almost certainly go into training camp (or beyond) because the league typically (unofficically) shuts down in August. You’d be hard-pressed to find any GM’s in the office these days.

In other news, Washington goalie Simeon Varlamov has changed the spelling of his first name to Semyon. Deal with it :)

OK, I’m still on vacation and leaving town for some time. If any news breaks, the paper’s got you covered.