Cody Almond


Almond to miss training camp; Souhan joins Twitter

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I’ll be on KSTP tonight at 6:30-7  p.m. to talk Wild. 

The Wild will not only be without arguably its best scorer at next week’s prospect tournament in Traverse City, Cody Almond will miss training camp, too.

The talented scorer, who helped lead WHL Kelowna to the Memorial Cup last season, sustained a Grade 2 sprain of the MCL last week while practicing with his former junior team. It’s a tough blow for the 20-year-old center, who scored 33 goals and 66 points last year for Kelowna and signed a three-year deal with the Wild in March. He’ll play this season in Houston.

The Wild will also be without scorer Jay Fehr, a tryout from Brandon, in Traverse City. He sustained a punctured thigh during a recent jetskiing accident.

Also, columnist extraordinaire Jim Souhan has joined Twitter @souhanstrib. Now you can read the one-liners we hear in the pressbox.

My favorites so far:

– Nathan said he’s taking his family to the fair. Do they serve sadness on a stick? 

– If Jon Rauch’s neck tattoo were any bigger it would be a mural.

– Thanks for following me on twitter. Remember, send all hate emails to preusse@startribune.com

Next, Souhan promises to blog. :)

Lastly, the NHL and Jim Balsillie are currently going head-to-head in a Phoenix courtroom in the Coyotes bankruptcy hearing. Wild owner Craig Leipold was deposed for eight hours last Wednesday. Leipold has been outspoken in his belief that Balsillie is not fit to be an NHL owner.

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

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

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.

Almond in Memorial Cup

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Last night on the NHL Network, I watched the opening of the Memorial Cup (CHL Championship tournament), with Kelowna and Rimouski. The Rockets, which feature Wild prospect Cody Almond, pounded Rimouski, 4-1. 

If you want to pay attention to the tourney, click here. I’ll tell you what, Almond is a really good player as the Wild’s 2007 Draft continues to look better and better. The fifth-round pick, who will play in Houston next season unless he somehow makes the Wild, finished second in WHL playoff scoring (27 points in 22 games), takes all the big faceoffs, has great wheels and is the center on 3-on-5 situations, which is always a good sign of trust from the coach.

Could be quite the find for the Wild. I believe Kelowna plays next on May 18 (Monday) against Drummondville.

The Houston Aeros lost Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, 2-1, Friday night. Here’s the link. Game 2 is tonight (Saturday).

Ok, since it’s 20 degrees with hurricane-forced winds out, I’ve decided to go to the airport and get on a flight for Hawaii now.

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.

Great news on Backstrom surgery; Wild signs McMillan to entry-level deal

Friday, April 24th, 2009

From the Wild: Surgery on Niklas Backstrom’s left hip went better than hoped today. Dr. Philippon reported that he corrected the issues in Backstrom’s left hip (including a  labral deficiency, which had not show up on the radiography), and the cartilage damage was less than feared, so no microfracture was necessary. Backstrom’s recovery time was reduced and the doctor now believes he will be full-go in about 12 weeks.

The Wild signed Carson McMillan to a three-year deal.

 McMillan, 20, recorded career-highs with 31 goals, 41 assists, 72 points and 93 penalty minutes (PIM) in 68 games during his fourth season with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 2008-09. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound native of Brandon, Manitoba added seven game-winning goals, five power play tallies and four shorthanded goals helping lead Calgary to a 59-9-3-1 regular season record. He has tallied eight points (2-6=8) in 12 playoff games this season. The Hitmen are undefeated in 12 playoff matches and will play either Kelowna or Vancouver in the WHL Championship. The winner of the WHL Championship series will advance to the Memorial Cup.
 
McMillan was selected by Minnesota in the seventh round (200th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Here is the story I wrote on Carson last month.

Since this story ran, Cody Almond signed. This means four of the Wild’s five picks from 2007 are signed right now.

Wild had until June 1 to sign him, or the team would have lost his rights.