Colton Gillies


Q&A with Wild player rep Nick Schultz on firing of Paul Kelly

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Good afternoon from Chatteau de Russo, where I’m still laughing at some of Mark Parrish’s locker-room jabs at some of his “teammates” today. Here’s hoping Parrish’s career continues because the locker room’s a funnier place with him around.

Couple other Wild players were at the Octagon camp today that weren’t yesterday. They were Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Colton Gillies and minor-leaguer Jaime Sifers.

Martin Havlat’s been busy tweeting again. He said he was in Chicago over the weekend packing up and went to the Carrie Underwood concert with Mike Fisher. @martinhavlat added, “Back in Montreal now for last 8 days of training before heading to Minny. Can’t wait for camp to start!!”

Schultz, the Wild defenseman entering Year 2 of his six-year deal, was in Chicago on Sunday and Monday attending the NHL Players’ Association meetings. Schultz is the Wild’s player rep, so yes, he was in Sunday night and Monday morning’s 10-hour marathon of a meeting that concluded with the players firing NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly at 3:30 in the morning.

With Schultz’s soon-to-be-two-year-old son Jake sitting on his lap, Schultz talked to me this morning about the decision to fire Kelly, the public relations mess that’s ensued and the chances of another work stoppage when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011 (or 2012 if the players exercise their option to extend the CBA a year):

Q: How long has the players’ concern with Kelly been going on?
Schultz: It really all started at the PA meetings in Vegas. There were some issues in there and I think it’s been kind of going on for awhile, maybe longer than people knew. We put some checks and balances into place inside the office, they went in, kind of interviewed some people and found some stuff out and it just kind of went from there. There were some big issues in the office. We needed a change. We needed to get somebody different in there, especially with possible CBA negotiations in two years, maybe three. We thought we needed different leadership going forward and that the issues we had to get resolved meant we had to relieve him of his duties and try to look for someone new.

Q: When you say “issues in the office” and “found some stuff out,” can you be more specific because it seems that a lot of your membership doesn’t even understand what was discovered here?
Schultz: Once everything gets settled with him legally, they don’t really want us commenting on exactly the specific issues. … It’s something where I’m sure it’ll come out, but as of now, it’s something we’re keeping under wraps just until everything’s settled with him.

Q: What was that meeting like and what were the issues that caused it to go 10 hours, and kept Paul Kelly outside waiting for several hours?
Schultz: It got very heated at times. There were a lot of lawyers and players in there, and everybody had a chance to talk and give their views. It was pretty heated. There wasn’t much down time. It was a long time, but it didn’t feel like 10 hours. But it was pretty heated for the most part. I mean, it was a big decision, a big decision moving forward. But we had to make it now instead of letting it go on, especially with what’s maybe coming in a few years. We had to make the right decision.

Q: Were you up screaming away – I can’t even picture that?
Schultz: No. I’m pretty good at listening and saying something here or there. But we have some passionate guys, and if guys feel a certain way, guys say it. There are a few guys who are more vocal than others, but for the most part, guys were involved and a part of it.

Q: It seems like the players are gearing up for another fight with the league and want more of a hardliner to negotiate with Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. What are the players’ big concerns heading into the next CBA negotiations?
Schultz: You hear people talking about lengths of contracts with these big guys getting lots of term yet probably not playing out the last four or five years of their deals. I mean, it’s smart. That’s how teams are fitting guys under their cap, so you’ve got to give them credit for that. They’ve found a loophole. I’m sure that’ll be an issue. I know for the players, escrow is a big thing. Basketball, they have a cap on their escrow where they’re only losing 10 percent of their salaries. Last year, it ended up being close to 15-18 percent of our salaries. This year with the economy and sponsorships, it might even be more. It’d be nice to have a cap on that.

Q: How much are you guys worried that the league will go after guaranteed contracts?
Schultz: Bigtime. You see that in other sports where they can just get rid of you. It’s something that would be pretty hard to give up. There are different things that both sides will have to give a little bit to get something done, maybe working on the buyout structure or things like that. It’ll take some time, but it’ll eventually get sorted out.

Q: Let me ask you point blank: The perception out there right now is that your union’s a mess. Is it?
Schultz: I think now we’re better than we were before because we have an office staff in place. Obviously, we’ve lost our Executive Director, but with [General Counsel] Ian Penny, that’s going to be an interim guy that’s been there forever. He’s taking over day-to-day operations. Everything’s going to be fine that way. We have people in all different departments. Just losing our Executive Director doesn’t put us in shambles. I think going forward, people will be excited with moving forward and hopefully all our past issues are gone.

Q: But if you include Penny, you’re about to have your fifth Executive Director since the lockout. Are the players on the same page?
Schultz: We’ve got an advisory board in place and [ombudsman] Buzz [Hargrove], we’ve put all these people in place to help us and make sure there were different checks and balances so if something wasn’t going right, we’d find it and know about it and there’s people to go to. We’ve kind of figured that out. I mean last time, I mean, Ian Penny was there, but we had players, like [former ombudsman Eric] Lindros and these guys running a lot of the stuff. Now we have actually good people in there that can help us go ahead and find a search firm and look for the right guy through recommendations, through a search firm, through different things to try to find the right guy.

Q: Are the reports that Kelly was too chummy with the Commissioner’s Office a real concern of the union?
Schultz: No, I’ve heard that through the media and things like that. Maybe there were concerns going forward with him negotiating and not really being part of the labor side of it. I guess going forward we just thought we needed a different direction in leadership, especially with things coming up in a couple years.

Q: Because it again sounds like the union’s looking to battle the NHL and with the [2004-05] lockout still fresh in everybody’s mind, fans are worried. Could there be another work stoppage in a few years?
Schultz: I don’t think the players want that. From last time, I don’t think that anyone wants a lockout. With what we went through last time, to lose a season like that, to lose any time, was not right. I think we have enough time now that we can get something in place and not have to go through that again for the players, the owners, the fans – everyone. To have another one, I don’t think that can happen.

Q: You’ve been a hockey player your whole life. To be inside these high-powered, extremely important meetings, how fascinating is it to be inside part of something like that and how much have you learned the four years since you’ve become player rep?
Schultz: My wife asked me, ‘Think someone else will want your job this year as player rep?’ I said, ‘Now that I’ve been involved in it since the lockout, I know what’s going on and with negotiations possibly coming, I want to be a part of it and make the right decisions for myself and my teammates.’ Now every team essentially has a vote and say in things. We’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page and our guys believe and go in the same direction. So it’s fun to go in there and listen to high-powered labor lawyers, these big fancy lawyers, describing everything and explaining everything to a bunch of hockey players. They’re very intelligent, so as a hockey player, you’re obviously not at that level. That’s why you have these people. But I’ve learned a ton. They’re good at informing you and keeping you in the loop. Before, with [former Executive Director] Bob [Goodenow], they kind of just did whatever. It was six guys and Bob. Now we’ve got a player from every team in there involved and making the big decisions. It’s fun to be a part of that and know what’s going on. It’s our careers. We’ve got to get more players involved and wanting to be a part of that – more than just coming in and being pissed and wondering why the escrow’s 20 percent. If we have more guys involved and know what’s going on and more guys educated, we can make better decisions.

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.

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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.

Fletcher continues to work trade market

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Good morning everyone. Nothing like the NHL schedule being released to really get one pumped up for the season.

Spent last night booking hotels through December. Might as well get a jump on it, eh?

I’m about to take some R&R, and I mean it this time. The blog and newspaper will continue to be updated by others when news breaks, but I’m going to do my best to take a giant step back for the next number of weeks.

As far as news on the horizon, there will likely be little minor-league, depth signings (I hear Duncan Milroy and Jon DiSalvatore), the negotiations and eventual signings of Josh Harding and Kyle Brodziak (Brodziak has an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 31, but it would be shocking if it got there) and the release of the preseason schedule (although I think it’s pretty much ironed down on the previous blog).

The team will likely also plan some sort of trip in the middle of camp as team-building (Pittsburgh and Anaheim used to do this when Chuck Fletcher was there). A reader (or maybe readers) also emailed me recently to see if I can ask Fletcher if the team would try to get an East Coast Hockey League affiliate. I asked Fletcher the other day, and he and assistant to the GM Jim Mill plan to investigate this. Fletcher doesn’t feel it’s a pressing issue, but if there’s a possibility out there, it could happen in time for next season.

As for the current roster, Fletcher says he continues to scour the trade market and that if there’s a next move this summer, that’ll likely be it. He said there are a few quality free agents out there, but none that really gets his appetite whet.

As I reported earlier this summer, he’s willing to go a player or two short deep into the summer with the hope of having the cap space and roster flexibility to make a move.

“I think we still have some cap flexibility and there are teams that need to acquire cap flexibility,” Fletcher said. ”So there’s certainly the ability to acquire somebody by trade if something makes sense. We’ll look at all the options and see what makes sense and see what the best fit is. But with this group, we feel comfortable going into training camp if it doesn’t happen.

“I don’t think it was the deepest free-agent class to begin with. There was a pretty good rush on July 1. There are still some possibilities out there. But in the cap system, once you spend your money, it’s spent. So how patient do you want to be? There’s certainly conversation now amongst teams and I expect there will continue to be right until the trade deadline. So the question would be: When do you want to make your play and what makes sense? It’s obviously the process we’re going through on a daily and weekly basis, but it’s tough to handicap.”

So what is Fletcher saying here?

Later in the summer or into next season, some teams are likely going to have to move some bigtime players to get under the $56.8 million cap ceiling or create cap flexibility going into next summer. I know some fans are dying for the team to take a “risk,” but the risk has to be the right one. And if there are no free agents out there, there are no free agents — plain and simple.

You can’t dump players in an NHL world with guaranteed contracts, so if you make a mistake and spend your money on a player that is inferior to one maybe you can get via trade later on, you simply can’t make the next move.

So Fletcher wants to save the cap space now to allow him to hopefully trade for a significant player.

Remember, teams can go over the cap by 10 percent during the summer as long as they get below the ceiling by the last day of training camp. Boston, Ottawa and Chicago are over the cap right now. San Jose’s not over the cap, but if you plug in three or four holes the Sharks still have on their roster, they’re basically over the cap.

What does this mean? Maybe Phil Kessel still becomes available in Boston. Maybe Ottawa’s Dany Heatley can still be had. Maybe Jonathan Cheechoo in San Jose. Eventually, Chicago will undoubtedly have to dump salary — whether that’s Patrick Kane himself, or a Patrick Sharp or Dustin Byfuglien.

The Blackhawks might be fine going into the season because if you send Brent Sopel to the minors and one of their one-way contract goalies (Crawford or Niemi), by my math, they’re under the cap for this season (BUT BARELY).

So do you really want to sign Mike Comrie or Jason Williams now if there’s some sort of chance to maybe land a Patrick Sharp?

This is the stuff that has to be weighed. I agree that when you look at the Wild’s depth chart as it currently stands, there’s one giant hole — whether it’s a top center, or if Pierre-Marc Bouchard can fill that hole, a scoring winger.

But sometimes it’s better to wait — especially if there are few exciting free agents available.

As you can tell, it’s hard to make a trade right now in the NHL. The only really substantial one that’s happened since the end of the season was Chris Pronger to Philly, and the Flyers paid an enormous price.

It’s hard to move money outright. Even if you take a pretty good player for a pick or prospect, teams are still asking you to take a player back to balance it off a little bit. It’s not quite like the NBA, but teams are trying to balance contracts and money all the time.

But there are teams like the Wild that have left a little flexibility, so just maybe you can take a $3 or $4 million player from Chicago and not make the Blackhawks take a contract back.

Interestingly, a team that’s left a lot of flexibility is New Jersey. Lou Lamoriello’s left a lot of cap room, which is interesting to me because historically the Devils are a team at the other end. They still have to re-sign Zajac, but by laying in the weeds, Lamoriello’s another guy I expect to eventually make a move.

OK, as usual, I got sidetracked. But things just pop in my head and come out my fingertips.

As I mentioned last week, patience everyone. And when I say patience, I’m not saying be “satisfied with being mediocre” as some fans accuse. Like I said, I agree there are holes. But it’s imperative to figure out the correct way to fill those holes because in a league where it’s proving impossible to repair a mistake via trade, you better not make mistakes. Make cap mistakes, and it could wind up costing you a Patrick Kane, or in the Wild’s case, a Mikko Koivu or Brent Burns eventually.

Now, as Fletcher said above, this could be the team if he can’t make his “play” before the season. The only reason before the summer I was talking about Colton Gillies potentially being in the minors is I thought the team would probably need his $1-plus million cap space. But right now, if no move is made, he’s got a good shot at making the team.

And I know he was playing prospects in that scrimmage the other day, but he looked very, very good. Fast, nasty (buried Petr Kalus) and scored two goals — one exceptional one.

Anyway, I’ve said my peace. Have a good rest of the summer, and hopefully I’ve got it in myself to stand down and let others cover the team. Mid-July is usually the official end of the previous hockey season for me, so I hope you enjoyed the coverage this season. See you next season, amazingly, my fifth already covering the Wild.

(OK, I’m back. Nashville signed Peter Olvecky).

I’ll leave you with this. Here’s a look at the depth chart as of now:

Goalie 

Niklas Backstrom

Josh Harding

Barry Brust

Anton Khudobin

LD-RD

Kim Johnsson-Brent Burns

Nick Schultz-Marek Zidlicky

Greg Zanon-Shane Hnidy

John Scott-Jaime Sifers

Tyler Cuma-Justin Falk

Clayton Stoner-Jamie Fraser

Marco Scandella-Maxim Noreau

LW-C-RW

Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Martin Havlat

Owen Nolan-James Sheppard-Pierre-Marc Bouchard (RW until training camp)

Antti Miettinen-Eric Belanger-Cal Clutterbuck

Colton Gillies-Kyle Brodziak-Derek Boogaard

Petr Kalus-Benoit Pouliot-Craig Weller

Robbie Earl-Morten Madsen-Danny Irmen

Matt Kassian-Cody Almond-Carson McMillan

(the depth chart will change when the Wild plugs some minor-league holes, believed to be Duncan Milroy and Jon DiSalvatore, to replace Corey Locke and Krys Kolanos).

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.

Nearly 24 hours from free agency; Wild depth chart as of now; USA Olympic orientation camp roster; Mill named assistant to the GM

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

I’ll be back on later this evening with a more in-depth free-agent primer, but I figured I’d jump on and say hello now.

I know there are all these Vincent Lecavalier rumors to Minnesota floating around the blogosphere, but I can tell you that yesterday morning, as good a source as you can possibly have from one of the two teams told me that “Vinny’s staying — 100 percent,” meaning he will not be traded before his July 1 no-trade kicks in.

I suppose if some deal knocked the Lightning’s socks off in the next 24 hours, that could change. But let’s be honest — it’s very doubtful the Wild has those assets to suddenly make the Lightning change its mind.

Essentially, as I mentioned on the blog last week, one owner wants to move Lecavalier; one does not. And both owners have veto power of any trade, so it would take a major philosophical altercation by that one owner today to put Lecavalier in another zip code.

Also, Lecavalier’s cap hit might be $7.7+ million in the next 11 years, but he makes $10 million in real dollars in the next seven. I just don’t see the Wild being willing take on that type of commitment in this economy.

It will be interesting to see if there are trades tomorrow. Remember, you can go 5 percent over the cap starting July 1 until training camp, so as often is the case, trades are agreed to at the draft and executed on July 1 (Manny Fernandez to Bruins, Marek Zidlicky to Wild, although that had to wait simply because that’s when Zidlicky’s no-trade expired).

The Senators have to trade Dany Heatley by midnight if they’re going to escape paying him that $4 million bonus.

Also talked to two sources yesterday — one exec, one agent — and both said they’d be shocked if Josh Harding isn’t traded in the near future. He’s got arbitration rights, and the agent thought he’d be owed a fairly significant raise just because of his goals against and save percentage last season.

Here’s a look at the depth chart as it currently sits assuming all the UFA’s go to free agency, so have some fun today, check out the free agent lists and you fill in the holes:

LW                              C                                RW

———                Koivu                          Bouchard

Brunette                Sheppard                   Nolan

Miettinen              Belanger                    Clutterbuck

Boogaard              Brodziak                     Weller

Potential candidates: Pouliot, Gillies, Irmen, Kalus

***I see the Wild pursuing a center, which would bump down the center spots and maybe put Brodziak on the right side and Weller in the press box; If they don’t sign a No. 2 center, maybe Bouchard or Pouliot gets that chance, which opens up a top-two line RW spot.

LD                         RD 

Johnsson              Burns

Schultz                  Zidlicky

Scott                      ———-

*** I see the Wild bringing in two NHL defensemen, meaning Scott could be the extra.

Goalies

Backstrom

Harding

***Harding is trade bait, and then the Wild would sign a cheaper backup goalie, and they grow on trees.

Kudos to editor/sportswriter Mark Wollemann for stepping in for me yesterday. The day off was very much appreciated.

Update: Negotiations are ongoing right now with Chicago and Pittsburgh regarding Martin Havlat and Ruslan Fedotenko, but if they are not re-signed, the Wild may pursue.

Update: USA Hockey announced the roster for August’s Olympic orientation camp. Here is the release.

The roster includes several Minnesotans or players with Minnesota ties: Tom Gilbert, Erik Johnson, Paul Martin, David Backes, Dustin Byfuglien, Phil Kessel, Jamie Langenbrunner, Ryan Malone, Kyle Okposo, T.J. Oshie and Zach Parise. 

Update: Wild at least having talks still with Stephane Veilleux.

Update: Wild has hired Jim Mill (not Nill) assistant to the GM and GM of the Aeros.

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