Craig Leipold


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.

With all due respect to the Wild, Havlat tweets

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Regarding Darren Dreger’s story on tsn.ca this morning (link here), Blackhawks President John McDonough was on 640 The Score in Chicago this morning for just the most balanced interview ever: “I am a big fan of Marty Havlat. Unfortunately things didn’t work out here to extend him and I really wish him well in Minnesota except when he’s playing the Blackhawks. He’s a classy guy. Where that came from, I have no idea. I have never talked to Marty Havlat or his agent about a contract extension. I empower people to make those decisions, so for anybody to intimate or infer that I, a civilian, would be making decisions on Marian Hossa or Marty Havlat, it’s preposterous. … I don’t know what really Marty was told. I don’t know because I haven’t spoken to him. … Once the decision was made to go with Marian Hossa, it was a hockey operations decision. … He may be misinformed.”

Havlat was supposed to call me this morning, but Dale Tallon has begged him to stand down since the TSN story. So I don’t know if he’ll give me permission to write what he’s told me, but I can tell you his big beef has not yet been made public and it’s very interesting.

As for the Wild schedule, I’ll hit publish on this blog at 2 p.m. stat. I’ll also toss up another Wild-related blog tonight or tomorrow morning, and then adios amigos for a long time.

In the wake of Dale Tallon being fired by the Chicago Blackhawks, newly-signed Wild winger Martin Havlat sent out a string of tweets today from his Twitter account similar to what he alluded on the night of July 1 after signing with the Wild.

A lot of things happened in the end there in Chicago that Havlat would love to get off his chest. It has zero to do with Tallon, whom he and his agent adore. I talked to Havlat about this two weeks ago. Until I’m given permission by him to write it, I can’t. He’s sleeping on it and I expect to talk to him again Wednesday.

I’ve been in touch with Havlat and his agent today and they want to make it abundantly clear that what’s bothering him shouldn’t be construed as a slap in the face to Wild owner Craig Leipold, GM Chuck Fletcher, his new teammates and Wild fans. He wants to be in Minnesota and hopes what he’s been saying doesn’t appear as disloyalty to his new home. He says he’s excited to start anew and will devote himself entirely to the Wild. 

On a side note, and unrelated partially to Havlat, as I mentioned on the blog this morning, the QO fiasco just gave them an excuse to fire Tallon, and it’s hard to believe the GM of the team had any role in QO’s being sent out. That’s what you have assistant GM’s and hockey ops people for. Regardless, always loyal, Tallon took the blame.

But as I mentioned on the blog this morning, there’s a lot of political things going on upstairs in that organization, and that’s why Rick Dudley quit last month as assistant GM and why Tallon was fired yesterday.

Below are Havlat’s tweets from earlier Tuesday 

By telling truth, don’t want people to think I’m bitter. Everyone in Minn has been awesome, they believe in me and I won’t let them down
about 2 hours ago from web   

 Want to be clear. I loved my time in Chicago but moved on. Very excited about Minny,going to give everything I have to the Wild.
about 2 hours ago from web   

Just so everyone begins to understand, Dale was like a 2nd father to me about 2 hours ago from web   
 
 Lot’s of people are telling me to stay quiet but shouldn’t the fans know the truth? It’s your loyalty, season ticket money and emotions here
about 3 hours ago from web   

 I guess everyone saw what happened to Dale….yes, the story is starting to come out but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
about 3 hours ago from web

Koivu Bros. in Minnesota?; End of the line for Gaborik, and who can afford him?; Free agents Wild may pursue

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Alert: TSN reporting Sedins re-sign in Vancouver. As I wrote below, I felt that would happen, which means now Marian Gaborik will likely be sought after by L.A., New York or Montreal.

First, you can keep track with Wild news all day Wednesday (and in the future) and throughout free agency here on www.startribune.com/russo and my Twitter at twitter.com/russostrib

I’ll also be on KFAN on Wednesday morning at 9:35 a.m.

The door swings open to free agency at 11 a.m.

The last time the Koivu Bros. were teammates on Xcel Energy Center’s ice, it was during the 2004 World Cup. Could that happen again starting next season?

Let’s put it this way: It’ll likely be up to the Koivus, or another way of saying it is, if they want to make it happen, it probably can. By the way, here’s a feature I wrote on them last October.

The Wild’s expected to make an offer, but it’s not just a sure-thing Saku Koivu signs a deal to play with Mikko.

I talked to Mikko very early this morning my time. I got him on his boat in Turku. He did voice some concerns that he and Saku have been discussing in recent days. Saku doesn’t want to step on Mikko’s toes because this is his team now, they’ve talked about what it would be like to handle the other being criticized publicly if that were to happen and they talked about the distractions it could create if every city they went to turned into a series of Koivu Bros. stories.

He admitted it’s not a big problem and that they know that stuff would die down, but those are a few of the “cons” on their pros and cons list. On the “pros” side, the fact that it would be special for Saku, 8 1/2 years older, and Mikko to play together and that their parents would absolutely love it. He said it’s a “dream” of theirs. You can read about this in the paper.

So we will see. The Wild needs a No. 2 center, whether it’s through acquisition, or perhaps Pierre-Marc Bouchard moving over to the left one slot. Nik Antropov, I guess, is somebody to pursue, but I’m not a big fan. After that, not much in UFA market. Fletcher would have gone after Vik Kozlov, but he’s signed in Russia.

The Wild has a number of holes to fill, and if you go out and sign Marian Hossa or the Sedin Twins, that severely handicaps doing much else. That’s why I think Mike Cammalleri (he can play center, too) or Martin Havlat may be the most logical players to pursue, although Cammalleri could be Toronto bound and receive a really inflated contract. 

I hear Havlat, if he gets to 11 a.m. unsigned (and contrary to reports, he was not signed tonight), would have great interest in Minnesota. He’s had lots of injury problems in the past, but as he proved last year, when he’s healthy, he’s a tremendously talented and dominant hockey player. He’s also put up solid playoff numbers.

Because of his history, you might be able to get him in the $5 million range, which means it leaves room to sign maybe Saku Koivu, a Ruslan Fedotenko perhaps (still talking to Pittsburgh) and a couple dmen — Rob Scuderi being one guy I hear would be interested in coming to Minnesota. And considering Fletcher’s history with Scuderi, you can bet there’d be interest from the Wild’s point of view.

Fletcher loves Fedotenko, by the way, who just wins Cups in this league. Havlat and Fedotenko have the same agent, too, in Allan Walsh, so maybe you can kill two birds with one stone.  

As for other dmen, if Scuderi’s a no-go, I’d go after Francois Beauchemin. I know there’s a clamoring for Jordan Leopold because of his history here at the U, but I think Fletcher will be looking for more physical dmen than offensive dmen because the Wild is rich in offensive, mobile dmen and as we all know short on the other type.

Some guys that could fit that are Jaroslav Spacek, Karlis Skrastins, Denis Gauthier, Hal Gill and Mikko’s favorite, Mattias Ohlund. Want a Minnesotan? How ’bout Andrew Alberts?

I think Mike Komisarek is too expensive, and man, he did not impress in the playoffs. I see Scuderi’s door being blown over by the Wild. 

It’s going to be a very interesting free-agent market because there’s only about 10 teams that can legimately take on a huge contract.

Even with today’s Scott Gomez pickup, Montreal has tons of cap room. Vancouver, Toronto, the Rangers, Dallas, the Islanders, L.A., and the Wild have the most flexibility in the league. Also, if the Sedins don’t re-sign in Vancouver, they might really be in for a reality check as far as this package deal goes. Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto were the only teams maybe, and now Montreal is likely out because I think they’ll go after a single star now (i.e. Gaborik or Hossa). That’s why I really feel sanity’s going to prevail and Sedins re-sign in Van.

Speaking of that, Marian Gaborik’s heading to free agency obviously. Chuck Fletcher and Ron Salcer had a lengthy conversation today I’m told and it went nowhere. As I mentioned the other day, Gaborik turned down that $78.5 million deal because of several concerns he had about the direction of the team. Even though most those concerns are alleviated with the departures of Lemaire and Risebrough, it was going to be impossible to sign him this close to free agency and it appears as if Salcer made that clear to Fletcher during their initial conversation a few weeks ago.

I think Montreal, LA, Vancouver and the Rangers (unless it acquires Heatley tonight as is rumored in some circles) plan to pursue Gaborik. If the Rangers trade for Heatley and Vancouver re-signs the Sedins, suddenly Gaborik starts to get squeezed a bit. But I’m starting to think Montreal is going to be hot after him, with the Rangers if they don’t get Heatley tonight (Edmonton’s got the inside track, but as of 9:10, it’s been hung up because Heatley hasn’t waived no-trade yet, I’m told).

Fletcher has tried to trade Gaborik’s rights so far to no avail. The Vancouver Province story of the house did not help because why would anybody trade for his rights if there’s an impression he’s already found a home. And at this late juncture, why would you give a roll of tape when you know that Ron Salcer’s not exactly the easiest guy to negotiate with and free agency’s in 14 hours?

This is going to be an interesting market because like they always do, the top guys should get their term and their money. The middle of the range guys could get squeezed because like I’ve said, there’s a lot of money in the system and only so many teams that can sign guys to big contracts. And if all of a sudden the Kessels of the world and one of the San Jose forwards (Clowe or Marleau) are traded, that means fewer spots elsewhere for other players.

And Fletcher today again made mention that it’s not just free agency where he could fill holes. It could be via the trade route.

Asked about Craig Leipold’s comments the other day about wanting to get some top players here, Fletcher said, “He wants to win. He wants to have a team that is a competing team right from the get-go next year. I think what he’s expressed to me is consistent with what he’s expressed to you guys. He wants to win. But in terms of whether we do things through free agency or trades or however we get there, I don’t know if that’s as important as the fact we get there.”

OK, talk to you throughout Wednesday.

Wild wants to host NHL Entry Draft; RFA refresher

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Monday morning update: Since I’ll be in the air when the Wild announces which restricted free agents it qualifies to retain their rights, I thought I’d give you an explanation. Essentially, by 4 p.m., teams must tender qualifying offers to restricted free agents. If they don’t, those players become unrestricted free agents when free agency opens Monday and they’re free to sign with any team in the league.

Basically, to retain a players rights today, teams must offer 10-percent raises on players who made $660,000 or less last season, 5 percent raises on players who made $660,000-$1 million and no raise on players who made more than $1 million.

So, for instance, Kyle Brodziak made $497,500, so he’s got to be offered a $49,750 raise (10 percent). Benoit Pouliot’s salary if he had played a full year in the NHL would have been $765,000 (not including bonuses). So he’s got to be offered a 5 percent raise or a contract of $803,250. Josh Harding must be offered a 5 percent raise of $725,000. Dan Fritsche made $875,000, so to qualify him, he’d have to be offered a contract of $918,750 (5 percent raise).

And remember, this is just to keep them. This is before you actually negotiate the contract. If you take a look at the above, you’ll see a very good reason why the Wild might not qualify Fritsche today. He plays the same role as Brodziak might play, yet just to keep him, you’d have to offer him almost $1 million or $371,500 more than Brodziak to perhaps play the same role. If you let Fritsche go, that $918,750 could come in very handy when you’re trying to sign players in free agency.

Again though, we’ll find out for sure today. I was told by a few sources yesterday that Chuck Fletcher was trying to trade Fritsche the last few weeks. Obviously he was unable to, which could be a further clue that he might be let go today. 

Sunday night blog: Good day from Vermont, where I spent part of the day on Lake Champlain. Other than the gnats, it was a good way to decompress from a busy week.

Here are the links from Sunday’s articles:

Here is the Insider on owner Craig Leipold talking about having the money to spend in free agency

Here is the Kyle Brodziak trade story

Here is the notebook on drafting two Shattuck-St. Mary’s roommates and improving the goalie depth of the club

Here is the roster situation

I’ll be flying home Monday, and as I’ve mentioned, there will at least be the news of the restricted free agents. When that comes out and perhaps other news, if I’m in the air, the blog will be updated from the office. So no worries.

Just thought I’d clean out my draft notebook from the weekend:

– Owner Craig Leipold loves the passion and hype and hoopla that comes with the draft, and he told me he’s looking to soon bring one to Minnesota for the Wild to host. Remember, the Nashville Predators — Leipold’s previous team — hosted the 2003 draft.

– GM Chuck Fletcher on free agency: “We’ve had some ideas what we wanted to do in free agency all along if we weren’t able to make trades and we have some things we can do internally too with player shifting to different areas. I think we have some flexibility what can we do. I do believe having cap space is a very valuable commodity. I do believe if we have cap space, at some point we will  be rewarded. I’m not sure we have to fill every hole the first week of July but what will happen will be a product of which way the market goes. If it’s a buyers market, hopefully we do well.”

I did want to make one note on free agency after reading the Insider again today. I know I mentioned a lot of names in there. I wanted to make clear though if the Wild gets a star, that obviously inhibits other things like maybe the top defensemen I mentioned, etc. I don’t want you to think that IF they signed a Hossa or the Sedins, then they can go out AND sign a Beauchemin or a Scuderi.

The higher the price, the less money they can spend in other areas. If you looked at the updated salary chart in the paper, the Wild is roughly $13 million below the cap. However, if Colton Gillies plays in the minors, that frees up $1.04 million of cap space. However, remember, even though the cap is $56.8 million, most teams would want to be at least $2 million below.

As for the Draft……

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Live Blog: Todd Richards press conference

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Hello from Gate 1 of Xcel Energy Center. The last time I was here, sitting in this exact same setup, Chuck Fletcher was introduced as the new Wild GM. Now he’s running the show, having just introduced Todd Richards as the new coach of the franchise.

It’s a standing room only crowd here in the lobby, with Wild defenseman Brent Burns among those without chairs. Owner Craig Leipold is also standing in the back – don’t you think that he could get a seat?

In introducing Richards, Fletcher said he was “proud and excited” to do so.

“He’s a proven winner and an ideal fit for this franchise going forward,” Fletcher continued,. “He’s earned my trust and I’m confident he’s the right person to coach this franchise at this time.”

Just like Fletcher, Richards received a No. 09 Wild jersey and team cap upon being introduced.

“I am truly, truly excited and honored – and very humbled,” Richards said.

Our own Michael Russo – having some microphone issues – has opened the questioning.

Richards said as a kid growing up on metro area ponds, the Crystal native never dreamed of being a coach.

“The type of hockey we want to play is up-tempo, fast,” Richards said of his style. “You can watch teams that were in the (Stanley Cup) Finals this year and they both play the same style. We believe we have that foundation here. Defenseman have to be part of the rush. Forecheck as a group of five.”

The mics are not working, and I’m in back by the plug-ins so it’s kind of tough to hear. But I believe the topic of Richards having no NHL head coaching experience has come up.

“He’s certainly paid his dues,” Fletcher said, noting Richards’ six years in the AHL. “Talent is the most important thing. How you communicate.”

Said Richards: “In this business as coach, I’m trying to sell something to the players. And I think they’ll buy it.”

Richards’ two sons, 13 and 11 years old both play hockey. He was asked about possibly bringing Minnesota players to the Wild roster.

“Minnesota is rich in hockey players,” he said. “Playing (college) at Minnesota, there was pride in having a roster of all Minnesotans. Us (the Wild) as an organization, it’s about the best fit for the organization. If it happens to be a Minnesota player, that’s great.”

Of course, the Marian Gaborik situation came up. He’s an unrestricted free agent as of July 1.

“It’ll be nice to have a coach to present as a part of our package,” Fletcher said.

Richards has not gotten to talk with current Wild assistants or other possible candidates yet.

A good quote from Richards about receiving the final offer from Fletcher: “It wasn’t like I hung up the phone and said, ‘I have to think about this for a half hour.’”

He had his fingers crossed hoping he would be the one for the job.

Well, that’s it. Russo and columnist Jim Souhan will have it all covered in tomorrow’s paper.

For those fortunate enough to watch and/or listen to the presser live – what are your early thoughts on the new coach?

So, why Richards?; Thoughts on Tom Lynn’s dismissal

Monday, June 15th, 2009

First, here is the Todd Richards story for Tuesday’s editions

And, here is the player reaction sidebar and Tom Lynn dismissal short (the Chuck Fletcher quote on Schultz was from a sitdown I had with him last Thursday). 

During the Wild’s month-long GM search, owner Craig Leipold had in-person interviewees give them a list of three coaching candidates they’d likely rank 1-2-3 if they had the opportunity to hire one in Minnesota (at least, this is what I’m told by sources).

As you know by my coverage, I talked to a horde of GM candidates over those several weeks, and I asked them the same question. Of the six or seven that did answer that question for me, Todd Richards was on at least five of the lists, including a few that actually got in-person interviews. He was considered that much of an up-and-comer in his incredible fast track from player (2002) to coach.

So you know Leipold heard this name a lot during that month and thus is very comfortable with this hire, and trust me, this was all Chuck Fletcher. As Leipold said at his news conference to introduce Fletcher, he gave the new GM full authority to build his own Stanley Cup-caliber team from top to bottom. That meant final authority on coaches, players and his hockey ops and scouting departments — as proven by today’s firing of longtime assistant GM Tom Lynn.

So, why Richards? I’ve talked to many of his friends and colleagues the last month because I was 100 percent positive he’d top Fletcher’s coaching search list in particular. So I feel I’ve gotten at least a little glimpse into what type of person he is and his personality (and by the way, everybody says he’s just a great guy with a lot of character). 

First and foremost,

Fletcher feels it imperative to have a close working relationship with the new coach (Fletcher’s going to be around the team every single game the first half of the season), and the two of them became very close and grew a mutual respect for each other after Fletcher hired him in Wilkes-Barre. In fact, Fletcher recommended that Richards stay in Wilkes-Barre instead of taking the San Jose job because he was so certain he’d soon be an NHL coach. Ironically, Michel Therrien was eventually fired by the Penguins, and Richards would have gotten the job in Pittsburgh instead of Dan Bylsma. Well, who would have thought, but Fletcher gets the Wild job and Richards get to return to his hometown.

Second, Richards is an offensive-minded coach. He believes in pursuing the puck and attacking with it. He believes in hard-nosed hockey, up-tempo hockey and an activating blue line. And whattyaknow, Fletcher believes in the same type of hockey. So there’s an immediate mesh.

Third, and this could be the most important,

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