Doug Risebrough


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

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.

So, who does the Wild Draft (Schroeder, Leddy, somebody else?); Trade chatter

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Couple adds: Will be on KSTP at 6 pm tonight, live chat at 10 am Friday and Doug Risebrough had his second interview for the Panthers GM vacancy here in Montreal today.

Checking in with you again late this afternoon from the beautiful Montreal, although I’ve sort of been holed up in my hotel most of the day other than the hour or so to go hunt down Jacques Lemaire.

As of now, Chuck Fletcher is still trying to make a trade, with the emphasis on the trying. As proof by the crickets throughout the NHL, it’s not easy making a trade right now, not when as a colleague said to me today, there’s about 150 players on the block, of which 100 nobody wants. The problem I am sensing from the numerous execs I’ve talked to is sort of what I alluded either in an article or the blog or the Twitter — I don’t know, it all sort of runs together.

There are lots of teams looking to get rid of really good players, but good players with really big contracts. So those teams automatically want picks and prospects back, which as you know if you’ve been reading the Strib, the Wild isn’t exactly filled to the brim with. So, hence Fletcher’s problem. And hence, the league’s problem. You can’t just acquire a $4 million player in today’s game without giving up some dough.

He’s inquired about nearly 40 players, including Phil Kessel and Dany Heatley. But there are many others that I either don’t know about or don’t want to write because it’s just rumor, so who knows what Fletcher gets done — or quite frankly, if Fletcher gets something done.

I’ve been told Ottawa’s cut its targeted teams down to seven. I’ve been told the Wild is one of them. But I’ve also been told L.A.’s hot after him and would consider giving up winger Alex Frolov, a quality defenseman and the fifth pick, which let’s be honest, the Wild can’t contend with.

Right now, I’m not aware of any Wild trade being done tonight, although as I reminded Fletcher yesterday, the Panthers once made me sprint — OK, walk fast — back to this very hotel at about 10 p.m. one night in 1998 after executing the blockbuster of all blockbusters — Esa Tikkanen for Dwayne Hay.

Have I ever told you the story about Esa Tikkanen screaming at me in the Panthers’ locker room after I lowered the radio because I was trying to interview the low-talking Scott Mellanby? It’s a great story. One day I’ll you.

I keep hearing from everybody he’s still using Josh Harding at the big bait, mostly with Edmonton, St. Louis and Toronto. But again, Harding is restricted free agent, so if Fletcher doesn’t get the deal he wants, there’s no rush in trading him. You can wait until later this summer or even next season. But, he is likely eventually going to be dealt.

So, as for the Draft, …

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Gaborik buy house in Vancouver? Salcer has “no knowledge of that”

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

(updated with Fletcher quotes)

Good Tuesday evening. Coming to you live from clear, crisp Vermont, where I will spend the night before heading up to Montreal in the morning.

By the way, very exciting day today. Know what happened on this very day 27 years ago?

Mrs. Joanne Boogaard gave birth to a strapping young lad that would ultimately become one of the NHL’s most intimidating 6-foot-7 and three-quarters-tall enforcers.

I talked with agent Ron Salcer after I landed this afternoon, and he said while the door’s not closed on the Wild with pending free agent Marian Gaborik, July 1 is “very enticing” and it’ll be awfully tough to get Gaborik to relinquish the rare opportunity of getting to speak to 29 other teams.

But Salcer said he’s had one conversation with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher but wouldn’t discuss if an offer’s been made. As I wrote last week, I’m pretty sure the Wild plans to offer Gaborik a five-year deal in the $7 million range. He turned down a 10-year, $78.5 million deal last fall because he didn’t want to commit to 10 years in Minnesota when he wasn’t comfortable with the direction of the team on and off the ice. That’s from well-placed sources.

Everything’s changed since with Jacques Lemaire and Doug Risebrough gone, which actually does intrigue Gaborik. However, with free agency eight days away, if Gaborik decides to stay here, as I’ve said over and over again on here, I would be beyond shocked.

Plus, as you can see at this link, the Vancouver Province’s Jason Botchford is reporting that Gaborik’s bought a house in Vancouver. I’ve talked to Jason and he’s citing unidentified sources but feels like he’s very much confirmed this. I haven’t been able to confirm and Salcer said he has no knowledge.

IF true, IF there’s been contact made with Gaborik and he has some sort of inside information that he’s going to sign with Vancouver that he is comfortable enough to buy a home there, it should be a very interesting couple weeks. Teams are not permitted to contact pending free agents until 11 a.m. CDT July 1. That is tampering — plain and simple.

And if you remember, the Wild accused the Canucks of tampering last year with Pavol Demitra before he signed a two-year, $8 million deal with Vancouver.

It was confirmed that Demitra was in Vancouver looking for homes well in advance of free agency, and his former agent is now the Canucks’ GM, Mike Gillis. The league looked into the situation at the Draft and eventually dropped the Wild’s charge around the time Demitra signed there.

If a team is ever found guilty of tampering, it can be fined lots of mula and draft picks.

Gaborik couldn’t be reached for comment, so I wasn’t able to ask him about the Province’s report.

But Salcer did speak to me.

Asked if Gaborik bought a home in Vancouver, Salcer said, “I have no knowledge of that at all. I know nothing about that. Nothing.”

Asked if he’s had conversations with Gillis, Salcer said, “None.”

Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t comment on the Gaborik situation, other than to say he feels it important to keep everything close to the vest at this point.

“There’s nothing I can comment on with the whole Gaborik situation,” Fletcher said. “I’m just going to work through things and we’ll see how it plays out.”

However, he continues to have trade talks with several teams and is hoping to make a move or two in advance of or at the Draft itself. He continues to be entrenched in Dany Heatley talks, which besides the assets, would cost any team a $4 million signing bonus July 1 and then a $4 million salary during the season.

Ottawa GM Bryan Murray has made clear that if the Sens pay that signing bonus, he’s staying there this season. So something should happen at the Draft.

But Fletcher’s involved in a number of things. He’s still definitely dangling Josh Harding. By the way, Niklas Backstrom’s no-trade doesn’t kick in until July 1, but Fletcher says he’s not entertaining trading him: ”No. I haven’t. I mean, no. Nik’s our goalie. Nik’s our goalie for next year.”  

Fletcher’s keeping everything close to the vest.

“There’s always lots and lots of talk and things tend to happen at the Draft itself or a day or two before,” said Fletcher, who arrived in Montreal on Tuesday. “It’s certainly playing to form. You just don’t know. Everybody is talking to everybody, so you never know how serious things are.

“What I’m finding is you talk to a team one week and the next week things may have changed. So there’s things certainly I’m focused on and we’re having lots of conversations.”

Wild looking to wheel and deal; Harding wants to be No. 1

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

(corrected)

Thought I’d start a fresh blog, so here be it:

Here are the weekend stories starting with Fletcher’s looking to wheel and deal 

AND

Josh Harding being open to a trade because he wants to be a No. 1

I’ll come on here later and blog some more. I’m hoping to talk to Chuck Fletcher today, but I can’t make any clearer that trading for Dany Heatley won’t be easy because of the amount of assets he’d have to give up. Plus, Heatley would have to waive his no-trade clause to come here and of the list of 10 or so teams he gave Ottawa, it’s unclear as to whether Minnesota’s on that list.

Also, I know 100 percent, Ottawa IS NOT interested in Josh Harding. Bryan Murray made his goalie trade when he acquired Pascal Leclaire at last season’s trade deadline.

Also, I keep getting emails and see comments on the stories about the idea of trading Niklas Backstrom. Remember, he’s got a two-year no-trade clause, then if he reaches certain criteria, that no-trade clause continues.

Lastly, here’s an interesting link on the Habs’ web site examining the Draft. The Wild has had more man games from draft picks than any team in the league since 2000. Of course, there’s lots of ways this can be analyzed; as an expansion team, the Wild had no other choice, plus Doug Risebrough’s philosophy of just sticking kids of the team.

That is a thing of the past, by the way. Chuck Fletcher has made extremely clear kids can be on the team, but they will have to MAKE the team. For instance, because Colton Gillies was on the roster for more than 40 games, his seven-year free agency clock started. However, if he plays in the minors next season (good possibility), that DOES NOT count toward free agency but his entry-level contract.

I bolded the above graph because it is now correct. I had it way wrong initially. 

Because James Sheppard has played 160 games, he can’t play in the minors without clearing waivers.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll be back on later. I’ll be mostly out of pocket Tuesday unless there’s hard news. I’m leaving for the Draft, but purposely taking the long way to Montreal.

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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