Eric Belanger


Ducks sign Saku Koivu, turns down better term, money from the Wild

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

UPDATE: Kurtis Foster has signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay.

UPDATE: Got to ask Saku a few questions on his presser. Quotes below, but as you’ll see, short of the Wild trading Mikko Koivu, the Wild had no shot in the end. Saku decided he just didn’t feel comfortable playing with his brother.

As you probably saw on the previous blog or my Twitter, Saku Koivu has indeed signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Anaheim Ducks — proof positive there’s nothing the Wild could have done to sweeten that pot. 

If somebody doesn’t want to play here, he doesn’t; there’s no use chasing your own tail and throwing money and term if there are other factors at play. He could’ve gotten a better deal in Minny — sources say the deal would have been in the $4 million annual range on a two-year deal, in the $3-million-plus range on a three-year deal.

As I warned you before last weekend, the Wild started to get the impression things were heading south with negotiations with Koivu. To me, this contract with Anaheim shows two things — 1) he wants to play with buddy Teemu Selanne and only signed for one year because Selanne claims this time he will really retire in one year; 2) there were serious concerns amongst the Koivu Bros. about playing together.

Now you know why I wrote that July 1 column saying the Koivu’s parents wanted them to play together, but “if only it were that simple.”

Where does this leave the Wild? Exactly where GM Chuck Fletcher said he’d be the other day with Koivu did not sign (here’s the link). He’ll continue to look at the trade route for a No. 2 center, and if that can’t be done before the season, the internal options remain James Sheppard, Benoit Pouliot or Eric Belanger — or moving Pierre-Marc Bouchard to the middle.

I briefly talked to Bouchard today, but I was driving at the time. I hope to speak to him on the record later this afternoon, but he was a natural center before the NHL and I think he’s willing to give it a try again in training camp.

The Wild will not look at the free-agent route now at No. 2 center. Contrary to Internet rumors, the Wild IS NOT signing Mike Comrie, I’ve been told.

As you saw in the blog below, columnist Jim Souhan sat down with Marian Gaborik this morning for a one-on-one. That’ll be in tomorrow’s paper, as well as a Koivu/maybe Bouchard story. Also, the Wild will announce later it’s signed Jaime Sifers and Jamie Fraser to two-way contracts. Both have played some NHL games but are likely Houston-bound.

Update: Here are quotes from Saku on Minny:

On not signing in Minnesota: “We spoke to Minnesota a few times. All the talks went very well, but it was more personal reasons. I didn’t feel comfortable. I kind of felt that Minnesota’s Mikko’s place at this point. I wanted him to have his own privacy in a way and make his own name and career. And I just felt there were too many risks for us as brothers and as family members to join on the same team and kind of compete for the same ice time. And I felt we’re better off playing somewhere else.”Did Mikko understand this because it seems like he was intrigued by being teammates: “I think Mikko was really excited about the possibility for us playing on the same team and I can’t deny, if you really think about the possibilities and only the positive side, it would have been a pretty exciting thing. But I looked at it in, I guess, a more negative way and I was thinking, ‘what if this happens or what if things won’t work out?’ And right now, we have such a great relationship and I was too afraid to challenge that. You never know what is going to happen. For me, this was a safer option and I felt myself, I felt more comfortable.

“When I spoke to Mikko today, he understood totally. I guess I looked at things as more of an older brother and I wanted to protect him in a way and I felt there were too many risks for me to sign there.”

But isn’t it riskier taking a one-year than the multi-years the Wild offered? “I felt that the fit for the team in Anaheim and for myself, it was perfect for a one-year deal. We’re going from one extreme coming from Montreal to a very different lifestyle, different weather and hockey not being as big as it is in Montreal. At this point in my career, being an older player and with my family, I felt I wanted to have control for our future. Obviously I’m hoping and I’m confident things will work out and hopefully I play many years in Anaheim. I felt it was an easier decision for me to take it a year at a time at this point and see how everything works out, how we like it there. And then if everything works out well, then we can spend many years hopefully to come. “

SIFERS, FRASER BIOS FROM PRESS RELEASE

Fraser, 23 (11/17/85), played one game with the New York Islanders in 2008-09, making his NHL debut April 4 versus Tampa Bay. Fraser posted 21 points (7-14=21) and 30 penalty minutes (PIM) in 66 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League (AHL). The 6-foot-1, 200-pound native of Sarnia, Ont., played junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Brampton Battalion and Sarnia Sting. He was originally signed by the Islanders on Feb. 22, 2007.

Sifers, 26 (1/18/83), recorded two assists and 18 PIM in 23 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2008-09 season. He also posted 20 points (4-16=20) and 47 PIM in 43 games for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound native of Stratford, Conn., played collegiately at the University of Vermont, where he was an ECAC Second All-Star Team selection in 2005. Sifers was signed as a free agent by Toronto on July 20, 2006.

Friday morning check-in; July 12 development camp scrimmage open to public

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Real quick hello.

I’ll be heading to the Martin Havlat presser at the arena this early afternoon. It’ll be more of an informal meet-and-greet in the locker room mostly for the TV cameras, radio mikes and newspaper photogs because the print media’s already gotten him and the electronic media hasn’t been able to.

Nothing new right now on Saku Koivu or Ruslan Fedotenko.

As mentioned in the earlier post, Koivu to Minny not looking good right now. Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s anything more the Wild can do to sweeten the pot. As I wrote on the blog, I think, June 30 or July 1, the Wild was going to make an offer and if the Koivus wanted to make it happen, they could.

But as Mikko expressed in my story July 1, there are significant concerns there between the two brothers about playing together, and I think that is very, very real. This is Mikko’s team now, and these are two proud guys. If Saku isn’t the same player a year or two into the contract and he’s being taken to task, I think there is very real concern there how that would weigh on both of them.

And like Mikko alluded, as much as it would be a dream for them to play together this is likely Saku’s last contract. He’s looking for the best deal and best fit for his family — he’s got two young children.

So as of now, it’s not looking good. Maybe it changes, but from what I hear, the Wild’s not optimistic.

If the Wild can’t sign Koivu, it’ll likely look at the trade market or go into camp with the same centers. And quite frankly, that is the absolute correct move.

In a cap system, you can’t make mistakes and it makes zero sense to go out and sign one of the remaining centers to a long-term deal if he can’t fit the No. 2 role. That’s what the Wild needs. Dominic Moore, Manny Malhotra, Todd Marchant, these guys are real good centers. But they’re No. 3′s. The Wild already has James Sheppard, Eric Belanger and Kyle Brodziak. Those guys can handle the No. 3 and 4 roles as well as any of the guys available.

And yes, Sheppard or P-M Bouchard or even Benoit Pouliot could very well wind up at the No. 2 spot. Fletcher will undoubtedly try to acquire a No. 2 center, but this might very well have to be the solution because there’s few other options. It is not easy to acquire centers in the NHL. Look at last summer, the Wild tried for centers and just like this year, it was an awful free-agent class. It missed out on the couple available, and let’s be honest, one was Brendan Morrison and the team lucked out he chose Anaheim.

Just like last year’s class, there were only two centers even worth going after — Koivu and Nik Antropov (and that pains me to say because as I mentioned the other day, I’m not a big Antropov guy).

To me, you only sign a Mike Comrie or Jason Williams later in the summer if you can get them as bargains or you can’t make a trade. Waiting sometimes is the right move.

Same thing for wingers. There is no use overspending on a winger now when maybe you can get somebody in a trade or there’s a better free-agent crop next summer.

The Wild cannot give out bad contracts, not when you have to ensure you’ll have the money to re-sign Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns — relatively — soon.

The Wild has targeted a few guys, but if it misses, it’ll wait. It did tender an offer to Ruslan Fedotenko, and he’s expected to make a decision today. A number of teams are interested.

Lastly, the Wild starts its development camp Tuesday. Below is the roster. On Sunday, July 12, if you want a hockey fix, the prospects will be scrimmaging at the X from 12:30-2:30 p.m. Gate 1 at the X opens at noon.

54 Cody Almond  6-2     200     Left    7/24/89 Calgary, Alberta        Kelowna WHL     70      33      33      66      105     EN/07
68 Eero Elo     6-3     189     Right   4/26/90 Rauma, Finland  Lukko Rauma     Fin. Jr.         3       0       0       0       0       EN/08
47 Alexander Fallstrom6-2       195     Right   9/15/90 Gothenburg, Sweden      Shattuck St. Mary’s     H.S.    52      40      47      87      52      EN/09
56 Kristopher Foucault6-1       202     Left    12/12/90        Calgary, Alberta        Kootenay/Calgary        WHL     26      9       8       17      16      EN/08
18 Colton Gillies       6-4     196     Left    2/12/89 Surrey, British Columbia        Minnesota       NHL     45      2       5       7       18      EN/07
49 Anthony Hamburg      6-1     185     Right   8/30/91 Houston, Texas  Dallas Stars AAA        H.S.    70      29      70      99      76      EN/09
60 Erik Haula   6-0     170     Left    3/23/91 Pori, Finland   Shattuck St. Mary’s     H.S.    53      26      58      84      46      EN/09
51 Chris Hickey 6-3     185     Right   9/2/88  St. Paul, Minnesota     Wisconsin       WCHA    8       1       0       1       4       EN/06  
23 Petr Kalus   6-1     201     Left    6/29/87 Ostrava, Czechoslovakia Balashikha       KHL     17      0       2       2       106     TRD/07
57 Matt Kassian 6-4     247     Left    10/28/86        Edmonton, Alberta       Houston AHL     56      1       2       3       130     EN/05
53 Brian Kaufman        6-4     205     Left    2/25/84 Shoreview, Minnesota    Miami University        CCHA    41      10      12      22      12      FA/09
63 Morten Madsen        6-2     191     Left    1/16/87 Rodovre, Denmark        Houston AHL     56      6       16      22      33      EN/05  
65 Carson McMillan      6-2     200     Right   9/10/88 Brandon, Manitoba       Calgary WHL     68      31      41      72      93      EN/07
72 Jarod Palmer 6-0     200     Right   2/10/86 Fridley, Minnesota      Miami University        CCHA    41      8       19      27      34      INVITEE
58 Jere Sallinen        6-0     183     Left    10/26/90        Espoo, Finland  Blues Espoo     Fin. Jr.        9       1       2       3       31      EN/09
 
# DEFENSEMEN     HT      WT      SHOOTS  BORN    BIRTHPLACE      2008-09 TEAM    LGE     GP      G       A       PTS     PIM     ACQ
61 Tyler Cuma   6-1     189     Left    1/19/90 Toronto, Ontario        Ottawa  OHL     21      1       8       9       27      EN/08
73 Justin Falk  6-5     213     Left    10/11/88        Snowflake, Manitoba     Houston AHL     65      0       3       3       44      EN/07
71 Harri Ilvonen        6-2     187     Left    11/3/88 Helsinki, Finland       LeKi Lempaala   Finland 21      4       3       7       8       EN/07
48 Nick Leddy   5-11½    185     Left    3/20/91 Edina, Minnesota        Eden Prairie    H.S.    31      12      33      45      26      EN/09   
52 Sean Lorenz  6-1     198     Right   3/10/90 Littleton, Colorado     Notre Dame      CCHA    39      0       3       3       18      EN/08
59 Kyle Medvec  6-6     205     Left    6/16/88 Westminster, Colorado   Vermont HE      36      2       10      12      40      EN/06
74 Maxim Noreau 5-11    192     Right   5/14/87 Montreal, Quebec        Houston AHL     77      14      25      39      49      FA/08
64 Marco Scandella      6-3     206     Left    2/23/90 Montreal, Quebec        Val d’Or        QMJHL   58      10      27      37      64      EN/08
62 J.P. Testwuide       6-0     210     Left    11/5/84 Vail, Colorado  Denver University       WCHA    36      3       10      13      110     INVITEE
 
# GOALTENDERS    HT      WT      CATCHES BORN    BIRTHPLACE      2008-09 TEAM    LGE     GPI     W-L-OT  SO      GAA     SV%     ACQ
50 Matthew Hackett      6-2     170     Left    3/7/90  London, Ontario Plymouth        OHL     55      34-15-3 2       3.04    .913    EN/09  
70 Darcy Kuemper        6-4     195     Left    5/5/90  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Red Deer        WHL     55      21-25-8 3       2.96    .898    EN/09

Source: Saku deal appears to be going south; Best of the Rest

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

ALERT: Source: Ruslan Fedotenko to make decision Friday because Pittsburgh, which has an offer on the table, needs an answer. Wild and other teams in the fold.

As for Koivu, a number of teams interested. Anaheim is definitely involved, as is NJ and NYR, among others.

Last night, the Wild thought Saku Koivu would be signed, sealed and delivered by this morning.

Now, it appears as if it’s going nowhere, according to sources.

Agent Don Baizley said no decision is imminent and he’d reserve comment until “the situation is resolved.”

Koivu is expected to take some time and weigh his options, but he’s got a bunch of scenarios and many teams coming at him hard, and like I said, it appears the deal with the Wild is going south. 

New  Jersey is one team hot after Koivu, as well as the New York Rangers, who now that they traded Scott Gomez, really doesn’t have a center to get the puck to Marian Gaborik. Anaheim likes him, too.

The Wild wants Koivu, 34, desperately. It needs a No. 2 center, but GM Chuck Fletcher says at this point the “ball’s in his court.”

If the Wild can’t land Koivu, it likely won’t sign any of the other free-agent centers. Look at the guys below. Fletcher said it makes no sense to grab maybe a 40-point-max guy to play on the second line and then possibly inhibit an ability to grab a better player at a later date via trade. The only other top center on the market was Nik Antropov, and he signed with Atlanta at $4 million per.

So if he can’t make a trade — and he did talk trade today — he said he’s comfortable going into camp with Mikko Koivu, James Sheppard, Benoit Pouliot, Eric Belanger and Kyle Brodziak. And remember, Todd Richards plans on experimenting with Pierre-Marc Bouchard at center in camp.

This again is if it can’t land Saku Koivu or make a trade. But Saku looks bad right now, I’m hearing.

Fletcher said waiting for Koivu is not hindering his ability to do anything else.

“They probably have several conversations going and we have several conversations going. You’re always looking and you never want to close the door on other avenues. We’re not handcuffed. We’re able to move in different directions if something came up that is the right deal.” 

Other things from the Fletcher conference call today:

– He has targeted a few other players, but if he can’t get them, he’s willing to be patient because it’s bound to become a buyer’s market.

– He’d like to acquire at least one more “quality forward” and a defenseman. The defenseman could be a one-way contract or a “bunch of two-way contracts.”

– On Havlat: “Looking at what Marty did this past season would be a good indication of what he can do when he’s healthy. … He produced a lot offensively. He’s a smart player too defensively. He’s underrated in that regard, he can kill penalties, he’s a responsible player and makes solid decisions with and without the puck. He’s been a player with a track record of success in the playoffs. … There were certainly three or four offensive players who would have fit the bill well. But Marty’s 28 years old, an explosive skater with tremendous offensive skills. He can score goals, he can make plays, he can play the power play, he can kill penalties. I truly believe his best years are still ahead of him. It made an awful lot of sense.”

– Fletcher talked a lot about Havlat’s injury history and whether he had concerns. He admitted that’s a risk, but there’s a risk in everything, he said. You can read more of that in the paper Friday or on www.startribune.com/wild tonight.

– Quality free agents still on the market:

Wingers: Alex Tanguay, Alexei Kovalev, Ruslan Fedotenko Ales Kotalik, Mikael Samuelsson, Rob Niedermayer, Mike Grier, Miroslav Satan, Maxim Afinogenov, Petr Sykora, Taylor Pyatt, Stephane Veilleux.

Centers: Saku Koivu, Mike Comrie, Robert Lang, Todd Marchant, Jason Williams, P.J. Axelsson, Radek Bonk, Manny Malhotra, Dominic Moore.

Defensemen: Francois Beauchemin, Derek Morris, Kurtis Foster, Martin Skoula, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Nick Boynton, Phillipe Boucher, Greg de Vries, Christian Backman, Denis Gauthier, Dmitri Kalinin, Paul Mara, Francis Bouillon, Andrew Alberts, Dennis Seidenberg.

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.

(more…)

Thomas wins Vezina, Backstrom finishes third; Koivu just misses being Selke finalist

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Boston’s Tim Thomas won the Vezina as the NHL’s best goaltender.

“I’ve been more worried about getting my name on a roster than I’ve been about winning a Vezina Trophy,” Thomas said during his speech.

Thomas won the award, as voted by the GM’s, in a landslide with 22 first-place votes. Backstrom finished third behind Thomas and Steve Mason with one first-place vote, eight second-place votes and two third-place votes.

Mikko Koivu tied Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg for fourth in Selke voting (best defensive forward) with one first-place vote, three second-place votes, 13 third-place votes, 17 fourth-place votes and seven fifth-place votes. Antti Miettinen finished 50th in Selke voting and Eric Belanger 64th.

Martin Skoula finished 28th in Lady Byng (most gentlemanly) voting with one first-place vote. Andrew Brunette finished 39th in Lady Byng with a third-place vote and two fifths.

In First Team, Second Team All-Star voting, for centers, Mikko Koivu finished seventh in the NHL. For goalies, Backstrom finished fourth behind First Team All-Star Tim Thomas, Second Team All-Star Steve Mason and Roberto Luongo. Backstrom got 14 second-place votes and 18 third-place votes.

For results of the awards, go to NHL.com.