Free Agency


Wild signs D Shane Hnidy; Bouchard looking more and more like No. 2 center; Boogey-Havlat to fight for No. 24?; Coaching staff set

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

(updated) 

How excited is “Sheriff” Shane Hnidy to be a member of the Minnesota Wild this afternoon? He’s in the bush of Northern Manitoba fishing. I called his home number, got his wife and she told me he was out of town until Sunday and virtually unreachable. 

Next thing I know, I get a phone call two minutes later with about 17 numbers on the caller I.D.

It was Hnidy calling me from a satellite phone.

Hnidy, who lives eight hours north of here, feels like he just signed with his hometown team. He’s known throughout the league as a character, heart-and-soul, sandpaper guy. Hard hits, gets into a handul of fights a year.

Here’s a YouTube clip worth watching simply for the comical Jack Edwards absolutely losing his mind

So as expected, the Wild got its Nos. 4/5 and 6 with “hard” type defensemen (Greg Zanon and Hnidy) to complement the mobile, offensive types in the top-four.

This rounds out the top-seven. Barring a trade, the blue line will be Burns, Johnsson, Schultz, Zidlicky, Zanon, Hnidy, Scott.

Hnidy signed a one-year, $750,000 contract. He spent the last two years in Boston. In 477 NHL games, he has 14 goals, 57 points, is a plus-22 and 565 penalty minutes.

Also, it is looking more and more like Pierre-Marc Bouchard could be given the biggest look as the team’s No. 2 center. That, of course, is only if the Wild can’t sign Saku Koivu or can’t make a trade.

Chuck Fletcher again said today that Koivu is the only center-ice option minus a trade in free agency, and the team just continues to wait as he makes a decision. It’s up to him now, and like I said on the previous post, the team thinks he’s not signing here.

Todd Richards talked extensively today about how if the Wild doesn’t make another center pickup, he feels Bouchard “can be that guy.”

Winger Ruslan Fedotenko signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal to remain in Pittsburgh. He clearly just didn’t want to leave because I know for the fact the Wild and a number of other teams offered him multi-year deals.

Now, the Wild probably just waits until later in the summer to maybe sign another free agent or work on trades. Fletcher basically said today that Koivu is the one guy they’re still waiting on. I don’t sense a lot of interest in Alex Tanguay or Ales Kotalik. Again, you don’t build a team to sign players just for the sake of signing players. You build teams with the right guys, and to get stuck with a huge Tanguay contract when there could be better options before the season, into the season or even next summer, it just makes no sense.

So, if Koivu doesn’t sign here (and as mentioned on previous blog, it’s not looking good), I wouldn’t expect much news for a little while.

Marty Havlat was introduced to the media today. I bet my life last night to a couple buddles that Marian Gaborik already offered to sell his condo to Martin Havlat. I live!!!!!!!!!!

Also, Havlat’s first conversation was going to be with Derek Boogaard to see what he could do to entice No. 24 to leave his body. Boogaard had a good line to me, … which you can read in the paper :)

Update: Boogaard won; Havlat will wear 14

Development camp next week. Tyler Cuma was in, looked great and said his knee feels great.

Also, Mike Ramsey, Dave Barr (old Colorado assistant), Matt Shaw and Bob Mason will make up next year’s coaching staff. Add: Strength coach Kirk Olson did not have his contract renewed.

Here’s a funny one for you, which explains a major typo in today’s paper. Wild can never sign or play Brian Boucher. When I write Boucher in my MS word, it automatically changes it to Bouchard.

Another thing that’s been on my mind the last few days? Wonder how Gaborik’s groins will react to by far the worst ice in the NHL — Madison Square Garden?

Add: Wild minor-leaguer Corey Locke signed with the Rangers.

All this and much more in Saturday’s paper.

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.

Chuck Fletcher: “Negotiations ongoing with Saku”

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Just got off a conference call with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, and shockingly, Fletcher openly admitted that he’s having ongoing negotiations with free agent Saku Koivu and talked extensively about Koivu.

Of course, we all know that the Wild is entrenched in trying to land Koivu. But take it from somebody who’s known Fletcher for 14 years: It’s amazing Fletcher would be so up front about that.

I’ll transcribe and throw some more highlights up in a sec, but some real quick ones:

– Almost immediately after 11, agent Allan Walsh called the Wild and informed the team Havlat wanted to sign here. Greg Zanon also called the Wild, and that meant a lot to Fletcher because there’s no doubt in Fletcher’s mind they could have gotten better deals elsewhere.

– Fletcher admitted he felt pressure last night to get Havlat done and it would have been riskier not signing him than signing him to the six-year deal.

– Fletcher admitted he’s working on other things and would like to get one more defenseman and one more scoring forward.

– If Koivu doesn’t sign, he will likely go into camp with the current centermen because the rest of the free-agent centers aren’t attractive as No. 2 guys.

I’ll throw quotes up soon. There could be news tonight. Also, I’ll be on KSTP at 6:05 p.m.

Saku Koivu update; Gaborik conference call comments

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Good afternoon. I know you all are anxious, but right now, the Wild is continuing to try to sign Saku Koivu.

I hear from sources that the hang-up could be term, and Saku Koivu’s desire for a fourth year. But this isn’t coming from his side or the Wild; it’s coming from another team who originally inquired about Koivu, so I should make clear to you that as of now, I haven’t reported it out to 100 percent certainty.

But this is the scuttlebutt out there right now.

One team that does make sense for Koivu is Anaheim because of his very close friendship with Teemu Selanne. But here’s the thing there: Selanne’s essentially on year-to-year contracts, so Koivu going there just for him makes little sense because Selanne could retire in a year or two. But the Ducks definitely need a No. 2 center and there’s not a lot left other than Mike Comrie, Jason Williams , Radek Bonk and Chad LaRose (and those are pushing the No. 2 center role).

I can tell you this via sources: Chuck Fletcher did call Mikko Koivu yesterday to ask his thoughts about playing with Saku, and Mikko gave Chuck the A-OK to pursue his brother. If you read my story in yesterday’s paper, you can see some of Mikko’s quotes to me from Tuesday. Just a late add, in that story, you can see Mikko say we’ll know more by the end of the week. Mikko said his brother would really take his time with his family to determine the best fit. Saku’s a smart guy, so it’s not a shock that he’s taking time to also think this through.

So we will see as the day continues. Wild is definitely still kicking tires on Ruslan Fedotenko, I’m told.

I’ve got a lot more thoughts on where the Wild plans to go from here, but before I throw that out there, let’s see how the day continues because a lot really depends on if they can sign Koivu. If they can’t, do you sign one of those other centers or do you maybe just go into camp and try Bouchard or Pouliot or Sheppard at the No. 2 spot or maybe there’s a potential trade down the pike this offseason? 

Also, I got on the tail end of the Marian Gaborik conference call with the Rangers writers. Here are some snippets (Glen Sather sent one his European scouts to Gaborik’s home in Slovakia with a recruiting video, which helped greatly):

Turning point in career? “Of course. I’ve only experienced playing in the NHL for one team, and it was for nine years in Minnesota. I had a great time there. Obviously this is a big change and a big opportunity. Life brings a lot of changes, and this is one of them. It’s starting to hit me now that I’m becoming a Ranger. It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to this. Definitely, the page has turned yesterday and I’m starting a new hockey life pretty much.”

On whether the Wild could have kept him? “Well obviously they could, but I haven’t received any offers in their new era there, so that’s the way it is.”

Will it be difficult to conceive that you won’t be here anymore? “It is what it is. I’ve moved on and now I’m a Ranger. I had a lot of great times. There are a lot of great memories. I have to thank the fans, from the coaching staff to all the players I played with. It was a great experience. Now I’m a Ranger. That’s what it is right now. I’m excited for a new opportunity.”

Did you do any investigations on what it was like to play in New York? “I’ve spoken to a lot of guys that played there. Chris Drury called me right before the market opened. I’ve talked to Martin Rucinsky, who used to play for the Rangers. I’ve talked to Marcel Hossa, and … Aaron Voros, obviously. They’ve got nothing but all the good things to say about New York. It’s a first-class organization and obviously to play in the Garden, everybody was impressed and everybody loved it. I’m looking forward to this. I’m excited.”

On health and whether teams were concerned about this? “It’s understandable some teams were concerned or worried, but I think I proven the last 11 games (10 goals, 8 assists), I had a pretty good run out there. We missed the playoffs by I think one or two points and that’s the way it goes. It was the first time for me to hit free agency. It was kind of adrenaline pumping through my veins, so it was exciting. I’m glad it’s behind me and I’m glad I’m with the Rangers now.”

On five-goal game and whether he’s spoken to Lundqvist? “(laughs) I haven’t spoken to him, but I’m sure we’re going to talk soon. That night was just unbelievable. He’s a great goaltender, but I guess when you’re in the zone and everything you touch is in, that happens sometimes. Hopefully I can have that kind of game in a Rangers uniform.”

Lastly, Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Rob Rossi emailed me and said Rob Scuderi has agreed to terms with the L.A. Kings. Wild, I was told this morning, backed out of this when it saw his term, salary demands and the fact it could get Greg Zanon at the quality $1.9 million price. 

OK, I’ll be back later hopefully with some news.

Day One Flashback: Havlat, Zanon in; Koivu likely next; Maybe Fedotenko, another defenseman

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Want to see Martin Havlat? Go to YouTube and watch some of his goals. Start with this 

A Russo’s Rants record — my sixth blog of the day and only the blog Gods know how many times I added or tweaked a line inside the other five blogs.

Here are the articles:

Martin Havlat/Greg Zanon/Potential near Saku Koivu signing article is right here

Column I wrote on Marian Gaborik’s departure is here

Gaborik timeline with the Wild, as put together by editor Mark Wollemann, is here

I promised you: BE PATIENT!

Did many of you listen? Nope, not judging by the completely out of control angst and anger and hysteria inside the below blogs today. I was honestly getting worried that some of you were about to send yourselves to the hospital or worse.

These things take time, and let’s be honest here, the Wild had a productive day.

This is the reality: When you consider the Sedin Twins didn’t hit free agency and Marian Gaborik was out of play for Minnesota, there were only three elite free agents left for 30 teams to pursue — Marian Hossa, Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat. 

Hossa signed for 12 years in Chicago and seemed to target the Hawks, so the Wild didn’t have a shot like seemingly 28 other teams. Cammalleri chose to go to Montreal. I just spent five days in Montreal; hard to blame the guy.

And the Wild — yes, the Minnesota Wild — landed the third — Havlat – and at a pretty quality price at $5 million per (4, 5, 5, 5, 5 and 6 actually) because it allows the team to do other things. I think I laid out in Wednesday’s Insider fairly well that Havlat was the most logical for the Wild to go after and that sources said he wanted to come here.

And like I laid out for you in the same column, I promise you, the Wild is not done. The team expects a decision from Saku Koivu in the morning, sources say, and if Koivu does go elsewhere, the Wild will decide how to proceed and spend that money elsewhere. But I’d be surprised at this point if Koivu doesn’t sign.

The Wild is still in on Ruslan Fedotenko, sources say, and it still must acquire a defenseman. Could Rob Scuderi or Francois Beachemin still be the guy? Depends largely on whether Koivu signs, and if so, what’s the price? If he does sign, I’d think those guys would be too expensive unless the Wild dumps some salary in a trade. And with Burns, Johnsson, Zidlicky, Schultz and Zanon signed, Wild may be seeking more of a 5 or 6 than another $3 or $4 million defenseman.

Could that be a Jordan Leopold, an Andrew Alberts? Not sure, but if you scour the free-agent lists, there are still some quality 5′s and 6′s out there. Maybe a Skrastins. 

Greg Zanon could amount to being a real solid signing, but just because it was released first, it seemed some fans lost their skulls like the Wild went home for the day or something. I don’t know Zanon well personally, but I’ve watched this guy play a lot and he’s a shot-blocking maniac. In fact, sometimes he gets a little too giddy at launching his body in front of pucks.

I talked to Havlat tonight on the phone, which I appreciated, because he was tired and wasn’t calling any other reporters back. As you could tell by his tweets in the blog below, he left Chicago a bitter guy. I talked to him about it extensively, but as far as what I’m able to write, he’d prefer to look forward. He’s very excited about signing here and is confident his injury woes are behind him.

As for his quotes, you can check out the article here.

Again, how good will this signing be? Largely depends on his health because in the past, he’s been every bit an injury risk as Gaborik. But if he’s healthy, Havlat’s a dynamic, dominant player at times. His contract has a no-move clause the first five years; last year is a no-move and limited no-trade.

OK, it was a fun day. I know earlier on there wasn’t a lot of news being flowed to you by me, which probably was frustrating to you, but that’s how it is on free agency day — well, when you’re not being sent emails directly from the NHL like the TV networks.

Agents and teams are busy during the day, and then later on when things quiet down, reporters like me can get to the news.

That’s why you knew about Havlat on here well before anywhere else, as well as Koivu. Self-serving, yes, but it was a frustrating day for me too, especially when you see the type of unethical stuff I’m starting to routinely see out there by “journalists” in this Internet age.

OK, it’s been a really long day. It’ll be another news-filled day Thursday, so talk to you then.

It’s Official: Wild signs Havlat; Wild hard at work on Koivu

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

UPDATE: Star Tribune sources say the Wild is working on Saku Koivu as we speak. Still could be done tonight. Also, Havlat just gave me a ring. Quotes up later.

——————————————————- 

As reported by the Star Tribune earlier this evening, the Wild has signed Martin Havlat to a six-year, $30 million deal.

“We are excited to add the speed and scoring of Martin Havlat to our lineup,” said Fletcher. “He is a terrific two-way player.”
 
Havlat, 28 (4/19/81), led the Chicago Blackhawks with a career-high 77 points (29-48=77) while skating in a career-high 81 games in the 2008-09 season. He ranked ninth in the NHL in plus-minus (plus-29). Havlat added 15 points (5-10=15) in 16 Stanley Cup playoff games as the Blackhawks advanced to the Western Conference finals. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound native of Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic, has recorded 396 points (169-227=396), a plus-87 rating, 53 power play goals and 31 game-winning goals in 470 NHL games in eight seasons with Ottawa and Chicago. Havlat participated in the NHL All-Star Game in the 2006-07 season, when he led Chicago in goals (25), assists (32) and points (57) despite appearing in just 56 games. He was a member of the NHL’s All-Rookie team in 2000-01 and played for the Czech Republic at the 2002 Olympics.
 
 Havlat was Ottawa’s first-round pick (No. 26 overall) in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.

In some tweets just now, Havlat said, “Excited to be in Minny where I was welcomed and appreciated by management. The real story about what happened in Chicago to come out.”

“Thanks to all Hawks fans for your love and support over the last 3 years. Will never forget your generousity and the great playoff run!”

“Hossa is a good friend and I am happy for him.”

“There’s something to be said for loyalty and honor.”

Yikes! Just a hunch, but Russo thinks Havlat’s not pleased with the Blackhawks letting him go and signing Hossa.