Josh Harding


Hockey’s on the Horizon; Catching up w/ Bruno, Burnzie, Steph, etc…

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Training camp is less than two weeks away, and amazingly, two weeks from tomorrow (Tuesday) will be the Wild’s first exhibition game in St. Louis on just the third day of training camp.

Something tells me that first lineup coach Todd Richards uses won’t be a true indication of the Wild’s actual Opening Night lineup. Just a guess. We might see a whole lot of Jaime Sifers and Jamie Fraser. Heck, the Wild might have to summon Eero Elo from the Finnish wilderness for that Blues tilt.

Yep, hockey’s just around the corner. Went down to watch a bunch of NHLers/Wild players skate this morning in the camp put on by the Octagon player rep agency. The Wild players there this morning included in no particular order Brent Burns, Owen Nolan, John Scott, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Josh Harding and Andrew Brunette. In the coming days, other Wild players expected to skate there include Derek Boogaard (just wasn’t there today), Nick Schultz (in Chicago busy firing the NHLPA Executive Director), Greg Zanon, Niklas Backstrom, Mikko Koivu and others.

Other NHLers there this morning include Florida’s Keith Ballard, Tampa Bay’s Mike Lundin, Pittsburgh’s Alex Goligoski, the Isles’ Tim Jackman, Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien, Pittsburgh’s Wyatt Smith, Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie, Montreal’s Andrew Conboy, Ben Clymer and Erik Rasmussen, among others. Mark Parrish is also skating there, but he was at the doctor today because his wife is pregnant with the couple’s second child. Parrish’s only NHL option right now could be the Islanders, but Parrish might be forced to choose between Europe and retiring.

There were also a bunch of college or high school kids there, including Josh Birkholz (Gophers), Max Gardiner (Minnetonka High, Gophers recruit), Zach Budish (Edina, incoming Gopher), Anders Lee (Edina, Notre Dame recruit), Nick Bjugstad (Blaine, Gophers recruit), Nick Mattson (Indiana, USHL; UND), Travis Boyd (U-17 US team, Gophers recruit), Seth Ambroz (Gophers recruit), Christian Isackson (St.Thomas Academy, Gophers recruit) and Nick Jensen (Green Bay, USHL; St. Cloud State recruit).

Oh!!! And Tampa Bay’s Stephane Veilleux, whose hair color resembles the Gophers’ colors I suppose, was there. I talked with Veilleux for awhile, and he had a fun summer, going to Wimbledon and visiting good chum and former Wild roommate Mikko Koivu in Finland. I’ll write more about Veilleux when the Wild visits Tampa in November, but he wanted me to thank the fans and tell you how much he’ll miss playing here. He said he badly wanted to stay but understands it’s a business.

He confirmed to me what I wrote a few days ago — he turned down a two-year deal from San Jose to take one from Tampa. He said it was an agonizing decision because he said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who used to coach him in Houston, called him two minutes after free agency began. But in the end, Veilleux was told he’d have a chance to play on the second line in Tampa. He feels he owes it to himself to give that a try. He says if you look at his history here, like when he played with Marian Gaborik every training camp during exhibition games, he was able to put up points. But the second the season started, Jacques Lemaire put him back to where the coach felt comfortable with Veilleux — on the checking line.

Veilleux says if he can have the same type of camp he normally had in Minnesota, he feels he can prove to Tampa Bay he can play with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis on the left side of that No. 2 line. If you look at Tampa’s top-six, there’s a definite left-wing slot open, so we’ll see if Veilleux can pull it off. Of course, one would think former linemate Wes Walz, a Tampa Bay assistant, knows Veilleux better than most anybody, and I’m betting coach Rick Tocchet eventually has Veilleux on that checking line where he’s proven he can be effective.

Here’s a smattering of other little tidbits:

– I shot the breeze with a number of NHLers this morning about NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly getting fired. TSN’s Darren Dreger has done a superb job covering this from the outset and he’s in Chicago, so I direct you to tsn.ca/nhl for his coverage. We’ve been hearing a clamoring of discontent for months, and it became clear this summer that Kelly was in trouble when General Counsel Ian Penny had his contract extended without Kelly’s knowledge. But there’s got to be a lot more to this than Kelly allegedly being chummier with the Commissioner’s office than the players would like. This will all come out I’m sure as the Executive Board — guys like Chris Chelios, Shawn Horcoff and Andrew Ference — and 30 player reps communicate the reasons to the membership. But since Kelly’s dismissal and reasons for it didn’t have to go to vote to all 600 or so players, I can tell you there are some very confused and concerned members.

Regardless, the players I talked to are very concerned about what they were calling the “circus” internally at the NHLPA. I’ll have a lot more on this once my daily hockey coverage begins again, but this really should be something all fans pay attention to because it appears as if the union’s gearing up for a fight with the league in the next CBA negotiations.

– Brent Burns looks like his old self. No signs of concussion or shoulder problems, smiling again, chirping opponents like that stinkin’ Pierre-Marc Bouchard and just being a presence every time he skated this morning.

– Andrew Brunette looked very good this morning, and he’s only four months from reconstructive knee surgery. He certainly had no problem schooling some of the high school kids with a couple sick passes in traffic during one shift. Brunette said physically he feels good, but now it’s just a matter of feeling comfortable on the knee and getting over the mental hurdles of stops and starts and turning. “Just knowing I can do it,” Brunette said.

– As I’m sure most of you know because the Wild’s roster has shown the change for weeks, but goalie Josh Harding is changing his number to No. 37. Trivia question for the comment section: Who’s the only Wild player to ever wear No. 37? You’ve got to have an encyclopedia Wild mind to get this answer.

The winner gets to start paying for Russo’s Rants. Congratulations. :)

What else? What else? Let me go to my twitter real quick; I tweeted while I was in the chair waiting for my oral surgeon because I knew I would forget some things.

Oh, Owen Nolan’s goatee is one thick straight line down to below his chin. If he was walking toward you at night and you didn’t know whom he was, you’d hide your pet poodle because you’d be afraid he’d kick it.

Didn’t you miss me? That … is … it … for … now.

Lots more puck talk to come, but at a later date.

Wild pursuing Tanguay; Correction on cap number; Third jersey teaser

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Wish me luck.

In 90 minutes, my wisdom teeth are going to be ripped out of their sockets with a pair of rusty pliers. At least, that’s how my dream portrayed the scene before I woke up in a cold sweat. :)

I’m hoping it won’t be that violent or painful.

As you read in this morning’s paper here, the Wild is trying to sign free agent Alex Tanguay. One correction from today’s story: I wrote the roster’s 23 players have a cap hit of $51,611,827 for 23 players excluding Colton Gillies.

Wrong.

This is why the Miami Herald’s David J. Neal always tells me, “Mike, you shouldn’t be doing math.”

Actually, the error occurred because for some reason I entered Kyle Brodziak twice in my excel file. I just re-did it and 23 players including Gillies comes out to $51,503,494 (includes Mark Parrish’s buyout). Obviously this figure is unofficial, also includes James Sheppard’s potential entry-level bonuses and could change depending on who makes the team.

As of now, the roster I’m using to determine this is:

14 Forwards: Martin Havlat, Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Eric Belanger, James Sheppard, Benoit Pouliot, Derek Boogaard, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Craig Weller, Colton Gillies.

7 Defensemen: Brent Burns, Kim Johnsson, Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Shane Hnidy, John Scott

2 Goalies: Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding

Back to Tanguay, what my little math gaffe doesn’t change is the fact that GM Chuck Fletcher doesn’t have unlimited cap space to spend on Tanguay. Fletcher decided to be patient all summer hoping that a bargain would fall into his lap. Maybe this is it.

Because of Tanguay’s shoulder injury last season and the fact that his production slipped the past two seasons, his stock fell this summer and he’s been left looking for work. Reading between the lines of what agent Ritch Winter said yesterday, it sounds as if Tanguay may sign a one-year deal so he can go to a team, try to have a “career year” and reestablish his market for a big payday next summer.

Minnesota and Tampa Bay seem to be two teams hot after him, and I was told a few weeks back, Tanguay would love to play in Tampa. But there’s no doubt he’s strongly considering Minnesota.

As I’ve said on here since mid-July, it’s of my opinion the Wild is a scorer short still.

However, the big question: Is Tanguay the right guy to fill that role?

The answer from a fan’s point of view depends on how much more patient are you willing to be. Tanguay is the best left on the open market, and I’m saying this because from everything I’m hearing, Nikolai Zherdev’s mind is at $4 million or Russia.

If you’re willing to be more patient, there should eventually be a trade to be made deep into training camp or in the early part of the season.

If you’re unwilling to be more patient, well, Tanguay’s a gifted playmaker. Problem is he’s a gifted playmaker, not a gifted scorer. As good as he is setting up guys, his history says quite clearly that he’s allergic to shooting the puck and isn’t the grittiest tool in the shed. And the Wild already has a gifted playmaker and perimeter forward in Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

So, to be effective, Tanguay would basically have to play with a guy like Marty Havlat on the top line.

Just remember though: If Tanguay’s the guy the Wild signs, the Wild will be sandwiched close to the cap, meaning that’s the move folks. If there’s any future big trade, it would likely have to come at the trade deadline rather than earlier.

Fletcher has shown some interest in Zherdev, but I think he’s concerned about Zherdev’s motivation to play in Russia. He’s shown interest in Petr Sykora after having him in Anaheim and Pittsburgh. But Sykora, as good a scorer as he is, isn’t the best skater in the world. Contrary to the rumor mongers out there, the Wild has zero interest in Mike Comrie.

Fletcher said if the Wild can’t sign Tanguay, he’ll likely go into camp and maybe the season with this team, discover who emerges and then re-adjust from there as the trade market unfolds.

Benoit Pouliot will be given his sixth last chance. He certainly seems determined to emerge. He stuck around most of the summer and from all reports I’ve been given is working his butt off in the gym. He’s got a great chance of making the team because he requires waivers to be sent to the minors, meaning 29 teams could claim him for zippo if he doesn’t make the team. Fletcher is also hopeful Sheppard makes one giant offensive step this season. As I’ve mentioned, Gillies can be sent to the minors without waivers, but he’s also looking good this summer.

Also, it seems almost guaranteed, Fletcher said, that backup goalie Josh Harding will be on the team when the season starts.

I’d talk more extensively about all of this, but I’ll save it for training camp. Be a little more patient, and the Wild will be in the paper again daily.

Lastly, I’ve gotten all these emails for third jersey sneak previews. This is why you should follow me at twitter.com/russostrib. If you did, you would have gotten some hints about a month ago.

I’d describe it as a pretty traditional front. Green. MINNESOTA WILD in sort of a cursive writing. And I think that “M” in Minnesota will be an “M” you’ll start seeing on a ton of Wild merchandise. :)

Anyways, I’m not officially back to work yet. Unless there’s news, the blog will continue to be dormant until early next month. But you’ll be getting multi-daily blog updates and tweets and articles and Facebook updates and webcasts and …. soon enough.

Harding, Wild agree on one-year deal

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Just a quick update from the Wild: Goaltender Josh Harding and the Wild have agreed to terms on a one-year contract, eliminating the need for today’s arbitration hearing in Toronto.

Harding, 25, appeared in 19 games with the Wild last season and was 3-9-1 with a 2.21 GAA and .929 saves percentage. Harding has appeared in 58 NHL games making 43 starts for Minnesota in parts of four seasons. Russo reports the contract will pay Harding $1.1 million next season.

Wild signs Brodziak to three-year deal

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

The Wild has signed restricted free agent Kyle Brodziak to a three-year deal worth $3.45 million ($1.15 million cap number), thus avoiding a July 30 arbitration hearing.

Last RFA to sign is goalie Josh Harding, who has a July 29 arbitration hearing.

Also, Wild officially signed defenseman Ryan Lannon to a one-year deal.

The team is also in the midst of making a number of changes to its scouting department, I hear. As I mentioned when Chuck Fletcher was hired, typically in GM changes, mid-July is the time scouting changes are made.

Wild adds some goalie insurance; Preseason schedule released; Wild needs new video coach

Friday, July 17th, 2009

The Wild signed free agent goalie Wade Dubielewicz today as insurance and depth at the position.

GM Chuck Fletcher told Michael Russo this is “possibly” to provide insurance if the Wild is able to trade Josh Harding, “but it is always nice to have a quality, experienced third goalie in any event.” Harding’s club-elected arbitration hearing is scheduled for July 29.

Dubielewicz, 30, has 40 career NHL appearances (29 starts) with the Islanders and Blue Jackets during a five-year NHL career. He’s 17-15-1 with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .916 saves percentage. He played three games last season, two of them starts, for Columbus.

He is best known for filling in for Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro in the final week of the 2006-07 season during which time he won four straight games to lift the Islanders into the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Also, Russo talked with agent Ben Hankinson yesterday, and Hankinson says the Wild made a legitimate run at former Gopher Jordan Leopold. But at the end of the day, Leopold turned down the Wild’s offer because he felt that with the Wild’s established top-five on the blue line, there would actually be a better opportunity for him to get ice time in Florida.

The Wild has also signed forwards Duncan Milroy and Jon DiSalvatore to two-way contracts to replace Krys Kolanos (Philadelphia Flyers) and Corey Locke (New York Rangers).

2009-10 MINNESOTA WILD PRESEASON SCHEDULE*
DATE OPPONENT LOCATION TIME (CT)
Tuesday, Sept. 15 at St. Louis Blues Scottrade Center 7:00 p.m. 
Friday, Sept. 18 Columbus Blue Jackets Xcel Energy Center 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 20 Chicago Blackhawks Xcel Energy Center 5:00 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 21 at Columbus Blue Jackets Nationwide Arena 6:00 p.m. 
Thursday, Sept. 24 St. Louis Blues Xcel Energy Center 7:00 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 25 at Chicago Blackhawks United Center 7:30 p.m. 
Tuesday, Sept. 29 at Philadelphia Flyers Wachovia Center 6:00 p.m. 

Russo Update: As I reported a month ago, Matt Shaw was going to be the likely replacement for Todd Richards on the San Jose bench because of his relationship with Todd McLellan from Houston. Shaw wanted a new role and to actually be on the bench. Since that didn’t happen in Minnesota (Richards retained Mike Ramsey and hired Dave Barr), Shaw got out of the final year of his contract. Trust me, this is an enormous loss to the Wild coaching staff.

Now, the Wild must hire a video coach. Darby Hendrickson, who would make a great coach, might be somebody to consider for this job.

Fletcher continues to work trade market

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is Fletcher saying here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goalie 

Niklas Backstrom

Josh Harding

Barry Brust

Anton Khudobin

LD-RD

Kim Johnsson-Brent Burns

Nick Schultz-Marek Zidlicky

Greg Zanon-Shane Hnidy

John Scott-Jaime Sifers

Tyler Cuma-Justin Falk

Clayton Stoner-Jamie Fraser

Marco Scandella-Maxim Noreau

LW-C-RW

Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Martin Havlat

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

Antti Miettinen-Eric Belanger-Cal Clutterbuck

Colton Gillies-Kyle Brodziak-Derek Boogaard

Petr Kalus-Benoit Pouliot-Craig Weller

Robbie Earl-Morten Madsen-Danny Irmen

Matt Kassian-Cody Almond-Carson McMillan

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