Nick Schultz


Q&A with Wild player rep Nick Schultz on firing of Paul Kelly

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Good afternoon from Chatteau de Russo, where I’m still laughing at some of Mark Parrish’s locker-room jabs at some of his “teammates” today. Here’s hoping Parrish’s career continues because the locker room’s a funnier place with him around.

Couple other Wild players were at the Octagon camp today that weren’t yesterday. They were Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Colton Gillies and minor-leaguer Jaime Sifers.

Martin Havlat’s been busy tweeting again. He said he was in Chicago over the weekend packing up and went to the Carrie Underwood concert with Mike Fisher. @martinhavlat added, “Back in Montreal now for last 8 days of training before heading to Minny. Can’t wait for camp to start!!”

Schultz, the Wild defenseman entering Year 2 of his six-year deal, was in Chicago on Sunday and Monday attending the NHL Players’ Association meetings. Schultz is the Wild’s player rep, so yes, he was in Sunday night and Monday morning’s 10-hour marathon of a meeting that concluded with the players firing NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly at 3:30 in the morning.

With Schultz’s soon-to-be-two-year-old son Jake sitting on his lap, Schultz talked to me this morning about the decision to fire Kelly, the public relations mess that’s ensued and the chances of another work stoppage when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011 (or 2012 if the players exercise their option to extend the CBA a year):

Q: How long has the players’ concern with Kelly been going on?
Schultz: It really all started at the PA meetings in Vegas. There were some issues in there and I think it’s been kind of going on for awhile, maybe longer than people knew. We put some checks and balances into place inside the office, they went in, kind of interviewed some people and found some stuff out and it just kind of went from there. There were some big issues in the office. We needed a change. We needed to get somebody different in there, especially with possible CBA negotiations in two years, maybe three. We thought we needed different leadership going forward and that the issues we had to get resolved meant we had to relieve him of his duties and try to look for someone new.

Q: When you say “issues in the office” and “found some stuff out,” can you be more specific because it seems that a lot of your membership doesn’t even understand what was discovered here?
Schultz: Once everything gets settled with him legally, they don’t really want us commenting on exactly the specific issues. … It’s something where I’m sure it’ll come out, but as of now, it’s something we’re keeping under wraps just until everything’s settled with him.

Q: What was that meeting like and what were the issues that caused it to go 10 hours, and kept Paul Kelly outside waiting for several hours?
Schultz: It got very heated at times. There were a lot of lawyers and players in there, and everybody had a chance to talk and give their views. It was pretty heated. There wasn’t much down time. It was a long time, but it didn’t feel like 10 hours. But it was pretty heated for the most part. I mean, it was a big decision, a big decision moving forward. But we had to make it now instead of letting it go on, especially with what’s maybe coming in a few years. We had to make the right decision.

Q: Were you up screaming away – I can’t even picture that?
Schultz: No. I’m pretty good at listening and saying something here or there. But we have some passionate guys, and if guys feel a certain way, guys say it. There are a few guys who are more vocal than others, but for the most part, guys were involved and a part of it.

Q: It seems like the players are gearing up for another fight with the league and want more of a hardliner to negotiate with Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. What are the players’ big concerns heading into the next CBA negotiations?
Schultz: You hear people talking about lengths of contracts with these big guys getting lots of term yet probably not playing out the last four or five years of their deals. I mean, it’s smart. That’s how teams are fitting guys under their cap, so you’ve got to give them credit for that. They’ve found a loophole. I’m sure that’ll be an issue. I know for the players, escrow is a big thing. Basketball, they have a cap on their escrow where they’re only losing 10 percent of their salaries. Last year, it ended up being close to 15-18 percent of our salaries. This year with the economy and sponsorships, it might even be more. It’d be nice to have a cap on that.

Q: How much are you guys worried that the league will go after guaranteed contracts?
Schultz: Bigtime. You see that in other sports where they can just get rid of you. It’s something that would be pretty hard to give up. There are different things that both sides will have to give a little bit to get something done, maybe working on the buyout structure or things like that. It’ll take some time, but it’ll eventually get sorted out.

Q: Let me ask you point blank: The perception out there right now is that your union’s a mess. Is it?
Schultz: I think now we’re better than we were before because we have an office staff in place. Obviously, we’ve lost our Executive Director, but with [General Counsel] Ian Penny, that’s going to be an interim guy that’s been there forever. He’s taking over day-to-day operations. Everything’s going to be fine that way. We have people in all different departments. Just losing our Executive Director doesn’t put us in shambles. I think going forward, people will be excited with moving forward and hopefully all our past issues are gone.

Q: But if you include Penny, you’re about to have your fifth Executive Director since the lockout. Are the players on the same page?
Schultz: We’ve got an advisory board in place and [ombudsman] Buzz [Hargrove], we’ve put all these people in place to help us and make sure there were different checks and balances so if something wasn’t going right, we’d find it and know about it and there’s people to go to. We’ve kind of figured that out. I mean last time, I mean, Ian Penny was there, but we had players, like [former ombudsman Eric] Lindros and these guys running a lot of the stuff. Now we have actually good people in there that can help us go ahead and find a search firm and look for the right guy through recommendations, through a search firm, through different things to try to find the right guy.

Q: Are the reports that Kelly was too chummy with the Commissioner’s Office a real concern of the union?
Schultz: No, I’ve heard that through the media and things like that. Maybe there were concerns going forward with him negotiating and not really being part of the labor side of it. I guess going forward we just thought we needed a different direction in leadership, especially with things coming up in a couple years.

Q: Because it again sounds like the union’s looking to battle the NHL and with the [2004-05] lockout still fresh in everybody’s mind, fans are worried. Could there be another work stoppage in a few years?
Schultz: I don’t think the players want that. From last time, I don’t think that anyone wants a lockout. With what we went through last time, to lose a season like that, to lose any time, was not right. I think we have enough time now that we can get something in place and not have to go through that again for the players, the owners, the fans – everyone. To have another one, I don’t think that can happen.

Q: You’ve been a hockey player your whole life. To be inside these high-powered, extremely important meetings, how fascinating is it to be inside part of something like that and how much have you learned the four years since you’ve become player rep?
Schultz: My wife asked me, ‘Think someone else will want your job this year as player rep?’ I said, ‘Now that I’ve been involved in it since the lockout, I know what’s going on and with negotiations possibly coming, I want to be a part of it and make the right decisions for myself and my teammates.’ Now every team essentially has a vote and say in things. We’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page and our guys believe and go in the same direction. So it’s fun to go in there and listen to high-powered labor lawyers, these big fancy lawyers, describing everything and explaining everything to a bunch of hockey players. They’re very intelligent, so as a hockey player, you’re obviously not at that level. That’s why you have these people. But I’ve learned a ton. They’re good at informing you and keeping you in the loop. Before, with [former Executive Director] Bob [Goodenow], they kind of just did whatever. It was six guys and Bob. Now we’ve got a player from every team in there involved and making the big decisions. It’s fun to be a part of that and know what’s going on. It’s our careers. We’ve got to get more players involved and wanting to be a part of that – more than just coming in and being pissed and wondering why the escrow’s 20 percent. If we have more guys involved and know what’s going on and more guys educated, we can make better decisions.

Catching up with Mark Parrish

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

I’ll be back on in an hour or so to post the transcription of a Q&A I had with Wild player rep Nick Schultz on the union situation, but I wanted to quickly let you know I chatted with free agent Mark Parrish down at the Octagon camp this morning in St. Louis Park.

Parrish, the Bloomington native, Plymouth resident and former Wild, is once again in limbo and trying to latch on to a team as NHL training camps approach. Last year, remember, he signed with the Dallas Stars a month into camp and debuted with a hat trick in Anaheim in November.

He’s hoping to sign with a team, but he’s also been talking to his former agent and now GM, Brian Lawton, about a tryout in Tampa Bay and his former Islanders teammate and now GM, Garth Snow, about a tryout with the Islanders.

Both have cap space and room; Tampa’s got a top-six forward slot on the left side.

Parrish looks in exceptional shape and seems to be skating better than ever after working this summer with powerskating extraordinaire Barry Karn, who runs the local Karn Skating Dynamics and works with the Calgary Flames.

“I’ve never felt better on the ice. It’s amazing. I’ve known him for years and finally got stubborn enough to realize I probably need a little help with my skating. I can already feel the difference.”

If it doesn’t work out on the Island or on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Parrish said he’d go to Europe.

“I would if it came to that. I’m not afraid of that. I just want to still play hockey, so if that’s where it would be, that’s where it would be. But I’m still holding out hopes that something will work out here [in the NHL].”

Asked how tough this is, Parrish said, “Not nearly as tough last year. Last year was a lot more tough mentally more than anything and I think that kind of drained on me physically. This summer I came in with a little bit of a clean slate after Dallas, feel good and got to a very good spot mentally. I’m excited to land somewhere.”

Parrish’s wife is also pregnant with the couple’s second child and first son. His name will be Turner.

I’ll be back in an hour.

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 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.

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.

Star Tribune Sources: Wild close to signing Havlat, working hard on Koivu

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

UPDATED WITH CONTRACT TERMS 

According to multiple NHL sources, the Wild is close to signing dynamic free-agent winger Martin Havlat. I’ve confirmed through sources it will be a six-year, $30 million deal. The $30 million will be the richest in franchise history, the term will be tied with Nick Schultz for the longest.

Havlat, 28, scored a career-high 77 points last season with Chicago in 81 games. It’s unclear as to whether this gets done tonight or in the wee hours of the morning, but I have been told by impeccable sources that Havlat has cut his list to one team — and that’s Minnesota.

According to sources, the Wild also continues to be in negotiations with free-agent center Saku Koivu, although it’s unclear how close that is. Because of the time in Finland, it could go into tomorrow.

The Wild and Havlat’s agent have been working on this contract for hours.