Owen Nolan


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.

More context on Tanguay to Bolts, what the Wild does next; How about Sykora?

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Good Saturday morning to everybody. Wild players report for training camp two weeks from today with players taking the ice for the first time Sept. 13.

Regarding last night’s blog, RDS is reporting that free-agent winger Alex Tanguay has agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Lightning. This was a two-horse race between Minnesota and Tampa Bay, and the Wild’s offer — one-year, $2.5 million — was $500,000 more than Tampa Bay’s — at least originally. We’ll see when the numbers come out if the Lightning came up in price.

But when Tanguay sat on the Wild’s offer, it became extremely clear to me that Tanguay was going to Tampa Bay because the Bolts had promised Tanguay he’d be on a line with star center Vincent Lecavalier. But the Lightning had a lot more cap room than Minnesota, so I think Tanguay’s camp was just stalling with the hope of Tampa Bay coming up in price. We’ll see if they did.

Plus, look at the Lightning’s depth chart of top-six forwards, and Tanguay knew the Lightning needed him. Without him, Tampa’s second line was shaping up at Stephane Veilleux-Steven Stamkos-Brandon Bochenski. Now, you can put Tanguay-Lecavalier-Ryan Malone and potentially, believe it or not, Veilleux-Stamkos-Martin St. Louis.

In fact, Veilleux turned down a two-year deal in San Jose to take a one-year deal in Tampa because he was told there was potential of him playing on the second line.

The Bolts had about $51 million charged to the cap before Tanguay. The Wild is at exactly $54,403,494 (confirmed), so the Wild couldn’t go up a penny from its $2.5 million offer. In fact, if Tanguay had accepted the Wild’s offer, the team actually would have gone above the cap (you can go over the cap by 10 percent up until the last day of training camp).

The Wild could then have dumped salary by either making a trade or more likely starting second-year winger Colton Gillies in the minors. That would have brought the cap down to $55.86 million, giving the team barely enough room to make injury callups. The team also could have placed Craig Weller on waivers and started him in the minors to create another $600,000 of cap flexibility.

As it currently sits, the Wild has a little less than $2.4 million of cap space — really $3.4 million because I firmly believe that unless Gillies turns into a star in camp, the Wild will start him in the minors. That’s nothing against Gillies, who’s going to be a good NHLer, at all.

But inside the organization, a lot of people were unhappy with former GM Doug Risebrough handing jobs to James Sheppard and Colton Gillies even though Risebrough publicly said four years ago the Wild had made a transition and would no longer do this.

I’ve said this before, but most people around the league feels that inhibits development, not helps. Unless you’re going to be a star at 18, several teams like Detroit and New Jersey would prefer you to continue to be a star in junior, then gain confidence in the minors before making the giant jump to the NHL. For instance, Sheppard hasn’t even experienced being on a No. 1 power play in three years now. I don’t remember the Wild saying it was drafting him to develop into a third-line center.

Also, and this is the most important thing, your seven-year free-agent clock starts the second you play in the NHL. So the Wild has wasted two of Sheppard’s years toward free agency, and one for Gillies. In other words, Sheppard can become an unrestricted free agent in five years now because the Wild decided to use two of them for what was going to be his two most ineffective years anyway, rather than, say, two years in his mid-20s when his career would have been peaking.

This is the type of stuff that is so hard to recover from.

Personally, Tanguay going to Tampa isn’t the worst news for the Wild in my opinion. I was never sold. The Wild doesn’t need another playmaker. It needs another scorer, and I still firmly believe this league is going to see some very good players available next month or into the season. And quite frankly, you could even see good players on waivers.

As I wrote in today’s paper, Chicago, Vancouver, Detroit, Ottawa, Washington and Boston are over the cap right now. Chicago can get down by sending one of their goalies to the minors and Brent Sopel as well. I don’t know what Vancouver’s doing. The Canucks are over the cap and have about 26 players. Boston’s over if you consider Phil Kessel isn’t even signed.

Montreal, Philadelphia, Edmonton and Carolina are about $1 million from the cap. San Jose’s at $53.5 after yesterday’s trade, but with 17 players. So the only way it stays under is if it signs/keeps a bunch of 500K players.

Basically, my point is these teams have to create room somehow, so some teams with a little cap space should be able to get players cheaply via trade or for free (other than a little cash) via waivers.

The Wild has talked to San Jose this summer about Jonathan Cheechoo, I’ve been told. Whether the Sharks still want to move him after yesterday’s Christian Ehrhoff trade is another story though. I know the Wild would love to get Patrick Sharp, but as mentioned above, while Chicago eventually will probably have to trade a big player down the road, the Hawks can easily slip under the cap going into the season with a little nip and tuck. The Wild at one point was interested in Boston’s Kessel, but I don’t see how it could make the numbers fit now with only $2.4 million worth of cap space. It would have to give up salary to be able to sign him, and the Bruins can’t really take much salary right now.

I cannot make this any clearer. Other than what I reported to you near the Draft, all Dany Heatley/Wild trade rumors you read have been invented out of thin air. Unless something changes, the Wild has not had trade talks with Ottawa in six weeks regarding Heatley. Additionally, the Wild has no interest in Mike Comrie, I’ve been told.

So, in conclusion :)

the current roster will likely still be the roster at the start of camp, but by late September, there’s a decent chance GM Chuck Fletcher will have the ability to make some alterations. Have a good weekend everybody.

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I will add this, however, and since I’m on blackberry now, I’ll just cut and paste from my twitter.com/russostrib, but I’ve always respected Petr Sykora’s game. I know Fletcher has talked to his agent about Sykora at some points this summer. His skating is the only big concern, especially with a potential top-six that includes Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan, but …

@russostrib: One who could jell perfectly w @martinhavlat is UFA Petr Sykora. Maybe he’d be a fit for #mnwild? All he does is score 20 goals a year.

@russostrib: Sykora didn’t play a ton in playoffs, but…savvy vet, grt guy, has been a consistent #nhl scorer (300 goals) & Fletcher knows him

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.

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Backstrom finalist for Vezina; Aeros to play Game 7 tonight; Two big NHL Game 6′s tonight; GM search continues

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, rehabbing in Vail from Friday’s hip surgery, is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. The other two finalists are Boston’s Tim Thomas and Columbus’ Steve Mason.

The GM’s vote for the Vezina. The winner will be announced in Las Vegas on June 18.

Here’s the graph on Backstrom from the press release: After nine seasons honing his craft in Europe and two earning increased playing time in the NHL, Backstrom established himself as the Wild’s go-to goalie this season, appearing in 71 games. He ranked among the League’s top five goaltenders in goals against average (2.33, third), save percentage (.923, fourth) and shutouts (eight, third) and his 37 wins were a franchise record in addition to being the NHL’s fifth-highest total. Backstrom established a club record with 149:19 of consecutive shutout goaltending Dec. 31-Jan. 8. 

Backstrom won the 2007 Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for best SV pct. (.929) in the NHL, and teamed with Manny Fernandez to win the 2007 William M. Jennings Trophy, given to the goaltenders for the team with the fewest goals scored against it.

Backstrom joins Jacques Lemaire and Wes Walz as members of the Wild to be designated a finalist for a voted-upon NHL end-of-the-year award. Lemaire won the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s top coach in 2002-03, the same season Walz was a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.

Tonight, in Peoria, the Houston Aeros play Game 7 due to Saturday’s 2-1 Game 6 loss. Here’s the link for some game notes and other AHL playoff notes.

This is the best note: Houston head coach Kevin Constantine has won three Game 7’s as an NHL head coach, all three on the road.

In the NHL, tonight’s Game 6 of the Calgary-Chicago series and Anaheim-San Jose series. The home team has won every game in the Calgary-Chicago series, so there’s a great chance this is going back to Chicago for Game 7. As for Anaheim-San Jose, Game 5 was a great game. It’s always nice to see Joe Thornton, well, try. He finally instilled a little effort and anger into his game, and helped send the series back to Anaheim.

Tuesday night, there will be two Game 7′s: Rangers at Washington, and Carolina at New Jersey.

I can’t see at all how the Rangers win this series now. Boy, Rangers coach John Tortorella put this series in a whole world of hurt for the Blueshirts. As I mentioned on the blog a few days ago before it happened, I would have also considered scratching Sean Avery, but only if they actually lost Game 4.

But he scratched Avery in Game 5. The Rangers didn’t show up, then Tortorella gets himself suspended for Game 6. Plus, Avery returns and is a shell of his former self. As color analyst extraordinaire Ed Olczyk telestrated during one sequence, Avery was so trying to behave, he intentionally was refusing to even check anybody.

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