Zach Budish


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 Cuma; 17 Elite League players taken in Draft; Best of the Rest

Friday, July 10th, 2009

(UPDATED)

As I mentioned yesterday, the Wild has signed Tyler Cuma to a three-year, $2.625 million contract plus standard entry-level contract bonuses. If he doesn’t make the team in the fall, the contract slides a year, as does his seven-year free-agent clock.

“We are delighted to have Tyler Cuma as a member of the Minnesota Wild organization,” said Assistant General Manager/Player Personnel Tom Thompson. “He possesses all of the attributes necessary to be a quality defenseman in the modern day NHL. Tyler is an exceptional skater, both forward and backward. He is intelligent, aggressive and poised. From watching him at our summer development camp, it is clear that he has made a complete recovery from last season’s knee surgery.”
 
Cuma, 19 (1/19/90), was the Wild’s first-round pick (No.23 overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He recorded nine points (1-8=9) and 27 penalty minutes in 21 games for the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in 2008-09. Cuma, who participated in the Team Canada World Junior Selection Camp last season, underwent season-ending knee surgery in February. The 6-foot-2, 192-pound Cuma has posted 60 points (8-52=60) and 141 PIM in 143 career games over three seasons in Ottawa. Cuma earned a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2008 IIHF Under-18 World Championships collecting four points (1-3=4) in seven games. He was named Ottawa’s Rookie of the Year in 2006-07 after posting 19 points (3-16=19) in 63 matches.

In the meantime, here’s a look at the Best of the Rest. You’ll see guys like Alex Tanguay, Jason Williams and Mike Comrie still available. Wait a little more and somebody might be able to get Tanguay at a bargain price. On the blue line, Martin Skoula (most games of any NHL defensemen his age or younger) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (62 career goals, 14 last year). Think Skoula becomes a Devil if Jacques Lemaire goes there? Did the Devils hire a coach while I’ve been gone???????

Also, I meant to throw this on the blog after the Draft, but I forgot.

A record 17 former players from the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League were chosen in the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft, held June 26-27 in Montreal.

Nick Leddy of Eden Prairie (#16, Minnesota Wild) and Jordan Schroeder of the University of Minnesota (#22, Vancouver) were first-round selections, with the remaining players chosen in subsequent rounds. The NHL draft consists of seven rounds and was conducted over two days.

Edina’s Zack Budish (#41, Nashville) was chosen in the second round, while Ben Hanowski of Little Falls (#63, Pittsburgh), Josh Birkholz of Maple Grove (#67, Florida), Troy Hesketh of Minnetonka (#71, Edmonton), Dan DeLisle of Arden Hills (#89, Chicago) and Mike Lee of Roseau (#91, Phoenix)  were chosen in the third round.

This is the second consecutive NHL draft in which the Elite League reached double-digits in the number of players selected. Last year 10 Elite League alumni were selected, including four in the first two rounds

In addition to their first-round selection of Leddy, the Minnesota Wild reached into the Elite League for two other players, Swedish forward Alexander Fallstrom (#116) and Finnish winger Erik Haula. Both Fallstrom and Haula competed for the Shattuck-St. Mary’s team in the Elite League, the eventual champion of the Bauer National Invitational Tournament which culminates league action.

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Wild wants to host NHL Entry Draft; RFA refresher

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Monday morning update: Since I’ll be in the air when the Wild announces which restricted free agents it qualifies to retain their rights, I thought I’d give you an explanation. Essentially, by 4 p.m., teams must tender qualifying offers to restricted free agents. If they don’t, those players become unrestricted free agents when free agency opens Monday and they’re free to sign with any team in the league.

Basically, to retain a players rights today, teams must offer 10-percent raises on players who made $660,000 or less last season, 5 percent raises on players who made $660,000-$1 million and no raise on players who made more than $1 million.

So, for instance, Kyle Brodziak made $497,500, so he’s got to be offered a $49,750 raise (10 percent). Benoit Pouliot’s salary if he had played a full year in the NHL would have been $765,000 (not including bonuses). So he’s got to be offered a 5 percent raise or a contract of $803,250. Josh Harding must be offered a 5 percent raise of $725,000. Dan Fritsche made $875,000, so to qualify him, he’d have to be offered a contract of $918,750 (5 percent raise).

And remember, this is just to keep them. This is before you actually negotiate the contract. If you take a look at the above, you’ll see a very good reason why the Wild might not qualify Fritsche today. He plays the same role as Brodziak might play, yet just to keep him, you’d have to offer him almost $1 million or $371,500 more than Brodziak to perhaps play the same role. If you let Fritsche go, that $918,750 could come in very handy when you’re trying to sign players in free agency.

Again though, we’ll find out for sure today. I was told by a few sources yesterday that Chuck Fletcher was trying to trade Fritsche the last few weeks. Obviously he was unable to, which could be a further clue that he might be let go today. 

Sunday night blog: Good day from Vermont, where I spent part of the day on Lake Champlain. Other than the gnats, it was a good way to decompress from a busy week.

Here are the links from Sunday’s articles:

Here is the Insider on owner Craig Leipold talking about having the money to spend in free agency

Here is the Kyle Brodziak trade story

Here is the notebook on drafting two Shattuck-St. Mary’s roommates and improving the goalie depth of the club

Here is the roster situation

I’ll be flying home Monday, and as I’ve mentioned, there will at least be the news of the restricted free agents. When that comes out and perhaps other news, if I’m in the air, the blog will be updated from the office. So no worries.

Just thought I’d clean out my draft notebook from the weekend:

– Owner Craig Leipold loves the passion and hype and hoopla that comes with the draft, and he told me he’s looking to soon bring one to Minnesota for the Wild to host. Remember, the Nashville Predators — Leipold’s previous team — hosted the 2003 draft.

– GM Chuck Fletcher on free agency: “We’ve had some ideas what we wanted to do in free agency all along if we weren’t able to make trades and we have some things we can do internally too with player shifting to different areas. I think we have some flexibility what can we do. I do believe having cap space is a very valuable commodity. I do believe if we have cap space, at some point we will  be rewarded. I’m not sure we have to fill every hole the first week of July but what will happen will be a product of which way the market goes. If it’s a buyers market, hopefully we do well.”

I did want to make one note on free agency after reading the Insider again today. I know I mentioned a lot of names in there. I wanted to make clear though if the Wild gets a star, that obviously inhibits other things like maybe the top defensemen I mentioned, etc. I don’t want you to think that IF they signed a Hossa or the Sedins, then they can go out AND sign a Beauchemin or a Scuderi.

The higher the price, the less money they can spend in other areas. If you looked at the updated salary chart in the paper, the Wild is roughly $13 million below the cap. However, if Colton Gillies plays in the minors, that frees up $1.04 million of cap space. However, remember, even though the cap is $56.8 million, most teams would want to be at least $2 million below.

As for the Draft……

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Wild trades for Edmonton’s Brodziak; Wild takes top-ranked goalie; Wild still into Heatley; Bouwmeester’s rights traded to Calgary

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

The Wild just traded the 99th and 133rd pick to Edmonton for center Kyle Brodziak and the 161st.  He’s a right-handed center who’s solid in the faceoff circle. Oil, I’m told, thought he’d be a third-line center after the year he had two years ago with Glencross and Stortini the last month-and-a-half, but he played mostly on the fourth line last year.

He’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. He played for Todd Richards in  Wilkes-Barre.

The Wild just took Matthew Hackett, the top-ranked goalie in the draft, at 77th overall. He plays at Plymouth of the OHL. Hackett is the nephew of former NHLer Jeff Hackett, who was just fired as the Avs’ goalie coach when Tony Granato was fired.

In the fourth round, the Wild took left wing Kris Foucault, a teammate of Carson McMillan’s with the Calgary Hitman at 103 overall.

At 116, the Wild took Shattuck St. Mary’s Alexander Fallstrom, from Sweden. He was senior captain there and a power forward.

At 163, the Wild took Jere Sallinen out of Finland, then at 182ns (first pick of seventh round), the Wild took future Gopher Erik Haula, from Shattuck, who will play next year with the USHL Omaha Lancers.

Good morning back in the Cities. Coming to you from the Draft risers, and I’m reminded by a hilarious line from former Wild assistant GM Tom Lynn last night.

“I’ve been a sportswriter for two days, and I’ve already gained four pounds and can’t roll out of bed in the morning.”

Welcome to our unhealthy lifestyle, Mr. Lynn, who shouldn’t take long to get back on the other side of the barricade.

Here is his blog today on the Hockey News’ web site.

I am told Wild GM Chuck Fletcher will be trying very hard to gain a second-round pick this morning — perhaps again dangling Josh Harding (Edmonton is at 40). He’s also now got a third-round pick and three fourths. Wild also would like to add a goalie today to its depth chart.

I am also told the Wild IS NOT out of the Dany Heatley sweepstakes. Ottawa still wants to trade him by July 1 and if the Senators likely get off their demand of Brent Burns, there’s a possibility.

The day started off with the Florida Panthers trading Jay Bouwmeester’s rights to Calgary for Jordon Leopold’s rights and a third. 

Edina’s Zach Budish went to Nashville at No. 41. At least the Preds didn’t rub the Wild’s nose in it by taking Budish at 41 — the pick they got from Minnesota in Zidlicky trade. Wild wanted to somehow get Budish today.

Little Falls’ Ben Hanowski just went 63rd (second pick in the third round) to Pittsburgh.

Thoughts on Wild taking Eden Prairie’s Nick Leddy; Quotes from Chuck Fletcher, Tommy Thompson, Jordan Schroeder

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Ha. There are always people unhappy. Open my email box now and subject “Wild cave in to Gophers pressure.” Next one: “Wild take wrong Gopher.”

First, I genuinely believe the Wild did not do the P.R. thing here and take the Minnesotan because some alienated Minnesotans wanted them to. That’d be absolutely absurd, and if something like that did happen, everybody should be fired tonight. Thompson did say other Minnesotans are in their “gun sights” Saturday, but it’s only because they’re very, very good…Guys Thompson mentioned are Budish, Mike Lee and Birkholz are available.

First-round picks are too precious, as proven by the steps back the Wild took when it blew its 2004 and 2005 first-rounders.

As I’ve been telling you for a few days, the Wild absolutely love Nick Leddy. They’ve seen him more than any draft-eligible player arguably — Tommy Thompson alone 12 times — and they wanted this dynamic player whom Chuck Fletcher called the typical “new-rules defenseman.”

I knew they valued him more than Jordan Schroeder, who as I think I mentioned yesterday, another team’s scout predicted this because they “already have Pierre-Marc Bouchard.” Unfortunately Schroeder’s size (5-8) clearly hurt as he slipped to 22.

But, there is no doubt, taking Leddy over Schroeder will create years of comparisons of their development and debates, ESPECIALLY now that Schroeder landed with the bitter Vancouver Canucks. Oh my, if Schroeder goes there and develops into a star, …

In hope you enjoyed the Twitters tonight. It was actually fun, although I probably went overboard. But it was kind of cool to break the Pronger story, predict Leddy coming to the Wild and give you play by play of the trade being made. Chuck Fletcher was working hard to trade 16, too, but he wouldn’t take the risk to drop more than five spots and everybody that offered him something was too far. As I mentioned on Twitter, Columbus GM Scott Howson sprinted to Fletcher because the Jackets wanted John Moore, but Fletcher didn’t want to drop 10 spots and risk losing Leddy.

The Jackets got Moore anyway.

Fletcher did say he was offered a player at one point for 12, but the team called back when the guy they wanted was taken. Only one trade was made in the entire league, showing it is awfully difficult making trades in this salary-cap world. A lot of teams are in lots and lots of trouble, although Fletcher hopes to commit highway robbery this summer when these overstuffed teams with cap issues look to dump guys.

Fletcher did achieve one thing. He added a third-rounder and another seventh, giving the Wild eight picks Saturday and nine total — the amount of picks the Wild had the previous two drafts.

Does this change free agency strategy now that the Wild didn’t pick up any NHLers? I’ll write about that Sunday. By the way, Fletcher would not comment on Marian Gaborik’s situation.

You can read more on Leddy in Saturday’s paper. His uncle actually was Todd Richards’ defense partner at Armstrong. I talked to Steve Leddy, whose brother Mike is Steve’s brother, and I’ll put those quotes up tomorrow.

Here’s some quotes:

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So, who does the Wild Draft (Schroeder, Leddy, somebody else?); Trade chatter

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Couple adds: Will be on KSTP at 6 pm tonight, live chat at 10 am Friday and Doug Risebrough had his second interview for the Panthers GM vacancy here in Montreal today.

Checking in with you again late this afternoon from the beautiful Montreal, although I’ve sort of been holed up in my hotel most of the day other than the hour or so to go hunt down Jacques Lemaire.

As of now, Chuck Fletcher is still trying to make a trade, with the emphasis on the trying. As proof by the crickets throughout the NHL, it’s not easy making a trade right now, not when as a colleague said to me today, there’s about 150 players on the block, of which 100 nobody wants. The problem I am sensing from the numerous execs I’ve talked to is sort of what I alluded either in an article or the blog or the Twitter — I don’t know, it all sort of runs together.

There are lots of teams looking to get rid of really good players, but good players with really big contracts. So those teams automatically want picks and prospects back, which as you know if you’ve been reading the Strib, the Wild isn’t exactly filled to the brim with. So, hence Fletcher’s problem. And hence, the league’s problem. You can’t just acquire a $4 million player in today’s game without giving up some dough.

He’s inquired about nearly 40 players, including Phil Kessel and Dany Heatley. But there are many others that I either don’t know about or don’t want to write because it’s just rumor, so who knows what Fletcher gets done — or quite frankly, if Fletcher gets something done.

I’ve been told Ottawa’s cut its targeted teams down to seven. I’ve been told the Wild is one of them. But I’ve also been told L.A.’s hot after him and would consider giving up winger Alex Frolov, a quality defenseman and the fifth pick, which let’s be honest, the Wild can’t contend with.

Right now, I’m not aware of any Wild trade being done tonight, although as I reminded Fletcher yesterday, the Panthers once made me sprint — OK, walk fast — back to this very hotel at about 10 p.m. one night in 1998 after executing the blockbuster of all blockbusters — Esa Tikkanen for Dwayne Hay.

Have I ever told you the story about Esa Tikkanen screaming at me in the Panthers’ locker room after I lowered the radio because I was trying to interview the low-talking Scott Mellanby? It’s a great story. One day I’ll you.

I keep hearing from everybody he’s still using Josh Harding at the big bait, mostly with Edmonton, St. Louis and Toronto. But again, Harding is restricted free agent, so if Fletcher doesn’t get the deal he wants, there’s no rush in trading him. You can wait until later this summer or even next season. But, he is likely eventually going to be dealt.

So, as for the Draft, …

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