Wild Recall Kalus; Minnesota Debut Likely

The Minnesota Wild have recalled Petr Kalus in the event that Cal Clutterbuck is not ready to go for tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers.  Clutterbuck was injured in Sunday’s loss to the Calgary Flames and is thought to be nursing a deep bruise to his thigh muscle. 

View from the Lighthouse has reported that Clutterbuck was not at the morning skate and it is likely that Kalus will make his debut for the Minnesota Wild tonight, wearing #23. 

Kalus, the main return in the trade with Boston for Manny Fernandez, has 15 points (11-4=15) this season for the Houston Aeros with 64 PIM and a minus-8 rating.  Should he play in tonight’s game, it will be his first NHL action since 2007 where he had four goals and an assist in nine games for the Bruins.

Wild Sign Sykora

So the worst kept secret in the NHL (or at least one of them this pre-season) has come to pass.

The Wild signed right wing Petr Sykora to a one-year, $1.6M contract today effectively ending his tryout the day after it began.

Sykora takes the ice for the first time for the Wild in practice.

Sykora takes the ice for the first time for the Wild in practice.

“I’m shocked,” Sykora sarcastically told reporters.  “I guess my practice yesterday made them sign me.”

All joking aside, this is a fantastic move for the Wild and one that gives them a legitimate second-line scoring threat.  No offense to Cal Clutterbuck or Antti Miettinen, but Sykora has proven season after season (10-straight, in fact) that he is a capable 20 goal scorer.  You’ve got to expect that Sykora will play on the second line centered by playmaker extraordinaire, Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

Sykora’s signing brings up a couple questions now, though.

First, where do the fringe players fit in?

The Wild had a few players that they were giving nice, long looks to in camp to try to win their way on the squad and Sykora has now effectively taken one of the few spots available.  This means that the jobs of Andy Hilbert (who was at camp on a tryout), Colton Gillies, Danny Irmen and Petr Kalus just got a lot more difficult.

Essentially, the signing leaves the team with approximately $800k remaining in cap room and GM Cliff Fletcher wanting to leave more room than that for call ups due to injuries.  What this adds up to is either a) players who otherwise might have made the squad now won’t or b) there’s going to be some trading going on in the weeks leading up to the season.

If the case is option B, who are the most likely casualties?

Immediately, you’d have to look to Eric Belanger.  The Wild now have the luxury of having too many centers (what a difference a year makes) and, ultimately, Belanger doesn’t really seem like he fits into the current team’s plans.  While Belanger is no stranger to these rumors, he has fit in quite well on the Wild and I, for one, would be sad to see him go.  He’s a solid checking line center that works hard each and every night and takes extreme pride in what he does.

Finally, who moves off the second line?

Initially, in practice this season, the team’s second line has been Miettinen, Clutterbuck and Bouchard.  Bouchard is set at center from the looks of things, so that leaves it between the two wings — Miettinen and Clutterbuck. 

Personally, I think that Miettinen makes more sense to have on the second line.  I think that Clutterbuck could benefit greatly from being Owen Nolan’s linemate for a season and Miettinen has a little bit more refined of an offensive game than Clutterbuck does at this point in his career.

It’s obviously a conundrum for coach Todd Richards to sort out but, quite honestly, it’s one that the Wild should be happy to have.

That’s it for today, but tomorrow is game two of the pre-season, so keep your eyes peeled for another gameday thread!

The Depth Chart and Other Randomness

Depth Chart
Earlier today, Mike Russo of the Star-Tribune posted what will be the Wild’s depth chart if it starts the season with the way the roster is 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

First of all, if you haven’t checked out Mike Russo’s blog and you’re a Wild fan, shame on you.  It’s one of the best resources for all things Wild out there.  Click here to go there.  Bookmark it, scour it daily and above all thank him for his amazing coverage of the Wild!

Anyway, off my soapbox for the moment.

Looking at this depth chart, the thing that immediately jumps out at me is not the center position.  A lot has been made of our depth (or lack thereof) down the middle.  In looking at the team, however, we’ve got five potential pivots on our roster, and that’s not including Colton Gillies, Owen Nolan or Benoit Pouliot.  Throw those two into the mix and we could have as many as eight players on the opening day that could be capable of anchoring a line in the middle.

The thing that really jumps out at me is our lack of depth at left wing.  After Nolan, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen, the talent level really drops off.  This isn’t a knock on Gillies; however, we have a serious lack of skill and depth on the left side and, honestly, on the wing in general.

To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, is our talent on defense and in nets.  Our top-six defensemen could be the best top-six that the team has had.  The additions of Zanon and Hnidy give the team two reliable, physical anchors on the blueline and will force opposing teams to keep their heads up.  Meanwhile, expect Scott and Sifers to compete for the seventh spot in camp, most likely with Scott winning the battle.  That’s not to say, however, that our youth could not come in and surprise.  With Cuma, Falk, Stoner and Scandella in the wings, there is a good chance that Scott and Sifers may not be foregone conclusions at the 7 and 8 slot.  It will take a lot for any of these four to make the squad, however.  Of the four, Stoner probably has the best shot as this could be his make it or break it year, but make no mistake — the Wild’s top 7 are pretty much set.

Olvecky Signs in Nashville
Joel Ward, Ryan Jones and now Olvecky?  Those Tennessee boys sure do like Wild prospects.

In all honesty, I think that Olvecky has a fantastic chance to make the Nashville squad next season right out of camp.  Olvecky is a big body with a lot of untapped talent to boot, and he performed admirably for the Wild in a limited role with the team in the handful of games he played for us last season.

He really started to come into his own last season and seems like he could be the type of player that Barry Trotz will really love.  For $600K and a two-way contract, I’d take Olvecky any day of the week.  A good depth pick up by the Preds.

Qualifying Offers Signed
The Wild had a few players of their own signed as well.

Restricted free agents Benoit Pouliot, Clayton Stoner, Danny Irmen and Robbie Earl all signed their qualifying offers and it seems as if the lot of them (with the exception of Pouliot) could see another year playing in the minors.  Earl and Irmen both have too many players in front of them to have a shot at making the squad (that is, barring a spectacular camp from either) and Stoner will have to do some serious damage in camp to work his way up the depth chart.

Injuries do happen, though, and we could very easily see one of them get a cup of coffee in the NHL and do what Cal Clutterbuck did last season and not let go.

In addition, Russo reports that the Wild could be close to signing Duncan Milroy and Joe DiSalvatore to plug some holes in their minor league system.

Fletcher Working Trade Market
There are a lot of people who are getting scared by the Wild’s seeming lack of movement this off season.

Those fans are the Chicken Littles of the fanbase.

While there are some quality players out there, there really aren’t any players that would meet any immediate needs for us.  I mentioned Mats Sundin, Robert Lang and Mike Comrie previously, but Sundin likely doesn’t have much more tread on his tires, Lang is rumored (or already has) to jump ship to the KHL and Comrie, well, let’s just say I don’t want to sign a player for his girlfriend.  In addition to those players, there are players such as Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora left over.  Undoubtedly, these players could make an impact on the Wild roster, but would they really fit?

In the case of Tanguay, he’s a tremendous talent, but he’s also been pigeonholed as a playmaker — of which, the Wild have many.  Sykora would be a cheap, effective sniper, but do the Wild want to sink the money it would take to get him on an aging player?

Bottom line is that the best route for the team to improve, at this point, is the route that Fletcher is taking — trades.

There are many top flight forwards that have been presumed available via trade.  Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins, Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators, Jonathan Cheechoo of the San Jose Sharks, even Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane have always been rumored to be available.

To be honest, the names remaining in free agency don’t even hold a candle to a lot of these names.  I’d much rather have a Kessel, Heatley, Sharp or Kane over any of those available — regardless of the assets we have to give up for them.

The bottom line is that the Wild are far from done, in my opinion.  But Fletcher has said all along that he’s not afraid to go late into the summer with a less than full roster to give himself the flexibility that he needs to get the players it takes to make this a winning team.

So…

Fear not Chicken Little.  The sky is not falling.  With a little patience, we could have a playoff team yet.