Hello and welcome to the first, paused-season edition of my Wild mailbag. Thank you for all of the great questions, let's hop right in.
From several questioners: What are players doing right now? What do they do to stay in shape? Are they on the ice? Are they working out on their own?
DM: Players are currently on day 12 of a 14-day quarantine that teams and the League requested when they hit the pause button on the season March 12. I reached out to a couple of different guys and they've been doing what most other Minnesotans have been doing during that time; taking it easy, spending time holed up with family and not doing much in the way of anything other than making sure they remain healthy. Of course, guys have found ways to workout inside their homes or in their yards, but they have been asked to remain at home. They haven't been coming into the practice facility, which has been closed. They, like you, have been finding ways to be as active as possible within the confines of their own living quarters. If/when the season resumes, there is expected to be a short "training camp," where players will have a chance to get back on the ice and get back into hockey shape. There is also the hope that if we as a society can begin to "flatten the curve" on this coronavirus, players may be allowed to return to the facility in small groups in order to get back to at least working out.
From Christina in Mankato and Kaden in Little Falls: What are players doing for ice time and practice? Can they get ice time at Xcel Energy Center?
DM: Nothing. They have not been on the ice since practice on March 11. In fact, the ice has been removed from both Xcel Energy Center and TRIA Rink at Treasure Island Center. That shouldn't be taken as a sign that the season is over however ... at this point, it's simply a matter of conserving resources. After the Center for Disease Control came out early last week and recommended no large-group gatherings for at least the next eight weeks, it quickly became apparent that the ice in both places wouldn't be used for several weeks. But both rinks can be put back together in a matter of 72 hours and that remains the goal yet this spring.
From Patrick in Bemidji: I can't believe how the lack of NHL games has impacted my life, as it has so many others. Do you honestly believe it will return in the fall?
DM: I am confident that hockey will be back this fall, if not later this spring. There is so much that is unknown right now, and it seems like we've been drinking from a firehose the last couple weeks. It was just 13 days ago that the Wild was practicing at TRIA Rink, and I turned to FOX Sports North's Kevin Gorg and said, 'we should prepare to watch games in empty arenas that last week of the regular season.' Little did I know that the entire sports world would be turned on its head 12 hours later when the NBA would suspend its season. Every other major sports league followed in the hours and days after and the news cycle hasn't slowed down since. Who knows where we will be 13 days from now. Or a month from now. The good news is, it seems like everyone is taking this threat more and more seriously with every passing day, and we're getting to a point where people are very cognizant of social distancing. Once we see the numbers move in a positive direction, hopefully that will provide some reinforcement that these measures are indeed working. The sooner we do that, the sooner hockey will be back.
From Keith in Bloomington: Can you inform the hockey rubes the financial loss per game? Even local bars food stops parking and the loss inside the Xcel Energy Center food vending hockey lodge sales? I know Craig Leipold is paying the part-time workers for the last possible last 6 home games. Finally do the players get paid for unplayed games?
DM: I don't know an exact number for you Keith, but the losses are substantial, there's no doubt. But at this point, it's what is needed to help stop this virus. And of course, the goal is that all of these games will be played at some point, so any losses will be mitigated then. As you mentioned, there has been good to come out of this. In addition to part-time workers being paid for the final six home games, the Wild and Xcel Energy Center donated 2,400 pounds of perishable food to local charities, food that came from the arena and from Herbies On The Park. And yes, players are being paid during this stoppage.
From Alexander in Ashby: I'm wondering if you know what the NHL is planing to do with the current season if they will just end it there and the teams that are qualified for the playoffs will play for the Stanley Cup? Or do they plan on finishing the season and then the playoffs?
DM: There are a bunch of million-dollar questions in there that simply can't be answered at this time. One thing is for sure, there are daily talks between the League, owners and the NHL Players Association on contingency plans in case this layoff lasts longer than a few weeks. I think initially, the hope was to be playing games by mid-April, but that's probably not realistic anymore. There are plenty of potential plans that have been floated in the media the last couple of weeks, with several of them having various levels of support. But the fact of the matter is, we have no idea what the rest of the season will look like until we have a better timeline of when players can get back on the ice. And right now, we have no clue when that will be.
From Kim in Shakopee: Will there come a day where hockey goalies are managed similar to baseball pitching staffs? There are many metrics within sports and also for hockey goalies now compared to just straight save percentage and goals against average. Set-up a goalie duo such that they would change them in certain situations.
DM: This was one of the more interesting questions I got and it's certainly food for thought. Anything is possible at this point, and when you look at the way advanced stats have invaded the world of sports, and hockey specifically, I think anything is possible. I was curious, so I texted Alex Stalock to gauge his opinion. He doesn't think anything is imminent in that regard, and I also got the sense that he wouldn't necessarily be a fan of such an arrangement, which meshes with the feelings of several other goaltenders I've asked about this over the years. That's not to dismiss it down the road, however.
From Chris: Is there a chance we could have Kirill Kaprizov in the lineup for the Wild to wrap up the 2019-20 season?
DM: Wild GM Bill Guerin has said several times that Kaprizov will finish his season in Russia and then talks will begin to bring him over to the U.S. for next season. Nothing has changed on that front.
From Andy in Sartell: How is this pause affecting college free agency? Is it moving forward per usual?
DM: Good question, and the answer is sort of two-fold. Yes, the pause is having an effect because teams aren't able to guarantee that they can burn a year off an entry-level contract because there is no guarantee the season will be back. Think about Nico Sturm and the contract the Wild signed him to last season. That has been a big carrot for some college free agents. Instead, many of these college free agents that have signed with teams have signed one-year contracts that begin in 2020-21. So while teams have had to change how they approach college free agents, several have chosen to sign anyway. I think the status of the season has had an effect on a couple of draft picks around the League choosing to head back to school instead of signing pro deals, however.
Minnesota did reel in one of the bigger prizes of the college free agent market on Tuesday when it inked Massachusetts forward MItchell Chaffee to a two-year, entry-level deal that will begin in 2020-21. Chaffee, a first-team All American as a sophomore in 2018-19, tallied 95 points in three seasons with the Minutemen and scored 16 goals and 29 points in 30 games as junior. UMass, which reached the national championship game for the first time last season before losing to Minnesota Duluth, was likely headed back to the NCAA Tournament this year had the college season not been cancelled.
From Austin in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin: What does the Wild need to do to pull into a playoff spot after this COVID-19 is stopped?
DM: Let's pretend for a minute that if/when the season comes back, it simply picks up right where it left off. If that's the case, the Wild is one point back of the Nashville Predators for the second wild card and three back of the Winnipeg Jets for the first wild card (Minnesota has two games in hand on Winnipeg). To feel supremely confident about a playoff spot, the Wild would probably need to get to 95 points. That's 18 points out of a possible 26 the rest of the way. Of course, 95 points is on the high end of things; it might only take 92 or 93 points, which changes the arithmetic. Bottom line, the Wild has two games against Nashville. Those would be huge. It has one game against Winnipeg. That would be huge. Minnesota has four other games against teams that have fewer points. You win all four of those games and you're halfway there. Another way to look at it is this: The Wild won two of three on its West Coast trip before the season came to a halt. Win two out of every three the rest of the way and you're probably gonna be in a real good spot.
From Loretta in West Columbia, Texas: Will y'all be replaying hockey games on TV so we can enjoy watching our boys play?
DM: Well, FOX Sports North replayed a recent classic on Monday night as it aired the Wild's 7-0 win over Dallas on Hockey Day Minnesota back in January. I would not be surprised to hear of even more games being aired in the coming days. Stay tuned.
From Robert in Tower: I'm wondering if you have any idea where I can find the North Stars' Stanley Cup games from 1991.
DM: I know you can find some of these games on YouTube. I know there used to be a way to watch old North Stars games on NHL.TV if you have the app on the Smart TV or other console. Not sure if any of the 1991 games are available on there, but I just looked through the other day and that app has a bunch of great old hockey games you can watch in full. NHL.com has also rolled out Pause Binge, which allows you to watch back old games, features, and documentaries. Plenty of good stuff there if you're looking for your hockey fix.
From Tyler in Plymouth: Are you excited about the Winter Classic coming to Minnesota next season?
DM: Can't wait. The Stadium Series game a few years back was an awesome experience, so to get a chance to watch a Winter Classic in person, for me, will check off a professional bucket list item for sure. I'm really excited to see the job Target Field does. The ballpark is one of my favorite stadiums in all of sports, and everything I've ever watched there -- whether it's baseball, soccer or concerts -- has been a ton of fun. Everything the Twins do is first class, and I know they are really pumped to host the Wild and the Blues next January. The red-carpet treatment will be out for the teams and the fans, and I'm expecting one awesome event.
From Arik: Who will be captain next season if it's not Mikko Koivu?
DM: Another good question and one that isn't easy to answer. First of all, I wouldn't close the door entirely on a Koivu return. Mikko is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season, but he was starting to play some of his best hockey when the season hit pause. Perhaps that shouldn't be much of a surprise, considering he's now more than a full year removed from the knee injury that ended his 2018-19 a few months early. But if Koivu decides to hang it up or go elsewhere (and frankly, I'd be shocked if he chose to play somewhere else), I think the Wild has a number of quality in-house options. Zach Parise and Eric Staal are each former captains of other NHL clubs. Ryan Suter has worn an 'A' both here and in Nashville and has captained teams in international play. Beyond them, Jared Spurgeon will become the team's highest-paid player next season and is beloved by teammates in the dressing room. Marcus Foligno has all the makings of a great captain, assuming he's with the team, and comes from great lineage; his brother, Nick, is captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets and his dad, Mike, was once captain of the Buffalo Sabres. Luke Kunin has been lauded for his leadership skills both with Team USA at the World Junior Championships, where he led the United States to gold in 2017, and at the University of Wisconsin, where he was just the second sophomore in school history and the first in 40 years to wear the 'C.'
From Robert in Bemidji: How's Carson Soucy coming along with the injury? What is the status ... of the NHL Draft?
DM: Hi Robert. I reached out to Carson and he told me he's doing well, still working on mobility, but nearing 100 percent. "Almost there," was how he classified it. If/when the season restarts, he says he'll be ready to return to the lineup, so that's good news. In terms of the NHL Draft, that's another giant question mark. As it sits now, there is only about a week or so between the end of the Stanley Cup Finals and the start of the draft (last year, it was nine days). If the season ends up being restarted in full, that will likely push everything back, including the draft and free agency. If the season ends up being cancelled, which is not what teams are focusing on right now, then I would think the draft would be on more of a normal timeline ... although how it is conducted might have to change if we're still adhering to social distancing guidelines.