Star Tribune

Russo's NHL Insider: Larsson hard to part with for Wild

Parting with Johan Larsson wasn’t an easy move for a Wild brain trust that had watched him blossom into star material.

Article by: Michael Russo , Star Tribune

Updated: April 7, 2013 - 12:44 AM

 

When you’re a scout who spends weeks on the road in the heart of winter scouring the world for talent, there is nothing more satisfying than draft day.

The most rewarding part is the selection of the first-round pick. In a vast production, the general manager, coach, team’s top talent evaluators and a scout or two get to go on stage, announce the pick on national TV and pose for pictures with a teenager whose dream just came true.

Scouting is an inexact science when trying to project the futures of 18-year-olds. But the other cool part of the draft is trying to hit home runs in the later rounds.

That’s why as excited as the Wild was to acquire Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville on Wednesday, you know deep down it hurt a lot of behind-the-scenes folks in the hockey operations department.

Unless General Manager Chuck Fletcher is able to acquire another first-round pick, the Wild hierarchy won’t get to go on stage this June in New Jersey. But perhaps the harder blow was giving up Johan Larsson in the package. Larsson was considered one of those home runs inside the Wild.

It’s that part of the Pominville trade that caused the most internal debate inside the Wild. Trading Larsson was crushing for assistant GM Brent Flahr, who proudly called him “the Grumpy Swede.”

“Scouts, when you trade a first-round pick, it’s always a little uneasy feeling probably, but when you get a good player [like Pominville], it’s fine,” Flahr said. “Probably more uneasiness comes from trading a guy like Larsson, who you draft and get to know a bit and appreciate. I’m a big fan of Johan Larsson. I think everybody knows that, but that’s the business.

“We’ve worked hard as a staff. We have a lot of good, young kids in this organization now. You can’t always keep them all in order to take a next step to be a better team.”

From Buffalo’s perspective, besieged GM Darcy Regier swung a heck of a deal, parlaying a 30-year-old on a franchise in rebuild mode for Larsson, a potential goalie of the future in Matt Hackett and first- and second-round picks.

The Wild missed on Ryane Clowe. It then really, really wanted Pominville and had so many assets, it was able to afford to give up what most externally would consider a truckload.

There are only so many positions on a hockey rink. The Wild has core pieces already cemented to the ice. They have lots of kids in the pipeline. So Fletcher felt there had to come a point where he began using some of these picks and prospects as currency since they can’t all play here.

Fletcher also wanted to send a message to the team that, as Flahr said, “We want to win now.”

Of course, the thing that’s scary is that despite that “huge, huge vote of confidence,” as coach Mike Yeo called it, the tired club has responded by losing two games since the trade.

“Making this trade doesn’t guarantee anything, but if you sit around and take the safe route all the time, what good does that do?” Fletcher said.

Not only has Fletcher tried to get the attention of the Wild with the trade, the hope is there’s a ripple effect around the NHL. The Wild wants to gain a reputation as a destination — a team players want to play for, like New York, Pittsburgh and others.

Pominville said that rep began last summer when the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for $196 million over 13 years.

Now the Wild is showing it isn’t afraid to trade picks and prospects to at least try to get better.

One player who may take notice is former Gophers sniper Thomas Vanek, Pominville’s buddy and linemate in Buffalo who isn’t thrilled with the Sabres’ rebuild. His contract is up after next season. If the salary cap begins to rise again after next year’s dip, the Wild may be able to afford him.

Regardless, the Wild keeps showing it’s willing to make bold moves. Let’s see if they translate into victories on the ice.

RUSSO’S SHORT TAKES

Icing controversy continues

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen is done for the season after being removed on a stretcher Tuesday with an ankle injury sustained during a race for an icing.

Immediately after, I received an unsolicited text from former Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster, who broke his femur in 2008 when coincidentally current Wild winger Torrey Mitchell tried to negate an icing in San Jose.

“Now a star like Pitkanen hurt on icing, when is it enough?? No need for it anymore!!!!!!!” Foster texted. “I couldn’t watch it. So brutal.”

Again, it is time for the NHL to go to hybrid icing. The league supports it. It’s Foster’s own union that is holding it up.

Luongo seems stuck

A disappointed Roberto Luongo remains in Vancouver after the Canucks failed yet again to trade the 33-year-old goalie. He had nine years left on a 12-year, $64 million deal and he knows that’s why he’s been untradeable

“If I could scrap it I would,” said Luongo, who watched Cory Schneider start most nights. “I don’t think disappointment’s the right word. It’s been an emotional ride the last year.”

All fun in Philly

Best April Fool’s prank came when Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux (@28CGiroux) tweeted to teammate Scott Hartnell (@Hartsy19): good luck in St Louis. You’re a great teammate and friend. Just make sure you keep your head up next year.”

Hartnell replied, “Thanks PHL. I love you all!!!!”

Of course, he was not traded.

WILD’S WEEK AHEAD

Sunday: at Columbus, 5 p.m. (FSN)

Tuesday: vs. Chicago, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)

Thursday: vs. St. Louis, 7 p.m. (FSN)

Saturday: vs. Columbus, 7 p.m. (FSN)

Player to watch: Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis

Thoroughbred who eats minutes and skates like the wind, the defenseman was traded from Calgary during last week’s Wild game and is hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in his career.

VOICES

« Is that because of his contract? »

Wild coach Mike Yeo when told a scout referred to defenseman Brett Clark as a “poor man’s Ryan Suter.”

Michael Russo • 612-673-4994

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