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Wild to Make “Noise” in Player Market

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April 28, 2019

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Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold is anticipating July 1, and the period when NHL teams can pursue free agents to help their teams.

Leipold told Sports Headliners he’s excited about the summer ahead and upgrading Minnesota’s talent pool. “For the first time in seven years we have some cash (payroll flexibility) to go out and get involved in unrestricted free agents,” he said. “You know we haven’t had money since (signing Ryan) Suter and (Zach) Parise. …”

The Wild, who missed the playoffs this spring after six straight years, had only two goal scorers with over 20 goals last season. Parise, who along with Suter signed $98 million deals in 2012, had 28 goals and Eric Staal scored 22. The Wild ranked 27th in the 31 team NHL in regular season goal scoring with 210, or about 2.5 per game.

Before the season ended, general manager Paul Fenton made payroll moves to create more flexibility, to spend money this summer to acquire one or two productive goal scorers. “We’re excited about that,” Leipold said.

The owner would welcome a 25-plus goal scorer. “They’re hard to come by and they are expensive,” Leipold said. “But there are some people out there like that and we’re anxious to talk to them.”

Leipold didn’t mention names but among those Minnesota seems certain to consider is former Edina and Notre Dame star Anders Lee of the New York Islanders. He scored 28 goals and had 23 assists last season, and becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

Lee turns 29 that month and is in the prime of his career. He might command a new contract of $7 million or more per season not only for his offensive production but also because of his leadership.

Could the Wild sign even two premiere goal scorers? “It would be hard to get two premier goal scorers but I guess it defines what you mean by premiere,” Leipold said. “I mean if we have $12 million available to us this summer we can make some noise and that’s what we plan to do.”

What’s the likelihood of Minnesota coming up with at least one very productive forward? “I think the likelihood is very good. I think we will,” Leipold said. “Minnesota is a great place to play, and we have a lot going for us right now.

“We’ve got some really young players that would be appealing to anybody looking at coming to our team. And we have some experienced players that know how to do it, know how to win, and know how to play in the playoffs. We will be in a good place come this summer so I am excited about that.”

Worth Noting

Bruce Boudreau

Did Leipold labor over whether to retain Bruce Boudreau as coach after the Wild didn’t make the playoffs? “Not at all,” Leipold said. “Done deal.”

Leipold has a high regard for Boudreau who has coached the team for three seasons. “I like Bruce. I like the way he coaches,” Leipold said. “I think he’s got command of the players.

“Last year, I am not blaming Bruce on how things ended up. This is a tough league. I don’t know if everybody understands that. Only half the teams make it (into the playoffs). We got knocked out there at the end. But that happens.

“Look what’s happening (upsets) in the playoffs, this is completely crazy. There’s a lot of parity in this league.”

Ex-Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema had a blue-collar mentality when he played in the 1970s. He looks at players in the NFL Draft and sees impressive athletic skills, but not necessarily hard workers. “I would draft on work ethic alone, almost,” he told Sports Headliners.

What percent of players have a work ethic meeting Lurtsema’s expectations? “Not enough, I will tell you that. If I say 50 percent, I would be high.”

Lurtsema on Kirk Cousins, the Vikings’ $84 million quarterback: “The kid has a work ethic like you wouldn’t believe.”

Former Vikings center Matt Birk is a Renaissance man with his varied activities including public speaking, starting a new Catholic school in Burnsville and doing comedy at local venues for charity. Unity High School plans to open in the fall, and Birk will do his comedy act for a school fundraiser on May 4 at Royal Cliff in Eagan. Birk will perform at the Gasthof in Minneapolis May 3 for Teach for Christ.

During playing days with the Vikings, Birk owned two Minneapolis-St. Paul restaurants. He told Sports Headliners he’s not likely to go back into that business.

“No, never. (Well), never say never.”

The Twins try for a home sweep against the Orioles in today’s series finale at Target Field. Minnesota has won 11 straight over Baltimore dating back to last year.

Minnesota designated hitter Nelson Cruz is hitting .455, with four home runs and six RBI against the Orioles in five games this season.

The Twins have placed catcher Willians Astudillo on the 10-day injured list with a left hamstring strain, an injury he suffered yesterday afternoon running the bases. Astudillo has played in 16 games, hitting .327 (16-for-49) with four doubles, two home runs and seven RBI. The Twins recalled outfielder Jake Cave from Triple-A Rochester to replace Astudillo on the 25-man roster.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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