Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold spoke openly with Sports Headliners today about the ongoing contract negotiations with forward Kirill Kaprizov, last season’s NHL Rookie of the Year and a potential superstar for years to come. Leipold said months ago the franchise made an offer to the restricted free agent for eight years in the “neighborhood of $9 million,” but a deal still isn’t in place even though the Wild opens training camp next week.
“That was really an ambitious offer that we made to a player that has played 55 games in the league,” Leipold said. “We know he is a special player. We do believe that. We thought the offer indicated how we believe in him. He wants less years. It doesn’t appear to be so much about the money.”
Leipold and GM Bill Guerin have asked Kaprizov and his agent to show them contracts of comparable NHL players to help discussions. “That’s how we typically do any kind of negotiation is that we talk about comparables, and we’re not getting any comparables from them,” Leipold said.
The Wild are not insisting on an eight-year commitment. “…I think really the issue right now on the table is how long will the contract be and our position is it needs to be at least five years,” Leipold said.
Would the Wild negotiate the deal down to three years? “I can assure you we will never do a three-year deal,” Leipold said. “That will not happen.”
The negotiations have been drawn out and frustrating. Will the club consider trading Kaprizov? “There’s never been discussion on that,” Leipold said. “I don’t think so. We’re not going to trade him. He’s our guy. We’ve been committed to Kirill now for years (drafted in 2015). We want him to be in a Wild sweater as long as we can have him.”
Leipold is hopeful that a five-year deal at $9 millon annually could get done soon. “I have no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be in training camp, right? I can’t understand what is holding this up. The offer we have is on the table, it is incredibly fair. I don’t think anyone is going to question that—whether $9 million for five years is fair or not fair. You can look at what the best players in the league are making, we’re right there. I don’t understand what is holding the signing of this negotiation up.”
Leipold believes it’s time for flexibility from Kaprizov and his agent. “We’ve already given on the number of years…and we’re asking him to make movement as well. The hope is that he will and he’ll recognize he wants to be with his team, and wants to be with it long term, and wants to win a (Stanley) Cup here. We love the way this team is developing now with our younger players. This is a good time to be a Wild player and a Wild fan.”
The 24-year-old Kaprizov captivated the State of Hockey with his offensive skill set and electric play last season. He led the Wild and NHL rookies with 51 points in 55 games last season. The 5-foot-11, 201-pound forward also led the team and league rookies in goals, even-strength goals (19), power-play goals (8) and shots on goal (157).
Think Iowa isn’t a college football developmental program? The Hawkeyes had 34 alums (same as Clemson) on NFL opening day rosters, per a news release from the league. The Iowa total is bested by only five other schools including No. 1 Alabama (54) and No. 2 Ohio State (50).
Ex-Gophers in the league heading into the opening NFL weekend totaled 12, according to the Daily Gopher. That number included former Minnesota QB Chris Streveler, now a backup with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals team that plays the Minnesota Vikings team Sunday is the most experienced in the NFL averaging 5.47 years and 16 players age 30 and over.
The Vikings average 4.07, with eight players age 30 and over.
The Front Offices Sport newsletter reported NFL viewership numbers were up seven percent for the league’s opening weekend. “The NFL averaged 17.4 million viewers per game over traditional and online platforms, bouncing back from its dip last year — the first decline it had experienced in three seasons,” the newsletter wrote Wednesday.
Sportsmediawatch.com reported the September 2 Minnesota-Ohio State game on FOX had the largest TV audience on record for a game on the opening Thursday of the college football season. The telecast averaged 6.3 million viewers, with the previous high 5.13 million for Ohio State-Indiana on ESPN four years ago.
Word is NFL scouts are showing interest in former Chaska and North Dakota State wide receiver Sean Engel, now a senior at Augustana. The 6-foot-5 Engel was all-NSIC as a junior. He has a business administration degree and now is majoring in business marketing.
The first-year Division I football St. Thomas Tommies are 1-0 but tomorrow play at Northern Iowa (FCS-ranked No. 16.) The Panthers, who lost by only six points earlier this month to FBS-power Iowa State, will play a return game at St. Thomas in 2024.
Forward Nick Bjugstad on his promise to Minnesota Wild fans: “I ‘ll do my best every day to bring the Stanley Cup to St. Paul.”
Playing its home schedule at the Wild’s TRIA Rink practice facility this fall and winter will be the Minnesota Whitecaps of the rebranded Premier Hockey Federation (formerly the National Women’s Hockey League).
“The move is designed to brand the league based on the skill and talent of its athletes as opposed to their gender,” a Whitecaps spokesperson said via email. “It is the first professional women’s sports league in North America to lift the word ‘women’s’ out of its title—a potential game-changer for other women’s professional leagues.”
The Whitecaps open their season November 6 in Boston against the Pride, then have the home opener November 20 versus the same team in the six-franchise league.
I have known Minnesota Twins legend Tony Oliva since the 1970s but until recently I don’t think I ever told him how much I enjoyed watching him play ball. I ran into him at a local driving range when he was tuning up his game for a tourney.
With the offseason departure of veterans Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the Minnesota Wild faces a leadership question as the team approaches the start of training camp September 22. Forward Nick Bjugstad, 29, addressed the subject and his own career in an interview with Sports Headliners.
Bjugstad acknowledged it will be a different locker room next season without Suter, 36, and Parise, 37, who for years were the face of the franchise. “Those guys will be missed and they’ll have to be guys that step up,” Bjugstad said.
Bjugstad has seen the importance and role of leadership during a 10-year pro career. He played seven seasons with the Florida Panthers, two with the Pittsburgh Penguins and a first year with the Wild in 2020-2021. “I’ve been in very different locker rooms. I’d say the best cultures I’ve been in, the leadership starts from the top.”
Sidney Crosby, a super star for the ages, was a teammate of Bjugstad in Pittsburgh. Crosby led the Penguins not just with enormous talent but with a work ethic that set the tone for championship expectations. In Florida Bjugstad said the best teams he played with enjoyed and challenged one another.
How does Bjugstad see his leadership role for the coming season? “Definitely as an older guy you have to view yourself as someone who can help…the young guys. Help be a voice in the locker room. … I think a lot of the wisdom I retained over the years was from the older guys.”
Leadership is never about one person on a roster. Bjugstad expects team leaders to include Marcus Fuligno, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jared Spurgeon. Fuligno, Bjugstad said, is a vocal leader in the locker room and Ek’s focus and attention at the arena is exemplary. And Spurgeon?
“He reminds me of Crobsy in the way that he is very inclusive,” Bjugstad said. “Treats everybody the same, makes them feel welcome, and obviously an unbelievable defender.”
Bjugstad said the right locker room environment creates a culture where “everyone flourishes.” That includes impressionable younger players who are comfortable coming to veterans for advice.
Bjugstad said he loves meeting different people. He enjoys being around the locker room, and he is curious about the psychological aspect of sports.
Adversity has played a major part shaping who Bjugstad is. He’s endured serious injuries and when he came to the Wild about a year ago his past included major groin and back surgeries. As a result he has taken much more interest in the human body and how it functions.
He knows if players are injured and don’t understand what happened to them, the development can lead to a downspin in careers. “…If I wasn’t injured as much as I was I wouldn’t really be talking about the nervous system and how the body functions,” Bjugstad said.
Bjugstad has taken a different approach to offseason training this summer. As a younger player he was very aggressive in the weight room and didn’t pay attention to his body. Now his training approach is much more balanced including workouts in the pool and even proper breathing. His regimen emphasizes staying healthy and having a long career.
The former Blaine High School star who was the state’s Mr. Hockey in 2010, hasn’t played a full NHL season since 2017-2018. His goal now of playing a full schedule of 82 games is not a surprise.
At 6-foot-6 and about 208 pounds, Bjugstad is thin and he targets consumption of 5,000 calories per day. He eats a gluten free diet of healthy foods. While it may sound great to have a pass for 5,000 calories a day, Bjugstad does find himself eating just because he must.
He feels energized and mentally ready as training camp nears. As he approached his first season with the Wild a year ago, he wasn’t able to train the way he wanted because of surgeries. “I was a little apprehensive with a lot of the things I was doing going into the season and then I got through the season relatively healthy, and then this summer has been full bore,” he said.
The Minneapolis-born Bjugstad is grateful the Wild gave him an opportunity to come home. Because of the pandemic, this will be his first season playing in front of fans at Xcel Energy Center. “I love the fans. I was a fan of the Wild when I was a kid so I am really excited to get people in the building.”
Over the years the Wild has struggled to score goals, including in the playoffs. Bjugstad said he has been working with a skills coach to help his shooting in different positions. While offense is important, he wants to be known as a two-way player. “I’ve learned to play a little more of a defensive game than I played when I was younger.”
The Wild has been waiting a long time to make a deep playoff run. What about the season ahead? “I definitely think this group we have the Wild…wants to get better and enjoys being around each other, and that can make the world of difference in a long season and a playoff run,” Bjugstad said.
In Dylan Wright’s Minnesota debut last week he was the team’s leading receiver with five receptions, 57 yards and one touchdown catch. The Texas A&M transfer was a difference maker, showing his speed and skill in going up to catch the football against top-five ranked Ohio State.
Wright, 6-3 and 215, is a redshirt sophomore wide receiver who played in a total of eight games in 2019 and 2020 at A&M. “This is only his first year of really playing (college) football. First game (last Thursday) playing multiple, meaningful snaps. He’s just scratching the surface of where he can go,” Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck said yesterday.
Wright helped against the Buckeyes in the absence of the team’s most established wide receiver, the injured Chris Autman-Bell. A senior, Autman-Bell has played in 33 games during his Minnesota career, with 78 receptions for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns. He should be back soon and Fleck is anticipating the trio of Wright, Autman-Bell and sophomore Daniel Jackson.
“You start to look at that core and you start to see a lot of similarities from what we’ve had,” Fleck said in reference to 2019 when the 11-2 Gophers’ boasted superlative wide receivers in Rashod Bateman, Tyler Johnson and Autman-Bell.
Fleck also praises Wright’s character, referring to him as a “wonderful person” and says the Mesquite, Texas native is devoted to football. “Dylan Wright loves football and he loves to work at it. I think that’s what makes him special is how hard he works at becoming a really good player.”
The contribution of the wide receivers to the offense will be more important than ever after yesterday’s announcement that All-American running back Mohamed Ibrahim will have surgery today for what Fleck describes as a lower leg injury. He will miss the rest of the season and the redshirt senior’s future is uncertain at Minnesota.
Fleck said there is no pressure to do so now but in the months ahead Ibrahim will decide whether to pursue an NFL career or return for another season with the Gophers in 2022. “He should be able to make a full recovery,” Fleck said about what is believed to be a left Achilles injury. (Fleck doesn’t detail injuries, believing it’s best to leave that information up to the player to disclose if he chooses to do so.)
Ibrahim had a typical high production game against Ohio State, running 30 times for 164 yards. Who replaces him as the lead running back starting with Saturday’s home nonconference game against Miami (Ohio)? “Every back is going to be able to get a look,” Fleck said.
Fans may correctly expect redshirt sophomore Trey Potts, who had 37 yards in 10 carries last week, to win the designation as lead back. Others under consideration are redshirt junior Bryce Williams, redshirt sophomore Cam Wiley, redshirt freshman Ky Thomas and true freshman Mar’Keise Irving. Williams rushed for a career high 141 yards in a 2018 win over Miami (Ohio) in Minneapolis.
Matthew Trickett, the Kent State transfer who kicked an impressive 46-yard field goal in the Ohio State loss, is a first team All-Big Ten preseason pick by Pro Football Focus.
The Gopher athletic department is promoting tickets for all available remaining home games, with “starting at” prices of $20 for Miami (Ohio) and Bowling Green, $75 for Nebraska, $35 Maryland, $45 Illinois and $85 Wisconsin.
Saturday’s game with Miami will be televised by ESPNU and the September 18 game in Boulder against Colorado will be carried by the Pac-12 Network.
Arkansas’ Eric Musselman, who the University of Minnesota could almost certainly have hired as head basketball coach a few years ago, has the No. 6 ranked recruiting class for 2022, per the 247 Sports composite listings.
Iowa State, whose basketball verbal commits include Eli King from Caledonia, is ranked No. 10, and Purdue, with a potential class headed by Camden Heide of Wayzata, is No. 16. Both Minnesotans are four-star recruits, per 247.
Heide’s brother Keaton is a reserve quarterback on the FCS South Dakota State football team that upset FBS Colorado State in Fort Collins last week.
“David versus Goliath:” The St. Thomas football team, in its first season of Division I competition, plays Northern Iowa on September 18. The Panthers put a scare into top-10 ranked Iowa State last week before losing 16-10.
It’s fitting the Toronto Blue Jays will be the opponent when Canada native Justin Morneau is inducted into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame on September 25. Prior to the game at Target Field with the Blue Jays, the former Twins first baseman and AL MVP will have former teammate Joe Mauer as his presenter.
Retiring: Bill Evers, 67 and filling in as Twins manager while Rocco Baldelli is on paternity leave, will retire at season’s end. The veteran Twins coach has managerial experience in pro baseball dating back to 1987.
“Book Reports:” Pioneer Press sportswriter Chris Tomasson Tweeted that his book, The Minnesota Vikings All-Time All-Stars, is coming out September 15 and will be available on Amazon.
There will be a private publication party September 24 at the University of Minnesota for Terry McConnell’s new book, Breaking through the Line. The book tells the story of former Gophers All-American Bobby Marshall who was the NFL’s first African American player.
The Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins wrote on Facebook he is collaborating with fellow columnist Patrick Reusse on a book they hope to have out in the spring. The book will recount the many entertaining stories of Reusse’s career in newspapers and radio.
Real Estate: Various online reports this summer say former Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Kevin Garnett sold his unfinished Malibu, California mansion for $16 million. No word on whether he’s looking for property in Glen Taylor’s home town of Mankato.
The state’s top thoroughbreds and quarter horses race Wednesday at Canterbury Park in the 28th Minnesota Festival of Champions. The 12-race card will pay a total of $852,450 in purses.