Earl among cuts for Wild
COLUMBUS, OHIO — As Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir played the role of grim reaper Monday by tapping the shoulder of Houston-bound player after player, Casey Wellman looked as white as a ghost.
"I'm on pins and needles," Wellman said. "I think I'm going to go hide."
But Wellman at least had a practice sweater in his stall. Nate Prosser did not, so the rookie defenseman deduced his fate — a demotion to the Houston Aeros of the AHL.
Monday was doomsday for a number of Wild hopefuls. Fourteen players got their walking papers. Five vying for spots are closer to making the final roster and at the very least being aboard the team's flight for Helsinki, Finland, on Thursday night.
Wellman and heavy hitting/punching forward Matt Kassian, attending his sixth training camp in Minnesota, moved from the minor-league locker room into the main locker room, as did defensemen Justin Falk, Marco Scandella and Drew Bagnall.
"To survive is a great feeling," said Falk, 21, a 6-5 defenseman having a solid camp.
The most surprising non-survivor was Robbie Earl, whom many believed after six call-ups and 32 NHL games last season finally would earn full-time NHL status. But three below-average exhibition games cost him.
"I've got to get back on the saddle and start from ground zero," Earl said.
Also sent to Houston were forwards Cody Almond, Colton Gillies, Carson McMillan and Chad Rau, defensemen Prosser, Tyler Cuma, Maxim Noreau and Jared Spurgeon and goalie Matt Hackett.
Earl, Petr Kalus, Warren Peters and Jon DiSalvatore were placed on waivers and will be demoted Tuesday if unclaimed. Defenseman Jamie Fraser cleared waivers Monday.
The roster sits at 25 healthy bodies -- two more than the maximum roster size that must be submitted to the league Oct. 6. Barring injuries the final two exhibition games, the Wild will cut one defenseman before traveling to Finland and one or two players in Finland.
The Wild's exhibition lineups Tuesday and Thursday against Columbus will be nearly identical to its opening night lineup, meaning no more excuses after an 0-3-1 start to the preseason. General Manager Chuck Fletcher said it's "critical" the Wild shows these two games what type of team it will be.
"It's important for our players to ratchet up the intensity," Fletcher said. "It's time we start treating these games as regular-season games. ... We need to start playing the right way and forming the right habits."
"And we will," captain Mikko Koivu said. "I'm not nervous at all. The lineups have been pretty much half and half with young guys and veterans, so you can't really get a feeling about your team.