Pre-game reading: Analyzing the Minnesota Wild ahead of the expansion draft

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— Up top, the “Road to the NHL Outdoor Classics” looks at the St. Louis Blues, who will host the Blackhawks Jan. 2 at Busch Stadium. The Blues have never won the Stanley Cup, but they’re again one of the contenders this season.

— Pierre LeBrun takes a look at the Minnesota Wild ahead of the expansion draft. It will certainly be interesting to see if GM Chuck Fletcher moves one of his defenseman before Vegas gets its chance to pick. Don’t be surprised if the Edmonton Oilers, who’d still like to improve their back end, come calling on a guy like Matt Dumba. The Wild have to protect Ryan Suter, who has a no-movement clause, and they’ll likely choose to protect Jared Spurgeon. That may only leave them with one additional d-man to put a wall around. (ESPN)

— Speaking of Vegas, here’s Golden Knights GM George McPhee on the challenge of preparing for the expansion draft: “Things change. There is going to be a redistribution of players a few weeks before the deadline and there will be some trades as well so we have to know everyone in an organization. … You have to walk away with a good understanding of who those players are and what they can do on the ice because it’s going to matter in six months.” (NHL.com)

— Which coaches are on the hot seat coming out of the Christmas break? Yahoo Sports has come up with a list, and it starts with Dan Bylsma in Buffalo. We wrote about the Sabres today, and how they’ve failed to live up to their own expectations. Injuries have hurt them, but more and more people are wondering if Bylsma is the right man for the job. (Yahoo Sports)

Zack Kassian doesn’t drink anymore, and that more than anything has helped save his career. “When (Oilers GM) Peter Chiarelli made the move to pick me up, I knew it was going to be a long haul to get back to the NHL and to earn Peter’s trust back and to earn everyone’s trust back. I knew it was nothing but uphill. I just took it a day at a time. If you look at it now, a year later, I think things are slowly trying to turn around. Peter, I think, has gained a little more trust in me. And I think that’s all I could really ask for.” (Edmonton Sun)

— The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur, on the pressure the Canadians have to shoulder every year at the World Juniors: “This is Canada’s tournament, but let’s be clear what we mean when we say that. Nobody loves the world junior hockey championships like we do. It has become tradition. The young men lucky or unlucky enough to play know the pressure, know the glory, know the crushing disappointment. They, like so many of us, have watched it all happen on TV.” (Toronto Star)

Enjoy the games!