Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gm # 51: Wild vs. Fowl (4/4)

Very strong game last night from the Wild who were one cleared zone at the end of a penalty kill away from completely shutting down the Fowl. Even with that one play, it's hard to say anything other than the Wild played one of their strongest whole-team performances of the season.

Backstrom was very strong, made a couple spectacular saves (which he has not been doing with any regularity this season) and really had a positive impact on the game - which we need from him. Rolston, PMB, Gaby and Demo in particular were strong on offense, and Nick Schultz was great on defense.

Koivu took another big step towards recapturing his pre-injury form, and chipped in a goal off a nice feed from Demo.

The most intriguing part of the win to me was that, once the Wild had the Fowl by the throat, they didn't let up and put the game away definitively with a very tight third period.

Sure, it wasn't the best game Anaheim has ever played, but take nothing away from the Wild.

That kind of killer instinct is going to be so important down the stretch. The ability to win games in regulation - and not give out the free point - could very well be the difference between winning the division and finishing 3rd (with home ice advantage in at least the first round) or not winning the division and finishing anywhere from 6th to 10th.

Season series
Overall: Wild win 3-1-0 (GF 14, GA 7)
In Minny: split 1-1-0 (GF 7, GA 5)
In Anaheim: Wild win 2-0-0 (GF 7, GA 2)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: The power play was brutal last night...thank God they didn't need it.

POLLYANNA SAYS: 6-3-1 in their last 10, it's starting to come together!

BOTTOM LINE: Decisive 2-points from the defending champs.

STUD: Backstrom has taken some heat here this season for inconsistency. Last night he was the goalie we saw last season and need from him now. His rebound control was terrific.

DUD: Johnsson's worst game in a while, and it wasn't just the goal.

Next up: To C-Bus for a BJ. I will be in attendance with my wife, and will offer up a full report on Nationwide Arena, the game, the locals, etc.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

ASG Reax

*As All-Star Games go, I thought that one was pretty good. Certainly as measured by fan buy-in (as best can be guaged through my TV) it was a hit. Kudos to the fans in Atlanta. As recently as the week before the event, I got an email from the NHL telling me I could still buy tickets to the SuperSkills/YoungStars and the game itself. But the crowd looked and sounded large and loud all weekend.

The SuperSkills competition - even with all the new/tweaked events - was as contrived as ever. Other than the hardest shot and accuracy everything else is so NOT legitimate as to be ridiculous. I thought the breakaway thing was a good idea, but I just couldn't shake the feeling that they're pandering to the masses by over-playing the "popularity" of the shootout. Other than AO - who is amazing, and should be marketed to the hilt by the league - no one really took any chances.

The YoungStars was a better format than in years past, and the players were certainly more into it. I'm not sure it's a great showcase though. Here's my idea: make it the YoungStars vs. the NHL Legends. Two ten-minute running time halves. You pit the brilliance and youthful exuberance of the YoungStars against the wily hijinx of the old guard. You throw Andy VanHellemond out there in a zebra shirt and tell him to swallow his whistle when Mickey Redmond grabs Patrick Kane by the back of his sweater to keep him from breaking in all alone, etc. I guarantee the kids will be able to set up some amazing plays that will have the crowd oohing and aahing, and you can also bank on the old guys yukking it up with some funny stuff too. I think everyone wins - and the league gets a chance to pay homage to it's history - which it always tries to do but it always comes off feeling a little forced.

The game itself was interesting because the West was able to rally from an early 5-1 deficit to make it very close. Some of the playmaking was incredible, but that stuff does not translate well to TV (and, unless you're sitting on the glass, not in the stands either). Again, the crowd was great and the game came off fine, which I suppose means it was a success for the league.

Versus is reporting their ratings were up from last year as well, so that's a good sign.

My favorite part of the whole weekend was the goalies that agreed to wear a mic during the action. That's just a great way to really get organic insight into what actually is going on at ice level and DiPietro and Legace were interesting and entertaining as well.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Gm # 50: Wild @ Avalanche (5/8)

If there was ever an opportunity for a statement game for the Wild, last night was it. The Avs are currently without Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny. That level of casualties among your upper end talent would stagger most teams. True, the Avs have been very plucky of late, but still, do you think the Red Wings would have gone easy on them? Me neither.

And the Wild got off on the right foot. Fridge finished off a great pass from Demo - which Theodore misplayed, and right after he'd made a great save - to put the Wild up by one, and then Nummy-to-Gaby-to-Rolston for the cannon on the power play and the Wild were cruising. Moments later Gaby breaks in all alone and actually gets the puck through Theodore's pads but it was stopped short of the goal line. Still the first period could not have gone better for the Wild...until the final minute.

Gaby has a chance to clear the zone about five feet inside the blue line, and somehow decides (he's unchecked at the time, mind you) that his best play was to do a backhand snapshot between the legs - blind - which is easily picked off and then Brunette lobs a hospital shot in on Backstrom who was apparently still shaking his head at the Gaby play because it gets past him short side, but then Backs knocked it into the cage himself. Ugly, ugly play - and it gave the Avs hope going into the locker room.

...Which they used to kill off a second period-opening penalty kill and then tie the game. The first half of the second period looked like a photo negative of the first 19 minutes of the first period with the Avs owning the play.

But the Wild persevere, and then Ian Laperriere crushes Skoula in open ice (a tad late, but not Flyers-esque) and just like that the tide is turned. Mike Russo reports that the Wild bench was up in arms at the abuse of their brother. And The Momentum - that fickle phantasm, mercurial as a tendril of smoke - slithered back over to the Wild side long enough for Demo to corral a rebound left by Theodore off a Foster ICBM and deposit it in the back of the net for the GWG.

Overall, I'm pleased with the result, pleased that they got their game back on track, and displeased with the way they let the Avs up off the mat at the end of the first and through the first half of the second. The Wild needs a killer insinct. They need a game breaker who can consistently break games. They need a goalie who doesn't fold when the team breaks down in front of him on a play. Do they have all these pieces already? Maybe. If so, I hope they use this All-Star break to get their act together because the division, the second or third seed (and home ice) in the conference and maybe, just maybe a long playoff run is possible with this team.

Season series
Overall: Wild lead 3-2-0 (GF 13, GA 12)
In Minny: Wild lead 2-0-0 (GF 7, GA 3)
In Denver: Wild trail 1-2-0 (GF 6, GA 9)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: It would sure be nice to see a 60-minute effort.

POLLYANNA SAYS: First in the NW!

BOTTOM LINE: They salvaged two points in regulation against a division team.

STUD: Schultz had a strong game in all zones, including 2 helpers.

DUD: Radio was ineffective and didn't add anything all night. A couple soft hits should not be enough to keep his spot in the lineup.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

**UPDATED** Nordstrom's or Wal-Mart?

Depending on whom you ask, the Wild is either one injury away from obscurity or one player away from contention.

Looking at the standings, in which the Wild is currently in 6th place in the Western Conference, tied for second in the Northwest Division and only two points out of third and first, respectively, you would have to side with the latter of those two categorizations.

But, looking at other metrics such as goals differential (GF 135, GA 136), road record (12-11-2) and recent performance (5-4-1 in last ten games), and the glass looks less-full.

The Wild is certainly on course for the playoffs - and that is to be expected of them - but the question is: are they going to be able to take the next step which would seem to be defined as winning a series (or two)?

One is left to wonder, then, which of the aforementioned descriptions of the team Wild GM Doug Risebrough subscribes to at this point in time. That subscription, most likely, being the determining factor of whether DR goes shopping at Nordstrom's (read: for an impact, top-line type player) or at Wal-Mart (read: for an inconsequential "depth" type player).

Obviously there are mitigating factors.

If the prices at Nordstrom's are as high as they were last year (when GMs frivolously tossed out 1st round draft picks like candy at a parade) then one suspects DR will not be seen riding up and down the gilded escalators at Nordy's.

There's also the little matter of how the team intends to manage the careers of guys like PMB, Rolston, Demitra and Schultz.

PMB ($2.6M), SRV ($595k), Matt "Nine Lives" Foy ($506k), Voros ($495k) and Foster ($1.025M) are all RFAs after this season.

Demo ($4.5M), Rolston ($2.432M), Radio ($680k), Fedoruk ($875k), Carney ($2.1M), Schultz ($1.85M), Nummelin ($1.2M) and Hill ($475k) are all UFAs after this season.

By my math, that's $5.221M in RFAs and $14.112M in UFAs (salary, not cap hit) from the current team. The Wild currently has about $3.7M in cap space according to

As much as some Wild fans would like to think it, Skoula, Radio, Johnsson, Foy and Foster will not command anything approaching a Marian Hossa. And our impending UFAs are unattractive to big sellers unless they become desperate to get SOMETHING for their player - which is unlikely.

Without suggesting that DR is alone among his GM peers in this quandary, it is not an enviable position.

So, back to the question at hand: Nordstrom's or Wal-Mart? There are certainly some Nordstrom's-quality names being bandied about right now. Marian Hossa, Mats Sundin and Olli Jokinen, to name a few. Any of those three would seem to offer an immediate and significant upgrade for the Wild. We all know about Hossa's blood brothers the WonderGroin Twins - so we might have an edge there. We all know about the Wild's utter lack of depth at the center position, so Sundin or Jokinen would be that much more appealing.

And there's also the spectre of Peter Forsberg skating lazy circles out on the horizon. While one suspects that, when a Sundin or Forsberg says they're only interested in going to a contender, they don't mean the Minnesota Wild, one can never be too sure.

It's being reported as all-but certain that Sundin returns to the Buds this summer as a UFA, which makes him a rental player at the deadline - and a very, very expensive one at that. I don't think the Wild is one Mats Sundin away from the Cup so I don't see DR giving up a package that would probably include a PMB, Pouliot and a 1st round pick (at least) for twenty regular season games and maybe 10 playoff games with the acquired player.

Instead, I see DR making a move only in the event that he is all-but certain he can re-sign or extend the player, and if he's going to move youth he's only going to do so if he's getting youth back in return.

I think PMB is the Wild's most-tradable asset right now. It's not that I don't like him, I just think his skillset is the best combination of desirable to another team and redundant on the Wild right now. Pouliot could be a case of the "needs a new environment to flourish". Again, I have nothing against the kid, but his ascent in the Wild's system has not exactly been meteoric.

DR has indicated that he's loathe to part with a first-round pick, and I appreciate that. This is supposedly a deep draft so holding onto that first rounder seems to be a smart thing to do. He cites last year's insanity at the deadline - wherein none of the teams that made the biggest splashes (Islanders, Thrashers, Predators) even got out of the first round - and that having divested themselves of significant chunks of The Future in the form of young players and draft picks. However, would an aversion to including our first round pick in this year's draft be a non-starter in discussions with the Hossa, Sundin, etc camps?

That leaves one guy: Forsberg. As a UFA, you're not giving up picks or players to sign him. The problems are A) our previously discussed dubious claim to the "contender" moniker and B) everyone else is aware of this and the bidding could get pretty frothy, pretty quickly for Foppa. (Plus, there's the not insignificant risk that you sign him and his foot falls off after three games.)

So does this all mean Wild fans should not expect a big name trade before February 26th? Not necessarily. With so many UFAs and RFAs after this season, the "window of opportunity" for the current team is closing. IF - big if - the brass decides this team is one guy away from actually making a run at the Cup, then why not?

But, with so many teams still very much alive in the playoff race, it's going to be tough to make that decision.

**UPDATE** Well, no sooner do I put this up, but Mike Russo goes and reports the following in his blog:

"...I’ve been told by a source close to this team that if the price was right and Peter Forsberg was interested in the Wild, the Wild would be interested in him.
Of course, this isn’t the most gripping news because first Forsberg would have to want to come here and second the Wild would have to outbid a ton of other suitors, including teams like Philadelphia, where it sounds like Forsberg’s interested in going back to.
Anyways, assistant GM Tom Lynn was sitting in the stands this morning for several minutes with agent Don Baizley, who has some of the league’s top players, including Mikko Koivu, and yes, Forsberg.
Lynn wouldn’t comment on the nature of their talk, but quite honestly, it could have been an informal chat considering the Wild has a terrific relationship with Baizley."

Obviously he's qualifying his remarks, and Russo is known to go out of his way not to report anything that he doesn't actually believe in.

Stay tuned...


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gm # 49: Wild @ Flames (5/8)

When you hold Jarome Iginla off the scoresheet entirely, and only allow goals from Stephane Yelle and Craig Conroy, IN Calgary, you should win. Unless, of course, you're the Minnesota Wild who can't buy a break - much less a win - in Calgary to save their lives. Sometimes they shoot themselves in the foot - as in their first game there this season. Sometimes, though, they play a pretty good road game and have one incredible piece of bad luck conspire against them.

That was pretty much the story last night. Steady Nick Schultz make one bad clearing attempt and oft-belittled (by Flames fans) Craig Conroy puts it in the back of the net for the go-ahead goal. Then Brent Burns rips a laser past Kiprusoff that catches the near post, trundles across the goal line to the far post, bangs off that and trundles the entire distance back to the near post and squirts harmlessly back into the crease. Unbelievable.

Harding played a strong game, allowing no really weak goals, and turning aside 35 shots with excellent rebound control (something Backstrom still has room to improve on).

But he was outshone by Kipper who made a good half-dozen huge saves among his total of 23.

This was the Wild's second loss (in 10 games) on the back end of a B2B this season - which is both remarkable and probably means they were due.

Season series
Overall: Wild trail 1-3-1 (GF 12, GA 14)
In Minny: Wild lead 1-0-1 (GF 6, GA 4)
In Calgary: Wild trail 0-3-0 (GF 6, GA 10)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Bad luck nothing, who's the gamebreaker?

POLLYANNA SAYS: Iggy's bagel a fair consolation prize.

BOTTOM LINE: Tough loss after the high of the Vancouver game.

STUD: Harding stood tall and offers a striking contrast to Backstrom when he's "on".

DUD: Foster was on the ice for both Flames goals.


Gm # 48: Wild @ Canucks (4/8)

This was a game that had some juicy storylines (ie Koivu playing in the 'Couv for the first time since Mattias Ohlund broke his leg) but in the end it came down to hard work and a big effort from Butch. Oh, and Koivu earned a measure of revenge with the GWG.

This was one of the Wild's best efforts so far this season. They set the physical tone, and kept it up. They were flying offensively and playing smart defense. Apart from leaving some juicy rebounds (which were cleaned up adroitly by the defense for the most part) Nik Backstrom played very well - and really looked like the Backstrom from last year. Todd Fedoruk continues to show value beyond his now-limited pugilistic abilities.

Koivu was on fire in the first period and I would not be surprised if his effort - in all zones - inspired the rest of the guys to some extent.

All in all, a good effort, in a building the Wild has had some real trouble with over the years.

Season series
Overall: tied 2-2-0 (GF 10, GA 13)
In Minny: tied 1-1-0 (GF 4, GA 5)
In Vancouver: tied 1-1-0 (GF 6, GA 8)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Still giving up too many shots (40).

POLLYANNA SAYS: Butch showed than he CAN play with the big boys (literally).

BOTTOM LINE: A solid two points in regulation against a division foe - in their building.

STUD: Butch. As previously stated.

DUD: Hard to say he really played poorly, but Belanger was a -2 on the game.


Gm # 47: Wild vs. Anaheim (3/4)

I did not watch this game. Apparently Todd Bertuzzi was up to his old tricks, and I don't mean breaking someone's neck.

The Fowl scored the first three goals of the game, and even two goals in 14 seconds by the Wild couldn't overcome that.

Season series
Overall: Wild lead 2-1-0 (GF 9, GA 6)
In Minny: Wild trail 0-1-0 (GF 2, GA 4)
In Anaheim: Wild lead 2-0-0 (GF 7, GA 2)


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Gm # 46: Wild vs. Flames (4/8)

The stars were misaligned last night for the Wild, and it was a poor night for it to happen. First, red-hot Josh Harding tweaks a Gaborik in the warm up and Nik Backstrom is pressed into emergency duty (though he played pretty well overall, despite some iffy rebound control). Then the zebras took over the game - allowing a Wild goal after Radio basically jumped up and sat on Kipprusoff's back, and then an extremely quick whistle on what would have been a Flames goal (the puck was basically in mid-air). Then a pretty soft call on the Flames leads to another Wild PPG. So perhaps it is some kind of karmic justice that the Flames got the extra point last night (via the shootout), but the Wild were very lucky to get a point at all.

The Wild did a good job of containing Iginla during regulation and OT, but the Wild killer was not to be denied in the SO - though after Dion Phaneuf softened up Backstrom with a rocket off the collar bone.

I guess the Wild didn't play poorly. The Flames were hungry and enthused - as you'd imagine they would have been having just been shut out in Nashville and on a 4-game losing streak. The "nickel defense" pair of Schultz and Johnsson continue to be very strong, and Voros was back to his old swashbuckling self. The Foy-Shep-Fedoruk line had their moments again, and the PP got credited with two goals. Radio definitely played like a guy who doesn't want to lose his job, now he just has to replicate it.

Kurtis Foster had a strong game. Hitting, defensively and a LASER of a slapper for the second Wild goal.

Martin Skoula started out pretty well, but then failed to disrupt David Moss as he skated in from the left dot and scored his second goal of the season.

It's good to get a point out of this game, but it feels worse than a SOL. Give credit to Calgary for playing a good road game and persevering through some shoddy officiating.

Martin Skoula Report Card
Martin had a challenging game. He started out okay, but then was back to his old habits of losing power to his brain for a goal-against. He also took a stupid delay-of-game penalty.
Grade: D+

Season series
Overall: Wild trail 1-2-1 (GF 11, GA 12)
In Minny: Wild lead 1-0-1 (GF 6, GA 4)
In Calgary: Wild trail 0-2-0 (GF 5, GA 8)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Still no answer for Iginla.

POLLYANNA SAYS: A point's a point!

BOTTOM LINE: Take the point and run...

STUD: Foster takes a lot of grief for not using his size and not hitting the net. Neither can be said about his game last night.

DUD: Good Marty, we hardly knew ye.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Gm # 45: Wild vs. Coyotes (4/4)

Apparently, Mr. Naegele was the problem.

The Wild beat the Coyotes 4-1 last night to run their current streak to three games, and stay unbeaten in the Craig Leipold era as well.

While beating the Coyotes might not carry the cache of beating, say the Red Wings, for the Wild, it was a solid performance on home ice, continuing the mini-trend and setting the team up for two tough games in St. Paul this week against the Flames and Fowl.

With a re-commitment to team defense, the Wild finally outshot their opponent. They were shooting from everywhere, using screens to beat Bryzgalov, and the Foy-Shep-Fridge line was again very strong, particularly in the offensive zone.

Unlike the previous two games Harding was not under constant seige, though he did have one huge save right after Demitra opened the scoring midway through the second. It was the kind of shot, in the kind of situation, that has bitten the Wild far too often this season, and Hards coming up with the save was that much more important because of it.

Mikko Koivu has now played two games since returning from his broken bone, and he's been a pleasant surprise in both of them. His tenacious D and slick stickhandling - particularly in traffic - suffered no ill-effects from the injury or layoff.

Martin Skoula Report Card
Martin had his third-straight solid game with no major mistakes. When Martin applies himself he is able to make a positive contribution to the team, and he's doing that right now.

Season series
Overall: Wild win 4-0-0 (GF 13, GA 6)
In Minny: Wild win 2-0-0 (GF 7, GA 2)
In Phoenix: Wild win 2-0-0 (GF 6, GA 4)


POLLYANNA SAYS: No road trip hangover here!

BOTTOM LINE: Solid-not-flashy two points. Good things happen when you shoot the puck!

STUD: Tempted to give it to Hards again, but Shep scores for the first time since Thanksgiving - and it's a GWG to boot.

DUD: Burns had a brain cramp for the second straight game.


Gm # 44: Wild @ Blackhawks (2/4)

After Thursday's thrilling SO victory over the mighty Red machine the Wild found themselves once more at the crossroads that has vexed them this whole season: build on a big win or piss away the momentum?

Friday night in Chicago, arguably for the first time this season, the Wild chose the former option, ultimately skating away with a 5-2 win over the resurgent-but-fatally-injured Blackhawks.

So prone to the "score a goal and then give it right back" gaffe this season, the Wild reversed that trick for the second night in a row, this time on Matt Foy's stuff on some good forechecking by the Foy-Sheppard-Fedoruk line. In fact that kind of play would be present all game from that line, and was a welcome sight.

The Wild took control with a three-goal second period and didn't let an early third period goal that brought the Hawks back to withing 4-2 derail what had been a solid effort. Josh Harding was again excellent in earning the win.

Again, the Blackhawks have some big injuries right now, but where this win fails as a litmus test, it still holds up as a good follow-up to a big win - and is the kind of game this Wild team has lost several times already this season.

Martin Skoula Report Card
Martin had another solid game. No major mistakes, took care of business in his own zone.
Grade B

Season series
Overall: Wild lead 2-0-0 (GF 6, GA 2)
In Minny: Wild lead 1-0-0 (GF 1, GA 0)
In Chicago: Wild lead 1-0-0 (GF 5, GA 2)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Not crazy about 43 shots against, thankfully Harding was up to the task.

POLLYANNA SAYS: 7-1-1 now on the back end of B2B games this season.

BOTTOM LINE: Solid road win, in conference, regulation.

STUD: Harding followed up his saviour routine with a strong performance.

DUD: Other than another (lame) fight, SRV was invisible.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Gm # 43: Wild @ Red Wings (3/4)

Really, the only way to cap off that crazy of a day was with a game as crazy as that one. The Wild beat the Red Wings (so right away you know it was crazy) 6-5 on Gaby's first SO goal (9th attempt). In the process, the zaniness piled up.

*Martin Skoula played arguably his best game in a Wild sweater. Scoring a goal, going +2, 0 PIM, at least one great defensive play and no major/obvious brain cramps.

*Todd Fedoruk scored a goal. 'Nuff said.

*Nik Backstrom was terrible, giving up four goals all of which he made mistakes on.

*Josh Harding replaced Nik about mid-way through the game and was stupendous in earning the win.

*Chris Osgood was extremely pedestrian.

*The Wild, so prone to scoring the big goal but giving up a momentum-sucking, back-breaking goal right away this season, turned the tables and did it to the Wings after Detroit took the lead with 1:08 remaining in regulation.

Weird, right?

I'm not even that upset about the five goals against. I mean, in the previous two games against the Red Wings this season the Wild had given up 9 goals, so another five is status quo. The Wild showed they could skate with the best team in the league for one night, and certainly showed they could score with them. No, you can't count on goals from Skoula and Fedoruk all the time, but that's what "scoring depth" means.

The Wild are in Chicago tonight to take on a hurting Blackhawks team. Hopefully they can continued their inspired play from last night and finish this road trip 0.500.

Season series
Overall: Wild trail 1-2-0 (GF 7, GA 14)
In Minny: Wild trail 0-1-0 (GF 1, GA 4)
In Detroit: tied 1-1-0 (GF 6, GA 10)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: You're living dangerously when you need six goals to win a game.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Lots of good stories from this one.

BOTTOM LINE: Two points from a fun game to watch.

STUD: Harding was the saviour last night.

DUD: Backstrom made things considerably more difficult than they needed to be.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

What a day: Naegele Out, Leipold In, Moore on Waivers, Koivu On Deck

So Bob Naegele sold his controlling interest in MS&E and the Minnesota Wild to Craig Leipold, late of the Nashville Predators. I suppose "agreed to sell" is more apt, as it's not technically official yet.

My hat's off to Bob for bringing the NHL back to Minnesota. I harbor no ill-will towards him for selling his investment at a profit - that's what smart businessmen do.

Mr. Leipold intrigues me as a guy who appeared to care a lot about hockey, but was smart enough to hire good people and let them do their job in Nashville. He can't be blamed for the lack of corporate support, as I'm sure it wasn't like he and his guys were NOT out there trying to drum it up. Blood from a stone and all that.

In other news, TSN is reporting that Dominic Moore was the casualty to Mikko Koivu's triumphant return to the starting lineup. Talk about a win-win! We're no deeped at center, at least in terms of the number of centers in the lineup, but whenever Mikko returns to game speed we'll be so much deeper.

So no Mikko tonight against the Wings, but he's good to go tomorrow night at United Center (against an ailing Blackhawks team).

More to come...


**UPDATED** Mikko's Ready, Who Goes? Press Conference Called for Today?

Updates appear at bottom

According to Youngblood at the Star-Trib, Mikko Koivu is ready to go, and his coach concurs with that assessment. His involuntary absence stands at 23 games heading into tonight's game against the Mighty Red Wheel, and according to some Wild fans, Mikko's return will be just the impetus the Wild needs to shed it's inconsistent ways and take its rightful place at the top of the NHL. While that feels like an unrealistic expectation for a third-year NHLer, he was the Wild's best player the first 19 games of the season and the team has been undeniably mediocre since he went out.

The problem is making room on the roster for him.

Mikko is currently on Injured reserve. The team is therefore able to replace him on the active roster without taking up an extra spot. They are at the 23-man maximum right now. So someone who is currently on the roster needs to come off the roster to make room for Mikko.

But the situation is not as simple as waiving a guy, since the Wild failed to do so before the deadline for getting Mikko onto the roster for tonight's game.

That leaves the team with two main options: 1) hope someone of little consequence gets hurt in the morning skate or 2) trade or release a guy outright.

That begs the question of "who goes", and the consensus seems to be someone of a Matt Foy or Branko Radivojevic nature. I would add a Derek Boogaard to that (though I have nothing to back it up) and even a Petteri Nummelin or Kurtis Foster (again, with nothing to back any of this up as even rumors).

Adding fuel to the fire, there is a rumor on the message boards that the team has called an 11am CST press conference today.

Stay tuned.


Twin Cities newschannels are reporting that the Minnesota Wild will announce that the team has been sold at a press conference scheduled for 12:30 pm CST today. More details to follow.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Gm # 42: Wild @ Stars (3/4)

Good teams, they say, find ways to win. One would assume, then, that the converse is also true. But what about a team that both finds ways to win some games, and finds ways not to win other games? And, further, what about a team that does some of the things necessary to win a game but not others, and very often not enough to overcome those that they don't do? Inconsistent? Uncommitted? Unprofessional? Heartless? Immature? Adrift? Rudderless?

This Wild team folds at the slightest provocation. In last night's game against the Stars, the defense was there (one goal on a good crash, one goal on a good screen and iffy goaltending, and one goal on a good hit down low that left the defense short), particularly in two 5:3s - both of which were totally killed off by the Wild. But, against a staunch defense that started at the center red line, the Wild wilted, failing to amount more than a one-and-done attack on their most-successful posessions.

The Stars are a very good team. And last night they were a very good team stuck in a four-game losing streak, with a five-game road trip staring them in the face. Add desperation to a very good team and you can pretty much count on a great effort - which Stars fans certainly got.

But, to me, much of the Wild's problems, its lack of identity, comes down to the difference between physical and tough.

After the Fowl had their way with the NHL last season/playoffs, the movement du jour was to get "tougher". One of the teams swept up in the hysteria was the Minnesota Wild who, though without making major moves, have brought in players to elevate the team's collective "toughness quotient" a la Hill, Voros and Fedoruk. Remember that this is a team whose mantra has been slow, patient evolution into an annual contender for the Cup. So you'll excuse them if the leap from plodding, patient, "I'd rather watch paint dry", defense-first-and-prey-on-turnovers team to a swashbuckling, pound-you-into-submission-and-then-skate-away-with-the-puck-unimpeded-to-the-goal" team proved a bit too great to assimilate to in 42 games.

The Wild, in their newfound zeal to Be Tough, at times have lost appreciation of the difference between playing "tough" hockey (ie, pounding your opponent into submission and then skating away with the puck unimpeded to the goal) and playing "physical" hockey (ie, finishing checks, hounding relentlessly on defense, not taking any crap - but NOT running around and getting out of position in order to inflict same).

Physical carries with it the connotation of discipline. Tough, by comparison, carries with it the connotation of recklessness. That distinction may not stand the test of history (I'm not about to tell a guy like Gordie Howe that he wasn't tough, or that he was tough, but at the expense of some other attribute) but then few facets of the game today do.

And ironically, bringing this back to the game at hand, when the Wild is faced with a phyisical team they - and their toughness - shrink into submission with startling alacrity.

Skoula's Report Card
*Martin had an average game last night. Though he did not participate in the offensive side of the game (understandable that he would focus on his defensive play since he was just benched for his shortcoming in same) he was not an obvious culprit in any Wild pratfalls.
Grade: C

Season series
Overall: Wild trail 1-2-0 (GF 10, GA 14)
In Minny: Wild lead 1-0-0 (GF 6, GA 3)
In Dallas: Wild trail 0-2-0 (GF 4, GA 11)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: You can't coach heart.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Parrish kept his streak alive (four straight, five in six with a goal).

BOTTOM LINE: Further proof positive that the Wild will be a speedbump to the contenders in the West come playoff time.

STUD: Schultz played some inspired defense at times. Too bad he's not counted on for offense too.

DUD: PMB, who had been playing better, was but a fly to an elephant last night. On the ice for two of Dallas' three goals.


Monday, January 7, 2008

Gm # 41: Wild @ Predators (3/4)

An inability to play a full 60-minutes has plagued this Wild team so far this season, and it bit them in the butt Saturday night against a hungry Predators team that outworked the Wild in the first en route to a 3-0 lead at the first intermission, and cruised to a 4-1 win from there.

But for a Brian Rolston shot that hit the post the game might have been different, but you don't score if you don't get chances and you don't get chances if you don't work.

Josh Harding got the start for the first time since the debacle in Dallas, which meant he had seven goals hung on him in two consecutive periods. Obviously he wasn't responsible for all of them, but he's not exactly presenting a strong argument for getting more starts. Sometimes you need your goalie to make a couple saves he has no business making. Right now neither of the Wild's goalies is doing that.

You'd like to think this is a forgettable game in the context of an entire season, but the truth is that this Wild team is maddeningly inconsistent from one game to the next. That it was the 41st game for the Wild just makes it easier to see this game as representative of the first half overall - fairly or not.

And, with road games in Dallas and Detroit (then Chicago) coming up next, things certainly appear to be getting harder before they get easier.

Season series
Overall: Wild lead 2-1-0 (GF 8, GA 9)
In Minny: Wild lead 1-0-0 (GF 3, GA 2)
In Nashville: tied 1-1-0 (GF 5, GA 7)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Ugly. What do you expect if you don't show up until the second period?

POLLYANNA SAYS: Parrish stayed hot, though.

BOTTOM LINE: This team seems to need "excellent" to win. Not "good", "better-than-good" or certainly not "average".

STUD: Parrish did, indeed, stay hot, with this 4th goal in 5 games.

DUD: Gaborik and Voros were on the ice for three Predators goals (all even strength), but Belanger was on the ice for four even strength Preds goals.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Gm # 40: Wild vs. Stars (2/4)

Odd game. Slow start, the Wild quickly (and efficiently) heated up, cooled off in the second, opened the door for the Stars a bit, then promptly and definitively slammed it shut in the third for a 6-3 win.

Marty Turco was bad - and he got pulled for his efforts, though he did not take the loss. Marian Gaborik sandwiched a disinterested second period inside two scintillating periods. Brent Burns looked like Bobby Orr, PMB showed a little spine, Fedoruk and Hill both stepped up on behalf of felled teammates, Backstrom was solid (other than the second Stars' goal which was baby-butt soft), Parrish stayed hot, Demitra looked sharp...and the Wild finally showed it can play with and beat one of the elite teams in the west.

As nice as the big offensive output in the first was, I think the story of the game was the team's ability to wrest control back for the third period and then close the door. Dallas seemed to pack it in a bit after they didn't get the early goal in the third, and that certainly helped, but the Wild showed that it's not just third period comebacks that they can pull off - and playing with a lead is a good thing.

I don't want to make too much out of this. Now, if they go into Dallas on Monday and win that might be a different story (fat chance, that). But it's now two games in a row against the top teams in the west that we've played better. Encouraging.

*Skoula was scratched last night, and I would have liked to have been in the X to hear the cheering at the announcement. However, some are suggesting that his not being in the lineup was the catalyst for the win. While I think it might have served as a wake up call, I think it's myopic to suggest that it had any more impact than that.

*Schultz looked good wearing that "C". To me he's arguably THE priority free agent for the Wild heading into the summer.

Season series
Overall: Tied 1-1-0 (GF 9, GA 11)
In Minny: Wild are 1-0-0 (GF 6, GA 3)
In Dallas: Wild are 0-1-0 (GF 3, GA 8)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Still can't put out a full 60. And Carney's looking old out there.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Nice rebound game after getting spanked by those guys. Things may be coming together...

BOTTOM LINE: Two solid points, some pretty goals, gut check successful. And in regulation!

STUD: PMB was everything I want him to be last night. He played big, he dished, he scored, he hit. If he could do that every night...

DUD: Carney was victimized on the last two Stars' goals, and looked older and slowed as the game went along. Maybe part of that was rust from sitting so much lately, but surely not all of it...


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Gm # 39: Wild vs. Sharks (2/4)

Martin Skoula struck again Monday night. The Wild had just tied it up with 4:38 left in regulation and literally before you knew it, the Sharks won the draw and dumped it in towards a streaking Jonathan Cheechoo but past a Marty Skoula who was, ostensibly, in "ready position". To be fair, the puck was bouncing like a super ball, but Skoula still decided to corral the puck and ignore the man - even at the risk of taking a totally-defensible penalty on the play - and we all know how it turned out.

This is going to sound like BS, but I saw the goal and didn't know who the defenseman was. But I said, "that was Skoula..." because, well, who else could it have been?

At the very least, the Wild should have gotten one point out of that game. Hell, they might have even gotten two considering they had every ounce of the momentum at that moment. This was a much better effort against a Sharks team that completely owned us three weeks ago. I don't care if you grab Cheechoo by the balls and thrown him to the ice there - any penalty you take, short of a Simon-to-Hollweg, is justified.

Man or the puck. That "lowest common denominator" decision is drilled into the head of every pee-wee defenseman around the world every year. You don't need both, but you must get one. And if the latter is bouncing around like Tigger on PCP then the decision becomes very, very simple. You can say, "Backstrom still got beat" and you're right. But he shouldn't have been in the position to need to make a save in the first place. Nope, this one was all Skoula.

After the game, he would say "Maybe I could have played it differently, but I don't think it was a lack of focus." No, Marty, it doesn't have to be a lack of focus when you have such a resounding lack of brain. I mean, what other explanantion could there be? I don't think it's a lack of the necessary skillset. I mean, he can settle a puck, he can make a hit, he can take a, he has the tools to at least be a serviceable defenseman in the NHL and not screw up. So he's either lazy or he's stupid. I personally don't think you'll get very far in the NHL if you're lazy. Ergo sum, he's stupid.

Look, I'm not saying the other guys don't make mistakes. Lord knows Burnsie makes his fair share of them on a nightly basis. But, as I've said in the past, Burnsie gets more of a pass because he's still learning the position. At 675 games into an NHL career, there's no "learning the position" leeway available anymore. And, more importantly, Burnsie brings another tangible element that benefits the team - namely his offense - that makes his shortcomings defensively easier to swallow. Skoula does nothing offensively.

So, you have a guy who does nothing offensively and can't even be counted on to perform the most-basic defensive tasks on a regular basis. Yet he's playing night in and night out, while solid-if-unspectacular defensemen like Keith Carney sit. What am I missing here?

JL has benched and scratched guys for one mistake this season already. But not Skoula. Carney is tied for the team lead in plus/minus (+7), guess who has the team worst (-13)? If you were Carney, wouldn't you be royally pissed? I certainly would.

I suppose it would be one thing if Skoula's spectacular F-ups were limited to games like the Rangers game when he tripped over the goal line and gave the Rangers a goal, but the Wild still won. But when he's directly costing the Wild points? I find it very difficult to accept that. Particularly since we have 8 healthy defensemen.

I don't care what DR can get for him. Nothing is too little. Just get him out of here. And in the mean time, JL must sit him down for a game or twenty.

PS Don't take my word for it.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Martin Skoula, you're my hero!

POLLYANNA SAYS: A Pyrrhic victory is still a victory, though? Right??

BOTTOM LINE: It's too tight to give away points like that.

STUD: Parrish's GTG got swept under the rug, but it was still clutch and the team needs clutch from Mark.

DUD: Come on, you didn't really even need to read this part to know.