Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kind of a strange evening...

...with the Wild playing the Chicago Blackhawks at the 'X' while the Twins take on the Chicago White Sox at 'New Comiskey' on the South Side this evening. The Wild have promised to be 'Twins friendly' (i.e., the TV's in the concourse will be carrying the Twins game since the Wild-Hawks game has no TV).

Definitely it will be interesting to see how much effort Marian Gaborik puts into the contest, and the reaction of what crowd will actually attend the game (again, due to Twins-White Sox) to his efforts, with his contract negotiations looming large in the background of tonight's game.

We'll see what happens...both here and in Chicago...


Monday, September 29, 2008

Greetings with bad tidings (but not for the Wild)

Hello hello. I am back - which sounds weird since I haven't posted here before. What I mean is I have returned from a vacation that wasn't and now am more able to finally make my first post on this blog.

I know this is a Wild-centric blog, but recent news from other NHL teams is what leads to my post.

Two big tidings. First, in what's honestly a not-that-surprising move, the waiving by the Chicago Blackhawks of goaltender and Stanley Cup-winner Nikolai Khabibulin.

Why isn't it a surprise? Because of the fat contract handed out in July to Cristobal Huet, who changes the pronunciation of his last name from Yoo-ay (rhymes with hay) to Yoo-et monthly. I think it's back to Yoo-ay. That deal meant the Hawks - who used to be so cheap as recently as oh, two years ago, that you couldn't find any of their games on television in an effort to make people go to the games - were spending over $12 million in just goaltending.

It's not much surprise either that Chicago couldn't find a trade partner for Khabibulin. Despite the guy's credentials, he's pretty expensive. Though you woulda thought some team would've taken him. You're telling me Ottawa couldn't use him? Colorado? Sorry, Martin Gerber and Peter Budaj ain't gonna get it done. Boston probably could, but they've already got All-Star Tim Thomas and former Wild Manny Fernandez, who had a dreadful first year in the other black and gold (I know, I know; they wore the colors first.)

So it'll be interesting to see where Khabibulin ends up.

The other bit of news, which has yet to be officially announced, is the report that Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar - who should've at least been a finalist for the Norris the last two seasons - is going to undergo shoulder surgery and could be out 4-6 months.

He was injured in the team's first preseason game on a hit by the Lightning's David Koci, who used to be in the Penguins farm system. This marks the second time in less than a year that a major Penguin player has been injured by a Tampa defenseman. Last year, of course, Sidney Crosby got involved with Shane O'Brien and ended up colliding feet first into the end-boards, leading to a high ankle sprain.

(Stupidly, Crosby didn't brace himself; he looked at the referee wondering where the penalty call was. Sid, next time, worry about where you are on the ice, k? Thanks.)

This injury will be particularly devastating to Pittsburgh, which already will be without Ryan Whitney (a possible future Gonchar) for three to five months with foot surgery. The duo are Pittsburgh's top offensive defensemen. Gonchar is a rock on the blueline, plays nearly the full two minutes on the power play, kills penalties and is underrated defensively. Whitney is a budding young star with serious offensive potential who played a good chunk of last season on a bad foot - which led to the surgery post-season - and still scored 12 goals and 40 points.

What does this mean for the Penguins? First, the chances of them finishing on top the Eastern Conference take a big hit. Sure, they still have Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal, Petr Sykora, Brooks Orpik...but the power play will be in serious trouble. And you need to score on the power play. Gonchar isn't quite the Penguins MVP, but he is close.

It also means that two budding young offensive defensemen will likely be thrown into the fire. Kris Letang, called up last season, displayed promise. In 63 games, he scored six goals and posted 11 assists. And I thought his offensive game wasn't as good as the defensive play and hitting style he showed. But now he'll likely see time on the top PP unit.

The other defenseman is former Minnesota Gopher Alex Goligoski. The youngster excelled during the AHL playoffs last season, leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the Calder Cup finals. Goligoski set a playoff record for points by a defenseman with 28. He played only three games in the NHL last season, called up because of injuries, but had two assists and was a plus 2 and acquitted himself very well. Small sample size though.

When camp began, Goligoski was not guaranteed of a roster spot. The Penguins, at the time, had Gonchar, Whitney, Orpik, Letang, Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, Mark Eaton and Darryl Sydor slated for opening day. Now, I don't see how GM Ray Shero can send Goligoski to the minors.

Letang won't technically be a rookie but he is in just his second season. Sydor will see PP time and expect Crosby or Malkin to now play the point. Goligoski should be there too.

The Penguins' power play struggles without Gonchar and I would expect the same until Letang and Goligoski become accustomed to it. Pittsburgh should still be fine and could still win the Atlantic Division but it will be much tougher now if Gonchar indeed misses over half the season.


Wild 2, Sabres 1 PRE-SEA

The Wild - or more accurately Andrew Brunette and Nik Backstrom - beat the Sabres last night in pre-season action. Bruno had the GTG and then the winner in the shootout. Backstrom earned some kudos from Russo for his play - and stopped 3 of 4 in the shootout which is a nice (if short-term) reversal of his shootout play so far in his NHL career.

Also earning some positive adjectives in the write-ups of late is Tyler Cuma - though it appears far more likely that he will be returned to junior. The Wild is pretty stocked on defense, and he obviously has some eligibility left, but it's nice to see another solid prospect garnering some attention from the bosses.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

RIP Reg: We Hardly Knew Ye

Godspeed, Mr. Newman. Thanks for giving us one of the most lasting characters in sports cinema history.


Wild 3, 'Hawks 4 PRE-SEA

The Wild blew a 3-0 lead after one to lose to the up-and-coming Blackhawks in pre-season action. Russo is saying that Max Noreau and especially Erik Reitz had tough games. Keith "Yoda" Carney is on a tryout with Chicago and it would be great to see him offer the same guidance and mentoring to the young studs they have on their blueline that he did in Minnesota, in particular with Burns.

Every year I find myself drawn to a couple teams in addition to the Wild. This year, the Hawks are one of those teams. They just have a great bunch of talented youth, a system that allows for creativity and up-tempo hockey and a fun attitude around them with the new ownership regime. I have a feeling I'll be watching a bunch of Hawks' games on the old Center Ice package.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Newest HTP Family Member

Hitting The Post has always been, shall we say, western conference oriented in nature - and for obvious reasons.

That has now changed.

Please join WRT, THO and me in welcoming Kevin in PA to the HTP family.

Kevin (aka KiPA) is a blossoming journalist who has graciously agreed to use our little blog as a practice rink on his way to the big time by way of offering some insight to life in the eastern conference. Yes, he's a Penguins fan, but he promises he'll be impartial at least some of the time.

I look forward to reading his contributions.


It's Hockey Season!

Yeah baby!

The Wild kicked off the games portion of the 08-09 season with a 2-1 exhibition win over the BJ's JV squad last night at the X. The particulars are irrelevant. Reports are that Pouliot played well, though, and that's a big lift to my spirits. A Calder-worthy campaign from him would be an outstanding thing.

I've been away for the last week, so I didn't get any early camp thoughts up obviously. The Wild has only made a couple (predictable) cuts so far.

Apart from that, there's just the usual pre-season rush of anxiety and excitement building in the air....or is that the drag from the Twins' bandwagon?

Around the end boards: in addition to the rest of the good Wild blog coverage, check out Deuce By Definition's "Land of 10,000 Takes" series. You'll note the absense of opinions from yours truly and this is payback for me failing to invite him to the last Wild blogger podcast recording. I'm still feeling shame for that one.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New Wild Blogger Podcast!

A motley crew of Wild bloggers got together and dusted off the cobwebs of a long summer to record a new podcast tonight.

We discussed things from a free agency recap, to a pre-season preview of sorts, to the Gaborik situation (plus we threw in some predictions about the upcoming season).

Feel free to check it out by clicking on the Wild blogger podcast link to the right.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Random Musings

*Our most sincere condolences to the entire Schultz family on the passing of Mr. Schultz on Sept. 1.

*A big how-how to the NHLNetwork for picking up some of the games from the Traverse City, MI rookies camp (including those of the Minnesota Wild) next week. As bad as people seem to be jonesing for hockey action, this one seems like a no-brainer - but props to them for doing the right thing.

*Wild fans are getting pretty antsy about the Gaborik contract situation - and with good reason. But let's not strap DR and JL to the rack just yet, shall we?

*Lang to the Habs...obviously Montreal is gearing up for a run at the sublime (as winning the big mug in the year when they celebrate their 100th year of existence would most certainly be). That Pittsburgh vs. Montreal ECF series is going to be awesome.

*Also, good on the Habs for moving on from the Sundin waffle-fest. I have nothing against a player without a contract taking his time in deciding what he wants to do. But one gets the sense the Habs are going to be very happy they got out of that soap opera when they did.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Meet The Wild, Part 2 (Defense)

The defense corps on a JL-coached team is always greater than the sum of its parts since he demands and (generally) gets such a high degree of defensive buy-in from the forwards. That being said, the converse has not been true - at least in JL's tenure with Minnesota. The Wild's offense has always been lacking, no thanks to the blue line.

With what one assumes is a return to a more Lemaire-esque overall roster this season - meaning more malleable players, built to play a more Lemaire-style game (a departure from last season's more "I wanna do it MY way" squad) - Risebrough went out and re-built the defense with an eye on improving mobility and, God forbid, offense (or at least the initiation thereof).

Out are Keith "Yoda" Carney ("When this old you are, look as good you will not"), Sean "Over The" Hill and Petteri "Never Used" Nummelin. In are Marek Zidlicky, MA Bergeron and Erik Reitz. Clearly the emphasis is on being able to move the puck to set up the rush. Additionally, replacing Rolston's presence on the power play point was addressed as well (Bergeron may be the one true power play specialist on the team).

"Much Maligned" Marty Skoula ostensibly moves down the depth chart, or at least has some downward pressure on him - Lemaire's professed love of him notwithstanding. As often as he's flogged on this blog, the thinking is that he would be a solid 3rd pairing defenseman. Well, he's going to start this season behind Schultz, Burns, Johnsson and Zidlicky for sure - so, by my math, he's a 3rd pairing guy right now (though the thought of him having to cover the inevitable youthful exuberance mistakes of a Reitz is a little discomfiting).

The top seven should be: Schultz, Johnsson, Burns, Zidlicky, Skoula, Reitz/Bergeron. There's at least a good chance (you're on the hook for calling it, Kirsten!) Burns doesn't miss any time with his elbow, though you have to think his timing could be off at first. Otherwise, Johnsson, Burns Zidlicky and Bergeron will all get PP time. Schultz, Johnsson and Burns for sure will get some PK time as well. Foster's still rehabbing the leg, so it remains to be seen when he'll be back on the ice.

Last year's defense squad produced 36 goals and 108 assists (144 points) in 502 man-games. That's 0.287 points per man-game. I'd like to see that get over 0.40 pts per man-game this season. That would represent about 56 more points from the defense - and that would go a long way towards defending the division championship, and, more importantly, represent a team with good odds of improving their finish from last season.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Burns Out Four Weeks, Elbow Surgery

As Russo reports, the Wild's best defenseman will be out for four weeks after surgery on his elbow. If he's really back in four weeks, then he should be able to participate in some of camp. Typically, missing chunks of camp/pre-sea has ill-effects on a player's season - at least the beginning of it. And the Wild - more mobile defense corps or not - really needs Burns.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Random Musings

*I just got my tickets to see the Wild play the Sabres in Buffalo in the pre-sea. I'm on the glass, corner, the end the Wild shoot at twice. Should be fun.

*I just found out (via The Hockey News' Yearbook) that there's a player named Cody Wild. He's in the Edmonton system. I'm starting the campaign for DR to trade for him right here and now. I don't care what you have to give up. Gaborik, Koivu, Gaborik and Koivu....

*The Wild will be launching a new mascot. Yes, it's for the kids. Yes, it's still lame. No, it's not a big deal. Yes, Kent Hrbek would have been a better mascot, but oh well.

*Russo blogged that the Wild talked to Stephane Yelle's agent. If we could make this work, cap wise, I would welcome this move. I'll take all the former Flames players we can get - anything to try to reverse Iginla's mojo against us. Hell, bring back Noodles too.

*Sundin is still waffling.

*The Senators got a solid deal for Meszaros from Tampa Bay. Former Wild boy Filip Kuba was involved. I didn't realize the Bolts wanted any defensemen this year. Maybe they plan on converting him to forward?