Friday, October 31, 2008

Great Interview With Semin

Puck Daddy has a super interview up with the Caps' young stud. Honest, refreshing, interesting...please, God, keep the KHL away from this kid - the NHL needs him!


Gm # 9: Wild 1, Canadiens 2

The Habs spent the entire game trying to give out treats, but the Wild was only in the mood for tricks last night.

Montreal took seven straight penalties from the 6:07 mark of the second period through the 1:50 mark of the third period - and the Wild converted on none of them.

I actually though Guy Carbonneau's head was going to explode at one point.

But it was all for naught as the Wild went 0-for-10 on the man advantage to set a team record for futility.

In the early power plays, the Habs did a great job of pressuring the Wild at the points, forcing them into making ill-timed and/or ill-advised passes. As the parade to the box continued, the Wild just kept getting more and more passive to the point where the Habs barely had to skate to defend against the later power plays.

Butch was particularly frustrating to watch last night. My dig on him is that he's all sizzle and no steak. He is small, but the problem is that he plays small. Well, he certainly played small last night. A one-trick pony is far too easy to defend against - and he is maddeningly willing to be such a pony.

Harding got the start and played fine, though Price was the story of the game. He was masterful down low, and he had to be given all the PK time his team had to endure.

The Wild averaged 4.66 goals per game in their first three games of the season, but have averaged 2 GPG over their last six.

It almost makes a guy long for Gaborik.


Chicken Little says: This team doesn't have enough talent to win without their PP.

Pollyanna says: We got a nice view of the future on that first goal (Burns from Shep and Gillies.)

Bottom Line: Granted the Habs are a good team, but even going 1 for 10 gets the Wild a point in that game.

Stud: Burns has sick skills and clearly loves the game. Nice goal too.

Dud: Butch was the most frustrating player on a frustrating team last night.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Russo Muses on Koivu Bros.

It's such an enticing possibility - Saku Koivu coming to Minnesota as a UFA next summer to play out the rest of his days alongside brother Mikko.

The Wild needs centers - and Saku is one. Mikko has come into his own as a stud in the NHL - so he wouldn't have to worry about playing in his brother's shadow in Minny where Mikko has already established an identity (and following.)

Wild beat writer Mike Russo outlines the discussion in both his blog and in the paper today - and it makes a delicious appetizer to the Habs/Wild game tonight at the X.


Gm # 8: Wild 2, Stars 4

At least the better team (last night) won. The Stars put on a dominant display of offensive control last night in handing the Wild it's first regulation loss of the season. The Stars also broke through and scored on the power play for the first time against Minnesota this season. Backstrom gave up the first shot he saw (13 seconds into the game) on a broken play, and the rout was on in the first period (the Stars outscored the Wild 3-1.) Harding replaced Nik for his first minutes of the regular season and played fine, yielding only the one goal.

Strangely, the Wild seemed to be in the game trailing 3-1 until (Virginia, MN native) Matt Niskanen's power play goal at the 12:06 mark of the second. But that really seemed to deflate the Wild in all but their own power play situations.

I proposed that Lemaire might not have minded that scenario, in sort of a Machiavellian "I don't want their heads to get too big here, and maybe now they'll be nice and humble against my old team (Montreal) Thursday night..." kind of way.

Not too much to take from this one.

Chicken Little says: You won't win if you don't skate - and the Wild did neither.

Pollyanna says: Er, no 3rd period collapse??

Bottom line: They weren't going to go 81-0-1. It's a loss. Move on.

Stud: Riiiigggghhhttt....I guess Harding? He wasn't too bad...

Dud: Zidlicky was on for 3 Dallas goals and missed the net a few more times on his shots from the point.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gm # 7: Wild 3, Blackhawks 2

There were warnings about this before the season started. About games being close, tight affairs that the Wild would win...if they played defense properly.

So far this young season, the emphasis has been on the 'IF' part. Monday night, however, the 'IF' was good enough as the Wild won their 6th game of the season, 3-2 over the now-3-3-3 Chicago Blackhawks at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Hawks opened the scoring as Patrick Sharp, one of many young up-and-coming Hawks, caught the Wild asleep in front of their own net 13:35 into the contest.

The Wild peppered Hawks goalie Cristobal Huet with passes. Passes, no shots...why aren't they shooting?, we were asking ourselves, until Andrew Brunette finally shot one ON goal instead of ACROSS the crease to score with just over 2 minutes left in the first.

Although the Hawks outshot the Wild 18-4 (yes, that's right) in the 2nd, the Wild scored the only two goals of the period, as Antti 'Mittens' Miettinen and Brent Burns both tallied to give the Wild a 3-1 lead into the third period, when Jacques Lemaire decided it was time for his version of the 'Prevent' defense.

And we all know what THAT prevents you from doing, DON'T WE??

After Duncan Keith's stolen puck dribbled thru Niklas Backstrom's pads and into the net to make the score 3-2, the Wild held on, despite losing Burns for most of the 3rd period to a 'lower body injury'.

What made matters worse was Marek Zidlicky's late-period penalty, as the Wild were then down to 4 defensemen for most of the last 4 minutes of the contest. Not a time to engage a no-brain like Adam Burish.

But, as they say, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good...

Now, let's go to the group:

Chicken Little said: Why in God's name can't we have a strong 3rd period? Why? WHY?

Pollyanna said: Any win against Chicago is a good win. The Wild won. So there. Pffttt....

Bottom Line: Wild win their 6th game of the season, go to 6-0-1 overall, and head into the Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back against Dallas and Montreal confident and, hopefully, ready.

Stud:There were a few tonight, but Mikko Koivu's 3 assists topped 'em all. Honorable mention to 'Mittens', to Backstrom for his 34 saves, and to the 'Irish God of War', Owen Nolan for his assist. Two points for that warrior in his last two games...

Dud: Sorry, Skoula-haters, Marty is off the hook this time. Marek Zidlicky is the 'designated goat' this evening as his two penalties and lack of offensive effort from the blueline was glaringly apparent.

Next Game: at Dallas, Wednesday, October 29, 7:30 PM,
TV: FS North, FS Southwest
Radio: WCCO AM830, WBAP AM820
XM Radio: Ch. 204

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gm # 6: Wild 2, BJs 1

The number one star of the game last night should have been "Obscurity."

The Wild "won" the game when a game-tying-goal from Rick Nash with 11 seconds left in regulation was "overturned" by three of the four on-ice officials. What? You didn't realize a referee's call could be overturned? Don't worry, neither did I.

Thanks to Mike Russo for bringing the following blog from the war room in Toronto to our attention. It illuminates how the decision to NOT award the goal to Nash came down. Specifically:

"You're probably wondering why the referee on the ice pointed 'Goal' following the actual tip by Nash and then announced 'there was inconclusive evidence and the ruling has been reversed, no goal.' What happened is this: The ruling on a high stick goal or non-goal is the only play on the ice where, if deemed inconclusive here in Toronto, actually goes back to the referees and linesmen officiating that particular game. In the Minnesota-Columbus contest, the one referee who initially ruled goal was overruled by the other three officials on the ice - thus his call was reversed and Nash's attempt was ruled 'No Goal.'"

Pretty interesting stuff.

I thought it was close, but I obviously didn't have the best views.

As for the game, this was the second straight game the Wild dicked around with a lead late in the game and made things needlessly interesting. So, if once is a mistake and twice is a trend, then it's time to start getting concerned. You're just not going to have prolonged success in professional sports if you can't close out a game. Now, they can reverse this right here and now and it will cease to be an issue. But, it has to be a main topic regarding the team right now.

Teams have started backing off on Mittens - with the result being that he hasn't been able to dance around everyone and deke the goalie out of his breezers in the last couple games.

I really thought Skoula played fine again. And Kimmy had a much better game. In fact, the whole defense played pretty well - the one goal that counted for the BJs was on a tip off a shot from the point (and Nash's would-be tying goal was a tip as well) - so the pieces are there.

Goals from Butch and Nolan (GWG) also show that there's better depth than we thought there would be when the off-season moves came down. And it's great to watch Nolan ply his trade in front of the net on PPs - something the Wild has sorely lacked for a long time.

Backstrom was terrific again. The biggest difference to me so far is that he's making those huge moment saves that gives the team a lift. That wasn't always the case. But he's playing like one of the top goalies in the league - and it's time to forget about what Gaby may or may not sign for and give Nik the extension he deserves before rancor sets in. Gaby, by the way, missed his fifth-straight game.

Chicken Little says: If the sky doesn't start falling until mid-way through the 3rd period, it's still falling.

Pollyanna says: Sure it was tense, but they pulled out the win and learned from their mistakes against Buffalo.

Bottom Line: Lucky. It's tough to keep having to thread the needle like this. But it's a win.

Stud: Backstrom has elevated his game this season.

Dud: Shep's too big a guy to be that invisible in a game.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Gm # 5: Wild 3, Sabres 4 (OT)


This was a game the Wild was in position to win, but didn't. It was a game the Wild got the breaks it needed to be in a position to win, and then didn't. This was a game in which the Wild got a point, but really shouldn't have. This was a game where you tip your hat to the Sabres for persevering and playing a very Wild-like rope-a-dope game and sneaking out of a usually-tough building to win in on the road with 2 points.

I thought the Wild's offense was tentative and timid for the first period, I thought Kim Johnsson had one of his worst games as a Wild player, and I thought Brent Burns was about two shifts short of a solid game.

But, regardless of the fine print, the bottom line is that the Wild blew a game in which it held a 2-goal lead with four minutes to play in regulation. There is only one word for that: unacceptable.

And this was a game where Skoula was fine!

Actually that's the most frustrating part: blowing a good game by Skoula!

Seriously though, you simply must finish those kinds of games. Yes, they got a point and they all count the same blahblahBLAHBLAHblah. But thank goodness this wasn't against a conference or division foe.

They played well for 56 minutes. It was four too few.

Chicken Little says: Four more breaks of at least that long this season. Great.

Pollyanna says: Boogey played a good game and didn't even take one penalty!

Bottom Line: Hopefully that missed point won't come back to haunt them.

Stud: I thought the Boogaard-Pouliot-Weller line played a strong game and even scored a goal.

Dud: Kimmy J was just fighting it all night. I like that he's being more aggressive on offense, but we need him to be a rock in all zones for us, and he wasn't.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Money for Nothing

Pop quiz: Who has more goals? Aaron Voros or the Tampa Bay Lightning's top six forwards of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Vaclav Prospal, Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata and Steven Stamkos?

Okay, so it's a trick question. Actually the totals are the same. Voros has five. He's making $1M. Lecavalier's got two, and there's been one each for St. Louis, Prospal and Malone. That group of six makes let's see here, carry the one... ah yes, $24.042 million this season.

Maybe Oren Koules and Len Barrie should've bought a "character" guy like Voros. The Lightning have given up just 13 goals in five games but scored only eight. Tampa and Philadelphia are the only winless teams in the NHL. And, at this point, you can wait on etching the Calder Trophy winner in Stamkos' favor. He's still looking for his first point and has only eight shots.

Vrbata has worked out so well that coach Barry Melrose made Vrbata a healthy scratch Saturday against the Wild to send a message that guys have to work to earn their roster spots.

Funny; I wonder when he'll scratch Lecavalier or St. Louis to "send a message."

Quick hits from the East and maybe some from the West:

**Looks like Phil Kessel's finally realizing his potential for the Bruins. I say "finally" because Boston's been impatient with him (and why shouldn't they? After all, he's a a savvy veteran of 21 years of age playing in just his third season. Oh, and never mind that cancer thing) and has been rumored to want to trade the young man. Now he's got four goals in four games and is clicking with Patrice Bergeron.

**Ottawa's Martin Gerber has a 3.46 GAA and a save percentage of .896 in four games. Alex Auld essentially shut out the Penguins in his only appearance. No goaltending controversy here, no sir.

(Really, Nikolai Khabibulin won't fit in here? One-for-one swap with Gerber? They'd have a few pennies left to spend but that would work. Some other parts could be involved too, couldn't they?)

**Montreal's need for Marian Gaborik may have increased after Andrei Kostitsyn was popped against Phoenix (I didn't see the hit so can't comment on it.) He won't play Monday, but they're off again until Saturday. No word on the severity of the injury but if he's out for a while, that'll open up a spot for a winger.

**It seems weird to say a player who scored 36 goals last season is enjoying a resurgence this year, but that's what Buffalo's Thomas Vanek is going through. He struggled with the weight of a massive new contract last season before enjoying a late-season splurge. That's not the case this year. Another goal Saturday gave him a league-high seven.

**I was asked if putting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on one line was putting too much power together. Well, they responded with four points each in Pittsburgh's 4-1 win Saturday over Toronto. That line produced two even-strength goals and had both assists on two power play goals. Move worked out, and that put Jordan Staal at center of the second line, where he looked far more comfortable. Crosby earned goal No. 100, assist No. 200 and point No. 300 in the game.

**Jason Smith isn't that valuable, is he? Well he must be, because he's the only main loss from Philadelphia's roster (note: I'm not counting Umberger as a big loss), yet, as I said above, the Flyers don't have a win yet. Maybe the problem is just Martin Biron, whose GAA is nearly 6 (5.75). Antero Niittymaki fared well in relief against the Rangers, not allowing a goal in 43 minutes before losing his next two.

**Brian Rolston missed New Jersey's game Saturday with an ankle injury. I've seen a report or two that said it's a high-ankle sprain, which is bad news. That's what kept Penguins Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury out for long stretches of last season. You've got Rolston for four years, Devils fans. Somewhere, Minnesota Rolston-haters are smiling and breathing sighs of relief.

**Alexander the Great is once again leading the Capitals. Alexander Semin that is. He's tied with Malkin for a league-leading 10 points. He's always had that kind of potential but staying healthy was his problem. He's doing just fine so far. That other Alexander? He's tied for 121st in scoring with three points (two goals). He'll come around though.

**So what's the deal with Calgary? Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla have had slow starts in the past, but that's not it. The problem is one Mr. Todd Bertuzzi. Sure he's got five goals, but the karma gods do not like Bertuzzi. What happened to Detroit when they traded for him prior to the 2007 playoffs? The Ducks last season? Early exits.

(Also, I picked him up on a fantasy team last season, and the two full weeks I had him I got thwalloped something like 21-2. At the time I was one point out of first. I cut him and won three straight. What more proof do you need?)

Get rid of Bertuzzi and the Flames will start to win.

**So Colorado's latest goaltending controversy involves ... I'm not sure I can even type it. Peter Budaj and ... Andrew Raycroft?! The appropriate phrase here is "Ye gods!" Let's just move on.

(Excuse me, Mr. Tallon? Is Khabibulin still available?)

**Vancouver's come back down to earth a bit, eh? After routing the Flames to open the season (11-4 in two games), the Canucks gave up five goals in losses to Washington and Buffalo but did manage to beat Detroit in between those two. But they just lost to Chicago and Cristobal Huet Sunday.

**Edmonton and Minnesota are the only undefeated teams left in the NHL. What a Western Conference final that will be.

Although, thinking back on it, if the percentage holds up, they'd meet in the conference semifinals, wouldn't they, as the 1-4 matchup?

**Finally, the Ducks are 1-4. Bobby Ryan has six points in four the AHL. Why's he down there? Because they don't have the salary cap space room for a rookie. Thank you notes can be sent to Ryan Getzlaf (1 point, minus-2), Teemu Selanne (1 point, minus-2), Scott Neidermayer (2 points, even) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (3.27 GAA).

(Okay, I'm venting some fantasy frustration there.)

That'll be all for now. Until next time.


Gm # 4: Wild 1, Lightning 0 (SO)


Defense still reigns supreme in Wild-land. After playing the first three games of the season as the '87-88 Oilers, the Wild took game four as an opportunity to show the league that they are still, well, the Wild. With a largely passive "offense" and decent defense (though there were large chunks of time when they were far too accomodating to the Bolts) the Wild relied heavily on the steady goaltending of Nik Backstrom to "earn" a 1-0 win via the shootout. This was a game the Wild played as though they were just relishing the prospects of returning home afterward, and it showed in a general lack of offense all night.

You need your goalie to steal the odd game, and Backstrom certainly did that. While he did not have too many saves of the "spectacular" variety, that is as much a testament to his excellent positioning as anything. Lots of shots right into the emblem on his sweater, and that's exactly what you want if you're a goalie.

Particularly noteworthy was his performance in the shootout - where he has been terrible so far in his career - but where he was a perfect 3-3 last night including stops on shootout Wunderkind Jussi Jokinen, superstar Vinny Lecavalier and reigning #1 overall pick Steven "Don't Call Me Steve or Stevie" Stamkos. Last night was the 15th straight regular season game that Backs has not taken a regulation loss dating back to last season obviously. He is certainly making a case for a handsome contract extension right now.

Eric Belanger was probably the best skater for the Wild last night. In addition to getting good minutes in all situations, he made two huge stops on potential/probable goals - including one in the waning seconds of regulation.

But this was a game where we needed Backstrom to outduel Bolts goalie Mike Smith (shilling for the man with a lame mask pimping team owner Oren Koules' latest horror flick) who has had some prior success against the Wild (with Dallas). That he did that - and prolonged another hot start by the Wild - is hopefully a sign of good things.

Chicken Little says: Finally showed ill-effects from only having one legit scoring line.

Pollyanna says: A win's a win, and this one counts the same as all the rest.

Bottom line: More than survived the first road trip of the season. Will have to see how that holds up against real competition, though.

Stud: Backstrom, Backstrom, Backstrom. The boys owe him some kippered snacks for his performance last night.

Dud: Weller largely stood around looking dumb last night. Gonna need more than that to make us forget about Fridge.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Gm # 3: Wild 6, Panthers 2 (or Finland > the Confederacy)

Let the Red Wings have all the Swedes. I just want the Finns.

Wild forwards Mikko and Mittens continued one of the most profound campaigns of northern aggression against the south east since Generals Sherman and Grant were rampaging through the area some 145 years ago.

If Mikko and Mittens are Sherman and Grant, then I guess that makes Bruno Maj. Gen. George "Slow Trot" Thomas (that's so perfect, there's no way I could have made that up.)

The three of them - currently the Wild's de facto top line - have accumulated seven goals, ten assists and seventeen points in the last two games. The only thing left to do is get Bruno an honorary Finnish citizenship and then it's a clear path to world domination (not to mention facilitating a catchy nickname for the line.)

And the Finnish fun doesn't even end there! Goalie Nik Backstrom was again as good as he needed to be - turning aside twenty-four Panthers shots - particularly in the early going when the Wild was a little slow out of the blocks.

Nice debut from Tomas Mojzis - albeit on the wing instead of his natural habitat on the blueline. He picked up an assist on Mittens' first goal. And it was an eventful night for Derek Boogaard, who garnered his first fight of the season (generously scored a tie, although it should be pointed out that Wade Belak waited until Boogey was at the end of his shift to engage him), but also tallied his first point (an assist on Johnsson's second period goal) in a long, long time. Boogey also tossed a sucker punch at Nick Boynton that, frankly, was disappointing. Don't talk about how you're all about The Code and then resort to that bush league crap.

Benoit Pouliot offered up a demonstration of heart, balls and skill with his first goal of the season. But it also created a frustrating juxtaposition with his indifference at other times. Respect is earned, kid. Time to grow up and show us some consistency.

Even though the Panthers aren't much better than the Thrashers, this win was more satisfying. Maybe it just felt more like a hockey game, what with the fisticuffs and rancor between the two teams.

Now it's over to Tampa Bay for a reunion with Wes Walz.

Chicken Little says: That wasn't terrible.

Pollyanna says: You have to win these games, and they did!

Bottom line: Good, solid team effort. Two points is two points.

Stud: If we can keep someone from doing a Nancy Kerrigan on Mikko this season, we'll be in good shape.

Dud: Not my favorite game from SRV. He was on the ice for both Florida goals, looked like a lost puppy on the PP, and didn't really do anything to distinguish himself positively.



"You won't have anything left in the third period if you don't build your legs now!"

The Penguins are in trouble. The Spirit of Herb Brooks can save them.

It's only five games into the season so no time to panic, but the Penguins have a major problem - they cannot close games out. In four of five games, they have been out-shot - and in some cases, badly - in the third period and have blown two multi-goal leads and two leads after two periods. They have scored just two goals in the third period (and one came with one second left in what had been a 3-0 game.)

The opening weekend against Ottawa wasn't too bad; they were out-shot in the first game in the third period 9-5 but had more shots in the second game (though were out-scored 2-1). And in the first game, Rob Scuderi's third-period goal was the only marker of the frame that forced OT, where the Penguins won.

But after that? Oh my.

Holding - no, clinging to - a 1-0 lead after one period, the Penguins were out-shot by New Jersey 15-4 in the second and 20-2 - I repeat, 20-2 - in the third period. Patrik Elias gets a lucky bounce off Hal Gill's skate for the game-tying goal, and after Kris Letang passes up a shot in overtime, Zach Parise scores the game-winner with 37 ticks left. (Oh, and the Devils had more shots in overtime, 4-1.)

Shot total from the third game was 49-15, New Jersey.

In Game 4, the Penguins were up 2-0 then let the Flyers score twice in the final minute of the second period, then were out-shot 9-8 in the third but won in overtime on Pascal Dupuis's slapper with 10 seconds left.

Which brings us to Thursday night, which is the worst yet.

Power play goals by Alex Goligoski, Evgeni Malkin and Miroslav Satan put Pittsburgh up 3-0. A misplay by Satan leads to a semi-lucky goal by Washington but the Penguins were still up 3-1 after two, and held the shots advantage, 20-9.

If hockey was 40 minutes, Pittsburgh would've been fine. Instead, hockey's actually a 60-minute game. The Capitals took their game up a notch, forced the Penguins back on their heels, and out-shot Pittsburgh 21-6 - I repeat, 21-6 - in the final period, scoring three times to earn a 4-3 win.

Each of these last three games was on home ice.

What's the problem? I really wish I knew. The Penguins were playing so well through two periods tonight and then totally laid an egg in the third period. I don't know if it's carry-over from the Sweden trip; but they did have nearly a week off between games two and three, two more days off before game four, and the last three games, as I mentioned above, were all at home. They haven't been doing any more traveling. To blame it on the Europe trip would be, in my opinion, making an excuse, possibly whining, and inaccurate.

Maybe it's new guys trying to grasp the new defensive scheme. Maybe it's really missing defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, and relying on Kris Letang and Goligoski isn't working. Maybe it's a lack of toughness. Having Matt Cooke in tonight to pop Alexander Ovechkin, who was throwing checks like no one's business, might've changed things. (By the way, Ovechkin really should've received at least three charging penalties; he left his feet so much on one check he nearly landed in the Penguins' bench. Having said that, there was NO ONE standing up to him on the Penguins, and any kind of defensive play would've won the game for Pittsburgh. Instead, they gacked it away. No blame on the officials from here. Washington earned and deserved the win.)

Calling it a collapse might be a little harsh but it might also be accurate. And if it was a one-time thing, it could be brushed off as "Get 'em next time." But this is the third straight game the Penguins have blown a lead and two out of three they were horribly out-shot in the final period.

It's still early, so again, there's no cause for panic, but the Penguins better figure out how to finish a game or they won't be going anywhere, and that includes the playoffs.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gm # 2: Wild 4, Thrashers 2

The Atlanta Thrashers threw a professional ice hockey game last night, and no one came. Well, other than 20 or so guys in white and green uniforms. The Wild earned a solid-if-quiet win with good defense and timely goals. They broke open a 1-1 game in the third on Gaborik's first of the season (and a gritty one, at that!) and two from Mittens. The Wild scored their three goals on only five shots in the third.

Andrew Brunette had another strong game (1-1-2) and Koivu played extremely well (0-2-2), particularly on the dots. Burnsie finished with an assist (0-1-1) amidst some 29 minutes of ice time. Backstrom was solid again, turning aside 24 shots.

This was a hard game to really gauge the guys by, considering Atlanta was so willing to bend over for so much of the game. The Thrashers are just not very good. Apparently their "fans" have noticed, since there were about 25 people in the lower bowl (a couple of whom are still in the hockey fan neanderthal stage of development, judging by their game-long glee at pounding on the glass...don't hurt yourselves, fellas).

The Wild did suffer a couple injuries (IGoW and Butch), and Clutterbuck has been summoned from Houston as a result.

Chicken Little says: Now THAT was some boring-ass hockey.

Pollyanna says: 2-0! Woot! First in the NW! Double woot!

Bottom line: A game you'd have hated to lose. Take the two points and run.

Stud: What can you say about Mittens? Best nick name on the team, and three goals in two games to boot!

Dud: Not sure how you double up on Bryan Little and leave Kovalchuk alone in the slot, but Skoula did and the Thrashers scored.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Cherepanov Story

Just terrible news about Rangers' prospect Alexei Cherepanov collapsing on his bench, and then subsequently passing away during his KHL game today. HTP sends our thoughts and condolences to his entire family.


Sunday, October 12, 2008


Presenting Gabonomics!

This is a HIGHLY SCIENTIFIC measure of Marian Gaborik's "current market value", designed by LEADING MATHEMATICIANS, STATISTICIANS, ASSORTED PhDs and using various proprietary formulae. While not designed to predict or depict the ultimate value of his next contract, Gabonomics should give the casual hockey fan an idea of just what Gaborik and his agent should expect to receive based on his current career-to-date performance.

*Baseline (salary) $7.5M (T11th in NHL)
*Baseline (cap hit) $6.33M (28th in NHL)
*Ceiling (salary) $10M (Lecavalier)
*Ceiling (cap hit) $9.538M (Ovechkin)
*Career points-per-game (reg season, through end 07-08): GP 485, pts 414, PPG 0.853
*Projected points per season (career PPG x 82): 69.99
*Injury probability (reg season): 89 games missed out of 7 NHL seasons (574 games) = 15.5 games missed per season or a 18.9% chance that he will be injured for a given game.

1. Given that Gaborik is not worth more than Lecavalier, Ovechkin, Crosby or Malkin. Therefore his salary should not exceed the lowest of those players, or $9M (09-10 salary figures). Action: reduce effective ceiling from $10M to $9M.

2. Given that inflation has occurred in NHL since his last contract was signed. The salary cap increased by 12.7% from 07-08 to 08-09. Gaborik's salary of $7.5M (08-09) should therefore be able to increase in keeping with that inflationary level. Action: increase effective baseline from $7.5M to $8.45M.

3. Production adjustment. Gaborik was scoreless in his first game of the 08-09 season. This brings his career PPG down to 0.852. It also reduces his projected points per season to 69.01, or 98.6% of the full 82-game projected amount. Action: reduce effective ceiling by 1.14% from $9M to $8.874M.

Conclusion: Marian Gaborik's "current market value" salary range is $8.45M to $8.874M. Guaranteed money of $76.05M to $79.866M over 9 years. Guaranteed money of $84.5M to $88.7M over 10 years.

Gm # 1: Wild 4, Bruins 3

Off-season, we hardly knew ye. I can't tell you how happy I am that the summer is over and it's hockey season again. Mostly because, you know, it's hockey season again... but also because this was a frustrating summer for Wild fans. But that's all past now, and the Wild just ran the first part of their 82-game marathon that is the 2008-09 season. Successfully.

While it wasn't the prettiest thing on ice, the Wild did persevere and hold on for a win over the Bs last night at the X. To me, the story of the night was the newbs. Marc-Andre"Queen MAB" Bergeron had a goal with a laser of a shot, but looks like a court jester flopping around in the defensive zone. I know they're working with him on it, and we'll obviously take the offense, but man, you know there isn't a whole lot of room for defensive grab-ass on this team.

Owen Nolan, the Irish God of War, was a presence all night. Particularly in front of the net where previous Wild players with that role have been, shall we say, reticent to pay the price necessary to be effective there and still figure out a way to finish. He also showed some veteran snarl, which is the kind of balls-out leadership I have thought this team has lacked the last couple years.

Antti Miettinen - hereafter "Mittens" in this space - also acclimated himself nicely, and also with some offense. The knock on him in Dallas was that he had vast reserves of untapped talent. Sort of the Alaskan nature preseves, but hockey, not oil. Tell you what, kid, keep driving the net and Bruno will make sure you get some nice looks, dats fer sure, ya.

Colton Gillies has to feel like he just won the lottery, then walked into a casino, pulled a one-arm bandit and won a car and then had Selena Gomez pull him up on stage and kiss him in front of everyone. With tongue. To cap it all off, he notched an assist in his first NHL game.

B-b-b Benny Pouliot had a sweet defensive play, Erik Reitz didn't pull a Skoula, Bruno had a couple helpers...hell, even Skoula played well. And, lest I forget, our new coach earned a win in his first game, too. I mean, there's no way it was Jacques Lemaire behind the Wild bench considering the lines were the same all night.

So it was good times down at the barn again last night. If nothing else, it was nice to be able to focus on something other than Gaby's contract and Nordy for a couple hours.

Chicken Little says: Maybe it's too much to expect a team to play a full 60 in game 1, but how about 40?

Pollyanna says: Demo, Rolston, Carney, Hill, Nummy, Radio, Voros, Fridge and Simon - who?

Bottom line: No one got hurt, and every win counts. Lets hope they can get some good practice time in between now and Tuesday night.

Stud: Eric Belanger (Reggie, [you know, Mr. October?] per toivo - which is awesome) tallied twice to lead the team. Hopefully that 25 on his back represents the minimum number of goals he pots this year - and two in game 1 is a great start.

Dud: Gaby is still oh-fer against the Bs. Way to "earn" that contract, dude.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Gaborik musings part two

Okay, here we are with part two of where I think Marian Gaborik could be traded to. Before we did the Western Conference teams (see below). This is the Eastern Conference segment.

As a reminder, I'm merely analyzing trade possibilities based off teams' NHL rosters and salary cap space.

Ilya Kovalchuk is in the fold already, and why trade him for Gaborik? Plenty of cap space for Gaborik but apart from Kovalchuk, the cupboard is pretty bare. Ondrej Pavelec is a promising goaltending prospect, and Toby Enstrom has the makings of being a good defenseman, but a team that's basically been rebuilding since entering the league won't give up either of those two. Plus the Wild has (have?) Josh Harding as its potential goalie of the future. No chance Gaborik ends up here.

Things get interesting with the next few teams. The Bruins have been rumored to be wanting to move Phil Kessel for a season or more. Gaborik would have his choice of centers to play with - Marc Savard or Patrice Bergeron, who appears rejuvenated coming back from his concussion. Problem is Boston is already up against the cap after signing Michael Ryder in the offseason. They won't be players in the Gaby market unless the Wild takes back some salary, and surely they can do better than that.

I posted this on Michael Russo's blog a couple days ago but I think it went overlooked and/or ignored. The Sabres' recent history of free agents isn't totally good - losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury in one offseason. But they gave Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek some nice contracts. Do they have room for Gaborik? They can. What about sending Maxim Afinogenov - a good player who's been in Lindy Ruff's doghouse for ages - and Tim Connolly to Minnesota? Afinogenov gets a fresh start and Connolly could become one of the Wild's top two centers. Mikko Koivu could center Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Connolly and Afinogenov form the second line.

But there are several problems here. First, Buffalo's willingness to spend on another winger. Second, whether they want to get rid of Connolly. Third, Afinogenov and Connolly are both UFAs and who knows, maybe Afinogenov wants to return to Russia. I think a scenario like this is possible but not likely.

Now we're talking. Justin Williams is out for several months with another leg injury. That creates a spot alongside Eric Staal or Rod Brind'Amour. Trading chips: Tuomo Ruutu, Patrick Eaves? Maybe Matt Cullen, who's 31. If the Hurricanes are battling for a playoff spot or positioning near the trade deadline, maybe they make a move. I'm sure they're still stinging from last year's collapse down the stretch. Keep an eye on Carolina. In fact, if Williams hadn't gotten hurt he could've been the centerpiece of a deal.

Another team that could work. But will they part with Nathan Horton, who's signed through 2013 at a cap hit of $4 million? Even Stephen Weiss is signed through 2013 at $3.1M. If a miracle happens and they're close to the playoffs, they'd have pieces to pull off a deal, but that'd be mortgaging the future for the present and a step backwards. Jay Bouwmeester? Nah. Why trade one problem for another for the Wild? David Booth could be a centerpiece. Small chance Florida will be in it.

I've heard some Minnesota fans wanting Tomas Plekanec. He's good. Also has great chemistry with Alexei Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn. Will Montreal want to break up that line? Well, they've got Robert Lang who could fill in easily for Plekanec, and who knows, he could rekindle the magic he had with Kovalev when the two were in Pittsburgh. This one's got possibilities, but I wouldn't be ordering those "Plekanec 14" sweaters just yet, Wild fans.

New Jersey
The Devils already poached one Wild player in Brian Rolston. Will they go after another? Possibly. Zach Parise would have to be involved, but maybe they send Brian Gionta. I think that could work for the Wild as well. Travis Zajac? We'll keep an eye on the Devils.

New York Islanders
They won't be players. They'd have to give up Kyle Okposo (Gopher fans rejoice) but there's no reason to. They're in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL and they need a lot more work than Gaborik will fix. No chance he'll be on Long Island.

New York Rangers
Normally I'd say here's the favorite, but that was in the pre-salary cap era. Maybe, maaaybe, they'd part with Nikolai Zherdev, especially if he's struggling and they're in the thick of a playoff chase, or center Brandon Dubinsky. Chris Drury has a no-trade clause and Scott Gomez has a limited one, but the Rangers don't have the cap space for Gaborik without giving up one of those.

Updated slightly: There's rumors that maybe the Rangers want to move Petr Prucha. He'd fit the Afinogenov mold of desperately needing a change of scenery.

Very little cap space here which immediately puts them behind the 8-ball. Dany Heatley and Mr. Senator Daniel Alfredsson aren't going anywhere, but will they really trade Jason Spezza? Boy, I can't imagine so, at least not for Gaborik. Mike Fisher's a nice player, but who else will play center on that team? I don't think Ottawa will be in the race.

It pains me to say it, but here's a maybe. The untouchables are Mike Richards and probably Jeff Carter. Maybe Daniel Briere, but if it nets them Gaborik? Possibly. Will they tire of Simon Gagne's concussion problems? Would the Wild want to risk it? Scott Hartnell's an option. He'd also bring some toughness to the Wild. I'm not sure if the cap space would work, but Paul Holmgren hasn't been shy about making trades so the Flyers would not surprise me.

I'll try and be clear on this: No, no, no. Granted the Penguins need a winger to play with Sidney Crosby. But unless they're trading Evgeni Malkin (they shouldn't) there's just no way the cap space will work. Often I see, instead of Gaborik for Malkin, Gaborik for Jordan Staal. The reasoning behind this makes absolutely no sense. People say the Penguins won't be able to afford Staal, so trade him for Gaborik. Uh, what? If Gaborik demands even $7.5M from the Penguins, that's still more than what Staal will make. I'll be shocked (as shocked, possibly more so, as I was when the Penguins traded for Hossa last season) if Gaborik ends up a Penguin. You can't do the rent-a-player every year.

Tampa Bay
Would they trade Radim Vrbata and another player or two for Gaborik? The Lightning's owners seem hell-bent on collecting forwards and the way they're throwing money around, I wouldn't be surprised at anything they do. So let's not count them out, but they'd be a darkhorse.

Except for the Jeff Finger contract, the Maple Leafs have been shedding some serious money as they try to right their horridly wrecked ship. They're really in rebuilding mode and Gaborik won't help them. However, Nik Antropov, Alex Steen or Matt Stajan could be attractive to the Wild. But I don't see Gaborik playing in Canada's capital (note: watch "Canadian Bacon" before you correct me.)

You want to talk about scary lines? Let me give you this. Gaborik-Nicklas Backstrom-Alexander Ovechkin. Yikes. Brooks Laich broke out with 21 goals, including eight on the power play, but apart from those four guys, the Capitals are leaning towards the old side. Except for Alexander Semin, who's almost a Gaborik clone (lots of talent but oft-injured). Would a swap of these two happen? Well, it would surely help the Capitals but not so much the Wild. Not to mention Washington's got an albatross of a contract in Michael Nylander hanging over their heads (he's 35, signed through 2011 at $4.875.) We'll consider the Caps a darkhorse, but a very dark horse.

So did I actually offer anything of value? Probably not. The teams I think would make a move for Gaborik, in no particular order: New Jersey, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Montreal, Philadelphia, and we'll go ahead and include the Rangers.

I will say I do not expect Gaborik to be in a Wild uniform in April. And again, this is analysis based primarily on NHL-caliber players that I think the Wild should look to get in return for Gaborik. One of the other teams could have a super prospect or two that a team might trade if they think Gaborik is that missing link.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Gaborik musings

KiPA here, wanting to chime in with some thoughts on Marian Gaborik and where he's likely to be at the end of the year.

Before we begin, though, I'm going to say the original post ended up so long that I'm breaking it up into two. We'll look at the Western Conference teams tonight.

First, I think it's unlikely Minnesota will get a stud in return. I think it's more likely they'd get a 20-25 goal scorer, a mid-level prospect and a draft pick. So musings of Gaborik for Malkin? I think those are ridiculous. No real reason for the Penguins to do that. Would you?

Let's do a team-by-team breakdown. I won't claim to know each team's prospects (in fact I know very little of most of them) so what I'll do is just look at each team's NHL roster and who they might give up in a trade. Why do it that way? Well, I just mentioned my lack of knowledge about each team's prospects and because I think the Wild have to get an NHL-caliber forward back in any deal for Gaborik. I'll also analyze teams' cap space.

No chance. They don't have the cap space. If they did, Bobby Ryan would have to be the centerpiece of any deal, but they couldn't afford to keep him in the NHL this season and won't give him up. Corey Perry or Chris Kunitz aren't going anywhere.

We'll keep this short. No chance. No salary cap room, Doug Risebrough will try to avoid trading within the division if at all possible, and they have a nice lineup as is.

Similar deal with Calgary except the Hawks aren't in the Wild's division.

Same division as the Wild, so unlikely. They won't part with Paul Stastny and probably not Marek Svatos or Ryan Smyth, so I don't know what else they'd have that would interest the Wild.

The Blue Jackets won't trade Rick Nash, who they named captain. They just signed Kristian Huselius and R.J. Umberger in the offseason, so while they'd have room to trade for (and sign) Gaborik, I don't think they'll be giving up any young players. They're more than Gaborik away from contending for anything.

Here's a question: how pained would Wild fans be if Gaborik went to the old Minnesota team? Would Dallas part with Mike Ribeiro? Ehh, I doubt it. Unless they think he's a one-year wonder. Morrow's not going anywhere. The Stars won't be a player in the sweepstakes.

No Wings involved this season. Probably not in the offseason either. I don't see Gaborik doing a Hossa and signing for one year with the Red Wings, especially since they have to give Henrik Zetterberg a new deal.

Here's an intriguing possibility. Problem is they're divisional rivals which makes a trade unlikely.
Surely the Wild would be interested in any of the following: Dustin Penner, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and maybe even Robert Nilsson. But I don't see the Oilers parting with those guys, at least not to Minnesota. So they're out.

Los Angeles
The Kings have emerged as one of the teams most in the rumor mill. Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown aren't going anywhere. Patrick O'Sullivan just signed a contract and theoretically could end up returning to Minnesota. Alexander Frolov? Good young winger, same age as Gaborik, but cheaper. I doubt LA would part with Frolov but we're not ruling the Kings out of the chase. They might be a player.

The Predators could really use a winger. Doesn't look like Alexander Radulov will be in the NHL and Steve Sullivan is still battling injuries. What do they have to give up? J-P Dumont is signed through 2012 and is a real nice player. What about David Legwand though? Are the Preds about ready to give up on him? He's actually signed through 2014, so that would suggest no. Martin Erat's signed for even longer, so I don't see the Predators giving up the future for the present.

They just traded for Olli Jokinen, so that's where a lot of their trade chips went. I can't imagine they'll trade captain Shane Doan or center Peter Mueller. Kyle Turris has some upside and could be tempting but I don't see it. We won't rule the Coyotes out however.

San Jose
Here's a team that might match up. I hear a lot about how many goals Gaborik would score with Crosby, well what about how many he'd score with Joe Thornton? Maybe not as many but certainly a lot. How's this for a line: Milan Michalek-Thornton-Gaborik? Maybe the Sharks give up on Patrick Marleau, who surely will bounce back from his horrid 2007-08 season. That and financially that could be the only way it would work. Maybe San Jose would even include Jonathan Cheechoo, whose time surely is expiring in San Jose. He's looking more and more like a one-season wonder (though 20-25 goals isn't awful). Doubt the Sharks give up Joe Pavelski. But Gaborik could end up here.

St. Louis
Don't expect them to trade Brad Boyes any time soon. I heard a proposal of T.J. Oshie, a supposed stud from North Dakota. If he's the stud he is though, the Blues will want to control him for as long as they can. They're another team that might have the pieces but need more than Gaborik to fix their problems. Gaborik won't be in St. Louis.

I'm about to commit blasphemy here as far as Wild fans are concerned, but Ryan Kesler's got some talent. Him and Steve Bernier, perhaps even Mason Raymond or Taylor Pyatt, could be good fits, but I highly doubt these teams make a trade with each other.

I'll post my Eastern Conference outlook later.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Worst-Case Scenario?

So, Gaby and the Wild are at loggerheads. No real surprise there; he seems to either think he's worth Crosby money or is just demanding a ridiculous number to force the team's hand. Frankly, I really hope DR does NOT give him Crosby money - as his history would indicate he would not.

But obviously that all remains to be played out. (Risebrough has said he'd like it to be played out before the start of the season, but that looks like a pipe dream as well at this point.)

My question is: what's the worst-case scenario? Is the team screwed without Gaby? I remember hearing somewhere that their record without him in the lineup is not so good. But does that mean they can't play without him, or that they just haven't so far? Does that change if he's no longer on the team - as opposed to just not available for a given game?

I'm still not convinced of the "The Wild and DR can't attract players because of Lemaire's system" meme. However, the flip side of that argument - the Wild breaking out the spreadsheets and charts to "prove" to Gaborik that he scores as may goals per minute as the top players in the league - so it can't be that he's being held back in Minnesota - smacks of spin and desperation.

I also feel like it's a bad idea to give any one player that much control over the team - as either acceding to Gaborik's guaranteed money demands or jettisoning the coach would seem to do. Given the choice, and regardless of how the team plays without him in the lineup, I think the most responsible thing to do is to just draw the line in the sand and see if he blinks.

Which, surprise, surprise, is exactly what Risebrough seems to be doing.

But there's no doubt that DR has a big image problem brewing. Despite having just stated that he appears to be doing exactly what I think he should be doing, I still have this nagging feeling that I will be disappointed when this all goes down. So, if that disappointment doesn't stem from the fundamentals of how he managed the situation - or the hard lines he drew and stuck to - then what does it come from?

Afterall, Burns, Schultz, Koivu and Bouchard are all signed for nice, multi-year, cap-friendly deals. Despite distinct rumblings to the contrary among the punditry (of which I am one), Sheppard is about to begin his second year with the team, Gillies just made the team, Pouliot is about to embark on his own maiden voyage, and Harding is still at least on the periphery (bad pun) of the "goalie of the future" discussion.

If the stated goal was to build the team through draft and development until it was ready to be an annual contender, then doesn't the preceding paint a pretty good picture of just that? Maybe the three playoff appearances and the one division title are the aberrations, and not the rest of this noise? Wouldn't that just rock you to the core, as a Wild fan?

I'm not sure what the worst-case scenario is. Maybe that they don't pull the trigger on a deal and Gaby blows out the groin and we're left holding the bag next July when he walks as a UFA. But the fruit of this exercise for me is that the worst-case scenario is NOT that Risebrough sends Gaborik packing.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Opening Weekend Wrap-up

Well, most people probably don't realize this, but the NHL regular season has begun. Weekend games in Prague, Czech Republic, between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, and in Stockholm, Sweden, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators are in the books.

The Rangers swept two games from the Lightning by identical scores of 2-1. In the other "series," the Penguins won 4-3 in overtime Saturday and Ottawa earned a 3-1 win Sunday.

Quick hit analyses:

**The Penguins' power play is bad. Not to say I told you so (taking a page out of Russo's book), but in my first post I wrote Pittsburgh's "power play will be in serious trouble" without Sergei Gonchar. Well, through two games, they are one for 14. That one goal came with one second remaining in Sunday's game and did nothing more than get Alex Goligoski his first NHL goal and ruin Alex Auld's shutout.

**The Rangers still play good defense and still can't score. Newcomers Wade Redden and Markus Naslund scored their first goals in a Rangers' uniform this weekend. But despite getting a lot of shots (see below) the Rangers only scored four times. New York's play style for several years now has been defensive and things haven't changed much this season. It's usually effective, however, as proven by this weekend's four points.

**Maybe money can't buy goals. For all the money on offense Tampa's new owners spent in the offseason, shelling out big bucks to bring back Vaclav Prospal and bring in Ryan Malone and Radim Vrbata, the Lightning had just two goals - from Martin St. Louis and Adam Hall - and only put 40 shots on Henrik Lundqvist in the two games.

**Dany Heatley? Boy he's good. Three goals to begin the season, including two in Sunday's victory. I was impressed with Ottawa's penalty killing, which was very aggressive against a Pittsburgh power play that's lacking its quarterback. Alex Auld acquitted himself well in place of Martin Gerber in goal on Sunday.

**That money the Lightning spent on forwards and didn't spend on defense? Well it showed this weekend. The Lightning allowed 41 shots Saturday and 39 more Sunday. The only thing(s) that kept them in the games were the play of goaltenders Mike Smith (Saturday) and Olaf Kolzig (Sunday). I think Smith will be and is a very good goaltender but this startling lack of anything resembling defense (again, the Rangers aren't exactly a high octane offense) is the main concern.

**I didn't think Marc-Andre Fleury played all that well this weekend in goal for the Penguins. He made some big saves but I thought he could've done better overall. No need to hit the panic button for Pittsburgh fans, but that power play needs to get in order and they need to do a better job of generating 5-on-5 scoring.

That's it for now. No more regular season games until Thursday, Oct. 9 with most teams beginning Friday or Saturday.