Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Penguins remove interim tag from Bylsma


The Pittsburgh Penguins' resurgence late in the season can be attributed, in no particular order, to three things: 1) the return of Sergei Gonchar from injury, 2) the acquisitions of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, and 3) the firing of head coach Michel Therrien and the hiring of Dan Bylsma on an interim basis.

Tuesday, the Penguins decided Bylsma's 18-3-4 record in the regular season and a 4-2 playoff series win was enough to remove the interim tag and to make Bylsma the head coach, signing him to a multi-year contract.

Bylsma's style is about as different from Therrien's as one can get, and there seems to be little doubt Pittsburgh needed that kind of change. Bylsma deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround but he is not the only reason the Penguins are winning. Still, the players are working harder, having more fun, and, so far, winning.

One of his last hurdles to jump in earning the head coaching job was how he fared in the playoffs. While overall Philadelphia outplayed Pittsburgh, the Penguins are the one who advanced, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring five straight goals in the deciding Game 6.

Bylsma won't be an Adams Trophy finalist for just two months of work but now he'll get a chance to show what he can do over a full NHL season.

Picking your poison


Washington's Donald Brashear's blind-side, possible-elbow-to-head hit on Blair Betts, the New York Rangers' best penalty killer, cost Brashear six games while the Rangers played much of Game 6 and will play all of Game 7 without one of their most valued members.

Brashear averaged 8:15 ice time in 63 games this season, scoring four points (one goal). Betts' numbers aren't that dissimilar (10:37, 10 points, six goals, 81 games) but he's one type of player whose value cannot be fully translated into numbers (though he does have two shorthanded goals, some evidence of his excellent penalty killing abilities.) Brashear doesn't kill penalties. To paraphrase Eddie Olczyk during the telecast, it's probably not a coincidence that after Betts had to leave Game 6, the Capitals scored on their next two power plays.

Washington fans will take that trade-off. New York followers, not so much.

Thuggery, goonism, pick whichever word you want, and types like Brashear need to be weeded out of the league. Not fighting, per se (witness the fight of Max Talbot-Daniel Carcillo from Game 6 Saturday and see how that can change a game), just goons like Brashear.

So how about this (and someone else might've come up with this idea before): If a scenario like this happens in a playoff series, the team losing the player to injury gets to pick who on the offending team serves the suspension. Think that'll stop lunkheads like Brashear from pulling these kinds of stunts?

Even if the league restricts the victimized team (the one with the hurt player) to pick from only a handful of players. Obviously, the Rangers would want to have Alexander Ovechkin serve the suspension (actually maybe they'd pick Simeon Varlamov, since they can't get any pucks past him.)

But even settling for, say, Washington's top PK man, would serve as a much more "fair" sentencing and prevent coaches/players from ordering/taking blatant, malicious runs at unsuspecting players, key members of the opposition. We saw an intent to injure in Game 1 of the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series, when the aforementioned Carcillo punched Talbot in the back of Talbot's neck off a faceoff in the waning seconds of what was a 4-1 Penguins victory. If Mike Richards was suspended instead of Carcillo for Game 2, do you think Carcillo would've dressed in Game 3?

It'll never happen, but if league officials are serious about growing the league's popularity, they have to do something to start getting rid of cheapshots and players who have such a narrow role on a team. Baseball teams don't employ pitchers just to throw at hitters, football teams don't send in a sub to go after someone's knees.

There will always be members of hockey teams willing to fight. Joe Thornton even dropped the gloves with Ryan Getzlaf in Game 6 of that series. But they should be able to do more than that to earn an NHL paycheck, and it's time for the league to do something about it before someone gets killed.

(Stats provided by ESPN.com.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

WRT's This 'n' That

A column of facts, opinions and an occasional rant from the Wild Road Tripper (WRT)

Anyone else enjoying the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Do you wish your team was in it?

Or, are you glad that the new era in Wild hockey has indeed finally started, and that better days are to come once the 'B Squad' of Wild walking wounded all heal up, in time for training camp in September?

The SCP is indeed the ultimate grind in sports. A possible 28 games in 54 days. For Western Conference teams, an additional 15-20,000 miles of transcontinental air travel. While your opponents stay home and heal (or are playing in the IIHF World Championships in Bern, Switzerland) and rest up for next year, your players are getting turned into so much ground chuck, night after night. Games at all sorts of weird hours to placate TV (for those of you that can find Versus, that is) and odd days playing games (Mondays come to mind).

But, it would be all worth it, to finally see your team's players names on that big silver chalice in June, wouldn't it? As great a hockey area as Minnesota is, no team with the name of 'Minnesota' on it has ever graced Lord Stanley's gift to the sporting world.

That's why the Wild had to make changes. The status quo is no longer good enough. 365 consecutive Xcel Energy Center sell-outs has shown the NHL that it was indeed foolish to move the North Stars to Dallas (Norm Greed notwithstanding) in the first place. Now, the Wild need to show their fans that they are as committed to them as they have been to it. If you want to keep those almighty dollars flowing, you have to become competitive. Especially in this worsening economy, the dichotemy of pro sports has changed. It's no longer good enough to throw open the doors and say, 'Hockey is Back!' (sorry, Norm Coleman). You have to produce or the fans will not keep coming back.

That's why this choice of new GM and head Coach is all so important for the long-term future of this franchise. The new hires will have a two-fold task immediately upon occupying their desks; to make Minnesota a destination for potential free agents to play; and to restore the faith of the fans that the club will do the right thing and improve the on-ice product...quickly.

And, that process begins with one player...the biggest one that the new GM will probably lose. The Wild still have until June 30 to come to an agreement with him, but his agent, who was summarily 'dissed' by the Risebrough management throughout the process, not surprisingly wants nothing to do with the Wild.

Of course, we all know that I'm talking Marian Gaborik here. I am still convinced that he will not re-sign with the Wild, no matter how much money or years are thrown his way. What has changed, however, is the fact that with the old Risebrough regime essentially kicked to the curb, the Wild are now in a position to restore a lot of their credibility within the ranks of the players -- their own as well as future Wild players -- by finding a way to re-sign Gaby, even if it's a short-term (no more than 2 years) deal. This would show the rest of the team that there really is a ray of hope gong into what will be a very unsettled training camp. With every player essentially fighting for their jobs this September, training camp should look very different than during the Lemaire era, when you knew certain players had already made the roster.

And now, a few playoff oddities:

The Anaheim Ducks were so sure that they would win Game 5 in San Jose on Saturday night, they drove their promotional vehicle from Anaheim to San Jose Saturday morning, arriving at San Jose late enough to get to HP Pavilion just after the opening face-off. (Sharks won, 3-2 in OT). They decided not to drive the SUV to the arena, just in case...

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a human model pose as a hockey player, and put him on a pedestal outside the main Arena District entrance to Nationwide Arena prior to Games 3 & 4 vs. Detroit.

Dreaded Thunderstick Alert! The St. Louis Blues gave away 19,000 sets of those evil sticks prior to Game 4 vs. Vancouver. (Blues lost, 3-2 in OT, to be swept by the 'Nucks in 4 straight.)

Enjoy the off-season, Wild World!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Anaheim's dilemma


Okay, put yourself in the shoes of Anaheim general manager Bob Murray and coach Randy Carlyle. Your season is still on-going (and looks to be on for a couple more weeks; good job once again, San Jose) but this summer presents somewhat of a problem for the two of you.

And it is this: What do you do about your goaltending?

Now, there's no goalie controversy going on in Orange County. No. Jonas Hiller has flat out stolen/earned the No. 1 job over Stanley Cup- and Conn Smythe-winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Hiller was the one Carlyle turned to down the stretch to get the Ducks into the playoffs and it's been Hiller who has stonewalled the mighty Presidents Trophy winners through four games.

So while Carlyle can keep his thoughts on this season, Murray has to be considering some options.

This could be a good problem to have. A team can never have enough good goaltending and having two quality netminders can create competition and have each player at the top of his game. I'm not so sure that will work in the playoffs, however.

So what does Murray do? Regardless of how far Anaheim goes this season, I think it's fair to say Hiller has enjoyed a breakout season. In 46 games, Hiller posted a 2.39 GAA with 23 wins and a .919 save percentage. He had four shutouts. Giguere struggled all season (3.10 GAA, .900 save percentage) and was perhaps one of the least deserving All-Star starters in recent memory.

But Giguere still won a Cup and joined the short list of playoff MVPs from a losing team. He's also under contract for two more seasons at a cap hit of $6 million. Hiller is signed through just next season at a much more reasonable $1.3 million (courtesy of nhlnumbers.com.)

To say the least, it does not make much sense to pay your backup goalie $6 million. Part of Giguere's struggles this season can most likely be linked to the illness and subsequent death of his father, so maybe after time he'll return to form.

Murray has the following options: Do nothing and keep both goalies and suggest Carlyle have somewhat of a 50-50 split (Giguere has played more than 60 games just once anyway) or see if Giguere bounces back and/or if Hiller comes back to Earth next season; he could trade Hiller, who, at 26 isn't exactly a prospect but is also quite a ways from visiting Father Time, and there are always teams looking for goalies; or Murray can try to trade Giguere.

If Murray had to make a decision right now, then it would appear obvious to trade Giguere. Of course, the problem with that is finding a team willing and able to accept the cap hit that comes with him.

To that end, let me throw out some teams desperate for goaltending help: Colorado, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal. If Philadelphia is eliminated in the first round, add the Flyers to the list.

Do you notice anything about the teams I mentioned? I put the Maples Leafs on there. Who's running that ship now? Brian Burke, formerly of Anaheim. Would he make a play for Giguere? I don't see why not. How many rhetorical questions can I fit in this paragraph?

Toronto has some decent cap space for next season and the acquisition of Giguere would likely lead to the departure of Vesa Toskala.

In a vacuum/bubble/perfect world, the Kings would be a good fit too. They've got some solid talent at forward and on the blueline but are lacking between the pipes. Jon Quick and Erik Ersberg both have shown flashes, but are still young and works-in-progress. Giguere could come in and stabilize that position. They also have some excellent cap room.

But would those teams trade with each other? (There's another one.)

Colorado really needs a goalie but could also really use a lot of other help, and Montreal can't be counted out, after its centennial season ended in getting swept in the first round. The Habs fans seem to have already turned on 21-year-old Carey Price, taunting and jeering at him during Game 4. They voted Giguere as a starter for the all-star game, so they'd probably vote for him to start in the bleu blanc et rouge.

I don't know what the Ducks will do with Giguere and Hiller, nor am I suggesting anything is in the works or that I have any kind of inside information. I'm just saying, if they decide to trade Giguere, I'd expect him to land with his old boss who's now in Toronto.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

One man's regular season awards


My quick picks for the NHL's annual regular season awards with a sentence or two for each:

Selke Trophy: Mike Richards, Philadelphia. Biggest shorthanded threat in the league, solid even strength and in the faceoff circle.

Calder Trophy: Steve Mason, Columbus. Led the league in shutouts, was second in GAA, was the main reason the Blue Jackets reached the postseason for the first time in their history.

Norris: Mike Green, Washington. Hard to argue against 31 goals and 73 points.

Vezina: Nik Backstrom, Minnesota. Pretty much needed to carry the Wild night in and night out and did exactly that. Minnesota's lack of a playoff berth wasn't because of him.

Hart: Mason. Alex Ovechkin will win it, and he's deserving because the Capitals are a far inferior team without him, but I don't think Columbus even sniffs a playoff spot without Mason, not given the near-season long injury to Pascal Leclaire.

Lady Byng: Sean Avery, New York Rangers. Joke of an award given to the joke of a player.

Playoff thoughts


Haven't posted in a while, so let me chime in now since it's frickin' 7:30 in the morning and I can't sleep. Some quick hits on the goings-on of the NHL playoffs so far:

*Not intentionally starting off with my team, but oh well: I don't know what the talk is like outside of Pennsylvania, but Philadelphia-Pittsburgh has got to be one of the NHL's fiercest rivalries. These two teams really loathe each other, as do the fan bases, and I don't know if that hatred is talked about around the league.

What's funny is, having lived in the Pittsburgh area all my life, I think the hockey rivalry is really the only one Pittsburgh-Philly-related that is like this. As a fan of the Steelers, I bear no particular malice towards the Eagles. As a glutton for punishment (read: Pirates fan), I don't even hold in reserve much rancor towards the Phillies. Not anymore, anyway.

The Pens-Flyers are the only Pit-Philly teams who are still in the same division, so they play each other far more than in the other sports, and maybe that lack of a rivalry over the other sports (at least in my eyes) helps cause such bitterness on the ice.

Anyway, Game 4 Tuesday was perhaps one of the most stressful games I've ever watched. I swear, 15 minutes after the game and I still hadn't caught my breath. Pittsburgh went into a total shell in the third period and were lucky to say the least to come away with a win.

*Speaking of rivalries, Boston-Montreal is getting particularly heated again as well. I teased a Minnesota fan on Russo's blog recently about comments made about Patrick Roy; among the things I said was I bet a lot of Habs fans would prefer Roy playing for Montreal right now instead of Carey Price. That thought hasn't changed.

Does Jaroslav Halak start Game 4? I doubt it, but if they haven't started already, the questions about Price's reliability have to be creeping up.

Also, you stay classy, Montreal fans: Keep booing the U.S. anthem. I hope the Canadian equivalent of 9-1-1 is on speed dial for when you riot after you're eliminated (or if you somehow erase the 3-0 deficit.)

*It is my belief the Capitals will rebound and win their series with the Rangers. Game 3 was a rather telling statement. Simeon Varlamov is becoming the next Johan Hedberg. Back in 2000-01, Hedberg was traded to Pittsburgh as the owner of roughly seven NHL games under his belt; he proceeded to carry the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals.

Varlamov might not duplicate that, but in two playoff games, he's allowed one goal. So, he might. This after, in six regular season games, posting a 2.37 GAA and a .918 save percentage. I'll be honest: I'd never heard of this guy before. But he's stonewalling an already-weak Rangers offense (fewest goals of any playoff team this season) and now the Washington attack appears awake and back in action. I think Henrik Lundqvist has to steal two more Ws for New York and I don't think it'll happen.

I bet Washington fans are glad Jose Theodore has only one year left on his contract instead of, say, three or four.

*How 'bout that Jussi Jokinen? His goal with .2 second remaining might have changed that series back in Carolina's favor. Talk about a back-and-forth series! First, New Jersey embarrasses Carolina, 4-1. Then the 'canes come back and win Game 2 on an overtime goal by Tim freaking Gleason. (Fun fact: In just two games, Gleason now has more playoff overtime goals than Mario Lemieux.)

After that, the Devils steal back home ice with an OT winner of their own. In Game 4, Carolina goes up 3-0, sees the Devils storm back to tie things up, the momentum all Jersey's way in preparation to go up 3-1 heading home, then Jokinen's goal happens and now we're tied.

Granted, one Mr. Martin Brodeur was upset with how the play went down, feeling Jokinen was interfering with him. And he might have; I haven't seen any clear replays of it. But Brodeur had a bit of a meltdown after the game, slamming his stick several times against the boards.

Will be interesting to see how Game 5 turns out.

*The "Hello! Thanks for showing up for the playoffs!" Award goes to the San Jose Sharks. Good to have you guys on board. After scoring just two goals in the first two games at home, the Sharks got a much-needed victory Tuesday. 8 a.m. is too early for me to do any research, but has any Presidents Trophy winner ever gone down 0-3 in a series?

I can't imagine it's happened often. San Jose spared itself that fate but is going to have to win at least one more game on the road. Jonas Hiller has been a rock, stopping an offense that proved so potent in the regular season (third-most goals in the West). I'm not sure the Sharks have it in them.

Shocking, huh? San Jose's usually so good in the postseason.

*I haven't caught much of the games, but has any team in playoff history been as over-matched as Columbus? Whew. Now, don't get me wrong, a hearty, sincere congratulations to the Blue Jackets for getting to this point. But Detroit's making it look easy.

Chris Osgood is making it his mission to shove it up all his critics', well, you know. Just two goals against in the series after having a fairly forgettable (in terms of GAA and save percentage) regular season. This isn't entirely unexpected and Osgood is quite capable of keeping up this string of performances. The Blue Jackets, apart from a so-far invisible Rick Nash, aren't exactly known for their offensive pedigree but it's still hard to overlook what Osgood has done.

*As for the series that has been completed, here are first some props for the St. Louis Blues and the incredible run they made. Naturally a lot of media is loving Pittsburgh's charge but St. Louis might have been more impressive, going from last place in the West into the sixth seed. Four and out wasn't the end expected or desired, of course, but led by, among others, goalie Chris Mason, Brad Boyes, Keith Tkachuk, Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie and David Backes, St. Louis gave something to its fans to remember this season.

And a congratulations to the Vancouver Canucks (Minnesota fans are now eating their own livers) for being the first team to qualify for this year's second round.

Opinions that Roberto Luongo is overrated are, in my opinion, erroneous, but I won't tell people what to think. Luongo's an incredible goalie and he made 18 saves in overtime Tuesday, helping to stop three St. Louis power plays in the extra session. That batch of saves Luongo made was part of 47 in Game 4 and 131 for the series, a whopping .962 save percentage.

He's good, people. Deal with it.

*Finally, work kept me from witnessing the end-game theatrics of Game 3 between Calgary and Chicago, but it hasn't stopped me from wondering if anyone will walk away alive from this series. Game 3 became, as my friend and I would say, chippy.

It's an obvious pun, but the Flames were really feeling the heat. They were sort of in control of the Northwest Division, only to see a late-season slide coupled with Vancouver's surge result in the Canucks winning the division and Calgary reduced to the fifth seed. Don't think Olli Jokinen haters weren't loving that.

Then came Game 1, when Martin Havlat scored with under six minutes left to tie the game, then won it in overtime before you could blink. Then giving up three goals in the second period after having taken a 2-0 lead in Game 2 left the Flames scratching their heads.

Game 3 was a must-win but, like the Sharks, Calgary's biscuits are still in the frying pan, and I would expect heads to roll if the Flames are making curling plans next week.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Backs and Boogie Get Cut

Boogie had his shoulder operated on (successfully) and Backstrom will undergo hip surgery on Friday by that dude in Vail that's operating on everyone and their brother all of a sudden.

Riser held his exit presser at Reid's Hockey City Pub or whatever it's called. Russo's got the full transcript on his blog. Nothing too earth shattering.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Scott Back For Another Year

Per Russo. The big man will again be patrolling the crease area next season.

This is a good, low-cost move. John really added the only consistently physical presence this season, and seemed to inspire the likes of Martin Skoula to become more of a deterrant to would-be interlopers as well.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Now THAT's what I call a 'Wild week!'

WRT's This 'n' That takes a look at the week that was Minnesota Wild

Good morning, Wild world. Had a good week? You've probably had a better one than now ex-President/GM Doug Risebrough has.

After all, when 91% of those polled on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website say that your boss did the right thing for his business by firing you, I think that even you'd get the hint.

Wild owner Craig Leipold did. For once in Minnesota sports history, the owner actually listened to the 'stakeholders' -- i.e., we the fans, who pay really good money to support this franchise -- and actually started to correct the single largest problem facing the Wild, that being the blatant arrogance and the 'We know better than you do' attitude emanating from 317 Washington St., St. Paul.

Maybe it's not always that you know more, folks. Maybe it's that you think you know more, when you really don't.

And now, after DR has been sent packing and the rest of the staff waits for whomever gets to occupy the big chair, the stories come out in the media of how arrogant this Wild administration really was.

The Brent Burns stories told by his agent, Ron Salcer (who also happens to be the agent for Marian Gaborik, UFA-soon-to-be) are almost beyond belief. You play six weeks with a concussion? How Burns even functioned at all, day-to-day, is a testament to his character, as he played 20% of the schedule after getting his bell rung in the first practice following the All-Star break. The amazing part to me is that no one on the Wild medical staff stepped in on the player's behalf with DR or Jacques Lemaire and said, 'enough of this. He's got a concussion. Don't play him.'

At this rate, I wouldn't have listened to the medical staff, either. Maybe Gaborik's timing for his hip surgery was not all that bad, after all; maybe telling DR beforehand was the big mistake that Gaby made and what set DR off (again).

Gaborik and DR were like oil and water; they were never going to see eye-to-eye on anything, regardless of how one side or the other might be able to bend somewhat towards the other's position. The irresistible force (DR) indeed met the immovable object (Gaborik) and the collisions occurred. Quite frankly, I wouldn't blame Gaborik for never wanting to play in a Minnesota Wild sweater again, except for the fact that now the dynamics have drastically changed following the firing of DR and the resignation of Lemaire. Although it might be too late in the process to do anything, there still is time to play 'Let's Make a Deal', if both sides feel it would be in their best interest. But time is, indeed, running out. Leipold, in the role of Monty Hall, better show up soon with that 'Big Deal of the Day', or Gaborik goes away for absolutely nothing.

Leipold has made it quite clear that he wants to keep Gaborik; let's see if the Wild's owner can get done what his Hockey Operations staff wouldn't.

Protect his largest single asset, while the Wild still have it.

How does this affect other parts of the Wild organization?

Good question. A lot depends on who they bring in to replace both Risebrough and Lemaire. Although the ideal candidate is Detroit Asst. GM Jim Nill, the Red Wings are loathe to let him go. The candidate who's made the most noise is ex-Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster. Feaster, who was fired after the 2007-08 season, watched as the team which had won the final Stanley Cup prior to the strike/lockout 'lost season' of 2004-05 crashed and burned following the end of the dispute. Other 'name' candidates include Chicago Asst. GM Rick Dudley (formerly with Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida; originally, a former Buffalo Sabres' defenseman), Pat Quinn (formerly with Vancouver and Toronto; at one time, was a beat cop in Toronto) and ex-Columbus GM Doug McLean. Also in the mix is TSN (and NBC) hockey analyst Pierre McGuire; current Wild Asst. GM Tom Lynn is also under consideration. Leipold plans to start interviewing next week, as the NHL draft is less than 10 weeks away, and both GM and Head Coach need to be hired by that time.

For the sales staff, what they get to sell now is simple: When you have nothing else to sell in sports, you sell hope. Hope that a change in administration brings about new ideas, new attitudes, new players (Leipold isn't afraid to spend money, and the Wild generate more revenue per night than any other NHL team, save for Toronto) and new results. Leipold was not pleased when the Wild missed the playoffs earlier this month, and that dissatisfaction was strongly let be known throughout the Wild complex. Minnesota has never seen a pro sports team owner who has been like this. This guy actually wants to win, not only at the box office, but on the ice as well. Now that Leipold has a 'lay of the land', he wants to be the proverbial earth mover.

Wild fans like major improvements to their landscape. So, will the Wild get another honeymoon, with years of more Xcel Energy Center sell-outs as the team re-tools and the philosophy changes to fit the style of the new management staff? Probably. Already, the Wild exodus of season ticket holders stopped, virtually overnight. Some people are still skeptical, but most are willing to give the new regime (whomever that may wind up being) at least one chance to improve on this past season's woeful record. The sniping of the Wild on various message boards across the Web has also stopped. Now, can the new management keep it stopped? Will they actually improve? How long until they can actually compete at a higher level? How long will it take to get above the '20 or so in the middle', as DR called the majority of NHL clubs, that are all together as they come down to the wire in late March and early April?

It will, indeed, be an interesting next few months. Enjoy the ride, Wild world.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Risebrough Fired? (Unconfirmed)

Breaking right now, Russo, as usual, is on it.


Here’s the memo from the team:

Minnesota Wild Owner, Craig Leipold, announced today that the organization will not renew the contract of President and General Manager, Doug Risebrough, beyond the 2008-2009 season.

“The entire Minnesota Wild organization is forever indebted to Doug for his substantial efforts in establishing this franchise’s solid foundation and winning tradition,” said Leipold. “The positive impact of Doug’s service will be felt for many years to come. We wish Doug the very best.”

The search for a new General Manager will begin immediately. The first order of business for the incoming General Manager will be to select the Team’s next Head Coach.

Until a replacement is found, Assistant General Manager Tom Lynn, will be acting-General Manager.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Has Doug Risebrough Lost His Mind?

John Shipley, normally the "good cop" of the dueling Twin Cities newspapers' Wild beatwriter tag team, offered up some insight into the currently-jumbled mind of defenseman Brent Burns the other day.

In it, he discusses how Burns apparently suffered his concussion in practice on January 26th, but that it wasn't properly diagnosed until closer to March 7th, when he pulled himself from a game.

The first thing this makes me wonder is: what the fuck is wrong with the Wild's medical team? They have consistently mis-diagnosed injuries. Remember Mikko's leg injury was initially thought to be quite minor, which was a good part of why Ohlund only got four-games on his suspension, they waffled on Foster's recovery pretty much from the get-go, and now they fail to diagnose a common and serious injury in Burns' concussion. Sorry, folks, but that's an unacceptable record of mis-diagnoses.

The other thing that Shipley writes is a recounting of Risebrough's categorizing Burns this season as having "slipped back"(from last season, one presumes.)

Hold on a sec.

Burns, one of the best young players on this team, willingly agrees to fill Riser's self-created holes on offense by moving up from defense to wing, which understandably leads to a re-adjustment period when he finally switches back to defense, then gets hurt but is failed by the team medical staff, leading to an understandable drop-off in production and finally to a shortened-season....and Riser's going to call him out for "slipping back?"

Are you kidding me?

What the hell are you basing that on, Riser? Boy Wonder Chris Snow's Theo Epstein Wannabe act?

Burns managed to put up 8 goals and 19 assists in 59 games this season. That's 0.457 points per game. In his career, he has garnered 117 points in 326 games. That's 0.359 points per game. Sorry, the stats argument doesn't wash.

Is Doug Risebrough so out of touch with reality and so egotistical that he is resorting to throwing good, young, producing players under the bus as excuses for his own failure? First the coach, now the players? Is that it?

That is a disgusting, pathetic display of unprofessional slander. Brent Burns, for one, deserves better than that.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

More on Lemaire

"First of all, I never thought I would stay this long. I was pleased and impressed with the fans and the people living in Minnesota. I have to say the same thing for my wife. It's a place that she loved. She was calling Minnesota her home. It was great. It's sad to leave, but we have to do it."
- Jacques Lemaire

"I still love coaching," Lemaire said. "I'm going to work and I want to stay in the game, that's for sure. I still believe I've got a few years. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I want to stay in the game."


“I think it’s time for the players to get a new coach and myself look at other stuff,” Lemaire said.

Will you coach elsewhere? “I’ll see. It’s exciting. It’s an exciting job. I was behind the bench there just before the game there, and I felt I was getting really tight because it’s something I’ve done for 15 years and I like it and I have to go.”

Reading Russo's comments on the how and why, I devoutly hope this didn't go down because Risebrough laid the "blame" for his own inability to put together a sufficiently-talented team at Lemaire's (system's) feet.

Yes, it appears there were other issues brewing that would have more directly impacted Lemaire's feelings about coaching, but they point to impacting his feelings about coaching this team, and in this organization. Regardless of the closed-door discussions between GM and head coach over the season, Riser would be well-served to remember that it was when Lemaire - and not himself - signed on that the then-expansion team garnered its first piece of credibility.

And it sure wasn't Riser that coaxed the 291 wins out of the motley collection of players, nor the three playoff appearances, two series wins or one division championship. I would bet my eldest child that Riser, if he had been the head coach of the rosters he put together, would not have put together the same resume of success behind the bench with the Minnesota Wild as his pal Lemaire did.

But enough of the speculation.

It's time to celebrate the coach that Lemaire is, the job he did in Minnesota and his legacy in this franchise.

And let the rumors about his triumphant return to Montreal begin!


Here's what I will keep as my main memory of Lemaire. And who better than Ken Dryden to pen it for me?

"In the 2003 playoffs, there was a remarkable scene. The expansion Wild, in only their third year, had never made it to the postseason. They were up against the former champion and one of the Stanley Cup favorites, the Colorado Avalanche. It was the seventh game. The game went into overtime. It was on the road in Denver, against Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, and Patrick Roy, and the Wild scored. Their players leaped over the boards in celebration; one camera stayed back on Lemaire and Tremblay behind the bench. The former teammates turned to each other. Mario, his middle-aged body now thicker, his hair turning grey, had on his face his same little boy's look of glistening, beaming, eye-popping wonder. Jacques, with his round, crinkly, Pillsbury Dough Boy face that would always fool you, that made you believe he wasn't to be taken seriously, especially at serious moments like the playoffs, especially for serious tasks like scoring big goals, killing penalties and winning. Especially, years later, for serious jobs like coaching. As a coach, he had always hidden that face behind a stern, serious, implacable one. Until now. When that goal went in, his mouth flew open, his Pillsbury Dough Boy look was back.

At every other coach's moment of celebration I had seen, there had been hugging and jumping up and down. But Jacques and Mario left that for their team. They knew that this moment belonged to the players. For Jacques and Mario, it was something quieter, more private. They were like parents, bursting with pride, trying to keep it all inside. And failing. The look they shared said it all: Can you believe this?! Can you believe we just beat Colorado?!"

- Ken Dryden, The Game


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Game #82: Wild 6, Blue Jackets 3; Lemaire steps down

Jacques Lemaire wins last game coaching Wild

The Joker character in the 'Batman' movies -- the late Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger, whatever your era's 'Joker' may be -- always asks the rhetorical question about the Caped Crusader's crime-fighting gadgetry:

"Where does he get all those wonderful toys?"

Jacques Lemaire, head coach of the Minnesota Wild, had to be asking himself that same question when talking about his hockey club. From out of nowhere, the Wild managed to score 17 goals in their last three games, while putting together an end-of season three game winning streak, as the Wild closed out the 2008-09 campaign with a crushing 6-3 win Saturday night over the playoff-bound Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, in the final regular season game for both teams.

The win by the Wild throws the lower half of the Western Conference playoff picture into flux, as the Jackets are currently seventh in the West, after Anaheim's shootout loss to Phoenix in the desert Saturday. Now, they must wait for the result of the St. Louis-Colorado game to be played Sunday afternoon in Denver, in order to determine first-round playoff pairings.

The real surprise came shortly after the game, when Lemaire told Wild radio color anaylst Tom Reid that he would be stepping down as Wild head coach. "Well, you're right," Lemaire said. "I think it's time for the team, the organization, to get a new coach [and] get a new voice. You know, try to bring this club to another level."

"When I first started," Lemaire continued, "[I] always said that there would be a time, a time that I'll have to go, and I'll see it, and I saw that time. And it's now."

Lemaire, the only head coach the Wild has ever had, leaves after eight seasons with the club. The 63-year-old Lemaire won 11 Stanley Cups, 8 as a player with the Montreal Canadiens, 2 as an assistant coach with the Habs, and one as head coach of the New Jersey Devils.

Jacques took the expansion Wild -- basically, a list of cast-offs, career 3rd & 4th liners, and over-the-hill veterans -- and made a cohesive, defense-first minded team out of them. As the talent in the pool got better, so did Lemaire's flair for defense-first hockey. This past season, however, was exasperating, as over 250 man-games were lost due to injury. Three of the team's top nine players (Brent Burns, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Nick Schultz) were not even in the line-up the last week due to concussion symptoms.

If Jacques told his line-up before they took the ice at Nationwide, then there would be reason for how the team played the last two periods. After Rick Nash and Jarret Boll scored for Columbus in the first period, the Wild stormed back to score the next five goals unanswered, led by Marian Gaborik's 2 goals, Kurtis Foster's first goal since returning from a year-long recovery of his broken femur, and Martin Skoula's fourth goal of the season. Mikko Koivu's short-handed, empty net goal, his twentieth of the season, sealed the fate of the Jackets, who have lost two straight since clinching a playoff spot on Tuesday night. The Wild's win is only their third three-game win streak of the season; the other two were in October and mid-November.

Bottom Line: As much as I hate to see Lemaire go, I can see him tire of coddling Gaborik constantly while trying to maintain discipline over the rest of the roster. It is my sincere hope that he would stay involved in the Wild organization, in a role suited to a semi-retired status, something possibly akin to the 'Roving minor league instructor' role in an MLB organization. Lemaire loves to teach, he wants to teach, he just tires of the day-to-day strain of being a head coach. He's 63. He wants to retire. (Can you blame him?)

Stud: Yeah, there were a few, weren't there? Gaborik, Koivu, Bruno, even Skoula you could make a case for tonight. But, let's give it to the man most deserving; Foster, who's goal and assist, and +3 rating for the night, launched the final victory of 2008-09. He deserves a medal of some type, even if he gets passed over for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded for sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey, for the living hell he has been thru since that night late last season in San Jose.

Dud: There was a dud? No. No duds tonight.

Next: The Off-Season. The NHL 2009-2010 schedule is released July 15. The draft is in late June in Montreal. And, of course, there's free agency day, July 1st. (TV: NHL Network, I'm pretty sure!)

WRT (waiting for that next Wild game...)

*BREAKING NEWS* Lemaire Done

Russo reporting that Lemaire need only make it official, but that he is done with the Wild. While he didn't close the door on coaching again somewhere else, it appears his run with the Wild is officially over.

From Russo's blog:

“I think it’s time for the players to get a new coach and myself look at other stuff.”

More to come.


Game #81: Wild 8, Predators 4 ... but it's Over

The Minnesota Wild made sure that if they weren't going to get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and if some members of the current playing (and coaching) roster weren't sure of their immediate futures, that they sure would send the 'Team of 18,000' off into the summer with a bang. They did tonight, as the Wild ended their home schedule for 2008-09 with a rollicking, resounding extinction of the Nashville Predators, 8-4, at Xcel Energy Center.

Seven different Wild players gained two points tonight, as the Wild closed out their season schedule at home with a 23-11-7 record in front of the home folks. Unfortunately, both St. Louis and Anaheim, as was expected, won tonight, which means that the Wild and the Predators are both officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The win was the by the largest numbers ever scored by the Wild at home, which set a new team record.

Updated Saturday, April 11

The Wild came out with not the amount of effort you would have expected at first for a team which was battling for a playoff spot. However, after Jason Arnott scored Nashville's first goal, the mood of the team -- and the crowd -- changed dramatically. The Wild led 2-1 at the first intermission, thanks to Dan Fritsche's 5th (and final, more later) goal, and Andrew Brunette's rebound of a James Sheppard shot. In the second, goals by MAB bookended the period, as the Wild scored three against Nashville rookie goalie Pekka Rinne. In the third, the period was highlighted by Mikko Koivu's steal of the puck at center and subsequent shorthanded goal. Two empty net goals (by Cal Clutterbuck and Marek Zidlicky) finished off the Preds, knocking them officially out of playoff contention.

Then, after the final horn sounded, came the real strange part of the evening, as the players tossed autographed pucks into the crowd. The last one to do so was Marian Gaborik, skating around the entire rink, waving his arms as if to say, 'Stand up! Say good-bye to ME! I'm done here' as he passed several pucks into the seats. Gaborik, who had two assists on the night, played his 500th NHL game in a Wild uniform. Game 501 is tonight's season finale at Nationwide Arena vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. Will there be a Game no. 502 in a Wild sweater?

I kind of doubt it, myself...

Let's get the multitude assembled one last time, shall we?

Chicken Little: Why didn't they play like this the last five weeks? Could have been a playoff team if they had shown this level of desperation sooner!

Pollyanna: Hey, they came within a game of making it, despite Gaborik not playing for 2/3rds of the season. Also, three of your top players (Burns, PMB, Schultz) all out with concussions? Talk about the 'Bells of St. Mary's', they still almost did it!

Bottom Line: If the Wild had to miss the playoffs, this game was the way to go. Not quite the season ending Wild fans wanted, but better than being an Islanders (or, Avs' ) fan. This Wild team needs some remodelling. Those teams (and some others) need to be totally rebuilt. It will be up to Doug Risebrough to show the fan base what mettle he is made of. Otherwise, it's time to show DR the door. More than likely, we also saw Jacques Lemaire's last game as head coach at home. Too bad he couldn't go out with better on-ice playing talent to work with.

Stud: There are many candidates, but here's ours: Cal Clutterbuck. Drew two Nashville penalties, and just incensed the 'Little Ball of Hate', Nashville's instigator-in-chief Jordin Tootoo, into nearly getting his head knocked clean off by John Scott. Now that's what I call getting under a team's skin.

Dud: Just to remind us that he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, Martin Skoula still wound up a -1 for the night. Made a few good plays, but got burned several times. Dud-ism can be practiced anywhere, Marty. (Get the hint?)

Next: at Columbus, 6 PM Central (7 PM Eastern) time, Nationwide Arena. (TV: FSNorth, FSOhio; XM Ch. 208)


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Backstrom Vezina Chatter?

Wild fans certainly know how good Nik Backstrom is, his having saved the team's collective bacon what seems like dozens of times this season being evidence alone. But is the league starting to take notice as well?

Kipper's line: appearing in 74 games, amassing a 45-22-5 (60.81%) record, a 2.81 GAA, a 0.904 SPCT and 4 shutouts.

Nabby's line: 59 GP, 40-10-8 (67.79%) record, a 2.43 GAA, a 0.911 SPCT and 6 shutouts.

Backs' line: 69 GP, 35-24-8 (50.72%) record, a 2.33 GAA, a 0.923 SPCT and 8 shutouts.


Those are three good goalies having very good years. You could make the case that each of them is his team's MVP as well, based on either how little-used their backups are or how they have performed relative to their backups.

You have to like the fact that Backstrom has the lowest GAA and highest SPCT in the group, even though GAA is more of a team stat. He does have the worst winning-percentage in the group which will hurt him. Does his group-best number of shutouts help off-set that in the voting? We'll see. But, in any event, these are three pretty evenly matched keepers.

In an effort to help clarify the picture, let's take a look at some secondary statistics.

Team goals for/game rankings (season-to-date):
San Jose 7th (3.09)
Calgary 8th (3.08)
Minnesota 25th (2.50)

Team goals against/game rankings (season-to-date):
Minnesota 2nd (2.38)
San Jose 3rd (2.39)
Calgary 23rd (3.00)

Team shots against/game rankings (season-to-date):
San Jose 1st (27.3)
Calgary 16th (29.6)
Minnesota 21st (30.7)


First, how freakin' good is San Jose? Yikes! They score a lot, don't get scored on very often and play great defense. They have also tasted playoff defeat recently - which is a pretty good leading indicator of future playoff success.

But, all that extra goal support that Nabby and Kipper get over Backs is a plus for Backs in the Vezina consideration. The bottom line is that Backs has a smaller margin for error than the other two guys.

Another strike against Kipper has to be the relatively low goals against/game ranking for the Flames, certainly relative to the Wild and Sharks.

I was frankly surprised to see the Wild giving up so many shots. I was prepared to make the point that, "since the Wild allow so few shots, Backstrom's SPCT should be the highest of the three." But the Wild allows the *most* shots of the three teams, which makes Backs' best-in-group SPCT even more compelling (and also partially debunks the "he's just a product of the system he plays in" myth.)

It would certainly appear that you could make a strong case for Nik Backstrom winning the Vezina Trophy this year - to go along with his Jennings Trophy a couple years ago.



Congratulations to the Columbus Blue Jackets and their fans on the team's first-ever playoff appearance!

They say you always remember your first, so enjoy it, BJs fans.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

HTP Interview Series Pt. 1: The Bandgeeks!

I am happy to present the first in a series of interviews with fellow Wild fans and bloggers as the 2008-09 season winds down for the Wild. This is the state of the Wild, from the residents of the State of Hockey. You've been reading KiPA, WRT and me all season, here's your chance to hear some fresh voices.

Up first are my friends the Bandgeeks (Mike and Carol.)

We sat down tonight for a good chat, and I didn't even have to scratch Mike's leg/toes!

Even though I know you're all going to be listening to the podcast (button to the right,) here's a breakdown of their thoughts:

What were your expectations for the team this season?
  • They were too inconsistent.
  • Coming into the season, Mike and Carol felt the team would at least be able to hold over some of the consistency that helped them win the Northwest Division last season.
Did the team meet, exceed or fall short of your expectation for the season?
  • Defensively and in goal the team met or exceeded expectations.
  • Offensively, the team fell short of expectations.
  • There just isn't a NHL-caliber "top line" and that really hampers the overall effort.
  • The experiment with making the defense more mobile/puck-moving was a success from the offensive perspective, but a failure from the defensive perspective, and at least on some nights, that created a net wash at best.
What are the team's strengths?
  • Goalie and defense, of course!
  • Johnsson may have needed the first year to get into the swing of the system, he's doing much better now.
  • Burns has had an off year, the time at forward being a big part of his issues.
  • Schultz is just steady but needed.
  • Zidlicky is good on offense, but scary on defense.
  • John Scott has been a solid addition, if only because he finally brings a physical presence to the defense corps - which may have worn off on Skoula, who is finally spending time with a guy that is demonstrating that kind of play, as Carol pointed out.
  • Harding deserves a chance to earn a starter's job somewhere. Though hopefully not in one of those "pressure-cooker" locations, according to Carol, who doesn't want to see a good, young goalie blown up before he gets a shot.
  • Mike made a great point about not necessarily wanting "just a cheap guy" as your back-up, pointing to the Islanders as an example of why.
What are the team's weaknesses?
  • Scoring!
  • Carol feels we have too many 2nd, 3rd, 4th line type guys, and not enough 1st line guys.
  • The Bandgeeks don't seem to think the team's lack of offense has as much to do with "Lemaire's System" as some people try to make it out to be.
Do you want Doug Risebrough to return as GM after this season?
  • Yes, but on a short leash.
  • "He's not quite McHale bad yet, but he's getting dangerously close to that level."
  • Whether or not Leipold decides to apply some pressure will be a key to watch.
  • Does the team take a couple years to sort of re-stock, too?
Do you want Jacques Lemaire to return as GM after this season?
  • Yes. Let him play out his contract.
  • The team's problems do not stem from Lemaire, who has done a great job of getting more out of the roster than may be there.
How are you feeling about the team heading into the off-season?
  • Disgruntled, but accepting of the reality of where they are.
  • Riser's chameleon routine is frustrating.

So there you have the recap from our little chat. Please take a listen to the full podcast (button to the right). And be sure to keep stopping by over the next couple weeks as I chat with other fans and bloggers about these same questions.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Game #80: Wild 3, Stars 1

'Too much, too little, too late, to try again with you'...

That could have been the theme song tonight at a subdued Xcel Energy Center, as the Minnesota Wild took on a Dallas Stars team which had absolutely nothing at all to play for.

The Stars can't go up in the standings, nor can they go down in the standings. They're stuck, and have been basically out of the playoff hunt since the Wild lost to the Stars in OT at the American Airlines Center in Dallas three weeks ago. Since then, the Stars have managed to drop right off the NHL map, as it were. Tonight's game meant much more to the barely-alive Wild than it did for the demi-moribund Stars, and it showed as the Wild beat the Stars in a methodical 3-1 score.

Marian Gaborik led the Wild charge with one goal and two assists, giving him 18 points in 15 games played (imagine if he had been healthy all season). Eric Belanger and Owen Nolan also scored for the Wild, as the defensive Wild basically kept the Stars at bay all evening. At times, this game was outright boring. But, boring hockey is winning hockey when you're desperate to win. And, at least this evening, the Wild were that desperate. The Wild even outshot the Stars 33-28, which made for an interesting night for Dallas rookie call-up goalie Matt Climie, who started in pace of the worn-out Marty Turco, who did not even dress for the evening.

The Wild are barely alive, and would have a much better shot at it if the Phoenix Coyotes would have done their part last night, as the St. Louis Blues stormed Jobing.com Arena in Glendale and tossed aside the 'Yotes, 5-1, like the Purina rep at an Alpo feed. As it is, the Wild now have a 'tragic number' of just 1, as the combination of points from Tuesday's games means the Wild now own 10th place in the Western Conference, one point behind Friday night's home finale visitors, the Nashville Predators, who failed to get the job done Tuesday night in their home finale vs. Chicago. If it makes anyone feel any better, however, the LA Kings did put the Edmonton Oilers out of their misery Tuesday night, beating the Grease 2-1 at Rexall Place to put them out of the playoff hunt.

OK, Assembled Multitude, time to wake up and tell me about the game:

Chicken Little: No sense of urgency in a month. Too late for the playoffs.

Pollyanna: Are we sure we can't keep Gaborik happy? Three points on the night, and we can't keep him here?

Bottom Line: Two teams that went thru the motions tonight. Wild fans now are learning, once again, how it must feel to be in any NHL city which doesn't make the playoffs. It's not a good feeling. There was an emptyness in the crowd tonight, despite the fact that nearly everyone was there, that something about all this seemed somewhat surreal. Like something was missing.

Stud: Gaborik. Goal, two assists, gave as good as he got, and still came back for more. Wish we'd seen that a lot more sooner than this.

Dud: The lady who blows the goal horn at the 'X' for not blowing it when Nolan scored at 14:28 of the second period. The referee signalled goal, no horn. Waited about 90 seconds, still no horn. Finally, as they were lining up for the face-off, horn sounds. Wake up, sweetheart.

Next: vs. Nashville, Friday, April 10, 7:00 PM Central Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: KSTC-45, FSTennessee, XM Ch. 206)

Monday, April 6, 2009

'The Six-Pack of Suck': 10 Points that Got Away

Aggravation. Exasperation. Disgust. Pain. Loathing. Hatred. And that's just from your fan base.

Yes, the end of the season for the Minnesota Wild is, indeed, finally upon us. 79 games played, hundreds of hours of time expended by 18,568 fans in arena (and hundreds of thousands more on TV and Radio) watching the Wild exercise an enormous amount of effort, only to have their season end in utter, bitter, epic failure as their 'playoff push' looks more like a full-scale retreat.

To that end, let's look at six games that really could made a difference. Six games that the Wild should have easily won, where they actually had a lead or were close, that they should have extracted points from, except for their own bumbling mistakes, stumbling errors, and lack of timely effort and flat-out poor execution:

November 26, 2009 at Xcel Energy Center: Dallas 4, Wild 3. The Wild somehow manage to turn a 3-1 lead with 3 minutes left in the second period into an epic defeat, as Loui Eriksson does his best Modano imitation with a goal and an assist, as the Wild defense falls apart in the third period. James Neal scores twice for the Stars, who are helped along by an overturned goal call early in the 3rd period after Marty Turco pulled the puck out of the net after it crossed the goal line.

December 17, 2009 at Xcel Energy Center: Calgary 3, Wild 2 (OT). After Marian Gaborik scored to tie it at 2-all with just under 5 minutes left in regulation, Wild fan anti-favorite Todd Bertuzzi takes a one-handed pass from Daymond Langkow after Marek Zidlicky mis-plays the puck carrier. Bertuzzi backhands the game winner past Niklas Backstrom, over his shoulder and under the crossbar 3:48 into the extra session. Zidlicky is a -2 on the evening.

March 15, 2009 at Scottrade Center, St. Louis: St. Louis 5, Wild 3. After giving up the first three goals of the game (two of them in a 91-second span in the second period), the Wild try to make it close, and they do, thanks to Andrew Brunette's goal and assist leading the way. Three Blues' power-play goals make an already fat and happy crowd (it was the Blues' third annual 'Free Food Game') nearly delirious, as 19,150 watch as five straight Wild penalties (two goals directly resulted from Zidlicky penalties) lead the charge for the Blues as they take the season series from the Wild, a result which would have devastating consequences down the remainder of the stretch.

April 5, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena, Detroit: Detroit 3, Wild 2. After giving up the first two goals of the game (again) Cal Clutterbuck and Gaborik tie it at 2-all. After an up-and-down third period, Zidlicky takes a mental vacation with one minute remaing in regulation, allowing Tomas Holmstrom to break free and execute a perfect pass to Marian Hossa, and the former Wild-to-be buries it, and the Wild's dwindling playoff hopes, with 54.3 seconds left in regulation time, as the Wings snap a 3-game home losing streak. JL, rightly so, throws Zidlicky under the bus (again) following the game.

February 19, 2009 at Xcel Energy Center: Calgary 3, Wild 2 (OT). An Adrian Aucoin shot deflects off Brent Burns and past Backstrom with 1:10 left in overtime, completing a comeback where the Wild let a 2-1 lead slip away. Bertuzzi again roasts the Wild fans by setting up Aucoin with a perfect headman pass. Burns winds up a -2 for the evening.

and now, the worst of the worst:

February 14, 2009 at Xcel Energy Center: Ottawa 5, Wild 3. After opening up a 3-0 lead on the hapless Senators, the Sens come back and execute what will be known hereafter as the 'St. Valentine's Day Massacre' on the Wild, as the dumbfounded Wild watch the Sens score 5 straight unanswered goals -- including two shorthanded goals, tying a Wild team record -- as 8 different Senators players earn points, led by Daniel Alfredsson's goal and two assists. The Sens' comeback wipes out an astounding first period for Owen Nolan, as the 'Irish God of War' had two goals and an assist, all in the first 13:13 of the game; Nolan is on the ice for 3 of the 5 Ottawa goals, and his plus-minus for the night winds up as even.

Ten points in the standings which the Wild had in their grasp, and let slip away. How much does this hurt? Where would this team be if they actually WON these six games outright? And how much does the Wild team management really care? These questions need to be answered, for the long-term health of this franchise. For as most of you know, the most satisfying promotion in any team sport is winning.

It's also the hardest promotion to carry out.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Game #79: Red Wings 3, Wild 2

Someone better call the coroner, as the playoff chances of the Minnesota Wild are looking very grave.

The Detroit Red Wings virtually assured that the Slovakian National Team in the upcoming World Championships will have their best player, Marian Gaborik, on hand later this month when the Championships begin play in Bern, Switzerland, as fellow Slovakian Marian Hossa snapped off a laser past Niklas Backstrom with 54.3 seconds left in regulation, to propel the Red Wings past the Wild 3-2 in a NBC nationally televised game Sunday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena.

In retrospect, two Wild players stand out today; Kim Johnsson, who logged an astounding 29:52 in ice time, and Marek Zidlicky, whose once again, ill-timed offensive pinch with 1 minute remaining sprung the Wings into a 2-on-1 chance, which Hossa buried, snuffing out the probable final hope for post-season play for the 'Team of 18,000', as the Red Wings snapped a 3-game home losing streak. The Wild drop to 0-3 all-time on NBC, as the Red Wings win their 50th game of the season, keeping pace with San Jose for the top two spots in the Western Conference.

Nick Schultz was nowhere to be found down the stretch, as he reportedly sustained an eye injury in the second period, and failed to return for the remainder of the afternoon. The Wild now face the final two home games of the season, beginning Tuesday night against Dallas, safe in knowing that they are virtually out of post-season contention.

Assembled Multitude: Got your tee times ready yet?

Chicken Little: Ahhh...peace at last....now can we get going and shop for that 'Big Bertha' driver?

Pollyanna: It ain't over until WE say it is!

Bottom Line: The season is over, folks. Hossa, the man who could have played for the Wild, made sure of it. Yes, they might have been 'four-and-out' in the playoffs, but it would have extended the season a week or so. And at this time of year, I want every game I can get. And besides, with the recent history of poor Wild draft choices, if we are number 14, 15, 16, or 17 on draft day, does it really make any difference?

Stud: Backstrom. 41 saves against this line-up. You can't do it alone, however...

Dud: Zidlicky. Another 'brain fart' by Zids, and this one really stinks. Talk about wrong play, wrong time, pal. Your dumb move, with one minute left in the game, just cost us the season. Nice going, Zids.

Next: vs. Dallas, Tuesday, April 7th, 7:00 PM Central Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: Versus (in HD), TSN2; XM Ch. 239)

WRT (looking forward to 'Select-a-Seat')

Friday, April 3, 2009

Game #78: Wild 4, Flames 0

Any night the Minnesota Wild win is a good night. Any night they shut out the opposition is a great night. Any night they shut out the Calgary Flames -- the team which the Wild have, until tonight, gone winless against in 2008-09 -- is a fantastic night.

Any night that Martin Skoula -- yes, him -- is short-changed by not being named No. 1 Star for his excellent play, is an unbelieveable night. Some may call it a pipe dream. Well, we say...

Live the dream, Skoula.

Skoula made what was probably his best single hit as a member of the Minnesota Wild against Curtis Glencross to punctuate a night where the Wild scored early, and often, against old nemesis Mikka Kiprusoff as the Wild staved off the 'tragic number' with a 4-0 whitewash of the Flames, who remain tied with Vancouver atop the Northwest Division. Tonight's win, combined with Chicago's 2-1 win at United Center over the Nashville Predators, means the Wild are still alive -- barely, yes, but still in it -- two points behind eighth-place St. Louis going into Saturday's schedule, which finds the Blues in Dallas to take on the Stars.

The Wild played aggressively on offense in the first period, then went semi-defensive in the second, then turned it up a notch (or so) in the third. All this and Todd Bertuzzi (Booooooooo!) getting a -2 on the evening made for a fun, if not interesting, evening of puck.

The Wild now are 4-0-4 in their last eight home games, and 8-2-4 in St. Paul since the All-Star break.

Chicken Little: Well, finally the Wild beat Calgary. It only took them a year to do it!

Pollyanna: Owen Nolan a +2, Cal Clutterbuck scores his 9th, Niklas Backstrom with the shut out, what more could a Wild fan ask for?

Bottom Line: The Wild played like they were finally getting it tonight. No more screwing around, no missed passes, no dumb penalties, none of that. 'Da Boys' played like they really wanted to be there tonight. Of course, it would have made things easier if they had done this several months ago. But, we'll still certainly take it now, and we need to. (See 'Next' below.)

Stud: Skoula. Johnsson gets an 'atta boy', as does Nolan, but Skoula stood out, head and shoulders above the rest, IMHO.

Dud: Stephane Veilleux. As snakebit as any player could be tonight. Three shots off posts, two wide-open nets missed, if he had any luck at all he'd have been named the NHL's star of the night. He didn't play bad, but his aim really sucked.

Next: at Detroit, Sunday, April 5, 11:30 AM Central (12:30 PM Eastern) Time, Joe Louis Arena. (TV: NBC (in HD); XM Ch. 207)

WRT (For tomorrow, I say: Go Sharks! Go Stars! Go Jackets!)