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!

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