Sunday, July 5, 2009

WRT's This 'n' That

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

Interesting NHL free agency period so far, isn't it?

The NHL free agency period is only four days old, and Minnesota Wild fans could conceivably call this year's 'frenzy' an unqualified success:

- They lost Marian Gaborik (a move which the Wild knew would happen) but were able to replace him with Martin Havlat, perhaps the only FA available who could not only fit the new Wild 'unleashed offense' style, but their salary structure as well.

- The Wild were also able to shed a lot of salary (Martin Skoula, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Kurtis Foster, Stephane Veilleux, Dan Fritsche) that really was being over-paid for their services, and replaced two of them (Skoula, Bergeron) with players who are talent upgrades on defense (Greg Zanon, Shane Hnidy), while still having salary cap room for possibly the best remaining center in free agency (Saku Koivu) to join the Wild.

- The continuing makeover of the Wild front office, well-documented in other Web locations, continues as strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson was not re-signed to a contract, and the coaching staff of new head coach Todd Richards was announced.

Now, what to make of all this?

You have to admit, there really IS a lot to ponder as the Wild begin a Developmental Camp this coming week (culminating with a scrimmage game next Sunday, 12:30 PM, at Xcel Energy Center; scrimmage -only- open to the public; Gate 1 opens at 12 noon) as the coaching staff gets its' first good look at the 'fresh meat' drafted players (in most cases) which will, in part, re-stock the Houston Aeros (after a number of Aeros' players with Wild contracts were either not renewed or not tendered qualifying offers).

-Will the Wild be better than last year? Or will the Wild be worse than last season and get a higher draft pick in the 2010 draft?

It's way too early to get any indication as to what the future will hold, but in my honest opinion, if the Wild play like they did in January and February of 2009, they will wave a 'red flag' in front of increasingly disgruntled Wild fans, who want this team to return to the playoffs (and win a playoff series, for the first time since 2003).

- What will the Wild do to keep its' season-ticket fan base happy?

That's another good question, as the best promotion, of course, is winning. They have a new front office, a new coaching staff (save for Mike Ramsey and Bob Mason) and a new style. But none of this has been proven -- yet. We'll 3 months. Until then, it's all conjecture and heresay, so much hot air, hope and hyperbole.

But, the good side for Wild fans, is that for the first time in years, there actually is HOPE. That there is the hope of better days ahead. Hope of making the playoffs, hope of advancing through, and eventually, making a Stanley Cup run. Hope of upgrading the talent, getting some of the premiere players in the game to actually play here, in Minnesota, for some of the most rabid fans in the sport.

But, like the end of World War II in Europe, you have to re-build after you kick out the old, poisonous regime. That will take time, lots of effort, and lots and lots of money. Time to re-model the scouting staff into something that GM Chuck Fletcher can work with. This new group has already shown that they are not going to be without effort. And, majority owner Craig Leipold has already said he will provide the money to spend up to the NHL's salary cap.

The Wild's 'stakeholders' -- their fans -- expect nothing less than that. And if that's not Managing Expectations™, then I don't know what is.

I'll be at the 'X' next Sunday for a look at Minnesota's hockey future. So far, the future looks very good. See you there!


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