Friday, September 3, 2010

WATW Team Bonus: Minnesotan Hall of Shame


One of the more curious and quaint traits of some Wild fans is a desire to see the Wild draft/trade-for Minnesota-born (or even just fleetingly-connected) players. It’s parochial and inane, but what are you going to do? The team ginned up this “State of Hockey” thing and this is one of the by-products of it.

Obviously Minnesota has a long and proud tradition of amateur hockey. And Minnesota has a long and, well…long tradition of professional hockey as well. And the Land of Sky Blue Waters – as compared to the other states in the US of A - has produced a lot of NHL players (205 according to, versus 166 from MA and 122 from MI, for example.) So, I suppose if one is given to state-level jingoism to begin with, it’s somewhat natural to want to expose one’s state-level jingoism to passers-by, particularly when it’s conveniently institutionalized by one’s professional sports teams.

The problem with that, at least from the Wild’s perspective today, is that….well none of those players is particularly good. Sure, there have been some greats in the past. At the pinnacle: those Minnesota-born kids who have raised Lord Stanley’s Cup. But, for every Mr. Zero, there are a couple LoPrestis (literally, in this case): guys who were good enough to gain some notoriety, but not to ascend to the top of the mountain. For every Neal Broten there’s an Aaron and a Paul. Heck, Neal didn’t even spend his day with the mug within the borders of Minnesota – instead committing the gaucherie of spending it in (Minnesota’s sworn enemy) Wisconsin! Minnesotan hockey players historically tend to peak at the collegiate and international levels, as opposed to the professional level.

Yet, come draft day, trade deadline, or really any lull in the action, the call for more Minnesota kids on the Wild goes up by these diehard myopes and quickly spreads like a grease fire in a tenement. And more-rational Wild fans (read: those who care about, you know, winning sometime this century) have to roll out the old fire cart and try to contain the blaze before it takes down the entire block. Good times. Every trade involving a Minnesota-born player that does NOT involve the Wild is greeted with "[insert GM's name] is an idiot! I would have traded a 1st round draft pick and Mikko for [insert 3rd line Minnesota-born player's name]!" Every Minnesota-born UFA that signs somewhere else is seen by this set as a reason to hang the GM and the owner in effigy in Rice Park.

During the nomination process for the WATW Team, one of the sidebars became the number of Minnesota-born players that have actually played for the Wild – and their relative (even as compared to the paltry contributions of the non-sons of Bunyan) dearth of material contributions to the effort.

Here’s the All-Time Worst Wild All-Minnesota Dishonorable Mention list:

-goalie- (n/a)
Sean Hill (D)*
AJ Thelen (D)**
Erik Westrum (F)
Brian Bonin (F)
Wyatt Smith (F)

*denotes member of Worst All-Time Wild Team
**didn’t actually play for the Wild, but A) his is a true tale of hockey woe and B) he was the only other defenseman on the list

That's quite the underwhelming list of hockey players, eh? Notice as well that the forwards all came out of the vaunted University of Minnesota Golden Gopher men's ice hockey program.

What the heck. Might as well go down the rest of the list of Minnesota-born players, who were only good enough to NOT make the list:

Mark Parrish – gets a pass because he was kind of productive (relatively speaking) and maybe just didn’t fit in Lemaire’s system. Plus he’s still on the payroll, so Minny-centric Wild fans have THAT going for them.

Jeff Nielsen – didn’t really distinguish himself, he just did more than the other forwards who made the list.

Darby Hendrickson – so far, the ne plus ultra of Minnesota-born Wild players. Of the guys on the list, Darby’s been the best.

Danny Irmen – mentioned mostly because he’s a perfect example of a non-Minnesota-born kid who these nutso Wild fans still think is a Minnesotan just because he played for “The U.”

Nate Prosser – only got here last year. Doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned with this rabble at this point.

Matt Cullen - could easily end up being The One. Signed with the Wild this summer as a UFA, Matt's future with the home state Wild is still bright and shiny, unmarrred as yet by the echoes of the bleats of failure and mediocrity from his predecessors.

So you see, the Wild has employed a number of Minnesota-born kids. One of them has done anything of note, two of them are too green to be judged and the rest haven’t done jack.

But they’re all (well, almost all) Minnesota’s own flesh and blood, right? So that’s gotta count for something.

Look, this isn't some kind of FU to Minnesota hockey. And there are obviously good hockey players out there that are also from Minnesota. This is a FU to anyone who thinks that, all else being equal, the Wild should go with a Minnesota-born kid over a kid born somewhere else. Anyone singing that tune has had one too many falls off the back of the snowmobile.

And it's an especially big FU to anyone who thinks that, all else NOT being equal, the Wild should go with a Minnesota-born kid over a kid born somewhere else. Anyone singing THAT tune has spent too many nights inhaling kerosene fumes while trying to fish in a FROZEN LAKE.

Worst All-Time Wild Team: Defense


Moving on to defense in the WATW Team reveals and this is an interesting position. The overall defensive orientation during the team’s formative years (under the tutelage of Jacques Lemaire) was certainly a boon to defensemen overall (if your forwards back check like crazy out of mortal fear for their very lives, your job as a defenseman has to be easier than if the forwards just cherry pick all day long.)

But, that cuts both ways. If you, as a defenseman, look bad playing defense in such a system….you tend to look really bad.

Defense was the position that got people the most fired up in the nomination process. It was also the position that drew the most debate around one player.

Okay, before the suspense kills anyone, I present the fans’ choices for Worst All-Time Wild defensemen:

Sean Hill
Martin Skoula

Hill, the Duluth, MN native, and Duluth East Greyhound and Wisconsin Badger alum, was brought in to provide a measure of stability, some nastiness and grit to the back line. "A stay-at-homer with a bit of a mean streak who would hit anything not in black and white" was the book on him. It was also thought that Sean would arrive in his home state particularly motivated and looking to prove himself after suffering the ignominy of becoming the first player to receive a suspension for running afoul of the league’s PED policy. A whopping 20-gamer that he began at the end of his time with the Islanders the preceding season.

During his one season in St. Paul (2007-2008) he gave the Wild 35 regular season games (out of the 63 regular season games for which he was eligible after completing his suspension) and an additional 5 in the playoffs. He managed to provide 2 goals and 7 helpers, and 36 PIMs in those 40 games. And, while he was certainly enthusiastic about throwing plenty of hits, he seemed to miss more than he connected on – and was subsequently brought way out of position for the missing. Hill would spend the ’08-09 season in Switzerland before apparently hanging ‘em up for good.

Marty Skoula. Few Wild players were victimized by Doug Risebrough’s mismanagement more than Skoula. Pitched to fans as a steady veteran defenseman with an offensive streak, Skoula arrived in St. Paul the veteran of 465 NHL regular season games, and 74 more NHL playoff games. The former 1st rounder (#17 overall, Colorado, 1998 Entry Draft) was big (6-3, 226) and has his name on the Stanley Cup. For the Wild’s ‘05-06 and ‘06-07 one-and-done playoff appearances, Skoula represented the lion’s share of the Wild roster’s NHL playoff experience.

In 270 total games with the Wild, Skoula totaled 49 points (0.181 pts/gm.) To put that in context, in 451 total games with the Avs, Skoula totaled 127 points (0.281 pts/gm.) That’s a 35% smaller offensive output with the Wild than he exhibited with the Avs.

And Lemaire loved him. Or at least Lemaire professed to love him. Regardless, Skoula got him some TOI with the Wild.

And there were some spectacular gaffes. Speaking of time on ice, there was one occasion where Skoula spent some time literally on the ice – when he was carrying the puck out from behind the Wild net and appeared to trip over the goal line, landing on his tush and coughing up the puck to noted sniper Nigel Dawes who put one past a stunned Nik Backstrom for the only real blemish in Marian Gaborik’s 5-goal night against the Rangers. There were missed hits, blown assignments, soft play in the slot, soft play on the boards, soft play in the corners, soft play on the breakouts (guy got picked off so often he could play QB for the Vikings,) soft play on the point in the offensive zone….enough ugly moments to draw significant and permanent ire from Wild faithful. Skoula is also the only player in Wild history-to-date to get scratched at the suggestion of a beat writer (the pre-game PA announcement of which drew a hearty cheer from the “Minnesota nice” crowd that was clearly audible through my TV set.)

But, there were also some periods where Skoula was one of the steadiest players on the Wild blueline. In fact, Skoula was the only player in the WATW team nomination process to receive proactive SUPPORT from nominators. In other words, people were lobbying for him NOT to be included on the WATW team.

Suffice it to say no player is more polarizing among Wild fans than Martin Skoula.

Others receiving votes: Ladislav Benysek, Filip Kuba, Alex Henry, Petteri Nummelin, Scott Ferguson, Jason Marshall, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Shane Hnidy, Lubomir Sekeras, Daniel Tjarnqvist and Brad Brown.

NiNY’s Picks: Jason Marshall and Andrei Zyuzin. Remember what I said about the defensive system door swinging both ways for defensemen? Well, when that door swung the other way it cracked both of those guys right in the forehead. Hard.

Up Next: Forwards

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Worst All-Time Wild Team: Goalie


So, I’m going to start revealing the Worst All-Time Wild team as selected by you, the fans. To recap how we got here, the Wild is celebrating 10 years of hockey during the upcoming season. Come on. Sure, surviving 10 years is great and all. But, with one notable exception, it was 10 years of mediocre hockey. The early years... we’ll give them those as starting out as an expansion team has natural obstacles to competitiveness. But, on the whole, 10 years of pretty much underwhelming results on the ice. And, as one good turn deserves another, if the Wild wants to bask in its self-created glow of 10 years of on-ice performances, then we can send up our own Bronx cheer right back at ‘em.

I kept the field of possible choices open. While a lot of the players who have pulled on the IRR over the years did so very few times, it was just too small an overall sample to disqualify players right off the bat. And, in any event, we can use games played if and when it comes to tiebreakers and such.

So, without further ado, the fans’ choice of Worst All-Time Wild goaltender is:

Jamie “Noodles” McLennan

Jamie easily won the popular vote, garnering 33% of the tallies.

He appeared in 38 games with the Wild, during the inaugural 2000-2001 season, amassing a record of 5-23-9. And, actually, his goalie stats aren’t horrible: 2.64 GAA, 0.905 SPCT. And two of his (five) wins were by shutout.

What appeared to draw fans’ ire about Jamie was his inability to hold down the backup role on a crappy team. After the ‘00-01 season, he appeared in 51 games in Houston in ‘01-02 (with decent numbers, by the way) and then moved onto Calgary, the Rangers, the Panthers and then back to Calgary before finally washing out of the league after the ‘06-07 season.

The other side of that coin is that 2001-2002 was the first season Dwayne Roloson appeared on the scene in St. Paul. But, nonetheless, Noodles was unable to escape the wrath of the Wild faithful.

Others receiving votes: Wade Dubielewicz, Manny Fernandez, Zac Bierk, Dieter Kochan and Josh Harding.

NiNY’s pick: Frankly there aren’t too many BAD goalies in the Wild’s history book. I didn’t want to give the nod to one of the Derek Gustafson types (read: only a couple GP), so I went with McLennan too. I seem to recall that Jamie had a pretty good personality, did a couple of those Wild Unplugged things and was not unpopular. He just….wasn’t as good as Backstrom, Roloson and Fernandez. I understand the urge to nominate Manny, based on his perceived attitude if nothing else. But I have a hard time discounting the fact that he is the goalie of record for half of the Wild’s all-time playoff series-won.

Up Next: Defensemen