Friday, September 3, 2010

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

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