Monday, December 12, 2011

Vexing Wild Driving Eggheads Crazy

by NiNY

A look through the various pre-season prognostications before this NHL season would have told you the Minnesota Wild was not going to be a very good team. New coach, young defense, upgraded offense, but still a bottom-heavy forward corps.

Sure. Made sense to me. A 3-3-3 start only served to reinforce this analysis - as well it should have. But 17-4 since then has presented the cognoscenti with a bit of a dilemma: what the hell do we do with the Wild?

Certainly the Wild's play the last twenty games is not sustainable for 50 more games this season. Same with Boston's play since the beginning of November. Or Vancouver's play over the last 10+ games. Parity in the NHL is such that the majority of the teams are competitive with each other on a given night. The Wild is just not a 117 point team.

And the desire to tear them down by some of those same people who had them pegged as a bottom-third team coming into the season must be great. Certainly, it's been the mind frame of the sports analyst since humans first started practicing organized sports. The famous Greek journalist Archidonis, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather to George Plimpton, noted this about the first Olympiad "By Hector I tell you, he had no right to win that marathon."*

Anyone who repeats the vulgar "Those who can't, teach" line around me stands to get an earful (my wife is a teacher - no way most people who utter that phrase could do what she and her colleagues do). But, too often in the sports reporting world, it could be said that, "Those who can't, write." I'm not talking about the retired-jock color analysts. I'm talking about the ink-stained wretches whose skill with the pen far outweighs their skill with the ball, as it were.

Look, I'm far more like the latter than the former. I can't throw a 100 MPH heater, dunk a basketball or run a sub-4:00 mile, and my slapper, well let's just say it leaves a lot to be desired. And I note the irony (duplicity?) of me complaining about those who write - on my blog.

But, you see, I'm not even really complaining about them. As a human who is not possessed of the physical attributes necessary to compete on the field, all those poor scribes have is their ability to prognosticate, villify or beatify with their words. Take that away, well you've got a moist, warm petri dish of insecurity, don't you? So I get the sportswriter's angst when a team produces results that so greatly diverge from their academic analysis. That's the danger in being overly slaved to academics in general, I believe. Sometimes the visceral trumps the academic.

A sportswriter can't fall back on his or her athletic prowess when their analysis proves faulty. Their perceived reputation is all they have. So, when they're wrong, they almost HAVE to find some way to wiggle off that hook. And the statistical argument method of hook-disentanglement is as convenient and efficient as any in that instance.

I think, though, that you run the risk of losing touch with what sports really is, at its essence, when you go down that road.

Sports is the moment when you put aside the playbook, and the chalk talk and the video screening and have at it. Hockey, specifically, is a constantly-evolving kaleidoscope of activity and action, relying so little on set plays as it does.

Statistics are inherently backward-looking metrics. And applying them into a future-looking analysis is fraught with peril since there are so many variables than can and will come into play between prediction and outcome that it is very hard to say "the reason the outcome was what it is can been seen in the statistical-based predictions I made before!"

Statistics don't allow for injuries, or trades, for example. You can't straight line something that is so inherently organic as a sports team's season. Statistics are black and white. But sports are played in technicolor.

Of course, the savvy sports writer tries to tear down an anomaly like the Wild not for the instant gratification but to set him or herself up to be able to say "I told you so" when the mean reversion occurs.

But, here's the thing about all this: it doesn't matter. You can run a counter to every statistical analysis that purports to convince you that the Wild shouldn't have won all these games.

For example, the Wild gets outshot with regularity. Well, despite getting outshot they're winning all these games. What if they started shooting more? Would they win by more goals than they're winning by now?

The Wild's also been pretty beaten up so far this season. Nine callups already, etc. So they're eking out these wins despite the poor metrics and the injuries. So, maybe, when they get healthy, they continue to win and the metrics improve, right? Can you say for sure that WON'T happen? Of course you can't.

Pointing out that the Wild is winning despite taking so few shots, or whatever, simply doesn't tell you what's going to happen in future Wild games. They've won 20 games this season-to-date, with crappy statistics. How have those statistics helped you predict Wild performance so far?

To the people who are professing their staunch distrust of the Wild's ability to sustain their current pace because the numbers simply say they won't be able to: fine. I agree with you. I don't hold your ill-fated predictions against you. You're not a bad person because you thought (as I did) that the Wild would struggle to stay in the playoff hunt this season. It's all good, man.

Can we just watch the games, now?

*Okay, so obviously that was a bit of fiction there.

Yeoism Taking Root, Converts

by NiNY

Let's keep the good vibes about the Minnesota Wild rolling. Minnesota sports team fans know better than most just how quickly the tide can turn, so you have to enjoy it while you can. We've certainly done our share of wandering around the desert, so to speak. Maybe we're due for a return to Canaan.

Mike Yeo's passion, his steely-eyed determination and his results have created a bit of a cult following that's gaining momentum. There's a whole twitter account dedicated to this movement (@churchofyeo) and the brilliant Ms. Conduct offered an expose on it in her Backhand Shelf piece yesterday.

This is certainly a topic that's worth celebrating, so here's my gold, frankencense and myrrh:


Holy Trinity: Father (Leipold), Son (Fletcher) Holy Ghost (Yeo)
Holiest Site: 175 Kellogg Blvd. W
Vatican: 317 Washington St.
Cardinals: Flahr, Mill and Harder
Bishops: Wilson, Sydor, Mason and Hendrickson
Apostles: Bombardir, Mackasey, Lapointe and the rest of the scouts
Fiery Local Preacher: Walz

Henceforth shall time before the 2011-12 season be referred to as years BYE (Before Yeosian Era), and, starting with the 2011-12 season be referred to as years AH (After-Hiring).

For example, "In the 10 seasons BYE, the Wild were really never a comeback threat if they gave up the first goal. Thanks be to Yeo."

Any nascent religion needs people, scratch that - believers - at the grass roots level spreading the word.

So, Wild fans and Yeoism converts, I ask you how you would build upon this religious movement?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Aeros @ Amerks

by NiNY

Last Friday night I took in the Houston Aeros professional ice hockey contest against the Rochester Americans.

It was my first AHL game of the season.

I've been to a few Amerks games and they're fun, if generally sparsely-attended.

Theirs is an older barn, two tiers of seating, not a bad seat in the house for hockey. It's beer-stained and well-used. I've never seen it anything approaching full for a hockey game. But, until this season, the Amerks were not associated with the "local" Buffalo Sabres during my tenure in Rochester, to be fair. It did seem like the building was more full than it had been for my previous Amerks games, so maybe a combination of the new Pegula-era Sabres/Western NY hockey craze and Friday night. Either that or the people just wanted to see the Calder Cup Runners-Up live and in action.

I had family duties that meant I was unavailable for pre-game fellowship with the locals, which is too bad. But I did wear the trusty white Wild jersey that has brought me so much luck, most recently at the Aeros/Baby Sens game I attended this spring. It wouldn't let me down, even if I didn't get a chance to see how the home team fans reacted to it.

Not a lot of pre-game pomp and circumstance at the Amerks game. Mostly just "sing the fuckin' song(s)" and get on with it.

My seat was nearly perfect. Lower section, center ice, top of the section, just inside the center red line, on the aisle. The only drawback (and it's a minor one) is that the view of the corner to my right was obstructed by the railing around the wheelchair-accessible seats to my right. But even I am not going to complain about wheelchair-dependent hockey fans.

The Aeros had on road sweaters that were decidedly ugly. Unless you're into sort of a Euro-transformers mash up, paean to industrial might kind of theme in your jerseys. They were dark green and gray. Yeah, exactly.

It was goalie Darcy Kuemper's first start of the season, which was among the interesting tidbits I learned from the irreplaceable peeps over at T3I - not even at the game, and they're still schooling me and adding value. That's some seriously awesome awesomeness, sports fans.

I endeavored to keep an eye on Kuemper.

The Amerks were geeked to start the game, and came out with gusto. They were skating right around the Aeros defense on the entries, and creating chances off of that pressure. Kuemper was a little nervous perhaps to start the game, and his inability to handle rebounds along with poor play-reading set up the Amerks twice fairly early in the first. I noticed how Kuemper's feet never seem to get set. His footwork hurt him on the first Amerks goal when he was late to see the play move from his right to his left and then took an interminable amount of time moving over, and not before the Amerk winger buried it in the half-open net.

Torch took his time out after the second Amerks goal and, while he was visibly excited, did not appear to be tearing guys heads off and crapping down their necks.

The last negative thing I'll say about Kuemper is that he was too eager to give up the high part of his crease. I don't know if that's the way he plays - relying on his size - or if he was somehow back on his heels in his first start in the AHL this season.

However, the whole team reacted positively to the time out. Including Kuemper.

The Aeros transition to offense in a flash, and attack with numbers wide across the zone. The alacrity with which they move up ice with the puck is impressive. Play had evened out by the end of the first period.

In the second, the Aeros make quick work of evening the score. First with a greasy goal then creating a chance out of good work below the goal line.

Sidebar: in the seat across the aisle from me was an elderly lady who appeared to be a regular at Amerks games. She was sitting with either a much younger daughter or a granddaughter, or an orderly or something. This lady was possessed of great spirit, if poor dental hygiene habits. Her joie de vivre manifested itself in her literally yelling obscenities at people who ran afoul of her sense of decency at the hockey game.

The list of infractions was as long as the threshold for inclusion was low. For example:

*Standing up
*Sitting down (too slowly)
*Booing an *Aeros* goal
*Descending/ascending the stairs too slowly
*Cheering too loudly within a 50-foot radius of her
*Being an usher
*Being a human being
*Having more teeth than her

These were all offenses that drew an immediate, forceful and profanity-laced verbal correction from her. One exchange with a 20-something gentleman (bald, leather jacket and jeans, if you take my meaning) who was insensitive enough to walk down to his seat when she did not want him to went like this:

Crazy Mabel (my nickname for her): "HEY! Sit the fuck down, what are you stupid? This is a hockey game, not a..."*
Butch (my nickname for him): "Excuse me?"
Crazy Mabel: "You heard me! Move your ass, asshole!"

*It almost killed me that she didn't finish her sentence. "Not a what?!?!"

Honestly, "Butch" regarded Crazy Mabel with a "am I really going to have to kick this old lady's ass?" look for a minute before discretion overwhelmed his baser instincts and he just proceeded down to his seat.

She was really something to behold.

Anyway, the Aeros and Amerks would trade goals from that point and the 2nd would end at a 3-3 deadlock. But, looking back, the tide had turned against the Amerks. Their third goal was also the result of them beating the Amerks D wide with speed. But, for whatever reason, the Amerks stopped doing that, and it seemed like the Aeros made a backchecking adjustment that made it harder for the Amerks forwards to build up speed through the neutral zone in the first place.

Regardless, the Amerks attack really atrophied and stagnated in the third with the result being that the Aeros had little trouble batting them aside until the big push by Rochester at the end of the game.

Once Kuemper settled in, he was very solid. I still didn't love his footwork, but he was on his angles, limiting rebounds and showed enough athleticism on broken plays that you can see why he's a highly touted pro.

As for the Aeros in general, I was impressed. They just ground the Amerks down over the course of the game. They got down early, but didn't panic. Torch was wise to call the TO when he did and the team focused and rallied from there. Maybe the Aeros' legs weren't all the way engaged at the start of the game, but once they got going it was like the scene in "A Fish Called Wanda" where Ken is running down Otto in the cement roller. Slow, inexorable, awesome.

In fact, it was very much the type of stubborn refusal to deviate from the game plan and fervent conviction that the Wild exhibits.

Harmony between the NHL team and its AHL affiliate, who knew?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wild Playing a Mature Game

by NiNY

Last night's game against the Predators was a revelation for me. The Wild was poised, calm, mature and professional for a full 60-minutes as they methodically wore down the Predators (who, in fairness, had played and traveled Tuesday night) en route to a 3-2, come from behind victory.

The Wild even had to navigate the game day disruption of Backstrom becoming unavailable, Harding getting the nod, and the signing of a 51 year old backup before the game.

If you've watched as many Wild games as I have over the years, you saw a level of poise and focus from the Wild that they have rarely exhibited in the past. Additionally, they were able to sustain it for the full 60 and that's, why that's a Thanksgiving miracle!

If Mike Yeo has instilled a mind frame of adherence to a style and strategy and gotten the boys to buy in, then that puts him in sole company with the 2003 Lemaire Western Conference Finals team.

I thought perhaps a few days off from the last game would have given the team the opportunity to read their press, revel in being atop the NHL and come out and lay an egg against a strong Nashville team. Silly me.

The Wild started strong but the Predators got a greasy goal on their first shot. Prior, lesser Wild teams would have sat back and licked their wounds at that point. But not Yeo's team. Not last night. Not, dare I say it, this... season?

It's going to take some time to get used to expecting the team to not fold under duress, frankly.

Years of Richards and, yes, Lemaire-led Wild teams folding their tents and slinking away into the night at the first or maybe second sign of determination from the opposition has created a certain expectation, perhaps in the way of a defense mechanism, among us fans.

This is an exciting proposition. But Minnesota fans will have to be coaxed and prodded into such a demeanor. We're more used to our teams teasing us with moments of brilliance only to burn our security blankets when we start to believe.

I'm willing to give Yeo a chance to be the exception to that rule. Why not?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hockey Hypocrisy


So, what if a couple of Sabres had pounced on Milan Lucic (obivously none of them is tough enough to go with Lucic one-on-one) and beat the shit out of him?

I hated the Sabres (non)reaction last night. I hated it because it's simply not hockey. Hockey is protecting your goalie. Yes, even when he invites calamity by coming that far out of his crease. Even if it puts you on the penalty kill. I have no problem with Lucic's hit on Miller, but I still think the Sabres owed it to themselves, their goalie and their fans to stand up for Miller.

Instead we saw what hockey is in danger of becoming: timid, scared and politically correct. Bullshit.

I don't want to turn into Grapes here, God knows he doesn't need my help.

But hockey's inherent hypocrisy with how it handles the rough and tough aspect of the game just makes me mad.

We all know the NHL doesn't REALLY want to legislate fighting out of the game. If it did, it would have by now. But it can't because all those paying customers who don't know a hook from a hold DO know what a fight is and shell out their hard-earned pennies in the hopes of seeing one.

We all know the NHL doesn't really want to legislate away the reality that players have to play right on the edge in the game of hockey in favor of safer, homogenized hockey. If it did, it would have by now.

So now the talking heads and soft nouveau fans have more cud to chew on. Some will say the Sabres intentionally didn't do anything. Right. The only team that, as my friend GreenStar puts it, uses its power play as its enforcer is Detroit. The Sabres simply aren't talented enough to play that kind of game.

Others will say the Sabres were scared. I don't think that's it either. I think the Sabres just practice the fashionable brand of today's hockey. The "don't want to risk the wrath of the league" type hockey.

As much as I dislike the Flyers, you can't say they accomodate that particular trend. They continue to do things their own special way - and, whether I like it or not, I respect them for it.

The Bruins, too, are an organization that has certainly embraced the uglier side of hockey in its past.

I say good for Lucic. Ultimately, this will be good for the Sabres, too, because it will whip their fans into even more of a frenzy when they're playing the Bs.

But, if you're a Sabres fan who applauds your team's soft response last night, then let's make a deal: you continue to go about living in your academic, high and mighty, "sophisticated" hockey world. But then you don't get to root for the Sabres/Bruins rivalry. You don't get to talk peace, love and understanding out of one side of your mouth and then get all frothed up for the next Bruins game - that is that much more exciting and appealing to your baser instincts because Lucic nailed the wandering Miller - out of the other. You don't get to have your cake and eat it too.

Mmm-kay? Deal? Good.

...And Then


...That happened.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wild Thawing My Cold Heart



2nd in the NW division.

4th overall in the Western Conference.


I mean, blog over, right?

But wait, there's more!

Five game winning streak, three goals-allowed.

NOW blog over, right?

That's not all! If you call now we'll DOUBLE the offer!

8-1-2 against the West (best record in the league vs. the West).

4-0-1 against the NW division.

(Those last two are huge. Huge. Those are all points in the bank for later in the season when you're jockeying for playoff position and tie breakers are important. The importance of getting off to a good start versus the conference and division cannot be overstated.)

I'm starting to believe.

Let me clarify.

I've felt they were on the right track all summer. But I didn't necessarily think that would manifest itself in a playoff season this year. But now....well it's exciting, what they're doing. No they're not world-beaters, yet. But look, you allow three goals in five games and something's going right. Several things, in fact.

Obviously the goaltending is tremendous right now. I can't remember another time when BOTH Wild goalies were as hot as Backstrom and Harding are right now. Backstrom wasn't even at his best last night (four games off will do that to you I suppose) and he still looked great several times and obviously more-than adequate all the other times he had to make a save.

But 0.60 goals per game over 5 games is a meaningful sample to indicate that the entire team is playing well in front of the goalies. Flames fans were lamenting that the 41 saves Backstrom made last night were greater than the number of high percentage shots he had to turn aside - and they are right. The Wild is getting solid buy-in from its defense corps and the forwards are clearly helping out as well. As a goalie I'll take shots from the wall by the hash marks all night long.

No, this is more than the goalies playing great. This is the whole team doing what it takes on defense. If that wasn't happening, the Wild would have allowed a lot more than 3 goals in the last 5 games, and that's not mutually exclusive from the goalies playing great.

Last night wasn't the prettiest game, but honestly I think the 17 minutes of penalties the Wild had to kill played a big part in that. The start was ugly, but the way they rallied around the PK was inspiring.

All this amounts to one thing: I'm starting to believe in this team. This year's team. I'm watching them win games and then reading about Yeo saying how much better they can be and I'm letting my imagination run a little bit.

Maybe they can be a playoff team this season.

They've had non-wins in back-to-back games twice so far, and nipped those potential losing streaks in the bud with a shootout win over Edmonton and a 1-0 win over Detroit, respectively. That's encouraging. If they can continue to limit losing streaks...

They've only not garnered at least one point in a game three times so far, and they've followed them each up with at least one point in the next game each time. Again, that's encouraging.

Yes, it's early. A lot can and will happen between now and when playoff invitations are sent out.

But there's just something about this Wild team...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hard To Gauge Wild This Early

by NiNY

The standings say the Wild is the 7th-best team in the Western Conference through last night. Wild fans, desperate for anything positive to seize upon, the other local teams having either conclusively proved their inferiority (Twins, Vikings) or their unavailability (Timberwolves), are a mixed bag. Some are optimistic. Others are pessimistic. Yet others still have adopted the look of the oft-beaten dog, hopeful that his master will extend his hand not to smack him but instead to scratch his ears this time.

It's easy to want to say "We've seen this movie" about the Wild, based on their play so far this season. In a word: uneven. In two words: lacking consistency. Yeah, that feels pretty familiar.

And I suppose if you were to audit the differential between minutes-played of ineffective, disorganized, lethargic (whether from disinterest or thinking too much about The New System) play and inspired, proactive or dominating play, the final ledger would show a strong bias towards the former.

But, I still think the balance of this season will play out with a different plot than prior iterations of the Wild.

It's all about Coach Yeo.

He's so obviously a different kind of bench boss than Todd Richards. Where Todd appeared aloof or phlegmatic behind the bench, often caught on camera with a distinct "Uhhh...?" expression on his face, Yeo appears rigidly composed, in command and with a distinct "I've just looked at that from every conceivable angle and I know just how to fix it" expression on his face.

Ms. Conduct has been lauding Yeo's ability to inspire and motivate his players. I am starting to see what she means. That steely confidence tends to work osmotically on a team.

If you read Justin Bourne's piece on Backhand Shelf yesterday about Yeo pulling guys aside during practice for a little chat, that's part of it, too. And, maybe, emblematic of the main point.

Yeo's the youngest coach in the NHL, but he doesn't act like it (okay, dropping the mitts with Bulmer in practice was a funny sideshow, but a good coach knows when to use the stick and when to use a little levity on an anxious team). Yeo's the least-experienced NHL head coach in the league. But, if that's an excuse for other guys, Yeo ain't buying.

He's adapting. He's already broken up his vaunted top line once in a game. That's huge. How many times did Richards break up his top line in the two years he was the coach? A couple?

When the Wild was born and then hired Lemaire to be head coach, I loved it because it gave the team instant credibility. It also gave the team identity, even if it was one that was ultimately derided (trapping team).

When the Wild hired Yeo, it did not bring instant credibility and identity to the team. Indeed, it very much brought those things into question. It was "Will the Wild, under Mike Yeo, have a different identity than they did before?"

Although the results have been spotty, it's clear that Yeo knows exactly what he wants this team to look like, exactly how he wants them to think of themselves and exactly what he needs to do to make those things happen.

I still don't think it will necessarily manifest itself in a playoff berth this season, but I think the improvement in the team will be significant.

The credibility and identity are his, and he's confident banking on it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Buncha Stuff

by NiNY

I read a great hockey book before the season started, that I haven't had the time to review on here. It's called Gretzky to Lemieux, by Ed Willes. It tells the story of the 1987 Canada Cup, in particular the final series between the host Canada and the intrepid Russians.

Mr. Willes has a casual narrative style that is easy to read, humorous and appropriate for his sharp eye for the game. He incorporates interesting side bars, for example on Team Canada coach Mike Keenan, that greatly aid the reader in setting the proper context for the action.

I was unaware of the amount of awesome on both the Canada and the Russian teams in that tournament. Willes illustrates the confluence of dynasties that made up Team Canada, between the outgoing Islanders early 80s dynasty and the then-current Oilers dynasty, pitting the differences in style - on and off the ice - in sharp relief and to great effect.

The hockey sounds like it was sublime, and Willes' description of it pays appropriate homage.

The denouement is set up well before the actual end of the book as Willes points out the distinct relationship that Gretzky forged with the Russians in general. This sets up the last part of the book, after the tournament is completed, as Soviet Russia's grasp on both the country and the hockey team starts to crumble.

It's a great read, and I recommend it to any hockey fan.

*** *** ***

The realignment argument got a boost in the arm this week when the inimitable Bob McKenzie of TSN dashed off a tweet mentioning that the Red Wings are lobbying hard for relocation to the Eastern Conference under any realignment scheme. That opened a can of twitter worms that got, among other people, many of us Wild fans up in arms. Bob then followed up with a lengthy article on TSN outlining the various different plans in his typical thorough and brilliant manner.

My main takeaway from that article was that there is simply no easy option here. Whether the prevailing consideration is geographic proximity for divisional or conference play, or maintaining or improving the current playoff format, this is one tricky issue.

Obviously, for the Wild's sake, I would prefer that they get to play fewer games one and two time zones behind Central time. But there are several teams with the same gripe.

One thing though, if Detroit's beef is that they have to travel more than other teams, I have to think Dallas and even Minnesota have a bigger claim to that problem than Detroit does. At most, Detroit's playing one time zone behind them in a road division game. Dallas plays two time zones behind them for ALL road division games, and Minnesota plays one or two times zones behind them for road division games. Detroit may 'deserve' a relocation back to the East for other reasons, but division travel is a weak argument in my opinion.

It will be very interesting to see how this gets resolved.

*** *** ***

Rick DiPietro and his ridiculous contract has to go down as one of the biggest NHL flops of all time. He's a backup on the Islanders right now. That is, when he's not hurt. Whenever I think of DiPietro, I think of the line in the Hockey News "Rick DiPietro is the best goalie in the NHL...just ask him."

Obviously it's common for players to play their best in a contract year. So why Wang thought it would be a good idea to give a relatively unproven (at the time) goalie a 15 year deal is absolutely beyond me. A $4.5M backup, under contract until 2021. I mean...

From 2005-2006 to 2007-2008, Rick averaged 62.66 games per year, 29.33 wins, 2.80 GAA and .907 SPCT. In the three seasons since then he's averaged 13 games per year, 3.66 wins, 3.18 GAA and .893 SPCT.

He's won 127 games in 8 NHL seasons. That's an average of 15.8 per season. On a per 82 game season basis, his wins/games played (127/207) works out to 33.92 - which really isn't bad. He's not a bad goalie. He simply can't stay in the lineup.

And now he's a backup.

*** *** ***

I'm going to undertake a project wherein I will watch at least one broadcast from each team's home announcers this season. I got this idea arguing on Twitter with a Red Wings fan who took issue with my position that the Wings announcers are horrendous. I state up front: the Wild announcing team is not up to my standard of broadcasting excellence, either. And the FSNorth productions are of an unacceptably low standard. Anyway, should be fun.

*** *** ***

Speaking of the Wild, I'll be very interested to see how they respond after the ugly two-game east coast swing. They have this huge winning streak against the Oilers on the line, but if they're figuring out Yeo's system, they're not showing it lately. Either that or the thing don't work (which I think is the less-likely possibility.)

Interestingly, defense, as measured by goals-against anyway, hasn't been too bad. But you can't blow a two-goal third period lead against a team like Ottawa.

Consistency for 60 minutes has been something the Wild has lacked since before Richards, even. If Yeo can get that out of this team it will be a major accomplishment in and of itself.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

With PMB Suspension, It's All About Consistency

by NiNY

As I've said, I approve of the job Brendan Shanahan has been doing as the new dean of discipline. He's brought accountability and transparency to the job, and raised the standard of play, albeit with primarily negative reinforcement, for players. Both things, overall, I like.

So, while I don't like that Pierre-Marc Bouchard got two games for his incident with Matt Calvert last night, I realize that's the Wild fan in me speaking, and not the hockey fan.

And, when I listen to the hockey fan in me, I realize that the suspension is entirely in keeping with the precedent(s) Shanny has set with his prior suspensions this season.

Shanny's consistently giving more games for egregious incidents than his predecessor gave in similar situations.

The PMB situation is definitely more controversial than most of the other incidents on which Shanny has had to rule so far. It's clear from the video that Calvert's own action may have been the only reason Bouchard's stick hit him in the face and not lower on his body. So this one isn't as clean as maybe a checking from behind.

But Shanahan is consistent in his holding players ultimately accountable for the consequences of their actions, inclusive of this ruling.

@BrianHohlen asked me on Twitter whether the suspension sets the precedent that every 4 minute minor high stick warrants a 2 game suspension now. That's a fair point. It seems to me that Shanahan is saying that, when the action is an illegal high stick to the head that causes injury, yes, it does.

And, really, what's wrong with that? Was not PMB's stick making contact with Calvert's face within the definition of an illegal high stick?

Here's the text of the rule:

60.1 High-sticking - A “high stick” is one which is carried above the height of the opponent’s shoulders. Players and goalkeepers must be in control and responsible for their stick. However, a player is permitted accidental contact on an opponent if the act is committed as a normal windup or follow through of a shooting motion. A wild swing at a bouncing puck would not be considered a normal windup or follow through and any contact to an opponent above the height of the shoulders shall be penalized accordingly.

60.2 Minor Penalty - Any contact made by a stick on an opponent above the shoulders is prohibited and a minor penalty shall be imposed.

60.3 Double-minor Penalty - When a player carries or holds any part of his stick above the shoulders of the opponent so that injury results, the Referee shall assess a double-minor penalty for all contact that causes an injury, whether accidental or careless, in the opinion of the Referee.

60.4 Match Penalty – When, in the opinion of the Referee, a player attempts to or deliberately injures an opponent while carrying or holding any part of his stick above the shoulders of the opponent, the Referee shall assess a match penalty to the offending player.

The language of the penalty does not offer a qualifier based on the actions preceding the stick encountering the face. If we don't like the illegal high stick rule, then we should change the rule. But, as written, it seems to me that, when Bouchard's stick hit Calvert's face, it qualified as that particular infraction.

Shanahan did mention PMB's squeaky-clean history over his nine-season career in the video explanation. So, against the backdrop of PMB's track record of compliance, is two games an eye-opener? Yes, frankly, it is.

But, again, that's been Shanahan's MO since the preseason started. Opening eyes with his supplemental discipline decisions. Getting players' (and fans') attention. It seems clear to me that the individual suspensions in a vacuum are about more than the individual act. Shanahan's setting precedents. Stakes in the ground. If a check from behind that used to be worth a game is now worth 5, then a player with an unblemished record of clean play who commits a stick infraction that injures an opponent that might have drawn a slap on the wrist under Campbell is now worth two. I think that's a parallel shift.

No, I don't like that PMB is going to sit for two games. But I get it. And, further, I still think Shanahan's doing his job.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

It's Only One Game, But It Feels Like More

by NiNY

It took me a while to realize why I was more wrapped up in the Wild's season-opening win over the BJs tonight than I thought I'd be. Then it dawned on me that the anticipation for this season that was borne of the inspiring moves made by Chuck Fletcher this summer was building this first game up to be more than just one out of 82.

The full plan was on display tonight, too.

From the re-tooled first line (which put out exactly like we hoped they would) to the youth movement (Scandella, Spurgeon, Stoner, Bulmer) getting legit minutes in all situations, to the new coach with his "Go ahead and underestimate me, I freakin' dare you" look that I absolutely adore.

On this one night, I hope Fletcher was satisfied. It's not the end of the road, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was conclusive evidence that they're on the right path.

As for the game itself, the Wild had the jump on the BJs for the majority of the first two periods and then shut it down effectively in the third. The first two goals of the season came not from the exciting first line but from the defense (a sophomore to a freshman, no less) and the 2nd line. As nice as it is to be able to expect offense from our top line, getting offense from that second line is beyond huge.

Backstrom was tremendous. I've been having trouble deciding if he or Latendresse was more important to the ultimate outcome of the season, and I think it has to be Backstrom. With the younger blueline, should they show their age at all, Bax has to be able to clean up any spilled milk with regularity if the Wild is going to have any success this year.

The BJ TV announcers were talking about the speed of the Wild making a difference in the game and that made me think about Yeo's great quote in the FSNorth pregame about the difference between being a fast skater and playing fast hockey. I'm going to remember his line and I have a sneaking suspicion it will come to represent his style of hockey.

After the game ended, I turned to the Sharks/Coyotes game to see Burns' debut. I remembered how Todd Richards had been an assistant with San Jose, and how Yeo was an assistant with Pittsburgh. Well, the Penguins won a Cup while Yeo was there and the Sharks, well we all know about their struggles in the playoffs. Maybe the difference between Yeo and Richards is as simple as that: they're both new coaches, with similar pedigrees, but one has seen what it takes to win at the NHL level and the other hadn't.

Which leads me to my expectations for this Wild team. I want to see two things: 1. consistent effort. That's been missing from Wild teams since before Lemaire left. 2. Playing meaningful games in March. I don't know if they're a playoff team, and I hate pre-season predictions. But staying in it past the trade deadline would be a solid step in the right direction from where they were last season.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stop The Rhetoric: The West Isn't Tighter

by NiNY

How often have you heard some hockey pundit say this " the ultra-tight Western Conference..."? Or 'super competitive' or something like that. Just, in some way imply that the Western Conference is more competitive or tighter from top to bottom than the East. Often, right?

Well, I'm here to bust that myth right now.

Look at last season.

In the East the difference between 1st (WAS 107 pts) and 9th (CAR 91) was 16 points. In the West, the difference betwen 1st (VAN 117 pts) and 9th (DAL 95 pts) was 22 points.

And the discrepancy between top and bottom in the East was tighter than it was in the West.

Again, in the East Washington won the conference with 107 points. The bottom of the conference looked like this:

9. CAR 91
10. TOR 85
11. NJ 81
12. ATL 80
13. OTT 74
14. NYI 73
15. FLA 72

In the West Vancouver won the conference with 117 points. The bottom of the conference looked like this:

9. DAL 95
10. CGY 94
11. STL 87
12. MIN 86
13. CBJ 81
14. COL 68
15. EDM 62

However, the differential between the top eight teams in the West was tighter than it was in the East.

In the East the difference between 1st and 2nd overall was 3 pts. From 2nd to 3rd overall 3 pts. Then 4 pts, 4 pts, 11 pts, 11 pts and 14 pts.

In the West the difference between 1st and 2nd overall was 12 pts. From 2nd to third overall 1 pt. Then 5 pts, 0 pts, 0 pts, 0 pts, 1 pt, 1 pt.

And, looking at the overall league standings 8 of the top 15 teams in the league were in the West. So that's split, with a slight skew towards the West being more competitive.

So, I guess the point is: it's not like the West is significantly tighter or more competitive than the East. They're pretty even. There are good teams in both conferences and there are bad teams in both conferences.

Maybe we can cool it on the spicy rhetoric a bit, hmm?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bigotry Relativity Is Still Bigotry

by NiNY

First, go read Ms. Conduct's latest blog. I mean, I assume you already did because you should because she's awesome. But, on the off chance that it's backwards day in your house and you stopped here before going over to her place then here's your chance to rectify that oversight right now.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

Okay, welcome back.

See, I'm conflicted.

On the one hand, I totally hear and get what she's saying. Hockey may be the last bastion of the rapscallion. There is an undeniable vein in the game that provides sanctuary, indeed opportunities to thrive, for the ill-mannered. To the guys who ran their mouth on the schoolyard playground, and then backed it up. To the guys who don't have the straight up skills to be able to get into a professional sports league on skill alone, so their path of least resistance (nicely provided for them by the aggressive expansion of the NHL over the last fortyear - that included the birth of the Minnesota Wild (for which I am grateful don't get me wrong)) includes re-connecting with that schoolyard yapper/scrapper mentality.

Some of these players enjoyed a position of higher grandeur (read: scoring) in junior and the minors, but just couldn't crack the NHL as a top-two line player. Sometimes those players can't or won't reinvent themselves and they end up bouncing around the minors or Europe for the rest of their careers - certainly no shame in that. But other times they find a Rabbi who shows them the light and teaches them the value of aggressive forechecking and the art of running your mouth on the ice.

The art of running your mouth. Show me a person who presents himself as hockey cognoscenti who doesn't know that what is actually said is much lower brow than the word "art" in that last sentence would imply and I'll show you a person who's never spent any time around hockey players. Hell, even in my beer league the language is salty enough to get a respectful nod from the saltiest Marine drill instructor. And the only thing we're playing for is the 30-pack of Miller Lite - that we buy - after the game.

So, I absolutely get what Ms. Conduct is saying. It IS part of the culture of hockey for players to say disgusting, egregious, blue, offensive things to one another. So, expecting hockey players to change....well maybe that's not very realistic.

But, on the other hand, does that mean we shouldn't try?

Is political correctness reasonable? Or does wrapping this kind of thing up in the banner of political correctness itself indicate a lack of concern for the degradation of societal values that acceptance of such intolerance suggests?

While it would be nice and even sort of cathartic to tell someone to relax when they get offended by something I say (sticks and stones, and all that) I admit it would be hard to reconcile that against what I agree is an ugly and dangerous trend of bullying in our schools, for example, today. Does using offensive and demeaning language as a professional hockey player set or perpetuate an example for would-be schoolyard bullies to follow? I think it's naive to assume it doesn't, regardless of what Charles Barkley thinks. Think of it this way: for every stupid homophobic slur you utter, Nancy Grace's career is extended by a day. Who really wants that?

The reality is that young hockey players do look up to their professional idols and try to emulate them. To an extent, all aspiring (insert industry)-ists look up to their industry's professionals and do the same thing. And I submit that it's a lot harder for a young adult or child to make the distinction between "do as I do, not as I say" than it is (or should be) for an adult to accept that his or her actions do potentially have consequences one of which might be that they are used as an example to be emulated by kids. I think that difference is part of what separates the definition of adult and child in the first place.

I like to swear. I think the notion that using swear words indicates you are possessed of a lesser intelligence is bullshit. But I go out of my way to tone it down in front of kids. Does that make me a hypocrite? Am I a wimp (afraid that my kids will pick up that language and use it in what society deems is an inappropriate time and place and reflect poorly on me as a parent and them as a human)? Or does that make me a realist? Am I simply trying to instill some respect in my kids and not put them in that position until I'm more confident that they can make the determination of when and when not to use those words? I don't know. But I'm not taking the chance that they can't, yet.

I'm generally against bigotry and intolerance. I think it's ridiculous and stupid to act as though you dislike someone or think less of them simply because of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion, their hair color, the toothpaste they use or the store they shop in. I think, frankly, that people who exercise such intolerance are actually just insecure in their own choices. You want to castigate him for his religion? That tells me your God is a pussy. Shouldn't a being purporting to be worthy of being called God be strong enough to withstand the followers of some other being who thinks HE'S worthy of being called God? Isn't that why he calls himself God instead of, like, Eddie?

What the hell does this have to do with hockey? Oh yeah...

Hockey players make split second decisions all the time. Pass left or right. Pass or shoot. Skate or stop. Deke or shoot. Check him from behind or let up. Drop into the butterfly or stay up and kick it out. Against the backdrop of the potential to perpetuate unnecessary and ugly stereotypes, I don't think asking hockey players to make yet another split second decision - about what comes out of their mouth when they're talking trash - is unreasonable.

And the one thing I simply can not accept is any kind of bigotry relativity. Wayne Simmonds was generally lauded for how he handled the banana throwing incident last week. He took the high road, even though he did acknowledge concern that it was a racially-based incident. And good on him for doing so.

Everyone who saw the video knows what Simmonds called Sean Avery. Well, everyone other than Colin Campbell, apparently. But everyone else.

Simmonds is a coward for not owning up to his actions. Not only that, but he hurts the cause of other people who share his skin color and are mistreated because of it. He completely wastes all the goodwill he garnered for taking the high road before, by his lack of integrity when the shoe is on his foot. Why is intolerance of people of other races bad but intolerance of people of other sexual orientation okay? It's not.

Bigotry relativity is still bigotry. Whether that be in one person's mind or at an institutional level (as in the NHL).

So I think it's okay to expect hockey players to engage their brain when they open their mouths. There's plenty of subjects for one to draw from when trying to get under another player's skin.

Does that represent a change in the mentality of the hockey player - that has been accepted for generations of hockey players before the current batch? Yes. Does that mean we can expect all hockey players to not make any mistakes? No. Does that mean we should just give them a pass when they do? No.

Let's elevate our society.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Shanny and Legitimacy

by NiNY

Legitimacy, like respect, must be earned.

I mean, duh.

Legitimacy is granted, not taken.

The NHL has suffered from a legitimacy deficiency for years. That deficiency exists in the eyes of the American football, baseball and basketball-loving sports communities. It exists in the eyes of the major media outlets. It exists even to an extent in hockey's own fans, who tolerate a year-long lockout and then return to the game grateful that they deigned to start playing again.

One of the areas in which the NHL really hurt its own cause in its heretofore Sysophusian task of garnering legitimacy was in the area of supplemental discipline.

Hockey, as a sport, tip-toes the very thin line between legal and illegal play as defined by the rules of the game or by society itself. In some ways, it blurs that line. You can legally conduct yourself in a boorish manner (bodychecking, for example), and you can illegally conduct yourself in a much less-violent manner (holding, for example).

And, to an American non-hockey fan, learning to appreciate the nuances that differentiate holding in, say, the NFL versus holding in the NHL might not be the easiest thing to do. Some of that has to do with the average intelligence of American NFL fans, but hockey fans would be kidding themselves if they tried to say theirs is an easy game to jump right in and grasp.

So when the sport does something that alienates any part of its fan base, but especially a part that represents new fans, it's not good. I suppose you could say that about any sport, but MLB, NFL and, to an extent, the NBA are more entrenched than the NHL in America, and as such they are afforded more grace. They also have larger fan bases so they can better absorb potentially losing some newer fans.

Baseball and football are also more a part of the American culture than hockey. How many people do you know who claim they're not really sports fans, yet they know what the World Series and the Super Bowl are, go to the parties, watch the commercials, whatever, and also cheer at (most of) the right times? "Oh, I'm not really a baseball fan. I just have this Yankees hat that I wear the one time I go to a baseball game each year." "Do you have a Rangers hat?" "Who?" "Exactly."

My point is that, with those sports, you just acclimate to a certain level of acceptance of them. If you're not a sports fan, but you're from New York, you probably have it in your mind that you're a Giants fan but not a Jets fan (or vice versa) because that's who your dad liked or whatever. I'm saying baseball and football stand a much better chance of just catching fans in their nets than hockey. You have to become a hockey fan. It's just not as widely accepted as a part of our culture here in America.

Back to the topic of supplemental discipline. The NFL is frankly ridiculous with how it metes out supplemental discipline. A fine for a touchdown celebration just seems overly restrictive and Grinchy. But the NFL can get away with it because it's so incredibly popular and well marketed. The NHL does not enjoy the benefit of those luxuries.

And the former head of supplemental discipline, Colin Campbell, didn't help things.

To be fair, that's got to be a shitty job. You can never make all parties happy. Either you suspend too harshly, in which case the team of the offending player gets upset, or you suspend too lightly in which case the team of the aggrieved player gets upset.

But Campbell failed at the most basic level: he failed because he was opaque and inconsistent. Intentional or not, his rulings gave the impression of being totally isolated to each specific incident, with no precedent taken from prior rulings for similar actions, if not from the same player. His unwillingness to offer any rationale for his decisions only served to perpetuate and grow that impression of inconsistency. It was "Here's the rule he broke, here's the suspension. Peace, out." And it was in a press release.

I, like many hockey fans I assume, personally had to answer for these decisions when non-hockey fans questioned them. It's a vicious cycle for hockey. It only gets on ESPN when it stubs its toe. And so then people have Bertuzzi or Downie in their mind. Then, they ask their buddy the hockey fan about it, and we had to say "Yeah he only got a couple games suspension." Their reaction was typically "That's it? Your sport is messed up, man." Then they dumped hockey back into their mental junk drawer until ESPN showed some Flyer crushing some guy the next time...

Obviously Campbell's apparent insouciance drove us hockey fans nuts. The whole "Colie's Wheel O'Justice" thing is surprisingly widely used according to my Twitter feed. I don't believe Campbell was actually trying to mess things up. Like I said, tough job, that. But the result was still unacceptable.

Because it also hurt the league from a general acceptance perspective. Especially here in the States. And if you don't think gaining acceptance in America is important to the NHL then ask yourself why, between when San Jose started in '91-92 and this year, thirteen franchises were started or moved, and only two of them (Ottawa and Winnipeg) were to Canadian cities. In fact, Canada lost a franchise during that time when Quebec moved to Denver. (We'll count Winnipeg as a wash as they moved and now returned.)

Like it or not, the NHL looks at America as the fertile grounds of its manifest destiny.

So this kind of confusion, this level of casual arrogance in the way Campbell handed down supplementary discipline was hurting the cause.

Exit Colie. Enter Shanny.

Shanny had spent his first months on the job looking at new stanchions and shallower nets and such. But, once the (preseason) games started, everyone knew his major tests were about to start: supplemental discipline.

Sure enough, we've had two in two days now. Calgary's Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond Jacob-Jingleheimerschmidt and (who else?) Philadelphia's Jody Shelley provided Shanny the stage.

And he's knocked it out of the park. The actual suspensions are one thing. But the way they're being presented is everything. Shanny has released videos of him taking responsibility for the suspensions, showing video of the hits, quoting the rule(s) in question and explaining his rationale for his actions.

This isn't just a departure from the Campbell regime, this is like going from a state of cryogenic freeze to parachuting out of an airplane in one second.

Suddenly everything that made Campbell inapproachable and aloof has been reversed: there's clarity. There's explanation. There's one specific person taking ownership of the situation. There's video with specific examples.

Yeah, there's some post-production stuff on the videos themselves that's a little cheesy. But the meat of these things - the transparency of it all if nothing else - is such a breath of fresh air that it's almost stunning.

Now, when your meathead football fan sees a dirty hit on ESPN and asks you about it, you can say "Come on over to my house where we have electricity and I'll show you what the league did to this guy on this whiz bang computer device I have." It's so easy, a football fan can do it.

This doesn't automatically mean hockey will be embraced by America. But it takes away one way in which the NHL alienated Americans who maybe just didn't want to put forth all the effort required to become a fan.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Heatley's History, Numbers Are Encouraging

by NiNY

Ask a Sharks fan and they won the trade.

Ask a Wild fan and they won the trade.

Something's got to give, eh?

I don't know what will come out of this season for Dany Heatley and the Minnesota Wild, but I do know this: Dany Heatley thrives after a trade.

Just look at his splits from the last year with one team to the first year with a new team:

03-04 Atlanta
31 GP
13 G
12 A
25 Pts
0.80 pts/gm

05-06* Ottawa (*Lockout)
82 GP
50 G
53 A
103 Pts
1.25 pts/gm

*** *** ***

08-09 Ottawa
82 GP
39 G
33 A
79 Pts
0.87 pts/gm

09-10 San Jose
82 GP
39 G
43 A
82 Pts
1.00 pts/gm

Gaborik had 77-42-41-83 (1.07) in 07-08.
Rolston had 82-32-45-77 (0.93) in 05-06.
Gaborik had 65-38-28-66 (1.01) in 05-06.

For his career Heatley is 669-325-364-689. Dany's a 1.02 pts/gm player for his career in the NHL. Per 82 games, Dany has averaged 39.87-44.66-84.53

The closest Wild player to that is Gaborik who totaled 502-219-218-437 (0.87). Per 82 games that's 35.78-35.62-71.40 for Gaby (raise your hand if, like me, you didn't realize Gaby had as many apples as he had grapes.)

Rolston is pretty close with a career 241-96-106-202 (0.83) with the Wild. Per 82 that's 32.76-36.17-68.93 for Brian.

I like that Dany has something to prove after getting traded by San Jose. I like that he's the most-prolific scorer the Wild has ever had, without having played a single game in Iron Range Red yet. I like a lot about Dany Heatley. I just hope I continue to like him after the games start.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Huge Year For Mikko


Okay, Mikko, all eyes on you now.

You got the big money. You got rid of the coach. You got rid of Havlat. You had your BFF taken away from you, and your other perma-linemate is also gone. Your reputation preceded you to the point that the new coach decided it was prudent to travel to Finland to meet you (pretty sure he didn't travel to Welland to meet Cal). You are squarely in the epicenter of this team. And I'm done fucking around with you.

It's always been something.

Too young. Still acclimating to life away from Finland. It's hard playing under the shadow of your big brother. Under-skilled linemates holding you back. Injuries (okay, I'll give you those. It's not like you've missed time with a sore leg...), or trying to do too much, or asked to do too much...

Wild fans have had to defend you while at the same time trying to convince other fans that you were underrated on a league-wide scale. I've hated that. I've had you down as a 2nd tier top line center in the league for a while now. I managed my own expectations of you. You haven't disappointed me. But you have left me wanting more.

But now that blue cross from your country's flag is centered right on your back.

A Flames fan asked me earlier this summer what my expectations for you were for this season. His point was: what is holding back my expectations? You are our Iginla. You need to start playing and acting like our Iginla. You know what? He's right.

Yesterday, in Russo's chat, someone pointed out that you had failed to develop any chemistry with the previous most-talent players the Wild has had. And then asked Russo what it would say about you if you fail to do so with Setoguchi or Heatley. Russo's answer spoke volumes: "That's a terrific question."

I think a Selke is possible for you. And that is my expectation for you this season. We all know your passion for three-zone play and that's awesome. But a top line center, making top line money, surrounded by top line wingers, needs to also put up top line points.

That's a lot to ask, for sure.

But it's your job to prove to us that it's too much to ask.

This is a huge, huge season for you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


by NiNY

This post has nothing to do with hockey.*

On September eleventh, two thousand one, my fiance and I lived in Tuckahoe, NY. Our apartment was literally right next to the train station where commuters go into and out of NYC. That morning I, being out of work, was getting ready to go into The City (as locals refer to New York City) to attend a job fair at Madison Square Garden.

Later that afternoon we had a meeting at the Tarrytown House with, I believe, our florist. We were to be married in a few short weeks, on 10/6/01.

Due to budget constraints (my fiance was in graduate school and I was looking for a job) we did not have cable at that time.

We did, however, have the internet. And that's how we first found out that a small plane, according to the initial reports, had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. I'm pretty sure that my initial reaction to that news, referring to the pilot of that plane, was "What an asshole." Ignorance truly is bliss.

There are many stories about what transpired over the rest of that day, week, months and the ten years since then. Most are sad. Some are heroic. Still others are inspiring. Mine is, thankfully, fairly banal.

We knew people in The City. My fiance's father and stepfather were both there. Many college and even high school friends were there, too.

You have to understand that, as big and vast as NYC seems from afar - and even when you're in it at times - the lack of clarity and chaos during those first hours effectively shrunk New York City to Mayberry-size. If someone was in the city, and you weren't, the entire city was on fire and collapsing - or so it seemed. Nonetheless no one that we knew died on, or as a direct result of, 9/11. We're lucky.

They shut down the trains and, I believe, subways for a while. When we heard that the first train was going to run out of Grand Central stopping, among other places, at our station, we looked out our window and saw hundreds of people who had gathered at the station in an eerie silence. Waiting to see if their husband, wife, son, daughter, brother or sister would somehow, please God, be on that train. That was one of the moments I really felt afraid. It was so visceral, so real, at that moment.

Taking away modern personal communications (cell phones, land lines, email) and transportation drops NYC back a hundred years. At that point, it's just a mountain range on an island.

We eventually made our way over to the Tarrytown House for that meeting. On the way we were overflown by at least one formation of choppers. That was another moment where I felt scared. It was like being on the approach route to some forward operating base in a movie, except that it wasn't a movie.

A week or so later my buddies and I would get together in NYC for my bachelor party. I remember a lot of fun things about that night. I also remember the stink from the pit, the glow from the lights in the general direction of the site as they were still conducting around the clock search and rescue, and the feeling that the grime that was a normal part of breathing in NYC felt instead like sacred ashes that night.

Ironically, the firm I would eventually get a job with was located in the South Tower. Our firm holds the distinction of being the largest tenant of either building not to lose a single person on 9/11. The firm would relocate first to Hartford, CT and then to midtown Manhattan (where they were located when I was hired in February 2002) in two temporary stops. We would return to lower Manhattan (to the World Financial Center) by the end of 2002 - where we remain and will stay for the forseeable future.

Hearing the stories of my colleagues is chilling. There was the time when a woman in my department got a call from some 9/11 commission that had found, amidst the rubble that was carted away, her old building ID card and if she wanted to claim it she had to go to X location and present a current ID. She demurred, hung up and then, visibly shaken, told us all about the call. My first boss talked about getting out and onto the street on 9/11, and dodging refrigerator-size pieces of building as he was making his escape.

Even today those who were there can fall under the spell of it all and go very quiet and adopt that thousand yard stare on occasion. I don't pretend to relate to their memories, and, to be fair, they don't ostracize me for not having been there.

I was close enough, thank you very much, for my own comfort.

And yet there is a sort of a demarcation between the first and second standard deviations of those who were there and those who were not but were still close enough to be touched by it. And, for those of us in that second standard deviation, there's yet another demarcation between us and those of you in the third standard deviation - people who only experienced it via CNN. Which is not intended in the pejorative in any way.

It's just, even though the idea of the Nazi concentration camps terrifies and disgusts me, can I relate to the old Jewish lady who was actually IN Treblinka? Of course not. But I can't even relate to her cousin who was already Stateside when the war broke out, either.

And, lest I offend anyone, ask yourself this: would you really want to know, first hand, the terror those people felt running down the stairs in either of the towers? Desperately trying to get out. That primal "flight" instinct in overdrive, pushing you forward at the same time a voice in your rational mind is screaming "WHATTHEFUCKISGOINGON?!" Do you really want to have those memories, or wake up in the middle of the night after those nightmares? I don't.

In the months after 9/11 New Yorkers were different. They were at the same time more fatalistic and more compassionate. Certainly more patriotic. Let me put it this way: W was on hand for the World Series to throw out the first pitch, and he didn't receive a single Bronx cheer from the fans. I don't even think it was a concious thing on behalf of New Yorkers. They just....did it.

But now some of that has receded. And, where it has receded, it's been mostly replaced with an unslakable sense of entitlement. It's sad. And those New Yorkers don't see it. They're a subset - likely those in that second standard deviation where I live - who act like spoiled jerks most of the time and only wear their sensitive shirt once a year: on September eleventh. And I think they only do that so they can continue to fly that flag when it suits them. "Oh yeah, well fuck you, I'm a New Yorker. You know, nine eleven?"

If that's you, then you shame the memory of those who died, those who died trying to save others and you shame those who fight to protect you and the rest of us in this country.

But, for at least an equally large subset, life is more precious now. The sky is bluer, the stars are brighter. On balance, more people will hold a door open, or stand up on the subway to offer an older woman a seat than before. There's a temptation to call that outdated chivalry or even chauvenism when seen through a more jaded lens. I hope we would resist that temptation. Because I see that - and maybe because I want to, I'll admit - as a positive by-product of 9/11.

I don't know if America is better, or stronger, or smarter, or wiser, or kinder - if less innocent - than it was before those men drove those planes into those buildings and that field. How can anyone know that?

Yes, part of our society is using 9/11 as currency to pay for their own vices and that's too bad. But I think letting those people into the club is just part of the cost of freedom.

And that same freedom hopefully affords those who use 9/11 as an excuse simply to look up and see how blue the sky is, or how bright the moon and the stars are, with more opportunities to do so, and with more loved ones around them while they're looking.

God bless America. Land that I love.

*Editor's note: after re-reading this, it apparently has nothing to do with coherent form, either!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Hockey Needs Right Now Is Hockey

by NiNY

What a horrible summer.

The start of the season simply can't come fast enough right now.

How do you begin to reconcile sadness at this level? One was bad enough. Two was shocking. Three was almost too much to bear. Adding 30+ more to that list is unfathomable.

I don't think I can reconcile that in my mind.

It occurs to me that what I need right now is some hockey.

Hockey is a beautiful woman with a missing front tooth. Hockey is a majestic triumph of architecture with a window blown out. Hockey is a Bugatti Veyron with bird shit on the hood. Hockey celebrates its beauty in full sight of its harsher, more feral side like no other sport in the world. It accepts its warts better than any other sport in the world. It's a sport that brings tears of joy to your eyes at the same time you're inhaling its stink. There's no expectation of perfection without paying the price of imperfection first with hockey. Hockey is brutally honest and quite true.

For those of you who play, think about those first steps onto the ice. The bright lights hitting off the glassy ice. Is there a freer feeling in your life?

A hockey game is about taking a pure tableau and sullying it - all in the sometimes-vain effort to achieve the pear-shaped tone of perfection. It's like surfing to try to catch the perfect edge, but without the sharks or the sand in your crotch. A hockey game literally starts out with a clean slate - pristine, glowing and beautiful. Then hockey takes that crystalline perfection and slices through it in an inherently violent manner with razor-sharp blades that scuff, scar and mar that surface.

It's a perfect vehicle for celebrating the good in life as well as venting the frustrations from an incredibly difficult summer.

Your smash your body into another player's body at full speed - in the hopes that you will spring your teammate for an exquisitely graceful deke, shot and goal. You lay out your body to receive an impact from a piece of rubber shot at you like a flat, black, dead projectile (like the eyes of a shark) - so that your off winger might skip around his mark and break away on the goalie in that silent, intense pas-de-deux.

As a spectator, you are treated to these acts in a contest-long exercise of waxing and waning emotions. It's hard to worry about your mortgage payment when two men are bare-knuckle brawling on skates on ice in front of you.

And then the horn blows and the Zamboni comes out to cleanse the ice of the violence of the preceding period, and prepare it for another onslaught. Atonement, salvation, rebirth. It's as if they'd fought a day during the Civil War and then cleared the dead and left the field for forty or fifty years until the field had been repaired, regrown and restored to the level of natural beauty that it was at the day before the armies had arrived - before conducting the next day's warring. Only, in hockey, this takes 20 minutes and you get to take a leak and buy a beer while you wait.

Many of us players and spectators find solace and redemption in playing and watching hockey. We find inspiration and solidarity on that ice.

That's what we need now. That's what hockey needs now.

I don't know why that plane went down. I don't care who's to blame. It's still going to be an incredibly sad thing even after we find out - assuming we do.

If it was up to me I'd have every team start camp early. Schedule additional pre-season games. Lengthen prospect tournaments. Just get the boys back on the ice. There may not be answers in the sound of pucks thwacking off the glass and whistles shrilly echoing through empty arenas, but there might be peace and there will definitely be release. And for us fans, just getting into those buildings, the proximity of other grieving fans, giving and taking support during each other's weak moments. Hockey is brutally honest and quite true.

Let hockey heal itself by being itself.

That's what hockey needs right now.

Anti-Fantasy Hockey League

by NiNY

I used to play a lot of fantasy sports. Hockey, football, baseball, sim leagues, Madden, EA Sports NHL....

Then I stopped. I just wasn't into it any more. Maybe I was over it. Whatever.

That was a few years back. Can't really say I've missed them at all since.

Then the other day I got to thinking: what about a hockey fantasy league where you want to get players who DON'T score? Or goalies who give up LOTS of goals? Sort of an anti-fantasy league.

I'm not talking about players who get scratched. I'm talking about deadbeats: players who dress and play, but don't score. Think about it: that's not as easy as it sounds.

Eric Nystrom last season would have been MONEY. Nyzer played in all 82 for the Wild, but put up only 4 grapes and 8 apples. But his 0.14 pts/gm last season were actually WORSE than his career 0.17 pts/gm (including last season.) And, taking out last season, his career points per game is 0.19. That kind of non-production is worth celebrating, no?

And lo, the Anti-Fantasy Hockey League was born!

You'll draft 10 players (minimum 2 G, 2 D and 3 F) and then field a team of 6 every week. You want skaters who play but don't score, and goalies who play and let in a lot of goals. You get a bonus for TOI (the higher the TOI the higher the bonus) and salary cap hit (the higher the cap hit, the higher the bonus). So you have an incentive to go after the players who arguably SHOULD be producing (e.g. because they get payed and/or played more) but aren't.

The AFHL is located over at GTRCMBSHP. It's free to sign up for the message board, and free to play in the league. GTRCMBSHP also happens to be a nice little hangout spot for Wild fans and hockey fans in general.

Come check it out and let me know if you're interested in playing as the draft will take place before the regular season starts.

HTP Marks Four Years

by NiNY

Four years ago today I wrote the first post on this blog.

In it, I described myself as a hockey fan first, and a Wild fan second. I sincerely hope I've been able to remain true to that mantra over the past four years.

It's been a great ride. USA Hockey magazine voted us one of the top 10 hockey blogs at one point. That was an honor.

We interviewed a guy who did a big story on Norm Green. That was fun.

We had Wild Road Tripper lending his unique view of seeing hockey as an opposing fan.

Kevin in PA has been a terrific partner with his keen eye and excellent writing.

And we've made a lot of friends.

The Minnesota Wild community is diverse and interesting. A trip down the Wild blogroll gives you a perfect sample. You've got the inimitable Mike Russo at the top of the food chain. If there's a better beat writer in the league I haven't read him or her yet. There's the transcendent Ms. Conduct. You've got the indefatigable Hockey Wilderness crew. And everyone in between - the First Round Bust guys, Roy over at Wild Puck Banter, Blake at Wild Nation - makes for a rowdy, fun family.

Over the years I've also sub-branded myself at several places. I've taken self-imposed breaks. I've become sick of writing (mostly due to becoming frustrated with the Wild.) But I've always come back around to HTP.

Writing here is still cathartic for me. I'm still the same guy - watching Wild games in the isolation of upstate New York - looking for people to discuss stuff with. I don't watch as many non-Wild games as I used to (when I started the blog I had a 2.5 year old and a six-month old. Now I've got a 6.5 year old and a 4.5 year old. They keep me pretty busy.) So I don't comment on as much non-Wild stuff as I used to.

But my love of the game hasn't diminished.

I've got new side projects (Seoul Goalie 18), but somehow I suspect HTP will continue to be my favorite garden.

At worst, HTP is just another hockey blog. We try very hard not to regurgitate stuff that you can (and likely do) read elsewhere. We try to have a unique opinion, or at least to share it instead of simply rehashing what's already extant. At best, HTP is a place where you can read and discuss what is, if not the only point of view, one that is interesting and stimulating. That's our goal.

Thanks to Kevin in PA and WRT for being my partners.

And thank you for reading over the last four years. Here's to four more!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lowest Common Denominator

by NiNY

The sad news of Wade Belak's death yesterday has sent the NHL community into another tail spin - sadly similar to the two that we've already endured this ill-fated summer.

And, by in large, I've seen grace and respect emerge from the potential for poor taste and ugliness in people's responses.

But, among that grace and respect, comes a new round of the How Do We Qualify And Quantify This? exercise that is both a predictable and frankly not even an unreasonable by-product of going through a death (much less a series of them) like NHL fans have.

And I'm not trying to say that we shouldn't do...that.

But I do want to say that such an exercise makes it easy to standardize and, once standardized, view the deaths of these three men through a lens that is sufficiently academic as to mitigate the human factor in them and their deaths. And that would be a shame.

The lowest common denominator here is that three men are no longer with us. The means of their death, indeed the factors in their lives that may or may not have accrued to cause those means to be attractive to them, are immaterial against the backdrop of that baseline: that three men are dead.

People die all the time. According to NIMH, in 2007 suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death among Americans, with an overall rate of 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people. With an additional 11 attempted suicides for every suicide death.

Wikipedia tells me that in 2005 there were 22,000 Americans killed due to accidental overdoses.

These are real numbers of real Americans and the common theme - maybe the only common theme - is that they all died.

All I want to say is that sometimes the fact that someone has died is all we need to focus on.

There isn't an epidemic of NHL players - fighters or otherwise - dying. That does not make three, or two, or even one death acceptable. I'm absolutely not saying that it does. Could it be the tip of an iceberg that will continue to expose itself as we go along, presenting as an actual issue? Sure. But you can bet it will be dealt with if that happens.

I don't think I'm somehow a better fan for trying to light that fire now, if my trying to light it is at the expense of simply recognizing it and experiencing it for the simple sadness that it represents. It's okay to just be sad.

Maybe engaging in the exercise is a way of coping. And, if so, I'm not trying to take anyone's coping mechanism away. But that seems like an odd action to try to fit into the Kubler-Ross model. To be honest, if anything, it seems like an obfuscatory action - the pro-academic-thus-de-humanizing mentality - which would suggest the Denial stage. "I don't want to face the pain and sadness of this, so I'm going to hold those things at an arm's length by studying it instead." Again, that's not wrong; it's just....

I'm saying, let's just mourn and celebrate these three men. That's hard enough, given the alternative of celebrating without having to mourn them.

Sure, let's find out - to the fullest extent possible - why each of them came to their ultimate decision. And, if there's something to be gleaned from it - for the protection of others, great. I'm all for that.

Tragedy can exist in a vacuum. And we can treat it in a vacuum, too.

And that's okay.

I'm sad that Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak are dead. I can't begin to comprehend what their families are going through. My daughters are Belak's daughters' ages - and that's added an element of sadness to his death that I didn't experience with Boogaard and Rypien.

But I don't need to make the process harder by going through the self-flogging exercise of analysis of the game of hockey, or aspects of the game of hockey, or specific roles created by those aspects of the game of hockey to be sad..

I just want to be sad about it for a while.

So, that's what I'm going to do.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thoughts on Savard, Granlund

by NiNY

Just brutal news about Marc Savard.

And I can't even muster up any righteous indignation at the Cookes and Hunwicks of the league. Sooner or later, it seems, Savard was going to take the hit - legal or not - that rendered him hors de combat.

Sort of like how so many kids/people are developing allergies than back in the olden days, the concussion epidemic has really moved to the fore in sports over the last years it seems.

And, to get one is a black mark on your service record. To get two, well now you're just circling the drain. A hockey player's career is a short one to begin with (check out this awesome data dump from the guys over at and getting dinged for a coupla thumps on the melon puts you At Risk from that point-on.

Which makes me think about Mikael Granlund. How many concussions has he actually endured at this point? Of all the new(er) Wild prospects, he's the one high-level guy I'm really nervous about - because we just don't know about his concussion situation. Obviously I hope it's nothing. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't in the back of my mind with him.

Best of Hockey On the Web Poll

by NiNY

I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty excited and antsy for the NHL season to begin. Prospects Tourneys, training camp, pre-season games....then the big show!

So, because I'm jonesing, I thought I'd toss up a little poll. I want to find out (in the most scientific way possible, of course), what the most-popular sites are for hockey consumers.

So, please take a moment to respond to the following questions. Then I'll tally and post the results.

1. Your friend calls and says your team just made a big announcement. What website do you go to first to check it out?

2. Your friend calls and says the league just handed down a big suspension to the doosh you hate. What website do you go to first to check it out?

3. Who is your favorite hockey columnist?

4. What's your go-to site for salary cap, contract info?

5. What's your go-to site for trade info?

6. What's your go-to site for historical stats/data?

7. What site do you camp out at (and hit F5 over and over again) on trade deadline day?

8. What's your guilty pleasure hockey site?

9. What's your go-to site for non-NHL hockey?

10. Do you write for a site or blog? If so, which one?

I'm looking forward to your answers!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fletcher (Almost) Completely Free

by NiNY

With the weekend news that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had traded James Sheppard to (you guessed it) San Jose for a 3rd round pick, I immediately thought about Doug Risebrough.

More specifically, the job Riser did (or didn't do, as the case may be) in setting up the team that Fletcher inherited.

There was the lack of top-end scoring amid the murder of third and fourth-line muckers at forward. There was a fairly solid defense, anchored by Kim Johnsson, Brent Burns and Nick Schultz (with a little Marek Zidlicky thrown in for offense). There was Nik Backstrom and Josh Harding in goal.

Down in Houston there was.... well there just wasn't a hell of a lot. At least not a lot that projected to fill the more-gaping holes (e.g. top end scoring talent) already in the roster.

It couldn't have been a pretty sight to Fletcher, but, as it was his first kick at the NHL can as GM, he bucked up and stiff-upper-lipped it.

To be fair, Fletcher has made some knee-jerk moves that didn't really work out so well. Divesting 2nd round picks for the likes of Chuck Kobasew jumps immediately to mind. And, at first, he was not immune to the intoxicating powers of free agency, as the over-payment of Eric Nystrom indicates.

But even in Fletcher's early days there were signs that he isn't the same man that Riser is. Scoffing at the Rangers ridiculous offer for Derek Boogaard (RIP) was one such sign. Dealing with the impending Mikko Koivu contract issue well in advance of the danger zone (and eons before Riser would have) was another one.

And this summer he's come full-around to the realization that it's impossible to play for today and build for the future simultaneously. He has moved to address the lack of high-end offensive talent dramatically (albeit with youth) the past two off-seasons. He has been willing to admit mistakes and move to correct them. He has been pro-active. He has been crafty. He has not come out and chastised the fans for harboring unrealistic expectations.

And now, after shedding Sheppard, Fletcher is nearly free of the chains of Riser's failures that have imprisoned him since he started.

No, there isn't a Pittsburgh-like amount of top-end talent on the NHL roster yet. But, trading Andrew Brunette (respect) and Antti Miettinen (dos vydanya) for some combination of PM Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley is a major upgrade (on paper, anyway).

Riser's lack of first round success in harvesting top-end talent will likely be his longest-lasting blight on the franchise. But the kids are coming - and they look pretty good. Is there a chance a Jonas Brodin turns into a Cam Barker? Sure there is - you never really know at the draft. Is there a chance a Mikael Granlund turns into an Alexandre Daigle? Yes; same reasoning.

So we reserve final judgment until it's prudent to judge. But Fletcher has bought himself the one thing that Riser ultimately ran out of: patience from the fans. Which, given what we went through leading up to the end of Riser's tenure, was not something many of us were going to be willing to sell very cheaply, regardless of who replaced Riser.

But, for now, I'm calling it: the stink of Doug Risebrough is all-but dissipated from the Wild. And a new day, with new expecations, starts now.

It's your team, Chuck.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Burns Deal Justifies Trade


Rare is the Minnesota Wild fan who doesn't at least have a soft spot in their heart for lovable, talented Brent Burns. He will be missed as much for his affable, easy going personality as for his upper-echelon (among defensemen) offensive skills on the Minnesota blue line.

That being said, he had to be traded if the Wild was going to try to change the culture of an organization for which mediocrity had become the norm.

You trade from strength. And given both the progress of some of the young defensemen in the system (on display during Houston's run to the Calder Cup Final) and the upper-echelon offensive skills of Marek Zidlicky (not the same flavor as Burns' offensive skills, per se, but still ice cream) already on the team, Burns would have represented a position of strength for the Wild.

But, entering a contract year, and represented by an agent who has had a, shall we say, checkered past with the Minnesota organization, and Fletcher had to at least look. And what he found when he looked was an eager dance partner in Doug Wilson.

That's all history.

What we have today is news of the 5-year extension that Burns agreed to with San Jose that will pay him $28.8M over those five years, for an average cap hit of $5.76M. Burns will make $3.55M this season.

This new deal would make Burns the 10th-highest paid defenseman in the NHL, according to, edging Andrei Markov down from 10th to 11th.

Now we all know Burns has top-ten offensive skills. But his defensive skills, or more accurately his ability to maximize them consistently, would rank decidedly lower than top-ten in the league. Nonetheless, you overpay for offensive defensemen, as the Wild did with Zidlicky for example.

But where this gets interesting is when you start looking at the Wild's financial situation after the '11-12 season, and try to envision Burns and this $5.76M fitting into it.

As of today, on, the Wild has $45.66M committed to 14 players heading into the '12-13 season. That includes the Barker buyout. The salary cap for the '11-12 season is $64.3M. Zanon is also in a UFA contract season in '11-12, so Fletcher has to make a decision on him at some point that could increase our expenditure.

That $45.66M is divided up between 9 forwards, 4 defensemen and 1 goalie. If you add Burns' $5.76M onto that you're at 15 players, including 5 defensemen, and $51.42M committed. Let's assume a modest increase in the salary cap, and use $65M as a nice, round number.

So you've got $13.58M left over to find three forwards, one defenseman and a goalie.

Oh and you also have to re-sign Gui Latendresse who is a RFA after this season. Assuming you at least qualify him, you're adding at least $2.5M (100% of previous contract for a player making $1M or more) right there. So now we're at 10 forwards, 5 defensemen, 1 goalie and $53.92M committed. And that's only if Latendresse signs for exactly the same amount that he will have made this season. If he gets healthy and puts up some numbers (in a contract year) then he could easily command more than $2.5M.

So now we need 2 forwards, 1 defenseman and a goalie, and you have $11.08M left to spend. Brodziak ($1.15M) and Staubitz ($575k) are both UFAs after '11-12 and cheap. Say you sign them to fill out your forwards. That means you're at 12 forwards, 5 defensemen and 1 goalie and $55.645M committed.

But weren't you hoping Granlund at least comes over next season? What's his contract going to look like? And Brodin's already got a contract. Is he ready for NHL blueline duty? Maybe he earns a spot in camp next year. Russo reported that his cap hit would be $1.475M with bonuses.

And figure a million for a backup goalie.

And this is all to fill out to 20. Do they want to carry an extra forward or defenseman? At the start of the '12-13 season Bouchard, Cullen, Nystrom, Zidlicky and Backstrom are all entering UFA contract seasons. Presumably Fletcher will want to sign at least a couple of those guys. And Clutterbuck, Gillies, Scandella and Spurgeon will all be entering RFA contract seasons and likewise some of them will warrant new deals.

AND we still haven't reconciled this with Fletcher's stated desire to be more middle-of-the-pack, cap-wise, until the team is ready to take the next step towards true contention. In other words, they don't want to spend to the cap right now. Will they be that much closer to the expectation of a solid playoff run in the '12-13 season?

The point here is that, while Burns brings undeniable offensive skill to the team (which is something that every team wants), he would have likely been nearly prohibitively expensive for the Wild to re-sign, anyway.

Instead, Fletcher turned Burns into Setoguchi, Coyle and Phillips, significantly upgraded his weakest point (young offensive forwards) and stayed true to his economic vision at the same time.

That, my friends, is how a real GM gets it done.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fletcher Riding Hot Streak

by NiNY

Now we're cooking!

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has earned my admiration and - arguably more importantly - my patience with his actions since the end of the '10-11 season.

First the Richards firing - though Fletcher was complicit in the creation and the proliferation of the situation that created the untenable environment that necessitated Richards' removal - indicated that, if nothing else, Fletcher was not going to sit idly by and wait this thing out.

That was a sin that Fletcher's predecessor committed far too often for my liking. And I am big enough to admit that I bought into Risebrough's entreaties for patience. But, fool me once, etc.

Second, Fletcher's handling of the Burns situation and subsequent trade was spot on for my taste. I assume the conversation with Burns and his agent indicated that Burns would at least be considerably expensive to sign to a new deal, and Fletcher was able to leverage Burns into the means to continue addressing the most critical need on the team (read: young, skilled players) in not-one-but-three pieces. Outstanding job of analyzing the team and moving to address weaknesses by dealing from strengths.

Third, what looks like the impending buyout of Cam Barker. Fletcher inherited a team whose fanbase had been stung by the previous GM's willingness to let impending UFAs walk for nothing. With under-appreciated defenseman Kim Johnsson getting ready to do just that, Fletcher pulled the trigger on a deal that brought back a former 3rd-overall draft pick. Yes, Fletcher had to include a high pick of our own to get the deal done. But the bottom line is he got something for his UFA. That the trade didn't work out is not immaterial to the story. But Wild fans would be remiss to ignore the context in which Barker came to be on the team in the first place.

Now, the trade didn't work out. And so Fletcher moving to close that door by (likely) buying Barker out - which in itself is also a very different situation than the Parrish buyout, given Barker's age and the rules pertaining thereto - indicates to me that Fletcher is both a realist and a pragmatist. Rare is the Wild fan who would associate Risebrough with either of those personality traits.

As I've said, I like the draft and develop bearing Fletcher has steered the Wild into now. I'm willing to give it a couple years - even if they are marked by poor performance in the win column. And actions like the Barker buyout only serve to make me more patient.

Even more impressive: two of the three things I mentioned above were Fletcher righting his own wrongs. Riser would have just told us we'd let our expectations get too high.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Blind Squirrels

by NiNY

It feels good to get one right every once in a while.

I've been out of town for the last four days. So I missed all the action around the draft.

But, honestly, I couldn't be happier.

The Wild is finally giving up the ghost. Finally accepting that you can't simultaneously try to draft and develop AND fill your cup to the brim with UFAs. Finally realizing that sometimes you DO have to take a couple steps back (in the wins column, perhaps) in order to start taking steps forward.

You know all the particulars. But we now have a coach coming off a year where he worked very well with our youngsters. And we have received a big infusion of young, offensive talent into the organization - critical steps needed to start closing the gap between us and the other young re-developing teams in the conference and league.

I've been all over lobbying for the Wild to "blow it up" and start over. That the Wild needed the kinds of high first round picks that become top scoring line players. Well they didn't go all in on "blow it up", but they certainly went farther down that path than I thought they would.

And it sounds like Leipold is on board (based on what Russo's reporting.) So that's great. I was afraid the main impetus to 'stay relevant' in the short term would come from him.

So, here's to Fletcher being frugal. Here's to buying out Barker and then keeping those spots open going into camp to give the kids a real carrot to chase around the rink between then and now.

And here's to hope.

Hope that the Wild may finally be on the right path for serious real.

To Chuck Fletcher: here's my promise to you. If the team stays committed to this youth movement and consistently tries hard next season. I won't complain if they go 0-82.