Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Will he or won't he?


We're down to the final two weeks of the NHL regular season and there's one question that is on everybody's mind. ("Everybody" is defined as "People in Pittsburgh and the NHL offices." Oh, and probably "the Penguins' first-round opponent, whoever that will be." Let's throw in "NBC and Versus" for good measure. See? Everybody.)

The question is: Will Sidney Crosby return to play this season?

I have a different question: Should he?

Honestly, I don't think he should.

For every water bottle Crosby pops with a backhand in practice, for all the strenuous, fast-paced workouts he goes through on the ice, the buzz grows and grows that his return is imminent. The reality is he has yet to practice with the full Penguins team - he's skated with other injured players and also, on Tuesday, He Who Throws Elbows.

Not only has Crosby not yet practiced, he hasn't received any contact. There's no telling or predicting how he'll hold up to that. Other than that, all the reports coming out of the team are positive. Bob McKenzie theorized that it would take at least a few days, perhaps as much as a week or more, for both practicing in non-contact drills and practicing with contact.

Under that timeline, maybe Crosby returns for one of Pittsburgh's final two games. One of those, by the way, is a return engagement with the Islanders. Given their history, I don't want Crosby anywhere near that team right now. Pittsburgh's final game is the last day of the season, April 10.

If we assume Crosby doesn't return before then, just how wise is it to throw him into the thick of a playoff series? Two words: Marc Savard.

After He Who Throws Elbows leveled Savard in March, the Boston center didn't return until the conference finals. Then, either as a result of playing in that series or something else, Savard had a setback and missed the start of this season. Then he received another concussion and his career is in serious jeopardy.

Savard missed two months between his first injury and his return in the playoffs. Crosby will have been out for more than three months for a return.

If Crosby returns and plays at the level he was before receiving a concussion, and if the Penguins continue to get excellent goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, they can win the Stanley Cup this year, even without Evgeni Malkin. Yet does anyone expect Crosby, after missing so much time, to step right back into the lineup without missing a beat?

Remember, he wasn't even allowed to work out for a significant amount of time. Most reports indicate he is one of the league's best conditioned athletes but even he must be affected by the layoff.

I'm not willing to take the chance that Crosby becomes the next Savard, a premature return leading to even more trouble later on. Of course, I don't make the decisions.

Discretion is the better part of valor. Better safe than sorry. Err on the side of caution.

Don't throw caution to the wind. Insert any other appropriate idiom here.

It's entirely possible Crosby returns and doesn't have any further problems. It's just as likely he does. The Penguins need Crosby to win championships.

They also need to look out for his health first and foremost.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wild Going From Bad To Worse

by NiNY

The end of the season - the actual end, not the figurative one - can't come soon enough. Like a grade schooler during the last month of the year, when the weather's turned warm and the birds are out, the Wild has checked out. And I mean checked. The hell. Out.

Wild fans are used to not making the playoffs. But I have never seen a Wild team absolutely quit like this one has. It's astounding. Time, and professionalism, it would appear, is indeed fleeting.

They started the St. Louis game on Saturday with some real spring (*ahem*) in their step. Mikko in particular was busting through the neutral zone and taking the blue line with purpose. Leading to the first goal, for the first time since before Japan was rubble. But then Backstrom started kicking out ridiculous rebounds, the Blues counter punched and the Wild deflated. Wheels off, assume the position, ass kicking begins.

By the end of the game, hell by the middle of the 2nd period, there was absolutely no push back from the Wild. It was pathetic. Embarrassing. Only a half-assed snow spray on the Blues goalie indicated that the Wild wasn't totally flatlined.

Look, everyone knows the playoffs is gone by now. And I'm not saying I think it would be easy to play out the string in a lost season. But this is something other than just letting the intensity of the playoff drive dissipate. This is a complete lack of professionalism. This is the coach being dead to the team. This is the team quitting on each other. And I hasten to repeat: this is the first time I've ever seen this from any Wild team.

Maybe the answer is in changing the coach. Fine. Whatever. There's still a significant lack of talent, and a glaring dearth of prospects with which to fill that hole (either by trade or development.) And, at this pace, the Wild isn't likely to even end up in position to get the #1 overall pick in the lottery.

So another year of a just-outside-the-money-picks draft for the Wild (although, hosting the event and likely needing to do something to make a splash to re-invigorate a fan base that is quickly dying on the vine, maybe they trade up at the draft), another year of sub-mediocre hockey and another summer of watching other teams go through the war of the playoffs.

But, where prior Wild teams could at least look themselves in the mirror at night and say they played hard to the bitter end, this one, sadly, can't.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Shutouts are overrated


One of the major knocks against Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is he never gets shutouts. This kind of statement tends to come from people who will blame Fleury for a goal even if the Penguins somehow give up a 5-on-0.

That doesn't mean they're wrong. In fact, they're usually right. Holding a team completely scoreless is not one of Fleury's strengths. The most clean sheets he's had in a season is five, set in the same season (2006-07) in which he had a career-high 40 victories. (Ironically, he posted his third highest goals against average that year; only his first two seasons had a higher number.)

Fleury had only one shutout last season, in 67 games, and that actually came in the "revenge" game: Pittsburgh's first against Boston after Matt Cooke cheap-shotted Marc Savard.

In many cases, Fleury loses a shutout because of a soft goal he allows. Sometimes it's bad luck.

But who cares? So what? There are no special prizes for specifically leading the league in shutouts. (Awards like the Calder and Vezina trophies factor in that stat, sure.) What matters is winning the game.

With no mathematical evidence to support the following statement, I can tell you that most times when Fleury allows a soft goal, he'll come up with a save later in the game that he has no business making.

Fleury wins games. He probably won't win you many fantasy leagues but he gets the job done for Pittsburgh. He could post 82 shutouts, but if he loses all 82 in a shootout, will his detractors be happy? Eighty two points does not a playoff team make. (Hell, in the West, 82 points might not even be good enough for 13th place.)

After a horrendous October, and removing from consideration players born in August of 1987, Fleury has been Pittsburgh's best player. He'll likely be named the team's most valuable player at the team awards ceremony on Sunday. He struggled in February but in the months of November, December, January and so far through March, Fleury's highest GAA is 2.01, in December; the other three of those months it's below 2.00. His lowest save percentage in those months is .921. Friday's victory over New Jersey was Fleury's third shutout of the season.

Because of that October, Fleury won't set a new career-high for wins; he sits at 33 with seven games remaining, and Brent Johnson (perhaps Brad Thiessen as Johnson is currently out with an injury) is likely to start at least one or two more games.

Sure, it's disappointing when one soft goal, whether it came early or late, is all that separates Fleury from a shutout. What really matters however is earning two points, and Fleury puts his team in a position to win more nights than not.

Given the high-profile injuries Pittsburgh has suffered, one can make a case that Fleury should garner at least some consideration for the Hart Trophy. Of course, he won't win it, nor will he even be a finalist.

But I'd hate to think of where the Penguins might be right now with a lesser goalie.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Amid The Rubble, A Little Green(lay) Shoot

by NiNY

The Wild's season has turned into a disaster. Two-plus months of strong play had looked like it would overcome the negativity of another ugly start under second year coach Richards. But then a couple (key) injuries and the wheels have come off like no other Wild team I can remember. The team is a total shambles right now.

So it's exchanges like the one I had last night with Wild tv color analyst Mike Greenlay on twitter - with the Wild losing 3-0 - that give me some sense that the world is not ending, even though my Minnesota sports teams fan's heart feels like it is:

Me: @pulledgoalie would you please start saying 'shutout' on air now, or is that against the goalie code or something?

MG: @nickinnewyork Maybe I should just get out my goalie voodoo doll and then kill a chicken in the booth.

Me: #majorleague

MG: @nickinnewyork Yessir...I'll bust one out soon

*At this point the Wild game goes to the sub-15:00 mark commercial. During which I bring my wife up to speed on the situation. When they come out of commercial, Greenlay starts in with something along the lines of 'Well the Wild has had some bad luck recently with a couple shutouts and they're looking at another shutout again tonight. And sometimes when a goalie's got a shutout going, the team he's facing gets to a point where all they see is the shutout...' And then even the play-by-play guy (Dan Terhaar) chimes in with a shutout mention. It was beautiful!*

Me: @pulledgoalie YOU SIR ARE A GOD!! #freakinawesome

MG: @nickinnewyork There you go...Four shutout references...plus Dan busted one out

So, obviously it's the little things. And Reimer completed the shutout nonetheless.

But it was still a moment of human-ness in what has become a completely de-humanizing experience for Wild fans. The coaches and team appear to have quit. It certainly looks that way on the ice and sounds that way in their comments. That's a frustrating way to see a season die.

And yet Greenlay and his partner are still up there doing their job. Selling season tickets during the 8-1 evisceration against Montreal had to have been the epitome of unpleasant. And dealing with idjit fans like me, on Twitter, while you're trying to call a game on tv can't be exactly fun either.

My hat's off to Mike and Dan for staying professional while keeping their sense of humor particularly when the team they're covering hasn't.

Can he? Will he?


They say actions speak louder than words. It helps when the words are heartfelt and sincere, but ultimately, yes, the appropriate actions need to be taken.

Matt Cooke, for the first time as a Penguin and perhaps the first time ever, has owned up to his recent actions, namely the elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh. Cooke says he made a mistake, took responsibility for it and said "I realize and understand, more so now than ever, that I need to change."

At his in-person hearing for the elbow, Cooke was not interested in offering up a defense nor did he want anyone else trying to make excuses for what he did.

That's all well and good. And Cooke seems contrite. He seems sincere. We haven't seen this side of Cooke before. It's a refreshing change.

But it won't mean anything if he gets into further trouble. Will his words allow him to stay a Penguin until and unless that happens? Unfortunately, I feel we'll see that scenario.

It's easy - OK, really easy - to say Cooke doesn't deserve any more opportunities to clean up his act. It's easy to believe he'll screw up again.

It's difficult, if not nigh impossible, to sympathize with Cooke, even if he's saying the right things at the moment. However, it is tempting to see if the long suspension, the lost wages (nearly $220,000), the very real possibility of losing his job in a city and with a team he enjoys, and perhaps most importantly the loss of his teammates' respect serve as the kick in the ass Cooke needs.

Another adage comes to mind: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice (or five times), shame on me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Miracles do happen


Just as it's hard to believe Matt Cooke is often a quality, useful hockey player, it's equally as hard to believe Colin Campbell can make a correct decision in regards to supplemental discipline.

For once, Campbell knocked this one out of the park. (Perhaps with the assistance of a Cooke elbow? Too soon?)

Cooke will not be allowed to play until and unless the Penguins advance to the second round, which, given the loss of Evgeni Malkin, the possible continued absence of Sidney Crosby and yes, the new subtraction of Cooke, is hardly a certainty. Cooke will forfeit over $200,000 in salary.

This is about as appropriate a punishment as it can get. Some people wanted Cooke banned for the entire playoffs and of course, there will be some who say to simply remove him from the league. But the rest of the regular season (10 games) and however long the first round lasts for Pittsburgh is entirely fitting.

Two things need to happen as a result of this sentencing. Ray Shero, who released this statement in support of the suspension, and Mario Lemieux must react in kind. Ideally, this means a buyout, a trade, waivers, something to get Cooke off the payroll.

Unfortunately, that seems unlikely. According to Nick Kypreos, Lemieux had a nice chat with Cooke on Sunday basically telling him to shape up or ship out. My fear is that conversation (assuming it did happen) plus the 14- to 17-game suspension serving as the wake-up call Cooke needed will mean the Penguins give Cooke one last chance. Even though he's on about his sixth chance, at least.

The second thing that must happen is the NHL and Campbell have to continue to bring the hammer down on players who violate the rules, and slam the repeat offenders harsher. Campbell finally sent a message to thugs who injure other players. But it can't be a one-time message.

Cooke deserved this kind of long sentence but he can't be the only one to receive a ban like this or else we're right back to square one.

Wild Efforts, Season Circling the Drain

by NiNY

Too good to be true. What a fun and exciting run. But, without offense, and unless Jacques Lemaire is your coach, the Minnesota Wild just doesn't have the horses.

Or, apparently, the leadership.

Still, they gave me more than I expected to get this season. Okay, so obviously the run that got them back into the playoff picture, however fleetingly, was the aberration. But it was still fun. For a brief moment, the Wild was back. I mean, "back" in the sense that they mattered again in the moment, for today, like. Not "back" as in "back to contending" or something like that. This isn't a fantasy blog.

But winning on good goaltending and staunch defense is a recipe that's familiar to Wild fans who have spent any time consuming this team since it was born. That was the recipe on which the "best" Wild teams to-date were predicated. Maybe it was just having Lemaire back in the league at all. Like a positive disturbance in the force, but just out in a different system somewhere. It's just....not a recipe for winning. Er, #winning. Whatever.

The point is really just how easy it is to delude ourselves. We want to be swept up in the great, intoxicating endorphin rush of a hot team. Like having a new girlfriend, it's enticing and romantic and all kinds of je ne sais quoi.

And, if the players don't know it, well then they're pretty damn good actors. "I'm not a hockey player dogging out the string in a lost season, but I play one on TV."

Unfortunately the Wild was just good enough to not get a high pick in the upcoming draft. But, with high draft picks, like an outdoor game, it seems the Wild's lot in life is to miss out.

So, while we grudgingly unpack our "Fire the coach!" aloha shirts and "Trade the players!" bermuda swim trunks for another visit to our summer homes, Wild fans are left to face their mortality yet again.

It will be tempting to blame the GM for not getting more guys at the deadline.

It will be tempting to blame Guillaume Latendresse for stuffing his face all summer, showing up to camp out of shape, and subsequently injuring himself and the team.

It will be tempting to blame James Sheppard's parents for not putting him on an ATV at the age of three.

It will be tempting to blame the coach for having no discernable personality as a head coach.

It will be tempting to blame the league for sending the team to Finland.

Don't give in to the temptations.

At least we didn't trade our (mid-)1st round pick at the deadline though. And at least we have the best multiple concussion victim forward in Finland waiting in the wings. And at least we have some flexibility with impending free agents we could let go.

Just accept our fate and put away the "Maybe this is our year" heavy coats and "This re-tread veteran third liner is really going to bring the room together" scarves and mittens until the fall.

There's always next year, Wild fans.

Enough is enough


I speak for many Penguins fans, but sadly not all, when I say Matt Cooke's time in Pittsburgh should come to an end.

His latest travesty became the breaking point for many of us. According to reporters, some insiders involved with the team are also getting fed up with answering questions about Cooke's actions. Frankly, there just is no defense, especially with co-owner Mario Lemieux's vehement and heated statements in regards to league discipline and player safety. Cooke's behavior and mere presence takes a significant chunk out of Lemieux's credibility on the issue.

For those unaware of the details, Cooke drilled Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh with a blatant, late elbow to the head. McDonagh was in a vulnerable position, likely didn't see Cooke coming and could not brace himself. Fortunately, McDonagh appeared to escape injury and actually ended up setting up the goal that buried the Penguins.

However, we all know concussion symptoms don't necessarily show up immediately. In any case, Cooke was assessed a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct.

It's incredibly difficult to believe but Cooke is a very valuable role player. He's an exceptional penalty killer and he is actually capable of delivering legal hits. But he just cannot help himself from stepping over the line. It hurts his bank account, it hurts his team, and oh yeah, it hurts other players.

He has rightfully become a marked man, and losing that benefit of the doubt makes him a target for penalties that aren't actually penalties. Then there are the legit, dumb, inexcusable penalties he takes. Oh, and let's not forget the heinous penalties like the one against McDonagh, a play that even teammates privately said changed the outcome of a game that had been 1-1 with the Penguins in full control. (A double minor to Matt Niskanen during the Cooke major opened the door for the Rangers to score twice.)

Cooke belongs on an NHL roster as much as Islanders goon Trevor Gillies. The only hockey team either one should ever suit up for is the Charlestown Chiefs or the Syracuse Bulldogs. Cooke is not so special a player that he cannot be replaced by any of a dozen other players.

We all know the NHL rarely gets suspensions correct. This is one surely even Colin Campbell can't screw up. It should be at least the rest of the regular season. Perhaps the playoffs too.

After that, I'm more interested in what general manager Ray Shero and Lemieux do. There does not appear to be any immediate plan to jettison Cooke from the payroll but that doesn't mean that won't be a major topic in the summer, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. If they continue to employ him, they can both get off their high horse about wanting to clean up the game.

It's ironic that for the first time in his albeit brief history that Shero handed out a three-year contract to a role player and it will come back to bite him. Usually he sticks to two years for grinders like Cooke. I'm willing to bet he's regretting that third year now.

Cooke can be a valuable player. And another team might snatch him up quickly because of that if the Penguins part ways with him. He cannot be a valuable player if he doesn't clean up his act and there is absolutely no evidence that he's willing or capable of doing so. Quite the opposite, in fact. There's no way of defending the hit on McDonagh as a "hockey play" or a hard check that went wrong, or the victim putting himself in a vulnerable position. It was all on Cooke and all a bunch of idiocy and brutality.

It's time for Cooke to become someone else's problem.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The shame of it all


I'm going to talk about Trevor Gillies again! Wait, don't go away! Only in the briefest way. Stick around, please.

See, here's the thing. The Islanders have been in the news lately pretty much for just two reasons: the Nassau Brawl (that kind of rhymes if you really try hard enough) and Gillies elbowing Cal Clutterbuck almost immediately upon his return.

What's unfortunate about that is these news stories cover up what else is going on on Long Island: New York is showing signs of hockey life.

I know, I've delved into the realm of fantasy. But it's true.

The Islanders haven't gone on any extended run like the Devils have. The playoffs are a much longer shot than for New Jersey, though New York trails the Devils by just four points in the standings.

Still, New York has posted a 10-5-3 record in its last 18 games. Most of their losses in this stretch have come to the East's top teams: one to Pittsburgh, one to Boston, an overtime loss to Philadelphia, and two one-goal decisions against Washington (one going to overtime.) The Islanders also came as close as anyone to knocking off New Jersey, falling Sunday in a seven-round shootout.

So this "You can't lose to the Islanders and hope to make the playoffs" I saw from Minnesota fans isn't entirely full of merit. Sure, New York is still 14th in the East (that's next to last) but the Islanders have been pretty solid, and certainly quite competitive, of late.

And I don't think it's as simple as one of those standard "non-playoff team coming together at the end of the season" runs.

The Islanders, I'm afraid to say, have some nice talent. John Tavares is pulling a Steven Stamkos, i.e. emerging as a top player in the second half of his second season. He had 16 points in 14 February games and three so far in four March games. Matt Moulson is on the verge of another 30-goal season. So is Michael Grabner, who was the hottest player in the league for a while (10 goals in six games) before a recent slump cooled him off, but he has 26 goals. Moulson has 28.

I think the stat I saw on Sunday said Tavares and Grabner, entering Sunday, led the NHL in scoring since the all-star break. So there's that, too.

P.A. Pareanteau is having a nice little season as well, though it's possible he's merely riding the coattails of Tavares and Moulson. Blake Comeau is having a career year and appears likely to reach the 20-goal and 40-50 point plateau.

Two stories I'm enjoying in New York: One is the sneaky-goodness of young defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who has emerged during Mark Streit's absence to rank tied for 11th in the NHL with 137 blocked shots, a team-high 23:19 average ice time per game, and 25 points in 52 games. MacDonald has also shown a solid quality in running New York's power play (11 power play assists.)

The other is the resurrection of goaltender Al Montoya. Once a top prospect, Montoya bounced around a couple different organizations. In 10 games with the Islanders, Montoya has won half of them, earned a point in two others, and has recorded a 1.93 GAA with an impressive .931 save percentage.

This isn't exactly the 1980s Islanders of old but I'd wager it's a brighter point for the Islanders than most of their recent seasons.

In all probability, the only sure thing we can say about these players is Tavares is no fluke. Moulson likely isn't either. Though he's already 27, assuming he nets two more goals, it'll be his second straight 30-goal season and he's shown a real chemistry with Tavares. Grabner's speed will make him a threat any time he's on the ice (Who else saw him break away against New Jersey on Sunday?) and appears to have made the leap this year.

The others are unknowns and possibly have reached their ceiling already. My biggest question is about MacDonald. What kind of year will he have when Mark Streit is in the lineup? MacDonald is easily New York's best defenseman right now; Streit unquestionably is when he's playing. So how will Streit's presence affect MacDonald's production? I'm going out on a limb here, but it'll either help him, hurt him or have no effect. (How's that for in-depth analysis?)

Of course, New York's goaltending remains a question mark. Six different players have seen time in goal for the Islanders this season. Montoya and Kevin Poulin have been the best. But Rick DiPietro, theoretically at least, remains in the picture.

Still, the Islanders have some nice things going for them. They're not going to make a late surge towards the playoffs like New Jersey but there are reasons to be excited for the future. Plus they'll be getting another top-five draft pick this summer.

Or maybe this really is just a meaningless end-of-season run of success that won't carry over.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Offensively, Ugly Stick Line Carries Wild Offensively


That's what I'm calling the Staubitz-Peters-Warmish Body triumvirate of power and awesomeness. The Ugly Stick Line. I think it fits nicely with their overall surly demeanor on the ice.

But in deference to the Ugly Stick Line (gotta use it a bunch to try and build up some momentum for the nickname), that which makes them the ugly stick does not include providing the offense on which the Wild needs to peg its playoff hopes.

Unfortunately, on a team nearly bereft of scoring touch at full health, a couple key injuries and whammo! Ugly Stick Line = top scoring line.

That's putting the "ugly" in Ugly Stick.

See on most teams in contention to make the playoffs, a couple key injuries means the 2nd line has to step up. Maaaybe the 3rd. But the 4th line? Either your definition of "a couple" is a little more generous than mine or the team in question is alarmingly low on offensive horses.

But that's not a surprise for the Wild. The surprise was being in a position to be sitting here worried that their chances of making the playoffs was going to die on the vine due to injuries to Mikko and Cal (notice not including Gui "Minnesota Fats" Latendresse with whom the Wild's best chances for success was winning a poutine-eating contest).

So it's still bonus hockey for Wild fans. And, if these injuries do prove fatal to the team's playoff chances this season, maybe the players can distill that disappointment ("man, I KNOW we could have made it! That's just bad luck with the injuries!") into motivation to be even better next season.

I'm not calling the time of death just yet. But, the Ugly Stick Line can only take you so far.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"Would not have gotten up"


Thanks to Newsday beat reporter Katie Strang's Twitter feed (@KatieStrangNYI), we received this gem of a quote from Islanders general manager/spin artist Garth Snow, in regards to Trevor Gilles' hit on Cal Clutterbuck: "I know Trevor as a person and I know there was no malicious intent when he was finishing that check. Trevor didn't go in with a malicious mindset. I can tell you if he did go in with that intent, the player probably would not have gotten up."

This is from the guy who said the Islanders "showed restraint" during the infamous brawl last month.

Who said Gilles "had the right intentions" when he drove his elbow into the unsuspecting head of Penguins forward Eric Tangradi, Pittsburgh's top forward prospect who hasn't played or practiced since the hit that gave him a concussion.

The mind, it is boggled.

I have deeper feelings than most on this matter, since not only was my team prominently involved, but one of the brighter spots of the team's future has been dimmed as a result of Caveman Gilles going all Bertuzzi on Tangradi. Minnesota fans share my wrath, but I would imagine that, for now at least, their hatred is not as deep since Clutterbuck appears to be OK. (Update courtesy of Kent Youngblood: Clutterbuck missed Saturday's practice with an upper-body injury. Just how upper is it, I wonder?)

However, despite my rage, I was basically over the matter and just hoped for two things: One, that Tangradi recovers and his career path is still on track, and two, that someone kills John Tavares. No, I mean literally kills him.

Then Snow gives us that little tidbit above, that if Gilles had "malicious intent" then Clutterbuck "would not have gotten up."

Quite an audacious statement to make, since we already saw a player fail to get up after a hit by Gilles. The elbow Gilles delivered to Tangradi was bad enough, and it's clear that Tangradi was dazed by it. There's no way Tangradi could have responded verbally or physically to Gilles, but that didn't stop that neanderthal from dropping his gloves and proceeding to attack Tangradi. Matt Martin's attempted sucker-punch/assault combination on Max Talbot looked more similar to what Todd Bertuzzi pulled on Steve Moore, but Gilles, by actually throwing punches against a downed opponent, came much closer to mirroring Bertuzzi.

And it's made me change my mind. I accepted Gilles' 10-game ban for his hit on Clutterbuck. I wanted a longer ban but I was satisfied that it was at least a double-digit suspension and not a piecemeal three-to-five games. Now? It ain't nearly long enough.

Playing in the NHL is a privilege, not a right. Gilles clearly doesn't understand or appreciate the opportunity he's been given to play in the world's top hockey league. He has now become a constant threat to others and has jeopardized the career of a promising young player. Gilles has no business putting on a hockey uniform. Even the Hanson brothers would say he goes too far.

My question is: Has Gilles shown any remorse for what he did to Tangradi? If he has no regrets, then that's the final nail in his coffin. Or should be. Based on his taunting of Tangradi, I'm sure Gilles - just like his cohort and fellow goon Zenon Konopka - is pretty darn proud of what he did.

The NHL weakly slapped Gilles on the wrist. The recent unsettling news of Bob Probert should have the NHL very concerned about player safety, yet the league failed to take appropriate action against Gilles. When it comes to protecting the work force, the idiots who run hockey care as little, or perhaps less, than the NFL owners, who swear they're concerned about protecting football players yet want an 18-game schedule.

I know. And fine, OK, kick Matt Cooke out of the league too. I've seriously begun to turn on him anyway. He's misbehaving more often lately and has become a marked man, a target for ticky-tack or nonexistent penalties that put the Penguins shorthanded.

But back on topic. Snow's comments disturb me greatly. He obviously does not believe Gilles is a liability or a danger to opponents. Which means he'll do nothing to curb Gilles' violent tendencies. And if the league won't do it, and if the team won't do it, and Gilles' teammates won't do it, no one will. And in 10 New York games' time, we'll get to see this gorilla back on the ice.

Maybe the knucklehead will wait until his fifth shift to kill someone.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Wild Rebounds Nicely, Fans Not So Much


The Wild played much better last night against the Rangers than they did the night before last against the Islanders. That is not the same as saying they played better, period. But...it's a step in the right direction. They were again dreadful in the first period. However, as a testament to the emotional makeup of this team they got it together and rallied in the 2nd, then held firm in the 3rd. So, not a 60-minute effort, but much better than the 2 or 3 minute effort we saw Wednesday.

It's a little scary to have to rely on your goaltender as much as the Wild does. But, that's the way it is, and our goalies have, on balance, been stellar this year. And, when Bax goes into a little funk like he's in right now, it's tremendous to be able to trot Theodore out there and get, well and get performances like his last night.

Also, I had the pleasure of listening to the MSG broadcast last night. Man, Sam Rosen is still one of the best in the league on PBP and Joe Micheletti has really become a top notch color guy. He used to just be sort of whiny and homery. Now he's much more insightful, interesting and opened my eyes to plays behind plays on several occasions, which is the hallmark (indeed the essense of the job) of a good color analyst in my book. And Joe has really lost the homer angle, too. At least he had last night.

I hope and assume that the Wild is really going to be watching Clutterbuck closely over the next couple days. First, as we know concussions can materialize gradually. And, his particular style lends itself to brain-jiggling even without goons like Gillies nailing him in the cheek. So, he laid a few hits last night against the Rangers, that has to bump his brain around in his melon somewhat, and, where it might not normally be enough to render him concussed, maybe his brain is extra sensitive right now?

It continues to bottle my mind how many Wild fans just don't get it. Read the comments (if you dare, it's a real drain on your sanity anymore) over at Russo's Rants or after his gamer. It's not just one or two imbeciles frothing at the mouth, either. 'Fletcher screwed up by not going big(ger) at the deadline' is bad enough. But 'he should have traded Bax'? Come on gang, we can do better than that. Unreal. And then they wonder why we don't get an outdoor game. Because we don't deserve one with idiots like that as "fans."

Really? You think the Wild was ANY moves at the deadline away from actual contention this year? And enough so that it would have been worth selling off what precious few crumbs we have just been able to start stocking our cupboards with? Or that we could trade all our detritus and worthless pieces of shit from our roster for a top line scorer? Seriously, it's embarrassing to think that such painful, overwhelming ignorance can exist in a place we call the "State of Hockey."

My buddy Ms. Conduct got some blowback recently for having the temerity to point out that Havlat is a floater. Which is funny, the blowback part anyway, because he is an unbelievable floater.

Look, on a team as starved for offense as the Wild is, I can see where you'd give a floater a little extra leash as long as he's producing. And Ms. Conduct certainly acknowledged that Havlat is producing.

But that doesn't mean he's not a floater. And, if he was floating but not producing, I bet anyone other than card carrying members of the "Martin Havlat Fan Club" would quickly tire of the floating. So what's the issue with calling a guy a floater? In and of itself, or specifically in this case?

My advice to Wild fans: just shut up and enjoy the ride. This team isn't talented enough to be still fighting for a playoff spot. Do you really think we have more high end talent than St. Louis, Colorado and Edmonton (who, by the way, are the bottom three teams in the Western Conference right now and, by all rights, out of the playoff race)? Certainly not age-adjusted we don't, but even pound-for-pound we don't. We wouldn't have been able to get to that level, talent-wise at the deadline for an acceptable price. So, this playoff run is a bonus for us this year. It's fun. It's energizing. It restores hope. Just go with it.

Enjoy it for what it is: more games that matter, later in this season that was reasonable to expect heading into and for the first month of the season. They still might even make the playoffs. That would be one hell of a feat for this team. And it should be enjoyed. But don't ruin it by deluding yourself into thinking this could be their year. Or could have been if, if, if.

Even if Fletcher had been able to rob some GM(s) blind (a la his old man), the chances are that we still wouldn't have won the Cup this year, and then our cupboards would be bare again.

This way, we still have the same chances of going the same distance, and Fletcher protected those few chestnuts that we have. That's what a good GM does.

Good fans would both appreciate that and simply enjoy the product before their eyes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wafer Thin



The Wild didn't lay an egg against Chicago on Monday. Chicago is a good team that has successfully stayed in the race long enough to recover from their Championship run last spring, and is now playing well. They showed how good they are against Minnesota on Monday. Wasn't the best Wild game ever, but I felt like more credit was due to Chicago than finger pointing at the Wild.

Last night, though. Different story. The Wild was just flat. From the opening draw. I'm not saying they should have destroyed the Islanders. Wild fans certainly should remember how a team out of the playoffs can be dangerous at the end of a season. And the Isles have talent. But, as coach Richards has said often, you can control your effort. The Wild showed me no effort last night. And, if you can't conjur up a little effort in the heat of a playoff battle....

To me, if the team was so thin that a couple injuries (granted including one to their best overall player) were going to sink them anyway, then that's all the justification that Fletcher needed for not mortgaging the future on Monday.

So now it's back to basics: get the effort back up, get back to the tenets of the system, get the passion flowing again.

Because the other teams the Wild is fighting with in the West aren't exactly lying down and dying.

Also, Trevor Gillies? Disgusting.