Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TDI 112712

by NiNY

Ornery show tonight. We got riffing on the lockout stuff and, well, it got real. I read a quote from Matt Majka in Russo's blog post tonight that set me off. We discussed it.

The Big Question

The new development is that the sides have agreed to official (non-binding) mediation. The question is, is this meaningful to the negotiations?

The Rundown

We rank the top five catch phrases or words associated with the lockout that most make us want to kill puppies at this point. Some fun ones in there.

The Arena

Can fans do anything in reaction to this lockout, that would impact whether there is a next lockout? In other words: do the fans have ANY leverage in these matters? So frustrating.

The Quote

Mike finds inspiration from Barry The Mullet Melrose for tonight's quote.

Hit us up with any thoughts on this or any show on Twitter @htpthedumpin

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

by NiNY

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. We're especially thankful for memories of the NHL, and food.

To that end, here's a little "separated at birth?", Minnesota Wild and Thanksgiving version for you.

You all know this guy.

But man does he look like Food Network star chef Marc Murphy!

Happy thanksgiving, you guys!



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

TDI 112012

by NiNY

We're back, and with a Wild-centric show tonight.

We hope everyone enjoys a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

The Big Question

What is the history of the Minnesota Wild's 2002 7th round draft pick. We follow the thread of this pick and what it yielded to and cost the Wild from inception until today. Fun exercise. Lots of good Sergei Zholtok memories [chorus of angels].


RIP Sergei


The Rundown

Speaking of Zholtok, we rank the top 3 trades the Minnesota Wild have done that involved future considerations going one way or the other.

I bet this is the only time you'll hear a reference to this guy on TDI!

The Arena

Mike and I debate whether the Gilbert-for-Schultz trade had an impact on the Wild's ability to sign Ryan Suter this summer. Tough debate, give it a listen.


The Quote

The immortal Bob Froese with tonight's quote.

Happy turkey farts!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

TDI 111512

by NiNY

What a fun show! We were able to get Jen, (@nhlhistorygirl, nhlhistorygirl.com) to join us tonight and she was awesome! We talked about how a NHL History Girl becomes a NHL History Girl, how she pursues her craft and even dished a bit about which NHL teams might not be taking their history very seriously (hint: rhymes with Hash Pill).

If you're not following Jen on Twitter, you're missing some great stuff. And you can get a good dose of it by listening to this week's show.

The Big Question

What's the life of a NHL History Girl like? We got Jen to take us through her background, and how she sees the game today.

The Rundown

Jen and Mike rank the last five decades of NHL hockey. I bet you'll be surprised by which decade came out on top!

The Arena


Jen and I face off about the All-Star Game. Is it relevant? If not, how do we make it relevant? Or do we even need to?

The Quote

Jen gives us not one but three great quotes to close out the show.

Our thanks to Jen for doing the show, and hopefully we can have her on again in the future.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Miscellaneous Thoughts

by NiNY

*This lockout has become a ridculous side show. On a day when the Vikings win (I'm forced to watch them now, as you heard in last week's TDI episode) and it's a surprise 60 degrees outside, I couldn't care less about the NHL. This is not to say that I wouldn't watch it if it was a normal regular season night (read: they hadn't embarked on this lockout) but just that I'm hardly dependent on the NHL, even this season, it turns out.

*I'm not making one of those silly threats never to come back to the game whenever it returns. I think both sides are ridiculous, but I realize that, as a fan, I have no power to bring them back to the table on my own or collectively with other fans. The league and the players don't care about the fans. Yes we pay their salaries, blah, blah, blah, but they know as well as we do that we're coming back. While some people may very well give up their season tickets, my guess is others will buy those seats and the league will not see a meaningful drop off in revenue as a result of the lockout - at least ultimately and maybe even in the short term after it is actually concluded.

*I still think that IF the fans would get together and punish the league for putting us through this, it could be a meaningful thing. I'm talking about empty buildings, no merchandise sales, etc. Do that for a month or a season when they deign to return and yes, it would open some eyes. But, until that happens, we as a group have given them zero reason to respect us. It's a classic symbiotic relationship: we give them our money, they take our money.

*FWIW, my favorite hockey writers are: Bob McKenzie, Elliotte Friedman and Michael Russo. If at least one of them doesn't say it, I don't believe it. And, more importanly, I don't get excited or hopeful if one of them doesn't report it.

*My beer league team is off to a .500 start through 9 games, with the 10th game tonight.

*Speaking of which, I've got a new hockey-related endeavor: Puck You PanCan. I'm pledging money to donate to pancreatic cancer research based on how my beer league team performs this year. Check it out at puckyoupancan.blogspot.com.

*Open note to the NHL and NHLPA: you know that new hockey bag, new sticks and new helmet I'm sporting this season? Yeah, that's the money I would have otherwise spent consuming the NHL product.

*Speaking of beer league part two: as I discussed on Twitter last week, in our game last week some guy decided the more expedient way to defend me was to punch me in the back of the head and knock me out. Swear to God. We were winning (5-2) and there were 6 minutes left in the 3rd. I'm skating on our 3rd (read: checking) line- and no threat to do anything but trip over my own skates. I'm getting into the slot to try to screen the goalie and this son of a bitch punches me in the back of the head. My teammates said I went down like a sack of spuds, face first (that new helmet I mentioned has a full cage). I know the guy got a penalty off the play, but seriously...come on. By the way, we play that team again in 5 weeks.

*Blog posts that are entirely copy/paste exerpts of other people's work are tedious and a waste of time.

*I just counted and there are nine thoughts above, seems crass to not finish with ten, so here goes: an interesting observation is that my interest in other hockey (NCAA, AHL) seems to have ebbed with my interest in the NHL. I have no interest in watching the NHL Network, no interest in the NHL game I have for my XBox, can't even bring myself to wear my Wild hat. I've watched a couple Gopher games, but didn't miss them this weekend when they weren't on TV. I'm not going to pay to stream Aeros games. I don't know how much of that is guilt by association, and how much of it is just sympathy lethargy. But, regardless, if it's that out of sight out of mind for a hard core fan like me, it must be out of sight out of universe for a casual fan.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

TDI 110412

by NiNY

We're back! We actually had a show recording last week - and it was shaping up to be a great show, too - but ran into techincal difficulties which prohibited us from finishing it. Then we tried to do a re-take later in the week and that got FUBARed, too.

But we got through a full recording tonight, and covered some great topics, to boot.

The Big Question

It's been a quiet week in NHL/NHLPA negotiation land. Though that's not to say there weren't meetings between the two sides. Is the lack of negotiating through the media a good thing or a non-issue?

The Rundown

In honor of our lost episode from last week, we rank our favorite AHL team logos. Click here for a preview of our favorite.

The Arena

Here's the game: you're an NHL GM. There's a fantasy draft of current NHL players. Which player from the Wild roster do you build your team around. Mike and I square off with our picks.

The Quote

Mike takes us out with a hilarious quote from Brendan Shanahan.

Tonight's show was brought to you by Famous Grouse scotch and Maker's Mark bourbon.


Cheers!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Dump In 102112

by NiNY

For this week's show we're back to a binary (Mike and Nick) format. We tackled topics around the lockout and CBA negotiations. Give it a listen!

The Big Question
In the NHL CBA negotiation, does winning the PR battle matter to either side?

The Rundown
We rank the top five Executive Directors in NHLPA history - and our rankings may surprise you a bit.

The Arena
We battle it out over the age-old question: Is Gary Bettman good or bad for the NHL?

The Quote
This week's quote comes from Martin Brodeur.

We are back next week, hopefully with another guest.

Thanks for listening, and send us your thoughts here or on Twitter @htpthedumpin

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Dump In 101412

by Nick

What a show!

We spent the hour with friend of the blog and friend of ours Nate Wells, who writes for First Round Bust, College Hockey News and SB Nation Minnesota talking all things college puck.

He's GQ smooth and obviously knows his college hockey.

Definitely worth a listen.

The Big Question
Is the forthcoming realignment in NCAA hockey good for the game? Nate gives us the straight poop and his thoughts.

The Rundown
Nate ranks his top 5 Gopher student section in-game chants.

Nate's #1:



The Arena
For the young player with NHL aspirations, which is the better development route: Canadian major juniors or the NCAA. Mike and Nate face off in a great debate.

The Quote
Mike finds inspiration for this week's quote from the Godfather of Minnesota hockey himself, John Mariucci.

Here you go!

PS: TDI is now available for your listening pleasure as a podcast via iTunes.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

TDI Suggestion Box

by Nick

We're three weeks into The Dump In's (TDI) broadcast life, and the show is going great. We've got bitchin' intro/outro music (thanks Castle Danger!) and fun topics. We've got structure and we even have some dissention.

Have you got any suggestions for topics? If so, let us know!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Dump In 100712

by Nick

Another great ep on the books!

This week's show was brought to you by Glengrant 10 year (Nick) and Dalmore 10 year (Mike).

The Big Question
Should NHL teams have their AHL affiliate play their home games in the big team's building during the lockout?

The Rundown
Ranking the first generation of Sutters

The Arena
Mike and Nick step into the arena for a debate on the following topic: In the NHL CBA negotiations, which side has the moral high ground: the league or the PA?

The Quote
The great Jacques Demers is responsible for this week's quote, and Steve Yzerman is the subject.

As always, hit us at @htpthedumpin with comments.

Also, @msconduct10 / @hockeygalindo if your ears were burning....well check out the show!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Dump In 093012

by Nick

Another fun show - with intro/outro music!

Thanks to our friend Encrimsond, and his band Castle Danger, for the awesome music.

Topics from tonight's episode:

*Mike initiated a fun exercise: in the agreement that ends the lockout, there is a salary cap reduction. Each team gets a couple 'amnesty buyouts'. Who do you cut? We looked at the top five teams by cap hit on capgeek.com, and offered our thoughts.

*What are the main personality traits necessary to be a Minnesota/Wild sports fan?

*Will realignment ever happen? And, if so, how will it look?

*Our BS Ranking of the week: we ranked the last 10 17th overall draft picks from the NHL Entry Drafts. Truly an exercise in BS.

Please hit us up with your thoughts here or via twitter @htpthedumpin

Thanks for listening!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Introducing The Dump In

by NiNY

So we've got a podcast.

It's about hockey.

Give it a listen. Then tell us what you think. Either here or on Twitter @htpthedumpin

Cheers!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Retiring My Hockey Angst Is Boring

by NiNY

Earlier this summer, you may recall, I laid to rest my Minnesota hockey angst. The Wild had gone out and signed Parise and Suter and it really just didn't feel worth it anymore to carry around that Minnesotan hockey fan chip on my shoulder. It just seemed like, to continue to be all misanthropic/Napoleonic anymore, was just going to make me out to be a truly miserable person. To be fair, it's not like we won the Cup, so it's not like we have nothing to be angsty about, but, well you can read the post if you want to/haven't already.

But here's the problem with retiring your angst: it's boring.

Take the lockout for example. Given what transpired in early July, Wild fans have every right to be more excited about the 12-13 season than any other group of fans. But there's this pesky lockout thing darkening our door. But, I just can't get up any real head of steam about the basic injustice of the stupid league locking out and delaying THIS season. I guess I'm more mature now, right? How lame.

I've gotten as far as (what I think is) a pithy title for a post, and then it all sort of falls apart. It's not writer's block. I can think up the post. It's just that, having buried my angst, what's the point. We still have Parise and Suter, and Granlund and Brodin and everyone else. Backstrom's still in a contract year. Mikko's....well I don't want to over do it.

I'm trying to say that my "Give A Shit" level about this lockout is stuck in idle. I can see both sides, to a degree. I don't even get all frothed up about the rhetoric (it's like some people have never seen a negotiation through the press before). I was mildly bummed out that the Red Wings cancelled the Traverse City tournament, although I understand why they did.

My dog chewed up my Wild hat (honest to God) and I didn't even go into palpitations - I just got a new hat.

I wouldn't say I'm in some kind of zen inner peace place. I just....meh.

So what do I want. Well I want the season to start on time. I'd like to be able to watch this lineup compete in NHL contests. But I don't feel the need to gnash my teeth about what if they don't.

I mean, this is progress, I guess.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I don't get it

I'm having a hard time parsing the Rick Nash to the Rangers deal here.

I mean, I get that he was highly coveted and why the Rangers wanted him. I'm just baffled by the return that Scott Howson got for him.Brandon Dubinsky? Artem Anisimov? Tim Erixon? Ok, I get the first round pick. But Dubinsky and Anisimov have always left me ... underwhelmed. Tim Erixon I know nothing about. He might be the sleeper in this deal.

But overall, Howson got jobbed, which leaves me asking why the hell does he make this deal? Nash had a NTC with the Blue Jackets. He could decide where he wanted to play. Even if he gave Howson a limited number of options, it still begs the question why Howson made this deal, and why he made it now.

A few thoughts on this.
  • I've heard that the BJ's ownership wanted Howson to cut costs. My response to that statement is that there are better ways to cut costs than to trade your best player. Shirley there are other players on the team that could be moved to relieve costs. 
  • Nash's salary was 200k less than his cap hit this year, and the same next season.
  • James Wisniewski makes 7 mil this season at a cap hit of 5.5 mil. If the BJs wanted to cut salary, trading Wisniewski makes more sense to me than trading your best player. Granted, it's tougher to do with a Wisniewski than a Nash, but if I'm Howson, that's one direction I'm looking
  • Dealing Fedor Tyutin is another place to cut costs
  • If you're getting lowball offers, you can always wait it out, and make the deal when it better suits your needs.
Unless Howson was specifically told to gut the team, beginning with its captain, the only justification for this deal seems to be that he wants the team to suck for the next decade to stockpile high first round picks and rebuild through the draft. I mean, look at their coach if you want any evidence of that theory.

That said, the Jeff Carter Experiment lasted less than a season. Howson got the business on that trade as well. The whole thing reeks of desperation. At least I can understand - and empathize - with that.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Wild are a Boring, Trapping Team

I hate to break it to you all, but it's true. We all know it. The Wild are the most boring team in the NHL. All they do is trap, and Mike Yeo is a mere disciple of Jacques Lemaire. I mean, the Wild even trap in warmups! It's why Parise and Suter won't make a lick of difference to the success of this team. Parise's offensive skills will be obliterated on the Wild, and Suter, well, he fits right in!

So sayeth Bill Watters on Marek vs. Wyshynski this week. So it must be true, right?

Hold your horses. First off, on paper, I'm sure Watters might have a point. The Wild was one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL and had decent defense. Based on that alone and not watching a single game, he might be headed in the right direction.

If he weren't sitting on his horse backwards. And if the horse weren't blind. And he wasn't wearing a blindfold. Then he might be headed in the right direction.

This is something that chaps my ass, when national "talent" looks at a stat sheet, sees the word "Wild" at the bottom of the goals scored column, and thinks "trap." Five or ten years ago, they might have had a point. After all, Jacques Lemaire IS the father of the Neutral Zone Trap, right? (Actually, he isn't, but let's not get pedantic for the time being.)

Todd Richards. tried to implement a system that was aggressive and offensive in nature. He made a point not to trap, but the team retained the label. Mike Yeo has a more pragmatic view of the game and will use trap variants from time to time, but generally speaking, his game is about aggressive forechecking, lots of back pressure, and trying to disrupt the other team's flow. To get them off their game.

So why didn't the team score last year? For one thing, they lost key players in droves. Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Mikko Koivu all went down at inopportune times in the season. The Wild also had an atrocious power play percentage, scoring only 15.1% of the time. Fourth worst in the NHL. When Koivu came back, the Wild, strangely enough, got better.

In a highly unscientific study, I determined the Wild scored 2.375 goals per game in the first half of the season, and 1.95 in the second half. That's a drop of 0.4 goals per game. Of course, this piece isn't about how the Wild need to score more goals or how the health of the team impacts its ability to score, otherwise, I'd be geeking out on stats right now.

The point is that there's a reason the Wild didn't score goals last season, and it has nothing to do with the style they play. Which isn't a trap.

There are plenty of other teams that do use a Neutral Zone Trap that Watters can watch if he wants to see how that game is played.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Craig Leipold: Hypocrite or Hero?

There's been some concern going around the hockey blogosphere of late that Craig Leipold is a big, fat hypocrite. Why, you ask? Well I'll tell you!

The setup
Back in April, at the conclusion of the NHL season, Craig Leipold made the statement that NHL teams weren't going to survive long term if they kept paying players exorbitant salaries. Allow me to quote April 11, 2012's Star Tribune article:

We're not making money, and that's one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we're spending right now. [The Wild's] revenues are fine. We're down a little bit in attendance, but we're up in sponsorships, we're up in TV revenue. And so the revenue that we're generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And [the Wild's] biggest expense by far is player salaries.
That's like saying we don't have an eating problem, we have an exercising problem. Not exactly, but I think you see where I'm going with this. The Wild's owner is saying that player salaries have to come down for the long-term success of the League, especially in smaller markets that don't have obsessive fans (read: Phoenix).

The Incident
On July 4 of this year, all hell broke loose. At least in New Jersey, Nashville, and the remaining 26 teams who pursued both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter aggressively. Every fan of the Wild who uses Twitter sat dumbfounded Wednesday morning, sending forth profound missives such as "I ... uh ... I ... holy shit" as the realization set in.

Chuck Fletcher was immediately hailed as the salesman of the century for luring two outstanding players away from the only rinks they've ever known. And Craig Leipold made abundantly clear he was making a statement. Something like: "Don't Mess with The Wild."

Uncle Moneybags wrote two checks totalling $20 million. Think about that. I won't make that in my lifetime, and he wrote checks of that amount as if it were an afterthought.

The Money Shot
Craig Leipold may have cried poor in April, but doesn't it make him a hypocrite to bemoan this lack of cash, and then lay out enough money to buy, I don't know, 40 Ferraris? Well, yes. And no.

For one thing, it may be true from a certain point of view that the League is hemorrhaging money and needs to restructure the CBA to ensure the continued health of the League.  Then again, someone was going to pay Parise and Suter ridiculous amounts of money. Might as well be the Wild, right?

That's kind of a weak argument, but I do think that a lot of the objection comes from the fans of teams who lost out on the Parise/Suter Sweepstakes. They have every right to question what happened, but as long as the current CBA is in place, teams will use whatever loophole they can find.

Also, let's look at the source. Leipold is Gary Bettman's buddy (or so I've heard). Leipold claiming to be in the poorhouse was surely a gambit that Bettman was playing. The Wild were probably the perfect team to do this with: out of the playoffs multiple years, midwest, smallish market. I'm sure if Bettman could go back in time, he'd have tried to get, say, the Predators' owner to get the narrative out there, or maybe the Blues' owner.

I think there's another key point here: Lou Lamoriello was crying foul of long-term contracts that gamed the system, then offered one to Ilya Kovalchuk. For which the League promptly swatted his backside. I think Lou knew exactly what he was doing and was willing to pay a price to make a point.  And the fact is that GMs and owners will do what they can under the rules in place. Don't like how some GMs and owners use the rules to their advantage? Then change the rules. But get player buy-in first.

Personally, I go back and forth on this one. I admit that I'm torn. On the one hand, I don't like it from a big-picture point of view. On the other, I love it as a fan of the Wild.

Whoa Nellie: Wild Not Contenders Yet

by NiNY

Some of you guys need to tap the breaks a little bit.

Is the Wild a better, more competitive team today than it was on July 3rd? Absolutely.

Should a return to the playoffs be a prediction for the 12-13 season (however and whenever it occurs)? Yes, I think that's more than fair.

Are they a Cup contender? Come on.

Now, that doesn't preclude them from being next season's LA Kings or New Jersey Devils because they could.

But it's July 6th; I'm just trying to be reasonable.

The glass half full (GHF) set will point to the 20-7-3 start last season and say that only injuries derailed what could easily have been a playoff berth. So net adding to that roster should put us over the top.

The glass half empty (GHE) people will note that the team was certainly playing over its head until the injuries came along and slapped us all upside the head with the cold, dead fish of reality.

I'm sort of in the middle. I don't think they were a 100 point team last year (as a 20-7-3 record would indicate over a whole season). But I do think they could have been a playoff team after the start they got out to. Afterall, they did set the dubious record of being the team that was #1 overall in the league the latest day in the season that went on to fail to make the playoffs.

But that's really academic.

Which is why applying a "contender" status to the Wild right now is so silly. We aren't even all the way through free agent season. Add in Luongo, Nash, Ryan...there is still the potential for significant redistribution of power across the league.

I like what Fletcher has done wherever he's done stuff to the line up so far. A lot.

And we had a (precious) couple building blocks already in place.

And if he can make a move for another 2nd pair-type defenseman that would be dandy.

But only one team wins the Cup. Which means several really good teams don't win it - sometimes including the 'best' teams.

I just don't think it's reasonable to think we can consider ourselves among the Flyers and Kings and Canucks and Rangers just yet.

The "pinch me" moment for me when all that stuff was going down on Wednesday (we signed Parise and Suter, not sure if you heard that) was when I remembered that I was already excited about the future of the team - because of this great crop of young kids we have ready to make their pro debuts. The other stuff - where the Minnesota Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, for example - was just gravy. Really, really nice, rich, velvety gravy to be sure, but gravy nonetheless.

Seriously think about it: if we'd only signed these five guys this summer, that makes the team better for the next couple years. But what's going to make the team go from better to great over the next several years is the additional influx of all these young bucks we've got pawing at the ground, nostrils flared.

Again, I'm expecting a playoff berth this season.

But, A) that's sort of a backhanded compliment since that puts the Wild in the 53rd percentile of the league and B) while I don't think it's reasonable to think they'll be contenders this year, I also don't think we'll have to wait too long until we can do.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Day After: A New Dawn

by NiNY

If you're not from Minnesota, you just don't know what it's like to have hockey be such a large part of your identity, yet none of your State-produced biggest moments in the sport were at the NHL level. Minnesotans have this binary identity when it comes to hockey.

High school, college, Olympics, yeah we got that. But we've suffered the manifold humiliations of exporting many Sons of Minnesota - most of whom never amount to much at the NHL level, of never winning a Cup when we had team #1, then losing said team #1 (the blame for which, if we're being honest with ourselves, is at least partially our own fault), then watching team #1 move to, of all places, Dallas, then watching team #1 'win' a Stanley Cup in Dallas, then getting a new team #2, then experiencing a thrill in '03 with team #2 but knowing that was just a fluke, then seeing team #2's GM #1 grandly fuck up team #2 before owner #2 finally got wise and deep sixed him, then seeing team #2's GM #2 come in and find that both of his hands and one of his feet are tied behind his back and start the process of rebuilding without being allowed to use the word "rebuilding". Everything pertaining to our NHL-level experience with hockey is painted in some combination of the shades of embarrassment, underachievement and disgrace. That drove us crazy.

For example the first round draft picks for the Wild from 2004-2009 were:

04 AJ Thelen
05 Benoit Pouliot
06 James Sheppard
07 Colton Gillies
08 Tyler Cuma*
09 Nick Leddy**

*Still with the organization, jury's still out
**Traded by Fletcher in the unfortunate Cam Barker fiasco

You want to understand Wild fan angst, there it is.

But, as Minnesotans or fans of Minnesota teams, our misery is such that it's not just the local pro hockey team that haunts us. It's all the goddamn teams! The Twins have provided the best experience. But that experience appears to have peaked in 1991. There's a team called the Timberwolves that plays bouncy ball that showed a bit of a pulse last year from what I've gathered and might be on the upswing. Might. And don't even get me started on the Vikings. Only Bills fans get to talk to me about how shitty their experience with their team has been.

We don't just expect the worst, we know it's coming - because it always does. Every win is (or should be unless your powers of self-delusion are Biblical in magnitude) mitigated by the certainty that the team will figure out a way to undo the benefits and good feelings from that win sooner or later, and probably sooner.

It took my New York team-rooting wife years to understand my sports gestalt. When you've grown up with the Yankees and Rangers free agency is like the old joke about being on a 'seafood diet': when you see desireable free agents, you sign them. Same thing, at least in the Yankees' case, with championships. Not so, Minnesota teams fans.

Legitimacy in hockey, in other words, is something Minnesotans have been craving forever. Herb Brooks and the '80 team is great and a treasure and all that. But that's not purely a Minnesota accomplishment. We needed some kids from the likes of Massachusetts, for example, to make that happen.

Imagine if one of the things you prided yourself on wasn't recognized on that thing's biggest stage? You get cast as a quaint little addendum to that thing's living history. A footnote. A Vice President. That smarts. Why hasn't Minnesota - as natural a choice for a Winter Classic as there is in America - gotten one yet? The answer, we're told: not enough star power. Ouch. It's not enough that Canadians consider us Canada-south in terms of hockey passion, knowledge and participation? We don't have enough fair-haired, made-for-TV boys on the squad to warrant consideration?

So you'll forgive Wild fans if we've had a chip on our shoulders when it comes to hockey. We know more about the game than you do, but we never mattered on the scene enough to show it off.

Chuck Fletcher, I am reliably informed, is not from Minnesota.

As mentioned above, he inherited one big pile of dog shit of a team, and he should be able to look himself in the mirror today and honestly say that he's done one hell of a job rebuilding it.

He left a franchise that was given Sidney Crosby on a silver platter, and came to a franchise that had indelibly scorched the earth between the best player they had and a new contract for his continued services.

Learning that the stunning signings yesterday fit into the plan on which Fletcher sold Mikko Koivu when he re-signed two years ago(!) was mind-blowing to me. Foresight alone indicates a stark departure from his predecessor. But then the chutzpah (and, obviously some luck) to pull it off as well? Eat your heart out, Riser.

Because part of the fabric of being a Minnesota sports fan is this maxim: marquee free agents do not sign with your teams, at least not when their careers are still waxing. Brett Favre, yeah, but that was well into his wane and after he'd exposed himself in a text message, to boot.

So yesterday was about redemption and justification all in one. Think about that. Wild fans had been convicted of murder and spent time in prison, and yesterday our conviction got overturned and we got let out of the clink.

This sounds like I'm piling on. Like it can't possibly represent this much angst. But it does. And who knows, maybe they lock themselves out and lose the season. Maybe both players break their legs getting out of a golf cart. Maybe one of them finds Jesus and gives up hockey to go spread the good word. We don't know what the future will bring.

But, regardless, yesterday was a watershed moment in the psyche of Minnesota sports fans.

We who love this game of hockey so much, invest so much time and resources into the proliferation of it over the entire course of our lives, and have felt so repressed because even Corpus Christi, TX has its Brian Leetch, but all we had was the personal injury law firm of Parrish, Broten and Richards. Hey Parise said it himself: every kid who grows up in Minnesota wants to play for the Wild. It's different when it's some journeyman fourth liner saying that. But, when it's The Marquee Forward in an entire year's free agent class?

Now, all of North America knows about Minnesota and hockey.

And it was also a coming out party for Wild fans. We no longer have such a gaping hole in our first round pick history, if you think about these two players from the '03 draft's first round making up for a Thelen and a Sheppard, for example. Between Mikko and Zach and Dany and Mikael and Devin, we've got the makings of a legit first line. Roll that one around in your brains, Wild fans. Yeah our defense is still sub-par, but at least we have a clear #1 now - and a guy in Ryan who would be a #1 on many teams in the league - not just a guy who would only be a #1 with the Wild, the Isles and the Blue Jackets anymore. We have a general manager who, since the season ended, has upgraded all four of our forward lines and our top pairing on defense. Literally no other team in the NHL can say that.

Now all of North America knows about the Wild.

To the rest of you Minnesotans. You Vikes and T'Wolves and Twinkies fans who know about hockey, but for whom the Wild was just the team that plays over in St. Paul, and you go to Gopher or Bulldog or Huskies, or high school games for your hockey fix. It's okay to be a fan of the NHL. Maybe you got burned by the North Stars. Or maybe you've only ever needed high school hockey. Either way. We've got some great young debutantes, a good core of 3rd and 4th liners, and now, finally, some star power.

Hockey is what we do. Texas has its football. California has its baseball. Minnesota does hockey. Does it well enough to be proud of it. The Wild now, finally, embodies that pride.

It's a great day for hockey.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fletcher Proving Deft at PR Game, Too

by NiNY

Chuck Fletcher - Manager of Expectations.

You know, that just sounds wrong.

Fuckin' Riser.

Hey, Fletcher doesn't have to have it printed on his business cards in order that it be an apt description.

We let the likes of Latendresse and Lundin walk, and with nary a whisper of dissent from the Wild faithful yesterday. We all "get" why Latendresse walked (Gui being at least partially responsible for why we swallowed his leaving so easily) and yet, when we saw the money he got from Ottawa, there could have been some "aww, come on Fletch. We could have paid him THAT!" While that's true, if a guy doesn't want to sign here, he doesn't want to sign here. And, in any event, I don't think I saw any whining of consequence about losing Latendresse - and his considerable potential.

Lundin, well, sadly Lundin is the Cal Coolidge of the Minnesota Wild. Barely healthy when he was here, and didn't really distinguish himself when he actually played. Did he actually leave? How would we know?

Hards back in the fold at a reasonable, tradeable $1.9M for 2 years is another solid if unspectacular move. And Kassian at $575k is equally non-constraining.

And Veilleux, sweet, simple, benign l'il Stevie Veilleux. A two-way deal for $600k is the veteran pro hockey player contract equivalent of me winning $5 on a scratch-off. In a word: inconsequential. In five words: not going to hurt us.

You know what else Fletcher didn't do yesterday? He didn't give Paul Gaustad $3.25M for 4 years to play ice hockey. He didn't give Dennis Wideman $5.25M for 5 years to do anything.

I like the Konopka signing. We've never had a tough guy who could garner a normal shift. And God knows we've had our share of tough guys. And Mitchell's a fairly benign player in his own right, but he takes pressure off the kids, should they fail to prove ready for the show this fall.

So, while the big fish are still out there swimming around, Fletcher was wily enough to land some smaller fish, bolstering the optics among the faithful that he is in fact awake and driving the ship.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fletch's Plan

I don't know if this is coincidence or a concerted effort on Chuck Fletcher's part here, but I'd like to point out a few things. First off:

Matt Cullen - Stanley Cup 2006
Dany Heatley - Stanley Cup Finalist 2007
Darroll Powe - Stanley Cup Finalist 2010

Heck, you could even include the following:
Steven Kampfer - in the room for Boston's run in 2011
Nick Johnson - part of the Penguin's organization that went to three Stanley Cup Finals in three years
Zack Phillips - 2 President's Cups, 1 Memorial Cup
Charlie Coyle - President's Cup

Seven players that Fletcher has acquired that have experience in the playoffs, winning championships, and playing in the pressure games. You can argue that they may not have performed to your expectations in those big situations, but they've been there and know about it. At the very least, guys like Kampfer and Johnson have heard the impassioned speeches, and have been in the presence of the big time players who got there.

And the other thing:

Johan Larsson and Mathew Dumba have both captained their nation's junior team in an international competition. This is also key. Even a guy like Zack Phillips has captain material written all over him. When I saw him play in the Wild's development scrimmages in 2011, he was the first guy on the ice and the last one off. Always talking to his teammates, patting their backsides, and generally, being a leader on the ice.

Big game experience and leadership are things you can't teach. No team can have too much, unless the leader is of the asshole variety, in which case, you don't want him in your locker room. And although only one guy wears the 'C' on his jersey, real leaders don't need another trinket on their uniform. Leaders get that. They pass it on, and they become a role model for younger kids on their teams.

Now, I'm sure you could go down the list of any NHL team and find these traits on a good number of players. But compared to, say, Doug Risebrough, it appears that Fletcher has gone out of his way to acquire players who have this type of experience and leadership potential. Dougie's biggest trade brought in Pavol Demitra. Great player, BFF of Marian Groinerik. But he whined when he had to play Jacques Lemaire's system, groused about playing center instead of wing. In contrast, Fletcher dumped his mistake (Marty Havlat) an got a guy who, although he's asked out of two cities, is according to Mike Russo, a guy you want in your locker room (Dany Heatley)


It may be a coincidence or a concerted plan. Either way, I like it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Pressure Cooker

There has been some discussion over at The SHP the past few days as we salivate over the possibility of acquiring a big name player this summer. As we learned last year and Russo confirmed recently, "Fletcher loves making draft-day deals." There's one big fish out there that every NHL GM is not naming, but for whom is secretly selecting the proper bait. Parise may not even make it to free agency, and Rick Nash could likely end up far far away from Columbus or Minnesota.

But this raises the question of how a Parise, a Nash, or any other possible big name acquisition that Fletcher is working on, would impact the locker room. Fletcher has indicated that he will be pursuing a player in free agency, and failing that, on the trade market. The two biggest needs are a legit shutdown defenseman and another scoring forward. Since the Wild are set at center, another winger is a good idea.

The names being tossed about, namely Rick Nash and Zach Parise, are both captains and both are left wingers. And both already earn or are set to earn, a huge payday. And here's the nub of the chatter: Will a big name acquisition take any of the pressure off Koivu to be the Wild's big stud?

Yes.
This position is typified with the mentality that a guy with a bigger payday will put the focus of Wild fans on someone not wearing #9. The new savior, whether a hometown boy whose dad played for the Team That Shall Not Be Named, or a former savior of another recent expansion team, or someone who we aren't even aware of, it's that guy that Wild fans will have the high expectations placed upon, and therefore can expect to have more pressure on.

No.
This position believes that no matter who plays for the Wild, it still all begins with the captain. Regardless of who else plays on the team, the pressure is still on #9 to set the tone for the team and do all the little things that make the team win.

I think it's a flawed question. I think that most of the pressure on Mikko Koivu comes from Mikko Koivu himself. And I think that no amount of external influence will put additional pressure on him, or allay any of the pressure on him. The pressure doesn't come from the media or the fans, specifically, but from himself. As someone at the SHP said, "Koivu is his own worst enemy."

So it's not necessarily an issue of a Parise or a Nash, or any other big name player coming in with a paycheck that makes Koivu blush, but the impetus to take the pressure of Koivu needs to come from within. And I think a few factors will influence how Koivu begins to deal with the pressure:

Coaching
I actually believe that Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher are working with Koivu on this. But it's still important for Yeo and the rest of the coaching staff to continue to impress upon Koivu that he doesn't have to do everything. I know we tell our kids that having fun is the most important thing, but at this level, it's wins that count, not making sure all the players are getting the requisite number of touches. Furthermore, I think it might help for Koivu to get in touch with his old mentor Jacques Lemaire and get some perspective on this.

Big Brother
When the elder Koivu retires, it will open an opportunity for the brothers to get a little closer and (hopefully) Saku can become a new mentor on how to handle the pressure. Remember that Saku was captain in the NHL's most insane city, Montreal. I don't think he could take a shower without a Habs beat reporter asking him about it. There's no fishbowl more intense than that one, and Saku is the one who can tell him what real pressure to perform is like. And it's not like they'll be BFFs, but a few pointers from big bro could do wonders.

Finland
The Finland National team has been Saku's baby for a while now, but soon it will belong to Mikko. I'm not saying the international stage is any small taters (precious), but it doesn't come with a multimillion dollar paycheck, either. Some time captaining the Finland National team could be very good conditioning for Koivu.

Overall, Koivu is as intense as they come. That intensity is great on a team that needs a kick in the ass every now and then, and he's a "quiet" leader. Only Koivu controls the release valve on Koivu. Maybe another stud on this team will help him to realize that he's not the one who has to do it all, or maybe the pressure will only get amped up with another high-price-tag player in the locker room, but it's incumbent on the organization to ensure that Captain Grumpy has the moral and emotional support to let Mikko know that it's ok to just do his job and let someone else shoulder the load every now and then.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Another Big Summer For Fletcher

by NiNY

Last summer was huge for Chuck Fletcher, vis-a-vis the Minnesota Wild. He was faced with an untenable head coach, flagging interest from a once-passionate fan base, a dreary product on the ice, and infamously bare cupboards.

So what did he do? He went out and fired his head coach, relaced him with a rookie, improved the on-ice product with two significant trades and continued re-stocking those cupboards with more enticing picks. The result of all that was a re-enthused fan base.

So re-enthused, in fact, that it lay like kindling needing only a hot first half of the season to ignite into a full-on fire.

Which injuries and poor play quickly pissed all over, but who's counting?

The question now for Fletcher is: can he do it again? And does he need to?

I think the fanbase is in a different place than last year. I think it's more ready and willing to accept a growing year if for no other reason than it's time to get a look at some of the kids. I think the organization has done a good job of priming the pump for us with respect to the kids, the most recent example of which was the Granlund #64 sweaters already in the team stores when uber prospect Mikael Granlund signed last week. My boss, the sage old advertising guy, says marketing is "creating the environment for the sale." Well maybe the Wild has finally learned that lesson, hard on the back of the LaPanta fiasco, though it may be. If nothing else, judging by the dull roar that got kicked up over the LaPanta gong show, Wild fans' passion is still there.

This summer's to-do list for Fletcher is simpler than last summer. With the fanbase's expectations already better-managed for mediocrity this year, whether or not they realize it ("the kids are coming! That's exciting! Nevermind that youth-laden teams don't do that well most of the time....this Granlund kid is the bomb dot com!"), his sell job isn't starting from zero like last year. He doesn't have a coach to fire and a new coach to sell. The on-ice product - even without upgrades - has a reasonable chance of being better simply because the odds of such an amazing streak of injuries happening two seasons in a row have to be relatively small. And, when you add in the known quantities (Granlund) that have already been added to the roster, well we know the offense is looking up.

The big tasks this summer seem to be getting in the bread line for Parise and Suter and drafting well. But, unlike last summer, this draft feels like it has less urgency to it. In the first place there are a lot of defensemen around where we project to be picking. Defensemen tend to take more time to develop than forwards. So, should we take a blueliner, you know it will be some time before we see them in St. Paul. In the second place, there are all those kids to deal with. Our appetite, so to speak, for youth about whom to become excited, has been satisfied to an extent. Our frustration at what used to be the gaping hole in our prospect development ranks having been mollified.

I'm really looking forward to the prospect camp and Traverse City.

So, having stripped out the rest of the jobs on the list, Fletcher's big issue this summer is navigating UFA season. I think - while admitting I'm totally ignorant as to the actual goings on - that the Wild will be a tough sell to a Parise. There are certainly teams out there with cap space that can offer a chance to get back to the finals sooner than the Wild can. You have to assume that every offer he seriously considers will be materially similar from a dollars/term perspective. So what's the big differentiator that the Wild brings to the table? That he has a house in Minny? That's pretty thin. This is not to say that I don't hope he signs with the Wild - I do.

I'm curious about Suter, though. My colleague Mike just opined that we need a 25-minute-type defenseman, and I agree with him - even more than I think we need a big forward at this moment. We've had a couple experiences with paying UFA money for offensive defensemen, and they haven't really worked out, unless you're talking about working out in the sense that it brought the fanbase a couple whipping boys to, uh, whip.

We would give him a #1 defenseman role, minutes anywhere he could want them, and Fletcher might be able to sell that the Wild is fairly close to where the Predators are right now - and obviously closer yet with Suter in Iron Range Red instead of baby shit yellow and navy.

So, it's Chuck's season again (would be nice if there were a buffer between the regular season and Chuck's season; I think that's called "the playoffs" in other markets, but...) and while he doesn't have as monumental a job to do this summer as he did last summer, it's still a big one for him and for this team.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wants and Needs

There's a lot that Wild fans might want for next season. A lot that Craig Leipold might want as well. And I think that many of those wants align with each other. But what about what the Wild really need? That's another thing all together.

Want #1: More scoring.
Duh. Of course we want more scoring. More scoring means more wins. More wins means playoffs. Playoffs means a chance. Look at LA right now: riding a hot goalie into the Stanley Cup Finals. The fans want more scoring, and Craig Leipold sure as hell wants more scoring, because that means a more exciting product on the ice, and therefore derrieres in seats. But do we really need more scoring? I don't think so. More on that later.

Want #2: A defensive stalwart.
Nick Schultz was the Wild's Stay-at-Home mensch and de-facto shutdown defenseman. But in the grand scheme of things, he certainly wasn't a top pair D-man, just the best we had. Brent Burns was (and still is) a top pair defenseman, and made Schultz look a lot better than he really is. The reason Schultz/Burns worked so well for the Wild is that Schultz was the safe player and Burns was the risk-taker. Schultz knew he could pass to Burns to move the puck out, and Burns knew that Schultz had his back. But now, no Burns, and Schultz was dealt for Tom Gilbert.

Gilbert is the puck-moving defenseman that Zidlicky was supposed to be, and a minute muncher that only Marty Skoula could dream of when he played for Jacques Lemaire. So a defenseman that can be steady and shutdown the opposition is something that Wild fans are thinking of when they dream of Ryan Suter in Iron Range Red. Marco Scandella is getting there, but he's young, and had a stint in Houston to recharge the  confidence in his game. An older mentor to teach him that part of the game. Stoner is more of a physical defenseman rather than a prototypical shutdown man. And Jonas Brodin might crack the lineup, but from everything I've read, he's not a physical shutdown guy. Yet. So do we really need a defensive D-man? I think so.

Want #3: The kids.
The things I've seen Wild fans obsess more about are those two things, but seeing the kids next year is another big thing that we pine for. Youth and excitement are tied up in the so-called Magnificent Seven (Brodin, Brett Bulmer, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Zach Phillips, & Jason Zucker) Do we really need them? Hell yes. New blood is one thing this team is desperately in need of. That's why I'm such a fan of Chuck Fletcher's no-player-is-untouchable mantra this past season. Good on him.

BUT...
Need #1: Defenseman.
As I said above, an older defenseman who's not afraid to go against opposing top-line forwards would be a huge boon to the Wild. The younger pieces are there in Stoner and Scandella. And who knows where Tyler Cuma is in the mix. Until I see him regularly in St Paul, I'm not inclined to pin any hopes on him. A veteran who's been there and done that and can teach the kids how to shut down the opposition is sorely needed.

Need #2: The Kids.
To repeat, the Wild badly need an infusion of new blood. Coyle and Phillips just made a run for the Memorial Cup, bringing with them playoff experience that not many Wild players have. Their youthful exuberance should also help the Wild veterans feel young again and inspired to not only teach what they can, but also push themselves to keep up at times. Could we see a rejuvenated Matt Cullen? We can hope.

Need #3: Coaching.
No, I'm not calling for Mike Yeo's head here. I love Mike Yeo, if for no other reason than his birthday is three days before mine, so I can still cling to the dream that I'm younger than an NHL head coach. Yeo had a masterful command of this team until the wheels fell off and he lost three top-six forwards, and was forced to press guys like Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck onto the top two lines. Shutting down the Wild then became a turkey shoot. Shut down Heatley and Setoguchi and you contained the Wild.

The Wild had the fourth worst power play in the League, and took the fewest shots of any team in the NHL. Both of these are inexcusable. Acquiring Heatley and Setoguchi was supposed to address this, and generally speaking, both held up their end of the bargain - neither had career highs nor career lows in shots - in an effort to get the Wild to have a "shooter's mentality." That said, the responsibility for the next step is on the coaching staff.

Just as Chuck Fletcher brought in Rick Wilson to help Todd Richards, I think that the Wild really ought to consider a coach whose job it is to work with the players on shooting and other offensive skills. Yes, another forward who can score would be a nice luxury, but Chuck has done what he can with the roster. The responsibility also lies at the feet of the coaching staff. And as much as I love Darby "Horseface" Hendrickson, is he really the best guy to be coaching about offensive skills and shooting? What's Mike Modano doing these days? (Oh yes I did.)

THEREFORE...
There's a difference between what we as fans want and what the Wild as a team needs. The key needs are a defenseman's defenseman, the kids to arrive ready and willing to play their asses off, and more emphasis on the coaching side to increase shooting and scoring.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lapanta Not Acceptable As PBP

By NiNY

I live in NY. I am dependent on the NHL Center Ice package for 98% of my exposure to the Wild's games. That means that I've suffered through a string of inferior play-by-play guys on the Wild's home broadcast for years. I'm sure Dan Terhaar's a nice guy, but he was a terrible PBP guy. Way too Wild-centric, prone to lobby for/whine about penalties instead of calling the game, actual play-by-play that was behind the play (read: was bad at his job) and would often either call the wrong name or didn't know the numbers/names of players. Not good.

Now Russo's saying the Wild has eschewed strong national interest (read: outside the FSNorth "talent pool") and is zeroing in on Anthony Lapanta as the new PBP guy.

If anything, that's a step backwards from Terhaar.

I've heard Lapanta call Gopher games. Here's how I'd run down Lapanta and Terhaar side-by-side:

Wild-centric (homer)
Terhaar 7 out of 10
Lapanta 9 out of 10

Lobbying for penalties against opposition team/whine about penalties against home team
Terhaar 8 out of 10
Lapanta 8 out of 10

Actual play-by-play behind the play
Terhaar 8 out of 10
Lapanta 9 out of 10

Misidentification of players
Terhaar 6 out of 10
Lapanta 6 out of 10

It absolutely astounds me that the Wild thinks Lapanta is good enough. It smacks of an unwillingness to take a chance, to reach for the golden ring. And that's ridiculous.

This is a franchise that blows a high amount of sunshine up fans' butts. State of hockey and all that. Well treat us like grown ups and endeavor to deliver a first class product, then.

What's really galling is the "strong national interest" part. If that wasn't the case (read: no one else wanted the job) then fine. What are you going to do? But, since there is, I simply find it impossible to believe there wasn't a single candidate who is better than Lapanta - if for no other reason than Lapanta is terrible.

The Wild doesn't have the worst TV team in the league. Terhaar isn't even the worst PBP guy (John Kelly, Ken Daniels, any of the schleps who usually call Canucks games not named Hughson come immediately to mind). But Wild fans deserve better than the tallest midget.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Player Safety, again?

I've gone on at length about player safety, and I think that I've made my case pretty clear that Brendan Shanahan appears to be the bastard child of Collie Campbell. Suspensions are all over the place. In this post-season alone, we've learned that:
  • Elbowing a star player, and having no suspension history will get you three games off
  • Viciously injuring a relative nobody (and having no suspension history) will get you a two game suspension
  • Viciously attacking a relative nobody, and having a history of doing exactly that, will get you a one game suspension
  • Charging and deliberately targeting opponents in the head twice in one shift will get you a one game suspension.
  • Attempting to decapitate your opponent will get you four games off (the only reason Asham didn't decapitate Schenn is that Schenn's chest pads got in the way).
I will say that at least Shanny got it right with his 25 game suspension of Raffi Torres. Well, kind of. Once again, I think that the player he hit being a star player had an influence on the length of the suspension. Torres has a long history of high hits and elbowing players in the head. He's a dirty player, and I can't help but wonder if he shared a womb with Matt Cooke. He deserves 25 games for his history alone, but I have to ask: If Torres had hit Jeremy Morin and Morin skated away from the hit, would Torres have earned 25 games for a clearly dirty hit? The small black jaded part of my soul seriously doubts it.

I have a better idea. These suspensions have been all over the board. There is no rhyme or reason to them, although Shanahan tries to explain the rationale in these cases. Shanahan has explained that when he gets something to review, he sends it around, and then he discusses it with the committee. The deliberations are not public, and the members are not known (at least at my level of interweb searching). It makes you wonder if pressure is applied from above, in the form of Gary Bettman stepping in and "advising" Shanny as to what to do, and it makes me personally wonder if Shanny is truly acting on his own or simply as Bettman's stooge. (Please, Shanny, don't hurt me.)

I think that the system should be changed. I would like to see a three member panel adjudicate suspensions in the NHL. One member would be assigned by the NHL, one would be assigned by the NHLPA, and the third would be assigned by a judge, preferably one that is known by the NHL, perhaps one who routinely decides arbitration cases. (I'll admit right now that my understanding of such matters is limited.)

This three member panel would then hear cases in a manner similar to court cases:
  • Each team would send a representative to the hearing.
  • The player in question would have the option to be present in person, by phone, or not at all
  • Each team's representative would make his or her case as to whether there is a suspendable action, and the severity of any suspendable action.
  • The panel would hear the arguments, and perhaps from witnesses in helping to make a determination
  • After hearing arguments, the panel would deliberate and render a verdict. The player in question would have to be present, either in person or via teleconference. 
I like a system like this because while at first there may be as much chaos as there is now, after a few cases, the panel would have established a system of precedents that would be the benchmark for future deliberations. It would also allow teams to make their cases. For the Wild, they'd be able to make their case for the Bogosian hit on Bouchard (arguable) or the Tanguay hit on Spurgeon (dirty to anyone outside of Calgary city limits).

My system is not perfect. I'm sure someone who's a lot smarter than me (like, anyone) could punch holes in my plan a mile wide. But I'd take a system like this any day of the week.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Post-Mortem

by NiNY

Frustrating season. Few positives, several negatives, plenty of blahs.

In the end, the result was what a lot of us thought it would be as the season started: missing the playoffs, growth year.

But that damn run in November and December...I was taken in by it, against my better judgement, and I paid for my foolishness. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Some of the positives include:

*Chuck Fletcher. I know he didn't deliver the depth to get us through the ghastly run of injuries. But who really can withstand losing four of your top six forwards for any length of time, much less a protracted number of games? I continue to think Chuck is moving the organization in the right direction.

*Mike Yeo. For a grade, I'd give him an incomplete. But the injuries were not his fault. I like and respect that not once did I hear him blame or even allude to the injuries as an excuse/explanation for the losing. The same coach that was at the helm when the team went down in flames was leading the charge when the team was tops in the league. We're going to have a lot of kids next season, and in his one full season as a coach, Yeo showed he can work with kids.

*Craig Leipold. He has said he's a hands-off owner, and this year he really proved it. At least publically, he never stepped on Fletcher's, Yeo's or the team's toes. Now it's likely no coincidence that the team will probably not be at the cap (at least going into) next season. But if ever there was a season for Leipold to get frustrated and go all Ed Snider on Fletcher, this was it.

*Kyle Brodziak. For the time being I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt that his career-best points didn't happen solely because it was a contract year for him. Realistically, he's a third line forward - and a good one at that. On a team with either reasonable depth, reasonable luck with injuries or - God forbid - both, he isn't forced into top or even second line minutes. But you need Brodziaks on the third line.

*Dany Heatley. I'll be honest, when we got him I didn't think he'd play all 82 and lead the team in goals (82-24-29-53). In a season marred by inconsistency, he was a constant. I'm sure he wished he could have provided more than 24, but he was rarely on a line with the same two forwards for more than a couple games at a time. He may not be the elite sniper that he used to be, but he was our biggest weapon this season and you can't ask for more than that. On the other hand, the Sharks could (care to guess to whom the 39-7-20-27 belongs?).

*Organizational x-ray. Okay, so it's not much, but Fletcher now knows a lot more about the ceiling for a lot more of his players than he did in October. For better or for worse, he was a better pulse on the depth chart for the injuries this season. Particularly with so much up in the air this summer (including the resolution of the CBA negotiations), I imagine he'd rather know what to expect of a Chad Rau than not.

Negatives:

*Organizational x-ray. The downside to knowing what you've got is seeing the vacuum it represents. This team continues to be remarkably shallow on top end talent. Yes, the kids are coming and there could very well be some top end talent there. But put the best few of them in the lineup for next season and the Wild's still only a Mikko injury away from looking like Edmonton. The Wild simply won't materially move up the standings without a significant infusion of skill.

*Defense. While individual components (Spurgeon) were good, this is a corps that is both inexperienced and without distinction. Lots of third pairing guys, really no top pairing guy. Gilbert is Schultz defensively (that's not a compliment), and essentially looked like this season's Zidlicky offensively (also not a compliment.) Every player is capable of flashes of brilliance. Gilbert, and his cap hit, needs to perform at a higher level than it appears he's capable of in order to make me happy. And, if he can't, then we're back to having players making top pairing/line money with second pairing/line skill (see Koivu, Mikko.) That simply perpetuates the cycle of mediocrity.

*No help from the draft. Thin at the top to begin with, and we're essentially picking outside the money picks again, the Wild will not get that home run player in the draft this year. Again. I look forward to the day when we don't have to talk about the Wild's void where all its first round picks should be. I fear I'll see the Vikings win a Super Bowl before that day comes.

Looking ahead, this is arguably the most important off-season in team history. Fletcher needs to navigate the draft, be the guy who signs the big-name UFAs - above all other guys, and maybe pull off a trade or two. He has to make big decisions about several key, or potentially key (Latendresse, Harding/Hackett) players, and re-enthuse a fan base.

Fletcher did a great job enthusing the fan base last summer. But, fool me once....

It starts on April 10th with the draft lottery, even though there's little chance of the Wild winning it.

Should be an interesting summer. Fletcher better hope it is, anyway.

Monday, April 2, 2012

So what's the big deal?

The Wild are winning. Three in a row won in OT or Shootout. Last night I witnessed a Twitter argument about whether the Wild should be tanking right now. I sat in disbelief as I witnessed several people claim that the Wild would be better off with a loss the last few games. Their logic essentially boiled down to the fact that a higher pick is more of a sure thing for a great player than a later pick.

I don't buy it. Well. Fine. I agree that generally speaking, a higher pick is more of a sure thing. But I don't buy that tanking is the right thing to do under the circumstances.

It would be easy to look back in hindsight and say that the Wild should have taken Giroux or Varlamov in 2006, Kopitar in 2005, or anyone not named AJ Thelen in 2004. In many cases with the Wild, one wonders if a player had been developed more effectively, that Pouliot, Sheppard, or Gillies would have played up to the potential we were hoping for when Doug F'n Risebrough drafted those guys. So, that's not a fair argument to make.

I think this year comes down to the depth of the draft in the 3-10 picks: Filip Forsberg, Mathew Dumba, Alex Galchenyuk, Jacob Trouba, Ryan Murray, Radek Faska, Morgan Reilly, and Griffin Reinhart are all players that I think could make an impact on this team in the next year or two. There are also surprises in the draft. You never know if a team will have a raging boner for a certain player ranked much lower and take him with an early pick (cf Mike "I'll cut ya, bitch" Milbury drafting Rick DiPietro first overall, dropping Gaborik into the Wild's hands.)

I'm not saying that someone will do something crazy, but you never know when Dave Nonis will trade his undead Swedes to Edmonton for Darcy Hordichuk, Theo Peckham, the ghost of Paul Coffey and the Grease's first pick so they can draft Alex Burrow's sister. Again, it's not something you can hang your hat on, but that's why they have the draft.

There's also the argument to be made that by winning now, the Wild are showing that they have a sense of pride, they have the heart and the stones to play hard when it doesn't matter. That can help in going after free agents. And if they can get a couple lines clicking like the Heatley-Koivu-Setoguchi line were clicking last night, that will only help to cement the relationships that, on the ice, will bear fruit next season. And while I'd never expect an NHL player, much less Mr. Intensity himself, Mikko Koivu, to put less effort in after closing out a season by losing their last 10 games, there is that niggling feeling that going out on a high note can help players feel better about their situation. Happy players attract other happy players, so going out on a positive note can also help to sow the seeds the Wild can reap in October.

Whatever happens, I think the Wild are in a good position to do a lot more winning next year, and hopefully they'll do most of it before they're eliminated from the playoff race.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Let's talk Draft, Wild-Style

The Wild have been bopping around between 3rd and 6th worst in the NHL for a week or so, making Wild bloggers salivate at the possibility of picking first for the first time in team history. That would be awesome, but unlikely.


I wish I had the resources to go to a bunch of CHL games each year to scout players, visit the Elitserien , SM-liiga, KHL, Czech Extraliga, Slovak Extraliga and all their lower level leagues. It would be fun. But I don't. I'm not a scout; I'm a fan. But I like to think that I know my Wild. And I have an opinion. (Which I'm not afraid to share, even knowing someone else might rip it to shreds.)

So let's handicap the upcoming NHL draft with the Wild in mind. My methodology is to use the rankings and writeups as they appear on TSN.ca. While they are in bed with ESPN, I'm willing to trust what they say. I'm taking what they say on face value, and assuming all information is accurate. If you know something I don't know, by all means, please let me know.

You can read the TSN.ca player descriptions, so I'll just focus on what I think the Wild should be looking at and how I would rank the players in the top 10 and why.

  1. Nail Yakupov (TSN Ranking: 1) Aside from all the fun you can have with Yakupov's first name, from everything I've read, this kid is the second coming of Alex Ovechkin. Which is odd considering AO is still around. A bit smaller that AO, but great skating, great shot, and not afraid of bigger players.
  2. Mikhail Grigorenko (TSN Ranking: 2) Another second coming. This time of Evgeny Malkin. Seems like the type who's got some offensive skills, but questions about his desire and consistency.
  3. Filip Forsberg (TSN Ranking: 4) A power forward in the making. He is big and after filling out, he'll be a headache for opposing D-men. Not the best skater, though. If we let him play in Sweden for a few years before he comes over, he could be ready to jump straight to the NHL.
  4. Mathew Dumba (TSN Ranking: 5) Dumba is an offensive defenseman and described as one of the best shooters in the draft. Shooting is a weakness for us. He's a risk taker. I'm fine with that. He's a bit small at 6-0, 180.
  5. Alex Galchenyuk (TSN Ranking: 7) This guy is the sleeper, IMO. If Dumba and Forsberg are gone by the time we pick, I'd take Galchenyuk. He missed an entire year with an ACL injury, so there's a big risk. But the payoff would be tremendous: His upside is as a 1-2 NHL center. He's big (6-1, 200), has soft hands and can shoot.
  6. Jacob Trouba (TSN Ranking: 6) He's mean and can skate well. Big too.
  7. Ryan Murray (TSN Ranking: 3) Steady in our own end has not traditionally been our problem. But you wonder if Chuck Fletcher traded Nick Schultz because he knew he'd get a good shot at getting Ryan Murray?
  8. Radek Faska (TSN Ranking: 10) Another power forward type.
  9. Morgan Reilly (TSN Ranking: 8) Puck-rushing defenseman. Could be useful.
  10. Griffin Reinhart (TSN Ranking: 9) Offensive defenseman who doesn't use his size. Sound like someone else we know?

Obviously this is a defense-laden draft. So many good choices. I wish the Wild could have three of these guys. Forsberg, Dumba, and Galchenyuk are the ones I'll be watching with the most interest at the Draft.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wild Fan Zen, Jesuit Style

by NiNY

The end justifies the means.

Show me a Wild fan who says he enjoys it when the Wild loses and I'll show you a Wild fan who just earned my scorn and ridicule.

It's not about enjoying the loss. Ever.

I think Minnesotans tend to settle - especially when it comes to their sports teams - too much, and compulsively, anyway. I did my time in the Big Apple and I saw how hard and uncompromising those fans are. And that changed me. I went from the pie-eyed Minnesotan going "My goodness, did they just boo their own player?!" To what I like to think of as a proper NYC fan "YOU CALL THAT A CLEARING ATTEMPT YOU BUM? DIE OF EBOLA, LOSER!" during the six years I was in the NYC metro area.

Now I've mellowed a bit from that extreme, but there's no way I'm going back to the "Aw shucks, too bad. We'll get 'em next year." of my youth.

That said, the Wild. Ho-boy the Wild.

Look, I understand the trials we've been through these eleven seasons. I've been through them with you. This has been a hard team of which to be a fan. Few highs and lots of lows.

I have had to remind myself "This is better than no NHL hockey." many times over the years.

They've hardened us, even if our crusty layer as Minnesotans is still thinner and more brittle than that of true New Yorkers.

Still, no way I can get behind enjoying a loss. Even during this nightmare of a season, there's nothing fun about losing.

So what's an embattled Wild fan to do? Drink heavily? Check. But that gets old, not to mention expensive.

This year is affording Wild fans a unique experience in March and April: hope. For a lottery pick.

Lemaire was too good. Richards, hell I still don't know if he was better than we give him credit for, just lucky, or both. But even Todd got his teams to finish just out of the money picks. Now it's Yeo's turn. And HE is finally delivering the goods.

No, this is not bashing Yeo time. I can't sit here and judge Yeo on his job this season given the incredible injuries and the roster he's had to work with as a result. Mike gets a pass from me for this season.

But the fact remains: Wild fans have something to be excited about at the end of the season, and it's been a while since that's happened in any form.

Tonight was a perfect example. The Islanders, Maple Leafs and Canadiens all played as well as the Wild. Toronto lost (the bastards) but the Canadiens got one point and the Islanders got two. The Wild did their part, losing in regulation to the Rangers. I found myself watching the shootout in Florida, then literally on the edge of my seat as time wound down in the Wild game.

Seriously, when's the last time you were on the edge of your seat during a Wild game in the last week of March? It was the last time they made the playoffs for me. That was like 1996, right?

I don't *enjoy* the losing. But it's about the loss representing a means to an end here. You don't have to enjoy it to see and appreciate the benefit.

I admit it's a fine line. And I'd rather have a reason to watch than not, no matter how macabre.

I appreciate and am at peace with the loss, even if I didn't enjoy it.

The Anger Games

A post on GTRCMBSHP  by jimlove got me thinking the other day:

 I was at the game last night and started talking to a guy standing next to me about my Koivu jersey. He asked why I got it and told him I had traded it because it was a blank jersey autographed by John Scott (who was no longer with the team at time that I won it)

Dude says, "Yeah, well at least Scott can play and would be a better jersey than Koivu". To which I replied, "I don't even think Scott is playing in the league anymore".

I guess I had higher expectations of my fellow Minnesotans to know a skilled hockey player compared to a one-trick pony... but I guess not.

Seems like a lot of anger is being directed at European hockey players. There was a concerted grassroots effort to oust Martin Skoula, despite how much Jacques Lemaire loves the guy. Same with Marek Zidlicky after he did less than nothing this year in the Iron Range Red.

And I've constantly felt the need to be President of the Mikko Koivu Apologists Association of Minnesota after seeing at the 'SHP or on Twitter that Koivu needs to be traded. Or stripped of the 'C' because he's grumpy after a loss.

Or that John Scott is a better hockey player than Mikko Koivu.

Yes, I'll grant you that many Wild fans have a short tolerance for some North American players like Cam Barker or James Sheppard. Even local boy Tom Gilbert has raised the hackles of some. But part of me also thinks that there are good reasons to be annoyed with Sheppard (why the hell do you go out on an ATV days before training camp begins, you dolt?) and Gilbert (when you're traded for a stand-up guy like Nick Schultz, expectations on you are going to be unfairly high.

Then I rattle through my memories and I recall that Skoula, Zidlicky and Koivu haven't been the only European targets of Wild xenophobia. Antti Miettinen was the target of much ire for his complete inability to get a shot on net. Other teams never worried about Miettinen because even with everyone else paying attention to Koivu and Brunette and a wide open net, you could count on Miettinen to send the puck high and wide.

Or Filip Kuba, who was reviled for many of the same reasons as Martin Skoula: A near inability to skate and an uncommon talent for tripping on the blue line. Even Marian F'n Gaborik, arguably the best player to grace the home locker room at the Xcel Energy Center, was accused of floating on more than one occasion, accused of suckholing for a breakaway, and playing only for himself.

And let's not forget the lionizing of Mr. One Trick Pony himself, Derek Boogaard. Don't get me wrong, I loved the guy too, but how long would we have tolerated a guy who can only bust heads but never score goals if he was Russian or Czech or a Swede?

Fair or not, there is a current of xenophobia amongst Wild fans. Maybe it's a reflection of how Minnesotans naturally distrust anyone from outside our comfort zone (ie, Minnesota and blood relatives). Maybe it's a lingering effect of The Woog's desire to field a Gophers team entirely of players from Minnesota.

I could be wrong, and I hope I am. Maybe we have no tolerance for crappy hockey players. But it does seem as if our patience is a lot shorter if the player is not from our sacred shores.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I'm Vexed

I fell in love because of hockey. On the very first date with a young lady in the late spring or early summer of 1994, as we were walking over to ride the Flume at a local amusement park, she casually asked "So, do you like hockey?" I knew in that moment that I would marry her. And I did, seven years later. Six years after that, we had our first child, a boy.

That boy loves his hockey. He's turned into a good skater for his age and has a great shot. But say he does make it to the NHL. If he's anything like his old man, he can expect to be between 5-11 and 6-1 and weigh around 180. In other words, about like Jeremy Roenick. Regrettably, Roenick is the exception, not the rule for underweight hockey players.

Pat LaFontaine, at 5-10 and 180, had his career effectively ended by a high hit to the head. Pierre-March Bouchard will have played only 40% of his games over the last three seasons when the regular season ends in a few weeks. Now Jared Spurgeon has been injured by a high hit. Thursday Alex Tanguay took the liberty of a high hit to Spurgeon. He led with his elbow. The principle point of contact was Spurgeon's head. Spurgeon did not put himself in a vulnerable position. Tanguay did not lead with his shoulder, he led with his elbow.



Rule 48 states:
48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.

There is no reason for Tanguay to lead with his elbow other than to target Spurgeon's head. Tanguay's elbow is the first part of his body to hit Spurgeon, and the elbow hits Spurgeon in the head. (In the video above, look at 0:29) As I noted above, Spurgeon doesn't put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit.

The fact that Brendan Shanahan and his cohorts thought this hit was completely legal is astonishing. Straight from the rulebook, this is exactly what the League was trying to prevent with Rule 48.

On twitter this morning, I asked Michael Russo of the Star Tribune if there was any reason given for the League letting Tanguay off the hook. I didn't get a response from Russo, but another Wild fan replied that it's because Spurgeon plays for the Wild.

This got me thinking: If by some miracle my son does make it to the Show, am I going to have to go all Archie Manning and provide a list of teams I want my son to play for? Will I have to vet the League to determine which teams are safer to play for?

I know Shanahan has said that he doesn't hate the Wild. But his actions are speaking louder than his words are. I'll be forever grateful to hockey to bringing my wife and I together, but I don't know if I can stay as loyal to hockey if this is how the NHL treats its most valuable assets.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Tanguay Tango

It seems that Jared Spurgeon will be getting some quality time in the infirmary playing cribbage and backgammon with Gui Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. I don't know if Spurgeon speaks French, but he better learn quick.

The reason for The Spurge's convalescence is this high elbow from Alex Tanguay of the Calgary Flames.



Matt Cooke he is not, but Tanguay needs to be responsible for his body and his elbow. If Spurgeon's big brother Pierre-Marc Bouchard can get suspended for games for letting the opposing player high-stick himself with Butch's stick, then this situation is certainly comparable:

In this video, Shanahan says that "Bouchard is responsible for his own stick and the end result." I would say that in the Tanguay/Spurgeon situation, Tanguay is responsible for his own body and the end result. The fact that Spurgeon isn't 6-foot-7 or that this would be an elbow to the groin of Zdeno Chara is not relevant.

Let's hope that Shanny can give Tanguay some time to brush up on his own backgammon strategy.

Update:

Apparently the League has decided that Tanguay's hit was fine and dandy. 

Horseshit.

Tanguay had his elbow high, and I can see no reason for him to take his hand off his stick and raise his elbow if not to target an opponent. The primary point of contact was Spurgeon's head (at 0:29 of the first video) and the hit resulted in an injury. THAT IS A TEXTBOOK HIT TO THE HEAD, SHANAHAN.

This only underscores what appears to be a double standard in the NHL. Only players on certain teams can be confident that if their safety is threatened that the League will bother to do anything about it. 

If the League really was serious about protecting the safety of its most important assets, they'd apply standards evenly across ALL teams, not just certain teams.