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 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 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.


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


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.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Quickies with Mike: Draft Lottery Odds

I use the term "Quickie" in context of how long it will take to read this. Anyhow, based on previous years' data, I set out to determine the probability of a team moving up or down in the draft. The first column shows the rank of the team in overall league standings. The second column is the odds of winning the draft lottery and moving up 4 spaces. The remaining columns show the probability of getting the pick shown above. For example, the 20th place team, currently the Jets, would have a 1.5% chance of moving up in the draft, and 2.4% chance of moving down. The remaining 96.1% is the chance that they don't move up or down.  

Capisce? Well I think you do 'cause I ain't gonna repeat myself.  

          #1   #2   #3   #4   #5   #6   #7   #8   #9   #10  #11  #12  #13  #14
#30 25.0  48.2 51.8                       
#29 18.8  18.8 42.0 39.2                     
#28 14.2  14.2      56.1 29.7                   
#27 10.7  10.7           66.7 22.6                 
#26  8.1  8.1                 74.7 17.2               
#25  6.2       6.2                 80.7 13.1             
#24  4.7            4.7                 90.1  9.9           
#23  3.6                 3.6                 89.0  7.4         
#22  2.7                      2.7                 91.8  5.5       
#21  2.1                           2.1                 94.0  3.9     
#20  1.5                                1.5                 96.1  2.4   
#19  1.1                                     1.1                 97.6  1.3 
#18  0.8                                          0.8                 98.7  0.5
#17  0.5                                               0.5                 99.5

Currently, the 30th place team is Columbus, 29th is Edmonton, and 28th is Minnesota. Montreal and the Islanders round out the bottom 5 bottom feeders. But the Wild have 2 games "in hand" on the Habs and 1 game "in hand" on the Islanders. Whether the Wild have played fewer games is good for them or better for the Habs and Isles is another debate. The upshot for Wild fans is that as it stands now, they'd get the first, third or fourth pick.

Go Jets Go!

A fellow I follow on twitter (@wildroadtripper), and a resident of GTRCMBSHP has been cheering on the Jets, in hopes that they make it to the playoffs. The Wild certainly won't make any playoff waves at this point, so we might as well cheer for the closest team outside our fair city. That leaves Chicago or Winnipeg. As anyone older than 30 can tell you, a Minnesota hockey fan cheering for the Blackhawks is a bit like Mon Mothma sending a birthday card to Palpatine. It's just wrong.

So I can go along with this, at least for now. You see, as soon as the Jets are in a division with the Wild, I'm gonna have a hard time cheering for them. Unlike some people who have an attitude that if your team can't go all the way, you might as well cheer for your neighbor, I'm an asshole. I can't do it. Who I root for is usually based on a combination of things: spite (suck it, Canucks), the underdog (Phoenix, that lovable rogue), players I like or dislike (it's ok for the  Red Wings to win it for Chris Chelios; Todd Bertuzzi? Screw that guy), but usually, it's arbitrary and capricious.

But this year, there's the sleeper reason: Travel. What I'd love to see more than anything else is for the Eastern Conference to have a long travel schedule in the playoffs. I'd love to see Peter Karmanos or Jeffrey Vinik complain about how horrible the travel schedule is. To hear Lou Lamoriello or Peter Chiarelli whine about how the travel has taken a toll on his players. (I said I was an asshole, you don't have to remind me.) All so that the Vancouvers and Calgarys and Anaheims of the NHL can say "That's exactly what we've been putting up with for years, bitches."

Or leave the bitches part off, whatever. And this is to say nothing of the player who's never traveled more than a couple hours one way for a playoff game. The NHLPA famously raised objections to the realignment plan this year and the League famously acted like a spoiled four year old and stomped off the field, taking its ball with them.

The realignment plan is not perfect, and I think the League has some work to do to make it work properly. Sure, there is a statistical advantage in some of the conferences in the realignment plan, but MLB has tolerated that for decades. Maybe there's a hybrid way to make realignment work (and despite what the League says, I think they can still manage to schedule the 12-13 season within realignment).

Such weeping and gnashing of teeth, I think, would help move the cause along and the game can be better for everyone involved. And, at least for now, it could be very good for the Jets. I hope you're with me.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Dive for Top Five

In a game that was billed as the NHL's equivalent of a nerd fight, 26th place Minnesota squared off against 25th place Carolina. Carolina was fresh off a 2-nil shutout of the league leading Blues, gifting the Wild into the 5th worst spot in the league. This is important, as the bottom five teams in the NHL have a chance to get the number 1 draft pick. The game even started off with a soft goal and a middleweight fight between Brandon Sutter and Steve Stiffler Nate Prosser (I know, I'm being generous with that billing).

In recent years, Patrick "20 cent" Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have been picked with the top spot and ended up either as bone fide studs, or at the very least, studs in the making. This year, Nail Yakupov is expected to go first overall. The kid definitely has some sweet moves. And while I'd love to see me some of that in Saint Paul next season, I can't count on it. Even if the Wild ended in the 26th spot in the league, their odds of winning the lottery and thus Yakupov would be only about 8% (assuming the odds don't change from year to year).

The question of ethics comes into play, both for the team and for the fans. While part of me hurts every time the Wild lose a game, it's equally hurtful to see the team surge right at the end of the season and end up outside any chance of a great draft pick. How many times did we see a Jacques Lemaire-coached team limp into the bottom of the playoff bracket or just out of the playoffs? Under the current system, the 2003 team would have earned the 27th overall pick. As it is, they got the 20th overall pick and landed Brent Burns. Had the team tanked, they may have been able to snag a Zach Parise, a Dustin Brown or a Ryan "Sourpuss" Getzlaf.

The draft lottery exists because there were suspicions of tanking in the early nineties to get the best player in the draft. (My memory is fuzzy in my dotage, but I believe it had to do with the Sens and Sharks mutual desire to snap up Alexandre Daigle. Not sure who won that one.) Now we have Wild fans shamelessly pleased that their team appears on the brink of ending in the bottom five in the NHL and thus at least having a dream.

Of course, the last time we had a top-five pick, Doug "Manager of Expectations" Risebrough decided that Benoit Pouliot was the best player available. Not as bad as AJ Thelen, but definitely worthy of a "kick me" sign on his back.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Some advice for our friends in Pittsburgh

So I hear that you guys got a player back from a concussion injury recently. As fans of the Wild can tell you, we know a lot about it. Near the end of the season in 2009, Pierre-Marc Bouchard took a hit from Nate Thompson of the Islanders:

He played one game in the 2009-2010 season, and returned in the middle of the 2010-2011 season. Then he was pushed into the boards by Zach Bogosian of the Jets:

(Ignore the announcers. There's a reason many of my Wild compatriots refer to them as D&D.)

Bouchard tried to come back, but hasn't been able to.

Now, he's not the centerpiece of our organization like your guy is, but he is a talented top-six forward. Given the length of his convalescence last time around, I for one am not expecting him to play until late in the 2012-13 season at the earliest. He may surprise me, but I'm not going to bank on anything right now.

I, like many people I talk to, are terrified when we do see him on the ice, for exactly what happened to him in Winnipeg. Bogosian wasn't trying to hurt Bouchard, at least that's what I have to assume (and, incidentally, what the NHL said), and I know many players respect their colleagues in the other jerseys (Alex Burrows excepted; pardon my frankness, but he's just a dick).

Your concerns are justified. But as we learned with Bouchard, the best you can do as a fan is to support your local superstar and hope for the best. Assuming his doctors are competent and have signed off on his return, he's going to be ok.

Bouchard took a lot of hard hits between when he came back and when he was hit by Bogosian. Many were up high. Had Bogosian not pushed him into the boards at such a weird angle, there's a good chance he'd still be fine.

So trust your instincts. Know that while yes, it can happen again, your guy is getting the best care he can. Now sit back, enjoy the ride, and good luck.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Problem of Apathy

Seems the Wild are dealing with a crisis of apathy. The players seem to be floating, putting in only a cursory level of effort into their games. Last night, they only came alive in the third, then promptly lost the game 4-2. In last night's post-game presser, Mike Yeo made sure to mention that "We have one extra body and potentially another on the way. We're going to be playing guys that want to play hard."

The key phrase there is "guys that want to play hard." "...want to play hard." Yeo is right on the money. He needs players that want to play hard, want to win. But it's tough. I get it: The team has suffered an epic slide brought about by the loss of four key pieces, the dismantling of the defense, and a rookie goaltender. Maybe we're all spoiled from yesteryear, when Jacques Lemaire could take a has-been and couple of never-will-bes and at least made the game entertaining for the fans.

I got the impression earlier in the season that Yeo knew which buttons to push after a punchless night in LA following a loss to the Sharks two nights before. Yeo simply commented that there was nothing for him to say to his players. They responded, beating the Ducks in Anaheim. Yeo knows when to say something, and when to say nothing.

Grit isn't what will get this team into the playoffs year after year, talent is what it will take. At this point, the Wild have lost Bouchard and Latendresse to concussions. Unlike the losses of defensemen early in the season - Zidlicky lost to a concussion, Prosser stepped up and made a name for himself - the loss of key forwards hurt this team deeply. Casey Wellman or Jarod Palmer are not superstars in the making. The loss of those two key forwards, followed by the loss of Koivu in St Louis is what killed this team - both talent-wise and mentally. The team went into a tailspin, and Yeo couldn't keep his troops from getting demoralized.

The trades that sent Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon to Edmonton and Boston, respectively, only compounded things. Although Chuck Fletcher was NOT waving the white flag as some feared (and was - rightly - addressing a lack of talent and acquiring a player that we'd hoped Marek Zidlicky to be), the effect was just that, to the players at least. If there'd been some way to keep Schultz and add Tom Gilbert, we may have seen a resurgence from these guys.

At the time when the losing streak had just begun, I thought that they'd pull themselves out. But that's not the case (obviously). I don't think the players don't care. I think they've been beaten down and demoralized. It's hard to pull yourself up in these situations, and I think that as a fan, I should enjoy seeing the players play, see what Gilbert, Kampfer, and the other Houston kids can do.

And get ready for some excitement next season, when the big crisis will be what to do with all those talented kids coming into the organization.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Back To Front

by NiNY

Remember the first time the Wild played the Stars in St. Paul? Before the game there was Minnesota's most-decorated hockey player, Neal Broten, pulling off a Stars jersey to reveal a Wild jersey underneath.

For many of us old enough to have lived in a North Stars-occupied Minnesota, that moment symbolized the culmination of a healing process that the game that followed - a 6-0 ass-kicking by the Wild - completed.

The NHL team is dead, long live the NHL team.

Well the road the Wild has taken since that moment represents a negative trend line in terms of success. A couple high points sprinkled in among a mostly declining history. And, while the technicals behind that trend line may have bottomed out and started to actually strengthen recently, the results on the ice have yet to bear that out.

And that's okay. The dissection of the team is for another post.

This is about the recent announcement that the team will host a North Stars night on March 29th. "Back on Home Ice" is, to my memory, the first official Wild-sanctioned North Stars event in its history.

The team that had to act out the slaying of the North Stars memory dragon in order for its fans to move on, has since suffered enough self-inflicted wounds that it now has to try to resurrect those same North Stars to retain relevance.

I am of two minds about this.

First, I was a North Stars fan long before I was a Wild fan. Part of me is excited to see all those former players, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

Second, I am also a Wild fan. And this is a pretty sad indictment of just how far this team has fallen. I'm not talking about a falling of the cliff moment. Nothing that dramatic. But the Wild's ship has been slowly taking on water for really all-but two of its years of existence. Again, I do think Fletcher has started to fair over that hole, and right the ship, but she's still riding pretty low in the water and with a pronounced list.

If this event wasn't necessary they wouldn't have done it. Why now? Why not in year one? Why not after their big Western Conference Finals run - when the team had indelibly imprinted itself on Wild fans' collective psyche.

Because tickets were selling like crazy then. The Gophers or your average high school game took a backseat to a Wild game then.

Fact: the Wild was once the hottest hockey ticket in town. Even when they weren't winning.

Fact: the Wild is no longer the hottest hockey ticket in town. And they're still not winning.

Fact: the Wild has never done such an overt North Stars tribute before.

Circumstantial? Yes. But.....

At the end of the day, the Wild organization should use every means available to itself to promote itself in these tough times. We all know the product on the ice is going to continue to be terrible for at least the balance of this season. So they planned a diversion.

That's fair.

It's just too bad it has gotten to the point of needing a diversion in the first place.

What Keeps Me Up at Night

As a kid, I always thought it was a bit irrational that my mother wouldn't let me play hockey or football. I mean, sports can be dangerous. You run at full speed, sometimes straight at someone else. You can turn an ankle and not play again. In 4th grade I took a baseball to the temple running into first (I was safe, and got an RBI). In eight grade, I broke my nose playing basketball in the basement of my house. (Don't ask. Just. Don't.)

Then again, I was invincible. I wonder if Jack Jablonski thought the same thing. His high school team, Benilde-St. Margaret's is in the Class AA Finals. It makes for a feel-good story. Jack's life changed in December when he was checked from behind into the boards. A spinal cord injury later, the medical consensus is that he will never walk again. His team is in the finals, Jack will be there to cheer them on, and if they win, don't be surprised to see Jack on the ice with his teammates.

Just last year we learned the tragedy of  Derek Boogaard's story, how he suffered from chronic traumatic encephelopathy, leading some to wonder what, if anything, that had to do with his death. Even if it had nothing to do with his death, the results aren't pretty. Unlike Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak didn't to my knowledge suffer from CTE, but did, like Boogaard, suffer substance abuse and depression. All three were known as enforcers. Boogaard's story is that he grew up idolizing Wendel Clarke and learned in Juniors that in order to make his NHL dream come true, that he had to fight. And fight he did. He was good at it, to the point of breaking Todd Fedoruk's face.

And, as my Wild confederates know, Pierre-Marc Bouchard may never play in the NHL again. An intelligent and talented playmaker who sees the ice better than most fans in the upper deck do, he's been hampered by concussions. In three seasons (09-10, 10-11, and 11-12) he will play a total of 97 games, less than 40% of the schedule for those three seasons. Every time the little guy goes into the corners, Wild fans cringe. Every time the Wild plays Vancouver, Wild front office e-mail servers are bombarded with demands that Matt Kassian fight Alex Burrows every time Burrows steps onto the ice.

So what's a parent to do when their kids loves hockey? My son watches hockey, he's learning to skate, and he's got a nasty wrist shot (seriously, it's way better than the slapper he prefers to use). At daycare the other day, he was pretending to ice skate in his boots on the ice. His skating ability has blossomed this winter in the few times we've been able to get out with him.

One option is to simply refuse to let him play hockey. But I also know that making something contraband simply increases the value placed on it by those who want it. So I'm not convinced that's the way to go. I could get him into auto racing, but I gotta say, that after I let him watch a NASCAR race last week, I still have nightmares about the atonal national anthem to which I had to bear witness. I'd rather be strapped down and forced to watch the 24-hour Rosie-in-Assless-Chaps Channel than listen to that national anthem again. And all the country music they play. Ugh.

I think in the long run, all I can do is support my son in what he wants. By no means would I ever push him into anything to fulfill my own dreams (ok, fine, I could see myself encouraging him to join the Math Team). But the kid is also sharp as a razor, so I think my responsibility will be to educate him as much as possible and let him weigh the costs and benefits.

I think my mom would approve of that.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Grading the Organ-EYE-zation: Ice Level Edition

This is a tough one for me. I was initially going to come out and lay down a Zdeno Chara slapshot in my defense of Mike Yeo and company. Then the Wild went into a tailspin that would Maverick and Goose envious.

And today the news is that the St. Louis Blues sit atop the Western Conference. What's a Wild fan to do? We could have had Ken Hitchcock, we start thinking. Who the hell is Chuck Fletcher going off and hiring Mike F'n Yeo as head coach?

Ok, I can see the sentiment. But as the self-appointed President of the Mike Yeo Apologists Union, I have to go on record here and point out that with a healthy lineup, he had the best team in the NHL. All he had to do was go out and not mess it up too badly, and the Wild would have a decent seed in the playoffs.

But the wheels fell off. The Wild lost two top-six forwards, and what was once a team difficult to defend against became a one-dimensional team. And with the loss of Koivu to a shoulder injury, the Wild became even thinner on offense. As Michael Russo pointed out via twitter, when Darroll Powe is on your second line, you've got problems. Yeah, there was talent out there in the forms of Casey Wellman, Chad Rau, and Jarod Palmer. But those are the tweener guys - think Patrick O'Sullivan - who will be good to great AHL players that will struggle to make it at the NHL level. I don't care if you put them on a line with Sidney Crosby, they're not the type of guys who will be any more than a temporary callup for an NHL team.

As much as I like guys like Jed Ortmeyer and Warren Peters as fourth liners, they're not going to carry this team, nor are they the Cal Clutterbucks of the league - guys who come up for a cup of coffee and never leave.

Mike Yeo doesn't have the answers when he loses two or three top-six forwards. But name me another coach south of Jacques Lemaire or Scotty Bowman who can take poopburgers and make them look like Filet Mignon.

So I'm willing to give him a pass for this season's epic collapse. Some of my friends want to give Yeo an Incomplete for this season, but I think that's unfair. He kept the team going when the defense was thinner than Kate Moss after skipping breakfast. Even when the goalies started getting hurt, the team didn't give up.

From October to December, he deserves an A. The team was the best in the NHL.
From December to March, he gets a C because he was able to find some bright spots and things didn't completely fall apart. Ok, the team has lost its shit the last few days. Too many bad goals allowed and one goal scored in three games.

Normally I'd expect the coach to at least keep the team from losing it. But without Steady Nick Schultz on the back end, and without Zanon sacrificing his ability to walk in 20 years in the name of blocking shots, the defense is adrift. Without an entire top line, any offense is ephemeral at best. And with Josh Harding off his game, Backstrom hurt, and Matt Hackett thrown into the lion's den, is it any wonder the Wild are not only losing, but losing ugly?

For his first season, I'm giving him a B-. As long as he has a healthy lineup, I think he can take this team a long way. Clearly, the special teams need help, and just as Fletcher brought in Rick Wilson to help Todd Richards coaching the defense, I think that bringing in an assistant who's forgotten more about special teams than Mike Yeo will ever know, is a wise idea. Might even make grading him next year downright reasonable.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Grading the Organ-EYE-zation: Front Office Edition

I'm a big fan of Harvey Mackay. Mackay likes to point out that a successful organization structure has not one, but two people at the top. You have your outside person and your inside person. Think Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Or George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Or Theoden and Wormt--Nevermind. In these situations, the President plays the role of Outside Man, and the veep plays the role of Inside Man (No, no. Not Clive Owen. Focus, people.) The Outside Man is the guy who's the face of the organization and the Inside Man is the one who's got his hand on the pulse of the industry, or world. The Inside Man can't succeed without a charismatic and intelligent Outside Man. And the Outside Man can't succeed without the intel and planning of the Inside Man.

In the case of the Wild, those roles fall to Fletcher and Flahr. Fletcher is no slouch by himself, and has set the direction of the team. But Flahr is the one whose job it is to know that Jonas Brodin has no business falling all the way to number ten overall. Or that Mikael Granlund is a steal at number nine overall. Or that Charlie Coyle needs to be a part of any deal involving Brent Burns. Without Flahr knowing who can play and who can't, we'd be considering James Sheppard 2.0, and the Flames or Canucks would be enjoying the services of Granlund and Brodin.

So I think it's tough to separate the grades of Fletcher and Flahr. Between the two of them, I'm leaning toward a B as they close in on their third season. Yes, they have yet to make the playoffs in the Fletcher Administration, but they've stocked the cupboards. They've had a few misses on trades. The Chuck Kobasew deal is a miss at this point, but you have to give the guy props for making a deal when one had to be made. He managed to out-Lamoriello Lamoriello in the Zidlicky trade, setting himself up nicely for July 1st of this year, in one of his smartest deals yet. Meanwhile, Flahr has successfully navigated Fletcher into uncommon territory wherein the fanbase has something to be excited for as the future arrives.

And let's not give Fletcher any quarter over hiring Todd Richards. Big mistake. But he had the stones to know when to admit his mistake and correct it by firing Richards. And under the presumed pressure to go with a proven coach like Ken Hitchcock, Fletcher once again went with a rookie and chose Mike Yeo on the heels of Houston's run at the Calder Cup in 2011. That takes courage. I'd rather mistakes be made as an act of courage than in an act of brazen stupidity, as the previous regime was prone to.

I'm sure that he'll have his very own AJ Thelen at some point, but hopefully we'll wait a long time for that. And perhaps Harvey Mackay will have some sage advice for when that happens.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Cap Situation

Greetings! I'm Mike and I'm a new contributor to HtP. For my inaugural post, I'd like to talk a bit about the Wild's cap situation and ponder next year's roster. It's long, so skip to the end if you're lazy or already going cross-eyed from the wall of text below.

According to Capgeek, the Wild has approximately 19.6 million of cap space available for the 2012-2013 season. A big part of this is based on Chuck Fletcher's masterstroke in dealing Marek Zidlicky to the Devils for pending UFA players Kurtis Foster, Stephane Veilleux, a few draft picks and pending RFA Nick Palmieri. Palmieri, assuming he sticks, is the only piece of that trade we'd be on the hook for next season, and that's on the order of $800-900k. Zidlicky's cap hit is $4M. So by dealing Zidlicky, Fletcher gave himself more than $3-4M in cap space, depending on Palmieri's status.

Let's talk about how that $19.6 million will be spent.

First off, Forwards!

Heatley, Koivu, Cullen, Bouchard, Setoguchi, Brodziak, Clutterbuck and Powe are signed through next season. That's eight players. Assuming the Wild carry 14 forwards on their 23-man roster, they'll want six more forwards. Maybe. That eight-forwards-already-signed bit assumes that Bouchard is ready to go next season, and there's no guarantee of that. Due to his concussion history and the hit from Zach Bogosian earlier this season, there's some serious doubt among the Wild faithful that he will be able to play next year. Or ever again.

We will assume the Wild will have 6 spots open, on the best-case assumption of Bouchard's health. So let's look at those players whose contracts are expiring:

  • Guillaume Latendresse - He's a restricted free agent (RFA) but I can't possibly see how he will be qualified at $2.5M. The Hockey Player Formerly Known As Poutine Destroyer has to prove he's worth that kind of cap hit, and I'd be shocked if Fletch doesn't let him become unrestricted.
  • Erik Christensen - He's an unrestricted free agent (UFA). This guy has no future with the Wild. Yeah, he might help with a shootout, but his zero points and -11 in 12 games with the Wild has demonstrated his inability to make a contribution.
  • Nick Palmieri - I think he's earned a new contract. Whether he spends time in St Paul or Houston is likely to be determined by his training camp and how impressive the new guys are.
  • Jed Ortmeyer - I like him as the Wild's designated Delta SkyMiles beneficiary.
  • Nick Johnson - I think he stays.
  • Warren Peters - Another guy whose contract comes with 20,000 free SkyMiles.
  • Stephane Veilleux - Maybe he sticks as a 4th liner/extra skater.
  • Matt Kassian - I think he stays as a 4th liner/pugilist.
So of these guys, I think they definitely keep Johnson and Kassian on the Wild roster, with Johnson being a regular.

So, two spots taken, four left. Now let's look at what the lines might be:

Mr. Blonde - Koivu - Heatley
Bouchard - Cullen - Setoguchi
Johnson - Brodziak - Clutterbuck
Mr. Orange - Powe - Mr. White

Extras are Kassian and Mr. Pink

That's not a lot of spots. While the Faithful are salivating at the thought of Zach Parise signing, it's no guarantee. And there's the Bouchard issue. If he can't play, that opens another spot.

Mr. Blonde might be Parise. Beyond Parise, there really aren't any pending free agents that give me the screaming thigh sweats. So if Parise isn't Mr. Blonde, look at Mikael Granlund to be Koivu's new hood ornament.r

Mr. Orange, Mr. White, and Mr. Pink might be Johan Larsson, Zack Phillips, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, or Brett Bulmer. Or, if our dream comes true and Parise signs, then Granlund pretty much has a lock on one of those three slots. In all honesty, I think Phillips and Coyle have the inside track on two of those spots. Mainly because they're gelling well for the Saint John Sea Dogs, and Phillips is a natural center, obviating the need for Powe to line up there. If Mr. Blonde turns out to be Granlund, look for Veilleux to be Mr. Pink. If Bouchard is still dealing with Post-Concussion symptoms, assume either Bulmer gets his spot, or Latendresse is signed at a discount.

Long story short, Johnson will likely stick next year, and make $1M, tops. Kassian will make $600k. Of the original $19.6M available, they're down to about $18M of cap space.

If Phillips, Coyle, and Granlund stay, Phillips and Coyle will make about $1M each, and Granlund will surely command the maximum $1.475M contract, or about $3.5M between the three of them. So now we have $14.5M of cap space.

Let's look at the defense.

The Wild have Gilbert, Scandella, Prosser, and Spurgeon (Thanks, Garth!) signed. Three spots available assuming they carry one extra D. Justin Falk is restricted and will probably make $700k or so next season. I think he'll be tendered a qualifying offer, and he should stay. He's not without flaws, but he is big and sometimes he even uses his bigitude to his advantage. Clayton Stoner? I don't know about him. He's dependable, but nothing to write home about. Lundin has been injured and/or invisible. Sadly, I think he won't return. Foster may or may not be back. The defensive spots depend mostly on who Fletcher and Yeo like the most, Foster or Stoner. Either will command $1M at most next year. Worst case on defense is another $1.7M spent on defense. We had $14.5M available. Now that's down to $12.8M with one D spot open.

And in net? 

If Harding wants to return, it won't be for any more than Hackett will get paid. Either way, Goaltending won't cost the Wild any more in free agent expenditures.

So what's it all mean?

Now we get to the free agency expenditures: one forward and one defenseman. With the Tom Gilbert trade, Pierre "Cue Ball" McGuire donned his best tinfoil hat and opined that the Wild acquired Gilbert in an effort to woo Ryan Suter to Minnesota. And Ryan Suter is the big name out there for free agent defensemen. Barring his signing here, look for Jonas Brodin to possibly make the team out of camp, or maybe Fletcher will go after a second-tier free agent.

The Wild's wet dream of Suter and Parise will be tough to do at $12.8M. But remember that "approximately $19.6M" I talked about earlier? Well, that that's assuming the cap doesn't rise next year. It also assumes Bouchard is healthy and ready to go. If he isn't, expect the Wild to put him on Long Term Injured Reserved (LTIR), which would open up another $4M of cap space for Fletcher, Flahr, and Yeo to play with.

For those who skipped to the money shot, the upshot of the situation is that Fletcher is looking like a genius right about now, and the money should be there to at minimum make Parise and Suter think long and hard about signing in Minnesota.

And even without them, the cupboard is far from bare.

And one last housekeeping note: If you hate my writing style, tell Nick to give me a long-distance kick in the jimmy. Otherwise, find me on Twitter @strangewildfan. I mostly talk hockey, but I've been known to tweet about my own farts. Fair warning.