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


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.


*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.