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?

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.

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:

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.

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.