Wednesday, January 30, 2013

30WR: Gm 7 vs. CHI


Hards struggled, but Yeo all over it with bold, correct move. Bax was great. Secondary scoring! No complaints about winning this game, against this team. B2B, 3rd in 4 - nice.

PGS: Gm 7 vs. CHI

by NiNY

Back-to-backs are never fun. B2Bs in a compressed schedule are even less fun. B2Bs where the 2nd game is against the undefeated - and rested - Blackhawks are downright cruel.

The Wild got a glimpse of what life can be like with secondary scoring last night, when Butch popped in the GWG. Hopefully that inspires the rest of the non-first liners. I thought Setoguchi and Cullen continued to improve their play overall, but something's missing on that line and it appears it might be Granlund after hearing Yeo has had to sit him down, pull him aside for extra counseling, etc. Nothing wrong with that - he is still a rookie, afterall - but that could be what's holding back the Setoguchis of the team.

Normally you could say the Wild has tired legs as an excuse. But they've managed to let the Blues and the BJs both back into games in the third period, when both opponents had played the night before. So we'll see if that only applies to the Wild, I guess.

It wasn't out of line to suggest last night's game was a "must win" in this shortened season, so it's not out of line to suggest tonight's game is a major measuring stick. The Hawks are not going to go 48-0-0, so why can't their first loss be tonight?

Hards needs to rebound from a middling effort his last game out. His numbers: 1-1-0, 2.56 GAA, .902 SPCT.

Lots of hyperbole getting thrown at this team right now - and deservedly so. Consider: Minnesota's top line (which has been so great) has a combined 23 points in six games. Chicago's top line also has a combined 23 points in six games. But, the Wild's next three highest scoring forwards have a combined six points (including PMB, Granlund, Cullen). While the Hawks' next three highest scoring forwards have a combined thirteen points (Sharp, Bolland, Bickell).

Crawford has been the beneficiary of all this offense. He's posted a 5-0-0 record, with a 1.78 GAA and a .933 SPCT.

The Hawks can hurt you in myriad different ways and are not shy about doing so. Their coaches got to scout the Wild last night, and it's not like they needed any additional advantage. Of the two teams, Chicago is not the one that needs to play their "best game" in order to win tonight, and that's bad news for Minnesota.

G/GM MIN T16th 2.67 CHI T4th 3.67
GA/GM MIN T14th 2.83 CHI T6th 2.17
PP% MIN 16th 19.2% CHI 8th 26.9%
PK% MIN 10th 83.3% CHI 2nd 95.6%

Players in top 30 in league scoring:
MIN 2 (Parise T7th, Koivu T12th)
CHI 2 (Kane T7th, Hossa T12th)

Wild played better last night, not good enough to beat a rested Blackhawks team tonight, though.
Final score: 4-2 Chicago wins
Wild goal scorer: Heatley

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

30-Word Review: Gm 6 vs. CBJ

by NiNY

Better, though still not great. Got the two points, in regulation, which is huge. Finally secondary scoring, and Suter was better. Can't keep falling apart in the 3rd, though, boys.

PGS: Gm 6 vs. CBJ

by NiNY

It's game six of forty-eight, but tonight almost feels like a must-win for the Wild. They're 0-2-1 in their last three, and that's undone the 2-0-0 start, and moved them into a tie for 7th place with Detroit and LA. Obviously it's early yet, but it just feels like a big moment in the season.

The issues are the same: shoddy defense, extremely top-heavy scoring, middling goaltending.

You know, when you look at it that way, maybe .500 and a bubble playoff team is about right.

Oh, they're saying the right things. But if your issues are offense, defense and goaltending, you might be kidding yourself if you think you're a contender. This all gets back to the most valuable lesson of Risebrough's reign: expectation management. The Wild has a chance tonight to show us if it intends to be a playoff team, or if it is going to muddle along and battle just to get in.

An interesting lineup. Surprisingly solid defense. A top four of Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, James Wisnewski and John Moore may not ring a lot of bells for the casual NHL fan, but is actually more-than serviceable.

Look, "interesting lineup" obviously is a euphemism for "keep working on it, guys, thanks for playing" in the grand scheme of things. But the Nash trade has to represent rock bottom for this franchise that's been so ill-run from day one, doesn't it? I hope so. The BJs are coming off a stirring 2-1 barnburner win over Dallas last night, so they have the added hurdle of being tired - not that that hurt St. Louis against the Wild on Sunday, but, ah, let's just say St. Louis is in a different situation - talent-wise - than C-Bus.

Their forward corps, by the way, still looks like an expansion roster. And, not surprisingly, the BJs find themselves near the bottom of the league in offense.

G/GM MIN T19th 2.60 CBJ T28th 1.67
GA/GM MIN T17th 3.00 CBJ T17th 3.00
PP% MIN 15th 20.8% CBJ 26th 10.0%
PK% MIN 10th 85.0% CBJT4th 87.0%

The Wild wins this one, delays the jumping off the bandwagon that so many Minnesotans are seriously contemplating right now
Final score: 3-1 Minnesota
Wild goal scorer: Suter

Sunday, January 27, 2013

30-Word Review: Game 5 @ STL


2nd line better, still no payoff. Top line great, thank God. Suter a liability defensively. Bax was so-so. Bottom line: a point against an extremely good team. Moral victory?

TDI 012713

by NiNY

Another fun show tonight! You've heard his music every show, now meet the man behind the sick beats that drive Castle Danger Band: Jared Mason. He's a Wild fan, and a friend of HTP, and it was great having him sit in with us (hint: you'll probably hear more from him as time goes by).

Anyway, all Wild again tonight. Breaking down the Detroit game, the level of anxiety over 2-straight losses, Suter's turn in the barrel, secondary scoring woes...lots of fun.

Give us a listen, then let us know what you think: @htpthedumpin

Pre-Game Skate: Gm 5 Wild @ STL

by NiNY

In a similar refraim from last game, the Wild really can't afford to go pointless in multiple games in a row. They've done so the last two games, adding a third would be problematic.

Scoring is still an issue. Word comes that Yeo scrambled the lines in practice, although some of that appears to be of necessity due to Cullen getting a day off. Frankly, I'd like Cullen to get the rest of the season off. But I'm glad to see Yeo is willing to accept problems and move to fix them.

It's hard to say the defense played well after you give up five goals, but the game, on balance, was closer than the score indicated.

Harding struggled against Detroit, not all his fault, but I'd think we'll see Bax tonight regardless.

The Blues are put together the way I'd like my team to be put together. Young, skilled, big, tough...they have it all. Springing Redden from durance vile is the kind of move teams gearing up for a Cup run make.

I like everything about this Blues team, with one exception, *see below.

GF/GM MIN 2.25 STL 3.60
GA/GM MIN 2.50 STL 1.80
PP % MIN 14.3% STL 43.8% (#1 in NHL)
PK % MIN 80.0% STL 81.0%

*The one thing working against the Blues tonight is schedule. The sixth of six in nine days...that's rough. Even though they're at home, maybe the Wild can catch a tired opponent. That being said:

Final score: St. Louis wins 4-3
Wild goal scorer: Clutterbuck

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pre-Game Skate: Gm 4 @ DET

by NiNY

If the Wild is to make the playoffs, it needs to be able to avoid point-less streaks. Tonight is their first chance to do that.

The first step would be finding some secondary scoring (tertiary scoring would be okay, too). Bouchard and Granlund each have one, the other four goals the team has produced have been from the top line (Heatley's three and Parise's one). That distribution in and of itself (66% from the top line) isn't death. It's the dearth of goals overall (6 in three games) that's mildly distressing. The idea after the Nashville game was that a couple days of actual practice might be beneficial towards that goal. Let's hope so.

Brodin's arrival at the NHL is another sign that the youth movement that Fletcher embarked on is set to start paying dividends. I am very excited to see Brodin play, if only to see this marvelous skating ability that the people rave about. But, it's tough to rely on 19-year old defensemen in the NHL. While not without exceptions, theirs is not a track record full of postive surprises. So, it's great that we have the kids on the cusp of the show. But that just reinforces that the ceiling for this time is still probably just making the playoffs, instead of being an actual contender.

Harding back in net tonight, by accounts. I'm interested to see if Yeo intends on truly working a rotation.

Red Wings

In many ways, the Red Wings are the photo negative of the Wild right now.

The Wild is 2-1, the Wings are 1-2.

The Wild is brimming with youth, the Wings are old and decrepit.

The Wild is good, the Red Wings are evil.

Okay, that last one might be a bit of a reach.

How about: the Wild, knock wood, is healthy, the Wings are not.

Darren Helm, Jakub Kindl, Ian White, Colaiacovo, Ericsson and Bertuzzi are all either out or questionable.

I haven't watched any Red Wings action yet, so I can't comment on their play. But I will say that this team is due for a down year. And, if this is it, so much the better for the playoff chances of a team like the Wild.

Goals per game: MIN 2.00 DET 1.33
Goals Against per game: MIN 1.67 DET 3.67
PP %: MIN 15.4% DET 0.00%
PK %: MIN 90.0% DET 57.1%

Wild needs to prevent the losing streak and take advantage of weaker teams - even on the road.
Final score: Wild wins 4-2
Wild goal scorer: Cullen

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

TDI 012313

by NiNY

We let our inner Wild fan boy freak flags fly tonight. It was fun.

Big topics were:

*Initial thoughts on the Wild.

*Is Parise overpaid?

*Biggest surprise(s) so far with the Wild (Mrs. Cullen probably doesn't want to listen to this segment).

*Is the Wild a contender?

Give us a listen, and let us know your thoughts.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pre-Game Skate: Gm 1 vs. COL

by NiNY

It will be interesting to see this game tonight. Remember last season's opener, against Columbus, the new top line (Mikko, Heatley and Seto) were great and the Wild won. Second straight year with a new top line, and this time it's even better.

The Wild should absolutely be better offensively this season. If not, it will either be because of injuries or a failure.

Defensively....we'll see. Better at the top of the defense corps for sure. But thinner than they were last season, and considerably less-experienced. Normally the unflappable Backstrom is on hand to make up for any early season missteps, so we will need him to do so this season as well.

The playoffs are the expectation for the Wild this season. Anything short of making the dance will be a failure.

The Avs seem to be on the rise. Unfortunately for them, when you say a team is "on the rise" you're really saying "They have some nice young players, but in a seven vame series against their AHL team it's a tough call." Young captain Landeskog will have to be a major part of their attack. Varlamov will have to be a stud. Erik Johnson's career could use a Norris-type season to regain its mojo. I'm not sold on their defense. Their surprise playoff appearance from a couple seasons back is a distant memory. Milan Hejduk is the venerable veteran, but can he really lead a team offensively anymore?

On paper, the Wild should win this game.
Final Score: 5-3 Wild victory.
Wild goal scorer: Parise.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

011313 TDI

by NiNY

We're back!

The NHL decided to get its shit together, so we did too.

We forewent the structure tonight and just went with it. We just...talked, man.

We put the lockout to bed.

And then we talked Minnesota Wild hockey!

Defensemen, Bouchard, Harding, Backstrom...oh man it felt good!

Check it out and let us know what YOU think.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Win Back The Fans

by NiNY

So the NHL is back. Fans are falling somewhere on a spectrum that ranges from unrepentant glee at one extreme to open hostility at the other. In other words, not all fans need some kind of stroking to come back to the NHL. But every fan would take anything the teams give them, right?

And we're not talking "Thank You Fans!" inside the blue lines.

Here are some of the ideas I just floated on Twitter, as well as some new ones:

*Give away game-used gear after every home game (not just the last game of the 'season').

*Raffle off "Ride To The Game With [insert player name]" packages for every game. The money goes to charity.

*Post-game skates with players.

*Ramp up visible support for the military.

*Send players out into local schools to participate in "pep rallies". Have them bring coupons for reduced price tickets for kids.

*Dunking booths manned by Bettman and Fehr on the concourse during admission. Make it for charity.

*I think it was the Penguins who first had players hand deliver tickets to season ticket holders. That was a great move. Every team should do this.

*The pucks that get tossed to the kids hanging over the boards by the tunnel after the shoot around warm up? They should A) be autographed by players and B) be in abundance.

*How about a package where you buy a ticket to the game for you and your kid, then after the game you get to sleep over in the arena? Bring a sleeping bag, the team shows hockey movies or famous game replays, hot chocolate, then a continental breakfast in the morning.

I'm just coming up with these off the top of my head. The point is: there are no limits to what the teams can do to re-ingratiate themselves back into the local communities. They just have to have the will to do so.

What are some of your ideas for things the teams can do to #winbackthefans?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

This Is Not A Great Day For Hockey

by NiNY

Did you hear the story about the guy who was driving drunk, smashed his car into a building, and was finally pulled over by three cop cars and a state trooper? And the first cop who gets up to him says "Hey, you signalled perfectly, and pulled over promptly and appropriately. Great job!"?

No, of course you haven't. Because that would never happen.

In that same vein, I simply can't sit here and say "Great job!" to Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr for finally ending this thing. That it has ended is a good thing. Don't get me wrong.

But this went on far too long, with too many periods of either outright inactivity or activity that was infantile and churlish for me to ignore that and celebrate the moment of its conclusion. Too often, BOTH sides acted like they were uninterested in making progress for me to be appreciative of their efforts now, this far into the process.

This isn't an armistice day to end a war. This isn't even the day your loved one finally succumbs to sickness and dies - that "he's in a better place now" feeling.

This is just (mercifully) the last blot of black paint on the worst Pollack ever.

When I survey the wreckage, I don't see many positives.

Can you really say you think there's a healthy relationship between the NHL and the NHLPA?

Can you really say you think there's a healthy relationship between the NHL/NHLPA and the fans?

Can you really say you were not disillusioned at all by this process? By the league? By some of the players' behavior? By even one person in the media?

The only thing that's changed from yesterday is that the league has finally figured out how to divvy up our money. The only thing that's left to see is how quickly we will resume giving them that money.

Now I know we (as fans) will come back. I know I will come back. What choice do we really have? Being a fan of the best league in the world of a particular sport doesn't really leave you much choice in alternatives. Immaterially few NHL fans will honestly be able to switch to KHL or junior or NCAA hockey and be truly satisfied. We're coming back.

And that's always been the rub for me throughout this ordeal. The lockout has served to remind me that my fandom of the NHL is not something over which I have any control. Which cell phone company I use, at which restaurants I eat....I have control over those things. But not the sports league I follow the most.

So we go back to the NHL. We all know we will. But we should do so knowing that we give ourselves over to the NHL's control when we do.

No, this isn't a great day for hockey. This is just a great day for the NHL.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thoughts on Anti-Back Diving Measures


There has been a lot of discussion about the so-called "anti-back diving measures" (hereafter ABDM) being negotiated into the CBA. The idea is that the owners need protections against their own inflationary tendencies. Sounds a bit childish, but that's the NHL.

There are two main ABDM in play: term limits on contracts and a cap on year-to-year salary variance. Technically the salary cap is a mitigating factor in this discussion as well.

*Note* there is still some mystery surrounding the topics and how they will ultimately work out/be worded. In other words: there are some assumptions being made in this discussion and it's all subject to change when the final CBA is written and known.

Term limits are pretty self-explanatory. They owners are looking to kill the Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter type deals and their ability to circumvent the cap by spinning the term out so long (and the annual salaries to such a low number) that the cap hit comes down. It appears the current numbers being negotiated is a 7-year limits if you sign a player as a free agent, or an 8-year limit if you re-sign your own player.

All else being equal, this doesn't serve to fix the problem, however. The benefits of back-diving contracts in a salary cap league are three-fold:

1) you get to pay a player a higher salary (market value; e.g. in his prime years) than his cap hit

2) you get to spread out the total dollar value of a deal over a longer (read: more manageable) term (off-set by the fact that the player will be on your payroll for a longer period of time, even if he's not counting against your cap that entire time, assuming all contracted monies are guaranteed)

3) you can structure the terms so long that the player may retire before the deal's conclusion

In the (in)famous Kovalchuk deal, the agreed-upon structure was this:

Year Salary Variance
1 $6M
2 $6M 0.0%
3 $11.5M +91.6%
4 $11.5M 0.0%
5 $11.5M 0.0%
6 $11.5M 0.0%
7 $11.5M 0.0%
8 $10.5M -8.7%
9 $8.5M -19.05%
10 $6.5M -23.53%
11 $3.5M -46.15%
12 $750K -78.57%
13 $550K -26.67%
14-17 $550K 0.0%

The total dollar amount due to Kovalchuk in the deal is $102M. But the cap hit is $6M per year. And, from year one's $6M to year 17's $550K, the total contract variance is -90.83%. If you go off the highest annual amount in the deal ($11.5M) to the lowest ($550K) it's a variance of -95.22%.

Looking at those three benefits of back diving deals, the Kovalchuk contract hits all three. But, getting back to term limits in a vacuum, even with 7-years max term available to the Devils, they could still go to Kovalchuk and say "We can meet your $11.5M salary, but we need the cap hit to come in around $6M to make it work. So we could do this:

year 1 $11.5M
year 2 $11.5M
year 3 $11.5M
year 4 $7M
year 5 $550K
year 6 $550K
year 7 $550K

That's a total of $43.15M, and a cap hit of $6.16M." With a variance of -95.21%.

In other words, term limits alone don't prevent back diving.

The other piece the league is looking for is the variance cap. This is essentially a maximum amount of change in salary during the contract. There are two interpretations of how this would work:

1) defined max variance over the life of the contract

2) fixed, recurring year-over-year max variance based on the salary in year one of the deal

Current reporting is that they are loooking at a 20% variance cap, so I'll use that number here.

In the first interpretation, the Kovalchuk 7-year example above would look like this:

Starting at $11.5M in year one, the lowest a successive annual salary could be inside that contract is $9.2M (80% of $11.5M). That's fairly restrictive, and makes it difficult to structure a deal that back dives (dives back?). And, if the lowest-allowable annual salary in this example is $9.2M, then the structure that allows the "most" back diving would look like this:

year 1 $11.5M
year 2 $9.2M
year 3 $9.2M
year 4 $9.2M
year 5 $9.2M
year 6 $9.2M
year 7 $9.2M

The total amount of dollars paid over the seven years is $66.7M and the AAV/cap hit would be $9.52M. Again, variance is -20%.

In the second interpretation, the Kovalchuk 7-year example above would look like this (assuming maximum allowable variance used each year):

year 1 $11.5M
year 2 $9.2M (20% of $11.5M is $2.3M. $11.5 - $2.3 = $9.2)
year 3 $6.9M ($9.2M - $2.3M)
year 4 $4.6M ($6.9M - $2.3M)
year 5 $2.3M ($4.6M - $2.3M)
year 6 $0.0 ($2.3M - $2.3M)
year 7 $0.0 ($0 - $0)

The total amount of dollars paid over the five years is $34.5M, with an AAV/cap hit of $6.9M.

Uh oh. See, if you take 1/5 (20%) of the nut away every year, you obviously make the entire nut disappear after 5 years. So this second interpretation (which is how James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail, for one, sees the variance cap language working)
would seem to obviate any term limit where the limit is in excess of 5 years.

Now, just as obviously, a contract needn't be structured using the maximum allowable variance every year. Teams could structure/propose deals that only vary by, say, 10% or 19% (or any percentage less than 20%) of the year one salary, and potentially stretch those deals out to seven years. So I'm not saying the second interpretation is fatally flawed.

Comparing these two interpretations, it's clear that, if the goal is preventing back diving, then the more-restrictive (better) option is the first interpretation. What's interesting is that, in that first option, Kovalchuk receives more dollars, over a longer term, than in the second. It's also clear that term limits alone do not protect owners from themselves on this subject.