Monday, May 27, 2013

The Funk

The first thougth through my head when someone mentions "Funk" is something by Bootsy Collins, maybe this rendition by Toots and the Maytals, assisted by Bootsy Collins and the Roots. But this time of year, I think about the pile of Wild gear: A couple player tees: 2 Koivus (one old, one new), a Parise one, a couple giveaway Setoguchi tees, and a handful of jerseys. They're in the corner, and my wife has decided to wash them, but I can't bring myself to fold them and put them back into regular rotation. It's the post-playoff funk.

My son seems immune to it. As soon as the Wild were eliminated, he started talking about how he wanted the Kings to win it all. Makes sense, since that was my team last season once the conference finals brgan. When you're five, the whole world is before you. As a nascent sports fan with the prospect of 50 or more years of fandom ahead of you, losing in the first round doesn't seem so bad. There's always next year. As a middle aged adult, and one who has lived through having my team taken from me, a loss every year hurts.

Perhaps we were spoiled by the hiring of Jacques Lemaire to be the innagural coach of the Wild. As a genius, he easily took a bunch of has-beens and a couple never-will-bes and made it to the Conference Finals. He took the Wild into the playoffs three times in eight seasons. Enough to sate the masses: whet our appetites enough to want more.

And then the dark ages began. Lemaire never went more than two seasons out of the playoffs, lockouts notwithstanding. So three years without May Hockey in Minnesota hurt. A lot. One coach was brought in, ostensibly to change the culture of the team. He failed, and another young gun of a coach was brought in. This one had a disappointing season, but last summer, his - and the team's - fortunes changed with the free-agent acquisitions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

Expectations were raised - and justifiably so. Parise is an elite winger and scorer and Suter is a Norris candidate. Both made the team better in the time it took them to put their John Hancocks on their identical contracts.

Then the Wild limped into the playoffs and did their damnedest to back out. Playing against the Blackhawks was akin to sending an Ewok into battle with the Rancor. (And I don't mean a bunch of Ewoks equipped with ropes, logs, and boulders either. They might be feisty in groups, but alone...)

So the Wild went without much of a fight. All I can take from this experience in the way of a silver lining is that they learned something and they'll be ready next year. With a full training camp, and hopefully a blueline that includes better than Tom Fucking Gilbert, they have the chance to show what they can do.

Until then, I'm going to settle in and enjoy my funk.

Monday, May 20, 2013

TDI 052013


End of season TDI! Yeah we finally got around to it.

It's an end of season recap show, what would you expect to be in it?

Thanks for listening this season. We had a lot of fun doing the podcast, and we will keep it rolling as long as both of you keep listening to it.

Stay tuned for more fun and original programming this summer!

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Buyout Question

What first struck me as a comment unfit for consideration at The SHP the other day by Lemmiwinks about Heatley staying on with the Wild after this season now has me thinking about it.

A lot of people assumed that Heatley would be a buyout candidate after this season, given that the cap is expected to fall to 64.3 million dollars for the 13-14 season. Indeed, the Wild find themselves in a pickle with regard to the salary cap going into next year. This much was assumed, but with the acquisition of Jason Pominville, the Wild seemed to be shutting the door on the Dany Heatley Era. Consider that the Wild have $55.1MM committed to next season (which includes nearly a million dollars of The Stink of Doug Risebrough, aka Mark Parrish). That leaves the Wild with an asshair less than $9.2MM from the cap. Not so bad until you have to consider that the Wild need to either re-sign Matt Cullen or another second line center and have three Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) in Cal Clutterbuck ($1.4M last year), Jared Spurgeon ($527K), and Justin Falk ($825K).

Did I mention they also need a Number 1 goalie, and another forward or two? Assuming that Cullen's next contract is about the same as what he got from the last one, that Clutterbuck, Spurgeon and Falk will all garner modest (or immodest) raises, then the Wild GM Chuck Fletcher will likely have less than two million dollars for a couple healthy scratch forwards and a goalie. Not even League minimums will pay for that. If Jason Zucker earns a roster spot (and I think he has), his 830K eats up a lot of that money.

Something's got to give.

Enter a "Compliance Buyout," aka an Amnesty Buyout. This allows a team to buy out a player who's not earning his salary, or just a player who owns a big cap hit. Assuming the Wild can't move a big salary, this is how they'll get the cap space needed to put together a roster for next season. And Dany Heatley seems like the leading candidate for that.

But back to Lemmiwinks' point. Heatley was effective on the third line last season with Brodziak (and either Clutterbuck or Bouchard) before getting hurt. Without Heater in the lineup, Jason Pominville stepped in nicely. But with Bouchard and his $4MM salary riding off into le coucher de soleil, the Wild have need of a third line winger. Clutterbuck can fill that role, but seeing him out there with Mitchell and Rupp was a sight late in the season. That line was effective, and I want to see more of that. It also puts pressure on that line knowing that Zenon Konopka is ready to jump into the lineup (That depth is a Good Thing, more on that later.) So if the Wild want to retain Heatley's services and cap hit, they need to come up with some cash.

And that brings us to Jar Jar Binks, aka Tom Gilbert.

While it may rile the provincials who love them some local boys, Tom Gilbert might be the odd man out, and there are a couple reasons why. First, he was as effective as Cam Barker - and that says a lot considering that Gilbert could skate halfway across Rohan before Barker passes the Gates of Isengard. And at $4MM a year, that hurts. Second, the Wild loves Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk for their physical play, and with Marco Scandella's playoff performance, he's earned a spot in the lineup. Unless they want to carry 8 defensemen again, Scandella will displace someone. (The Wild could trade Nate Prosser, true, but he earns a paltry $825,000 compared to Gilbert's $4MM.) Third, as I said above, they may place a priority on Heater and his bigger salary.

So the next question becomes what the Wild could do with what money they have, and there are four scenarios:
  • They can leave the roster as is. As you can see below, if they do that, they're fucked.
  • They can buyout Heatley and keep Gilbert. This gives them a good amount of money to work with.
  • They can buyout Gilbert and keep Heatley. This gives them a modest amount of money.
  • They can buyout both (this is the Deion Sanders Option). This gives the Wild a shitload of money to use.

       As-is Buyout Heatley   Buyout Gilbert   Deion Sanders
Parise 7,538,462 7,538,462 7,538,462 7,538,462
Heatley 7,500,000
Koivu 6,750,000 6,750,000 6,750,000 6,750,000
Pominville 4,505,000 4,505,000 4,505,000 4,505,000
Setoguchi 3,000,000 3,000,000 3,000,000 3,000,000
Brodziak 2,833,333 2,833,333 2,833,333 2,833,333
Mitchell 1,900,000 1,900,000 1,900,000 1,900,000
Rupp 1,500,000 1,500,000 1,500,000 1,500,000
Coyle 975,000 975,000 975,000 975,000
Konopka 925,000 925,000 925,000 925,000
Cullen 3,500,000 3,500,000 3,500,000 3,500,000
Clutterbuck 2,000,000 2,000,000 2,000,000 2,000,000
Zucker 833,333 833,333 833,333 833,333

Forward                  X

Suter 7,538,462 7,538,462 7,538,462 7,538,462
Gilbert 4,000,000 4,000,000

Brodin 1,444,167 1,444,167 1,444,167 1,444,167
Stoner 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000
Prosser 825,000 825,000 825,000 825,000
Falk 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000
Spurgeon 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000
Defense                  X                  X

Harding 1,900,000 1,900,000 1,900,000 1,900,000

SODR 927,778 927,778 927,778 927,778

Total 63,545,535 56,045,535 59,545,535 52,045,535
Salary Cap 64,300,000 64,300,000 64,300,000 64,300,000

Cap Space 754,465 8,254,465 4,754,465 12,254,465

(Numbers in bold italic are numbers straight out of my anal cavity.)

Clearly, these scenarios are laden with assumptions. Considering the Wild gave Clayton Stoner a mil a year to do nothing, it's perfectly reasonable to assume Justin Falk gets the same. I've no idea what Jared Spurgeon would get, but let's put a number there. Same with Clutterbuck. Similarly, I haven't the faintest idea what Matt Cullen wants from his next contract.

All this comes down to a couple factors:
  • What does Matt Cullen want for a salary?
  • What does a goalie want for a salary? If that goalie is Nik Backstrom, what does he want? Could the Wild deal for a new goalie - Fasth or Hiller perhaps?
  • Does Clutterbuck return? If so, how much of a raise does he garner in salary?
I think that we'll see some things shake loose once the Wild get an idea from Matt Cullen and Nik Backstrom what they want for a salary next season and beyond.

Where's Granlund?

Shirley, you're asking why I didn't include Mikael Granlund. I'm sure the rest of you are wondering the same thing. I'm not convinced that Granlund is the answer as a second line center going into next season. Maybe one season in the AHL was what he needed, but I'd like to see him really be ready for the NHL and not presumed to have a spot carved out for him. And assuming that Granlund remains with the Houston Aeros Iowa Wild next season, he gives the Wild some additional depth. Clearly, his game needs some work, but he's a bona fide second line forward in the making. If something happens to Cullen, having Granlund at the ready is a potent option to have.

And maybe I'm gunshy after Risebrough rushed the likes of James Fucking Sheppard and Colton Gillies to the NHL, but I'd rather Granlund spend a little extra time in the AHL rather than not enough (or none at all).

Where are we now?

The Wild pretty much have to make a roster move in terms of shedding some salary if they expect to take the next step next season. A veteran center is pretty much a necessity considering that Granlund probably isn't ready for prime time. Said Center won't come cheap, and Matt Cullen might be the cheapest option out there, assuming he enjoys it here and is ready to take the next step with the Wild. If not, that $3.5MM up there might be lowballing that position.

Running with Harding and Kuemper isn't wise, since there are too many questions about Harding's health, so a legit number 1 goalie has to be found. Looking around the league, we can expect that Chuck will be looking to spend 4-6 mil a year on that position.

Nothing is certain, but the Wild are at least in a good position to be ready for the upcoming offseason.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

(Almost) Daily Briefing 050713


What you need to know today.

So, here's the thing. They CAN do this. The Hawks are the better, more-skilled team without a doubt. In game 3 the Wild played pretty much a perfect game (for them), and they still needed OT. So their margin for error is wafer thin. So, caveat, caveat, caveat.

But, yeah, why not? There's actual pressure on the Hawks now. Even though they'd still hold home ice advantage, they absolutely do not want to go 2-2. No one would, regardless of the opponent.

If the Wild can replicate the physicality, and if they can improve on their consistency (no 8-minute defensive shells this time please), why not?

I really thought Setoguchi was good in game 3. I think cutting the cord on the injured Rupp and Konopka and just replacing them with healthy bodies alone is an improvement at this point. If they were healthy that might be different, but they're not. We talked about it on the podcast and I'm not big on dressing Dumba. Scandella has played fine, Gilbert at least hasn't gotten embarrassed, and Spurgeon has played well. Falk needs to show that he can learn from his near-costly mistake last game, but I'd still rather see him in there than Dumba. And nothing need be said about the top pair.

Mikko rebounded from a poor game 2 with a solid game 3, even if it didn't show on the scoresheet (other than faceoffs-won).

Why not?

But they cannot afford any drop off in intensity from game 3. They have to use that game's performance as a starting point and improve on it. Anything less and it could be over by the first intermission.

You'll note that I have not changed by series prediction, but I'll be happy to have it go up in smoke.

Monday, May 6, 2013

TDI 050613


We broke down the playoffs and stuff. Shout out to Harding. Shout out to our friends at T3I, and a stick tap (we feel your pain - truly).

No one was inebriated, either.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

(Almost) Daily Briefing 050413


What you need to know today.

Pulse thready. BP's falling.

It's over. I know, not technically, but try this one on for size: The Wild won four of five games to beat the Blackhawks and advance to the second round.

Enjoy games three and four in St. Paul.

Game 2 Thoughts: Skill Deficiency


So, what did we learn? We learned one big thing: that the Wild's upper-end skill level is no match for the Blackhawks' upper-end skill level. In fact, the Wild's top skilled players are roughly equivalent to Chicago's 3rd line in terms of straight-ahead offensive skill. We can effort with the best of them, but it takes apparently a special alignment of the stars to dial up the kind of performance from a guy like Koivu that A) is on par with an average game from the likes of Toews and B) is necessary just to start the conversation of whether or not the Wild can skate with the Hawks in a playoff series. As relatively good a job as the Wild's top line is doing on the Blackhawks' top line, the Blackhawks' top line enjoys the ability to not be counted on for offense every game because their second line is so good - and their third line so opportunistic. The Hawks are a very good, very deep team. But the Wild's top line enjoys no such luxury. They have to be perfect defensively AND offensively in order for the Wild to have a chance to win.

It's not just about Koivu, either. I'll give Coyle a bit of a pass because he's a rookie. But Parise, bless his little heart, just isn't in the same league - at least with Koivu as his center - with the four-line-six-defense tsunami of the Blackhawks. Parise has performed exactly as his career statistics show he should have this season. He has not disappointed at all. But he's in an untenable situation with these line mates, asked to do this job, against this caliber of opposition.

And that was the concern last summer, remember? The Debbie Downers said that the Wild reached and overpaid in a less-than premium free agent class. Granted, most of those Debbie Downers were fans for teams that swung and missed on the same players. And granted as well that Suter has exceeded expectations - shaking off whispers that he wouldn't be the same player without the great and powerful Weber next to him (he hasn't been...he's been better).

I'm not saying I wish we hadn't signed Koivu or Parise (anyone who says we shouldn't have signed Suter is a moron). I'm just saying we put Koivu and Parise in roles that they cannot fulfill and that's unfair. And the result is that we're nowhere close to contending for the Cup unless other teams knock off the real contenders for us. Again, not that we thought we were this season, but is Granlund and Kuemper and full-time Zucker going to elevate us to the level of the Blackhawks? This series is a forward-looking measuring stick. And we're short where it matters: skill.

The eastern conference game must just be a different, inferior game to how we play in the west. Parise has simply disappeared where and when it matters most. He's had shots, says the hockey-illiterate like Souhan. Well Brodziak had three of his own. Shots alone don't necessarily tell you anything.

This isn't another "blow up the team, fire everyone" spasm to which Wild fans are so prone. We have an incredible core, still have an enviable group of young players, and a good GM. I think Yeo's best coaching days are ahead of him. We don't have three things: a top-drawer goalie, depth on defense and a top line. Glass half full: that's only three things. Glass half empty: those are three pretty big things!

Maybe this is all prelude. Maybe this is the eye-opening experience for a guy like Koivu that he will carve into his memory and use as his motivation while he's golfing and working out and eating sushi this summer; coming back a better player next season and raising his game to a Toewsian level in the process. That would be great. It would also be a surprise.

But, as long as everyone shows up to the team events, everything's hunky dory, right?

Friday, May 3, 2013

(Almost) Daily Briefing 050313


What you need to know today.

Just win, baby!


We know the rest of the story lines. And there are many and they are great because it's the playoffs and they are great.

Win and it's a series. Lose and it's the series.

Pretty simple.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

(Almost) Daily Briefing 05-02-2013

The two days since Game One have been interesting. People who have approached me about it have had strange reviews of the game. More or less, I've heard things as mild as "that's too bad about Game One" and as harsh as "that game was brutal."

In reaction to even the mildest of Debbie Downers I kept finding myself shocked and saying, "Really? I'm pretty happy with how it went." Obviously, pulling out the win in OT would've made me happier, but biking wobbly-wheeled away from my buddy's garage that night I felt awesome about the game--and it wasn't just the belly full of craft and that weird Italian sausage- and cheese-filled, bacon-wrapped chickenball that I'd gotten from the Byerly's deli. As I left, I heartily congratulated my buddy on the win since he's a Hawks fan--an Illinois native a lifer Hawks person, so you can't blame him. I couldn't wait to see what the rest of the series had to tell.

With the story that played out Tuesday night, aside from the game of inches in OT playing out in the Wild's favor, the game couldn't've gone much better. There was so much going against the Wild--playing like assholes down the stretch, Chicago being the juggernaut they are, and then Bax goes lame in pre-game--that the way the guys played was inspiring, and no one deserves more credit than Josh Man Stallion Harding.

This is how I react to games:

  • If you don't play like you deserve to win and you lose: good. GFYS. Prepare to receive blithering F-Bombs.
  • If you don't play like you deserve to win and you win: good. But stop playing like assholes.
  • If you play like you deserve to win and you win: good. That's what you're supposed to do, you dumb MFers.
  • If you play like you deserve to win and you lose: it's cool, bros. You and I know how you played. 

And, sure, maybe I'm just content after building up such a loser lather heading into the series. I still didn't see too much to be ashamed of. Even if we go on to lose this 4 or 5 game series, as most of the hockey world (including MN) has the series pegged at, at the very least their effort on Monday gave me a little hope that the series could be entertaining as fuck... Barring they can replicate it.

I don't mean to keep looking past the playoffs already. Really. It's just that this series is the perfect precursor to next season's new divisions. Familiarity breeds contempt, and familiarity in the playoffs breeds contempt like rabbits. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

(Almost) Daily Briefing 05-01-13

If you're a fan of Nik Backstrom, you've had one thought in your head for the last 18 hours or so:

But then Josh Harding stood tall and damn near stole the game for the Wild.

The 'Hawks are an outstanding team and the Wild played as good a game as you could expect. They ratcheted up the intensity appropriate for a playoff game.

The next game that Wild fans need to watch closely is the one on Friday in Chicago. That's all that matters right now.