Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sooo... Parise Discovered Twitter Today...

Yup. Zach Parise discovered Twitter today. Apparently, he also discovered models. Lots of 'em.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wild Expectations


Sure, it's the end of July: the Bermuda Triangle of the calendar year for hockey fans. But, when my dad mentioned tonight that he had read my piece about 'that....guy' the Wild signed (read: Cooke), it made me realize that it has indeed been a while. So, in the absence of any actual news (sorry, Cuma, even Russo only gave you 62 words), I thought I would start talking about my expectations for the team for next season.

Let's start by looking back.

Last year my expectations were simple: make the playoffs. It was time. They had made the big two-headed splash, and I'm not talking about Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka. I tried to be very clear that I did not even need them to win a game or a series to consider it a good season. Just get into the top 53.33% of the league. That, my friends, is a low bar. Well, they met my expectations. I am satisfied with how last season transpired, once, you know, they actually deigned to have a season.

So, looking ahead to next year, what do we know? We know this team is still woefully short of the depth of talent, scoring, defense and goaltending (and maybe coaching) needed to compete with the big boys. Wait a second....talent, scoring, def...that's pretty much everything right? I mean, what's missing from that list? I guess....good equipment guys? Otherwise, yeah, pretty comprehensive list of holes.

Oh sure, they're coming. That's actually probably true. I suppose I could qualify that a couple more times. That's likely actually probably close to being not far from a reasonable interpretation of the truth. But anyone with a half-honest eye who saw the series against Chicago knows that this Wild team is not, in any way, elite.

But, the injuries.... Fair point. Backstrom, Heatley, Pominville. In the context of this Wild team, that's a pretty material list. But, seriously, are we really willing to say we're the 18th-best goalie, an aging sniper and a guy who didn't even get invited to the Team USA Oly training camp away from skating with Chicago? I didn't think so.

My expectations for next season for the Wild are again very simple: improve on last year. Specifically: win a round. For the record, I think this season's expectations will be harder for them to fulfill than last year's proved. But Lord knows we've been patient. And I'm not asking for a Cup run. I'm just asking to see the second round. Unlike last year, I don't know if I intrinsically believe they can deliver on my expectation. But it's just the principle of the thing. It was a low bar last year. And they barely snuck over it. So maybe that means my expectation is too high. But at the same time, is it? This is still a roster with Parise, Suter, Koivu, Backstrom, Heatley, Pominville and Brodin. And getting to the second round still puts them outside the 25th percentile (8/30) of the league. I want to see this team start to be greater than the sum of its parts, rather than as strong as the weakest link. It's time to start being a team in the organism sense, and not in the collection of disparate parts sense. So, yes. My expectations for the Wild for the 13-14 season is that they win one round in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But, now we have Matt Cooke.... Oh no you did not.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Development Camp Review

I took my son to the Wild's development camp this year, hoping to get a new tee to replace that Devin Setoguchi giveaway from a few years back. None were forthcoming, but not to worry, I still have a car that needs polishing.

Having to make a family engagement, I had to leave after the first of two periods. But I had time to make a few observations:

Matt Dumba - Holy wow does this kid skate well. Fast and agile. I loved seeing him switch from forward to backward without losing speed, or transition through the neutral zone to get back on D. I could be biased because the book on him is that he isn't all that big, but the dude has some serious upper body size and not being very tall made him look like Kirby Puckett on skates.

Erik Haula - I liked watching him go into the corners - not typical of younger players unless they're big. He's not really big, but he was fearless. He also had a chance to show off his speed when he was the chaser on a penalty shot. He caught the shooter within a few strides. Creative playmaker, I could see him thinking the next step.

Zack Phillips - Phillips also caught my attention with his ability to see the game. Watching him on the ice, you can see him thinking three steps ahead as the play develops. However, he appeared content to float in the center of the ice and let other players go into the corners, and he seemed to shy away from contact.

Kurtis Gabriel - He seemed to me to be a man among men. He played a power forward style of game in the scrimmage; bulling his way through defenders and not shying away from physical play. He definitely has the size at this level to hang with the big boys. Assuming he continues to develop well, I can see him in a Wild sweater a few years on down the road.

Adam Gilmour - On the other end of the spectrum is Adam Gilmour, at least in terms of size. Gilmour seemed stick-thin even in pads. That said, I liked his speed and agility; he definitely has the skating skill you can't teach.

Johan Gustafsson - I sat in the end where the Green team scored thrice in the first period, all on Johan Gustafsson. I left unimpressed. There were a few good shots on goal, but I was hoping to see Johan make some spectacular saves, and I left still wanting.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fletcher's Follies


At the end of the day, it's entertainment. The NHL is in the entertainment business. The league and its teams make money when the product is intriguing and fun. In between there it is afforded some leeway for the classic elements of theater: heroes, villains, plot twists, pretty much everything but romance and heavy petting. Well, unless you're Steve Ott.

Last year right about this time, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher essentially completely revived his entire fan base in one day: signing Parise and Suter. This year, well this year was going to be different. The cap was going down, and the Wild (already a cap team) was going to be even further hurt since Brodin's rookie bonuses put them over the cap, meaning they'd have to play by a lower cap this season.

Anyway, for this summer's entertainment, Chuck warmed up with a nice overture; a jaunty tune called "Get Ready To See Cullen Walk". Then he moved into the first act, marked by the catchy "Trade Cal For El Nino". To close out the first act, fans were treated to "The New Kid From Minny" welcoming a re-tread defenseman in a classic soft shoe.

But the first act was truly just a prelude to what Chuck was about to unveil as the curtain came up on the second act. A blistering number called "Oversell Dumping a Talented Winger For A Pick On Goal-Starved Team" which might have garnered some Tony votes in and of itself, were it not for the number that came right on its heels. Sure to go down in musical theater history as one of the most shocking, alarming, jaw-dropping hits since Rodgers and Hammerstein were doing their thing, Chuck treats us to his masterwork, entitled: "Shit Sandwich; Everybody Take Your Bite".

There are players you hate when they're not on your team, but love when they are. I suspect Cal Clutterbuck is one of those guys. But there are guys who are so disrespectful, such recidivists, so lacking in honor - even the honor that hockey players have always wrapped themselves in playing a brutal, barbaric game - that even his undeniable other talents are not enough to overcome his sordid history and make you like him. For me, and, judging by most of my Twitter feed tonight, a strong cross-section of Wild nation, one of those guys is Matt Cooke. I'm not going to justify his history by reviewing it here. Either you're aware of it or you're not. I am. Yes, I am including the things he does that actually help his team(s).

But the thing about hockey is that it does straddle the line between tough, raw sport and misdemeanors. Those who are able to straddle that line while keeping it classy and honorable count among themselves some of the very best in the history of the game. Mr. Hockey himself, for example. But those who demonstrate time and time again that, when faced with the choice of driving right up to the line or plowing right over it will choose to blow right through it, damn the torpedos/supplementary discipline, THOSE guys are the scum of the game. The lowest of low. There is precious little that separates hockey from true barbarism in the collective perception of the middle of the bell curve of Americans. That's a badge of honor for hockey fans. But useless, low-brow, selfish, fuckwits like Matt Cooke make it easier for the NFL/MLB set to thumb their noses at us, and harder for us to tell them to get stuffed when they do it.

Cooke has acted out on his childish baser instincts time and time again, thoughout the entirety of his career. He has gotten busted for it, some of the time. He has always SAID he got the message, scales had fallen from his eyes, and would repent. Then he came back and did it again. In between there were spurts of relative smart, unselfish play and solid production. But he has always fallen off that wagon. Always. Shame on us for believing him this time.

And here's the stink of it all: up until now I had been able to get behind every one of Fletcher's moves. Even Richards (at first, anyway). But this one...this one I just can't. Fletcher has a blind spot for guys with a Cup win on their resume. Just like Riser did with guys who had been drafted in the first round of their draft year. This one is just hard to accept. In fact, I can't accept it. The team blasts this State of Hockey sunshine up our collective asses to try to appeal to our fear of hockey inferiority complex. Minnesota hockey history is full of middling skill guys who play a lunch pail game and play it well. We don't need this shit.

And that's what this is, Chuck. You fucked up with this one. Bad signing. Crappy, transparent attempt to rationalize it. We couldn't skate or score with Chicago, and you just set us back in skill. Don't insult our intelligence by telling us the market for Setoguchi heated up, when all you got was a 2nd round pick for him. You know who gets traded for a 2nd round pick? Eric Belanger. We need help at center and we got a 2nd round pick (to replace the one that Buffalo now owns after the Pominville trade). That was bad optics.

But that was the Hubble telescope compared to the Cooke signing. There is no spin that will get me to root for Matt Cooke. Seriously. None. He could break up a sure goal and then go down the ice and score the Cup winning goal in OT in game seven and I still won't like him as a player or as a man. Last year I said I wouldn't watch FSNorth when LaPanta called games. The only games I saw him call were ones where DirecTV only offered the Wild feed. I'm not fucking around. Chuck has had a lot of good days as Wild GM. Some great days. This was a bad day. I'm not calling for his head. That's just nonsense. But today, Fletcher's Follies, was his worst day as GM of the Minnesota Wild.

The question is: was it entertaining?