Thursday, June 23, 2016

Once upon a Schedule...

A look at the Minnesota Wild's 2016-2017 schedule...

I've been looking at the 2016-17 schedule for the Minnesota Wild. The NHL scheduling team did the Wild no favors; indeed, it seems as if the Wild are being punished for what happened last season. While there are some significant highlights, the lowlights are also glaringly apparent. So, having said all of that, here we go...

The good:

1. Only one trip west of Winnipeg after Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 5). This will invariably prove vital for the team's well-being, as the Wild never do all that well on West Coast road swings. Speaking of the West Coast...

2. Only one trip to California, the weekend after New Year's. For those of you who are sick of the holidays, along comes your favorite hockey team, giving you something else to do after the New Year's resolutions are broken on Jan. 2.

3. All your favorite holiday games are covered at home, with games on Thanksgiving Eve (Winnipeg), 'Black Friday' (Pittsburgh), New Year's Eve (Columbus), and even Valentine's Day (Anaheim), all at Xcel Energy Center.

4. A massive, eight-game homestand (including the CBA-mandated five-day 'break'), as the Wild occupy the 'X' from Feb. 8-27. Two games vs. Chicago, and single games vs. Tampa Bay, Detroit, Anaheim, Dallas, Nashville and the LA Kings. Of course, as you will see below, there is the other side of this equation. Times two.

5. Six of the Wild's last 10 games are against teams who did not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015-16.

And now, the bad:

1. Four 4-game road trips, including two Western Canada swings which wind up in Canadian cities not in the West. A few 2-3,000 mile trans-Canada flights in the future. Ugh.

2. Nine weeks (Sunday-to-Saturday), when the Wild play four games in that seven-day time frame. This include the last five weeks IN A ROW, after the Wild's CBA-mandated 'break'. (BTW: The break was a CBA-negotiated change, in order to allow players to play in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in September).

3. The Wild play 9 Saturday home games, 5 Sunday home games, and 3 Friday home games. All three days feature afternoon games. In fact, the Wild play AT HOME at 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00 and 8:00. As I've said in previous seasons: 'Have a nice time!'

And now, the ugly:

1. The Wild play at least one game at 5:00 PM (or earlier) 13 times in 2016-17, 7 home, 6 away.

2. The Wild play four games per week each of the last 5 weeks. 20 games in the season's last 33 days. 10 home, 10 away.

Start your planning, folks...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

NHL Arenas: New and noteworthy

The NHL arena scene is changing once again. Arenas built in the 1970's and early 1980's (before the beginning of the suite era) are quickly becoming dinosaurs, as billions of dollars (both public and private funding) are being poured into new concrete and new concepts, as NHL teams still primarily rely on the box office for team revenues.

The newest ones, those opening soon (or, recently opened) and the ones currently on various drawing boards represent the best in modern construction. The most energy efficient, most bang-for-the-buck buildings ever devised by human hands.

Let's talk about the newest of the new, shall we?

1. Rogers Place, Edmonton. The new home of the Oilers will open in late July, 2016, ending a controversy which has raged in Alberta's provincial capitol for nearly a decade. This new arena, built on former railway land on the north side of Downtown Edmonton, will feature a tri-level party area in the area where the visitors will attack in the first and third periods. Placed at a stop along the Metro LRT line of Edmonton Transit, most Oilers (and, WHL Oil Kings) fans are already used to 'the train to the game'. Replaces Rexall Place (originally the Northlands Coliseum), which opened in 1974 (yes, that's pre-Gretzky).

2. Little Caesars Arena, Detroit. The new home of the Red Wings, replacing the venerable (opened in 1979) Joe Louis Arena, features three levels of suites, and will be located near the current Ford Field (NFL Lions) and Comerica Park (MLB Tigers) along Woodward Avenue, where hometown-headquartered Quicken Loans has already sponsored the QLine streetcar, which will conveniently have a stop near the arena's front door. This new facility will be ready for the 2017-2018 NHL season. Will the new arena have the same magic as the Joe? Only time will tell. Interesting fact: 40 per cent of the construction workers on the project are residents of the City of Detroit.

3. Ottawa Senators. The Sens' ownership wishes to build a new arena in Downtown Ottawa, on a 22.5 acre (9.3 hectares) site in Lebreton Flats, southwest of Parliament Hill on the west side of Downtown Ottawa, south of the Canadian War Museum. Sens' majority owner Eugene Melnyk told CBC television in December, 2015, that the current Canadian Tire Centre in far-suburban Kanata 'wasn't designed to last 30, 40 years', and he was right. The 20-year-old arena (built 1996), has looked better; Sens' fans have complained of things, such as having Wi-Fi pulled out of the arena in the last few seasons. The arena was the first large-scale development in Kanata, a far-western suburb of Canada's Capital Region. Fact: the Senators had to pay the Province of Ontario, to construct an expressway interchange for fans to access the arena's parking lots prior to opening. While 2018-19 might be doable, looks more like 2019-2020 before Sens' fans won't have the long drive towards Petawawa, in order to see NHL hockey in the Ottawa Valley.

And now, two that are just waiting for teams to occupy them:

4. T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas. The new home of the NHL Las Vegas expansion team (which may be awarded this summer), this 17,500-seat anchor next to the New York, New York casino has already opened, and the arena will have already hosted everything from multiple Garth Brooks concerts to the WWE by the time the NHL arrives for the 2017-2018 season. Five levels; two of suites, one full club level, party towers (like Columbus and Arizona), if you can think of it, they will have it; this IS Las Vegas, after all. Just announce the franchise already, Gary Bettman. Due to the nature of the work week of most Vegas locals (not available on weekends), expect games to be mostly on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and very rarely in the afternoon.

5. Videotron Center, Quebec, PQ, Canada. Possibly the future home of the Carolina Hurricanes? Perhaps. But, for now, it's the home of the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL), and it's just waiting to be occupied by an NHL franchise. Owned by a division of Quebecor, the world's largest magazine and catalog publisher, this 18,259-seat wonder is loaded with more bells and whistles than most NHL arenas currently have. The Quebecor board includes former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney, who has quietly championed this project from the start. The Nordiques may have failed in Quebec City, but this arena is just waiting for an NHL team to make it a success.

Now, there are others, rumored or just hung up in bureauratic red tape: Calgary, where the Flames are wanting to get away from the flood-prone Stampede grounds, where the Saddledome has sat since opening in 1983; New York, where the Rangers' Madison Square Garden air rights above Penn Station may possibly be rescinded, as part of the Tri-State (NY/NJ/CT) Access to the Region's Core project (this, after spending $900 Million to rebuild the NHL's oldest arena); and then, there's the Islanders, where the Russian-controlled developers who own the Barclays' Center (and hold the operating rights to the Isles' old home, the Nassau County Coliseum, in Hempstead) have proposed to rebuild the 1972-era Coliseum as a 13,000-seat 'boutique' arena and put the Islanders back in their old home, albeit now with all the premium seating and suites that forced Isles' owner Michael Wang to abandon Long Island, forcing the Isles to go to Brooklyn in the first place.

Arizona, where the Coyotes are desperate to get closer to Scottsdale and Mesa, where the money lives in the Valley of the Sun, is so desperate to get out of their lease in Glendale (Gila River Arena) that they are even considering moving into the 13,730-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which opened for the minor-league Phoenix Roadrunners in 1965, rather than stay in Glendale; any brand new arena for the Coyotes would have to be built in the East Valley, in either Scottsdale or Mesa; there has been talk that the Coyotes and Arizona State University would go in on an arena together, but, as we know, talk is cheap.

Watch as more of the late 80's-early 90's arenas are slowly replaced in the next few years; the preponderance of club/suite revenue-producing seating is simply too alluring for most franchises to stand pat. New revenue streams, such as the ultra-premium club seating in Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Edmonton, where subscribers are guaranteed access to all events in the arena, with complimentary iPad at-seat computers and at-seat service, are now becoming more common every year.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

2015-16 Minnesota Wild: One blogger's opinion

Yes, these are my opinions, and mine only (thought you'd like to know).

The Minnesota Wild season is behind us. Never to return. And, for some of the Wild staff, players and most of the loyal fans, four words can aptly sum up the season:

Thank God it's over.

Putting the fan base out of its' misery, was the best thing the NHL could have done for this dysfunctional franchise. Although taunting the heck out of the fans in the third period of Game 6 versus the Dallas Stars was nearly the ultimate cruelty, the fact of the matter was that the Wild could not have survived a second-round series. Not that they weren't physically able to do so, mind you; but as the fan base was to deduce (because no one would actually come out and SAY it), there was a rift in the Wild locker room, between the veterans and the young guns on the team, that developed during the season's 1-11-2 stretch from Jan. 10 thru Valentine's Day. Continuing to lose to NHL lottery teams (e.g., New Jersey, Buffalo, Edmonton, Boston, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Arizona) is simply unacceptable for a franchise, who thinks they are just oh-so-close to a Stanley Cup run.

The Wild need to reboot; not a total rebuild, but a remodeling is definitely in order, especially after the classic 'back-in' to the playoffs, and the seven-losses-in-a-row ending with Game 2 in Dallas, including the come-from-ahead losses vs. Ottawa, at Detroit, the season-ending injury to Zach Parise vs. the San Jose Sharks, and the blowouts at Winnipeg and Game 1 in Dallas.

Let's play GM for a few minutes. (At least until someone says we don't know better.)

What should the Wild do?

1.) Dump Thomas Vanek. His usefulness to the Wild has diminished, and the foot speed to go with those hands has evaporated. He continues to refuse to help on defense. Yes, he scored 18 goals this season, but he faded in the finish. (Of course, on the Wild, who didn't?) But his continual 'figure eights at the center red line' routine has become maddening stale. And everyone knows it.

2.) Darcy Kuemper needs a new address. The NHL draft should at least allow the Wild to trade the recalcitrant goaltender to an organization that needs a No. 1 wanna-be goalie. Too bad it didn't work out, but at the time, Kuemper was the best alternative the Wild had. Yet another fallout from the 3-headed goaltending monster (Harding, Backstrom, Kuemper) of the Summer of 2014. Harding was forced to retire; Backstrom traded to Calgary on Trade Deadline day 2016; and now Kuemper can pack his bags and go, also. There are cheaper alternative backup goalies out there. Sorry, Kuemper fans, but so much of the NHL these days is a numbers game.

3.) Are we stuck with Jason Pominville? Looks like we are, at least for a season or two. 'Pommer' rewarded his team for his new contract with an 11-goal regular season while watching him literally grind his stick into the size of a spaghetti noodle. Shots high, shots wide, shots high and wide...never on net. Most squirt players have a better shot percentage than 'Pommer'. If the Wild could unload his contract (he would have to waive his no movement clause) to some other team, he could be a useful cog in helping that the cap floor.

4.) If you feel you need to trade a defenseman, do NOT trade any of your top 5 (Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon, Scandella, Dumba). These are the core of your true calling as a defensive hockey team. Reilly, you could package him and some of the roster's forward dead weight (Granlund, for example) to get something nicer...I'm sure a certain Alberta team (in Copper and Blue) would love to upgrade their defense.

5. Most of the UFA's and RFA's on the roster are not worth keeping. Porter, Larson, yeah, they deserve to stay around. The rest? Buh-bye now.

6. Mikael Granlund must be dealt with. Or, just flat out dealt. Granlund is deathly afraid to shoot, like someone is holding him hostage in Finland in the off-season or something. Whatever, he is the primary reason the 'pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-tip in' kind of Euro-goal will not work here. You have to shoot the puck to score. Apparently, the memo hasn't been translated yet for Granlund, Koivu, and the rest of the Euros on the current roster.

I just hope, for the sake of those of us who just got asked to pony up extra $$ for season tickets, that the Wild gets its' collective act together. Or, as the North Stars found out in the late 1980's, the fickle nature of the Minnesota sports fan will turn against them. The Minnesota sports fan is a front-runner; ask the Twins and the Timberwolves how it feels to be a footnote in the sports sections of the StarTribune and the Pioneer Press; they've experienced it for years. At least the Wolves are trying to actually DO something about it. The Twins? Well, we all know what those problems are.

Which way do the Wild go? Up? Or, down? Only owner Craig Leipold knows for sure.

Monday, April 25, 2016

'The Six-Pack of Suck', Volume 9: The Target-Rich Environment

Hello. It's me. Time to do our annual post-mortem on the season that was the Minnesota Wild, circa 2015-2016. The best Wild team of all time. Sadly, as Wild fans found out, only on paper.

In reality, this past season was the perfect season...for this annual review of six games, that really shaped the Wild's season. Sadly, I have to leave it at SIX GAMES, as the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of the Wild season would allow me to do 12. 18. Or even more.

That's how the Wild season went, from Thanksgiving weekend, straight thru the end of the regular season, and right into their first-round playoff series vs. Dallas, a team which was out of the playoffs two seasons ago.

The fact of the matter is that there was not just six games that highlighted (or, in this case, lowlighted) the season just passed. Yes, there were high points. I can go into those in great detail. But let's face it: this was a nearly historical bad season. This was a season for the record books. Or, the dumpster. Your choice, dear reader.

But, let's get started, in game order:

1. Nov. 28, 2015. Dallas 4, at Minnesota 3 (OT). In what would be an all-too-familiar theme this season, the Dallas Stars came into Minnesota for the first of what would be six games this season, and did what the Wild would find happening to them all too often -- blow a lead in the 3rd period, then lose in overtime. This lead would be THREE goals -- yes, the Wild held a 3-goal lead with 16 minutes left in the game, and then, in overtime, Tyler Seguin sealed the deal against backup Darcy Kuemper as Seguin back-doored 'Kuemps' after Jamie Benn pulled Kuemper out of the net.

2. Dec. 11, 2015. At Arizona 2, Minnesota 1 (OT). Once again, the overtime was the Wild-killer, as the lowly Coyotes, playing in from of more Wild fans than 'Yotes fans, in the announced crowd of 14,404 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, were treated to an excellent display of lack of discipline by Zach Parise. His high-sticking penalty, 16 seconds into the overtime, led to a quick end to the Wild's chances, against a team which they really should have had absolutely NO trouble with. With over 8,000 Minnesota fans (leftovers from the previous night's NFL Vikings-Cardinals game across the street, at University of Phoenix Stadium) in attendance, Mikkel Boedker (later traded to the Rangers on Trade Deadline day) score both Arizona goals to send the Wild to an 0-0-2 start to a 3-game road trip.

3.  Jan. 12, 2016. Buffalo 3, at Minnesota 2. In what had become another all-too-familiar theme, the Wild spotted the worst team of 2014-15, the lowly Buffalo Sabres, a 3-0 first period lead, and then the Sabres made it stay up for the win, as the Wild were victimized again by a backup goaltender, this time rookie Linus Ullmark. The Wild were outshot 30-23 in this loser of a contest; the second Wild goal was scored after most of the Xcel faithful had vanished into the January night.

4. Feb. 13, 2016. Boston 4, at Minnesota 2. Mike Yeo's last game as Wild head coach was yet another disaster du jour, as the Bruins took advantage of the Saturday afternoon sunshine and thumped the Wild, sealing the fate of the head coach of the last 2 1/2 seasons. Although Mike Reilly scored his 1st NHL goal, it came way-y-y too late, as he scored in the last minute of the game. David Krejci earned one goal, one assist for the B's, who would eventually go on to miss the playoffs. This game would end a 1-11-2 mark since Jan. 10 for Yeo, who was relieved of his duties before he could get home for a post-game burger Saturday evening.

5. Mar. 10, 2016. Edmonton 2, at Minnesota 1. Now with a new head coach (John Torchetti), but with the same old problems, mainly lack of offense and no team effort, the Wild allowed the worst team in the Western Conference, the lowly Oilers, to help themselves to two points when Connor McDavid, Edmonton's all-world rookie forward, took a long centering pass, and beat Devan Dubnyk under his arm, yet another all-too-familiar Wild outcome. This game stank from start to finish, especially when the Oilers were short three starting defensemen due to injury, a fourth due to suspension, and another Oiler injured during the game. Still, the Wild took it upon themselves to lose to the worst team in the West.

6. Mar. 15, 2016. At Ottawa 3, Minnesota 2(OT). Another so-so performance by the Wild ended with the tying goal being scored with EIGHT SECONDS remaining in regulation time, and then the game-winner slipped by Dubnyk with 30.4 seconds left in the overtime period. You really had to wonder what was going to happen to the Wild after this one, after the Senators were eliminated from the playoffs in the East shortly thereafter. But again, the Wild blew yet another lead to lose in extra time, wasting a four blocked shot in one opposition power play effort by Jared Spurgeon. Erik Karlsson with the game tying goal, and assists on the Sens' other two goals in this one. Ugh.

The next six, in all-too-brief format:

Dec. 21, 2015. Dallas 6, at Minnesota 3. Ugh. So bad, even the Wild didn't want to remember it. There isn't even a recap on the website. That's how bad this one was.

Jan. 3, 2016. At Florida 3, Minnesota 2. Yet another lack of offense performance by the boys in green. 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr scores with 11:08 remaing in regulation, and no pushback from the visitors. Even worse? The winning goalie? Al Montoya, noted backup goaltender and premiere Wild-killer. Maybe the Wild should get HIM to back up Dubnyk.

Jan. 25, 2016. Arizona 2, at Minnesota 1. U-G-L-Y. Wild don't got no alibi. Louis Domingue continues the tradition of backup goalies who beat up on the Wild (see: Al Montoya, above).

Feb. 2, 2016. At NY Islanders 5, Minnesota 3. Wild went into Brooklyn in first game following All-Star break. Five goals against in 25 minutes. And, yet another backup goalie, in this case Jean-Francois Berube, called up from Bridgeport of the AHL just before game time. Most of the Wild were still in the Carribean. Mentally.

Feb. 4, 2016. At NY Rangers 4, Minnesota 2. Wild went from Brooklyn to Manhattan, but the same result. Snatching defeat from victory's grasp. Horrible second period by the Wild; 2 Rangers goals in 1:20. Yuk.

Mar. 17, 2016. At NJ Devils 7, Minnesota 4. The St. Patrick's Day Massacre. Wild were never in this game, down 6-2 at the end of the second period. So bad, I had to leave 'the Rock' (Prudential Center) after the second period. Hideous exhibition of hockey by the boys in white and green (Devils wore their throwback jerseys that night). At least the Food Network was on the TV at the hotel.

Friday, July 24, 2015

It's Back: Volume 8: 'The Six-Pack of Suck'

Ah, yes. The heat of summer. Time to go back into the archives, and look at six Minnesota Wild games which really, well, precipitated last May's demise at the hands of the eventual champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.

This is the eighth version of the 'Six-Pack', and, as always, the upshot of all this is that Wild fans want the club to be that much better. They won't stand for the kind of hockey that these games purported to be played as...

1.) Oct. 27, 2014. NY Rangers 5, Minnesota Wild 4. This game could have been the Wild's to win; after all, the Wild built up a 3-0 lead heading into the third period at Madison Square Garden. Alas, the boys in the green breezers then decided, to take the rest of the night off. Rangers scored five times in the third period (a new Rangers record, BTW) to place defeat in the jaws of victory.

2.) Nov. 26, 2014. LA Kings 4, Wild 0. The day before Thanksgiving, the Los Angeles Kings came into the 'X', and literally carved up the Wild, like many of the angered patrons would do to turkeys the next day. The fact that this was a day before a major US holiday made it bad enough. The fact that it was a Western Conference opponent just made it that much worse.

3.) Dec. 20, 2014. Nashville 6, Wild 5 (OT). A game which should have never gone into overtime did, and when it did, the Predators walked away with two points, and the Wild were left floundering, and on the precipice of free-fall. The next game would be even worse.

4.) Dec. 23, 2014. Philadelphia 5, Wild 2. Nice say to say 'Happy Holidays' to your fan base, boys. Stink the joint out, then go on a 3-day break. This game was ugly and got worse as the night dragged on. The Flyers got revenge for the Wild's 3-2 win in Philly 5 weeks earlier. And how.

5.) Jan. 13, 2015. Pittsburgh 7, Wild 2. This one was over in the second period. No jump. No goaltending (was Niklas Backstrom injured in this game?). Definitely no offense. This Wild team was in free-fall by now, and ended the night in 12th -- TWELTH -- in the Western Conference. Afterwards, even Ryan Suter was sounding despondent. Something had to be done, and fast. Chuck Fletcher did, sending a 3rd-round draft pick to Arizona for Devan Dubnyk. And, from the ashes of this night from hell, the season would be eventually resurrected, only to come down to one game...

6.) April 6, 2015. Winnipeg 2, Wild 0. Had the Wild won this game, the first of their final back-to-back of the season, the Wild would have faced Nashville in the first round, while St. Louis and Chicago would have become first-round opponents. All I have to say is: "What might have been..."

Enjoy the rest of your summer. Let's meet up again soon.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

After the Fall: Wild post-mortem (Part I)

Well, the Minnesota Wild season is over. Has been for about two weeks now. Do we dare look back, and at least try to smile, after a season when a goaltender managed to single-handedly turn Chicken(bleep) into Chicken salad, only to get crushed like a pan pizza, against the Chicago Blackhawks? Let's go...

The Wild in 2014-15 is the tale of two seasons; pre-January 14, and January 15 and afterwards.

Before January 14, you had numerous blowouts against the Wild, including the last two games before the arrival of the season's savior; the numerous injuries; two illnesses ravaging the team; and the 12th-worst record in the NHL's Western Conference following a 7-2 drubbing at Consol Energy Center vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 13, a game which I witnessed in person. And, left early (the second time I ever did that, by the way.)

There is reason for optimism. A legit first line, two decent centers, a vastly improved defense, and for the first time in four seasons, decent goaltending. But there is also cause for alarm, as well.

Players thinking the goal is 9 yards wide, instead of six feet. Certain players thinking the opposition blue line is the equivalent of the Demilitarized Zone. Poor aim (or, none at all) while shooting. (Or, being so afraid to score, as to not bother shooting at all, even when a wide-open net is directly in front of them).

The defense is not immune, either. Too much ice time by one (or two) defensemen dragging the team down in the playoffs. Too many turnovers (especially late in home games).

The goaltending quandry is about to take an upward turn, as Josh Harding 's contract expires, Niklas Backstrom is due to be bought out (Backstrom has one year left on his contract), which leaves only the 'new' goalie -- Devan Dubnyk, who has indicated he wishes to return -- to be signed during the next 35 days (or so). Remember, July 1 is NHL Free agency day.

So, the season had two parts: pre-Devan, and after-trade.

Part I: Started well enough, won four of the first six games prior to the first sign of trouble, the classic third-period collapse vs. the NY Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 27, when the Wild blew a 3-1 3rd period lead and lost 5-4 in regulation.

Following that, three wins, and then a 3-game road trip (at Ottawa, Montreal and New Jersey) in which the Wild scored a measly two -- 2 -- goals, while giving up 10 at the same time.

After that, an up-and-down November, punctuated by the Thanksgiving Eve turkey served up to the Wild fans by the LA Kings -- a 4-0 drubbing, one which sent the faithful out of the 'X,' booing the team lustily as they went into the night.

And then...there was the 2014-15 Holiday season. Free points for everyone playing the Wild, except one poor unfortunate team (Toronto). An absolutely abysmal 2-7-4 record from December 15 to January 13. Five times when the 'defensively-minded' Wild gave up five or more goals, including two games where they gave up SEVEN goals (fortunately, neither game was in St. Paul, so all Wild fans had to do is turn off the TV set).

And then, there was Part II: An immediate 8-0-1 record after Dubnyk arrived in Buffalo early in the morning on Jan. 15. The best record in the entire NHL after Jan. 15th. Optimism reigned supreme, as pessimism was shown the door, and the Wild caught no less than 5 teams to claim the No. 1 wild-card spot in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs. The season was saved, after all.

And then, being the only wild-card team to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Granted, the second round showed that the Wild still have a ways to go as a unit, but that the foundation is, indeed, there for the future. All it needs is yet another round of unloading overpaid underachievers, and that the youth of this franchise may actually be in position, to take this franchise where Wild fans want it to go.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Since we've last met...

Minnesota Wild finally find their goaltender, game, and get back in playoff hunt

'O, the times, they are a-changin'...'

Remember that old 60's song? That phrase could also apply to the Minnesota Wild, as they are rising from the ashes of the NHL Western Conference playoff race, to get back to at least respectability as the 2014-15 season comes into the final 20-22 games of the regular season.

The trade for Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona (nee-Phoenix) Coyotes has been a Godsend for the beleaguered Wild goaltending corps. Not having to depend on second-year Darcy Kuemper, or 37-year-old and physically beat up Niklas Backstrom has steadied the Wild defense, despite injuries to Jared Spurgeon (concussion) and Marco Scandella (cut) in back-to-back games.

On the offensive side, the step-up of Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Schroeder and Justin Fontaine makes up for the unfortunate loss of Jason Zucker (collarbone), Ryan Carter (lower body) and Matt Cooke (sports hernia) in the last 30 days.

The Wild also got a break from the schedule makers, as well: with 9 games in the last 4 weeks against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, the Wild went 8-1 against their former Northwest Division rivals.

The next four weeks are not as kind to the Wild. Two games vs. Colorado, Nashville and St. Louis, all Western Conference rivals. The Washington Capitals also show up twice in the next 4 weeks. Single games against Ottawa, Carolina, New Jersey, and Anaheim should spice things up a bit as well. Hopefully by the time Anaheim shows up (Mar. 13, a Friday night) the Ducks will have solidified a playoff spot, and will be ready to lighten up a bit. For now, at least.

The schedule has 8 home games and 6 games on the road between now and March 21 (a 1:00 PM start) vs. St. Louis. In my opinion, the Wild needs to sweep the home games and go at least .500 on the road. That would bring the Wild to 89 points, within striking distance of clinching a playoff spot.

As of now (yes, shameless optimism), the Wild are:

* 2 points behind Winnipeg, with 3 games in hand (again) after Winnipeg plays tonight at (really) lowly Toronto.

* One point behind San Jose, again with three games in hand after tonight's game vs. the LA Kings at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara (NHL Stadium Series). Should the Kings win in regulation, the Sharks would drop to 9th place, one point ahead of the Wild. (LA and the Wild will have played the same number of games after tonight).

*The Wild can basically make the Dallas Stars irrelevant if they win in regulation tomorrow night. The Stars will be either five or seven points (depending on tonight's Detroit at Dallas game) behind the Wild, and will have played one more game.

*Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose and LA are four teams playing for basically three spots. Which team throws in the towel first?

And, one last tidbit, which should be interesting for Wild fans:

*The Wild are eight points behind Chicago for third place in the Central Division. The Wild have one game in hand on the Blackhawks. And, one game against each other (Apr. 7, at the United Center.)

Just sayin'....