Friday, September 25, 2009

The 'new Wild order' (H)

With the Wild roster finally taking shape, it will be interesting, to say the least, as to how this team will become a cohesive unit. At least, we hope they become a unit.

Someday. When they are all healthy...

Yes, it's not been the best pre-season in Wild history. Far from it, frankly. Including Friday night's game at the United Center in Chicago versus the Blackhawks, the Wild were a disappointing 2 wins, 4 losses. And they were all either shutout wins, or 4-goal-against (or more) losses. Not a record that is very conducive to a squad whose goal is to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard have yet to see ice time in pre-season action; Koivu and Brunette with nagging groin injuries (new head coach Todd Richards decided the first day to gas the returning players by skating them into the ground; their groins disagreed) and PMB has the flu (a great reason to take off work; just ask the Centers for Disease Control.)

Add to that the fact that Benoit Pouliot didn't survive his first pre-season game at home vs. Chicago (due to yet another groiner) and that Derek 'Face of the Franchise' Boogaard got a stick in the chin, leading to a concussion (the last thing Boogaard needs) and you have a real recipe for trouble. Throw in the fact that four of the Wild's seven pre-season games are against teams who are headed for Scandinavia to start the NHL's regular season, and it's no wonder that the Wild are in the situation they are, as the pre-season schedule winds down.

Very few teams in team sports are able to rebuild and stay competitive. Even fewer teams can do it while not only operating under a salary cap. I haven't heard of one yet that can do it while not only operating under the cap, but trying to rebuild their minor-league system, which was gutted as ex-Wild GM Doug Risebrough traded away draft pick after draft pick, for such 'stellar standouts' as Martin Skoula, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Chris Simon, Petteri Nummelin, and Dominic Moore -- all of whom have moved on to other places, far, far away.

(Thank God.)

The new regime -- Richards and GM Chuck Fletcher -- are operating under extreme pressure to turn things around. And quickly. There is precious little room for error, no thanks to Risebrough and his 'five-year plan', which never was fully implemented in nine full seasons. When Wild owner Craig Leipold sacked Risebrough on April 16, the draft day cupboard looked like the aftermath of the Nazi invasion of Russia in World War II -- scorched earth. Nothing to use as trade bait.

But, Fletcher has managed to, for the most part, make chicken salad out of chicken(bleep) while trying to hang onto draft picks, as most successful teams have done. Time will tell how Fletcher's rebuild is going. Until then, the best thing to do is sit back, wait and relax. If the Wild make the playoffs, great. If they don't, we all can blame DR. Either way, the die is cast for big changes this season.

Hopefully for Wild fans, it will indeed be 'Change...we can believe in.'

Sunday, September 20, 2009

First Impressions on the 2009-10 Wild

How do you rate the 'new Wild order' so far?

So far, at least by first view, so good. Martin Havlat is the real deal. Brent Burns is already at literally 2000 RPM and counting, he was so excited to be back out there Friday night vs. Columbus. Petr Sykora can still play the game; he might be the steal of free agency if he continues what he started vs. Chicago Sunday night. Both John Scott and Matt Kassian 'punched in' vs. the Hawks, as both were happy to oblige any and all requests for pugilism.

Has anyone seen Nick Schultz as involved as he was Sunday night? For that matter, any of the Wild defensemen? It's like they've been unleashed and there was fresh, red meat, 6 feet away.

The fact that it is still pre-season -- when mistakes are forgiven easier than during the 82-game regular-season campaign -- makes the two home back-to-back shutouts even more impressive. The Wild haven't just given up the defense for offense. They are protecting their own end as well.

Now, if they can get Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette going (both still have yet to make a pre-season appearance due to muscle soreness) and figure out who will play center between what wingers, then we can see if this Wild team is a playoff contender or a playoff pretender.

Three of the remaining four exhibition games are on the road, beginning with Monday night at Columbus. We'll all find out together who stays, and who goes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ticket Day has arrived! (H)

Ok, folks, it's NHL Ticket Day. Time when 28 of the 30 teams (i.e., those that don't have major college football stadia in their back yards) get to start selling tickets with the official blessing of the NHL offices...wherever they may be these days (New York, Montreal, Toronto, a courtroom in Phoenix, wherever).

So, here's what we wound up with for Minnesota Wild road games:

Chicago, Oct. 26 -- Club level (We bought 'em Day One, back in August)
Toronto, Nov. 10 -- 300-level (I don't nearly have the $$$ for 100-level seats)
Washington, Nov. 13 -- Club Level (Club Acela; do the doors open?)
Carolina, Nov. 15 -- not yet. (Wait 'til Monday.)

and a few more yet to be announced, but with the schedule compressed to allow for the two-week Olympic break the last half of February, the road schedule got compressed, also.

We had to go to the secondary markets for the Toronto and Washington games. We didn't do all that bad; getting 6th row Balcony seats in Toronto, and 9th row Club level seats in Washington for less than face value. Hopefully, we get to be as fortunate when tickets for the RBC Center go on sale Monday morning.

So, with all that in mind, now it's onto the myriad of other arrangements (transportation, hotel, food, etc.,) to make these trips really go the way we want them to...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

WRT's This 'n' That (H/M)

A column of opinions, some facts and an occasional rant from the Wild Road Tripper (WRT)

Finally. It's September. Enough of this baseball crap. Time for hockey to begin.

The season where everyone thinks their team is a playoff contender (OK, we'll cut a bit of slack for fans of Atlanta, Colorado, NY Islanders, and the hapless Phoenix Coyotes. No hope there, folks.) If you are like I am -- waiting impatiently for NHL teams to start selling single-game tickets (teams must by Saturday, by NHL edict, except as below) this is the time where you start looking at everything involved with following your team. And they want you (and your money), also. The promotions are out there. Look at each teams' websites; how many put up a larger than normal size photo of a star player with some catch-phrase?

Anyhow, perusing the websites, there's some oddities out there:

Atlanta, where the Thrashers announced their TV schedule, and then...entirely left out Montreal! The Thrashers will not televise any of the four meetings between the Canadiens and Thrashers this season. (All four meetings will occur before Dec. 22). The Thrashers will also not televise either game at Ottawa this season.

Carolina, where the Hurricanes have taken a page from the sales textbooks of the two Alberta franchises, and will only sell tickets a few games at a time. (The 'Canes and the Nashville Predators also get to start selling tickets on Monday, Sept. 14, instead of the League-edicted Sept. 12th, so as to not conflict with college-football-nuts Southerners on a major Saturday in September.) The 'Canes also have 'advance sales' pricing for fans who buy tickets at least 7 full days in advance of games at RBC Center; savings by buying range from $5 to $50 per seat, depending on what locations you actually buy.

Chicago has a 'menu' of games for which they have the best selection of seats, some selection, or nearly gone. One of the games with the best selection is the Jan. 5 game vs. the Minnesota Wild at United Center.

Speaking of tickets, the New Jersey Devils have come up with a very, well, unique ticket promotion for the pre-Holiday season: the 'Hell's Bells' ticket plan, where you pay for five games and get two free (against Detroit and Philadelphia, no less!)

The five games you pay for aren't all that bad, either, as the Devils play Vancouver, Montreal, Carolina, Atlanta and Pittsburgh in December at 'the Rock'.

Which proves my old Road Tripper adage; the NHL does indeed, have 30 different ways of doing the same one thing.

Sell tickets.

Now, of course, we have to get there...

The NHL has found itself in the middle of an unfortunate trans-border pissing match, between the US Department of Transportation and the Canadian Ministry of Transport, over charter flights which cross the USA/Canada boundary, such as the ones that NHL teams do (the NHL is the only league which this would apply to, as it is the only league which has more than one team in each country.)

The dispute is that since players do, indeed, make multiple-stop trips solely within the USA, that team is in violation of the Open Skies Act, which allows Canadian crews flying Canadian-flag aircraft to make multiple stops within the USA as long as that group (or, team) stays together. Commercial flights of one country, on the other hand, cannot carry passengers solely within the other nation (e.g., Air Canada cannot carry passengers directly between New York and Chicago, nor could American Airlines carry passengers between Vancouver and Toronto).

The US Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) contends that once the group makes one stop in the USA that plane, and all its' occupants, must return to Canada. The ALPA demanded that team owners, injured players and trainers (who accompany injured players) not travel on these flights between two cities solely within the USA.

This primarily is aimed at Air Canada, whose charter division (marketed under the name 'Jetz') currently carries a number of NHL teams. These planes generally carry dedicated (to charter service) crews and their own mechanics, and do not use standard airport airline terminals. The upshot of all this is now the Canadian Transportation Agency is drafting new, stricter regulations which will primarily affect American teams, especially those teams in the Northwest Division (Colorado and Minnesota) who make multiple-stop long-haul trips each season to Western Canada. Most teams will have to now charter from as many as three different carriers, as opposed to the one which they were dealing with.

Wild fans have been asking for divisional realignment for years. Will this dispute turn out to be the catalyst? Or will cooler heads prevail, and sanity reign supreme?

Stay tuned...