Saturday, July 3, 2010

Centers of attention

Well, folks, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild staff said they would go out and get some help at center, the on-ice position of greatest need. The result after two days of free agency:

Mission. Accomplished.

The signing of ex-Ottawa Senator Matt Cullen (who actually won the Stanley Cup when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes, in 2007) and ex-Texas Star Warren Peters (for depth) signify that the further erosion of the center position will not be allowed to happen.

(Sorry about that, Doug Risebrough.)

And for those of you that feel that the Wild lacked 'grit' at the end of last season, let's introduce some second-generation 'grit', namely Eric Nystrom, the son of ex-NY Islander great Bob Nystrom, he of the four Stanley Cup winning Islander teams of the 1970's. Nystrom was signed as a 'depth forward', hopefully to play alongside Cal Clutterbuck and, hopefully, rookie Casey Wellman at fourth line center (although some, including Michael Russo, hockey scribe extraordinaire at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, think that James Sheppard will be the fourth-line center coming out of training camp.)

(And before some of you complain, I do apologize in advance for putting the names of 'Russo' and 'Sheppard' in the same sentence. One is no way in the league of the other. We all know that.)

Granted, some of the best Wild 'additions' were, in fact, 'additions by subtraction', as a good deal of the Wild's accumulated 'dead weight' are no longer on the roster, as Derek Boogaard now can honestly say, 'I am a Ranger', no thanks to his greedy, selfish ol' buddy, Marian Gaborik, who helped lure Boogaard to Manhattan after the Rangers' previous goon, Jody Shelley, signed a multi-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, who are indeed re-creating the 'Broad Street Bullies' of the mid-1970's at the south end of SEPTA's Broad Street Subway.

For those of you who participated last season in the 'Big John Scott' drinking game, we hope you enjoyed yourselves, as Scott signed a two-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks on Day 1 of free agency.

Owen Nolan? Still out there, but rumor has it he may go to the Washington Capitals or any of the three California teams (Nolan just built a new house near San Jose, where he has business interests; Nolan was a Shark for 11 seasons).

Andrew Ebbett signed with the Phoenix Coyotes, so now Ed Jovanovski now owes Ebbett dinner for butt-ending Ebbett last season during a Wild-Coyotes game in Glendale. Just make sure the dinner isn't at Whataburger, OK?

Robbie Earl? Still available. Don't hesitate, don't everyone push all at once, now...

Granted, most Wild fans are waiting for the first-round draft choice of this season, 18-year-old Finnish SM-liiga wunderkind Mikael Granlund, already playing at the top level of one of Europe's top leagues, to start paying dividends after 2010-11, where he will remain with his Finnish Helsinki team for one more season, then come across the North Atlantic and probably compete right away for the third center position (unless the Wild manage to trade way one or both of their top centers.)

And then, there's the Pierre Marc-Bouchard saga to deal with. Will he be able to return from a severe concussion which has kept him out for all (except one game) of last season and the last three weeks of 2008-09? Even if he comes back, at what level will he be able to safely operate at? He will always have the fear of one more good bell ringing ending certainly his hockey career, and possibly his life. You have to ask yourself: at what point is it really WORTH it to continue playing hockey?

PMB comes with a very hefty $4.08M cap hit. The only way the Wild get out from under that permanently is for PMB to voluntarily retire. We know he really doesn't want to do that. He may, however, have no choice if his concussion symptoms continue. There is a long-term injured reserve exception to the salary cap, but the minute PMB steps back on the ice in a game situation, the LTIR is lifted, and the Wild are that much more over the salary cap.

So how are the Wild doing? Like all NHL teams, July is the time your team gets better. But, so does everyone else. The amount of dead weight around the League in general you would think would push those on the lower end of the scales to get better faster. Some will retire (Keith Tkaczuk, as example); some will play elsewhere (Martin Skoula signing with the KHL Avangard Omsk, for one. There are others. I'm just happy that Skoula will not be over here anymore) and some will just sit at home, waiting for the phone to ring...


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