Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Will the real Wild please return to St. Paul?

Watching the Minnesota Wild lately is like watching the NFL during 'replacement football'. Fans are just waiting for the real players to return to the arena, and start playing.

What? You mean...these ARE the real Wild players?

You're kidding, aren't you? Where is the team that took 'come-from-behind' as a mark of pride, a mantra for working within 'the system' and having the proper 'battle level' to succeed?

You mean they were all injured? And half of them still ARE off the active roster?

The fact is that the Wild, dear people, have indeed seen the highs and lows of life in the NHL. In the same month. Like a bad stock market, volatility reigns supreme right now at 317 Washington St., St. Paul.

The injuries continue to mount, as now in nearly every game at least one Wild player winds up on the injured list. Setoguchi, Latendresse, Stoner, and now Spurgeon. Every game, another pain. Every game, another way to lose. And this from the team which just two weeks ago was creating new ways to win. And now, the final, ultimate indignity: the Vancouver Canucks, winners of 15 of their last 17 games, have overtaken the Wild atop the Northwest Division.

The Wild's month on top has officially ended, as most of us thought it would eventually, with a resounding thud.

Were the Wild playing 'over their heads'? Perhaps. But the fact that this team came off the top of the mountain in such a spectacular fashion, to a group of teams that, mostly, they really should have defeated, is as much a condemnation of how the NHL as a whole plays these days, as the individual failings of its' players.

Think about it: if the season ended today (Dec. 27), 5 of the 7 teams the Wild have lost to would not make the playoffs. The only two that would (Chicago and Vancouver), are now 1-2 in the Western Conference. The other five teams (Winnipeg, NY Islanders, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado) are a combined 78-for-177 (.441 winning percentage), and the two losses to the lowly Islanders -- hockey's second worst team (only Columbus is worse) -- are especially telling, as the Wild did not look like they even wanted to play in either game.

The Wild play 12 games between now and the All-Star break; eight of those 12 are on the road, including a pair of games (at Philadelphia and Toronto) against two of the hottest teams in hockey. With only three home games in January, the Wild need to pull out of this funk. Now. Before the road gets so long, they find themselves on the outside, looking in, once again. For if that happens, the Vikings won't be the only Minnesota pro sports team in need of a total rebuild.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Limping along at the top

(Revised and updated, with status of Wild injured)

Sorry, Vancouver Canucks fans. Your team still isn't in first this morning.

Despite injuries which have taken more than 120 man-games away (as of Saturday night's game vs. the NY Islanders), the Minnesota Wild still have managed to limp along in first place in the entire NHL.

Despite losing four of their top six forwards (Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse) to various and sundry ailments (leg, knee, face and concussion, respectively), the Wild continue to earn points, despite a week where the hockey gods did not exactly smile good fortune on them.

In the last game of a 5-game road trip, the Wild finally played a game in their own time zone, losing to the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 at MTS Centre, in front of 14,904 Jets fanatics (and about 100 Wild fans, spread out thru the arena, including this blogger). In that game, Casey Wellman, filling in for the ailing Setoguchi, was slashed in the second period by Winnipeg's Zach Bogosian, another injury that was totally missed by the game officials (no penalty was assessed on the play). Then, with 1:06 left in the 3rd period, Bogosian tried to obliterate Bouchard by running him into the dasher separating the boards from the glass as Minnesota was pressing for the tying goal in the Winnipeg end. Bogosian was assessed a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for the act, but no supplemental discipling was assessed later, while Bouchard was left to bleed all the way back to Minnesota.

Wednesday, the Wild came back twice from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to take the Chicago Blackhawks to (and thru) overtime and into the shootout, where Patrick Kane out-deked Niklas Backstrom to win the game for the Hawks. In that game, Koivu injured his leg late in the third period, right as he scored the tying goal to send the game into overtime. Latendresse also suffered post-concussion syndrome symptoms, after a hit on Chicago's Viktor Stalberg midway thru the first period. Latendresse has since been put on injured reserve.

Saturday night, vs. the lowly Islanders, the patchwork lineup that the Wild presented at the 'X' was decidedly 'Houston-heavy', as no less than four Aeros call-ups permeated the roster. Unfortunately, the four call-ups and Backstrom were the only reasons the Wild were still in the game after two lacklustre periods, and a booing off the ice by the faithful at the end of the second period.

Newly-minted Wild-killer Al Montoya was easily stopping everything loosely thrown at him, as there was no sustained effort by the Wild offense to press the attack in the Islanders zone. The fact that the Islanders are the worst team in the East, did not stop the Wild from playing down to their level thru the first 35 minutes of the game. That the Wild got a point out of this snoozer of a contest, is as much the work of Backstrom, as anything any forward or defenseman did.

And now, the Wild take to the road for their third (of 4 this season) western Canadian trip, the only one where they travel to all three cities (Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, respectively), in as bad a condition physically as they have been in for years. The Canucks just finished a five-game Eastern road trip where they went 3-1-1, including wins at Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Calgary is on a 3-game winless streak (not including Sunday's game at Chicago) of its' own, while the Oilers are 1-5 in their last six games (not including Monday night's home game vs. Detroit).

Koivu and Bouchard will both travel with the team on this trip; Koivu may not play in Vancouver, but is expected back vs. the Flames. Setoguchi may begin practicing while the team is on the road trip.  Bouchard is day-to-day. Latendresse will be sidelined for a while with his PCS problems.

What does all this mean? There may be -- MAY be -- light at the end of the injury tunnel. As the team goes into the holiday break, the schedule will actually turn and FAVOR the Wild, as the long western road trips will have been put behind them; in fact, only 6 games in the New Year will start after 7:30 PM (and after January 7, no games will start later than 8:00 PM Central Time). The injuries will subside (hopefully) and the Mike Yeo-inspired system, ingrained into this group of players, will propel them towards a playoff spot.

Hang on, Wild fans. Better times are indeed ahead. Patience is indeed a virtue.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wild sweep thru California, finally get noticed by NHL 'Glitterati'

Four-game Western road sweep finally gets Wild noticed by mainstream hockey media; next stop Winnipeg

In my last entry, we opined on the fact that the NHL's media machine, while over-focusing on the upcoming Winter Classic game in Philadelphia on January 2, Sidney Crosby's concussion troubles and the lack of respect Alexander Ovechkin gave ex-Capitals coach Bruce Bourdeau, was giving very short shrift to the team that was at the top of the League's standings, the Minnesota Wild.

As the media darlings who call California home finally come around to the fact that Minnesota does have a team that can be competititve away from St. Paul, the begrudging acceptance has, albeit very slowly, been finally coming. Even NHL.com, the League's on-line outlet, tweeted this morning:

1 hr Did You Know? The #1 team in the is the AND they've won 7 in a row. You should!

From The Hockey News: "Wild life: Meet Minnesota, the best team in the NHL."

Two ratings (NHL.com, THN) have Minnesota as No. 1. Two others will release their weekly rankings on Monday.

And the best thing about all this? There's still more than half the season left to play, which means there's plenty of time for Wild fans to really get behind this group of young, talented players.

The bandwagon still has plenty of room. And then, there's the on-line group for the true Wild fanatics:

"The Church of Yeo." Look it up online. You know you REALLY want to.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wild Wild West: NHL media can't deal with Minnesota, ignores them on radio, TV

While still promoting Caps, Flyers, Rangers and Penguins, NHL, accompanying media all but totally ignore Minnesota Wild 2011 season success story

By Wild Road Tripper

Hey, Minnesota! You have a team that's in first place this morning. One small problem, however:

They don't wear purple, and they sure as hell aren't asking begging for threatening to leave for Los Angeles if they don't get wanting a $1 Billion stadium.

Your Minnesota Wild are in first place in the NHL's Western Conference today. They are one point (as of Sunday morning, Dec. 4) out of first place in the entire National Hockey League. And this is with a talent level which most NHL pundits say are all smoke and mirrors.

Yet, watch NHL-produced programming. Watch 'NHL: On The Fly', the nightly show produced and shown on the NHL Network. Watch 'Hockey Night in Canada'. Watch any NHL-produced program. What do you see?

Sidney Crosby. Sidney Crosby, and Ovechkin. Ovie, and Brandon Dubinsky. Dubinsky, and Scott Hartnell. All Pens, all the time. All Rangers. Caps ad nauseum. And the NBC Sports Channel (soon-to-be-formerly-called Versus) may as well be 'the national channel of your Philadelphia Flyers.'

Yes, the VERSUS schedule has featured the Wild, but only to feature the stars of the opposing team (Tampa Bay, Chicago, San Jose, Washington) or just to fill a time slot (Colorado in January and March, Anaheim in February, LA in February). Not one game against any Western Conference opponent that would actually feature the Wild's up-and-coming stars, as opposed to the likes of Sid The Kid, Vinny 'I got shut out in Minnesota' Lecavalier, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Joe Thornton, Ovie, et. al.

Even when the league's TV outlets do get around to showing the Wild, it's only as supposed 'cannon fodder' for teams such as Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Chicago, San Jose, and Washington, or to fill a late time slot (such as two games in Colorado, and two home games in February against the two Southern California teams) with something that would be palatable to (very few) US hockey fans.

Not even on the NHL's radio outlets do they get any respect. The Wild frequently get trashed on HNIC radio on SIRIUS and get dissed daily on XM's 'NHL Home Ice' channel. They are routinely dismissed as 'the team that still plays the Trap', years after Jacques Lemaire left the organization, after which they move on to such exciting subjects, as what STK had for breakfast, or the latest (false) Bobby Ryan trade-to-Toronto rumor. When they do run out of real NHL news, they may get to the Wild, only after their latest regurgitation of James Reimer's save percentage, Patrick Kaleta's face-off stats, and after a rambling, 15-to-20-minute phone interview with the latest Ranger to get lost en route to their Rye, NY practice complex. Just don't say a word about Niklas Backstrom or Josh Harding, though. That team is playing way-y-y-y over their heads. Never utter a word about Matt Cullen's season, or the kiddie-corps defense in Minnesota. But, we'll be back, right after this Andrei Markov update, live from his surgical suite...

Wild fans will know when this team has been 'accepted' by the NHL media. Just keep winning, guys. Just keep winning, and angering the likes of the uber-Wild-haters, such as E. J. Hradek of NHL Network, and the Denver Post's Adrian Dater. Just keep winning, guys. Because, they all hate you. They hate the fact that the Wild are winning. They hate the fact that statistics don't lie, and that the Wild are at the top of the Western Conference. Sorry, but the Sedins are no longer the be-all-end-all in the Northwest Division.

Maybe, someday, even Gary Bettman will actually like the Wild. (Nah. I doubt that will ever happen.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rarified Air: Wild now 1st in entire NHL as quarter-post nears

In first place and loving it, workman-like Wild keep proving naysayers, NHL scribes wrong

Look at your favorite source for NHL standings, be it NHL.com, TSN.ca, ESPN.com, wherever. The Vancouver Canucks are not atop the Northwest Division this Sunday morning. The Chicago Blackhawks are not leading the Western Conference this morning. The Philadephia Flyers are not atop the NHL league standings this morning.

In fact, there is another team, a team very few chose to even make the playoffs, a team which has gone through three years of upheaval and roster overhaul, in first place in all three categories this Sunday morning.

That team? The Minnesota Wild.

It took time. It took a lot of effort. It took talent, patience and a will to win, no matter what the circumstances. But, the boys in Iron Range Red have once again proved the naysayers and the NHL's media elite (read: anyone based in Toronto, the 'Center of the Hockey Universe') wrong. The Wild have indeed gone 'all in' on Head Coach Mike Yeo's system of play, and they are being rewarded for it. And how.

Yeo's continued emphasis on 'effort' and 'battle zone' has bolstered the talent of this group of mostly kids, kids who came into the season fron the Houston Aeros, where Yeo shaped and molded this team, then drove them to the Calder Cup finals despite being a No. 3 seed in the West going into the post-season.

The Wild's 'kiddie corps' defense -- 4 of their top 6 who played vs. St. Louis Saturday night were under age 25 -- was soundly getting ripped by most media outlets prior to the season's start. The goaltending, considered good, but not great, has been nothing less than spectacular in November, leading the Wild to an 8-2 record since November 1st. The second and third offensive lines have been carrying this team, as the first line has struggled to find itself, most notably captain Mikko Koivu, who got off the schneid Saturday night, with two goals in regulation, and one of the two goals in the shootout to win the game.

Yes, it's a lot easier to cheer when they win like they have. This is a return to the close, low-scoring Wild of years gone by. The Wild still haven't had the offensive explosion that some fans really think this team needs; by contrast, the lack of goals against keeps the Wild in games until the offense gets an opportunity to catch up. Unlike in the Jacques Lemaire era, however, when you lose a player to an injury or a bad night, there is depth in the system to replace the injured/ineffective player, depth that this franchise has never been able to avail itself of.

And, with the future of the franchise looming for the likes of Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, and Brett Bulmer, all blue-chip prospects who will be with this team at the NHL level within 2-3 years, the future of the Wild has never looked this bright.

So, a little friendly advice from your Road Tripper. Save some vacation days. Got any PTO you can use? Save it. You'll need it for a playoff run. Real soon.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Can we REALLY talk re-alignment?

Eastern NHL teams hem, haw, stammer against making re-alignment really happen 

Reportedly, 12 of the 15 NHL Eastern Conference teams do not want any form of re-alignment to occur after this season. They want to protect their little 'cliques' of local teams, where divisional games are no more than a one-hour plane ride away. The fact that by simple geography and franchise stability, that the NHL is a Northeast-based league. Always has been. Always will be. (Despite Commissioner Gary Bettman's 'Southern Strategy'.)

I can imagine the teams that don't want it, so let's project the three, in my own opinion, who might actually consider it. They're all in the same division:

1. Tampa Bay. The Lightning have no reason not to let the Western teams re-align, especially when they bring fans (and money) into the St. Pete Times Forum. To have an annual visit guaranteed by cold weather Western teams like Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis, Detroit (if they don't move to the East), Columbus, and the three western Canadian clubs (Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver) is like free money rolling in. You're not taking away from the existing 'Cash Cows' (the 3 NYC-area teams, Boston, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia), you're enhancing them.

2. Florida. Same as Tampa. In fact, the Panthers now charge premium rates for games against the Cash Cows; why not extend that to Detroit (if they stay in the west), Chicago, Minnesota, Winnipeg and the three Western Canadian teams? You could, if you could be guaranteed an annual visit.

3. Carolina. Same rules apply, but for a different reason; there are so many transplants into the Triangle from western states (California, Minnesota, Illinois) that the 'Canes are looking squarely into their own pocketbooks. And, they're liking what they are seeing on the horizon.

Will it cost the NHL more money in the long run? Yes. After all, the Eastern teams' (soon to be) annual California golf outings have to be paid for by someone. Not to mention the off nights in Vancouver (when the city isn't in riot mode), and the extra cold weather gear Western teams will need for trips to Winnipeg. Yes, it will cost more overall. But at some point, don't you just have to say 'STOP! We need to do this for the good of the game, so let's do this now.' 

But - and this is a major BUT - none of this can or will happen, until the continuing situation with the Phoenix Coyotes has been resolved. The NHL's other franchises cannot go on forever propping up a franchise, in a metro area in which the interest is clearly NOT THERE. The League and the City of Glendale have secured enough funding to operate the franchise this season. But there will be no local funding beyond this spring, and without that, there is no reason for the 'Yotes to remain in the Valley of the Sun.

So, what do we assume? Can we assume anything at all when it comes to re-alignment?

Re-alignment needs to placate at least 20 different team agendas (of the 29 NHL teams who count, discounting League-operated and subsidized Phoenix). The most pressing needs seem to be in the Midwest, where teams are spread in three different divisions, two of which have teams (Dallas and Minnesota) where divisional games are played in three different time zones. So then, what to do?

One thing we CAN assume in any re-alignment scenario is that the playoff format will stay the same, that the top 8 teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs. So for those teams that don't want to change, let's leave them alone, AS IS, in a 3-division, five-teams-each Eastern Conference. In fact, the only change in the East should be the removal of Winnipeg, replacing them with long-suffering Detroit, which would then become the newest Cash Cow. And then, if Phoenix does move to Quebec City, all the better!

In the West, where the geography does not allow for five-team 'cliques' simply due to distance, there should be two divisions; one primarily of the seven Western-most remaining franchises (Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver); the other the remaining seven teams (Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg). The playoffs would be the top eight qualifying, just like they are now. 

So, if the Eastern teams want their way, they can HAVE it. If the Western teams want their way, they can HAVE it, too. A 'hybrid' NHL, such as this would become, really is the way to go in order to keep everyone happy, and the $$ flowing in, even in this bad economy. Not everyone will be happy for this. I'm sure that there will be limitations to even this system. But the current system is flawed, and someone needs to fix it. And, soon.

The latest CBA, with its' hard salary cap, allowed 'cost certainty' to the point that small-market teams like Winnipeg, Buffalo, Carolina and Minnesota (yes, Wild fans, we're considered a small market) can compete with the New Yorks, Torontos and the Vancouvers of the world. Keeping cost certainty at the forefront, by re-aligning the conferences to better represent geographical reality is the way the NHL should head.

The Wild will not play a game away from home in the Central Time Zone until Dec. 13 at Winnipeg. How are you supposed to draw TV viewers with that kind of schedule? 14 of the first 20 road games are at least partially played after 10:00 PM Central Time. Not good for advertisers; not good for fans; and certainly not good for the game itself.

But they don't care about that in Midtown Manhattan or on Bloor Street in Toronto, do they?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wild after eight games: on track, on time

Well, folks, the Minnesota Wild's first western Canadian road trip is now history. And, it didn't turn out all that bad. Could have been better, but in reality, any time you can pull 3 of a possible 4 points in the standings out of the Alberta/BC meatgrinder, you've done relatively well.

Now, granted, the Edmonton game was 1.2 seconds away from disaster, and the Vancouver Canucks should give Marco Scandella a bonus, for that nicely-timed screen he threw in front of his own goalie at the end of overtime yesterday -- but that is why they actually play the games.

The season is 10 per cent over. Yes, folks, the Wild have played 1/8th of their schedule already. (Has anybody noticed?) And, for those who worry about such things, the playoff race is already on. For every point earned now is virtually worth a point and a half come March, and the playoff drive.

The Wild are no better, and no worse, than most teams in the Western Conference, with 18 goals for, and 20 goals against. Four games have already gone to overtime, and the 1-0-3 record after 60 minutes have already been played means that the Wild are actually staying with it thru the end of regulation time, something which could not be said frequently the last two seasons.

The Wild open their new week in 7th place in the West -- actually, tied for 6th place, but thanks to yesterday's Canucks win, Vancouver has one more win (4-3-1) that the Wild (3-2-3) -- with four of the next five games at home (Anaheim, Detroit, Vancouver, St. Louis) and the lone road game at Detroit (which works to the Wild's advantage, as three of the four Wild-Red Wings games will have been played by Nov. 2).

The Wild are starting to be banged up, as injuries to Guillaume Latendresse (groin) and Greg Zanon (groin) held them out of Saturday's game at Rogers Arena. Throw in Mikko Koivu's skate-slicing episode in Edmonton Thursday night, and Mike Lundin's imminent return off his season-opening back spasms (Lundin has yet to play a regular-season game in Iron Range Red), portends that the roster will continue to be in flux for the forseeable future.

This team is slowly -- SLOWLY -- coming around to the philosophies of head coach Mike Yeo, despite falling into their old habits all too frequently (such as the third period of the Vancouver game, where they did not have a shot on goal for over 15 minutes). The fact of the matter is that when they play as the coaches want them to, they win. When they don't, they lose. The road ahead is a long, winding journey, as we've all seen already, and it will definitely not be an easy journey to take.

But, for now, this train is on track and on time for the playoffs. We'll see if they can stay on schedule.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

So Far, So...?

Middling start reminds one of disasterous 2010-2011 Minnesota Wild campaign

Well, it's been five games. Yes, you're right. Only five games. But some onerous comparisons to the disasterous 2010-2011 season for our favorite NHL team are already rearing their ugly heads:

2010-2011 record after 5 games: 2-2-1
2011-2012 record after 5 games: 2-1-2

Yes, this does include the two NHL Premiere games in Helsinki, Finland. But this also includes games against Columbus and Edmonton both seasons; and Detroit (this season) replaces Vancouver (from last season) as the opponent for game 5. Game 5 last season, the Wild shelled the Canucks 6-2, one of the worst beatings the Canucks would face, en route to their eventual Stanley Cup Finals choke job, at the hands of the Boston Bruins.

2010-2011 record, second 5 games: 2-2-1
2011-2012 record, second 5 games: ?-?-?

The second five games last season started with a western Canadian road swing to Edmonton and Vancouver, respectively, then three home games vs. LA, Washington, and Chicago. Win at Rexall, followed by a 5-1 drubbing at Rogers Centre, Vancouver, then a SO loss at home to the Kings, a 2-1 home win vs. the Caps and a 3-1 loss to the Blackhawks which left the team disgusted and confused.

This season's next five: Home vs. Pittsburgh, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, home vs. Anaheim, home vs. Detroit (again). Now, hopefully, the Wild will play better next week than they did this past week, Last week showed that young, speedy teams (NY Islanders, Edmonton) can have success against the older, slower Wild. It's not that the Wild haven't embraced a youth movement, either; we all know that the blueline after the first three (Schultz, Zanon, Zidlicky) averages about age 10 (my wife said that.)

Josh Harding was the savior vs. Detroit on Saturday night, comitting robbery several times throughout the game, desperately keeping the offensively-challenged (again) Wild in the game. But, as the Red Wings have usually done, they simply turned it up a notch, and won the game in overtime. Some have predicted the demise of the Red Wings; 10 of their 24-man roster were born before Jan. 1, 1980. But they continue to do one thing well: they continue to find ways to win hockey games. Whether it be deflecting pucks, drawing penalties, timely passes to players who seemingly show up out of nowhere, whatever...the Red Wings know what to do to win. And, keep winning. Be consistent winners.

That's what the rest of the NHL wants to be. That's what the Wild (and 29 other NHL teams) aim for. But only Detroit has achieved it. To the credit of the Wings' management and staff, to do it for as long as they have, at that level, especially in that Detroit environment (Joe Louis Arena is now the oldest venue in the Western Conference, and 3rd oldest in the NHL), is a testament to the entire Detroit Red Wings organization, from owner Mike Ilitch on down.  The Wings just seem to plug in veterans and sprinkle rookies in, and just keep winning. They never seem to have a 'down' season.

Yes, we all know that Doug Risebrough 'left the cupboard bare' when he was dismissed following the 2008-09 season, that Chuck Fletcher has worked hard to restock the shelves, both with the Houston Aeros and with the big club as well. The Wild scouting staff has been shaking the trees and raking the leaves to try and find talent, taking 'late bloomers' out of the college ranks who are otherwise free agents to try and rebuild the roster. And, the days of trading draft picks for aging veterans who are, literally, on their last legs are over.

But one question looms large. One question that nearly every NHL team asks, except one. One question which they haven't asked in Detroit, in more than a generation.

When do we have an 'up' season?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One Down, 81 to Go

Well, we've finally seen the 'new and improved' Minnesota Wild. One question after the first game:

Does anyone still not believe that we don't have an improved hockey team?

The play of the team in last night's season opener vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets was the proverbial 'proof in the pudding' as the Wild played like Wild fans haven't seen in years. The first line pressed the attack all night. The second line actually was scoring. The third and fourth lines? Handled their assignments brilliantly.

The much-maligned defense, with three youngsters on the blue line? How does a goal and two assists and only two goals against (one well after the game was out of reach) sound to all the nay-sayers out there?

Yes, it was only the first game, and a raucous, sell-out full house (19,040) at the 'X' will be back for more, especially if the Wild continue to play like this. No second-period letdown. No shifts off. No stopping and rolling over, like Wild fans had been accustomed to the last two seasons. The only bad point in the game was the B.S. call the Wild incurred when Pierre-Marc Bouchard's stick found the face of Columbus' Matt Calvert, which might get PMB suspended for a few games. Of course, not to let the facts get in the way of a good story, Calvert high-sticked HIMSELF with Bouchard's stick when Calvert lifted his stick, which was under Bouchard's. Columbus head coach Scott Arniel supposedly was livid after the game over the incident, while his moribund team drops to 0-2 in the Central Division, where his team will probably be the only one in that division to NOT make the playoffs.

For the Wild, the road doesn't get any easier as they travel to Long Island and Ottawa (where Dany Heatley will be sure to get a rousing reception; Heatley, an ex-Senator, is soundly reviled in Ottawa from his playing days there) before returning home for three games, vs. Edmonton, Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Let's all see what the next week brings. Because the first week has been pretty darn good.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Starting Anew...once again

Well, it's Opening Week. No longer Opening Night, the NHL schedule is so spread out, it's now Opening Week. With special 'events' in Boston (where the Bruins begin defense of the Stanley Cup), Toronto (the so-called 'Center of the Hockey Universe'), Winnipeg (home of the NHL's newest franchise, having just escaped from Atlanta, the so-called 'Capital of the New South', after last season), Stockholm, Helsinki, Berlin ( with NHL Premiere '11)...and so on.

So everyone starts fresh. Will the 'new look' Minnesota Wild have done enough remodelling of their roster to warrant a playoff spot after April 7th?

Let's look at everyone else first (two column-line limit here, people):

Anaheim Ducks: Will the Teemu Selanne Farewell Tour extend beyond April 7th? Will Jonas Hiller be able to stand up to what other teams will throw at the Ducks? Kurtis Foster and Cam Fowler on D (that will screw up TV announcers across North America for sure!)

Boston Bruins: Can anything this team does top last season's Stanley Cup run? Can Tim Thomas repeat what he did last season? How long can Zdeno Chara remain the dominant force in the East?

Buffalo Sabres: The best team no one's heard of...yet. Finally, Thomas Vanek gets some help. Drew Miller gets some help. Western New York gets some hope. Toronto fans get even more jealous.

Calgary Flames: Flames faithful will go where Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff will take them. Jay Feaster is trying to right the ship that became a virtual dinghy after the Sutters got done with it. There's a lot of work still to do, however. Have patience, Calgary. You'll get better.

Carolina Hurricanes: Did the 'Canes do anything this summer? Nobody really knows, do they? Not much news eminating from the Triangle this summer.

Chicago Blackhawks: Still re-tooling from 2010's fire sale, the Hawks still have two of the best forwards in the West (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews) and that will take them a long way in what will be a fun-to-watch Central Division.

Colorado Avalanche: With four D over 6'2", 210-lbs., the Front Range will be exactly that for most teams. Climbing those mountains might be a real stretch for smaller opponents. Add J. S. Giguere and Semyon Varlamov to the mix, and Pepsi Center will be a fun place for the local six this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Wild have seen them twice already in the pre-season. The BJ's are sneaky in places; not so much in others. The biggest obstacle is everyone else in their own division.

Dallas Stars: The first full season in the post-Mike Modano era finds the Stars in bankruptcy court, the line-up aging and turned over, and the Stars not looking all that good right now. And, with all the turn-over, the Stars still have Steve Ott. 'Nuff said.

Detroit Red Wings: When will this team ever have a bad season? Niklas Lidstrom is pushing 42 years old, and 12 Wings were born prior to Jan. 1, 1980. How long can they keep up being as good as they are? Yes, they probably will win the Central division, but this may be their last hurrah. Really.

Edmonton Oilers: there are so many co-stars of TSN's 'Oil Change' that are so bad, that they overshadow the good players (Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) that the Grease have. The Oil were so desperate, they even signed Wild reject Cam Barker. Worst in the NHL is not out of the question.

Florida Panthers: How many ways can a team suck? This team has managed to discover most of them, as they enter their eighth straight season without a playoff berth. Despite Jose Theodore's presence on the Panthers' roster, it will be a playoff-less season in South Florida once again.

Los Angeles Kings: The Drew Doughty soap opera is over; now can they get back to getting deep into the playoffs? Good goaltending with team Jonathan (Bernier and Quick), decent defense, and Anze Kopitar up front. Not too bad.

Montreal Canadiens: Hockey's answer to the Keebler Elves can really create havoc, but only if they can put the biscuit in the basket. The goaltending is there; the defense is there; now can the offense help out the effort?

Nashville Predators: Another Central Division team that did the best thing by re-signing their own player (Shea Weber) over the summer. Barry Trotz and Co. will be there when the playoff bell rings. Maybe as No. 8 seed in the West, but they will be there.

New Jersey Devils: Will the beatings inside the Prudential Center out-do the beatings outside 'the Rock'? Devils' faithful (what few there are left: sorry, Wysh) will be watching not-so-patiently, as Generalissimo Lou & Co., figure out salary cap hell. Not to mention the team is in bankruptcy. Sounds like Mike Emrick bailed on the Devils at just the right time for the NBC/Versus gig.

New York Islanders: Another team that you look at and ask, 'What did they DO over the summer'? The only major addition they had was Brian Rolston, and that was only because the Devils tried to send him to the minors last season for salary-cap reasons. Twice.

New York Rangers: the NHL's version of 'Nomad', as the renovation of MSG nears completion, the Rangers start with the entire month of October on the road. If they survive the October marathon, the rest of this season will be easy for the Rags. How will the Rangers look in the post-Boogaard era?

Ottawa Senators: Seven players on the Sens' roster were born before 1980. Daniel Alfredsson is now age 39 (Dec. 11) . Filip Kuba is still on the roster. Recipe for disaster. These guys are not the Detroit Red Wings, although they're aging just as fast.

Philadelphia Flyers: Daniel 'Car Bomb' Carcillo is no longer on the Flyers. Unfortunately, 'Stompin' Chris' Pronger still IS on the Flyers roster. FA acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov may finally stop the Flyers' three-ring goalie circus. Now, if they could only do something about Scott Hartnell...

Phoenix Coyotes: One foot out the door, the other on the proverbial banana peel. The NHL can't wait to move this bunch to Quebec City after this season. The Quebecor money sure is tempting, isn't it, Gary Bettman? And the end will come for hockey in the desert, April 7 at Xcel Energy Center, vs. the Wild. (Last trip for the Wild to Phoenix: March 8th).

Pittsburgh Penguins: Their fortune is -- literally -- in the head of Sidney Crosby. If he recovers from his concussion, the Pens will do well. If not, in my opinion, they don't. They have the talent, but not the drive, without Sid the Kid.

San Jose Sharks: should they bring the Sharks out onto the HP Pavilion ice to the strains of the late 80's tune, 'Wild Wild West'? With all the new blood coming west from Minnesota, the Sharks may just contend for the whole thing. Then again, the SODR factor may just be off the scale in Silicon Valley.

St. Louis Blues: If they can stay healthy, the Blues might just keep up with the rest of the Central Division. But, as Blues fans saw last season, that's a mighty, mighty big 'IF'. David Backes' captaincy will mean a lot for this young roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: As Steven Stamkos goes, so go the 'Bolts. Hopefully, Dwayne Roloson can stay healthy this season. The same can be said for Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Leafs fans deserve better than this group of mutts. There are a few bright spots, but way-y-y too few. Another season of mediocrity.

Vancouver Canucks: probably will win the Northwest Division again, but really, that ain't sayin' much. They'll run into yet another buzzsaw, implode in the playoffs, and the streak of no Stanley Cups will continue. Will the streak of post-playoff-ouster riots continue as well? Stay classy, Vancouver.

Washington Capitals: As Ovechkin goes, so go the Caps. Hopefully they've improved their defense in the off-season; they definitely have improved in goal, with Tomas Vokoun backing up Mikael Neuvirth. The Caps will go as far as the 'Gr8 One' will take them.

Winnipeg Jets: This team could go really great guns or could totally implode; the killer travel schedule (as an Eastern Conference team this season) could be their undoing. Good young team, was improving in Atlanta, now with TNSE's money and the whole province of Manitoba rabidly behind them.

And, finally...

Minnesota Wild: New coach, new first line, rebuilt second and third line, upgraded fourth line, and the best part: the absence of Antti 'missed the net again' Miettinen and James 'I've been playing hockey since I was 3' Sheppard. The regime of Mike Yeo has already improved the outlook of this team, as the new first line of Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley-Devin Setoguchi is a quantum leap over last season's Andrew Brunette-Koivu-Miettinen line.

The defense, with the top 4 from last season all returning, remains somewhat of a question mark because of the rebuilding of the bottom three defensive spots. The goaltending is still as good as always; Josh Harding has proven to all who saw in pre-season that he has indeed returned from last season's knee injury at St. Louis.

This Wild team will be in contention all season for a playoff spot. Will they make the field of 16? They cannot afford a start like last season's horrible October-November, nor a finish like last season's 'March to Hell' playoff run, in which the team basically quit after the March games in Nashville and  Dallas.

And now, my predictions for this season:

Western Conference: San Jose Sharks
Eastern Conference: Washington Capitals

Stanley Cup Champions: San Jose Sharks

Minnesota Wild: Could finish anywhere from 7th to 10th. My choice: 8th, play Vancouver in first round. We'll see from there...


Monday, September 12, 2011

Almost out of the Abyss

This Friday, the Minnesota Wild officially report for the start of training camp. And, after this summer, this is the best thing that could happen for all parties involved -- players, staff, and most importantly, the fans.

This has not been a good off-season for the sport of hockey. Far from it. It has been, literally, the deadliest single off-season in the history of the sport. 48 players have died since the end of the last season, including 45 as a result of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl charter plane crash in Russia last week.

Two Wild alumni -- Derek Boogaard and Pavol Demitra -- were amongst those whose lives were ended all too soon during the summer. Boogaard's death is the tip of a very large and deadly iceberg, that of the pain endured every day by NHL players, who want to keep playing even when their bodies say they should retire to their favorite off-ice activity.

The fact is, however, that life goes on for the rest of us, even when the world stops for others. The fact is that even after the pain suffered though the summer, after the deaths of Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak -- all for different reasons, in different locations, at different times -- hockey goes on. People still want the game to go on. The players still want to play. The fans still want to see hockey on the ice. They still want to cheer for their team, and boo the opposition.

The fans are excited right now. Hope springs eternal, never more so than going into the start of training camp this weekend. The dramatically 'new and improved' Wild, led by Mikko Koivu, now more than ever, now with some actual first-line offensive help in Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.

Finally shorn of the dead weight of Cam Barker, Antti Miettinen, and James Sheppard -- three players Wild fans learned the hard way to loathe, especially over the last two seasons, as the team's fortunes soured under another now-ex-Wild, coach Todd Richards -- replaced with the coach of the Houston Aeros, Mike Yeo, who took his team to the AHL's Calder Cup finals.

It's a lot for a dedicated fan to handle, all these changes in the sport that they love; for the casual fan, maybe it will be a bit confusing, especially in the pre-season, as the rosters will not be set until later in camp, after everyone has received a good look. Newer players, such as Colton Gillies, Jordan Henry, Mike LundinDarroll Powe, and Marco Scandella will become the basis of the Wild's third and fourth lines and third defensive pairing, a virtual 'quantum leap' ahead of last season's patchwork quilt of players shoring up the top two lines.

For those top two lines, the results of the massive overhaul, orchestrated by GM Chuck Fletcher means that the offense, anemic by any sport's standards, should fire on all cylinders most of the time this season, injuries not withstanding. The Wild's top 4 defensemen are finally worthy of being at least occasionally mentioned as top 4 defensemen, as the slackers and the deadbeats have been purged from the ranks of the roster. Lean and mean, Guillaume Latendresse cannot be called 'Minnesota Fats' any more. Matt Cullen can return to his natural center position, feeding Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard as the Wild's second line.

Yes, Wild fans, hope springs eternal at this time of year. Of course, no one in the NHL has played a game yet. Right now, the Islanders are just as good as the Canucks. (Well, maybe not, but go with it.)

After all, that's why we fans want them to play the games...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Dog Days of NHL Summer

You haven't heard a lot of NHL news lately, have you?

There's a reason for that. It's because no one is in the offices, the arenas, the training centers. The fact of the matter is that the NHL, like most of France, hangs out the 'On Vacation' sign each August.

Oh, there's a few things that have come out lately; Chris Drury's retirement, the release of the NHL on NBC/Versus/NBCSN schedule, the NHL's R&D camp in Toronto, and the anti-climactic first day of Minnesota Wild single-game ticket sales (an event which used to get Wild fans really excited. Then along came Todd Richards.)

In short, there's a whole lotta nothin' goin' on. The staffs are getting ready for the upcoming season; the players are getting the last rounds of golf in, before the calendar passes Labor Day and training camps start; the fans are getting ready to pony up for tickets (most other teams will follow Minnesota's lead, and start selling single-game tickets within the next 2-3 weeks).

So enjoy your last bit of summer, folks. In Minnesota, next week begins State Fair time. Load up at the Fairgrounds, and play like an NHL'er. Because most of them aren't skating right now, either.

Training camp only 30 days away...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Development Camp: Talent in the Pipeline

Looks like the corner has been turned as far as the lack of talent in the Minnesota Wild pipeline, if Sunday's scrimmage to end the Wild's development camp is any indication.

With over 3,200 in the stands at the Xcel Energy Center, the 40-odd invitees put on a show, as the Wild brass watched and saw first hand the results of the scouting staff and the team's recent 'build with youth' philosophy. Some, such as future star Mikael Granlund and Johan Larsson, showed why they were taken as No. 1 picks the last two seasons. Charlie Coyle, who was the add-on in the Brent Burns-Devin Setoguchi trade, also showed why he is the darling of 'Hockey's Future' and other such sites on the Internet.

While the six-day session for the potental NHL'ers of tomorrow was a lot of drill skating and indctrination, there was also fun, with a paintball session, and an obstacle course with JB Spisso, former US Military officer, and his Elite Leadership Training team doing the honors, as they did last season for the big club.

A lot of these young men will never make an NHL roster; but, in the middle of the summer, on the most uncomfortable day ever in St. Paul, they all looked like they had a future on an NHL roster. Someday. The crowds, prodded by free t-shirts for the first 1,000 each day, were the largest ever for the camp scrimmage sessions, which were free and open to all comers who wished to get out of the mid-summer heat.

Granlund showed both days why he is considered the real deal, as he put on a show both Saturday and Sunday, with highlight-reel goals in the end-of-scrimmage shootout. Sunday he also threaded the needle setting up Josh Phillips for a goal in the second half of the day's scrimmage. Larsson, Granlund's linemate (maybe also his linemate with the big club in 2013?) rounded out the most star-studded line this camp has seen in at least five seasons.

In a time when the level of optimism following the recent trades for Setoguchi and Dany Heatley is high, the prowess shown by this crop of Wild rookies and recent additions just pushes that optimism that much more forward. The fact that the rookies are actually of a talent level rarely seen with this organization just elevates that optimism that much more.

Maybe, just maybe, GM Chuck Fletcher has restocked the larder. Now, how much of that talent will rise to the NHL level, that remains to be seen. But, at least for now, optimism reigns supreme in St. Paul. Only time will tell if the decisions made in the last three weeks turn out to be good decisions. But at least Fletcher is making decisions which should hopefully push the Wild back into the playoff mix. Signing late-blooming college-age free agents is something his predecessor would never think of. His predecessor traded draft picks for meaningless washed-up veterans, who were at the end of their careers. Draft picks which are the way teams keep talent coming in to their system. The Wild are starting to correct those mistakes of the past. Trading for end-of-career vets is the way of the past. The future belongs to the young.

And Wild fans can't wait for the future to begin in September.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Chuck Fletcher: Grenade Launcher

By Wild Road Tripper

When it comes to trading players in North American pro sports, a few names from the past come to mind. 'Trader Jack' McKeon of several MLB clubs, Al Davis of the NFL's Oakland Raiders, Ted Stepien (remember HIM, Cleveland fans??) of the NBA's Cavaliers, just to name a few.

Add Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher to that illustrious list after Sunday night's mammoth trade, which sent Martin Havlat to the San Jose Sharks for Dany Heatley, a player who already comes equipped with enough personal baggage, to fill an Amtrak baggage car.

Havlat, the penultimate 'pass-first' winger, has four years left on his six-season, $30M contract. Heatley has three seasons left on his deal at a cap hit of $7.5M/season. On paper, the trade seems even. On paper. Let's go behind the numbers and see what really precipitated this swap:

Havlat, quite frankly, became more of a liability for the Wild than an asset when his play necessitated less playing time. On several occasions last season, he was flat-out benched. That brought some somewhat cryptic social media action from his agent, Allan Walsh, stating that his client was not receiving enough playing time. A lot of that was directed at then-coach Todd Richards, but I can assure you that the Wild brass (including Fletcher) was receiving every tweet. And, the more they protested, the more the Wild was looking for a way out. Any way they could get out.

Sounds like the Sharks were looking for the same thing, but for different reasons. Accused of being a cancer in the locker room, the oft-maligned Heatley, another Walsh client who does have a bit of a party reputation, has been with three different organizations (Atlanta, Ottawa, San Jose) in his 10 seasons since leaving the Wisconsin Badgers, following the 2000-01 season. The B.C. native has played in at least 71 games each of the last six seasons, as some have called him 'brittle' and 'oft-injured'. And, San Jose was looking for some cap help as well; Havlat only comes with a $5M/season cap hit for the next four years.

So what does one make of all this?

Well, in my opinion this was trading one man's problems for another. In Minnesota, the Wild had to do something to get off the schneid, after missing the playoffs three seasons in a row. Both franchises needed to show their fans that they were committed to winning. The Wild are still building (or rebuilding, depending on your point of view) but the acquisition of Heatley, averaging a +17 since the end of the NHL players' strike/lockout in 2005, means that the offense, long a Wild sore spot, has taken a quantum leap forward. The Wild now have two legitimate scoring lines, when all of their new top 6 forwards (Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Guillaume Latendresse) are all healthy.

San Jose needed to shake up its' roster after three successive seasons failing to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Sharks, with Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Torrey Mitchell all facing free agency after the upcoming season, need every dollar of cap room they can possibly get as the current CBA runs out after this coming season. Some new blood to team up with returnees Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is also in the Sharks' favor, as there will be very little room for error, especially after next season when, in divisional realignment, the Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks will more than likely be placed in the same divison. Every bit of experience you can get, when going up against the Sedin twins and the rest of that team is a good thing. As consistently one of the top 4 seeds in the NHL's Western Conference, Sharks fans are growing increasingly frustrated with the Sharks' playoff failures, something that the management is hearing all too well from the Bay Area media.

Conclusion/One Man's opinion: This was a great trade overall. Wild needed scoring punch; Heatley is one of the best finishers of this last decade. Indeed, you don't make him a checking line winger; but playing alongside Mikko Koivu, Heatley can be the 'cherry-picker' that the Wild used to have with Marian Gaborik. Wild can now afford to wait, if some of their up-and-coming 'kiddie korps' doesn't develop as fast as they'd like them to. Sharks need speed forward and someone hungry to be in playoffs. Havlat fills both of those roles. Putting Havlat with Marleau and Thornton would re-dimensionalize the Sharks' No. 1 line, and the Sharks may finally get over the hump, and make that Cup run that Bay Area hockey fans have been wishing about for most of the last 5 seasons.

BTW: Guess which team opens the home season for the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 11th? Yep. The Wild, now featuring Heatley, the man Sens' fans love to hate. Should be 'must-see TV' for Wild followers.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Draft Day 2: Stocking Up

The NHL Draft, Day 2, was all about the future. Not this season, or next. Say, 3-4-5 seasons down the road.

On Saturday, the Minnesota Wild chose the 'hometown boy', Mario Lucia, son of U of M head coach Don Lucia, with the No. 60 pick late in the second round of the draft (a pick, BTW, that they traded for, giving the Vancouver Canucks the No. 71 and 101 picks). The Wild then drafted Eden Prairie defenseman Nick Seeler with the 131st pick, in the middle of round 5. In total, the Wild drafted 4 forwards, 1 defenseman and a goalie with their 6 picks in the draft.

With the excitement of the previous day's Brent Burns -- Devin Setoguchi trade out of the way, the team could get down to the business of the day...continuing to re-stock the larder of talent which was laid bare during the admiistration of Doug Risebrough. Most draft observers already have called this draft a definite 'win' for the local sextet, as the quality of talent being infused will help the Wild go that much further down the road.

But there's the rub. It's down the road. Not starting with the big club in 85 days with the start of training camp in September. It's 3-4 years (or more, in some cases) until these guys are ready for the NHL. The temptation is that the Wild get some 'wily veterans' now to tide them over. That was the solution of the old regime in St. Paul. But, as the Chicago Blackhawks will tell you, that framework doesn't work any more. The way to really build a franchise is to build with youth and talent thru the draft. You most certainly can get some older, more experienced players to mix in, but you can't get over the large hump that Risebrough, et. al., left behind three summers ago without youth and talent.

Hence the next big date in the NHL calendar of events: Free agency day, coming at 12 Noon this coming Friday, July 1. Do the Wild need a big free agency splash? Do they really WANT a big time rent-a-player, who will drag the salary cap down to near-zero once again?

In past years, the Wild were definitely buyers in this market. I'm not so sure this season. Supposedly there's not a lot out there that the Wild would actually want. There would be a few players that the Wild would like to have, but most of them will demand so much in terms of money and contract length, that they're really not worth it. So, do you go after a free agent (or two) while keeping the kids down on the farm, or do you give the kids a chance to make it onto the big club?

I guess we'll all find out together, starting on Friday at 12 Noon sharp...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

NHL Draft, day 1: End of the Burns era

No one ever said the NHL draft was going to be without intrigue. No one but those involved, knew it would be THAT much intrigue, all at once. Especially for the hometown folks.

Almost an hour after the Minnesota Wild chose Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin, a 17-year-old who has already played in Sweden's Elite League with Farjestad, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher dropped an absolute bombshell, by trading defenseman (and free-agent-to-be) Brent Burns and next season's second-round pick to San Jose for winger Devin Setoguchi, San Jose's No. 1 pick from last season (Boston U forward Charlie Coyle), and San Jose's first round pick in this draft, the No. 28 pick, which the Wild then used to take center Zack Phillips from St. John of the QMJHL.

On paper, this looks like a classic 'win-win' scenario, as the Wild did not want to spend the $5-6 million per season to re-sign the popular defenseman, who will become an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season. The Sharks signed Setoguchi to a new 3-year, $9M deal on Thursday, but claim that signing the former linemate of Joe Thornton had nothing to do with the trade.

Coyle is projected to be a power forward, and will definitely push the likes of Guillaume Latendresse when he arrives in St. Paul, beginning next month at prospects camp. Although Phillips is only 18, should he develop as expected he, too, will push other, more veteran players in 2-3 seasons' time.

But the key is the 24-year-old Setoguchi, whom Wild fans will get a lot of satisfaction out of the fact that he loves to shoot the puck, something sorely lacking with the Wild's maddingly pass-happy offense. Being the linemate of either Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard or Latendresse and Martin Havlat won't hurt, either, as the Wild have declared themselves as definitely in a youth movement and talent hunt, all at the same time.

Most observers view this trade as the biggest Wild deal ever. Only time will tell if the deal indeed was the biggest trade in the franchise's 11-season history, but the team isn't done yet. There's still another day to go. And for Brent Burns?

Better find out what the Santa Clara County regulations are about that petting zoo at home...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Minnesota Wild 2011-2012: now THIS is a schedule!

Wild get favorable results as NHL releases 2011-12 schedule

By Wild Road Tripper

The NHL released its' 2011-2012 schedule on Thursday, and for once, the schedule makers felt compelled to throw the Minnesota Wild a few breaks.

With 12 Saturday home games, including at least one Saturday home game in each month of the regular season, the Wild will play a total of 20 games (12 home, 8 road) on Saturday, their most popular day of the week, including two Saturday afternoon games (Oct. 22 at Vancouver, and March 17 -- St. Patrick's Day, normally a crazy day in Downtown St. Paul, vs. Carolina) and the sixth Hockey Day Minnesota on January 21, vs. Dallas.

Three Central Division teams -- Columbus, Detroit and St. Louis -- as well as the Phoenix Coyotes, from the Pacific Division, all play in St. Paul exclusively on Saturdays. The Wild play all 4 games (2 home, 2 away) vs. St. Louis on Saturdays, as well as 3 of the 4 Phoenix games are on Saturday. 19 Wild home games are on weekend days; Friday (2 games), Saturday (12 games) or Sunday (5 games). Thursday is the Wild's second-most home night, with 10 Thursday night games on the schedule. 3 Mondays, 7 Tuesdays and 2 Wednesdays round out by day of week at home. Home opponents of note include the Boston Bruins (2:00 PM, February 19), Pittsburgh (Oct. 18), New Jersey (Dec. 2), Winnipeg (Feb. 16), the NY Rangers (March 27). Nine home games make March the busiest home at the 'X', with November's 8 games second.

The Wild play at home on Thanksgiving Eve (Nashville), the Day after Thanksgiving (Edmonton), Boxing Day (Colorado), New Year's Eve (Phoenix), Valentine's Day (Anaheim) and St. Patrick's Day (Carolina).

The Wild dispatch the games in the Northwest early; in fact, the Wild play only one game (at Phoenix, March 8) west of Denver after January 7. In fact, 16 of the 24 games vs. Northwest division opponents will have been played by that date.

But, let's face it: it's the ROAD schedule you want!

The Wild make their first appearance against Winnipeg at the MTS Centre on Dec. 13, the first half of a road-and-home back-to-back (with Chicago at the 'X' the next night), the first of four such situations on the docket. There is one home-and-home B-2-B'er (Nov. 27-28, vs. Calgary and Tampa Bay, respectively), and five two-game-in-two-night road trips as well.

Best road trip opportunities (of course, as always, it's IMHO):

Oct. 10-11 (at NY Islanders, at Ottawa). That noon start on Long Island is really interesting. Kids' opening day. Ottawa can be a house of horrors, though; the Wild haven't won at Scotiabank Place since 2004.

Nov. 10-13 (at San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim). Three games in four days. In California. Nice.

Dec. 4-10 (at Anaheim, at San Jose, at LA, at Phoenix). Four games in seven days. No back-to-backs. Comfortable, easy trip in the Southwest, just before the holiday craziness starts.

Dec. 13, at MTS Centre, Winnipeg. Charter bus heaven!

January 12-14 (at Chicago, at St. Louis). Another easy travel trip. Might not be so easy hockey-wise, though.

Feb. 18 at St. Louis. An afternoon contest (1 PM start), one day down & back. On a Saturday. (Free food game for the Blues? Possibly!)

Feb. 23-24 (at Florida, at Dallas). Almost too good to pass up, especially if you can get 2-3 days of sun on the front end!

March 1-2 (at Montreal, at Detroit). Another trip that's almost too good to pass up, save for the fact that the second game is, indeed, in Detroit.

March 6-8 (at Colorado, at Phoenix). Could this be the Wild's last trip ever to the desert?

March 24-25 (at Buffalo, at Washington). Another great weekend with 'da boys' in the East.

April 1 (at Chicago, 6 PM start). You could get the last flight out after the game ends...IF you're lucky...or, make it a 3-dayer, and head to Nashville for April 3 vs. the Preds. Another easy trip.

Now, the next question: what type of Wild team will show up this season? The NHL draft, starting Friday night at the 'X'. will begin to tell those questions. I'll be there both days. Will you? --WRT

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vancouver, post-SCF; Saying 'Yo' to Yeo; One week until the Draft

OK, folks. I really don't have a lot this time around. I'll admit that straight out. But since it's been nearly two weeks since I sat down with my blog, time to get a few more things off my mind...

Stanley Cup Final: The Bruins actually stopped the Canucks' juggernaut. Now all of North America knows what a bunch of whining, crying, diving babies the Canucks are. When the heat was finally put on the Canucks, they wilted like so much lettuce. The Sedins were the ultimate non-factor in the Finals, while Boston goaltender Tim Thomas couldn't have done more to earn the cup, save for making it himself. While Vancouver thought the way to the cup was to fake injuries in order to draw penalties, the referees were having none of it. Play on.

Post-Cup Vancouver Riot: There has been so much said about this already, blaming anarchists and misguided youth. Sorry, Vancouver. You have no one but yourselves (and your lousy hockey team, the guys who couldn't seal the deal) to blame for the destruction which occurred after Wednesday night's Game Seven. Like your hockey franchise, you blame everyone but yourselves for the troubles. Look in the mirror, British Columbia. Don't like what you see? Do something about it. Start with your hockey team. Work on being a better community, one which doesn't tolerate violence every time things don't go your way. Will the Queen's Bench let the guilty off, like they did Todd Bertuzzi?

My guess is yeah, they will. After all, this is Vancouver, where anything goes. We all saw it again last week.

Saying 'Yo' to Mike Yeo: Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher now knows, after two seasons in the front office, just what a disaster he inherited from the remnants of the Risebrough administration. And, after the team tuned out Todd Richards at the end of last season (precipitating the disasterous 'March to Hell' stretch drive) that first and foremost, he had to find someone to get thru to the team's younger talent. The fact that they promoted from within speaks volumes as to where the ownership wants this team to go. This team will progressively get younger as time goes on. The fact that players like Antti Miettinen and (probably) Chuck Kobasew have played their last games in Iron Range Red should actually please the fan base, as there will be room for the kids who Yeo coached to within one game of the AHL Calder Cup at the NHL level this fall. Now if the Wild would buy out Cam Barker, so as to remove him from the roster, there would be two spots available on the blue line for Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella.

One thing Yeo said in his press conference Friday morning stood out: that the Wild will be a more competitive team, night in, night out. Hopefully that will mean the end of the 8-1 home blowouts, followed by two equally embarrassing home losses, all in the same week. Only time will tell.

NHL Draft: By this time next week, we will know who the Wild have selected in the 2011 Draft, coming this Friday and Saturday at the 'X' in St. Paul. As Fletcher and Co., continue to re-stock the larder of talent, the quality of 18-year-olds looks pretty good...on paper. Only time will tell if the decisions made next weekend will pan out. For the young players, it's their second-to-last step to getting paid for all those 6 AM practices in forlorn hockey rinks around the world. For their parents, another one leaves the nest to go out and seek his fortune. For the teams, it's taking a risk on a kid who has talent, but does he have the intangibles needed to survive at the highest level of the sport?

As I said, only time will tell...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Update on this 'n' that

Yes, I've taken some time off, for vacation and for personal reasons. But, it's not like the hockey world has ground to a halt since we last got together...

Stanley Cup Finals: The NHL playoffs have finally come down to one series, Boston vs. Vancouver. Now, I know that some of you think that since this is a blog primarily about a Western Conference team, that we should all be sheeple, and root for the Canucks. Well, you're wrong. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of people in the West are true believers in the theory of 'ABV' (Anyone But Vancouver) and really are hoping the Bruins will come back in the series, but the way that the 'Nucks have clawed, scratched, and bitten (Alex Burrows) their way to a 2-0 lead in the series, there is precious little time left to stop the parade on Granville Street in ten days' time. I still hope that justice will prevail, and the Bruins can pull it off, but it just doesn't look like they can.

Minnesota Wild coaching search: This has been more secretive than the hit on Osama Bin Laden. Hopefully it will be as successful. Is Chuck Fletcher waiting for the Houston Aeros season to end in order to offer the job to Mike Yeo? Or are they waiting until the Stanley Cup Finals to end, in order to announce the new coach to the public when they can get a bigger bang for the buck, as it where? The NHL draft is in less than 3 weeks. Wild fans hope the team has their act together, no matter what happens. And, speaking of the NHL Draft...

NHL Draft June 24 & 25, at the 'X': The draft is, indeed, looming; can the Wild get better as fast as they need to thru the draft? Or, will they be forced to the trade market in order to get better as fast as their fan base (and their ownership) need them to? With their most glaring need (and their single biggest potential help) deciding to stay one more season in Europe, will they draft a center who might be able to help them right away? Or will they continue to 'restock the larder' in Houston, despite the success of the Aeros this season?

Free Agency Day, July 1st: Will the Wild be buyers? Or sellers? Or will they just stand pat, after the success in Houston with the kids this spring? Yes, the Aeros are an AHL roster, so there are some players who will not go to the next level. But the fact is several of them will indeed, make the big club in St. Paul in the next 3-4 seasons, so do you plan for that? Do you plan based on what you currently have at the NHL level? Or, do you blow it up, and let the new coach start over? Many, many decisions to be made. And, not a lot of time in which to make them.

NHL back to Winnipeg: Good move or move too long in coming? Looking at the facts, the NHL just turned an albatross of a franchise (sorry, Blueland; no one cared, especially the fractured ownership) into one of the biggest success stories of the upcoming season. 45 guaranteed sellouts, and that makes everyone in hockey happy. Yes, the MTS Centre will be the NHL's smallest arena, but after True North Sports & Entertainment gets by the opening season jitters, there will be an expanded arena in time. Not a new one, just an expanded one. They already have plans. All they need is for the Board of Governors to approve the sale and move (13,000 season tickets in five days? 8,100 in 17 minutes? Sounds like they have support up there) and then bring the season on. The (insert name here) Jets/Moose/Falcons/Whatevers will be ready. The fans will definitely be ready. Now, about that January c-c-cold wind, howling thru Portage and Main...

For Atlanta, too bad, so sad, second chance you once had. Only making the playoffs once (and losing in four straight to the Rangers) didn't really help the bottom line, either. Throw in the fickle nature of Atlanta pro sports fans, and there was a recipe for disaster, especially after Ted Turner left AOL Time Warner and the new ownership wasn't keen on owning three sports franchises in the Capitol of the New South. They kept the right one (the Braves) and spun off the others to the Atlanta Spirit group, whose members don't exactly get along with each other, to the delight of law firms all over the Peach State.

And will I be going to the first game in the MTS Centre that the Minnesota Wild play in Winnipeg? Yes. I wouldn't miss it. (Did you REALLY have to ask that question? Really??)

Enjoy the summer, folks. We'll talk again soon. -- WRT

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What to think?

What to think of all this?

Derek Boogaard is dead, the Minnesota Wild still need a head coach, and the NHL Draft is less than six weeks away. Sometimes, you just need to step back and see what the big picture is. And sometimes, you just can't see the forest for the trees.

The untimely death of the NHL's Gentle Giant, Boogaard, will be the fodder of speculation for years. Not days, not weeks, not months, but years. The bespectacled, dapper son of an RCMP family, would turn from the kindest man to fans (especially kids!) to the absolute beast of pro hockey, the undisputed heavyweight king of the NHL, the one man that you, as the enforcer for another NHL team, knew you never wanted to face down mano-a-mano on the ice, for he would, literally and figuratively, beat the hell out of you. Not even helmets would save you, as several enforcers (Jody Shelley, D.J. King, Raitins Ivanans, just to name three) found out, as Boogaard destroyed their helmets, en route to destroying THEM.

The way he died is unknown. We may never know. He was found by family in his apartment in Minneapolis' Warehouse District last Friday, shortly after returning from Los Angeles, where he was preparing to join the Twitterare with his own Twitter handle. Boogaard, who just completed his first season of a four-season deal with the NY Rangers, had been concussed in a December, 2010 fight against the young buck Matt Carkner, of the Ottawa Senators, and had been held out the rest of the season.

A concussed Boogaard was an unhappy Boogaard, staying in his in-season Manhattan apartment, unable to do what he was brought to Manhattan to do; stand up for his teammates. He said it himself: the best thing he did was stand up for his teammates. He did it for five seasons for the Minnesota Wild, until his limited minutes could not be justified with the Wild's limited amount of talent, on the 23-man roster. As his Wild career waned, his minutes diminished. But he was still the good soldier, always the fan favorite, the first one to show up at a hospital to cheer patients -- big AND small -- up. It's no surprise that Boogaard's #24 jersey was one of the all-time best-sellers at the Wild's Hockey Lodge team stores.

How to sum it up? Do I really care to? It's tough when a life so full of promise is cut short. I always thought that Boogaard would have gone into law enforcement when his playing days ended (after he had that back surgery), as kind of a 'goodwill ambassador' for the RCMP. He probably would have scared Saskatchewan straight, all by himself. Alas, we'll never know.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The long and the short of it

NHL's second playoff round may not have long to go

The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is almost over, except in Nashville, where they may end as soon as Monday.

Seems as though the contenders -- especially in the Eastern Conference -- have turned out to be pretenders, as both the regular-season leaders in the East were summarily dispatched in four straight games by Tampa Bay and Boston, respectively. The Eastern Conference Finals will be between the No. 3 seed Bruins (who will have home ice advantage) and the No. 5 seed Lightning, who bounced the Pittsburgh Penguins and then the Washington Capitals in successive series.

The Washington Capitals management even sent an e-mail to their fans apologizing for their lack of success right after the four-game sweep.

The Bruins, after a grinding, seven-game series against Montreal in the first round, then went into uber-hostile Philadelphia and took two from the Flyers, then went back to TD Garden and finished off what some have dubbed, 'the new America's Team', in four straight.

In the West, the San Jose Sharks, following their six-game series win over the Anze Kopitar-less LA Kings, are one win away from throttling the Detroit Red Wings, who closed out the Phoenix Coyotes faster than the Goldwater Institute. Red Wings vs. Sharks will play tonight (Sunday) in Silicon Valley.

The other Western series, Nashville vs. Vancouver, is very surprising, considering the Predators did not know they were even IN the playoffs, until the last week of the regular season. That the Preds are playing even to the much more talented Canucks, is a testament to the system used to perfection by head coach Barry 'Uncle Fester' Trotz and his staff. Game Six in Music City will be Monday night, as the Canucks will have to travel the 2030 miles (3,270 Km for you Canadians) yet again as I write this. How many times will the Canucks be able to face comeback after comeback before they are eliminated, once and for all?

Should the Canucks survive somehow (again) whoever plays them will be facing a team which will be bloodied, beaten up, but as yet not unbowed. That will be for some other team to do. I really wonder how much Vancouver fans know their team is hated across North America. Sure, some who take a less opinionated view say that they are a great team, and that they are -- they have the talent, and the skill -- but do they have the will to win?

I haven't seen it from the men in those hideous blue uniforms yet. Nor in the end do I think we will.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

That's what Minnesota Wild fans are doing right now. Waiting. Waiting. And, more waiting.

While the rest of the NHL plays on in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Wild sit on the sidelines (or at the tee box), like 22 other NHL teams. Waiting for the right person to become available to be named the team's third head coach. Waiting for June 24th and 25th, when the NHL Amateur Draft takes place at the 'X'. Waiting for July 1st, the start of NHL Free Agency, when the Wild can shed themselves of more of the dead weight that permeated the 2010-2011 club, dragging Wild fans thru the 'March to Hell' stretch drive. When we can finally end the charade that has been the James Sheppard era (sorry, Russo, you and I disagree here. Shep needs a change of scenery. For his sake, and the sake of the club) and clear him off the books, once and for all.

When the Wild can also split up the 'Finnish Mafia' and say 'kiitos' and 'adios' to Antti Miettinen and his lack of goal-scoring ability. Artists with broad sides of barn paintings all over Minnesota, are weeping as the date approaches.

Although he should be offered a community job in the organization, Andrew Brunette's days on the Wild playing roster are, indeed, numbered.

Buh-Bye, Chuck Kobasew. Your presence these last two seasons are now costing us a top-40 draft pick. Hope all will be well, wherever you wind up.

Sorry, Josh Harding. You got caught up in a numbers game. You'll find a job somewhere. You're too young and too good to be cast aside, but the $$ money numbers caught up with you.

Also skee-daddling off the roster will be mid-season pick-up Jed Ortmeyer, the former Nashville Predator, who really wishes he was still on THAT roster right about now.

The Wild need to get more talent on the big league roster. Fast. Otherwise, there will be more than shoes dropping at 317 Washington St., St. Paul.

Maybe even a few heads.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Enjoying the Playoffs, Wild fans?

If you are a real hockey fan, there should be very little to get in your way of some serious couch time these April nights. Because, there's some really good hockey being played right now.

To wit: we've already seen...

One of the most determined comebacks in NHL history, by the Chicago Blackhawks, as the Vancouver Canucks victory parade planning has been brought to a dead halt;

possibly the last NHL game to ever be played in Glendale, Arizona, as the Detroit Red Wings showed why they are still the REAL force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference, dismantling the Phoenix Coyotes in four straight games;

that hot goaltending still can rule a playoff series, as Jonathan Quick's stand-on-your-head efforts still have the Los Angeles Kings in the series against the San Jose Sharks;

that the Washington Capitals have indeed improved their defense, as they dispatched the New York Rangers in five games, the last two losses of which can directly be attributed to Marian Gaborik, who really has to ask himself what has happened since his move to Gotham;

that the best offense really is a GREAT defense. Just ask the Buffalo Sabres, who have the new 'America's Team', the Philadelphia Flyers, on the ropes going into today's nationally-televised game at Buffalo;

that the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens haven't beaten each other into a pulp yet, with all the hard hits, high-intensity up-and-down skating, and leftover hatred that you USUALLY have in a playoff series;

that the Pittsburgh Penguins have survived the series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, despite no Sid the Kid, no 'Geno' Malkin, and very little help (at least in Game 5) for their beleagured goaltending corps. Anytime you place a 'snowman' on the other team's scoreboard, you wonder what you did right, and want to just keep on doing it;

and, finally, one of the 'snooz-iest' series ever, that series between the Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Ducks, a series which although going into Game 6 today (late afternoon) at Nashville, has drawn very little attention, and next-to-no national TV/Cable coverage. Not that there hasn't been some good hockey played (Bobby Ryan's goal and Jordin Tootoo's sweet game 4 rebound of his own shot are two of this playoff season's best goals) and some vicious hitting (the Game 4 take-out of Nashville's Martin Erat shows that, indeed, the Ducks haven't changed their ways) but this series hasn't captured the imagination of the hockey world.

So, if you are a fan of any of the teams who didn't make the playoffs, you wonder to yourself: 'Would my team have played at this level during these last 10-12 days?', and in most cases you say 'No' and hope that the teams who didn't make the playoffs want to get better. Teams that don't make the playoffs sell hope, because that's all they have TO sell. The fact of the matter is that teams who don't make the post-season don't make money. Three of the five most financially-distressed teams in the NHL (Florida, Atlanta, Dallas) did not make the playoffs this past season. The most financially-distressed team (Phoenix) went out in four straight games in the first round. And how many other teams, teams we haven't heard about in this context, are in the hole as much as these teams are?

Does the NHL have two schedules ready? One with the Phoenix Coyotes in it, and one with that team in Winnipeg? And, when will they release that schedule? Where will the Coyotes franchise be when the puck drops in October?

A lot more questions right now in the NHL than there are answers. So for now, shove all that aside. Forget the financial battles, legal entanglements and who's ox is getting gored. Sit down on the couch, and enjoy some of the best hockey of the season. After all, that's why they play the games. To see who wins, and who loses. Who gets to raise Lord Stanley's hardware in six weeks' time. And who's hopes get dashed on the rocks of the playoffs.

That's why they play the games.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The 'Six-Pack of Suck', Volume III: Go East, Young Men

Six games which determined Minnesota Wild's 2010-2011 season had same recurring theme

By Wild Road Tripper

Well, we've all survived the first week without the local NHL franchise playing. Which means, of course, that some will immediately want the franchise to move to some sunny Southern market. Or, failing that, to Hamilton, Ontario. Of course, some fans would come back with 'you can HAVE them, they were THAT bad,' or some derivative of that.

But, in effect, it was the story of three seasons; the first was from the pre-season (I include that, as it set the pattern; just wait for it) to early December; the second from a fortuitous Western road swing in mid-December thru the end of February; and the third, as we all saw for ourselves, was indeed the 'March to Hell', from a disastrous night on Long Island to the end of what was a very disturbing stretch drive.

With that, let's delve into the worst of the worst...the six worst games of the year:

6. October 7, 2010. Hartwall Areena, Helsinki, Finland. Carolina 4, Minnesota 3. What a way to start the season, rolling over against the Hurricanes in the season opener in Europe and dying, as the 'Canes scored 3 times in the second period, and made it stand up, as the Wild just flat out couldn't get anything going, just like their 1-5 pre-season record (0-5 against NHL teams) would indicate. Although the Wild did get a goal with 3:21 remaining to keep it close, it just wasn't to be, as the Wild would show time and again throughout the season ahead.

5. November 12, 2011. BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, Fla. Florida 2, Minnesota 1. Another game where the Wild's lack of offensive punch cost them as the Panthers scored twice in less than one minute in the first period...then made it stand up, as the Wild just couldn't get anything going in the last two periods. This haplessness against the Panthers came on the heels of a 5-1 drubbing, at the hands of the Thrashers the night before in Atlanta, before next to no one attending, at Philips Arena.

4. December 16, 2010. Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul. Ottawa 3, Minnesota 1. A game featuring what would be two of the NHL's ten worst teams almost a year to the day after the Wild's team equipment truck caught fire after an acetylene torch started burning hockey gear inside the van in Ottawa. After this stinker, some wished that the favor could have been returned. Or, at least, repeated. With the Sens' fathers in the stands, Ottawa scored twice on the power play (one of which was the result of a too many men on the ice penalty, which negated a Wild goal as well) then made it stand up against the hapless Wild's lack of offensive punch.

3. March 2, 2011. Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, L.I., N.Y. Islanders 4, Minnesota 1. This game will forever be known, as the game when everyone found out the Wild juggernaut of the previous three months had been irreparably broken, and unable to be salvaged in time for the playoffs. In what was the Wild's most embarrassing road game of the season, the Wild managed to give up three goals in a 10:04 stretch of the first and second periods, which spelled the end of the night for Niklas Backstrom, who was pulled just 41 seconds into the second period after giving up the three goals on just 19 shots. Of course, the Wild did not score until it was way-y-y too late, getting their lone goal in the third period, after all was said and done.

2. March 20, 2011. Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Montreal 8, Minnesota 1. Any time you give up a 'snowman' in one game you KNOW you've got a Six-Pack candidate. If this game didn't convince the Wild fan base to start planning their spring season without playoff hockey, I really don't know what would. The fact that this season had deteriorated to this point, shows how low the Wild had gone down the 'March to Hell' road. With well over 1,000 Montreal fans in the stands, the Habs proceeded to slice and dice the Wild more completely than one of Mr. Popeil's inventions. Only the awarding of a penalty shot to Mikko Koivu saved the Wild from the additional embarrassment of a shutout, but since by that point the score was 7-0, what more embarrassment could you have possibly heaped on this bunch of slugs anyhow?

1. March 22, 2011. Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul. Toronto 3, Minnesota 0. You would think that the Wild would have had enough professionalism to at least play decently against one of the really bad teams of the East, as the Maple Leafs shut out the Wild, as the Wild still were reeling after the previous game's blowout. With again well over 1,000 visiting fans in the stands, by the end of the game they were the only ones cheering as the Wild managed to lose their seventh straight game and eighth in their last nine. But this time, the Wild fans were so disgusted, booing didn't even help. Apathy reigned, both on the ice and off, as nothing the team did to improve the roster helped.

So, there it is folks. Six games, all vs. the Eastern Conference, that defined (and, debunked) the Wild's season. Twelve points gift-wrapped and served up by the Wild as their season waned on.

But wait! There were six other games, games which didn't live up (or, down) to the standards of the 'Six-Pack', but were still notable as to their suck-ability. These six games didn't make the cut:

12. November 11, 2010. Philips Arena, Atlanta. Thrashers 5, Wild 1. 'Blueland' did the 'Dirty Bird' as the Wild couldn't keep up with the younger, speedier Thrashers. No one saw it, though, as the NFL Falcons were playing the Baltimore Ravens next door, at the Georgia Dome, at the exact same time.

11. November 24, 2010. Xcel Energy Center. Flyers 6, Wild 1. The best team at the time in the East came in and stuffed the Wild, in a real turkey of a Thanksgiving Eve game. When Jody Shelley scores against you, you KNOW it has been a long, long night.

10. December 31, 2010. Xcel Energy Center. Predators 4, Wild 1. New Year's Eve. Full house. Amped-up crowd. Flat home team. No offense. Frustrating way to start the New Year.

9. March 10, 2011. Bridgestone Arena, Nashville. Predators 4, Wild 0. Realistically, the beginning of the end for the Wild's playoff chances.

8. March 11, 2011. American Airlines Arena, Dallas. Stars 4, Wild 0. Realistically, the end of the end for the Wild's playoff chances.

7. March 19, 2011. Xcel Energy Center. Blue Jackets 5, Wild 4 (OT). With 33 seconds left in OT, Brent Burns gives up the puck on an errant pass in his own zone, teeing it up for the Jackets' Antoine Vermette to score, giving away points and continuing the Wild tailspin in the precursor to the Montreal blowout the next afternoon, in what was the worst stretch of hockey in Wild history.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What part of the Todd Richards era was YOUR favorite?

We hope you enjoyed the Todd Richards era with the Minnesota Wild.

Because, as expected, it ended Monday morning, as shortly after 10:00 AM the Wild released a statement, which announced that the 44-year-old Richards had been relieved of his duties, after a 2-season record of 77-71-16.

Richards had been the second head coach in team history, following the eight-season era of Jacques Lemaire, who himself re-resigned yesterday following the final game of the New Jersey Devils' season.

No replacement for Richards has yet been named.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

So many stinkers. So little time. The 'Six-Pack of Suck' returns!

Ah, yes. Spring.

Birds chirping. Grass growing. Time for playoff hockey. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild are once again packing it in, after yet another losing season.

So, what WERE the 'worst of the worst' this past season? Which Wild games do you think were the most damaging games, in a season of basically damaged goods?

Yes, it's nomination time for the third annual 'Six-Pack of Suck' -- six games which, by their very outcome, defined the Wild's 2010-2011 season.

Add a comment to this blog entry, to add the game you loved to hate from this past season. We'll pick the 'worst of the worst' -- literally -- and include them in the list. Nominations close April 16th at 4 PM Central Time, and we'll post the results next weekend, when we review this disaster of a season.

Thank you!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Playing out the String

So nice to see Blogger fixed its' problems so we can all get together again like this. Thanks to the Blogger team for fixing the problems with Internet Explorer. Now, could they do the same for problems of the Minnesota Wild?

Let's face it. This season really HAS been that bad, hasn't it? Now, most Wild followers thought that at best the Wild would be a No. 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs. One series and done. At best. Some of us said the Wild wouldn't even make the playoffs. Now, I really hate to blow my own horn, but after the March to Hell that was the Wild last month (3 weeks and only one point in the standings to show for it), the fact is that the Wild now are fighting for 12th and 13th, not a playoff spot. And doing it with four of their top ten players (Nick Schultz, Martin Havlat, Marek Zidlicky, and John Madden) out and not on the season's final road trip, things don't look like they'll look up any time soon.

The fact of the matter is that although the Wild tried to halt the slide in March, once the snowball started to really gain steam (with the four-game road trip where the Wild were outscored 15-4), it would have taken a monumental home stand to stop the skid. That, as we all know by now, didn't happen, as their 0-3-1 record in what would turn out to be the team's most important homestand in three seasons sealed their fate, puncuated by a blow out, a shutout, and a game where the Wild quit on their fans, flat-out.

The chant of, 'Wait until next year', kind of rings hollow in the halls of 317 Washington St., St. Paul right now. As Wild fans go into their third consecutive summer with no post-season play, the loyal fan base is asking itself, 'How much IS enough'? You wonder how, as the season wears down, what new tricks the Wild will have up their collective sleeves to keep the fans interested as the roster is overhauled once again?

Now, it's great for John Madden and his family that they love Minnesota (hey, we do too; that's why most of us live here, despite the seemingly endless winter) and that Madden wants to play here or retire (as has been reported elsewhere); but will that be enough to offset the fact that this Wild team has way-y-y too much dead weight on the roster? And, that they can't shed that weight fast enough for most fans?

Going into the summer, as the Wild change everything, from their first line forwards, to their flagship radio station outlet, will the changes on the ice be enough to address the lack of offense from this season's Wild team?

We'll see, beginning 48 hours after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, as that is when the trade freeze (in place since Feb. 28th) finally thaws. As Minnesota begins planning in earnest for the June 25-26 NHL draft at the 'X', and the start of free agency July 1st, will the fans have enough patience to wait this all out?

Until then, never mind that the Vancouver Canucks will celebrate their winning the President's Cup, for the most points in the NHL, against the Wild Thursday night at Rogers Place. Wild fans will just sit and wait for the planning of the Canucks' victory parade on Robson St., to go for naught, once again.

At least the Wild don't have a 40-year record with no Cups to worry about.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wild about...apathy

Indifference from players, fans of Minnesota Wild alike as April looms

You know it's bad when...your home fans even stop booing. When the paying customers see that the team has given up. Waived the flag of surrender. Quit. (Sorry, Andrew Brunette, but they have.)Stopped playing like these same fans saw they could just a few short weeks ago. When the Wild were in fifth place in the NHL's Western Conference, one point from a home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And then, and then...

...they rolled over, and they died.

The Wild are 0-7-1 in their last eight games, following an 0-4 road trip and an 0-3-1 home stand where they were out-scored 22-8 in the four games, puncuated by a blowout (8-1 to Montreal, who hasn't won since, BTW), a shut-out (3-0 to Toronto), and by flatout giving up (an embarrassing 6-3 loss to St. Louis, a team which the Wild put out of playoff contention last month on Hockey Day Minnesota).

Wretched doesn't begin to describe the type of play the Wild are exhibiting in front of their fan base right now. The indifference that this team is showing their followers is indeed epic. No jump whatsoever. No pride in receiving an NHL paycheck every two weeks. Not even caring enough to play for each other, even when the head coach, the embattled Todd Richards, is screaming at you during a time-out on the Wild bench.

Even when the puck lay 8 feet from the St. Louis goal, and three Wild players surrounded the puck, NO ONE went for the puck. That is what the Wild have become; the de facto laughingstock of the NHL. Indeed, the Wild are so up against the salary cap, that they will have to jettison some of their current players to have any salary-cap room for next fall. But who will they be playing in front of next September when pre-season begins?

The season-ticket fanbase, the cornerstone of any pro sports franchise, is tired of the blowouts, shut outs, and projects (like James Sheppard) who never seem to pan out. They are fed up with the losing, the lack of progress, and the flat-out giving up. The Wild need an infusion of talent -- real, honest-to-God talent, not more 'character guys' who are 'good in the room'. They need to shed themselves of the 5 unrestricted free agents, and a good amount of the other 'dead weight' this team currently houses on their roster, and get some real talent in here. Talent that can finish. Talent that can score. Talent that can step in and play at the NHL level. Not more third-and-fourth line 'grinders' who are bargain-basement 'projects', who may (or, may not) wind up becoming 'lifers' in the AHL, occasionally coming up for a 'cuppa coffee' in the big leagues.

If the Wild fail to blow it up, and do relatively little between the end of the season (April 10th, sadly) and next September's start of the pre-season, the fans will stay away from the Xcel Energy Center in droves. The Wild sales and marketiung staff will have their hands more than full, trying to get discretionary entertainment dollars out of an already skeptical fan base. And no amount of 'free food' offers, arena give-aways or 'special nights' will help change their minds.