Sunday, January 2, 2011

Brand New Year, Same Old Wild Problems

New Year's. Time to re-start everything. Time to turn the calendar over, and renew your committment to making your life better in the New Year,

Oh, how I really wish the Minnesota Wild would follow that philosophy.

The fact of the matter is that despite their recent success (two wins vs. Calgary, wins vs. Colorado and San Jose in the last two weeks), this Wild team is, at best, a .500 hockey club. A testament to middling performance. A team which, if this season so far were made into a commercial, would come out like the Education Minnesota union ad during the elections -- "Mediocrity, Mediocrity, ME-DI-OCRITY!"

The reality is that until the Wild can once again upgrade their forwards to a level of, say, a St. Louis, or the LA Kings, or even this afternoon's opponents, the formerly-lowly Phoenix Coyotes, the Wild will be mired with a Calgary Flames team which is on the verge of a total rebuild, and the near-perpetual bottom feeders, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers, teams who are destined to be cannon fodder for the likes of the Detroits and Chicagos of the Western Conference.

How bad are the Wild viewed, especially away from Minnesota?

CBC's Pierre LeBrun, with Kelly Hrudey commenting on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night from Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, where they were doing the Washington-Pittsburgh Winter Classic, came out and said that the Wild are 'not a sexy team' right now, and do not even deserve hosting the Winter Classic (although they wouldn't have had the warm weather problems they did in the Steel City yesterday). He also said that Philadelphia (home of Comcast, who will purchase NBC from GE later this month) and Colorado (who's Invesco Field at Mile High would be an 80,000-seat bonanza, for a game vs. either the Detroit Red Wings or the Dallas Stars) are the current front-runners for the 2012 game, a game which the Wild ownership covets dearly.

LeBrun's comments should have been viewed as an alarm bell, ringing throughout 317 Washington Street in Downtown St. Paul. It's time to get serious as to what direction the Wild need to go in to get where they really need to be -- the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and soon.

They have to get involved this season at the trade deadline. And at the rate this team is going, they certainly would not be construed as 'buyers'. No way. They need to unload salary, and quickly. Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Chuck Kobasew all need to be shown the proverbial door. Two other Wild players -- John Madden and Jose Theodore -- are also unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. But there are two Wild players who's output underscores the fact they need a change of scenery.

Cam Barker and James Sheppard, your taxis are waiting to take you to the airport. One-way.

Sheppard, injured in pre-training-camp while ATV'ing in Colorado, needs a new start. Somewhere else. The second biggest draft day bust in Wild history (behind A. J. Thelen), the only thing Shep is doing right now for the Wild, is dragging down the team's salary cap to zero. They won't get anything out of him this season. Anything you get in return for him, (even a used puck bag), should be considered a plus for the Wild. Just get his name off the books.

Barker, acquired in the Kim Johnsson-Nick Leddy trade from Chicago, has probably been the single biggest stalagmite since Martin Skoula departed after the 2008-09 season. He doesn't hit. He doesn't check. Quite frankly, other than take up space on the roster, he really doesn't do much of anything, which is evident in his -12 plus/minus rating, worse than the rest of the Wild defense combined.

And who(m)ever told the Wild forwards that the fans don't want 'garbage' goals at home? The way that this team doesn't score, we fans can't be begging for the 'pretty' goal. Beggars can't be choosers. The Wild faithful will take goals, any way the Wild can deliver them.

Let's hope the New Year will right the Wild's ship of state. Because, the dinghy is still leaking...

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