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.