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