Sunday, December 2, 2012

OK, NHL, you've lost most of us

It hasn't been that fun being an NHL fan these days, has it?

You know that in most cases, nothing else will do. Not college hockey, not high school,. nothing else. And certainly, not the evil basketball. The NFL is doing its' job in occupying the American sports consciousness; but north of the 49th parallel, the CFL has suffered thru the 100th Grey Cup, and now becomes a nation lying in wait for its' heritage sport -- professional ice hockey, at its' highest level -- to quit being another case study in bad labor/management relations, and get back to what it does best: Entertaining fans, and giving them something to while away cold Northern winters (except in the Bettman-promoted Southern markets, where they while away somewhat less-than-cold Southern winters).

I, for one, have kind of gone into 'shut-down' mode: 'get back to me when you have some REAL news to report'. I don't believe anything that either side says any more. No amount of grandstanding, posturing, or other attempts to show the public you're 'trying to come to agreement' will sway most fans. We've all just moved on to other things, other pursuits, other interests.

We fans are saving our money. No pre-game restaurant dinners, no post-game refreshments, no money spent on parking, gas, souvenirs. No new items from the 'team store'. (Or, from any store, if that item has any NHL or NHL team logo on it.) And that has its' down side as well; layoffs at numerous restaurants, bars, stores, etc., going into the Christmas/New Year's holiday season. The fact that until now, the Minnesota Wild's staff has been somewhat insulated from the rest of their owners' recalcitrance, pales in comparison to the 600 Xcel Energy Center part-time employees, who comprise the Wild's game day staff. Most of them took these jobs as second (or, in some cases, third) jobs, to earn a few extra dollars to make their lives that much better.

Now, even the Wild's permanent, full-time staff is being affected; beginning after the New Year, their workweek will be shortened by 20%, as the NHL's own full-time staff has been since the start of the dispute, along with several other member clubs. Sadly, the staffers have no one to blame, except their own bosses; if they would actually come to an agreement, come ready to really negotiate, not to 'Draw a line in the sand', then turn and walk away when the other side says 'No' to the latest demand, this would all have been behind us a long time ago.

The fact that neither side -- owners and players -- is willing to give even an inch shows what a disasterous condition the NHL is in right now. The fact that two of the most stubborn lawyers on Earth -- Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr -- lead the two sides, behooves most of us to believe that the final solution will not be achieved this season. Nor maybe even next season.

But, for now, just go ahead, NHL. Just vote next week (in your Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, in New York) to take this already-moribund season off life support. Kill the victim so the disease of the labor dispute can be cured. Then, after the air has been cleared, let's get back to the business at hand.

Let's play hockey.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I was supposed to be in Newark, but...

Continuing labor dispute, ego-driven negotiations doom NHL 2012-13 season; will they EVER play again?

Well, today is Day 57 of the NHL Lockout. They're talking, albeit begrudingly; the fans are just flat out in limbo, just waiting to see what will actually come out of talks and the shuttling between Toronto (NHLPA headquarters) and New York (NHL HQ). Granted, the interruption that was Hurricane Sandy (Ok, ok...Superstorm Sandy, for you weatherheads out there) did put a few days' distance in the talks, but the loggerheads that have occurred between NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the Fehr Brothers, the two-headed negotiators for the Players' Association, need to be put behind them, and we all need to just MOVE ON.

For Minnesota Wild fans, this weekend was supposed to be a stiff test of what the Wild was to have become: last night, the Wild should have been in Detroit, facing the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena; tonight, a 5:00 PM (EST) contest against none other than the New Jersey Devils was to have taken place at 'the Rock', a.k.a. the Prudential Center in Downtown Newark. These would have been games number 4 and 5 of the Wild's then-killer 6-game Eastern road swing.

The Wild should have been then traveling down the Northeast Corridor, to the City of Brotherly hate Love, to take on the Flyers Tuesday night, at the First Union Wachovia Wells Fargo Center. The fact that the lockout came when it did might actually, from the perspective of the last two weeks, worked out in the Wild's favor, should the lockout actually end this winter and the team begin playing again.

This was to be the biggest WRT road trip in three seasons (since the NHL Premiere trip to Helsinki). Now, there's no trip, no games, nothing. I just sit here, and save my $ for that rainy (or, since we are in Minnesota, snowy) day. No tickets, no flights, no hotels, nothing. Just staying home and waiting for Messrs. Bettman and Fehr to get done doing their thing.

C'mon guys. Please, figure this thing out. Before I get absolutely claustrophobic here at home, watching the Vikings lose. Again.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Lying in wait...or waiting for lies?

Posturing as the order of the day instead of meaningful compromise rule, as NHL lockout extends beyond three-week mark

Ok, guys, You've both made your points.

As the NHL lockout surpasses the 21-day mark, the owners (led by Gary Bettman) and the players (led by Donald Fehr) seem no closer to a compromise, that will allow teams to start the 2012-13 campaign.

Posturing seems to be the order of the day. 'We're ready to negotiate, when THEY are', seems to be the favorite sound bite out of the post-meeting press conferences. No meaningful information is ever uttered; no progress on the meaningful (read: money) issues is made. Yet, the two sides are still talking (albeit mostly on the phone, as opposed to in person, across an actual negotiating table.)

The fans? Most are mostly bored with both sides, and have moved onto other things (namely, NFL football) to occupy their sports watching time. Some have just tuned out altogether, and are just getting on with life. Yet, the two sides cannot see the forest of compromise for all the stands of trees still in the way of a meaningful agreement.

So, the best thing to say to both sides, at least at this point, is...

Call me when you're ready to play, guys. I may still be here...or not...

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Thirteen days...and counting...

Despite growing public condemnation, owners, Bettman adamant about regressing NHL hockey despite record profits, revenues

Thirteen days to go. Thirteen days.

On Saturday, Sept. 15th, the owners and their representative, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, will lock the players out for the third time in Bettman's 19-year tenure.

There will be no NHL hockey. Players will be left to fend for themselves, while the owners will squirrel away cash to tide their franchises over until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is agreed to. Meanwhile, Bettman still gets paid his reportedly $8,000,000 million annual salary. (By contrast, Donald Fehr, the ex-MLBPA head now running the NHLPA, gets no salary until -- and, unless -- a new CBA is agreed to. This is the way most lawyers work, on contingency.)

Meanwhile, thousands of part-time NHL team employees, and employees of businesses who depend on hockey -- bars, restuarants, hotels, even transit authorities and airlines (who charter planes for NHL team travel) -- are laid-off or have their hours sharply reduced. The fans are disillusioned yet again, for the third time in a generation. All for the unbridled greed of a few owners (who don't want to revenue share) and the mis-steps of Bettman himself (whose 'Southern Strategy' has been proven to be an unqualified failure).

Marginal players -- not the superstars, who have provisions built into their contracts so they will get paid (or, already have) regardless whether they play or not -- will suffer. Despite the NHLPA's two-year warning to squirrel away cash for a long lockout, some may have not done so. Now, it just may be too late.

No one on one side wants to listen to the other side. Talks broke off last Friday, with no new sessions scheduled. Compromise? With the owner who already has engulfed, and devoured, more than half the cable TV industry in the USA? With the owner who feeds more people in stadiums and arenas, than any other? With the owner, who is still playing with Union Pacific Railroad money? With the de facto owner of the Phoenix franchise? Hell no, they won't compromise. No one wants to compromise on the owners side. They all seem united to keep hockey from the fans, after a 2011-2012 season which was one of the best, start-to-finish, in the history of the League.

As has been pointed out many, many times...the current, expiring CBA is the one that the owners wanted IN THE FIRST PLACE. The players already gave back 24% of their salaries. Now they're being asked to give back nearly the same amount...again. Since the loopholes in the current CBA have been exploited (yes, including signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise by the Minnesota Wild), now you're trying to put the proverbial horse back in the barn, not by the carrot, but soley by the (hockey) stick?

Sorry, NHL owners, but this time, you lose the biggest court battle of all, that of the court of public opinion. And you lose it not for what the other side has done, but what your own side has not done. On one hand, your teams are going along, trying to sell tickets, merchandise, etc., like absolutely nothing is wrong. On the other hand, your personnel departments are ready to hand out lay-off notices and pink slips like a post-war parade. If you would face the reality of the situation, stop the subterfuge and negotiate in good faith, this could all be stopped, dead in its' tracks. And the hockey season could be saved for the fans, fans whom the Commissioner said were, 'the best fans in the world.'

Well, aren't we?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I'll buy tickets...when the lockout is over

Do you go on the road to watch NHL hockey? Received any promotional e-mails from other NHL teams, proclaiming that they're ready to sell single-game tickets? Are you a sales rep for an NHL team, and wonder why people aren't exactly jumping at the bit to buy single-game tickets?

If you do, or even if you never travel beyond St. Paul, read on...

To: All NHL Teams not based in the State of Minnesota
From: Wild Road Tripper

Subject: 2012-2013 single game tickets

Please be advised, that unless you stop shooting yourselves in the foot (or, higher) and formally restrain Commissioner Gary Bettman from taking NHL hockey away from the patrons who actually pay to help keep your businesses in business, I will not be buying any tickets to Minnesota Wild road games for the 2012-2013 season.

Your 'lockout' ploy to assist keeping the Commissioner's 'Southern Strategy' in play simply will not work. The Players Association have called your bluff. They are still willing to work with you, to help grow the greatest game on Earth, but your blind (and costly) insistence on propping up franchises in cities that have shown little, if any, interest in the game (Phoenix, South Florida, Nashville, Carolina) while other cities (Quebec City, suburban Toronto) build arenas hoping for a franchise, does not make for a successful business model.

Please refrain from trying to tempt me with 4-game and 6-game 'mini-packs' of tickets, where if I knew any other fan in another city, I would split the seat with. Sadly (for you), this will not work, as I see thru the Commissioner's ploy of getting every dollar humanly possible prior to Sept. 14th. Unless your staff announce in advance a lockout plan, I assume my money is lost, and will not be returned to me unless I appear IN PERSON at your box office, tickets in hand, looking to punch out someone who really didn't do anything to deserve it, except hire out with your business for a paycheck.

(Alas, since I actually commiserate with those employees whom you throw to the wolves, not unlike the movie, 'Gladiator', we will refrain from anyone getting hurt, save for Messrs. Bettman, Bill Daly and Colin Campbell, any of whom we will be glad to throw under the bus of your choosing.)

The current CBA, which expires on Sept. 14th, can remain in effect while meaningful reform, reform that will actually help BOTH sides, while promoting the great game of hockey, and not depriving the fan base of the game that they love and support in record amounts, can be effectively negotiated thru the collective bargaining process. Wouldn't you be better playing games, promoting local commerce, taking in money and actually playing games, than shutting the doors, and putting your non-contract employees out of work in this economy?

There is a middle ground. There is room for compromise on both sides. There is no need for a lockout.

But, since most of the owners seem to blindly follow the Commissioner (to the point where you are actually willing to be fined by him, should you dare utter any word to the contrary) as the point man in this labor dispute, I am left with no choice but to refrain from buying any tickets to Minnesota Wild road games, until this dispute is settled and a new agreement is agreed to.

Yours for better hockey,


Saturday, July 28, 2012

This 'n' That

(We haven't done 'This 'n' That in a while. Just my thoughts on various Minnesota Wild-related stuff. Charge on, dear reader...)

Free Agent signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter: Face it, Wild fans. This isn't supposed to happen to a Minnesota pro sports franchise. Minnesota isn't supposed to be able to outbid the likes of Philadelphia and the Rangers for players like these. The fact that both former unrestricted free agents are from this part of the world helped, but when you make enough money to live anywhere in the world, this just isn't supposed to happen. I'm still in shock, and I still won't believe it, until I see both in Wild sweaters, on the ice, at Xcel Energy Center.

Yes, it IS a lot of money. But isn't it refreshing, that one organization in this town had the wherewithal to actually use the rules, as they currently agreed to, in order to improve themselves this dramatically? Like a lot of you, my Twitter account was being constantly refreshed on July 3 & 4, as the saga played out online.

Other Wild signings (Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Brian Campbell) during free agency: Not a lot of Wild fans see any of these signings as improving the franchise a whole lot. I say: not so! The signing of Mitchell, a first-class frustrator and a favorite of San Jose Sharks fans, will fill a definite need in the penalty kill department, taking some of the load off of the likes of Mikko Koivu and Darroll Powe. Konopka assures that we have four true centers in our top four center slots; also, who wants to take liberties with Mikael Granlund, Parise, Koivu, etc., when you have both Konopka and Matt Kassian available for pugilistic duty?

Campbell, who came over from Calgary, hopefully will have signed up for Delta SkyMiles by the start of the season, as his lot with this team will be on the shuttle between Houston and MSP.

The kids are alright: After attending both scrimmages during prospect camp earlier this month, the future of the Wild organization has never looked this good. The last vestiges of the old Doug Risebrough regime have been totally swept away. The Wild are truly Chuck Fletcher's team now. And, it shows, as the quailty and quantity of talent have been markedly improved, both at the NHL level (and how!) and at the AHL level, as fans of the Houston Aeros can actually think that their team may just stay together long enough, to possibly make a Calder Cup run. Matt Dumba, the Wild's first-round draft choice, is the real deal, as is Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Nate Prosser, and all the other young guns that Fletcher & Co., have manged to stockpile thru four gruelling (for fans, at least) non-playoff seasons in St. Paul.

The coaching staff has an invaluable season of NHL experience under their collective belts together: another start like last season, and avoiding the injury plague which disabled the team in mid-December, will go a long way as to where this Wild team will actually wind up. Landing a spot in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs is not a possibility with this team. With the way the Wild has acted this summer, it has become an expectation, for which failure will not be an option.

But, will we even HAVE a 2013 playoffs? Or a 2012-2013 regular season? Will the NHL and the Players Association come together, for the good of the game and the fans, to ensure labor peace? Will Gary Bettman and Don Fehr, two skilled negotiators, come to an agreement to save the start of training camp (Sept. 21 for the Wild), or will the dispute over hockey-related revenues escalate, to the point of the sport's second lockout in less than a decade? With one franchise (Phoenix) on life support, costing both sides (owners AND players) millions of dollars, and several others getting perilously close, what will happen for the League in the next few years financially? Will we have meaningful re-alignment? Franchise stability, or several more Atlanta Thrashers-style post-season moves?

Yes, they are talking. Issues and proposals have been passed across tables in both New York and Toronto. But will it all be done in time to prevent the owners to lock the players (and, fans) out?

The 800-pound gorilla in the room needs attention. And soon. Otherwise, we will have the unfortunate result of Lockout No. 2...much to the dismay of the Wild faithful. Just when we had momentum, will the Wild have lost it going into Fall, 2012?

Only Craig Leipold knows for sure, and he isn't talking ('cuz he'll get fined, substantially, if he does.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Talk to Chuck: The kids are still coming

Yes, Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher. I'm sure that you are still very much aware of this, but all of those kids you invited over the last few years, by drafting them and signing college free agents?

They're still on their way to the Wild roster.

And, starting this week, Wild fans will be seeing more of them in the future, despite this week's mega-signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year, $98,000,000 contracts. Each. For, lost in all the excitement and suspense of the Independence Day fireworks, is the fact that the Wild will hold their annual Prospects Camp this coming week. Which also means that the Wild will have ice in place, during the team's 'Select-a-Seat' event on Tuesday night, when all those 'newbie' season ticket holders (STH's), who signed up just last week during the Parise/Suter watch, get to actually pick where they sit for 2012-13.

The kids will be on exhibition, also, as well as being gruelly tested for numerous physical and mental challenges. There will be two scrimmages (open to the public) as well; on Thursday night (July 12) at 7:00 PM, and on Sunday, July 15, at 11:00 AM (early, so the prospects can make Delta's last bank of Sunday flights out of MSP Airport).

So, for those of you who thought you'd be seeing the likes of Jonas Brodin, Brett Bulmer, Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips, and Jason Zucker at Xcel Energy Center this season, this may be your only guaranteed chance to make that happen. (Don't worry, players get injured all the time. They'll all be up at some point or another.)

See what a signing (or two) will do for your hockey club?

Also, the Hockey Lodge is having their 'Warehouse Sale' at Select-a-Seat and at both scrimmages, as well (first time they have extended the sale thru both scrimmages). So if you wanted that Wild-themed item that you said earlier you really wouldn't pay that much for, this sale is for you. Markdowns abound. Go for it.

And enjoy the future of Wild hockey this coming week. Because, it sure looks bright right about now.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wild, 2012-13: 'A special place for a long time'

Signings of Parise, Suter overwhelm Wild, fans as memorable day unfolds

By Wild Road Tripper

And most Minnesota Wild fans didn't believe it couldn't get done. Yes, even including this blogger.

But, they did it. The Independence Day signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the two most sought-after NHL free agents, now propels the Wild into the realm of the NHL's elite franchises. The Twitter hashtags of #Parisewatch, and #Suterwatch, will forever hold special place in the hearts of the Wild faithful, as the three-day watch held Minnesota sports fans and media in mesmerizing suspense, as word kept reaching the hockey-crazed masses that both were available, IF...the Price was Right.

At $98 million each, over 13 seasons, front-loaded to receive $24 million in the next 13 months, the fact that they took less money to sign in Minnesota than, say, Detroit or Pittsburgh, the fact that the Wild won this multi-dimensional, multi-directional battle, despite digging out from their dismal finish in 2011-12, and jettisoning enough salary in the last three seasons to make this fit under the NHL's salary cap (at least, the current version), took a masterful stroke by GM Chuck Fletcher and his staff, especially as the negotiations dragged on past the first day of free agency.

Needless to say, the buzz generated by the signings blew up the phone lines at the Wild sales offices, where eight representatives were on duty this morning in advance of the signings...just in case. By mid-day, all sales employees were asked to report, in order to answer the phalanx of calls, as hold times reached 30 minutes-plus in the early afternoon.

Even KFAN, the team's flagship radio station, had to scrap their scheduled 'best of' programming for the afternoon, for six hours of all-Wild-hockey, all-the-time talk, with numerous Wild 'personalities' sprinkled throughout the day. Into the evening, the station ran the first three hours of the afternoon's events (from 6-9 PM, Central Time).

You need to sit back now, dear Wild fan, and just dream...of a NHL Winter Classic (Minnesota in 2014? Craig Leipold says it just may, a trip back into the playoffs, for the first time in four seasons...and remember, it WAS the number 8 seed that went to the Stanley Cup finals from the Western Conference last month...and won it all...

Good things yet to come? Ya, sure, you betcha there. And I'm still on board for the ride. You?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New schedule, new problems

Release of 2012-13 schedule belies labor strife, NHL indifference to Wild

By Wild Road Tripper

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- They still just don't get it.

With their season possibly headed for shortening due to labor strife, the NHL released their 2012-2013 schedule Thursday morning, to a round of 'Huh?' from fans of the Minnesota Wild.

The League did the Wild absolutely NO favors, as not only did they fail to appreciate the instant interest that two games vs. the Winnipeg Jets had last season, they stuck the Wild with two games vs. the lowly New York Islanders, for the second straight season. (They might have actually felt sorry for Charles Wang's forlorn hockey club, as the Isles beat the Wild twice last season.)

Yes, they scheduled two games (home and home) also with the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Pittsburgh Penguins (the game at the 'X' in St. Paul, January 19, probably to be proclaimed 'Hockey Day Minnesota') but to leave the Jets off the schedule in St. Paul, does take a bit of explaining from the head office in Manhattan.

Other than that, the annual visit of the Disney on Ice troupe in early December will once again leave the Wild traversing the Southwest, just as winter begins its' grip on the Upper Midwest. But, even worse than that is the 12-day, 6-city marathon beginning in Tampa Bay on Nov. 3 (leaving Minnesota the previous day) and ending in Philadelphia on Nov. 12. They play in Tampa, Boston, the Rangers, Detroit, Newark (vs. the NJ Devils), and Philly before heading for home.

As for the 'traditional' games, other than the HDM game noted above, the other dates to note are:

Home Opener -- Oct. 13 (Colorado)
'Black Friday' -- Nov. 23 (Toronto)
New Years' Eve -- Dec. 31 (Edmonton)
'Hockey Day America' -- Feb. 17 (Detroit)
Last Home Game -- Apr. 13 (Columbus)

33 of the 41 home games are 7:00 PM starts. Of the other eight games, four are 5:00 PM starts, two games at 8:00 PM, and one each at 6:30 PM (Detroit, Feb. 17) and one lone afternoon game (Saturday, March 23, vs. San Jose).

Other points of note: One game of the 12 against the two Alberta teams (Calgary and Edmonton) is played prior to the New Year, as are two of the 6 games against Vancouver. By contrast, the six games vs. Colorado are fairly spread out throughout the schedule. The Wild have only one inter-conference game after Feb. 6, so if they are going to actually make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2013, they will have to do it on their own, by beating the other teams in their own conference again, and again.

And, unlike last season, when the Wild played most of their last two weeks at home, this season the Wild play five of their last seven on the road, in a final 5-game, 9-day gasser, with games in all four time zones. And, the final game of that stretch is their second game at Detroit, who never treat the Wild well, no matter how well the Red Wings are doing otherwise.

But, the reality is that until the NHL and the Players' Association can come to agreement on how to slice up that revenue souffle' that's being served up, there may not even BE a season to complain about a schedule over. The fact of the matter remains, that if Don Fehr and Gary Bettman can't get along, we'll all be sitting home, wondering what would have really happened in those two games against the lowly Islanders.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Calm before the Storm

Final weekend before draft, summer tour, free agency day allows Wild, fans to think of 'what if?'

Well, folks, we're almost there.

Next week at this time, there will be new players for the Minnesota Wild, courtesy of the NHL Draft being held this coming Friday and Saturday in Pittsburgh. There will be limo buses being gassed up and inspected, for the Wild Summer Tour starting the following Monday. And, as we have all had drilled into us for months, the start of Free Agency on Sunday, July 1st.

Now, I'll digress at this point, as we all know which free agents that the Wild covet, and which ones they don't. We all know that the Wild have carloads of cash and cap space to spend; but so do others, others who are closer to the Stanley Cup Finals than the rebuilding Wild are.

There are also issues with the current roster, as well, as there is the Guillaume Latendresse question to answer: Will he return to the Wild roster, after basically two seasons of suffering concussions? Will Latendresse sign a lesser contract, one that will be incentive-laden, to remain on the roster? Or will GM Chuck Fletcher say that enough is, indeed, enough, and that the coming influx of new talent will be enough, to allow a potential 30-plus goal scorer in Latendresse to get away? Even Gui knows he won't be getting the $2.5M qualifying offer that, as a restricted free agent, he would be eligible for. But the fact that this Wild team was 30th in the NHL last season in scoring, is a statistic that screams out at everyone involved -- management, players, and fans alike.

There is the also continuing Pierre-Marc Bouchard issue as well. Three seasons when he has had his season cut short with head issues. Again, the question is: How long do you hang onto the talent, knowing that you've seen what he can do, but not knowing when -- or, if -- you can depend on him to play a regular spot?

There are issues surfacing at a spot -- defense -- which Wild fans are not used to dealing with, either, with the departure (via trade) of Nick Schultz and the arrival (in the same trade) of Tom Gilbert, Bloomington native and defensive liability, IMO. Whomever pairs with him had better be fast, as Gilbert's lack of speed and unfamiliarity with the ways of Mike Yeo, and the rest of the roster, were very apparent as the season's final weeks played out this past season.

As offensively challenged as Schultz was, his defensive work more than made up for his lack of point punch. The replacement? Who knows? That will be decided in training camp, as one of the six (or more) spots on the roster to be filled, by the load of newbies coming down the restocked pipeline.

And what of the new blood? We all know about Mikael Granlund, he will be on the roster on Opening Day; but what of the other youngsters? Who will make the cut? Who goes to Houston for Gulf Coast seafood and hockey seasoning? And who gets traded (if anyone) for 'NHL talent'?

Does 'trader Chuck' make an appearance in Pittsburgh during the draft? Or do the Wild, with extra picks from trades made during the past season, stand pat and continue to restock the larder following the end of the Risebrough era?

And then, there is the Free Agency scenarios, many of whom have hit the light of day in the last few weeks as the date approaches. Parise, Suter, Joe Corvo, the list goes on and on. I won't bore you with all the various details, but suffice it to say, that the end results will more help the Wild, than hurt it, again IMO. (And don't ask me who or how...)

Yes, the schedule also comes out this week as well. But, until there is agreement between owners and players on a new collective bargaining agreement, any schedule will not be worth the paper (or, bandwidth) that it's printed on. Labor peace must be obtained before the puck is dropped again. The Phoenix Coyotes situation must be dealt with (again), as any sale must have the de facto approval of the Goldwater Institute ("In defense of Liberty") before the sale is finalized. Then there is Quebec City, who is building a new arena (in the parking lot of the current Colisee Pepsi), hoping to land an NHL franchise. But which franchise will it be? Phoenix? Or, another franchise of the six NHL teams in financial trouble?

Only the NHL knows for sure, And, no one in Gary Bettman's office is talking.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

OK, Granlund's finally signed. Now what?

After biggest rookie signing in team history, Wild fans now ask: What will team do for an encore?

The angst was, indeed, for naught.

The Tuesday signing of Mikael Granlund to his first NHL contract -- an event which was scheduled, announced, but still not believed by most Minnesota Wild fans until the ink was on the paper -- closed the latest chapter on GM Chuck Fletcher's master rebuilding plan, as the IIHF World Championships in Helsinki ended, and, as scheduled, Granlund didn't bail out on Minnesota. He did exactly what he had said he would do. Now, then, the next question for Wild fans:

What do the Wild do for an encore?

The NHL Draft is less than four weeks away, at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, on June 22 & 23. Will that be the next big acquisition day? Will the Draft bring another big trade, such as last season's Brent Burns - Devin Setoguchi swap, announced at Xcel Energy Center during the first round of the 2011 Draft?

Or will the trade embargo lift, 48 hours after the last game of the upcoming Devils-Kings Stanley Cup Finals, to a crescendo of trade activity which might give the Wild an inside shot at a number of players who might just help dramatically improve the roster?

Or, will we all just sit back and wait until Free Agency Day, and watch the NHL Network (who will, once again, carry the TSN feed), as player after player changes teams for greener pastures, while the Wild sit idly by, and take the best remaining leftover?

Rumors abound about a myriad of players, especially about the two biggest potential free agents -- Devils winger Zach Parise, and Predators defenseman Ryan Suter. Everything so far is just that -- a rumor -- but the fact is that these two players, and many, many more, are about to get paid, and some serious amount of coin will slide across Fletcher's table, as well as the tables of the 29 other NHL clubs. The buzz will amp up the week before, as the Wild Summer Bash road trip (also known as the start of the Anthony Lapanta as Wild play-by-play announcer sell-job) trudges across Minnesota in the height of the mosquito season. The fact that the tour ends up at the John Rose Oval in Roseville, instead of the X, is also indicative of this being less about the current Wild team than normal.

No conspiracy theories here, folks. Just some thought, that the Wild need to do a better sell job on their current ticket holders, and that this may be (or may NOT be, we'll see) a way to start the summer sales campaign off. With the Twins tanking, the Vikings stadium woes finally behind the state, and the Timberwolves doing no better than the Wild, this is the time the Wild sales staff need to step up their efforts to sell hope to the masses.

Of course, the hockey operations staff could make life a lot easier for the sales department, by signing a couple of the big name players rumored to be hitting the market, to help out the bumper crop of rookies and second-year players, who are expected to make the Wild roster on Opening Day, 2012 (whenever THAT may be), CBA negotiations not withstanding.

Oh, snap! I forgot to acknowledge the 800-pound gorilla in the room. The CBA negotiations, which have not even begun yet, between the owners and players, with the two sides gearing up to act like an episode of, 'the Bickersons', across a table in Toronto.

Maybe we don't have to worry about a season after all...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Forty Days and 40 Nights

'To-Do' list for Minnesota Wild is long, daunting as Granlund signing, June draft, free agency approach

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs near their end, and yet another season is finally in the record books, the Minnesota Wild turn their eyes towards the future, both in the short and long-term, as there are four major dates to consider in the next 40 days:

1. June 1st. The date by which GM Chuck Fletcher must have his prized first-round pick of 2010, Mikael Granlund, signed to an NHL contract, or he goes back into the draft pool to be chosen again. The Wild have repeatedly assured fans and media that he will sign, after Finland's final game in the IIHF World Championships. That game is being played as I write this at Helsinki's Hartwall Areena, which became a house of horrors for the Wild in October, 2010 during the NHL Premiere series vs. the Carolina Hurricanes. Hopefully this time, the Wild will actually get it right and pull out a 'W' from the granite-walled edifice, by getting Granlund in the fold, once and for all.

2. June 22 -- 23. NHL Draft, CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh. OK, most Wild fans were frustrated after last season's epic crash-and-burn. This is where they begin to make up for all that losing, all that spent angst, all the injuries and patched-up line-ups. Fletcher and the scouting staff need to score big here, to continue to upgrade an organization, which is still suffering the effects of the Doug Risebrough years, of trading away draft picks for washed-up vets, and marginal third-and-fourth-line players. (Bill Muckault, anyone?)

3. July 1. NHL Free Agency Day. The day that Fletcher really needs to be at the top of his game, as he has been given the ability to sign the two biggest names in the free agency pool -- Zach Parise and Ryan Suter -- together, which would please most Wild fans no end. But can the staff sell the potential free agents that the Wild are headed in the right direction, for the medium-and-long term? And, if either or both of those sign elsewhere, then who do you go for? Or do you sit back, play the kids next season and hope for even better players to test free agency after the 2012-13 season (if we even have one, which brings me to the next point...)

Sept. 15th. NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. Without a new CBA in place, it is doubtful there will even BE a 2012-13 season, so adamant that both sides are in their positions. Negotiations have, so far, barely begun, and no official negotiating sessions have even taken place, yet all signs point to at least a delay to, if not a total cancellation of, the start of next season. The NHL owners want a 50-50 spilt of all hockey-related revenues; currently, that split is 57-43 in favor of the players. The NFL and NBA currently have similar revenue splits. After what looks to be a classic East Coast-West Coast Stanley Cup Final upcoming, to have this goodwill be crushed like this over a labor dispute is the last thing either side (owners or players) need.

Wild fans just need to wait and see how all this plays out, because for better or for worse, the fact is that for this franchise, the only game that they can play right now, is a waiting game.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

First Class? Not in the Wild's TV Booth

Hiring of LaPanta as Wild PBP man sign of organizational downgrading ?

The news shot like a missle thru the armoury on Saturday afternoon.

The Minnesota Wild let slip that they were about to hire Anthony LaPanta as their TV Play-by-Play man, replacing Dan Terhaar, who had been dismissed last month, following seven years' service to the NHL team.

Reaction from Wild fans was swift, and scathing. And, sadly, very close to the mark.

With the Twitter hashtag of, #wedeservebetter , the fans let the team have it for what is believed to be a mostly money decision, as the swirl of controversy rages on in cyberspace, as the Mother's Day weekend takes time away from the point of the exercise:

1. Anthony LaPanta is definitely NOT the best choice for the Wild's new TV play-by-play man.

2. The Wild either failed to do a national search, or were advised not to by ownership, for financial reasons.

3. The Wild need to go back and do their homework, as the fans are speaking out -- LOUDLY -- against this hire. The TV on-air duo is the fans' primary exposure to the Wild organization as a whole, especially when the team is away from the Xcel Energy Center. The fact that such a substandard talent has been allowed to advance to this level, is another result of the general downgrading of the organization as a whole, since the ownership change from Bob Naegele to Craig Leipold.

Everything the Wild do should -- SHOULD -- be done to maximize resources. Fans in Minnesota have been able to tell when their sports teams pull out the 'retrenchment' card. (See 'Baseball, Twins', and 'Basketball, Timberwolves'). The fact that this is being done in the midst of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- when most hockey fans have other things on their minds than Wild hockey, no thanks to four losing seasons in a row by the local six -- and six weeks before the team's summer caravan means that even they are not enthralled by the selection.

And I am not, either. I'm not an expert in this kind of thing (broadcasting), although I was interested in it as a teen-ager. But I know a 'homer' when I hear one, and LaPanta is a homer. Behind the play. Malaprops. Whining about penalties too often.

Please. Both sides. Re-think this decision. This Wild franchise has worked so hard to rebuild the on-ice product; and, hopefully, this fall will be the start of the new age for the franchise. In today's sports world, where image is everything, to have the face of that image on TV be a second-rate announcer, who bumbles and stumbles thru game after game like 'Little Boy Lost', who whines about every single call made against you, whose 'homerism' permeates every single telecast, you have to ask: Is THIS the image you want to give to the public?

Please. Minnesota Wild and Fox Sports North. Just say 'NO' to LaPanta.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Away from the Action

With playoffs in full swing, Wild take opportunity to assess season, make changes

As April drags on, and the number of NHL concussions grows with every day of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Minnesota Wild, who weren't even close to the playoffs as the season ended, wound up the 2011-12 season and looked ahead to the three things on the team's 'to-do' list:

1. The NHL Draft, June 22-23, at CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh. The draft used to be the Wild's version of a vast wasteland, as the Doug Risebrough regime would either trade away draft picks for middling, lower-level, past-their-prime veterans, or would choose so poorly, that the pick was almost immediately considered a bust.

No more. The current, Chuck Fletcher-led Wild regime has a track record of drafting talent fairly well, and that talent is just coming over the rise, to save the Wild from long-term mediocrity (e.g., 'Columbus Blue Jackets', 'Toronto Maple Leafs', 'New York Islanders', et. al.,) and return Minnesota NHL hockey to relevance.

2. Free Agency Day, July 1. Will Fletcher and his staff be able to lure the top-quality help to improve the Wild's roster? Will some of the big names, whose availability have been thrown about in local media the last three months, actually sign here? Or will the most talented players in the sport continue to not sign in Minnesota? Is the continuation of the 'Marian Gaborik syndrome' still in play, long after all of the principals in that one-act saga have moved on (most of whom to the same team, the NY Rangers?) What will the future of the Wild say to the prospective free agent(s) that Fletcher & Co. pursue? What will the cap room that Fletcher has to work with allow him to sign? Which leads me to Item No. 3...

3. Collective Bargaining Agreement Expiration Day, Sept. 15. Will the owners agree to a 50/50 revenue split for the players? Or will the owners insist on a 57/43 owner/player spilt? What will be the future of re-alignment? Free agency? Rookie contracts? Free Agency tiers? Will the NHLPA leadership, led by ex-MLBPA chief Donald Fehr, who was partially responsible for turning Mendoza-line (.200, for those of you who didn't know) pop-fly banjo hitters, into multi-millionaires, go 'hard-line' on the negotiations? Or will cooler heads prevail, as 4-5 teams lose over $10 million annually? How long does the NHLPA allow the league to prop up the Phoenix Coyotes franchise, now that the City of Glendale will be out of the picture after this season's playoffs?

There may not even BE a 2012-13 season, if some of these issues are not ironed out by mid-September. At which point, the season for the Wild, as exciting as might be when it is played, would just becomes one giant moot point.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

At long last...'The Six-Pack of Suck', Volume IV

The fourth season of the worst of the Wild features too many 'targets of opportunity', tough to choose

By Wild Road Tripper

For the fourth season, I am only somewhat proud to present 'The Six-Pack of Suck', six games which defined the Minnesota Wild's 2011-2012 season. There were a LOT of choices to choose from this season, with the 5-23-7 stretch between Dec. 13 and March 27, there were too many games for my selection. Way-y-y too many.

But, with that said, let's get to the worst of the worst. The six games which just flat out defined the haplessness of the Minnesota Wild this past season:

1. November 25, 2011. Edmonton 5, Minnesota 2. The traditional 'Black Friday' game really WAS a black friday for the Wild, as the young and speedy Oilers blew the doors off the older, slower Wild as the Oilers ended their 14-game loss skein at the 'X' by crushing the Wild, as the entire Wild first line (Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi) wound up a -3 for the afternoon. This must have been the game where the seed was planted for Wild GM Chuck Fletcher to trade Nick Schultz for Tom Gilbert, as the ex-Jefferson star defenseman was one of two Oilers to be a +3 for the afternoon.

2. December 31, 2011. Phoenix 4, Minnesota 2. New Year's Eve, 2011 should have been re-named 'Vrbata's Revenge', as Radim Vrbata scored two goals on consecutive shifts, as the Coyotes proved that they were going to be a playoff team, and the Wild weren't. Despite the penalty shot goal of Matt Cullen, the last 17 minutes of this contest was pretty much all 'Yotes, punctuated by the empty-net goal by the ancient dog, Ray Whitney, with 19 seconds left in the game. Nice way to send your fans out for New Years, boys.

3. January 31, 2012. Nashville 5, Minnesota 4. This game pretty much summed up the Wild season, all in less than one evening, as the Predators scored 4 goals in 10 minutes, 13 seconds, as the Wild watched as their dwindling playoff chances crash and burn, as the season from Hell descended into February, no thanks to the Wild themselves, who forgot in the last 11 minutes of the game what offense even was. The third period of this game was like watching a constant Nashville power play, as the Wild just stopped even trying to shoot against Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, and the resulting comeback, topped off by two Mike Fisher goals 2:39 apart in the last three minutes of the game, was the most disgusting period of hockey Wild fans had seen in years. Even Josh Harding, the tough-luck losing goalie said, "No way in 100 years we should have lost that game." We agree.

4. February 11, 2012. Columbus 3, Minnesota 1. The theme of this game would become 'play 20 minutes every period, boys.' The Wild didn't, and once again they paid for it, as the lowly Blue Jackets saw that the Wild penchant for taking the last minute of the period off, presented scoring opportunities that even they could take advantage of. With their roster (and their season) in freefall, the Jackets, the worst team in the NHL, with ex-Wild coach Todd Richards running the show, took two R. J. Umberger goals and made them count, as the hapless, offensively-challenged Wild could not get anything going, blowing a 1-0 lead at home with three straight Columbus goals, including yet another empty-net goal in the last minute of the game.

5. Detroit 6, Minnesota 0. Now, we know that traditionally, Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is a house of horrors (6-15-1 all time) for the Wild. Despite winning the first game played in Motown in November, the Wild could have just stopped at Metro Airport, said 'we forfeit', and kept on going. That's how bad this game was. Valteri Flippula made the Wild his personal punching bag, scoring twice and adding an assist as the Wings annhilated the hapless Wild, one night after the Wild put on one of their best periods of the season the previous night in Montreal. Ian White (Detroit defenseman) was a +4, while Dany Heatley was a -4. To make matters worse, the Red Wings drove Josh Harding from the net, as Matt Hackett relieved him for the last 14:30 of the game. Said Wild head coach Mike Yeo: 'We didn't respond well.' No kidding.

6. Colorado 7, Minnesota 1. The Wild, playing the Avs for the second time in three nights, were as flat as Pepsi in a week-old-opened bottle, as the home team scored three times in a 1:56 span, in the second period to drive Hackett from the nets, as the Wild might have hit rock bottom in Denver, in their second-to-last game west of St. Paul. The Avs had seven different scorers, as the lone bright spot for the Wild was a Devin Setoguchi penalty shot, awarded in the third period. The Wild had no way to stop the Avs, who were in their zenith as to their playoff chances that Tuesday evening; the Avs would then fall off the playoff radar soon afterwards.

So, that's it. Six games which defined the haplessness, the hopelessness which was the Wild's season. Will this team improve enough to make the playoffs by next April? We can only hope.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's back! The 'Six-Pack of Suck' returns

Nominations are now being accepted from M&G readers: what were the worst games of the Wild season?

It's that time of year again. Like the tax deadline, and the annual migration north of our fine feathered friends, it's time to look back on yet another failed Minnesota Wild season. So, we unapologetically announce the fourth annual 'Six-Pack of Suck', where we nominate six games from throughout the season, now done like dinner, for special 'recognition'.

It's time to look back and ask: what were the worst of the worst in 2011-2012? Our list is set, but I want to know what YOUR worst Wild game (or, games) was in 2011-2012. Let's see if we agree, or if we agree to disagree.

Use the comments section for your nominations! Deadline is a short one (because there are too many targets of opportunity this season); have your comments on here by Noon on Monday, April 9 (told you it was short!)

Let's hear from you, Wild fans. Let it all out...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Last Lap in this race might just be Coyotes' last howl in Arizona

Final game in disheartening Wild season may double as last gasp for NHL in Arizona
By Wild Road Tripper

Well, the three-season-plus saga of the ownership problems of the Phoenix Coyotes may just finally end -- at least in the regular-season sense -- Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, as the beat-up and bloodied Minnesota Wild, still having to make multiple roster moves in order to field a competitive team, plays their last game of the 2011-2012 season.

For the Wild, the end of this 'tale of two seasons' season cannot come soon enough. The dividing point, the Dec. 13 game at Winnipeg's MTS Centre, stands out like the Grand Canyon does, dividing a 19-game stretch of unparalled success and a 41-game stretch of absolutely miserable failure, injury, and despair. The fact that the end of the season is coming at the end of a six-game stretch, the first five games where the Wild have 'amassed' a somewhat respectable (for a team out of the playoffs, that is) 4-0-1 record provides a ray of hope, while the rest of March was a series of drubbings, the likes of which Wild fans had not seen since...last March, when the Wild were throttled by Montreal, Toronto and St. Louis in four nights, after losing in overtime to the lowly (then, as now) Columbus Blue Jackets.

The fact that the Wild's roster has had to have basically been reconstructed, more than Todd Fedoruk's face following the Boogaard fight, says a lot about this organization's resiliency. The fact that the Houston Aeros are still doing anything at all in the AHL's Western Conference shows that the 'build from within' policy, adopted when Wild GM Chuck Fletcher tried to make chicken salad from the leavings of the Doug Risebrough administration, despite the club record number of callups to the 'big club' this season (47 players will have worn Iron Range Red by the end of Saturday night's game), shows promise for the near future.

And then, there's the draft picks, many of whom (maybe as many as six) will make the 'big club' roster by the time the puck drops for real again in October (assuming, of course, the NHL and its' players don't make the same mistake the NBA and its' players did this past fall, and stage a labor dispute, with millionaires and billionaires bickering about salaries, while the fans watch NFL and CFL football, and don't even care about missing hockey).

Sign a free agent (especially, say, one who is building a new home less than an hour's drive west of the 'X') or two (a certain offensive defenseman, currently playing South of the Mason-Dixon Line, would be nice, too) and you might be ready to rise from the ashes... a Phoenix. But this will happen in Minnesota, and not in Phoenix, where the Coyotes are standing on the precipice between staying and moving, with one foot on the proverbial banana peel, and the other on a base of very loose rock. Since the City of Glendale will not be allowed to further subsidize the operation of the Coyotes franchise, no thanks to the butt-inski attitude of the Goldwater Institute ("In defense of liberty"), whose current chair is none other than the wife of the majority owner of MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks, another Arizona sports team which hasn't exactly fared well in the last few seasons.

For all the complaining about the NHL Players Association that we as fans of hockey do, in my opinion, this time the NHLPA does have a valid point: the Coyotes are losing copious amounts of cash, upwards of $45-50 Million annually, with the NHL (read: every other team) and the City splitting the losses. The NHLPA is saying 'hey, wait a minute: if this team is losing that much money, where's our cut of the profits?'

They have a valid point. Any other team that loses $50 million dollars annually for more than three seasons in any other sport would either be moved or disbanded. But the NHL hierarchy refuses to give in (so far) to the calls to do something with the Coyotes franchise, as no one has an additional $140 million laying around right now with nothing else to do in this recession-ravaged economy, especially in ultra-conservative Arizona, where every little issue seems to set off major consternation.

Yes, the Coyotes have made the playoffs, something this franchise didn't do often when they were the original Winnipeg Jets. More than likely, the Coyotes will face off against either Chicago or Detroit (should they win Saturday versus the Wild), Vancouver (should they lose in regulation Saturday night), or St. Louis (should they lose in overtime or shootout, and San Jose wins at home vs. LA Saturday night). Yes, there will be a few more 'white-outs' in Arena next week. But the prospects for the Coyotes playing beyond the first round are very slim at best. And their prospects for playing beyond this year's playoffs in Arizona?

Even worse.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Another game, another loss, another injured Wild player

Well, after Saturday night's latest Minnesota Wild loss, the number of Wild walking wounded now ruled out of the rest of this season-from-hell, is now up to five (Bouchard, Latendresse, Falk, Spurgeon, and now Matt Cullen, who had his right index finger broken, by a Christian Ehrhoff shot) and with five of the team's seven remaining games at home, the question has to be asked: Was the schedule as much a part of the team's problems this season as the concussions, groin problems and general poor play in December, January, February and March? Or was it the failure of the 'Director of Player Safety'?

The fact that the months of November, December and January were very much road-heavy months for the Wild, exasperated an already tenuous situation for the team's paper-thin lineup of talent. After the back-to-back nights of December 13 and 14, when Bouchard was re-concussed by Zack Bogosian of Winnipeg, and Chicago's Viktor Stahlberg rang the bell of Latendresse, respectively, Wild fans knew this team was going nowhere but down, from the lofty first-place heights they had been in, just a few days before.

The fact that without two of their top 6 forwards in the lineup, the offense was going to stall. But no one knew it was going to stall this bad. Then there was the shoulder injury to Mikko (Kaptain) Koivu, the groin troubles of both goaltenders (Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding), and you had a recipe for trouble. And, you already had tapped the Houston Aeros affiliate for all the talent that they could afford to send.

But nothing prepared Wild fans for the next two months following the All-Star Game, when the Wild were turned into the NHL's version of Alfred, the butler from 'Batman', -- 'At your service, sirs'.

Disasterous loss after disasterous loss. Beating the Wild was almost becoming comical. From the Nashville disaster on January 31, when the Wild blew a 4-1 lead at home in under 13 minutes, through the embarrassing 3-1 home loss to a Columbus team in 'fire sale' mode on February 11, through a embarrassing 7-1 loss to Colorado on March 6 (thank God, that game at least was in Denver), and onto another come-from-ahead loss to lowly Carolina on St. Patrick's Day. That Saturday, as the party raged on outside the 'X', the funeral was being held inside the arena.

And now, in two successive nights, two more add to the list of Wild walking wounded. Don't forget that on Thursday night, Calgary's Alex Tanguay gets away with an elbow shot to Jared Spurgeon, effectively ending the season for the defenseman some call 'the Minnow', for his small size. Surely, Wild fans thought, the NHL would look at this for some supplemental discipline. Right?

Uh, No.

Seems that the Wild don't matter to NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. 'Sheriff Shanny', as he has been known, turns a blind eye to discipline when it comes to matters involving the Minnesota Wild. They aren't even worth his attention, even when the rules are clearly broken and players are getting concussed needlessly. Shanahan's official title is 'Director of Player Safety'. But, excuse me, if we fans point out that his title means for ALL players, not just those of teams going to this season's playoffs. Shanhan is as hypocritical as his predecessor, Colin Campbell, ever was or could have been. Player safety should be pretty straightforward; either the player involved was concussed, or he was not. If he was, and it was the direct result of an elbow (Tanguay's), then supplemental discipline should be assessed. Simple.

But Wild fans are already accustomed to the NHL not doing anything about incidents involving the Wild. Nothing was done about Bogosian when he ran Bouchard; nothing was done about the beatings in the crease both goalies were taking; nothing will be done about the Tanguay elbow.

Player safety? Contradiction in terms, if you ask me.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

As the other shoe drops...again, and again, and again, and again...

Disasterous Minnesota Wild season nears its' inevitable conclusion, minus seven regulars, give or take

Three weeks remaining. 11 games. 7 at home, 4 on the road. When Wild fans looked at the schedule in July, they saw a golden, once-in-a-decade opportunity to make most of your run for a playoff spot at home, in front of your own fans, with sell-out after sell-out, despite the weak economy.

Yeah, right. wasn't there a song about this, from the 70's? 'I Like Dreamin'...'

The reality is nearly the exact opposite of what I have stated above. Oh, there is the 11 games at home during March and April, of the last 19 games overall. But with a record since March 1 of 1-6-1, and since the Dec. 13 beatdown at Winnipeg's MTS Centre -- the game which, quite frankly, derailed the Wild season's juggernaut --  this Wild team has done the nearly impossible, gone from best record in the NHL on Dec. 13 to the third-worst record in the league this Sunday morning -- and no one can seem to find the switch to turn on the old Wild once again.

The Wild's record-setting futility streak, of losing five straight in front of the home folks, emphasizes the need for further development of the roster, not only for depth but for breadth as well. You not only need more players, but you need better players as well. Cleaning house just isn't enough. You really need to blow this thing to hell and start over. If you haven't adopted another team for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you are wholeheartedly advised by this blogger to do so. Now.

For this Wild season will end, three weeks from yesterday, with possibly the last game ever for the Phoenix Coyotes franchise, as an Arizona sports team. Nobody attends their games at Arena, but they are still in the playoff chase. But the Wild, and their 'Team of 18,000', are not.

Did I want the Wild to make the playoffs, even though I was as skeptical as everyone else when the Wild were going thru their November winning streak? Sure did! Did they disappoint me this January and February? Sure did! This 'March into hell' month is just depressing as a Wild fan. (Now I know how Toronto Maple Leafs fans feel. Just think of this times 40, and you somewhat understand your Leafs' fans frustrations.)

But the selling of hope -- as the 'new generation' of Wild players, led by the (hopefully, he's not signed yet) arrival of Mikael Granlund from Finland's HIFK -- continues, even as the NHL and the Players' Association veer ominously towards a labor dispute, one which threatens to disrupt, if not cancel, the 2012-13 season in its' entirety. The fact that two of the most stubborn figures in North American sport -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, he who helped make the Mendoza-line banjo-hitting baseball player a multi-millionaire -- are squaring off against each other, does not bode well for the hockey-loving NHL fan.

So enjoy the losing, Wild faithful. For in three weeks, it will all be over. Except the angst of 'we should have been there'. Because a season which started with so much promise, cannot end soon enough.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Random thoughts after the dust has settled...

The dust has finally settled from the pre-Trade Deadline wheeling and dealing for the Minnesota Wild.

And, to the dismay of the fanbase, nothing has really changed. The Wild are still precipitously close to entering the top 5 in the 2012 NHL Draft, due to the club's continued inability to score goals in a timely manner (or, as in Detroit last Friday night, at all). The lack of offensive punch is a major worry to everyone in the organization as well, from GM Chuck Fletcher on down. The Wild, who had everything in place to execute the unbelieveable 3-goal comeback on Thursday night in Montreal, wound up having a Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan-esque moment, when Devin Setoguchi blew his shootout shot attempt, after falling down and losing control of the puck. The only thing missing was Setoguchi crying, 'Why? Why?' after the blown chance.

Yes, Setoguchi did help engineer the comeback, scoring the tying goal and assisting on another in the final few minutes of the third period, but it will be the shootout opportunity lost that will haunt the Wild the rest of the season. Add that to Tuesday's now-strangely-familiar 4-0 blowout loss on national TV to the Los Angeles Kings, and your 0-2-1 week for the boys in Iron Range Red was made.

You trade the longest-tenured Wild player -- Nick Schultz -- for Tom Gilbert, a similar-but-different Minnesota boy (Bloomington Jefferson) who came from the hapless Edmonton Oilers, and what happens? He gives up the game winner vs. LA, and reminds Wild fans how difficult it is to be the steady, stay-at-home defenseman that Schultz actually was.

You trade Marek Zidlicky to the New Jersey Devils, for a boatload of soon-to-be free agent talent (including two former Wild players, Kurtis Foster and Stephane Veilleux) and possibly two draft picks, and what happens? Zidlicky promptly goes -5, and Jersey fans are incensed. The Wild are immediately relieved of over $3M of salary at the end of this season, which means that if the salary cap does NOT go up, the Wild are nearly $20M under the cap...just enough to possibly be in the running, for two of the NHL's premiere free-agents-to-be, Nashville's Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, who just happens to be toiling away currently with...the New Jersey Devils.

You trade Greg Zanon to the Boston Bruins for Steven Kampfer, a 23-year-old ex-Wolverine who no one knows much about. He still hasn't played his first game in a Wild uniform, although that will probably end this evening in tonight's twilighter vs. the Colorado Avalanche. It looks like he will be paired with Gilbert tonight vs. the Avs, so hopefully the lost (Gilbert) won't lead the 'newbie' down the wrong path. Zanon was going to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) anyhow, so why not get something for him?

So, where do you go from here? Do you actually try to make the playoffs, try to make a last-minute charge for the No. 8 seed (the Wild are seven points behind current No. 8 seed Dallas this Sunday morning) or do you throw in the towel, play as many of the kids as possible, and make the fan base suffer thru the remainder of the fourth consecutive non-playoff season?

Now I know that three of the Wild's top six forwards are unavailable due to various injuries now. They have been for weeks at a time this season, especially after the Dec. 13/14 games where two players suffered concussions in back-to-back games. But the fact is there is no talent in the pool right now. It's been drained.

Reminds me of limbo. 'How LOW can you go?'

How bad into limbo are the Wild right now? And what can be done to pull out of the funk? Or, do you just wait for June and the NHL Entry Draft to try and get better?

I guess we all just wait and see...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Did anyone think it was going to be THIS bad?

Did you think it was going to be this bad to be a Minnesota Wild fan this season? Really?

Well, it has indeed gotten to the point where we are officially looking for 'moral' victories, not the two-points-in-the-standings kind. Because, for this group of Wild players, that kind of victory is the kind that is seemingly out of reach right now.

The fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets have a better record since Dec. 13 (8-19-2) than the Wild (5-16-6), despite the Jackets sacking their head coach and replacing him with ex-Wild coach Todd Richards, shows the depths of which the Wild face the rest of the season with.

Yes, Minnesota. It's THAT bad.

The fact that this Wild team cannot score, and cannot stop other teams from scoring, can no longer be denied by anyone who has even half a concept, as to how NHL hockey should be played. Yesterday's embarrassing 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues -- a team which the Wild toyed with in November, and lost to in a shootout in January -- again showed not only the depth but the breadth of the Wild's woes.

And today, the rest of North America will see how bad the Wild can get, as the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins, will take on the Wild in a game seen nationally in the USA on NBC, and in Canada on TSN2. This game should be a cakewalk for the B's, as the Wild will feature no less than seven players who, realistically, should be with the Houston Aeros this Sunday morning.

With Chad Rau and Jeff Taffe arriving this morning from Abbottsford, B.C., -- where the Aeros were getting swept in a two-game series vs. the Heat this weekend -- the number of Aeros players currently up with the 'big club' exceeds the half-dozen mark, for God-only-knows how long, as the chess game which is the Wild roster gets played once again.

(I only wish I could get the commission for all those airline tickets, shuttling players between the Aeros and the Wild.)

The fact is that most Wild fans were somewhat realistic in the beginning of the season regarding the team's playoff chances. I even said before the season started that this team could be anywhere between a 7 seed in the playoffs and in 10th place in the West, two positions out of the playoffs. I changed it later to say that they would make the playoffs, in the midst of the team's record 9-game winning streak.

Well, folks, I'm changing it back. Back to anywhere down to 10th place. And, maybe even worse than that.

The only team this Wild club can beat right now with any regularity is the Colorado Avalanche, a team whose lineup is actually weaker than the Wild's impudent roster. The Wild can't beat anyone else in the NHL right now. In the last week, the Wild have lost to three teams who, if the season ended today, would be out of the playoffs, like they are (Columbus, Anaheim and Winnipeg). In fact, if you want to go back to Feb. 1, they could add a fourth non-playoff team (Dallas) and throw in another loss to the Jackets in that mix.

And then, if you go back one more day, there was the embarrassing, destructive, come-from-ahead throw-away loss to the Nashville Predators on Jan. 31st. No one, most notably GM Chuck Fletcher and Head Coach Mike Yeo, can seemingly do anything to stop the slide down the mountain. The players have seemingly given up trying to win games (sorry, I'm not buying that they are still buying into the system.)

The Wild's system is broken. It's time to fix the system. Before more irreparable damage is done.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Introducing... your .300 Minnesota Wild!

It really sucks to be a loyal Minnesota Wild fan right about now. Think about it for a minute...

In the last 60 days, the Wild have played 25 games. In that 25-game stretch, the local sextet has a 5 win, 15 loss, 5 overtime-loss record, for 15 points. That's an embarrassing, almost astonishing .300 record.

Now, while fans of most other NHL teams would be absolutely up in arms over this predicament, the fact is that the team has no one else to blame but the other guys in the room. Not the coaching staff, not the adminsitration, not any of the supporting cast. Just the men in the room themselves.

I have to wonder if the Wild have stopped listening to the coaching staff...again.  Like last season, when after getting demolished in Nashville and Dallas in back-to-back nights, the Wild decided, on their own, to just go thru the motions of playing out the schedule. And, the last three weeks became some of the worst weeks of Wild hockey, since the inception of the franchise in 2000.

(Remember the snowman (8-0) that Montreal put up on Sunday afternoon, March 20? The 6-3 blowout by St. Louis two days later?)

This team is perilously close to THAT KIND of finish. Not a playoff team any longer, the Wild have already set an NHL record for futility during the season, having been the first team that was in 1st Place in the entire LEAGUE for more than 5 days, to fall completely out of the playoffs in the same season.

Having long since moved out of the penthouse, the Wild have been periously close to falling right into the outhouse. This team needs heart. This team needs passion. This team needs a collective soul.

And, this team desperately needs to get rid of the dead weight -- again -- that has accumulated on the roster. Zidlicky, Zanon, Lundin, any forward with a no-trade/no-movement clause not named Koivu, and anyone else that can be moved out the door.

While being comfortable near the playoff race is OK for some Minnesota sports fans, the economics of the sport require that teams win in order to be successful. And, folks, would YOU call this team a success this season?

Me neither.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Shootout Dilemma: play a losing hand, or play to win?

I know goalies, (by their nature of BEING goalies), are fragile creatures. That's a given.

But the Minnesota Wild cannot continue to work like hell for 65 minutes, then stand by on the bench and watch, as Niklas Backstrom consistenly loses games in the shootout.

Michael Russo had some stats on this today in the S-T: as we already know, Backstrom is the WORST SHOOTOUT GOALIE in the entire NHL. Backstrom is an embarrassing 15-28 lifetime, with a .563 save percentage. This season, he is 3-4, and opponents have scored on 12 of 22 shot attempts, for a miserable .450 save percentage.

To work as hard as the Wild did last night vs. the Dallas Stars, and have all that effort come down to that galling stat, is ridiculous.

I'm sorry, but radical problems (such as losing shootouts and standings points) require radical solutions. I know this would hurt the psyche of possibly the entire team, but it also might just serve as the ultimate wake-up call, if once -- just once -- Josh Harding replaced Backstrom for the shootout. Harding could start on the bike (to get warmed up without getting too far away from the bench,) a few minutes before the end of regulation. That would also send a signal to the rest of the team, to get their act together -- NOW -- or else. If the game did indeed go to the shootout, Harding could come out like the Knight in shining armor, after the ice was dry scraped for the shootout.

Yes, I know we are dealing with emotions and fragile psyches, but as I said earlier, to consistenly know that you have a better chance to LOSE the game if you go to the shootout, than to WIN the game in the shootout, has got to play on the entire squad as well. And, with the fragileness of which the Wild psyche has been since the disasterous game at MTS Centre in Winnipeg Dec. 13, the last thing the Wild need is to not be rewarded for their efforts, because their goaltending cannot survive play in the shootout.

Of course, there is another way to get around all this: win in regulation. Don't allow the other team to even get to the shootout. Then you wouldn't have to worry about your No. 1 goalie being a shootout sieve.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

'Mamma Otter' should be ashamed

Steve Ott's mother should call up her son, one of the NHL's biggest instigators, the reigning Western Conference's biggest cheap-shot artist (now that Matt Cooke is a Penguin, and Chris Neil is still in Ottawa), and tell him he gets no more presents.

If I was a Dallas Stars fan, I'd be embarrassed in Ott's performance last night. Now, granted, he was once again a beast in the face-off circle (winning 5 of 6), but the nine minutes in penalties he took last night, trying in vain to aggravate the Minnesota Wild, was one of the dumbest exhibitions of 'me first' hockey even I had seen in a while. (And, as a Wild fan, we've seen a lot of those this last five weeks.)

Ott's antics, which grow especially weary on the offensively-challenged and thin-rostered Wild, need to be reviewed by the League, if they are indeed concerned for 'player safety'. Is hitting a player (Darroll Powe) after the whistle a good example of 'safe play'? Is hitting a player when he is already down after the play has been blown dead (Cal Clutterbuck) an example of 'safe play'? Is hitting a player (Powe, again) in a fight, after the other combatant has stopped fighting, and has been restrained by the official, an example of 'safe' conduct?

Hardly, except in the eyes of the NHL, where 'Sheriff' Brendan Shanahan, will once again turn a blind eye to Ott's antics, based in part to what team it was done to. Shanahan hated the Wild when he played for Detroit, hated them when he was a Ranger, and still hates the Wild today, when he is a NHL pseudo-big shot.

Ott will skate away, to terrorize other teams whom have already been victimized (like Anaheim, the Stars' opponent in each of the next two games) and whose roster is about to be gutted at the upcoming trade deadline.

Saying 'I don't hate your team' is one thing, Shanny. Doing something about the problem of incidiary pugilism, for the sole purpose of personal vendetta, is a whole 'nother can o' worms.

The Wild took this Ott-inspired attack as inspiration for the 5-2 win Saturday night, as the Wild took their vengeance out in the right way, the proper way. The way you should. Scoreboard!

(Maybe Shanahan will have a hearing on the Wild, for taking advantage of the poor, hapless Stars.)

Now, on the other side of the coin, Chad Rau's family should be absolutely ecstatic this Sunday morning. Chad scored his first NHL goal, in his first NHL game, in front of his family, while just 6 miles to the west, little brother Kyle was just leaving Mariucci Arena, after helping the University of Minnesota split a weekend series with Colorado College.

Rau's mom and dad were beaming, like only parents who have their offspring achieve the success they never could, can. There is nothing like this for a parent. You say to yourselves, 'we've done our job'. And so, we congratulate the Rau family on their child's achievements. You done good.

Now, two of the remaining three games between the Wild and the Stars will be at the AAC in Dallas, including one less than two weeks from now, And, more than likely, it will denegrate into a donnybrook, more than likely led by...Ott. The Wild have lost their last 14 games in Texas; will the rememberance of this game be enough to break the NHL's longest visitor's losing streak in the same arena?

And as for Steve Ott's mom? He'd better watch out, or she'll be sitting outside his condo in the 'Plex, rolling pin in hand...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Thoughts of the Mound City

Just some thoughts after a weekend trip to St. Louis, where we saw the Wild lose, 3-2 in the shootout:

1. Thank God for the Budweiser tour. And, the hospitality room afterwards. Thank you, ABInBev.

2. Super Smokers in ex-urban (it's 35 minutes from Scottrade Center) Eureka, near Six Flags Mid-America, really did us proud for dragging our group of six out there on a Sunday afternoon. What a barbecue they whip up for you. If you like real BBQ (good kind, no sauce 'til you put it on) this is the place for you. Dee-licious!

3. I am of the opinion that Drury Hotels should be the 'official fan hotel provider' of the NHL. Gotta love their quality. And, the food that they throw in (full breakfast and snack-type dinner) is a plus for your wallet.

4. Lambert-St. Louis Airport should be condemned. Soon. Get terminals that work, please.

5. Stop rebuilding freeways, MoDOT. Every time I come to St. Louis,  I-64 is getting re-done. (Although the new section really is a thing of beauty, if you can call a freeway anything other than an eyesore.)

6. Hopefully the new ownership (whomever that will be) of the Blues will sink a few bucks into Scottrade Center. The old girl is kinda looking down at the heels a bit. And, while you're at it, how about more than 4" of room between my knee and the head of the guy sitting in front of me? (Sometime, I gotta try those club seats, though. They look like someone put a few minutes' thought into making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And, they might have succeeded.)


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Biting the hand that (helps to) feed you

Well, the Minnesota Wild are, indeed, in outright free-fall now. There is no sugar-coating it anymore. No excuses that can easily be accepted. No way to hide the inimitable fact:

This is a bad hockey team right now.

The last three games (Phoenix at home, at Vancouver, at Calgary) are prima facie evidence as to the 'Limbo theory' of hockey: 'How low can you go'?

The Wild have managed to lose to two teams, which you should have beaten like a drum (Phoenix and Calgary), and one that your talent level should have been able to keep up with (Vancouver), in an eight-day stretch where you returned two of your top-6 forwards and one of your top-4 defensemen to the lineup. Yes, the Wild have had injuries, but what team this season hasn't? The Wild are without Guillaume Latendresse, but other players (Sidney Crosby, Chris Pronger, others) have also been concussed, and their teams carry on without them. (In fact, four of the next five Wild opponents now have players on their rosters who are suffering post-concussion symptoms.) The good teams learn to get along without pieces of their puzzle when players are injured. The good teams find ways to persevere. The good teams find ways to turn adversity into triumph. Good teams find ways to win.

The Wild are now finding different ways to lose. There is no depth as to the embarrassment this team will drag itself into. The 2011-2012 Wild find themselves now inexorably linked to the 1999 Vikings, the 1994 Twins, and numerous Gopher football teams (of the last 50 seasons) as Minnesota sports team public embarrassments, that allowed major milestones by opposing players to happen against them. Jarome Iginla's 500th goal, a double-deflection Saturday night off the skates of Marek Zidlicky and Mikko Koivu, is just another sign as to the depths that this franchise has driven itself into. Like Rod Carew's 3,000th hit, the biggest collapse in NFL conference championship history, and numerous Big Ten and NCAA record football record days (not to mention two losses to 1-AA -- or whatever division they call it these days -- North Dakota State), the Wild have managed to be reminded of the embarassing way they played Saturday night, for all time. The players will be at home in the Czech Republic (Zidlicky) or Finland (Koivu), watching old NHL 'remember when' video, and watching that lack of effort again, and again, and again, and again...

And, then, if you could add injury to the insult that was the last game in Calgary for this season, inexplicably, one of the forwards dissed Minneapolis Star-Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo after the game when Russo, doing nothing other than what he was hired to do, asked the player for a moment of his time. The player responded with, 'I have #*$& to get done'.

Uh, excuse me there. Part of your job is to interact with this man. Part of the reason you exist is the excitement in the community from what Russo generates. Part of the reason you have a contract, a contract that allows you a living playing a game, a contract that can feed you, and your family, is the buzz that is reported in the newspaper, on the radio, online, and thru social media. (Including this blog, by the way.) Russo (and Bruce Brothers, at the St. Paul Pioneer Press) are the two people you should least consider to brush off. The fact that you did it at all is bad enough. The fact that it was done, when your team needs all the friends it can get right now, especially in light of a 1-7-2 record in your last ten games, makes it that much worse. The fact that you did it to one of the two people that basically you can't get away from, (as they are assigned by their employers to follow you), makes it absolutely inexcusable.

Can you be disappointed? Yes. Can you be angry? I hope you are! (Might make you play better.) Can you improve your game? I hope you can! But don't take your frustrations out on those who attempt to help keep that lifestyle, which your talent and work up to this point have allowed you to earn, in the public eye. The fact is that without a Russo, this team could have easily been the second coming of the Atlanta Thrashers; a team which played to half-empty houses, garnered no press, couldn't get on TV, generated absolutely zero buzz in the community, and finally packed up and moved out after losing so often, that the fans just stopped coming, and the bills stopped getting paid.

So, dear Wild player, please stop and think, before you blow off the everyday beat writer. He's doing his job, just like you're doing yours. You need him, in order for you to survive and thrive in this environment, more than he needs you. Your environment is a product of your poor play in the last month. Don't like your environment? Change it. Work harder. Play smarter. Start winning again.