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...