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.