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.

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