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?