Friday, July 19, 2013

First thoughts on the 2013-14 schedule

After sifting thru the 2013-14 Minnesota Wild schedule, just released today, one thing is clear:

This upcoming season ain't gonna be easy, Wild fans.

Four four-game homestands (Two of those with the four games within seven calendar days).
Playing every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday between Dec. 29 and the 16-day Olympic break (Feb. 6). Four games per week on three of the last 5 weeks of the regular season. Twenty Thursday games (10 home, 10 away). Fifteen Tuesday games (8 home, 7 away). Eighteen Saturday games (8 home, 10 away. Five different starting times (1:00, vs. Detroit, March 22), 5:00 (3, including St. Louis on New Year's Eve), 6:30 (twice, both Wednesdays for TSN), 8:00 (once, 'Hockey Day Minnesota' vs. Dallas, Jan. 18) and the other 35 games are (for now, we'll see what TV wants) at 7:00 PM.

And, to top it all off, the last five games of the season: Pittsburgh at the 'X', at Winnipeg, then three more home games (vs. Boston, St. Louis, and Nashville on the season's last day).

The Wild's press release says the Wild travel over 44,000 miles this season, which is actually less than they have previously, as Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary are no longer divisional rivals.

More on this later in my next post; I still need to get my head around this schedule after last season's 48-game scramble. But for now, let's suffice it to say that the NHL schedule makers still don't have a soft spot in their hearts, for our locally-based sextet.

More later...

Sunday, July 7, 2013

It's amazing what one man can do...

Minnesota Wild start 2013 free agency season with a trade and a big Bang

This is almost geeting too eerie, isn't it, folks? Fourth of July weekend, everyone's out celebrating and then...

BOOM! Once again, here comes GM Chuck Fletcher and the Wild, marching across the local media landscape like Sherman thru Georgia, with another 'I can't believe he did THAT'-type of free agency blockbuster.

Well, the master of July hockey fireworks did it again last week, as the Wild, after trading away restricted free agent Cal Clutterbuck to the Islanders for Nino Niederreiter, cleared out veterans Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, both of whose contracts were expiring, and, via trade with Winnipeg, Devin Setoguchi, then picked up ex-Vancouver Canuck (and Florida Panther) Keith Ballard, and then, shortly after 6:00 PM Friday night, Fletcher turns around and drops 'the Big one' on Wild fans, by signing the NHL's Public Enemy No. 1, uber-pest forward Matt Cooke, who was an unrestricted free agent after not being re-signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

What to make of all this movement? Of all this upheaval and change? Of the NHL's all-time cheap-shot king, making Minnesota his in-season home for the next three seasons, at $2.5M per?

The jury has just only begun to deliberate. Not all the facts are in, either.

We just don't know which Matt Cooke will actually show up at the 'X' in September: the one who, supposedly 'reformed', played as a servicable winger on the Penguins' 3rd line for five seasons; or the 'love-to-hate' player, who was along with Jarkko Ruutu (now with Ottawa). Cooke and Ruutu were, at least in their Vancouver years, two of the most despised players in hockey, along with Todd 'Big Bert' Bertuzzi.

Both Fletcher and Head Coach Mike Yeo had Cooke in Pittsburgh during their pre-Wild tenures, and they both swear up and down that Cooke has reformed his game, that he's not all about the cheap hits and the after-the-whistle stickwork anymore. But, for players and fans alike, old habits are hard to break. And there's the images, such as from 2003, when Matt Johnson took a stick butt-end to the groin from Cooke, and then, Cooke ran, precipitating a fight which spilled over into the stands at then-GM Place (now Rogers Centre).

And, there may be even rumblings that the fun hasn't ended yet, as supposedly Zenon Konopka is being shopped around by the Wild before the pre-season has even started.

So what to think?

Just My Opinion, folks, but... Let's actually see what Cooke does bring to the table in the fall. The cheap stuff aside, the guy does hit, does go into the corners and can score. The Wild need every scorer they can get, and if he happens to play the third line, all the better to spread the goals around. If he can keep his nose clean, and stay out of the post-whistle scrums, he can be a reasonable alternative on a 3rd or 4th line.

According to Russo's depth chart on his 'Russo's Rants' blog, Cooke will play one side with Niederreiter on the other side, and Kyle Brodziak at center. This could be a pretty good third line, with the 6'2" Niederreiter, who has shown he can score at every level of hockey except the NHL, learning defensive skills from the likes of Cooke and Brodziak, both of whom are considered defensive specialists; Brodziak has the big winger on his one side he has never really had on his third line; and Cooke, the hitter, gets to ply his trade with two guys that will probably be there all season, unlike in Pittsburgh, when his linemates routinely stepped up to play alongside both Crosby and Malkin at times last season.

There's a lot to think about, as the Wild plods on thru the rest of the summer, looking for the right combination to take this team towards where we all want them to go. The fans want a winning team, Can the Wild hierarchy say that they have all the tools necessary to get them far in the playoffs on a consistent, year-after-year basis?

Only time will tell for sure.