Christmas in July, Wild sign Parise and Suter

The Wild have just signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts.

Let’s let that soak in, for just a moment.

The Wild, who for the past few seasons have been stuck in the rut of the Doug Risebrough era, have finally arrived as the big-time contender that Chuck Fletcher promised when he took over the reins. They beat out perennial contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, not to mention their former teams, the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators – neither of whom are slouches, themselves.

Wow. Just wow.

Regardless of whether or not you think this makes the Wild an immediate contender, there’s no doubt whatsoever that this makes the Wild immediately better.

Parise gives the Wild a game-breaker and a player that a) has the drive and desire to win and b) makes those around him better. For those of you living under a rock the last few days, Parise has scored 30-plus goals five times in his seven season NHL career (one, of which, was ended by injury and the other was his rookie year). He’s also never scored less than 60 points outside of those seasons as well. Other than the one season where he injured his knee, he has never played less than 81 games in a season. Not only that, but he’s also scored 43 points in 61 playoff games – something that tends to hold some weight in the NHL these days.

So, suffice it to say, Parise coming home to Minnesota is a windfall for the Wild. That, alone, would have been a banner day for the team, but Chuck Fletcher wasn’t done there.

Oh, no. He decided that he wasn’t satisfied with just Parise. He decided that he wanted defenseman Ryan Suter, as well.

Suter gives the Wild a player that can play 25-plus minutes per night, he can play in every situation and he immediately replaces the shutdown hole left by the trade of Nick Schultz. He’s steady and he can put points up, as well, scoring at least 30-plus points in his last five seasons and 35-plus in his last four. He plays against teams top lines and he is the type of defenseman that can make a difference on both ends of the ice.

So, you’ll forgive me if my fan side (which I tend to squash in deference to somewhat balanced analysis) is doing backflips right now.

This isn’t just a good signing for the Wild, this is a great one; not only on the ice, but off the ice as well. The Wild desperately needed to make this type of splash, not just to improve their roster, but to energize a fan base whose interest has been waning after years of middling finishes.

We’ll have more here soon, and we’ll take a look at the wild’s updated line combinations here next, but for right now let’s just say this is a big day in the State of Hockey.

NHL approves new, radical realignment

As has been reported, the NHL has approved a four-conference realignment plan and, tentatively, a new playoff plan for the upcoming season.

The basics are that every team will play a home-and-home against one another (so, that means that Wild fans will get to see Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and so on at least once a season), the playoffs will begin within the conferences, then the top four teams will square off in divisional playoffs.

Here are the Conferences:

The new conference alignment

On the surface, they’re a lot more geologically friendly. For example, Minnesota and Dallas no longer have to make frequent trips to the Mountain and Pacific time zones, while all teams in the East have to make at least one swing out to the left coast per season.

As a side bar, I’m not wild about this for Tampa and Florida. They lost any divisional rivalries they had aside from each other with this. I think it would have been better to bump Philly and Pittsburgh to Conference 3 and stick Tampa and Florida in Conference 4 where they would at least have existing rivalries.

That’s just splitting hairs, though.

The proposed playoff system, though I’m not all that wild about.

I don’t like the idea of a team with less points than another making the playoffs while the other team gets to go experience the joys of the golf course in April. I like the current race for the playoffs when its coming down to the wire and it also like the drama of the current playoffs that allow for your team to see more than just the same old same old in the first couple playoff rounds.

That being said, rivalries will build quite a bit quicker in this format, which makes for more entertaining series’ at the end of the day.

Under this format, here’s how the playoff picture would look right now:

Not much different, but different enough

So, basically, here’s how it would break down. Edmonton, who is currently out of the playoffs right now, would be in while St. Louis, who is in, would be out. Ottawa, who would be in right now, would be out of the playoffs in favor of the Capitals. Not much change, but it’s a downright shame for fans of St. Louis and Ottawa, both of whom have more points than their counterparts that would be taking their place in the post season.

Now, you may find yourself asking how scheduling would work. We were too. We’ll let NHL.com’s Dan Rosen explain that for you:

“In the seven-team conferences, teams would play six times — three home, three away. In the eight-team Conferences, teams would play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis; three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times. This process would reverse each season: An eight-team Conference member that plays an opponent six times in one season would play it five times the following season.”

So, there are pros and cons to this, like anything, but how does this affect the Wild?

Well, on the surface, it’s a win for Minnesota. No more having to head out West to face off against divisional opponents three times a year. That means less games on really late at night, which is a plus for the fans. Travel will be a bit easier too, though as Justin Bourne pointed out, that’s not really that big of a factor when you’re talking about the NHL.

So, from a logistical standpoint, it’s a win. From a fan’s standpoint, though, I’m not so sure.

All of those divisional rivalries that the Wild have spent the last ten years fostering? Gone by the wayside. The Wild won’t see Vancouver or Edmonton or Calgary more than twice a year unless the cards align in the playoffs. Now, you could argue that it makes those few meetings that much more of a powder keg – and for the first year or two, you might be right – but those rivalries that we, as Wild fans, cherish so much will slowly dissipate unless fostered in the playoffs.

That said, Wild fans still bitter about the Stars moving to Dallas will no doubt appreciate the opportunity for a great deal of Minnesota/Dallas playoff series’ in the future, and the Minnesota rivalries of old can be restarted, so there’s that at least.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to say whether this is going to be better or worse. Only time will tell for that. One thing’s for sure, though. No matter how you spin it, it’s going to be different.

Wild place Nystrom on waivers

So, this is a little bit of a surprise.

The Minnesota Wild have placed center Eric Nystrom on waivers, according to Wild.com and Mike Russo.

Eric Nystrom

Nystrom was placed on waivers on Thursday.

Nystrom is in his second year of a three-year deal with the Wild and was slated in as centering the team’s fourth line between Colton Gillies and Brad Staubitz. He has until 11:00 a.m. on Friday to clear waivers, at which point he will be assigned to the Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros.

As I mentioned, Nystrom was slated as the team’s fourth line center, but this move tells you how much the team thinks of Brett Bulmer and Nick Johnson, the former of whom had a stellar camp and the latter a waiver pick up late in the preseason.

I’ll be honest, this isn’t a Sean Avery-type move that everyone saw coming. Nystrom skated with his to-be linemates all preseason long. There were really no indications that he was going to get waived.

Nystrom tallied four goals and eight assists, with a minus-16 rating in his first season with Minnesota.

Breaking News: Majority of Lokomotiv roster killed in plane crash

Lokomotiv

I’m going to be very straight forward here. This blog is unplanned and off the cuff, so if it’s a bit disjointed, I apologize.

It’s been reported by many that the majority of the KHL team, Lokomotiv, have been killed in a plane crash.

According to the AP,

A Russian jet carrying a top ice hockey team crashed while taking off Wednesday in western Russia, killing at least 43 people and leaving two critically injured, officials said.

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said the Yak-42 plane crashed immediately after leaving an airport near the city of Yaroslavl, on the Volga River about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Moscow. It was carrying 45 people, including 37 passengers and eight crew, and the ministry said all but two people were killed in the crash.

Also, according to Greg Wyshynski at Yahoo.com’s Puck Daddy Blog, “Among the NHL alumni on Lokomotiv’s roster as of Aug. 31: Josef Vasicek, Pavol Demitra, Karel Rachunek, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins and Red Wings goalie prospect Stefan Liv.”

This is just the latest of a string of tragedies that has struck the hockey world this off season and the second involving a former Wild player.

While information is still rolling in, it has been confirmed that Right Wing Alexander Galimov has survived the crash and is currently in grave condition in a nearby hospital and, as of yet, he has been the only reported surviving player (a male flight attendant has been confirmed as surviving as well).

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families of the players, coaches and flight crew during this difficult time.

UPDATE: Per BD Gallof on Twitter: “lenta.ru/news/ reporting that Alexander Galimov succumbed to injuries”

Breaking News: Wild fires Todd Richards – Updated

I’m going to keep it brief, as I’m about to head out to the zoo with the kids, but the Minnesota Wild have fired Todd Richards as their head coach after finishing 12th in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs for the second straight season under Richards and the third overall.

The writing was on the wall after the Wild’s staggering late-season collapse this year and, for the second time in three off seasons, the Wild will begin searching for a head coach.

I’ll have more later, but I just saw this as I was heading out the door and wanted to get this up for you.

UPDATED: As promised, I’m updating this with my thoughts.

The firing of Richards isn’t totally unexpected. In fact, some fans probably believe that it’s a long time coming. Richards just wasn’t very good behind the bench. He failed at matching lines and he didn’t experiment with the first line because of what the captain of the team wanted as opposed to what was best for the team. His relationship with Martin Havlat was tenuous at best and he failed to have any answers for the team’s shortcomings.

The biggest red light to me was his response to a question posed about Niklas Backstrom after a pre-season loss last season. He was asked about Backstrom’s play and his response (and I’m paraphrasing here) was something to the effect of “I don’t know. I’ve never played goalie before, so I can’t comment on his game. That’s why we have a goaltending coach.”

Yeah…Underwhelming, to say the least. Just like his coaching career in Minnesota.

To be fair, I was actually willing to give him a chance during the team’s run towards the middle of the season. Hey, he was a new coach instituting a new system. Everyone knew it was going to be tough. But then the team went on their monumental slide. One that just. Kept. Going.

At a time when the team needed Richards to motivate and fix the problems that the team was having, he instead wore his dejection and confusion on his sleeve.

Yeah, he did a good job protecting his players, but when your coach is talking to the media and telling them he doesn’t know how to fix what’s wrong, what are you supposed to think as a player?

To boot, he clearly had his favorites as well. I’m not talking about favorite players to use in certain situations. It’s clear that all coaches have those. But it would seem that he gave certain players preferential treatment in terms of their ice time and their linemates.

The situation with Antti Miettinen being on the first line is a clear cut example of this. You’ve got Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Martin Havlat, both tremendous offensive players, sitting on your second line. You’ve got Cal Clutterbuck, who led the team in goals for a good portion of the season, hopping between the second and third lines, but you wait until the last two games of the season to switch things up when Miettinen is in the midst of a 27 game stretch that saw him score just five goals and four assists, with those five goals all coming in the last 11 game of the season?

I’m sorry, but that either reeks of ineptitude or favoritism.

And there’s not room in the Wild’s locker room for either of those two things.

In the end, I do think that Richards deserved his fate. He could never figure out how to motivate the team and, honestly, he was thrust into a job that he just wasn’t ready for. The blame for two extremely sub-par seasons by the Wild doesn’t lay entirely at his feet, but he certainly didn’t do anything to help matters.

We’ll be back later this week with a look at some potential candidates for the coaching job.

Wild Loses Almond, Recalls Peters

Looks like the Wild have lost another centerman, as the team has recalled Warren Peters after Cody Almond was the recipient of the ever elusive “lower body injury” last night.

Bad news for the Wild, who are already paper thin at the position, with John Madden playing injured as well.

Peters will play tonight, for sure, and likely will center Brad Staubitz and Jed Ortmeyer or, in other words, will help them open the bench gate for players as Todd Richards will likely cut it down to three lines very quickly.

Peters has a grand total of 29 NHL games to his name, including two with the Wild, and two goals in his career.

The good news is that Brodziak should be available for the Wild in Monday’s game against the Blackhawks, but this has definitely been an eyeopener for how thin this squad is at center. At this point, even James Sheppard would be a welcome addition to the squad.

But, who do you go after? Like I said before, a lot of the teams in the playoff race are pretty unwilling to part with players. The Wild could maybe go after Tim Connolly, but I don’t see the Wild going after a fragile forward having a down year. Stephen Weiss would be a very good option — he’s young and under contract for two more seasons — but the Wild will likely have to give up a lot to get him. Likely a roster player and probably a prospect and draft pick (especially since Cory Stillman was had for a player and a pick), but you never know what ace Fletcher might have up his sleeve.

Otherwise, there are always players like Dustin Penner available but that doesn’t necessarily fill an immediate need, though it would be a helpful addition.

In any event, this isn’t a primer for the trade deadline, so we’ll save that one for later. Enjoy the game tonight and I’ll be back tomorrow unless any breaking news happens!

Breaking News: Rypien Gets 6 Game Suspension; Canucks Fined $25K

Well, it’s official.

Rick Rypien has been suspended by the NHL for six games following his “assault” on James Engquist of Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

In addition to Rypien’s suspension, the Vancouver Canucks have also been fined $25,000 for the incident.

Now there’s no doubt that some people, including a lot of Wild fans, won’t be happy with this suspension; feeling that it should have been longer and, to be honest, I thought that it should have been about 10 games. But am I disappointed that it wasn’t longer?

Not really, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, despite the fact that Engquist is “feeling litigious” regarding the incident (again, allow me to repeat my sentiment – man up, buddy), Rypien didn’t actually do any harm towards him. He didn’t throw any punches, he didn’t injure him in any way – he didn’t really do anything more than ruffle up the guy’s shirt. He didn’t “climb into the stands” like some have claimed. He didn’t “pull him over the railing.” He just grabbed him and was pulled away.

Was it stupid? Yes. Was it potentially dangerous? Yes. Did anything come of it? Not at all; unless you count someone threatening to lawyer up as something coming of it.

Second, I don’t know that the NHL really needed to “send a message” here – at least, not to the players.

This isn’t an epidemic. This isn’t something that is taking the league by storm. This isn’t even something that has happened more than a couple times in the last decade. This is an isolated incident of a player getting a little too riled up and taking exception to something that a fan said and he just happened to be able to reach him with his hands as opposed to a water bottle.

A lot of pundits have been placing some of the blame on Minnesota for not having something separating the visitor’s tunnel from the fans (which they do, incidentally, it’s just retracted during the period) and, to be honest, I don’t really think that’s fair. They shouldn’t need to “protect” their fans from violence from the players and this is the first time any sort of incident has been spurred on from not having this protection.

And finally, if the league did need to “send a message,” it will be done through the teams.

Why?

Because Rypien just cost his team $25,000.

Do you really think that the Canucks organization is just going to sit back and not say anything to their players, or impose any fines on their players, whether publically or privately for this?

Do you think that other organizations won’t sit up and take notice and make sure that players know that this sort of thing will not be tolerated?

What the NHL did here is actually something that is quite ingenious. The put the impetus on the teams now to respond.

A suspension of a player like Rypien isn’t going to make a drop in the bucket for the Canucks. While he has his role on the team, and he performs it well, his absence isn’t going to lose them any games. But to fine the team? That is something that sends a message. Not to the players, but to the franchises.

Because the bottom line is that this league is a business. At the end of the day, from an organizational stand point, it’s as much about the profit as it is about winning and losing, and when you hit an organization where it hurts, in their pocket book, that is when you will see significant changes to the league’s culture.

Was I disappointed to see that it was just six games?

A little.

I wouldn’t have thought that ten games was egregious, but I thought that the proper suspension should have been between five and ten games and it was between that – a bit on the light side, but between that nonetheless.

But at the end of the day, this sends a message to the organizations that this won’t be tolerated, not just to the players. And that is what is going to prevent this from happening again.

Breaking News: Wild Sign G Theodore

In a not quite so unexpected move, the Minnesota Wild have found themselves their second goaltender, and one that should prove to make a formidable tandem in net in the absence of Josh Harding, who tore his ACL and MCL in a pre-season game against the St. Louis Blues.

The Wild, after a lackluster pre-season, have made the decision to fill the void left by Harding’s injury and sign free agent goaltender Jose Theodore to a one-year, $1.1 million contract.

Theodore, who won 30 games in 47 appearances last season, is a former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner and provides the Wild some more stability in net.

While there are certainly some question marks surrounding Theodore’s ability to perform at an elite level in the NHL, there is no doubt that he will provide a solid back up to Niklas Backstrom this season.

“Jose’s a veteran who’s won 245 games in the NHL,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said while in Helsinki. “We’re fortunate he was still available. He makes us a deeper team and we have a terrific one-two punch again.”

I’ll be honest, I like this signing.

While I have the utmost faith in Niklas Backstrom returning to form this season, Theodore gives the Wild a veteran option behind him should he falter, as well as some healthy competition behind the veteran goalie. His cap hit of $1.1 million is basically the same as Harding’s, which they are now allowed to spend above the cap with Harding on the Long Term Injured Reserve.

Theodore posted a 2.81 goals against average and a .911 save percentage last season with the Washington Capitals and will start the season in the AHL to get back into shape and face some shots before swapping places with Anton Khudobin on the Wild’s roster.

Wild Signs Wellman; The Extreme Wild Makeover: Chuck Fletcher Edition Continues

When a season is as rocky as the Minnesota Wild’s, you take any victory you can get. 

University of Massachusetts forward Casey Wellman is on his way to Minnesota today to sign a free agent, entry level contract with the Minnesota Wild. Wellman, one of the most sought after collegiate level free agents, was pursued by 21 other teams but chose Minnesota in the end—a victory, to be sure. 

The 22-year old Wellman is tied for sixth in the nation in goals with 23 for UMass this season and, according to Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, will not be going to the team’s AHL affiliate Houston Aeros making it increasingly likely that he could play in Tuesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. 

Wellman’s signing is yet another step in the right direction for the Wild, as he is continuing to be active in taking steps to improve the team now and down the road. Wellman is a skilled center with a projectable frame that can skate very well. 

The bottom line? 

Even if the youngster doesn’t pan out, we’re not out much. It’s a low-risk, high-reward type of move. 

But what does Wellman’s signing mean for the current Wild roster? 

He was sold on the Wild by the organization’s lack of depth at center, both in the NHL and in the organization. This is pretty much saying one thing: he will be getting a good amount of playing time somewhere next season. He’ll get a fair amount of minutes on the team this season and be given a fair shot at making the squad next season but, even if he doesn’t, he’ll be getting solid minutes in Houston. 

But what’s more is that this is likely another nail in the coffin that holds James Sheppard’s career in a Minnesota Wild sweater. There’s a very good chance that Wellman could come in and tank, but even if he does that he’s a better cap option at center than Sheppard, who is looking at the qualifying offer raise that is afforded to all restricted free agents this off season. 

The bottom line is that if Wellman displays even a shade of the offensive talent that he showed at UMass, it is an upgrade over Sheppard who has been ineffective at absolute best this season. 

Me, personally? I love this move. 

I’ve never understood why the Wild didn’t dip into the collegiate free agency market more and go for more players with the potential to be impact players, and that is exactly what Fletcher has done with this signing. 

When you look at the undrafted collegiate free agents, as Russo points out, most are role players in their NHL careers. Andrew Ebbett and John Scott are very good examples of that. 

But every once in a while, you find a diamond in the rough—a player who is either a late-bloomer or who slipped through the cracks somewhere along the way. 

Every once in a while, you’ll find a player like a Chris Kunitz or a Dustin Penner or a Dan Boyle—someone who can thrive in the NHL. 

So what this boils down to is that, at worst, Wellman will have a brief stint with the Wild and not stick and we’ll be out the league’s minimum salary. At best, he’ll turn into an impact player for the Wild. But most likely, the Wild will be getting a solid third or fourth line, young center who has a bit of a scoring touch. 

And all without using a draft pick.

Breaking News: Wild Re-signs Clutterbuck

Per Mike Russo, 

The Wild avoided restricted free agency this summer with heavy hitter Cal Clutterbuck by extending the winger’s contract this morning. Clutterbuck signed a three-year, $4.2 million contract ($1.4 million cap hit). 

“Cal is an intense competitor who has quickly become a fan favorite with the Wild,” GM Chuck Fletcher said. “We look forward to watching his development for years to come.”

Clutterbuck, 22 (11/18/87), set the NHL’s single-season hits mark in 2008-09 with 356, and again leads the NHL this season with 252 hits. Clutterbuck has recorded a career-high 12 goals in 54 games this season, while also tying his career-high with 18 points. The 5-foot-11, 213-pound native of Welland, Ont., has posted 36 points (23-13=36) and 110 penalty minutes in 134 games over two-plus seasons with the Wild. Clutterbuck was the Wild’s third-round pick (No. 72 overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. 

Obviously myself, as well as every other Wild fan out there, loves this move. 

Clutterbuck has been a breath of fresh air to this franchise since he arrived here and is one of the more loved members of the organization. 

His gritty, physical play injects energy into the team every time he hits the ice and is beginning to find his offensive game as well. 

The Wild have just three other RFA’s to lock up and, from what I have gathered, are currently in talks with leading goal scorer Guillaume Latendresse to extend his contract.

Next Page »