Catching Up – Trade Deadline, Blackhawks, Isles, Gillies and Rangers

Sorry about the lack of blogs over the last few days, but it’s been super crazy in Casa de Benzel. Anywho, a lot has gone on over the past few days for the Wild, so here’s three blogs shoved together into one gigantic mish mash of ideas bouncing around in my head.

The Trade Deadline
This has been beaten to death already, so I’m not going to dwell on it too long, but here’s my take on the Wild’s deadline.

First, was I disappointed that the team didn’t make a move for someone like Weiss or Penner? Yeah. I’m not going to lie, I was very disappointed.

BUT

I can totally understand why no move was made.

The asking prices at the deadline are starting to border on ridiculous. I mean, seriously. Is Dustin Penner really worth a top prospect and two picks? We’re talking about a guy who has scored more than 50 points once in his career.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

I’d rather see the Wild roll with what they’ve got than mortgage the farm to get a mediocre player (which is exactly what the Kings did).

If the Wild had a wealth of prospects in their system, maybe – but the fact remains that they don’t.

That’s the key to becoming a team that’s consistently good like the Red Wings. You build from within. Is it frustrating this season? Absolutely. We were one terrific scorer away from being a huge force.

But look at next season. You want offense? We’ve got Mikael Granlund coming in next season, not to mention Mikko Lehtonen, who has already expressed interest in coming over to play.

We’re starting to build from within, which is exactly why doing nothing of note at the trade deadline was a smart move from an organizational stand point. Besides, every single person that was complaining about the Wild doing nothing – I guarantee that each one of those people would be complaining if the Wild overpaid for a player like Penner also.

Blackhawks @ Wild
There’s not really much to say about this game that hasn’t already been said.

There was the obvious letdown from the Wild not doing anything at the deadline, but that doesn’t excuse the Wild’s lack of effort. They were just flat, flat, flat until Martin Havlat broke through in the third.

And then their power play came out and shot them in the foot (something that has been a growing trend in the past few weeks).

Looking at the game, the Wild were outmatched from the get-go, especially in their own zone. The ‘Hawks are a team that the Wild have a hard time hanging with when Minnesota is on but, when they’re not, it’s downright brutal.

The worst part was their last power play. You had the idea that something was going to go wrong as soon as the Wild drew that penalty. Their PP had been brutal all night long and their final PP was no different. They actually had some good looks on their final power play, but a brain fart by Pierre-Marc Bouchard that saw him sprawl out to try to keep the puck in the zone saw this one lead to the back breaking goal.

They just lacked jump in this one and, in a game where they were severely out-skilled, they needed that jump to have a shot.

Wild @ Islanders
This one was just abso-freaking-lutely brutal.

I mean, from top to bottom brutal.

No effort, no cohesion, no goaltending – nothing. There’s not much to say other than that.

Backstrom was awful, so was Brodziak and most of the Wild’s defense. But that’s not what’s being talked about. What’s being talked about is…

Trevor Gillies Hit
The game back after a nine-game suspension and Trevor Gillies goes out and does this.

You’ve all seen the hit by now, so I won’t belabor the point by embedding it, but I’m having a hard time with this simply because I find myself in agreement with Mike Milbury.

Trevor Gillies has absolutely no place being in this league. The guy is a glorified door man. How many times has he played more than six minutes this season?

Twice.

How many times has he played less than two?

15, including one game where he played nine seconds. Nine.

You can’t tell me this guy is on the team for any other reason than to hurt people, and that is absolutely despicable.

You can debate the two hits all you want. Sure, Clutterbuck’s hit was an illegal hit, but it wasn’t a suspendable hit, or even a hit that deserved a major. Gillies, on the other hand, came in elbow up and sandwiched Clutterbuck’s head between his elbow and the glass.

Should Clutterbuck have pulled up and maybe not finished his check for once? Probably. But that certainly doesn’t excuse what Gillies did. Especially not in the case of a guy who had just missed nine games for head hunting.

Yes, Clutterbuck runs around. Yes, some of his hits might even border on being a touch late. But the difference is that Clutterbuck has respect for the people that he’s hitting. Rarely will you see him lay a dirty hit on a player like he did in this instance, and even rarer will you see a player not get up because of one of his hits. He might be a nuisance to other teams, he might run around and yap, his hits might be a bit late occasionally, but he does not hit dirty, contrary to what many may think. He just hits hard.

There is absolutely no defense or excuse for what Gillies did. The guy is 6’3”, 227 and he is leaving his feet to check a guy that’s 5’11”, 213. Gillies has four inches and 16 pounds on Clutterbuck. He doesn’t need to leave his feet to lay a good, solid check on him. Yet he did. He left his feet, he raised his elbows and he targeted Clutterbuck’s head. Don’t give me any of this “no intent to injure” business. That’s about as large of an intent to injure as you can get.

Now, if he weren’t just coming off of a nine-game suspenson for doing the exact same thing, I’d say he should get maybe two or three games. But his nine-game suspension obviously didn’t take the first time around.

Maybe a 15-game suspension will.

Wild @ Rangers
Now that I’m off my soap box, here’s some quick thoughts on last night’s game against the Rags.

I only caught the first period live, the rest I had to catch on DVR, and I won’t lie; I was considering skipping the rest of the game after catching the first.

They looked awful. And by awful, I mean just as bad as they did against the Isles. They couldn’t get anything going, their legs weren’t there, they had no jump in our steps. They just looked plain bad.

But something happened between the first and second periods. Something must have been said by someone, whether it was one of the team’s elder statesmen or the coaching staff, I don’t know. But someone said something that lit a fire under the team.

Sure, they got outshot 17 to 8 and 16 to 8 in the second and third periods respectively, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The effort was there again. They were driving to the net, they were getting to the hard areas on the ice and they were creating chances and, once again, they proved you don’t need to take 40 shots to score three goals.

Heck, they didn’t even need 20.

The line of Brodziak, Havlat and Bouchard had a nice game and rebounded well from their stinker of a performance on Wednesday. The line combined for two goals and five points and, to be honest, I think we have our top line right there. Sure, Brodziak isn’t a top flight center, but he’s the type of center that I think players like Bouchard and Havlat need. Neither Butch nor Havlat are the most physical players on the planet, so they need a grinder on their line to help do the dirty work and that’s exactly what Brodziak excels at. (Incidentally, with this team playing so well, I’d almost say move Mittens off of the Koivu line when G-Lat comes back – give Bruno and Koivu a guy who can actually bury the puck on their line.)

Casey Wellman was great. He was exactly what the Wild needed. His speed created a lot of chances and he was in the right place at the right time for his beautiful goal to make it 2-1. He played just nine minutes, but he made an impact in those nine minutes.

Brent Burns and Nick Schultz were great on the blue line, as was Clayton Stoner. I continue to be impressed by the way the defense has turned around this season after their horrid performance last season. Sure, the Rangers got 40 shots, but the defense did a great job of clearing the shooting lanes so that Theodore could see the puck and clearing away any rebounds.

Speaking of Theodore, he really stole this game. It could have easily been 5-3 or 6-3 in a hurry, but because of Theo the Wild snuck out of that first period with just one goal against and regrouped in a big way. I love Backstrom, but I’d have a hard time going away from Theo after this one. If I’m Richards (and there’s likely a very good reason why I’m not him or in his position), I’d start Theo on Sunday against the Sabres. He’s the hot hand and, if nothing else, it could give Backs some motivation to go out and improve in his next outing.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. Because of the Sunday game, likely no game preview but I should have a gamer up.

Laterz!

Injury-Riddled Wild Can’t Solve Kings

Well, this is becoming quite the theme. The Wild played hard, but they just didn’t have the offense to get it done.

I’m going to keep this brief, because I’m working on our trade deadline primer that should be up sometime this evening or tomorrow morning, but this was a game that the effort was there for the Wild, but you can’t honestly say that they deserved better.

The Kings wanted it more. Plain and simple.

They forechecked harder, they played smarter, they simply did everything better than Minnesota, right down to hitting the net when they had the opportunity.

Last night, the Wild’s offense was downright putrid at times. They couldn’t get anything going and a large part of that was due to our line combinations.

Before I start on this, I’m not blaming Todd Richards in any way, shape or form for this (a shocker, I know). Quite simply, the discombobulated lines were not his fault. It’s the fact that our top two centers are out right now. The distinct lack of chemistry between Matt Cullen and Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen was painfully apparent last night, with that line getting a grand total of four shots on goal. That’s half of what Martin Havlat had on his own.

Meanwhile, John Madden fit in well with Havlat and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but it was painfully obvious that he was not comfortable playing in an offensive capacity as opposed to a shut down role. Madden was, in a lot of cases, either out of position for what Havlat and Bouchard were doing or simply not expecting it. He battled, he fought hard, but he just wasn’t able to keep up offensively with either of Havlat or Bouchard and the line struggled for it.

It’s a distinct problem when the players through the first half of the game that were most noticeable offensively were Eric Nystrom and Cody Almond, but that was the case for most of the first thirty minutes.

That’s not a recipe for success and that, again, shows that we need to find some sort of depth at the center position.

The good news is that Brodziak will likely be back in the line up on Monday against the ‘Hawks. The bad news, though, is that the team is going to have to do without him for tonight’s game against Anaheim, so expect a type of game similar to what we saw last night.

But that’s enough of the negatives. Let’s look at some of the positives quickly.

Niklas Backstrom, again, was great. Despite giving up three goals, he kept the Wild in the game with some big saves and, were their offense clicking, could have gotten a win or at least a point out of the game.

Brent Burns was great last night, playing physical and he was in on the rush as much as any forward was. For a team that’s struggling offensively, the Wild need Burnsie to step up into the play as much as he can and it looks like that’s exactly what he’s being told by the coaching staff. If he can keep providing some offense from the blue line, it’s going to lighten the load for our beleaguered forward unit right now.

Nystrom also continues to be really good for the Wild. He seems to be playing with more confidence now that he’s finally broken through in the goal column and it’s showing in his game. He’s creating offensive chances now on the team’s checking line.

What else?

The Wild are now sixth in the West, dropping a spot behind L.A. after the loss, and are tied with four other teams at 70 points, and I wouldn’t look at that logjam being alleviated any time soon. This is going to be a race to the playoffs that takes years off of a coach’s life. It’s been hard for any team to gain any sort of separation over the other and it’s going to continue to be hard.

For example, tonight both Calgary and Minnesota are in action. L.A. moved up to sole ownership of fifth with 72 points, but if Calgary and Minnesota both win, there could be a three-way tie with 72 points and a three-way tie with 70 points. Conversely, if both teams lose, there will be six teams tied at 70 points.

The league wanted parity, and this is parity at its best.

There won’t be any gameday preview today, but the puck drops tonight at 9 p.m. and will be on Fox Sports North.

Enjoy your Friday and, if anything happens before tonight’s game we’ll be sure to let you know!

Wild Lose Koivu; Replacement Comes With No Easy Answers

Well, here we are. The one player that the Wild couldn’t afford to lose and they’ve gone ahead and lost him.

From what I understand, Minnesota’s captain was hit in the hand while blocking a shot in last night’s 5-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks and injured his finger – bad. Like might need surgery bad.

I won’t lie, this is a catastrophe for the Wild. Not only was Koivu their captain, their heart and soul leader in the locker room, but he’s also the number one center on a team without a solid number two.

Maybe, in the best case scenario, Matt Cullen or Pierre-Marc Bouchard could step up and fill the void, but would they be able to bring to the first line what Koivu could? They’re the best internal scenarios, and even then they’re not the greatest options.

I may be preaching to the choir here, but the Wild now need to make a trade before the deadline if Koivu is going to be out for an extended period of time.

But who do they go after? The West is so freaking tight right now, who could the Wild realistically make a trade with?

They could maybe target Koivu the other or Todd Marchant from Anaheim, but Anaheim is just one point ahead of the Wild in the standings. Do you think they’re going to help Minnesota out?

The same goes for Calgary, L.A. and Dallas. All teams that the Wild are chasing in the standings. Even San Jose and Nashville probably aren’t realistic possibilities. Neither are Phoenix, Vancouver or Detroit.

If the bottom falls out on Chicago or Columbus, they might consider a trade, same goes with St. Louis. The most likely options are Colorado or Edmonton, but there aren’t really any players on either team that would fit the bill that wouldn’t be part of the team’s rebuilding efforts.

The bottom line is, if the Wild want to make a move anywhere it’s going to be in the East.

But who?

Buffalo? Maybe Tim Connolly fits the bill, but with the Sabres making a playoff push there’s a good chance they’ll want Connolly to be at the center of that.

Florida? Stephen Weiss would be a good move for the Wild, but he hasn’t shown any indication that he wants out of Florida and he has a NMC.

Toronto? They could maybe get Mikhail Grabovski, but I doubt he’ll come cheap. Same with Clarke MacArthur.

The bottom line is that the Wild are going to need to pony up something good in order to get something good. They may even need to overpay. Likely a roster player, a prospect and/or a pick. But who do they move?

Andrew Brunette? Not likely. While he might have the most value, there’s no way that he’s going to be moved. He’s too valuable to the team.

John Madden? He’s got experience and he could be valuable to a team making a playoff push, meaning he’s likely going to be too valuable for the Wild to give up.

There’s been rumblings of Martin Havlat being moved, but that’s just not going to happen. NMC not withstanding, Havlat is the Wild’s biggest offensive threat. He won’t go anywhere.

No, the best players the Wild have to be moved that they’ll consider moving at this point are likely Cam Barker and Antti Miettinen. While both have value to the team at this point, both are essentially replaceable.

Basically, the pickings are slim and the players we would be able to give up are even slimmer, but the Wild need to make some sort of move in order to keep up with the Western Conference.

Minnesota’s Lack of Scoring Cause for Concern

I apologize for no gamer from last night’s game, but I did some thinking about it and decided that this was the route to go instead.

Hockey Wilderness posted something a couple days ago about whether or not the Wild are the real deal. This was before the Wild’s two “shoulda, coulda, woulda” losses.

Before these two losses, I was definitely on the side of the fence that was saying that the Wild are the real deal. They were on a tear. They were scoring, they were playing great defense and they were receiving great goaltending. Plain and simple, they looked like the real deal.

But these two losses really pinpointed the team’s biggest weakness – the weakness that was supposed to become their strength under Todd Richards; their offense.

The Wild simply don’t have the goal scorers to compete on a nightly basis. Sure, they’ll have a player that gets hot every now and again. Lately it’s been Cal Clutterbuck. But the team’s scoring is extremely balanced – mostly by necessity.

Without Guillaume Latendresse, the Wild really don’t have a bona fide finisher.

Think about it. They have a lot of players that can finish, but none that are willing to tailor their game to make that their purpose.

Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard. These are all players that have the potential to be 30-plus goal scorers if they put their minds to it. Instead, they are all playmakers by design. They distribute rather than finish. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not riding any of these four players. They’re four of the most offensively gifted players on the squad.

But…

When you have four extremely talented playmakers like this, you’ve got to have someone for them to get the puck to. Right now, do they have anyone that fits that bill? I’d say they don’t.

Antti Miettinen? He works hard, he can chip in goals here and there, but he guy isn’t a first line player. He’s a checker that has some offensive upside. He’s the guy who you could be happy to chip in 15-20 goals in a season, not the guy to shoulder the load.

Cal Clutterbuck? He’s the same as Miettinen. He’s a great player, he’s a great checker and penalty killer, but the fact that he’s leading the team in goals is a huge problem for the Wild.

Mikko Koivu? He could most certainly fit the bill, but he’s unwilling to sacrifice anything from the defensive end to add to the offensive end of the ice. He’s a great player and a great leader and his game is to be that two-way forward, much like Mike Richards.

The only player that the Wild have currently that is, or could be considered, a bona fide goal scorer is Guillaume Latendresse, whom I would be very surprised to see back in the line up any time soon, let alone as effective as he was last season or even at the beginning of this season.

So Minnesota needs to go out and do something, anything to get some sort of scoring pop because it’s getting to the point of the season where all of the excuses in the world don’t matter anymore.

The whole “we deserved better” speech is getting old. The bottom line is, despite all of the Wild’s efforts over the last two games, they didn’t deserve better because they can’t put the puck in the net.

The Wild outshot the Blackhawks 17-10 in the first period on Wednesday, yet had a 1-0 deficit to show for it and just a period before that outshot the Canucks 13-1 with nothing to show for it but an empty net goal by Vancouver.

The bottom line is all of the hard work in the world isn’t going to mean a thing if, at the end of the day, the Wild aren’t able to convert on the opportunities that they’re creating with it and that is a problem the team is most certainly going to have to address.

Gameday Thread – Game 57 – Wild @ Blackhawks

As Russo put it, last night’s game was one of those “where the effort was there and the finish wasn’t.”

The Wild’s 4-1 loss last night against the Vancouver Canucks has put Minnesota behind the eight ball against a struggling Chicago Blackhawks squad tonight. If Minnesota wants to remain in the playoff hunt, this is a game that they have got to win.

After the loss, the Wild still remain just a point out of the eighth spot and are now three points behind spots four through seven in the ultra-tight Western Conference. It’s pretty simple. With three teams close to us in the standings in action (not including the Blackhawks), we can’t put our fate in other teams’ hands. We’ve just got to win.

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Star Tribune Game Preview

NHL.com Game Preview

(I’ll try to update with some reports from the morning skate also)

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Desperation Time
One of the biggest stories heading into this game will be whether or not a tired Minnesota Wild team will be able to match the desperation that will likely be coming from a Blackhawks squad that has slid down the rankings steadily for the last few weeks.

The Wild have got to play with the same effort and desperation that they have played with for the past few weeks. Sure, they’ll have a couple rough games here and there, but they can’t afford to have losing streaks and that means tonight they’ve got to come out with their “compete level” high.

This has been an extremely even season series to this point, with both teams winning a game and the scoring at 5-5 on the season. That means that this one could very easily come down to who wants it more, and that had better be us.

Finish (And not the country)
One thing that became painfully evident last night is that the Wild lack players that can finish on a consistent basis.

Martin Havlat? We all saw what he could do in his All-Star Game debacle.

Antti Miettinen? Give him a difficult goal and he’ll bury it. An open net? Not so much.

Cal Clutterbuck? He’s certainly been one of the best scorers for the Wild this season, but he can’t be counted on to score on a consistent basis.

I could go on too. The bottom line is that looking down the Wild’s roster, it’s painfully evident that the team misses Guillaume Latendresse more and more every game. In his short time with the team, Latendresse has been a goal-scoring machine. That’s what the Wild need, but they won’t be getting it at least for the rest of the month, if not longer.

Someone needs to step up and that someone needs to be players like Martin Havlat, Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. These are players that were expected to carry the offensive load this season, and they have to a certain extent, but they’ve got to have a more consistent goal-scoring effort than they have recently.

Havlat has just two goals and two assists in his last six games, Koivu has zero goals and only five points in his last eight and Butch has zero goals and just one assist in his last five.

The Wild have been lucky enough to have their scoring spread around this season  (they currently have eight players with eleven or more goals), but they need someone to step up and start pulling the team along and, as much as I love Cal Clutterbuck, that someone needs to be one of their top players.

Big Game
Tonight’s tilt is a big game – possibly one of the biggest of the season for the Wild.

Sure, from here on out every game is big. But this one? They’re coming off of a disappointing loss against one of their rivals and are on the second game of a back-to-back.

The last time they came out of a big rivalry game disappointed like this (Against the Avs on Jan. 14), they came out like gang busters and outscored their opponents 14-1 over their next three games. That’s exactly the team that we need to see tonight if the Wild are going to stay in the hunt.

The puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. CST and will be televised nationally on Versus.

Wild Down Blues 3-1

Like I said yesterday, can you imagine if these two teams got together in a playoff series?

Three fights, including one bloody one where Clayton Stoner established himself as one tough hombre, taking down the infamous David Backes at the end of the game, a butt load of hits and some pretty nice goals to boot were the story in this one as the Wild skated away with a 3-1 victory, looking very, very impressive in the process.

Minnesota has won nine of their last 11 games, 13 games since Jan. 2 and has outscored their opponents 34-18 during that time. If you’re not starting to get at least a little excited about the way this team is playing lately, you don’t have a pulse.

Tonight, Minnesota came out and dominated the game in every facet with the exception of maybe five or six minutes in the second period, and even then they weathered the storm quite well.

Cal Clutterbuck opened up the scoring in the first period with a change up that snuck through Jaroslav Halak’s five hole just as the Wild’s power play was expiring. Next up was Antti Miettinen in the second, flipping the puck past Halak on the power play off of a beautiful pass from Andrew Brunette. Next was Brodziak on a four-on-four that was the last shot that Halak faced on the night. Finally, Patrik Berglund scored a beautiful goal on the power play for the Blues to round out the scoring.

The Wild truly were dominant in this one and, in a playoff atmosphere, they were something to behold. With Vancouver coming up on Tuesday, they’ve got a great deal of momentum and look like they’ve finally figured this out.

Here are some of my thoughts from tonight’s game:

  • Cal Clutterbuck had probably one of his best games of the year. He threw his body around (as always) and was a force in every zone and he continues to grow offensively. His hits were the most impressive thing about his game, however. He threw his body around tonight like I haven’t seen from him in a long time. It left even T.J. Oshie impressed after an especially thunderous hit in the corner that even left Oshie commenting on how much the hit hurt on the bench, if you could read his lips that is.
  • Clayton Stoner and Greg Zanon continue to be one of the better defensive pairings the Wild has had in quite some time. The two compliment each other surprisingly well and Zanon’s experience has really started to rub off on young Mr. Stoner. Stoner was physical, he was smart with the puck and he even made some plays offensively as well. If he keeps going this way, he and Jared Spurgeon are going to make Fletcher make some hard decisions here over the next few months.
  • Koivu was probably about as dominant as he could be without scoring a single point. He controlled the puck and forechecked like a mad man and, again, was physical. There’s a reason this guy is the captain of the team and games like this just prove it even more.
  • If the Wild make the post season, it’s going to be on Niklas Backstrom’s back. Regardless of how good this team is playing, Backstrom is the end-all be-all in terms of whether or not they win and he’s on one of the more dominating stretches I’ve ever seen him be on, let alone a Wild goalie. Since returning from injury, Backs has given up just ten goals in his last seven games, including two shutouts. He’s got to be the man if the Wild want the make the playoffs and he was just that again tonight.

Gameday Thread: Game 43 – Wild @ Predators

Ask, and you shall receive. I’ve received e-mails asking for the Gameday Threads to return, so here you go – albeit in a slightly different format.

Instead of giving you the stats, line ups, etc, what I’ll be doing instead is giving you some “required reading” for the game and a little insight to boot.

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NHL.com Game Preview
Russo’s Pre-game Blog
PredsOnTheGlass’s Game Preview

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The Wild comes into tonight’s game after a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Stars that was, quite honestly, disappointing yet expected.

The Wild, on the short-end of a back-to-back stretch, looked flat and tired for most of the game; basically leaving this blogger to consider the game a throw-away game – one that would have been a huge momentum boost if they had won, but not one that should sap their confidence or their momentum having lost it.

The bad news is that the Wild come into tonight’s game facing a Nashville Predators team that has been very, very, good in their last five games (starting with their New Year’s Eve win over the Wild) and are facing a goalie that is averaging a goal-per-game in his last four starts. Not good news for a Wild team that struggles to score.

The good news, though, is that the Wild will be getting one of their best offensive threats back in Antti Miettinen after “Mittens” missed the last four games first with a charley horse, then with a stomach bug.

That means that Chuck Kobasew (who I think has been one of the Wild’s best players over the last handful of games) will be slotted down, likely onto Matt Cullen’s wing on the third line. This, in my opinion, is a huge bummer for Kobasew, who has been playing his best hockey in a Wild sweater. With four goals and five points in his last eight games, Kobasew looks like he’s started to find the touch that caused the Wild to trade for him last season and that confidence transferred over to the rest of his game.

But, such is life.

Miettinen is comfortable on Koivu’s right wing and Koivu is comfortable with Miettinen on his right wing, so that’s all she wrote.

The line to watch tonight, though, is going to be the trio of Martin Havlat, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Kyle Brodziak. Havlat, one of the more notable all star snubs in my opinion (I’ll get into that later tonight), has been one of, if not the best player on the team all season long and Bouchard has started to find his game after a nine-game stretch that saw him tally just two assists (he has a goal and three assists in his last six games). The line has been meshing very, very well, so it’s only a matter of time before they start to take off. But, I digress.

This game is as close to a must-win for the Wild as they could get right now. They’re just two points out of seventh and three out of fourth in the West and they’ve started to look like they’re getting it together on the ice. They played spectacular hockey against some great teams over the past few games and have won five of their last seven – they certainly have confidence and momentum. But this pivotal game could easily see them lose both if they come out flat and get behind.

With the way they’re playing right now, it’s not hard to picture the Wild playing in the playoffs this season – but, at the same time, it’s just as easy to picture inconsistency biting them in the rear end again. They have to find that consistency and stop losing streaks before they happen. If they can do that tonight, after a stinker of a game on Saturday, I’ll tell you this – they might be on to something.

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Congratulations to Brent Burns on his first career All Star Game selection. Check back later tonight for my thoughts on his selection, as well as the rest of the selections.

Walsh Creates Drama; Could It Be A Good Thing?

Well, it’s out there. It’s been said and can’t be unsaid.

Once again, Agent Allan Walsh has begun chirping at the Minnesota Wild for their use of one of his players. We all remember last season, his infamous comments regarding Petr Sykora in a situation that, to be honest, I agreed with him in.

Well, if you haven’t heard by now, Walsh reached out to Mike Russo via e-mail with his opinion of Havlat’s playing time in Minnesota now.

“When Chuck reached out to Marty Havlat two summers ago after he led Chicago to the conference finals while leading the team in points in the regular season and playoffs, he shared a vision of building an up-tempo offensive team with Marty as a pillar to this strategy,” Walsh said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. “That’s why he signed with the Wild.

“Since that time, Marty has been used in a purely secondary role. Look at this season, he’s played four straight games at about 14 minutes of ice time, he’s used on the second power-play unit, he sits for long stretches, he’s not used in the shootouts. At a certain point in time, one has to ask, ‘Why is he here?’ One has to ask, ‘Why pay this guy $30 million to not play?’

“It’s like we are in a time warp and the coach has totally ignored or chooses to ignore what Marty has done offensively over the course of his entire career. People say the Wild don’t have a star player. The Wild have a dynamic offensive player right under their nose and yet choose not to use him to their advantage. Look around the league, what other team has a player like Marty Havlat wilting on the vine like this?”

Now, General Manager had a good rebuttal of this in Russo’s article (click on the link above to read all of it) and Hockey Wilderness has a good look at the ensuing drama, as well as a good look at Havlat’s playing time this season and, as Reynolds points out in his article, Walsh doesn’t really seem to have a leg to stand on when it comes to complaining about Havlat’s ice time.

Let’s see here (italics are my thoughts):

  • 16:53 average time on ice (Ninth on the team, fourth among forwards) – Only behind Koivu, Cullen and Miettinen – in other words, only behind the team’s two leading scorers and their number one center’s favorite weapon. Check.
  • 20.5 shifts per game (Fifth among forwards) – I’d be willing to bet if we didn’t take so many effing penalties, this would probably even itself out and he would sneak a little higher up the list.
  • average shift length is 49 seconds (#1) – So wait, he’s staying on the ice the longest?
  • 14:16 Even Strength TOI /G (1st among forwards) – And getting the most ice time at even strength?
  • 2:31 PP TOI / G (Fifth among forwards) – Okay, so he’s on our second PP unit, but with a PP that’s been one of, if not the best in the league so can we agree that it MIGHT be a good idea not to mix things up too much there?

So, basically, Walsh is complaining about what now?

That Havlat isn’t on the team’s top powerplay? Or not on the team’s top line?

Okay, that I can deal with. Havlat IS a top-line winger, that’s for sure. But the problem is that Koivu simply has so much chemistry with winger Antti Miettinen and enjoys playing with his countryman so much that it’s hard to separate that line.

But therein lies the rub.

Koivu loves playing with Bruno and Mittens, but Koivu playing with Bruno and Mittens…Just. Isn’t. Working.

You don’t believe me? Look at the stats.

The line has combined for a total of six goals this season but, through eight games, Koivu is the only player that is averaging at least a point-per-game. Now, I don’t expect that the line average that, but wouldn’t you expect that, through eight games, a line with that much chemistry might hit a bit of a hot spot?

But they haven’t yet.

It’s time for Richards to shuffle the deck and, though I might not necessarily agree with all of Walsh’s “woe is Marty” sentiment, this might be a catalyst to do just that.

Antti Miettinen is leading the team in shots – 27 total – and he has just two goals in those 27 shots. Something needs to be done about that. This line has rolled too long with moderate success – it’s time to get a line out there that will have some real success.

Now, if that means sliding Havlat up to Koivu’s right wing? Let’s try it.

Maybe a Latendresse-Koivu-Havlat trio? Why not?

This is a team that is not finding its game under the current layout. This is a team that is floundering early in the season, settling into mediocrity, and Richards has not done a single thing to remedy that.

In my time spent coaching, one of the things that was always most important to me to push my players to success was to get them out of their comfort zone – to force them out of their comfort zone. Richards, simply, hasn’t done that unless you count the infamous “bag skate” as doing so.

These lines have become comfortable things with our top-six and it hasn’t been working. It’s time for change.

Maybe Walsh’s e-mail was nothing more than a cranky player agent picking on his new favorite target. In all honesty, that’s what it looks like to me. But, you know what? If this can light a fire under Richards’ rear end to make a change that could better the team? If this can make Richards stand up and take notice that, “Hey, what I’m doing might not be working out the best?”

Well than I say, “Good on you, Alan.” Because he’ll have been able to do something that almost an entire season’s worth of the Wild playing subpar hockey under Todd Richards has not been able to do – to do something to get the team out of the realm of the mediocre.

Wild Falls to Vancouver in a Big Way

Man, if you didn’t see this one coming, you weren’t paying attention.

The Wild came out tonight, after a lackluster performance last night in Edmonton, and skated like they had lead in their breezers and played like they had lead between their ears.

That might have been a bit harsh, but it’s not too far off from the truth. For three periods of play tonight, the Wild looked like absolute garbage.

But it really should have been expected after the way that they played for the last two periods of last night’s game. In back-to-back games, there’s absolutely no way that you come out strong the very next night after an outing like that.

Plain and simple, the Wild came out flat and it showed in the results. In fact, it should have been a shutout were it not for the fact that Miettinen scored a fluke goal late in the third.

Vancouver controlled play all night long tonight and Manny Malhotra had a three-point night to down the Wild quite easily in this one.

I’d say more but, to be quite honest, I don’t really have much more to say. The Wild got dominated from buzzer to buzzer and that’s all there is to it.

Random Thoughts

  • One game into his Minnesota Wild career and color me VERY unimpressed with Jose Theodore. The man looked so casual in net tonight that, honestly, it bordered on lazy. For most of the evening, his movements in net simply looked listless and sluggish. He was out of position and he was, quite frankly, out of the game. Now, this could have been in large part due to the fact that he didn’t really have a training camp and it was his first game, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but he has got to be better if the Wild are to be successful at all this season.
  • I can honestly say that I’ve never been as impressed with a young Wild defenseman as I have been with Justin Falk. The guy just keeps getting better and better with each and every game. His strength is absolutely fantastic (I’ve never seen a player that can manhandle a player in the corner with a single arm) and he has a great mind for the game. The scariest part is that he’s still young and still learning. Once he gets completely used to the speed and flow of the game, he’s going to be one hell of a defender.
  • If I had to take one positive away from tonight’s game, it would be that Guillaume Latendresse had another fantastic game for the Wild. Latendresse was physical, he drove to the net and, essentially, did everything that he is expected to do yet, for some reason, there were just five players on the Wild with less ice time than him. For whatever reason, he seems to be remaining in Richards’ doghouse, despite being tied for third on the team in points, not to mention having the best shooting percentage. At this point, it seems to be a mystery as to what he needs to do to get more ice time because, from my vantage point, he seems to be doing everything right.
  • Clayton Stoner had a relatively good game tonight – or, at least as good of a game that he could have with just 10 minutes of ice time. The most impressive part of his game, though, was his fight in the first period. He might not always be the best player on the ice, but he knows how to throw ‘em, that’s for sure.

Some Off Season Wild Notes

Well, let’s face it. It’s the off season.

We’re on day ten of Kovie Watch 2010, with no signs of anything happening anytime soon and free agency news has slowed to a trickle. So what’s a hockey fan to do?

Make news out of nothing? We’re not in that business here.

So, let’s just take a look at some of the goings on around the Wild.

Modano Interested in Wild?

Well, it’s amazing how much difference a few weeks makes.

First, the Dallas Stars decided that they don’t want to let Mike Modano “Brett Farve” them until the season starts. Then, the rampant speculation starts in Minnesota.

Let’s be honest with ourselves here. For whatever reason, Wild fans have some sort of sick obsession with Minnesota hockey players.

For whatever reason, anytime anyone with ties to Minnesota is available, fans start frothing at the mouth and when Modano became available the sharks began circling.

Immediately, however, all of the speculation was squashed.

It wasn’t the right fit. The Wild were in the running for a number-two center and Modano, at this stage in his career, isn’t that.

But, what do you know. The Wild suddenly want some insurance in case James Sheppard doesn’t step up his game or in case Casey Wellman isn’t ready to play in the NHL.

But, is this the right way for the Wild to go?

If Modano is willing to take a lesser roll with the team, then yes it is.

Modano still has a little bit of tread left on the tires, but he isn’t a top-six forward at this stage in his career—at least, he wasn’t with the Stars.

What signing Modano would do is give the Wild some insurance up the middle.

So, say Matt Cullen doesn’t fit with G-Lat and Havlat. Or Sheppard doesn’t step up to the challenge of making the team. Or they feel that Wellman would be best served to be in the AHL. Well, then they’ve got Modano, who is one heck of a contingency plan.

Cap Situation

As of right now, the Wild find themselves in an interesting situation in net.

They have about $3.5 million in cap space with Josh Harding left to sign in order to fill out their roster.

So, that means that they’ll likely have about $1 to $1.5 million left over once that happens.

So what does this mean? Are we done?

Like Russo, I tend to think not. I can’t imagine that the Wild wouldn’t be looking for another defenseman.

It sounds like Fletcher might be thinking the same thing, as there are rumblings that the Wild have had talks with Willie Mitchell.

The problem with that is that Mitchell will likely command more than the Wild have left, so someone will have to go.

But who?

Right now, the obvious candidate is James Sheppard, but there are others that wouldn’t surprise me, especially at forward.

The most likely forward other than Sheppard, however, is Antti Miettinen. Mittens has performed admirably on the team’s first line, but he just doesn’t seem to fit anywhere on the team. In each situation, there seems to be a player who could potentially do the job better than he.

Combine that with his size, or lack thereof, and you can see that he could very well be shopped around this season.

What Does Endras Signing Mean?

Well, in the short run, nothing.

Dennis Endras will go ply his trade overseas again and likely will then come to the team next season.

What the signing of Endras does do, however, is create competition among the Wild’s goaltenders.

Next season, it’s going to be Matthew Hackett and Anton Khudobin in Houston, with Darcy Keumper likely heading back to Red Deer.

The season after, however? The Wild are going to have a four-way battle to see who will be taking over in the back up role for either Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom.

Now, I say Harding or Backstrom, because I don’t know that Fletcher and Richards have ruled out the possibility of moving Nik if it comes to that.

Harding is younger and has shown some significant signs of improvement over the last couple seasons.

Backstrom, though he has gotten a bit of a bad rap for his performance last season, is still Backstrom. He’s nowhere near as bad as he looked at times last season and, in my opinion, is still a top-ten goalie in this league.

So, the signing of Endras is both a depth move as well as one to spark something in the goaltenders and make them work for their jobs—both of which are good things to be sure.

For more of Blake’s work, you can follow him at the Bleacher Report and Hockey Primetime, as well as on his Twitter feed.

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