Why Seguin’s lack of ice time isn’t all Julien’s fault

Let’s get one thing out of the way, really quickly.

Yes, Claude Julien should be playing Tyler Seguin more. The kid has proven that, in the right situation, he can be a tremendous offensive talent.

Should he be playing 20 minutes a night? Probably not. But he should definitely be playing more than the 9:02 that he played on Friday night, and certainly more than the 12 seconds of power play time that he received. So, yes, Julien might be mismanaging a player that could potentially be a game changer in a series that has, with the exception of two games, been very tight defensively for Vancouver.

But it’s not entirely his fault.

When I was in high school, I was on the basketball team and getting a lot less playing time than I felt I deserved. I thought I could help the team a lot more than I was being allowed to.

I was venting my frustrations to my dad one afternoon, and he said something that stuck to me. He said, quite simply, “Well, make it impossible to keep you on the bench.”

That’s exactly what Seguin needs to do.

So, yes. Julien should be playing Seguin more. The kid can flat out fly and he can make things happen for a team that has looked offensively challenged with the exception of Games Three and Four. But, you know what? Seguin needs to give Julien a reason to play him.

After the second intermission of yesterday night’s game, both Keith Jones and Mike Milbury made mention that Seguin should have been played more than the four minutes and change he had seen to that point and should see more power play time, and I completely agreed with them. But, the thing is, I hadn’t realized Seguin had gotten that much ice time. I hadn’t realized Seguin had been on the ice at all.

He simply wasn’t doing anything.

Heck, through two periods Shawn Thornton was more noticeable than Seguin and Thornton played a grand total of four minutes in the entire game.

It’s perfectly clear that Julien doesn’t trust Seguin on the ice in just about any situation, and it’s up to Seguin to change that. It’s simple. If he wants more ice time, he’s going to have to show that he deserves more ice time. For better or for worse, Julien isn’t just going to hand him the ice time, so he’s going to have to be noticeable in the small amount of ice time he gets.

So, yeah. The Bruins need Seguin to play more and Julien needs to play him more.

But Seguin needs to prove that he’s worthy of playing more first.

In Lieu of a Gameday Thread – Some Quick Hits

No gameday thread today. I got super busy, so I’m just going to throw up a few quick hits for you.

  • Marek Zidlicky is a gametime decision and that likely means that Z will be on the ice tonight and the Wild will likely skate 7 d-men. If that’s the case, what forward to you lose? Brad Staubitz? His type of game is exactly what you need against a rough and tumble team like the Ducks. Eric Nystrom? He might be the most likely candidate behind Staubitz but, again, he’s the kind of guy you want on the ice in what is going to be a physically intense game. I get that Z wants to come back to help the team, but I’d have to say that Sunday’s game against Detroit is the better option for a player who is returning from a severe separated shoulder and hasn’t taken any game contact for quite some time. We’ll see if Z hits the ice tonight though.
  • Big, big trade news. One from a Northwest foe and a couple from the Bruins (including one Minnesota boy). First, the Northwest foe. In a swap of goalies, the Avs sent embattled goalie Craig Anderson to the Sens for Brian Elliott. On the surface, this isn’t that big of a trade, but it potentially could be huge for the Sens. Anderson is likely a goalie they were going to target in free agency if he was available and now they essentially have a 25 game audition for him, plus exclusive negotiating rights. If they like what they see in Anderson, they could push ahead their rebuild early. If they don’t, well, they’re in the same place they were with Elliott.
  • Next, Tomas Kaberle finally got dealt. Thank God. We don’t have to listen to the rumors anymore. Brian Burke sent him to the Leafs’ division rival Boston Bruins for a first in 2011, prospect Joe Colborne and a conditional pick. The Bruins also moved Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to the Thrashers for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. Now, the Kaberle trade is quite shortsighted, but it means two things. First, Boston is content with keeping what will likely be a top-eight draft pick in Toronto’s first from this season and two, they like what they see with this team and are set on making a serious Cup push. Kaberle gives them a bona fide puck-moving defenseman that they have lacked and, quite honestly, gives them one of the better d-men in the league. They then swapped a couple of players for Peverley and Valabik and, quite honestly, made out like bandits on that one. I love Peverley’s game and he’s much more of an offensive threat than Wheeler was. Slotting him in with any of the Bruins’ top two lines makes them immediately more dangerous. Valabik and Stuart really are just a swap, but Valabik is a big guy who can play very physical hockey when he needs to.
  • Back to the Wild. How big is tonight’s game? Minnesota is just three points behind Anaheim for the sixth spot. Dallas, LA and Calgary are all idle today. Minnesota wins this one and they’re just one point out. The problem is that they’re slowly losing their games in hand, which was their biggest advantage to this point. So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this one’s a must-win.
  • Finally, a quick plug. Be sure to check out our friends at Stadium Journey. If you’re going to a game anywhere in the NHL (or in an other league, for that matter), they’re an invaluable resource and besides, they’re good people. Check out the review that I wrote for them on the Xcel Energy Center, as well as Drew Cieszynski’s review of the Rabobank Arena, home of the Wild’s ECHL affiliate Bakersfield Condors.
  • Okay, I lied. Now finally, one more quick plug. Be sure to check in on Sunday as we’re going to be hosting a live blog/chat for the Heritage Classic with our parent site, Hockey Primetime. Join myself, J.P. Hoornstra, Denis Gorman and Justin Bourne as we babble on about hockey while the Flames and Habs go at it. We’ll have the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast covered with the correspondents, so bring your questions too and we’ll gladly opine on them!

The puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. CST and is televised on Fox Sports North.

Wild Nation’s Ridiculously Early Season Predictions: Northeast Division

Well, it’s ridiculously early season preview time again.

Last time, we took a look at the Atlantic Division, with many of the teams taking much different approach to the season than they did last season. In other words, spending money and spending money on areas of need, in some cases, and to shore up strengths in others.

This time, though, we’re taking a look at the Nord-east Division, the home of some of the more intriguing teams coming into this season.

Boston Bruins – The Bruins have some work left to do this off season, as they are already about $3.1 million over the salary cap (though that will be temporarily relieved when the team places Marco Sturm on the Injured Reserve).

The good news for the Bruins are that they have just two contracts that are worth $5 million or more (Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara), but the bad news is that one of those contracts is for Thomas, who is both a 35-plus contract (meaning that, if he retires, it counts against the salary cap regardless) and has a No-Movement Clause that prevents him from being traded or moved to the minors prior to July 1, 2012.

In other words, it makes him darn hard to move.

What the Bruins do have, however, is a strong core.

They have Tukka Rask in net, a goalie who you could have made a strong case for the Vezina for last season, and a core of solid young forwards led by David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Tyler Seguin will be on the opening day roster and really, the Bruins are looking pretty good heading into the season despite the questions surrounding whether or not Tim Thomas and Marc Savard will be moved.

Buffalo Sabres – There are many intriguing teams in the Northeast Division this season and many intriguing storylines – unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), none of these involve the Sabres.

The team’s biggest off season acquisition?

Rob Niedermayer.

But, for a team that won the Northeast last season that could be a good thing.

They have eight of their ten top scorers returning and that’s not mentioning Tyler Ennis, who scored at nearly a point-per-game pace in his ten-game cup of coffee last season.

The one area that this team could be lacking in is their defense. They lost a lot of experience and talent in Lydman and Tallinder and I’m not so sure that Leopold and Morrisonn are necessarily an upgrade on defense. If you’re a Sabres fan, this unknown could be a scary proposition. But, with Ryan Miller in net, these losses could go unnoticed, as the Vezina Trophy winner remains one of the top goalies in the league.

The bottom line? The Northeast is Buffalo’s to lose, but if their defense doesn’t live up to what it will need to, you could easily see them do just that.

Montreal Canadiens – So, how do you reward a goalie that many heralded as the revelation of the playoffs?

Trade him, of course.

That is the type of puzzling logic that Canadiens fans saw themselves subjected to over the off season.

Let us not forget that the player that they dubbed their number one immediately following the Halak trade, Carey Price, has yet to be re-signed.

But, it’s not all bad news for the Habs. Price is a restricted free agent and will be back with the team next season, one way or the other. The Halak trade brought in a great young player in Lars Eller and their top forwards still remain.

The team also has one of the most exciting young defensemen in the league in P.K. Subban, who proved himself to be a terrific addition on the blueline and will most certainly be a welcome addition to a defense that is looking better and better as the season nears.

The team’s forwards are set and should prove effective once again as their “big four” of Gomez, Cammalleri, Plekanec and Gionta have another year with one another, which can only mean good things. The biggest question marks at forward are how Andrei Kostitsyn will respond to the trade of his brother as he comes off a sub-par season and whether or not career under-achiever Benoit Pouliot can build on the strong play that he showed last season.

With all of these questions, however, there’s no doubt that their season all hinges on their play in net. If Price is signed and performs up to expectations, there’s no doubt that the Habs could be back in the playoffs. That being said, though…That’s a LARGE if.

Ottawa Senators – Ottawa arguably made the biggest splash this off season in the Northeast, signing Sergei Gonchar to a three-year deal.

Apart from that singular splash, however, Sens chose to maintain the status quo.

Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen, but he does immediately make the Sens a much better team.

Once again, however, the Sens biggest question remains in nets. Whether Brian Elliott or Pascal Leclaire can step up and be the team’s top goalie remains to be seen, but there is some optimism surrounding this team.

Jason Spezza had 38 points in the 30 games after he came back from injury, which lends to the idea that he might be back to his 90-plus point form. Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek will also help spur on an offense that struggled at times last season. The most optimistic showing, however, was the emergence of Peter Regin during the post season as both a scorer and a clutch scorer, at that.

As with Montreal, however, Ottawa’s questions lie in net. If Elliott and Leclaire can hold down the fort in net, Ottawa could be the sleeper team in a division of some of the NHL’s most storied franchises.

Toronto Maple Leafs – This is the part where Toronto fans are hoping that whoever is doing the preview is going to say that they’re the sleeper team in the East and going to win the division and so on, and so on.

Sorry Leafs fans. It’s not going to happen just yet. The operative word, though, is yet.

As it stands now, the Leafs have one of the best defensive units in the East. Phaneuf, Komisarek, Kaberle and Beauchemin could all be top-two defensemen in the right situations, while Schenn and Lebda round out a very impressive top six. Throw in the fact that they have J.S. Giguere in nets who looked much closer to the Giguere of old after being traded to Toronto from Anaheim last season and you’ve got an impressive back end.

The biggest question mark for Toronto, though, is their offense. When your leading scorer has 55 points, there is a big problem. The addition of Kris Versteeg should help this immediately, while Kulemin and Bozak will continue to grow and should put forth more impressive seasons than they did last year.

It’s very apparent that Brian Burke is still trying to mold this team into the one that he wants them to be and it’s apparent that he’s taking steps in that direction, especially after the signing of Colby Armstrong.

The best compliment that a rebuilding franchise can get is that it’s hard to play against and Toronto will definitely be that. They will be difficult to play against and they will be competitive but, at the end of the day, I don’t foresee them making it into the playoffs this season.

Predictions

So, now that the previews are behind us, let’s see how I think the Northeast will break down:

1) Buffalo Sabres
2) Boston Bruins
3) Ottawa Senators
4) Montreal Canadiens
5) Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season four of the five Northeast teams made the playoffs and I don’t see that happening again. I think that the Sabres and the Bruins will be squarely in the midst of the playoff race, while the Senators and Habs will be a bubble team. The Leafs will once again be on the outside looking in.

Up Next: The Southeast Division

Early Round Two Live Blog Schedule

Alright.  Second round, here we come.

There were some (read: a lot) of surprises in the first round, and the second is shaping up to be quite intriguing.

So, without any further ado, here are our live blogs (which will, again, include myself as well as live blog extraordinaires Justin Bourne and Ms. Conduct).

Thursday, April 29 – Well, this would be tonight and a LOT of short notice.  While I will not be live blogging, I will be watching the first game of the San Jose Chokes and Detroit Red Wings series with my little girl (who, for the record, chose the Red Wings to make the Cup Finals at 19 months).  The puck drops on this one at 8 p.m. Central Time.

Friday, April 30 – Montreal Canadiens @ Pittsburgh Penguins, 6:00 p.m. Central (CBC, RDS, Versus)

Saturday, May 1 – Unfortunately, prior plans have gotten in the way of my blogging of the start to the two most intriguing series’ in these playoffs.  BUT, you will definitely want to check out the two games today between Boston and Philly and Chicago and Vancouver for maximum playoff enjoyment.

Sunday, May 2 – No blogging today, but again there are two very fantastic games. Pittsburgh and Montreal in the afternoon and San Jose and Detroit in the evening.

Monday, May 3 – Vancouver Cancks @ Chicago Blackhawks, 8:00 p.m. Central (CBC, Versus)

Tuesday, May 4 – No dice tonight, for a family night, but once again Montreal and Pittsburgh are lining up and Detroit and San Jose are too.

Wednesday, May 5 – Prior plans have this night shot for the live blogging, but by no means should that stop you from checking out Game Three of the two series’ on.

Thursday, May 6 – San Jose Sharks @ Detroit Red Wings or Pittsburgh Penguins @ Montreal Canadiens, based on which is available in my area.

Friday, May 7 – Chicago Blackhawks @ Vancouver Canucks, 8:30 p.m Central (CBC, Versus)

There you go.  I’ll have the next week’s games up as we see how these series’ go!

Some Early Postseason Playoff Thoughts

Heading into the end of the first week of playoff hockey, there are some surprises and some not quite so surprising surprises. In both cases, my brain is running over with thoughts of mine that are just begging to be shared. So…Here you have it, in a neat and tidy bulleted format.  Enjoy! 

  • When is Marty Brodeur (or his coaches, for that matter) going to realize that it probably isn’t a smart idea to play 1,382 to the fifth power games during the regular season? I get that he’s good. I mean, the guy is arguably the best goalie ever to play the game and his ability to play 70+ games in a season has saved the Devils tons of money on a passable back up. The problem? By the time it comes down to it, in the playoffs, the guy is flat out gassed. Even though Sunday’s debacle against Philly was by no means Marty’s fault, might it not be wise to, say, give the guy a break every once in a while during the regular season? I’m sure it wouldn’t harm their playoff standing THAT much.
  • And continuing with my mental diarrhea about the Flyers/Devils series, this is a perfect example of what happens when a team under intense pressure and expectations meet up with a team with zero pressure or expectations. Don’t get me wrong. I picked the Devils to win this series and I stand by that prediction (at least until the Flyers are on the cusp of closing out the series—I then reserve the right to break both ankles and possibly a rib or two diving off of the bandwagon) but right now the Devils are playing like they’ve got a two-ton weight on their shoulders while the Flyers have realized that they’re lucky just to be there.
  • Speaking of pressure vs. no pressure, what the heck is up with the Caps?! I get that their defense hasn’t necessarily been stellar, but it’s been an absolute train wreck through two games and that’s being very, very generous—Mike Green in particular. Now I’ve always been a fan of Greener. Personally, I’ve never thought he was as bad as everyone claims defensively. There are definite holes in his defensive game, but I’ve never really seen him to be Skoula-esque in that department. But, so far, in these playoffs he has been exactly as bad as everyone claims he is defensively and there have been a handful of Montreal’s goals so far that were a direct result of this ineptitude.
  • Sticking with the Caps/Habs series, does anyone else thing that Scott Gomez’s “What the hell were you thinking?” moment might have awakened a sleeping giant in the Caps? They looked like a completely different team after that fight. As in, they realized “Oh yeah, we’re good!” It certainly hasn’t hurt that Jaroslav Halak suddenly turned into the Michael Jackson of goaltending—meaning that he has a glove on his left hand for no apparent reason (I swear to God, this is the last time you’ll hear me use this line, though this time it is very, very appropriate).
  • And, as far as the Rumble in the Capital between Gomez and Poti, I’ll say it once again. Gomer! What the hell were you thinking?? I understand what Gomez was trying to do—I truly do. But you’re the team’s number one center. If you’re going to drop the mitts in the playoffs, you darn well better take on someone that is going to have as large of an effect on the Caps when they’re missing for five minutes as you will have on your team. Instead, he chooses Tom Poti. Mr. Gomez, your check from the Capitals is in the mail.
  • This next topic is going to be contentious, and I know it. I’m going to throw myself out there as a piñata for all of the Pittsburgh faithful, but it needs to be said. HOLY ANDY SUTTON! Look. I’ve always felt that Sutton is a great player to have on the roster……………….Of the other team, but that hit on Jordan Leopold was spec-freaking-tacular. I feel bad for Leopold, because I truly like him as a player and I hope that he’s going to recover fully from it, but my GOD. I think Sutton may have momentarily detached his brain stem from the rest of his body. Keeping that in mind, the thing I liked most about this hit? IT WAS CLEAN. Yes, Mike Rupp, I’m looking directly at you. I can understand where people can think that Sutton got his elbow up, but I stand by my assertion that it was a clean hit. His elbow, while it may have been high, never actually made contact with Leopold. This was entirely a case of Jordan just having his head down at the wrong time and getting hit by a lumbering defenseman with an entire zone’s worth of built up speed heading at him. And, if you want a firsthand account by an expert of exactly how that feels, check this out.
  • I initially picked Ottawa to win this one in seven because they came into the playoffs hot and, when they’re hot they’re REEEEEEEEEEALLY hot. While I’m not yet backing away from that pick, I probably should have realized that they came into the playoffs hot…Meaning that they were due for the obligatory cold streak that ultimately follows.
  • It sounds like Thomas Vanek is going to be out for game three of the Bruins/Sabres series for Buffalo. There’s only one piece of news that could be worse for Buffalo, and that would be if Ryan Miller was going to miss game three. Also, I’d like to make a request to any television station covering any part of this series. Please, for the love of God, STOP SHOWING THE SLASH!
  • It really shouldn’t be any surprise that Boston is competitive in this series. They were one of the hotter teams in the NHL heading into the playoffs and we all know that defense and goaltending wins championships (we’re looking at you Washington). Don’t forget that this is a Boston team that was the class of the Northeast for the last two seasons (sans Kessel). The playoffs are a brand new season and anything can happen. But mostly, I just want to be able to scream LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCH at the top of my lungs.
  • On to the West now, if you hear any gagging, it’s coming from San Jose. In all seriousness, though, I can’t imagine how much pressure is on the Sharks in their locker room right now. Just like with the Devils and the Caps, it’s a case of pressure vs. no pressure, except for this time magnified by 10-million. Dan Boyle’s gaffe in their last game didn’t help any, as it pretty much epitomized San Jose’s luck in the playoffs over the last few seas—decade.
  • Even though San Jose is doing their yearly choke, it shouldn’t take anything away from how brilliant Craig Anderson has been in this series. If the Avs are going to win it’s going to be on his back, and right now he looks like freaking Atlas balancing the world on his shoulders. To shut out the Sharks is no small feat, but to do it on 50-plus saves? One, you have to tip your hat to that performance and two, you have to wonder where the hell the Colorado defensemen were for those 50-plus shots.
  • Did it surprise anyone to see the Blackhawks rebound and respond to an embarrassing loss last night? The only thing that really surprised me, after seeing the looks on the ‘Hawks faces after that loss, was that last night’s game wasn’t an absolute blood letting. Even little Patty Kane’s mullet looked pissed after that one. It was a great rebound performance for the ‘Hawks against an opponent that, truthfully, shouldn’t really give them a lot of trouble. Then again, the Predators “shouldn’t really be in the playoffs” either…So I’m guessing that this series is going to be a classic.
  • How good are these two young Finnish netminders? Believe me folks. Antti Niemi and Pekka Rinne are the real deal for sure. They’re both young and just entering their prime years. What’s that mean for us? That this is going to be one fantastic series as far as goaltending is concerned. In fact, Rinne was one of the biggest reasons that last night’s loss WASN’T a blood letting by the ‘Hawks. The thing I want to know, though, is how I can get an NHL team to pay me $5.5 million to be a spectator. Anyone know?
  • If there’s anyone that doesn’t think that the Phoenix/Detroit series isn’t one of the most intriguing of the playoffs, they haven’t been paying attention. It’s essentially the NHL’s franchise against the NHL’s model franchise and, guess what? So far, the NHL’s franchise is winning the battle. The reason why? They’ve come out and skated like they have a pack of rabid Coyotes on their tails. They’ve come out and skated hard, played physical and won battles and, if you’ve been watching the series so far, it’s no wonder why they’re ahead. They’ve flat out out-worked a team that prides itself on its work ethic.
  • Detroit might be kicking themselves for winning that couple of extra games now. On the other hand, they showed in Game 2 what they’re capable of if they get rolling sooooooo…Yeah, they’re probably not kicking themselves. If they’re going to win, though, they need better play from their top players. So far, Zetterberg and Lidstrom are the only ones who have shown up to play and contribute on a regular basis.
  • How about those Los Angeles Kings? I don’t know if anyone was giving them a snowball’s chance in somewhere really, really warm to do anything these playoffs, but they not only don’t look out of place…They look goooooooood! Jonathan Quick hasn’t looked out of place opposite Roberto Luongo in this one and the Kings are doing more than hanging with the Canucks. If the Kings keep up this inspired play, this could easily be the series of the first round.
  • The best part of watching this series is watching the speed at which these two teams play. On one hand, you’ve got the youthful exuberance of the Kings who don’t realize that a) they’re supposed to be nervous because it’s the playoffs and b) they’re supposed to be a less talented team and on the other hand, you’ve got the savvy of the Canucks, led by the Sedin twins who continue to ply their trade by making six opposing players look silly all at the same time. 

That’s all for me today folks! If you’re checking this out on Bleacher Report, make sure to check in to Wild Nation tonight for a live blog of the Kings/Canuckleheads game tonight at 9 p.m. Central Time. If you’re checking this out on Wild Nation, make sure you’re back as we’ll have friends of the blog, Justin Bourne and Ms. Conduct with us!

Wild Newcomers Are Starting to Pay Dividends

Right now, it’s looking like Chuck Fletcher might deserve to be locked away for robbery. 

Why, you ask? 

Because, at this point, that’s what his additions of Chuck Kobasew, Guillaume Latendresse and Andrew Ebbett look like. 

Okay.  So maybe I’m going a touch strong on the hyperbole, but you can’t deny that the Wild’s newcomers have given the team quite the boost in the last few games. 

Chuck Kobasew? 

Well, the man with an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt got off to a slow start for the Wild with just a goal and two assists in his first nine games, not to mention a minus-2 rating.  Since returning from his injury, however, Kobasew has three goals, all of which came as a hat-trick in the Wild’s post-turkey day feast against the Colorado Avalanche, a minus-1 rating and 15 shots.  15 shots in just four games, from a checker? 

That sounds like someone who’s making a difference to me. 

Then you’ve got G-Lat.  Dubbed as such by Wild.com scribe Glen Andresen, I’ve decided to adopt the nickname for my own purposes because, quite honestly, just thinking about typing his name gives me carpal tunnel syndrome. 

G-Lat was cast off from Montreal after tallying two goals and an assist in 23 games, including a minus-4 rating.  For Minnesota?  He’s equaled that output in just three games, with a plus-1 rating. 

Not only that, but G-Lat has seemingly transformed from a lazy, uninspired shadow of a power forward to the energetic, physical mountain of a man that he was billed as coming into Montreal his rookie season.  Not only that, but somewhere on the road between here and Montreal, he learned how to play defense. 

And then there’s Andrew Ebbett.  Mighty Mouse himself. 

Proving that it is indeed possible to be smaller than Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Ebbett has provided an instant offensive spark to whatever line he’s been put on.  

In his first game for the Wild, against Boston?  Game-tying goal. 

In the second of back-to-back games against Colorado?  Game-winning shootout goal. 

In Wednesday’s game against Nashville?  Game-winning overtime goal. 

Now that’s what I call coming through in the clutch. 

Now I know what a lot of you are thinking.  

For Kobasew, it was likely an aberration, right? 

But consider that he has scored 20+ goals in three of the last four seasons.  You simply just don’t forget how to score just because you come to a new team.  He is capable of putting up goals—it’s just a matter of finding players that he meshes with. 

For G-Lat, he’s just trying to impress his new team. 

Maybe.  I’m still going to hold my judgment on this one until his body of work is a little bigger.  But honestly, everyone knew that he had talent.  Everyone knew that he was capable of being a solid player in this league. 

Consider his circumstances in Montreal.  A Quebecois player, playing in Montreal?  It takes a special kind of good to be able to withstand the pressure that comes with that.  It takes a Maurice Richard-type of talent to be able to withstand that and, no matter how good G-Lat might be for Minnesota, no one will ever mistake him for The Rocket. 

So maybe, just maybe he’s playing this way because the pressure is no longer on.  His every move isn’t going to be critiqued in Minnesota (just every other move).  Maybe, now that he’s free of the expectations that come along with a French-Canadian player in Montreal, he’ll emerge into the player he is capable of being. 

But again, I’m going to hold my judgment until he has a larger body of work. 

As for Ebbett? 

Honestly, I can’t find any reason why anyone should be weary of his performance.  Despite his size, the man has put up points at every single level.  His last season at the University of Michigan?  14 goals, 42 points in 41 games.  His last full season in the AHL?  18 goals, 72 poitns in 74 games.  His first season with the Ducks?  8 goals, 32 points in 48 games. 

He’s capable of scoring and, honestly, has seemed to be a cap casualty in both Anaheim and Chicago this season.  But if he keeps playing this way, there’s no way he’s going to be one in Minnesota. 

But to be honest, the biggest contribution that these players have brought to the team isn’t necessarily on the ice. 

Yes, they’re helping the Wild win games.  But what their additions have done is juiced the locker room, so to speak. 

The Wild are 4-0-1 in their last five games and are playing their best hockey of the season.  The energy that is flowing through this locker room right now is absolutely amazing. 

The additions do two things. 

First, it shows players in the locker room that they need to perform, otherwise they might be on their way out. 

I can tell you that I was quite surprised when I pulled up TSN’s website and saw the article saying that Pouliot had been shipped off to Montreal. 

Pouliot was playing the best hockey of his career and was starting to show signs of improvement on the ice.  But it wasn’t enough for Fletcher.  He saw an opportunity and took it and now Benny Pooh is a Canadien. 

Second, it forces players to actually earn their jobs. 

In Wednesday’s game, James Sheppard was scratched and not necessarily because of his play.  Sheppard has been a force in the last couple games since he’s been slid over to the wing, but the Wild simply do not have the room for him in their lineup—especially not if they feel that it is necessary to skate Derek Boogaard. 

The Wild have a full roster right now, and still have Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the IR.  When those two players get healthy, who knows what’s going to happen. 

Players are certainly going to have to start earning their keep. 

Players like Sheppard and Boogaard, whose spots on the roster were once assured?  They might not be any more.  Or players like Martin Havlat who have been under-performing?  They might not be assured a spot in the lineup on a nightly basis anymore. 

The bottom line is that Chuck Fletcher is putting his stamp on this team and it’s already starting to pay dividends.  As it stands now, not only are the Wild out of the cellar in the division and the conference—they’re just six points back from the seventh seed in the playoffs. 

What this has done is sent a shot across the bow of all of the Nervous Nellies in the State of Hockey.  It’s sent a message to all of the fans deriding Fletcher, claiming that he hasn’t done a good enough job of setting the team up for success. 

It’s told them one thing: Patience is a virtue.

Wild Fall to Bruins 2-1 in Shootout

Finish, finish, finish.

No, I’m not talking about the Finnish trio of Niklas Backstrom, Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen.

Instead, I’m talking about the Wild’s lack of finishing skills.

Once again, on Wednesday night, the Wild were stymied by the “hot hand” in net as the team failed to score more than two goals for the eleventh time in 23 games.  Despite outshooting the Bruins by a margin of 29-16, the only goal that the Wild could muster was newcomer Andrew Ebbett’s tip-in goal just over halfway through the second period.

Ebbett managed to impress early and often in this one, as his speed and his skill shone through as he centered the team’s best line of the evening, playing pivot to Owen Nolan and James Sheppard.

After being placed on waivers twice so far in this young season, once by Anaheim and once by Chicago, Ebbett tipped an Owen Nolan shot past Rask to tie the game at one.

This is the second time this month that the Wild has failed to capitalize on a big win after a long layoff – the first being the month’s first game against Vancouver.

In addition to their injury problems, which have been well documented, the Wild skated a man down in Wednesday’s game due to a late illness to Miettinen, making him a late scratch.

You wouldn’t have guessed that the Wild were a man down on the evening by their effort, however.  The team came out strong and controlled play, not allowing the Bruins to have a shot on goal until 6:30 of the first period.

The Bruins made the shot count, however, as Byron Bitz tipped a shot from the point by Derek Morris past Backstrom to give them the early lead.

Despite tying it in the second, the Wild could never quite get the edge on the Bruins and the game went to an extra frame for the third time in the last six games and, just as in the other two, the Wild suddenly became inept in the shootout.

The story of the game, however, was the play of Tuukka Rask who was starting his fifth straight game in the absence of the injured Tim Thomas.  Rask stopped 28 shots in all, including five in overtime (one of which was a marvelous chance by Mikko Koivu at point-blank range) and three of four shootout chances.  With the victory,  Rask improved to 7-2-1 in the season, while Backstrom fell to 8-9-3 on the season with the loss.

The Wild play again at 1 pm CST against the Colorado Avalance on Nov. 27.

Wild Notes: James Sheppard once again played a strong game at wing, getting his second assist in two games and giving him a season-high two-game point streak. … Guillaume Latendresse, the player the Wild received in exchange for Benoit Pouliot, is currently unavailable to the team due to work visa issues.  The team hopes that the issues will be resolved in time for the team’s annual day-after-Thanksgiving matinee on Friday against the Colorado Avalanche. … Pierre-Marc Bouchard met briefly with Boston’s Patrice Bergeron Wednesday morning.  Bergeron, who has missed large parts of the last two seasons with concussions, had advice and some encouragement for Bouchard.  Bouchard has only played in one game this season due to a concussion. … After starting the season with just one goal and two assists in 11 games, Owen Nolan has five goals and three assists in his last 12 games. … Wednesday’s game was Shane Hnidy’s 499th career game. … In addition to Miettinen being sidelined due to injury, the Wild were missing Martin Havlat, Brent Burns, Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, all due to injuries.

The Depth Chart and Other Randomness

Depth Chart
Earlier today, Mike Russo of the Star-Tribune posted what will be the Wild’s depth chart if it starts the season with the way the roster is now:

Goalie
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding
Barry Brust
Anton Khudobin

LD-RD
Kim Johnsson-Brent Burns
Nick Schultz-Marek Zidlicky
Greg Zanon-Shane Hnidy
John Scott-Jaime Sifers
Tyler Cuma-Justin Falk
Clayton Stoner-Jamie Fraser
Marco Scandella-Maxim Noreau

LW-C-RW
Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Martin Havlat
Owen Nolan-James Sheppard-Pierre-Marc Bouchard (RW until training camp)
Antti Miettinen-Eric Belanger-Cal Clutterbuck
Colton Gillies-Kyle Brodziak-Derek Boogaard
Petr Kalus-Benoit Pouliot-Craig Weller
Robbie Earl-Morten Madsen-Danny Irmen
Matt Kassian-Cody Almond-Carson McMillan

First of all, if you haven’t checked out Mike Russo’s blog and you’re a Wild fan, shame on you.  It’s one of the best resources for all things Wild out there.  Click here to go there.  Bookmark it, scour it daily and above all thank him for his amazing coverage of the Wild!

Anyway, off my soapbox for the moment.

Looking at this depth chart, the thing that immediately jumps out at me is not the center position.  A lot has been made of our depth (or lack thereof) down the middle.  In looking at the team, however, we’ve got five potential pivots on our roster, and that’s not including Colton Gillies, Owen Nolan or Benoit Pouliot.  Throw those two into the mix and we could have as many as eight players on the opening day that could be capable of anchoring a line in the middle.

The thing that really jumps out at me is our lack of depth at left wing.  After Nolan, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen, the talent level really drops off.  This isn’t a knock on Gillies; however, we have a serious lack of skill and depth on the left side and, honestly, on the wing in general.

To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, is our talent on defense and in nets.  Our top-six defensemen could be the best top-six that the team has had.  The additions of Zanon and Hnidy give the team two reliable, physical anchors on the blueline and will force opposing teams to keep their heads up.  Meanwhile, expect Scott and Sifers to compete for the seventh spot in camp, most likely with Scott winning the battle.  That’s not to say, however, that our youth could not come in and surprise.  With Cuma, Falk, Stoner and Scandella in the wings, there is a good chance that Scott and Sifers may not be foregone conclusions at the 7 and 8 slot.  It will take a lot for any of these four to make the squad, however.  Of the four, Stoner probably has the best shot as this could be his make it or break it year, but make no mistake — the Wild’s top 7 are pretty much set.

Olvecky Signs in Nashville
Joel Ward, Ryan Jones and now Olvecky?  Those Tennessee boys sure do like Wild prospects.

In all honesty, I think that Olvecky has a fantastic chance to make the Nashville squad next season right out of camp.  Olvecky is a big body with a lot of untapped talent to boot, and he performed admirably for the Wild in a limited role with the team in the handful of games he played for us last season.

He really started to come into his own last season and seems like he could be the type of player that Barry Trotz will really love.  For $600K and a two-way contract, I’d take Olvecky any day of the week.  A good depth pick up by the Preds.

Qualifying Offers Signed
The Wild had a few players of their own signed as well.

Restricted free agents Benoit Pouliot, Clayton Stoner, Danny Irmen and Robbie Earl all signed their qualifying offers and it seems as if the lot of them (with the exception of Pouliot) could see another year playing in the minors.  Earl and Irmen both have too many players in front of them to have a shot at making the squad (that is, barring a spectacular camp from either) and Stoner will have to do some serious damage in camp to work his way up the depth chart.

Injuries do happen, though, and we could very easily see one of them get a cup of coffee in the NHL and do what Cal Clutterbuck did last season and not let go.

In addition, Russo reports that the Wild could be close to signing Duncan Milroy and Joe DiSalvatore to plug some holes in their minor league system.

Fletcher Working Trade Market
There are a lot of people who are getting scared by the Wild’s seeming lack of movement this off season.

Those fans are the Chicken Littles of the fanbase.

While there are some quality players out there, there really aren’t any players that would meet any immediate needs for us.  I mentioned Mats Sundin, Robert Lang and Mike Comrie previously, but Sundin likely doesn’t have much more tread on his tires, Lang is rumored (or already has) to jump ship to the KHL and Comrie, well, let’s just say I don’t want to sign a player for his girlfriend.  In addition to those players, there are players such as Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora left over.  Undoubtedly, these players could make an impact on the Wild roster, but would they really fit?

In the case of Tanguay, he’s a tremendous talent, but he’s also been pigeonholed as a playmaker — of which, the Wild have many.  Sykora would be a cheap, effective sniper, but do the Wild want to sink the money it would take to get him on an aging player?

Bottom line is that the best route for the team to improve, at this point, is the route that Fletcher is taking — trades.

There are many top flight forwards that have been presumed available via trade.  Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins, Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators, Jonathan Cheechoo of the San Jose Sharks, even Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane have always been rumored to be available.

To be honest, the names remaining in free agency don’t even hold a candle to a lot of these names.  I’d much rather have a Kessel, Heatley, Sharp or Kane over any of those available — regardless of the assets we have to give up for them.

The bottom line is that the Wild are far from done, in my opinion.  But Fletcher has said all along that he’s not afraid to go late into the summer with a less than full roster to give himself the flexibility that he needs to get the players it takes to make this a winning team.

So…

Fear not Chicken Little.  The sky is not falling.  With a little patience, we could have a playoff team yet.

An Update of Sorts

Since there hasn’t been much (read: any) Wild news to report recently, I just felt that I should inform you all that I am writing for Hockey Primetime once again.  All of my Wild news will still be contained here on Wild Nation; however, I will be posting all of my NHL articles on there for the time being.  For those interested, here are the links:

HPT Western Conference Predictions: #3 Vancouver vs. #4 Chicago
HPT Western Conference Predictions: #2 Detroit vs. #8 Anaheim
HPT Eastern Conference Predictions: #1 Boston vs. #6 Carolina
HPT Eastern Conference Predictions: #2 Washington vs. #4 Pittsburgh
Masterton Candicates Announced
Canucks Stave Off Comeback; Win Game 1

Backstrom For Vezina; Aeros Advance

First off, I’d like to thank you all for bearing with me over the last few days.  My seven month old daughter had come down with something which necessitated my being gone for a few days.  But never to fear…It’s the off season, so not a whole heck of a lot occurred over those last few days!

Niklas Backstrom
It’s been a big couple weeks for the Finnish netminder.  First, his surgery was a huge success, leading Dr. Philippon to conclude that Backstrom will be ready to go in full in about 12 weeks.  I don’t know all of the details, but apparently the cartilage damage was much less than the doctor had originally thought and the issues with Backstrom’s hip have been corrected by the surgery.  Keep in mind that this is the same surgery that Marian Gaborik underwent during the season.

In addition to a successful surgery, Niklas Backstrom also became the third member of the Wild’s organization to be named a finalist for a voted-upon NHL end of the year award.  The other two?  Jacques Lemaire and Wes Walz for the Jack Adams and Selke trophies respectively.  This is not the first hardware that Backstrom has won as a member of the Wild.  In the ’06-’07 season, his rookie season, he walked away with the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for the league’s best save percentage and teamed with Manny Fernandez, winning the William M. Jennings Trophy, for the team with the least goals against.

Backstrom will have a tough time winning this award, however, as he will be going up against Boston’s Tim Thomas and Columbus’s Steve Mason. 

My personal thoughts on this is that Backstrom will come in second in the voting.  Backstrom was certainly the Wild’s best player, and Josh Harding’s 3-9-1 record on the season certainly helps Backstrom’s cause, but let’s not forget that Harding posted extremely impressive stats during those 13 games as well.  The way I look at it is like this:

  • Without Mason, the Jackets miss the playoffs AND are likely to have a lottery pick in the top six.
  • Without Backstrom, the Wild are likely to have a lottery pick in the top ten.
  • Without Thomas, the Bruins probably wouldn’t have won the conference, but still likely would have made the playoffs.

To me, what that equates to is that Mason will get the Calder-Vezina sweep this season (and, honestly, I think there’s a pretty good argument for him getting the Hart as well, but that’s neither here nor there.)  Backstrom had a phenomenal season and, let’s be honest…If the Wild make the playoffs, there’s no question that he’s up there for the frontrunner.  The bottom line is that, as important as he was this season to our team, Mason was just a touch more important in their run.

Aeros Advance to Round Two
Leave it to the farm team of a Minnesota team to take every opportunity to give their fans more hockey.  Houston won game seven against the Peoria Rivermen 5-2 on the strength of goals by Krys Kolanos, Marco Rosa and Maxim Noreau as well as empty netters by Corey Locke and Mitch Love.  Goaltender Anton Khudobin was credited with the win, saving 19 or 21 shots.

Houston advances now to play the first seeded Milwaukee Admirals in what should prove to be an intriguing match up; at least from a front office point of view.  Milwaukee is the farm team for Nashville, making it Craig Leipold’s current farm team vs. his former farm team.  In other words, two candidates for the Minnesota Wild GM position (Tom Lynn and Paul Fenton) fighting it out for GM supremacy, though I doubt this series would be the deciding factor in one or the other getting the job.

Houston has three of the top 20 scoring leaders thus far for the playoffs, with Corey Locke third in scoring (4-5-9), Matt Beaudoin sixth (2-6-8) and Krys Kolanos sixteenth (2-4-6).  Meanwhile, Khudobin is trucking along with a 4-3 record, a 2.45 GAA and a .906 Sv Pct, as well as one shutout.  The most interesting stat?  Corey Lock has 24 penalty minutes.  Anyone care to explain that one to me??

Wild Sign Carson McMillian
The Wild also have signed another of their 2007 draft picks to an entry level deal.  Carson McMillian of the Calgary Hitmen has been signed to a three-year, entry level deal.  McMillian was in his fourth season with the Hitmen this season and recorded career highs in goals (31), assists (41), points (72) and penalty minutes (93).  On top of that, he added seven game winners, five powerplay tallies and four shorties.  It will be interesting to see how McMillian fares in Houston next season, as he is certainly an intriguing player for this organization (one that has rarely seen success at drafting in the later rounds). 

Seventh Heaven
There are two game sevens on the docket tonight and, honestly, does it get ANY better than a Game Seven in the NHL Playoffs?  It’s win or go home for four teams and it’s going to be I-N-T-E-N-S-E!!!  Now I typically shy away from predictions (for those unable to pick up on sarcasm through text, I’ll note it here), but I feel inclined to share my views on these two games.

2) Washington v. 7) NY Rangers - I made the observation a few days ago that, if any team is equipped to come back from a 3-1 defecit, the Capitals were certainly one of them.  It took a few games for the Caps to realize that they can’t shoot at Lundqvist’s mattresses (and for Boudreau to realize that he can’t have Theodore in nets), but once the Caps got it figured out and started executing their gameplan, they started rolling.  Torts will be back on the bench for the Rangers after his Game 5 hissy fit and, if I were a Caps fan, I wouldn’t relish sitting behind him because he’ll likely be packing for this one.

The Rangers Win If: They score first.  If they can do that, they can tighten up around Lundqvist and clog up the neutral zone.  In their three wins, the Rangers have proven that they can give the Caps fits when they do this.  The Caps offensive stars need room to skate in order to be effective, and if the Rangers are protecting a lead, they can afford to tighten up and not give the Caps the space to skate

The Capitals Win If: They get to Lundqvist early and often.  Not necessarily score, but pepper him with shots.  He’s been pulled in two straight games and they can’t afford to let him gain any confidence.  Crash the net, get in his way, do anything and everything they can to disrupt his game.  If that means buzzing him and taking  a goalie interference penalty early on, that’s what they have to do.  Get in his head and this one’s over.

My Prediction: Washington 4 New York 2

(3) New Jersey Devils v. 6) Carolina Hurricanes – This series has been the epitome of even.  Neither team has won more than one game in a row and only two of the six games have been decided by more than one goal.  At the onset of the series, everyone expected this to come down to goaltending and, tonight, it will.  Both Ward and Brodeur will be at their best and this game will be very, very tightly played.

The Devils Win If: Their offense shows up early.  This team has an absolutely explosive offense.  The problem is that they have been extremely inconsistent this series.  One game, they’ll look like absolute world beaters; the next, they look like they couldn’t find the back of the net if it were the size of the broad side of a barn.  If they come out of the gates ready to skate hard and ready to play, they’ll gain the advantage over Carolina.  If they falter, though, Carolina will exploit this.

The ‘Canes Win If: Cam Ward plays like he did in Games 5 and 6.  Ward is the catalyst for this team.  If he’s playing well, this team gains confidence and can steamroll opponents.  This team does not have the defense to protect Ward if he’s playing poorly and that can lead to a collapse if he is.  A couple big saves early and Ward’s confidence will go through the roof.  If this happens, it gets exponentially harder for the Devils to take ahold of this game and get any sort of momentum.

My Prediction: Carolina 3 New Jersey 2 (OT)

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