Wild trim roster to 28.

It's time for the Wild to get down to business

After Pittsburgh’s game, it was apparent why this was coming. The Wild needed to get down to their roster to gain some chemistry as soon as possible.

With the cuts made on Sunday, the Wild are now down to a roster of 28. That’s 24 healthy players and 4 injured players. (For those keeping score, the opening day roster has to be 23).

If you couldn't tell, this is Brett Bulmer doing what he's best at.

Among those kept were Marco Scandella (no real surprise after Yeo essentially said he thought he could play top-four minutes in the NHL), Justin Falk (who really has nothing left to gain from remaining in Houston), Nate Prosser (he’s had a great preseason, but I expect him to be one of the last players sent down), Casey Wellman (he hasn’t really played at all, but showed some good signs in Pittsburgh) and Brett Bulmer (wait, what?).

Basically, with Bulmer, the Wild want to see more of him. He’s a Cal Clutterbuck-esque forward. He gets under players’ skins, he hits, he’s fearless and he can skate like the wind. With the injuries (the forwards injured are Kassian and Almond, both of whom probably had the best shots at making the opening day roster), it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that Bulmer makes the cut to play with the big squad on Oct. 8.

That’s going to have to be a judgment call by the management though.

For now, the Wild just want to see more of him.

So, basically, here’s our depth chart:

Forward (16):
Devin Setoguchi/Mikko Koivu/Dany Heatley
Guillaume Latendresse/Matt Cullen/Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Darroll Power/Kyle Brodziak/Cal Clutterbuck
Colton Gillies/Eric Nystrom/Brad Staubitz

Extras: Casey Wellman, Brett Bulmer
Injured:
Matt Kassian, Cody Almond

Defense (10):
Greg Zanon/Marek Zidlicky
Nick Schultz/Marco Scandella
Clayton Stoner/Jared Spurgeon

Extras: Justin Falk, Nate Prosser
Injured:
Mike Lundin, Drew Bagnall

Goalies (2):
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding

Looking at it, it’s certainly not the best team out there, but it doesn’t look half-bad either. Spurgeon and Stoner have most certainly earned their roster spots this preseason, while Scandella has at least earned the opportunity to be an injury fill-in for Lundin.

Here’s the thing, though. Lundin is one of our top-four defensemen. So who becomes the odd man out when he returns?

To me, it’s Scandella, and for the same reason that Colton Gillies became the odd man out last season.

Scandella is still young, and the front office obviously wants him to get ice time. If he’s not able to get top-four minutes in Minnesota, I think it’s the best move for him to get top-two minutes down in Houston.

It’s a tough message to deliver to a kid who has impressed this preseason, but it is what it is. The Wild will likely keep eight defensemen, and he won’t benefit from sitting in the press box on a nightly basis when Lundin returns from injury.

Prosser has had a great camp

If the Wild keeps eight, I think the two extras that they keep are Falk (nothing left for him to learn in Houston) and Prosser (great camp). Both players really have done their thing down in Houston, and I think both have at least earned the chance to try to work their way into a regular role with the team during the season. Given how steady our regular defensemen have been this preseason, however, I think the Wild only keep seven, which I think makes Prosser the odd man out for right now.

As for the forward, I think you’ll see Wellman sent down and, unless Bulmer blows someone away and one of the bottom two lines has a catastrophic injury, Bulmer sent back to juniors.

Neither is going to benefit from being a healthy scratch on a nightly basis and, when Almond and Kassian get healthy, I think those are the two that you’re going to see round out the squad. The Wild love the toughness that Kassian brings and, really, it’s hard not to. The dude is a grade-A, bona fide fighter and he’s tough as nails. He’s great in the room and he’s a pretty decent skater as well, which means that he’s a player that both Yeo and Fletcher are going to like.

As for Almond, I think he’s gone as far as he can in Houston. Would I rather see the Wild bring in a fringe veteran so that he’s not just sitting in the press box? Sure. But he at least gives the Wild a viable option if injuries present themselves or if they don’t want to throw an enforcer in on the fourth line.

As far as who’s gone, let’s take a look quick.

Jordan Hendry was released from his tryout and told to search for a one-way contract elsewhere, but also told that if nothing better presents itself he has a two-way deal waiting for him in Minnesota, but he would be starting in Houston.

Kris Foucault, David McIntyre, Carson McMillan, Warren Peters, Chad Rau, Jeff Taffe, Jon DiSalvatore, Jed Ortmeyer, Jarod Palmer, Tyler Cuma, Chay Genoway, Jeff Penner, Dennis Endras, Matt Hackett and Darcy Keumper were all sent to Houston.

So that’s your Wild roster. That’s who has the bet shot of making the team on Opening Day this season. There’s three games remaining, so let’s see who can impress over the next three games and get their shot on opening night.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Preseason Gameday Thread: @ Pittsburgh

The Wild try to keep their momentum going in Pittsburgh today.

The preseason 3-0 Wild have likely landed in Pittsburgh and are resting up for their 2 pm tilt today against the Pens and I don’t know that there has ever been this much optimism about this team in the preseason. Harding played a full game last night, the first line was as advertised, Yeo is growing on the fans, Backstrom pitched two shutout periods in St. Louis.

It’s just plain encouraging.

This won’t be a long, drawn out one because the kids are eating breakfast, so I want to get it done quick, but here’s the Wild roster (or at least part of it) per Russo for tonight’s game:

Backs will likely get the full game in Pittsburgh

I’ve got a partial lineup:

Guillaume Latendresse-Matt Cullen-Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Colton Gillies-Eric Nystrom-Jarod Palmer

Jeff Taffe-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer

Jon DiSalvatore-David McIntyre-XXXXX

The 12th forward will be Carson McMillan, Brad Staubitz or Brett Bulmer

The defensemen will be:

Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon

Justin Falk-Jordan Hendry

Jeff Penner-XXXX

The sixth defenseman will be Kris Fredheim or Marco Scandella

The goalies will be Niklas Backstrom and Dennis Endras.

Wellman might get his first action of the preseason tonight

Casey Wellman was on the charter from Minneapolis, so if he’s ready to go, I’d guess he slots in at the 12th forward spot. If I had to guess, I’d say Scandella gets another chance to go also, especially with both Stoner and Spurgeon (the two whose job he’s competing to steal) playing.

Also, if what the Wild radio crew said last night is correct, look for Backs to play the whole game tonight.

Some questions to ponder:

Jarod Palmer is slotted in with Gillies and Nystrom. Could be a coincidence, but will he grab hold of the opportunity to prove he belongs?

If Wellman is healthy enough to go, which Wellman do we see? The difference maker he learned to be in Houston, or the nervous kid?

Backstrom had a great game against St. Louis. Can he keep it up against Pittsburgh?

Who comes out ahead in the defensive battle today? Will it be Stoner and Spurgeon, or will one of the players battling for a spot sneak in?

That’s all for me. The puck drops on the NHL Network at 2 pm today.

Pre-Season Gameday Thread: @ St. Louis

I decided to forego the roster update last night because there was a birthday in the Benzel household, with my daughter turning 3 years old yesterday, so we’ll just combine the game thread and the roster into one today.

Anyway, it sounds like we’re going to get a good look at a lot of the youngsters that are vying for a roster spot on opening day, tonight so here it is, per Russo:

Coach Mike Yeo today opted to keep most of the familiar faces in Minnesota. Instead, here are the lines and defensive pairings against the Blues (note, Niklas Backstrom and Matt Hackett will play in net)

FORWARDS

Kris Foucault-Zack Phillips-Brett Bulmer
Jeff Taffe-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer
Colton Gilles-Eric Nystrom-Brad Staubitz
Jarod Palmer-Taylor Peters-Carson McMillan

DEFENSE

Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
Justin Falk-Jordan Hendry
Tyler Cuma-Chay Genoway

Jeff Penner and David McIntyre will be brought along as extras.

Zack Phillips will be one of the youngsters with a chance to impress tonight

So, basically what we have here is a chance for a lot of the youngsters to step up and impress. Forwards Cody Almond and Casey Wellman and defenseman Mike Lundin are all on the shelf right now with injuries, so there are some spots that could be won and some second looks that could be given after tonight’s game.

Also, we’ll get a look at the line of Gillies/Nystrom/Staubitz, which could very well be the team’s fourth line by the time the season starts.

To me, the most intriguing lines/defensive pairings are that of Foucault/Phillips/Bulmer and Cuma/Genoway. Foucault, Phillips and Bulmer are three of the Wild’s more impressive offensive talents in their system, so don’t be surprised if they get a lot of ice time and a lot of power play time tonight. As for Cuma and Genoway, Cuma might be one of the dark horses to make the squad this season while this will be our first look at Genoway this pre-season, so it will be interesting to see how the pairing fares.

Per Blues.com, this is the line up the Wild’s youngsters will be facing tonight:

TONIGHT’S LINEUP*
1 – Brian Elliott
10 – Andy McDonald
15 – Jamie Langenbrunner
18 – Jonathan Cheechoo
20 – Alexander Steen
22 – Kevin Shattenkirk
28 – Carlo Colaiacovo
32 – Chris Porter
36 – Matt D’Agostini
37 – Derek Nesbitt
39 – Philip McRae
41 – Jaroslav Halak
42 – David Backes
44 – Jason Arnott
46 – Roman Polak
54 – Anthony Nigro
55 – Danny Syvret
56 – Brett Ponich
58 – David Shields
59 – Anthony Peluso
63 – Mark Cundari
70 – Ryan Tesink
74 – T.J. Oshie
76 – Brett Sonne
84 – Tyler Shattock

Niklas Backstrom makes his first start of the pre-season tonight

Just look at all of those regulars.

So, basically, Wild fans. Don’t jump off the ledge if the Wild or goaltender Niklas Backstrom have a less than stellar showing tonight.

This also means that the Wild’s youth and fringe players will have a perfect chance to show that they have what it takes to be able to compete at an NHL level, because there will be a lot of NHLer’s looking at them from the other bench.

So, some discussion questions for you:

How will the Wild’s youth fare tonight against a fairly experienced roster?

Will Niklas Backstrom look like the Backstrom who was a Vezina Trophy finalist, or the Backstrom who has struggled at times the past two seasons?

Where will the Wild’s scoring come tonight, with mostly youth and fringe players playing?

Can Minnesota’s inexperienced defensive unit hold their own against a fairly experienced stable of forwards?

Will Zack Phillips (my dark horse roster pick), Kris Foucault, Brett Bulmer or Jarod Palmer emerge as surprise front runners to make the roster on opening day?

Will Jordan Hendry rebound from a less than stellar performance last game?

The puck drops at 7 pm tonight and is not televised. You can listen to the game here or on your radio at KFAN 100.3 FM.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

The Monday Mailbag: 8/8/11

Before we get into mailbag time, it’s time for a few more links from around the interwebs.

HPT Bold Prediction #21: Playoffs on the Island
HPT Bold Prediction #22: Barry Trotz will be fired
Hockey’s Future: Minnesota High School 2011 draft review

That’s all for now, so let’s get 8o your questions!

* * * * *

Blake,

Do you see any of the Wild’s top prospects making the squad this season?

Stan
Grand Forks

Not this year Wild fans

Well, I’m assuming by top prospects you mean players like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle and, if that’s the case, I don’t think so.

Obviously players like Casey Wellman, Cody Almond and Colton Gillies will be vying for a spot at forward and Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella at defense, but if you’re talking about the team’s top prospects, well, here’s what I think:

1) Mikael Granlund – He’s already said the plan was for him to spend one more year in Finland to take care of his obligations.

2) Charlie Coyle – Probably not. Chuck Fletcher said that he’s planning on keeping him in college. That being said, anything can happen in camp and Coyle probably has the best shot to make the roster of any of the team’s top prospects.

3) Matthew Hackett – Not unless Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom get injured.

4) Jonas Brodin – He needs a lot more seasoning and there are a lot of defensemen that are more polished ahead of him, so no.

5) Zack Phillips – He could be the dark horse of the group. He can put up points and has the potential to surprise in camp.

So, Stan, there you have it. Those are the five prospects I would consider at the top of the list of our “big guns” that we’ve gotten in the past few drafts, but I don’t seen any of them cracking the roster yet. Some need more seasoning, some have players in front of them on the depth chart, but all are at least one year (if not more) out.

* * * * *

Blake,

Do you think that the Wild will keep Josh Harding around past this season?

Jocelyn
Mankato

Jocelyn, I think this is a terrific question that the organization is probably thinking about right now (and, if they’re not, they should be).

With the exception of a rough spot a few seasons ago, all Harding has done is won games for the Wild. He’s a terrific goaltender

The Wild would do well to keep Harding around past this year

that I think could be in the cards for Minnesota.

The problem is that he’s had injury problems (not that he’s injury prone, he just has gotten hurt in a number of different fashions) and has never really been given the helm for any extended period of time.

The Wild signed Harding to a one-year deal and, to me; this looks like it’s a tryout for Harding, so to speak.

I would imagine that the Wild will probably try to get Harding somewhere between 25-30 starts this season and, if Harding is successful, will likely try to lock up their talented back up for at least three seasons following this season.

Now, here’s my thinking on this. Backstrom has one year left on his deal after this year. He has a no-trade clause (or, at least, a modified one) and a pretty large contract, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be moved unless the team absolutely bombs (and even then it’s highly unlikely).

Say Harding has a good season this year. The team’s third-string goalie is Matthew Hackett, who is still very young and still developing. I think that, after this season, the Wild could get Harding locked up for three years at a reasonable price with the promise that he’ll be the team’s starter after Backstrom’s contract is up.

After Backstrom’s contract expires, Harding slots into the starter role and Hackett into the back up role.

We’ll see how Harding does this season, but that’s how I could see this playing out.

* * * * *

I’ve got a couple kids that want to play with daddy before bed time, so that’s all for today, but keep sending in your questions and we’ll be back with more tomorrow!

Prospect Report: Casey Wellman

Prospect Report is a weekly series that will look at a Wild prospect every Wednesday. If there is any prospect you would like featured, e-mail me at blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com.

Casey Wellman

Casey Wellman

Born – 10/18/87
Position –
C
Ht –
6’0”
Wt –
173
Shoots –
R

The Skinny

Wellman is one of the prospects that many Wild fans are excited to see in a full time role in the State of Hockey. While small, he is a pure sniper that also can get to the dirty areas on the ice as well. He has already proven his devotion to getting bigger, as he bulked up before last season and will likely be doing the same this off season.

One of Wellman’s biggest flaws is his play in his own end. He needs to become more comfortable with the defensive aspects of the game before he is ready for full-time NHL action.

Wellman is one of the Wild's prized prospects

Overall, Wellman is one of the young players that the Wild can expect to crack their roster over the next couple seasons. He has already played a handful of games in the NHL with the Wild and likely will be one of their AHLers that is a prime candidate for recall to the big show.

This Season

The Wild have enough young talent in the AHL that it wouldn’t surprise me if Chuck Fletcher gave Wellman a similar mandate that he did to Colton Gillies last season – stay in the AHL all season, get better and play a full season, you’ll get your chance.

It might be a tough pill for Wellman to swallow, but ultimately it might be best for Wellman. In the NHL, he will be resigned to the third and fourth lines with little-to-no power play time. In the AHL, he would be a top line player that would play important minutes at even strength and on the power play. That is exactly what Wellman needs and should be exactly what he gets.

Potential

Wellman has the potential to be a top-six forward in the NHL. The Hockey News has his career potential listed as a versatile scoring wing, while Hockey’s Future has him listed as a fringe second-line player who could meet his potential, but could also free fall.

Our estimation for Wellman is that he will follow a similar career arc to Colton Gillies and be on the Wild full time in 2012-13 after a full stint in the AHL this season.

Wild acquire Powe; Qualify seven

The Minnesota Wild has acquired Darroll Powe from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a 2013 3rd Round Pick.

I love this move for Minnesota for a number of reasons, most important of which is that they’re receiving a player that will have the opportunity to contribute next season without giving up a roster player.

But I also love Powe’s game. He led the Flyers last year with 196 hits and the expectation is that he’ll slot in on the other wing on the third line with Cal Clutterbuck. Can you say scary?

All indications is that Powe brings the same type of game that Clutterbuck brings, just without the offensive upside. He’s a reliable penalty killer (he was second on the Flyers among forwards with 257 shorthanded minutes) and he’s a strong, character player – something that the Wild minced no words about wanting to acquire.

With the acquisition of Devin Setoguchi, the Wild’s top-six is more or less set, but the Wild now have a strong contingent of players jockeying for position on the team’s third and fourth lines. Powe, Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz will likely all get some good looks in the team’s bottom-six, while you’ve also got James Sheppard, Casey Wellman, Colton Gillies and Cody Almond competing for spots as well.

To me, when you look at the players that will likely make the roster (the first five I mentioned), I think it makes the most sense for the roster spots to go to Gillies and Almond. (Keep in mind that this is before camp, so obviously this could change.)

Gillies and Almond both play a game that suits playing on the third and fourth lines. To be honest, I think either player could flourish being slotted between Powe and Clutterbuck, while I think Gillies could really find himself in a great position to have a strong rookie season playing on the wing with Cullen and Clutterbuck.

Initially, that would leave Sheppard and Wellman as the odd men out.

For Sheppard, I think that it’s very clear that he needs to play at least one full season in Houston. Sheppard is a player that should not be a bottom-six forward. He has top-six skill that just hasn’t been realized, and I think that the best thing for him will be what the Wild did with Gillies – stick him in the AHL and let him develop both his game and confidence in his game.

For Wellman, it’s clear that the best position for him is going to be on one of the top two lines for Minnesota. He’s not a checker. He’s a finesse player with a tremendous amount of skill. Because of the chemistry that Kyle Brodziak has shown with both Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat, to me that means that Wellman is going to have to wait one more year to get his shot, and that’s not a bad thing. A full year in Houston will also do Wellman wonders, especially if Houston can build off of their success this season.

Next season, the Wild will likely have an influx of very highly skilled, young players vying for roster spots. Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund will both be jockeying for spots on the roster. Add Wellman to that mix and you could potentially have a deadly stable of youngsters ready to contribute, and that’s never a bad thing.

* * * * *

The Wild also made their qualifying offers today. They qualified seven players, which were Powe, Gillies, Sheppard, Wellman, Justin Falk, Jarod Palmer and Jeff Penner. They did not qualify Patrick O’Sullivan.

The seven aforementioned players will all become restricted free agents as of July 1 if they are not signed before then, though I would imagine that the lot of them will be.

As far as O’Sullivan is concerned, from what people are making it sound like, the Wild will try to re-sign him to a two-way contract should he not sign with any NHL squad or in Europe.

In other RFA news, the Montreal Canadiens did not qualify Benoit Pouliot, which is making the Latendresse trade look better and better by the day.

* * * * *

Speaking of free agency, I’ll be hosting our annual UFA day chat here and at Hockey Primetime and I’m currently working on getting some solid guests lined up to help field your questions. We’re still unconfirmed as to whether or not there will be a radio show, but I’ll keep you updated as I hear.

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!

Wild End Pre-Season With Victory; My Thoughts on Todd Richards

The Wild finally have something positive that they can take from this pre-season.

Cal Clutterbuck scored a hat trick and Marek Zidlicky and Chuck Kobasew each added goals to give the Wild a 5-1 victory over Iles Tampere on Monday.

Mike Russo of the Star Tribune said that he saw at least two Matt Cullen assists on Clutterbuck’s goals (no official stats in the game) and the Wild looked good for two of the three periods in tonight’s game which, from what I’ve seen of this pre-season, is a huge improvement over their previous games.

Now, keep in mind that a lot of this information for you is going to be coming from Russo, as he’s one of a few Wild scribes that are over in Finland right now, but I’ll do my best to put my own thoughts and spin on it.

From what Russo said, Clutterbuck was a beast tonight and was exhibiting the goal-scoring touch that many in the organization said that he had in his rookie season.

I’ll say this about Clutterbuck. I’ve long thought that he could be a goal scorer in this league. Not a 30-40 goal guy, but at least a 20-30 goal man. He’s got a wicked good wrist shot and has no problem going to the high traffic areas on the ice to get the puck. The Wild definitely has a lack of goal scoring depth, so it’s not a stretch to think that Cal could get some PP time this season and, if he can show some consistency in his goal scoring, which he’s shown flashes of in the past, he could really take some pressure off of players like Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat to produce and could find himself on a scoring line of sorts with Casey Wellman.

Russo also mentioned injury news regarding Latendresse (hip flexor) and Havlat (groin), saying that both players would be available for Thursday’s opener against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Both Latendresse and Havlat are important cogs to this offense and the Wild, quite frankly, need them in the line up regardless of how good or poor their training camps werek.

Latendresse had a horrific camp and just didn’t look himself, but head coach Todd Richards did elude that he thought that a lot of Latendresse’s pre-season struggles could be attributed to the injury.

If that’s the case, it’s definitely important that Latendresse gets healthy as quickly as possible and finds the form that he had last season.

Now, I don’t want to overstate this win because, quite frankly, it’s a pre-season game against the second-worst team in the Finnish Elite League, but this is a Wild team that desperately needed to find something positive about their pre-season and this was definitely it.

Backstrom was sharp, the team found the pack of the net (without two of their top offensive players, to boot) and the defense was sharp.

All of this could combine to help the Wild find that ever elusive confidence that is so important in the NHL. If their effort and their play can transfer over to Thursday night’s game, this could be a Wild team that could be on the up tick for the NHL season and that is a good thing.

Thoughts on Richards

Many of you, my faithful readers, know that I’m not Todd Richards’ biggest fan and this pre-season has only served to strengthen my belief that Richards is the biggest problem that the Wild have right now.

For one, the team has come out flat in just about every single game this pre-season and it’s lasted for at least half the game.

Now, when a team comes out flat for the better portion of their games – especially when it’s in the pre-season when there is such a large turnover in players from game to game – that’s not an issue with the players. The coach’s main duty is to get the team ready for the game and get the team ready to play. If the team is coming out flat like this night in and night out, there is a definite issue that needs to be addressed with the coaching staff.

The next thing that really has driven home the point was his answer to a question regarding the play of Backstrom early in the pre-season.

He was asked what he thought of Backstrom’s play, to which he responded that he didn’t comment on the goalies because he didn’t really know much about the position, and that’s why they have a goalie coach.

Really? I mean…REALLY?!

He’s the head coach and he’s not able to comment on the play of one of his players because he doesn’t know about the position??

Isn’t it his job to know everything about the team and every player?

I’m sorry, but when a coach says something like that, to me it just screams of someone who is in over his head – which I truly believe that Richards is right now.

He keeps saying that it seems like the team is “waiting for something,” and he doesn’t know what they’re waiting for. Well, if that’s the case…Maybe it’s time for the Wild to turn to someone who will be able to figure out what’s going on with this team.

I don’t think that Richards is long for this team and, while I agree with Russo and don’t think that it’ll be a Denis Savard like transition unless something drastic happens, I’d be extremely surprised if Richards is behind the bench at the end of November if the Wild don’t come out strong this season.

Wild and NHL Musings

Well, a lot has happened since last we met, so I figured I’d better just tackle the slew of it in one fell swoop. I’ll be looking at some NHL news too, but mostly Wild news.

Before we get into my Wild musings, let’s take a look at the big story to hit in the NHL today.

Arbitrator Voids Kovalchuk’s Contract

This is going to be a very contentious topic, methinks, so I’ll just dive headfirst into it.

Arbitrator Richard Bloch has ruled against the NHLPA’s grievance and upheld the NHL’s decision to reject Ilya Kovlachuk’s 17-year, $102 million contract with the New Jersey Devils.

One reason for the rejection that Bloch cited was Kovalchuk’s age at the end of the contract:

“Kovalchuk is 27 years old, and the agreement contemplates his playing until just short of his 44th birthday. … Currently, only one player in the league has played past 43 and, over the past 20 years only 6 of some 3400 players have played to 42.”

Bloch also stated that this could be grounds for rejection of such contracts as Roberto Luongo, Marc Savard and Chris Pronger. Also mentioned was the contract of Marian Hossa though, as Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog states, it seems unlikely that the league would target Hossa’s contract for rejection as he has already played a season under the new contract.

Now, I first need to say that I don’t believe that there is any precedent for this decision. The notion that Kovalchuk is any less likely to be playing the game at the age of 44 as Hossa is at the age of 42 is, in my mind, absurd.

Yes, only one player has played past the age of 43, but citing that Hossa is more likely to play until 42 because six out of 3,400 players have done so is ridiculous.

That being said, I think that the arbitrator made the absolute right decision in this case, siding with the NHL.

Yes, there was no precedent to do so but the NHL had to stand up and make a stand on this issue at some point. They didn’t have guts to do it with Hossa or Pronger or Luongo, but finally found it in themselves to do so and it’s long past time that they did.

Teams are going to continue to try and exploit this loophole in the CBA, but at least this gives the NHL some basis for when to say when on future contracts.

Madden Signs With Minnesota

Don’t worry. He’s not going to try to sell you any tough actin’ Tinactin. He won’t say Boom! (at least not all the time) and he won’t give you some overly complicated explanation about some overly simple football concept.

Congratulations! You are number one million to make that joke about John Madden!

Alright. All kidding aside, I love the signing of Madden. He’s a strong two-way player and the type of player that the Wild has been sorely missing since the retirement of Wes Walz.

Look. Madden’s not going to score 20 goals (he’s done so just twice in his 11 season career), nor is he going to star on our top two lines. What he will do, however, is give the Wild another reliable penalty killer, a checking-line forward capable of shutting down teams’ top lines and a leader on and off the ice.

What this also does is create competition at the center position.

Here is our depth chart at center, as it stands (and, to one Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy and Two-Line Pass, this is off the top of my head and without looking at a roster). Those in bold and italics are the ones guaranteed a roster spot:

Mikko Koivu
Matt Cullen
John Madden
Kyle Brodziak

James Sheppard
Casey Wellman
Colton Gillies

So, what you can see here are seven centers for four full-time positions. It’s not out of the realm of reason that one of the four (most likely Brodziak) would be moved to the wing, so you essentially have three players vying for one position.

In my opinion, the player for the job is Colton Gillies.

Gillies is fleet of foot, he’s big, he’s physical and he has demonstrated a limited offensive upside. This would allow Wellman a year of development in the AHL and Sheppard one to get his confidence about him as well.

After the way Gillies performed in camp last season, I thought he would be a shoo-in for the big squad, but he instead struggled through a season in the AHL. It may be time for him to show what he can do.

What About Butch?

I had a friend ask me a question the other day about whether or not I thought Bouchard would play this season and, if he did, would he even be effective.

I thought it a good enough question to stick it into here.

First question, will Butch play this season?

My answer to that is most definitely yes.

It might not be at the beginning of the season, but he will play. He’s started exercising, he’s lifting weights and he’s feeling better, so whether it’s in October or in December, he will play this season.

The next part of the question, however, is the most important. Will he be effective?

My personal opinion is that he will.

One of the biggest hindrances in returning from a concussion is getting used to the contact once again. There’s trepidation when going into the corners, when going to the tough areas on the ice.

That’s also the biggest problem I’ve always had with Bouchard, as well.

He’s rarely gone into the corners and rarely gone into the tough areas on the ice. Bouchard is, primarily, a perimeter player. He is at his best when creating plays on the outside for players going to the net and a concussion shouldn’t change this.

This isn’t to say that Bouchard won’t have a readjustment period of some sort when he returns, but I think he will largely come back as the same player that he was before which is both a blessing and a curse for Wild fans.

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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