Around the NHL: 7/28/11

I have to confess, by the time the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup I was very much ready for the hockey season to be over. It wasn’t so much that I wanted the season to be over, but more that I wanted some time to relax, if even for a few days.

Now that August is closing in (and that means a load of pro camps up here in the State of Hockey), I’m ready for some puck again.

Let’s take a look around the NHL, shall we?

* * * * *

Richards/Carter Traded for Partying?
Two things ran through my mind when I saw this.

First, if this is the criteria for trading a player, it’s an absolute miracle that Patrick Kane isn’t on his fifth or sixth team by now and second, why is this even a story?

The fact that two guys in their mid-twenties who were good friends liked to go out and tear it up a little bit should be no surprise to anyone who has been a male and in their mid-twenties. Heck, it’s not like their performance was suffering because of it.

So...You're telling me this is a problem?

But if their partying caused a rift in the locker room, doesn’t the blame fall equally on the veteran leaders on the squad (of which there were many) for not confronting the “problem children” and telling them to knock it the eff off?

You can’t tell me that Chris Pronger, Sean O’Donnell or Scott Hartnell had a problem stepping up and giving Carter and Richards a browbeating, no matter how important their happiness was to the team. You can’t tell me that Pete Laviolette had any problem pulling the players aside and telling them that they should cool it, even just a little.

No one but those involved truly know what was going on inside the Flyers’ locker room, but whether it was that if the veteran leadership or coaching staff was unwilling to have the difficult conversation with two of their best players or that the conversation happened and it caused a rift in the locker room, the fact of the matter is that this might just be the tip of the iceberg when the dysfunction of this team is concerned.

You’ve either got a group of veterans and a coach that completely lost the locker room last season (and, ultimately, have probably lost a lot of respect with the other players) or you had two impetuous youths that were unwilling to change their ways for the better of the team (in which case, Los Angeles and Columbus might have their hands full soon). Whichever it is, it’s not likely that we’re going to know which it was anytime soon so, again, I ask – why is this a story?

All that come of it is that these players’ names get dragged through the mud and, at the end of the day, despite all of the speculation, we know exactly as much as we knew before all of this came to light which, in terms of an NHL locker room, is exactly as much as we need to know.

* * * * *

Emery to Chicago?
A report surfaced that said that Ray Emery will be attending training camp in Chicago on a try-out basis to try to make the team and I think that’s just groovy.

Emery proved in Anaheim that he was recovered from the lower body injuries that derailed him in Philly and he played quite well for the Ducks. In fact, I’m surprised that he didn’t play his way into a new contract in Anaheim, but that’s neither here nor there.

If Emery is back to the form that helped lead the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Finals, there’s no doubt that he’s a more than serviceable back up for Corey Crawford after the ‘Hawks chose not to bring back Marty Turco.

There’s little doubt in my mind that Emery will be able to earn himself the back up job in Chicago, as his main competition will be Alexander Salak.

Truthfully, it would be a scary situation if Emery joined the Flyers, who might well be boasting a fourth line of Dan Carcillo, John Scott and Jamal Mayers next season.

Can anyone say Broad Street Bullies West?

* * * * *

College Puck on Versus?
Let me quickly say this.

Thanks to Versus, players like de Costa could be household names.

Yes please.

Ken Schott of the Daily Gazette up in Schenectady, New York reported that Versus is considering picking up college hockey as part of their rotation starting in January and, if that’s true, hockey fans and sports fans in general should be genuinely excited.

As much as I love the NHL and as fun as it is to watch absolutely nothing beats NCAA hockey in terms of pure, unbridled fun and passion for the game.

With a national package, players like Casey Wellman and Stephane de Costa could be household names long before they hit the market as unsigned free agents coming straight from college and that’s nothing but a good thing for both the NCAA and the NHL.

If the NHL is smart, they’ll use their pull with Versus and NBC to make this happen because, if there’s one thing that college hockey could use, it’s more exposure.

Scoreboard Watching: 3/11/11

Last night was about as bad as it could have gotten for the Wild.

Not only did they play an absolutely horrible game, losing 4-0 to the Nashville Predators, but the team they were chasing, the Phoenix Coytes, won also.

I’ll keep it short and sweet today, so here’s what today’s action looks like.

4) Chicago Blackhawks (37-24-7) – 81 pts – 14 games remaining – Idle

5) Phoenix Coyotes (35-23-11) – 81 pts – 13 games remaining – Idle

6) Calgary Flames (36-25-9) – 81 pts – 12 games remaining – Idle

7) Dallas Stars (36-23-8 ) – 80 pts – 15 games remaining – vs. Minnesota

8 ) Los Angeles Kings (37-25-5) – 79 pts – 15 games remaining – @ Columbus

9) Nashville Predators (34-24-10) – 78 pts – 14 games remaining – Idle

10) Anaheim Ducks (36-26-5) – 77 pts – 15 games remaining – @ Colorado

11) Minnesota Wild (35-26-7) – 77 pts – 14 games remaining – @ Dallas

There you have it. Jose Theodore will be in nets for Minnesota tonight in Dallas, where they haven’t won in this side of forever, in a must win for the Wild. If the Wild lose tonight and Los Angeles and Anaheim both win, we could very easily be looking at the downward spiral of the Wild’s playoff hopes.

Scoreboard Watching: 3/10/11

There’s no use sugar coating it. Last night was a rough night for the Wild’s playoff hopes.

Every single team that was in the Wild’s playoff picture that played got at least one point.

Chicago? Lost to Tampa in the shootout.

Calgary? Beat Dallas in the shootout.

Dallas? Got a loser point.

Los Angeles? Beat the Red Wings.

Anaheim? Beat the Rangers.

The good news is, though, that the Wild have the chance to make up some ground on someone tonight against Nashville. Let’s take a look, shall we?

4) Chicago Blackhawks (37-24-7) – 81 pts – 14 games remaining – Idle

5) Calgary Flames (36-24-9) – 81 pts – 13 games remaining – @ Phoenix Coyotes

6) Dallas Stars (36-23-8 ) – 80 pts – 15 games remaining – Idle

7) Los Angeles Kings (37-25-5) – 79 pts – 15 games remaining – Idle

8 ) Phoenix Coyotes (34-23-11) – 79 pts – 14 games remaining – vs. Calgary Flames

9) Minnesota Wild (35-25-7) – 77 pts – 15 games remaining – @ Nashville Predators

10) Anaheim Ducks (36-26-5) – 77 pts – 15 games remaining – Idle

11) Nashville Predators (33-24-10) – 76 pts – 15 games remaining – vs. Minnesota Wild

As you can see, there’s a lot at stake in the two games between the four teams in this playoff picture right now. In my opinion, the best case scenario tonight would be a Minnesota regulation win and a Calgary regulation win.

The Wild need to be in the playoff picture and, to do so, they need to catch Phoenix. It’s a cliché, but the Wild just need to take it one game at a time and worry about catching the team right in front of them.

Right now, according to Hockey Reference’s playoff probability report, 94 points will be the cutoff for the playoffs, so we can assume that, to be safe, the Wild will need 95. That’s 18 points in their next fifteen games. 9 wins. Will it be difficult? Sure. But it’s well within reach.

Like last night, stop back for the updated games. But, enjoy tonight’s action!

Scoreboard Watching: 3/9/11

Welcome to our newest feature on Wild Nation – Scoreboard Watching.

With the Wild in the midst of one of the tightest playoff races we’ve ever seen, we’re going to be keeping track daily of the teams that the Wild are chasing and that are chasing the Wild. Pretty simple, eh?

Let’s get started.

4) Chicago Blackhawks – (37-24-6) – 80 pts – @ Tampa Bay Lightning

1 2 3 OT

SO

F
Blackhawks 1 1 1

0

0 (0-3) 3
Lightning 2 1 0

0

1 (1-3) 4

Goal Scorers
Chicago:
Kane (16:43, 1st), Sharp (9:39, 2nd), Toews (3:30, 3rd)
Tampa Bay: Stamkos (11:07, 1st), St. Louis (19:44, 1st), Purcell (1:20, 2nd), St. Louis (SO)

Goalies
Chicago: Crawford (27-30)
Tampa Bay: Roloson (28-31)

5) Dallas Stars – (36-23-7) – 79 pts – vs. Calgary Flames

1 2 3 OT

SO

F
Flames 3 0 0

0

1 (2-3) 4
Stars 1 1 1

0

0 (1-3) 3

Goal Scorers
Calgary:
Bourque (10:26, 1st), Kostopoulos (11:28, 1st), Babchuk (13:41, 1st), Glencross (SO)
Dallas: Benn (PPG, 18:28, 1st), Ribiero (5:12, 2nd), Vincour (5:39, 3rd)

Goalies
Calgary:
Kiprusoff (31-34)
Dallas: Lehtonen (31-34)

6) Phoenix Coyotes – (34-23-11) – 79 pts – Idle

7) Calgary Flames – (35-34-9) – 79 pts – @ Dallas Stars

8 ) Los Angeles Kings – (36-25-5) – 77 pts – @ Detroit Red Wings

1 2 3 F
Kings 0 2 0 2
Red Wings 1 0 0 1

Goal Scorers
Los Angeles:
Kopitar (7:50, 2nd), Brown (14:43, 2nd)
Detroit: Helm (5:57, 1st)

Goalies
Los Angeles:
Quick (28-29)
Detroit: Howard (24-26)

9) Minnesota Wild – (35-25-7) – 77 pts – Idle

10) Nashville Predators – (33-24-10) – 76 pts – Idle

11) Anaheim Ducks – (35-26-8) – 75 pts – vs. N.Y. Rangers

1
2
3 F
Rangers 1 0 1 2
Ducks 3 0 2 5

Goal Scorers
New York:
Dubinsky (3:30, 1st), Gaborik (PPG, 5:31, 3rd)
Anaheim: Perry (7:34, 1st), Visnovsky (9:19, 1st), Visnovsky (19:19, 1st), Ryan (2:19, 3rd), Perry (14:36, 3rd)

Goalies
New York:
Lundqvist (28-33)
Anaheim: Ellis (30-32)

That’s what we have going on tonight. Check back occasionally throughout the night for your one-shop stop for the Wild’s playoff picture tonight, complete with a box score and how the outcome of the game affects the Wild.

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!

Gameday Thread – Game 61 – Wild @ Kings

I think we’ve finally established that this team is for real. You don’t get to fifth in the playoff race, regardless of how tight that race is, without being for real.

So here’s the catch, though. The Wild now have three games coming up, including back-to-back games tonight and tomorrow, all against teams within two points of them in the standings.

Oh yeah, and they won’t have Mikko Koivu or Kyle Brodziak for at least tonight’s game.

Tonight, the Wild take on the Los Angeles Kings, tomorrow they take on the Anaheim Ducks, then Monday they’re back home for the Chicago Blackhawks.

All within two points of them in the standings.

Suffice it to say that these next three games are big. Like, King Kong big.

* * * * *

NHL.com’s Game Preview

Russo’s Brodziak Update

Wild.com Gameday

LA Kings Insider Update

* * * * *

Persevere
The key to tonight’s game for the Wild is going to be perseverance. They’re down two centers, missing Kyle Brodziak and Mikko Koivu for tonight’s game. That’s two of their key penalty killers, two of their key offensive cogs and two of their key face off men.

John Madden and Matt Cullen? Prepare to get a lot of work in tonight.

Cody Almond and Jed Ortmeyer? Prepare to get a lot more work than you thought.

Basically, the Wild just have to make it through. They have to just keep on keeping on right now, because their little mini-road swing just got a heck of a lot harder.

This is a Wild team whose confidence is sky high right now and why shouldn’t it be? They’re 5-2-1 over their last eight games. They have a goaltender who is on top of his game and they’re playing some of the best hockey we’ve seen them play in quite a while.

But this latest problem is proof that something needs to give.

Lack of Depth
Brodziak’s absence has highlighted just how paper thin this roster is right now, especially up the middle.

While some teams are able to cope without their two of their top centermen, the Wild simply don’t have the organizational depth right now to do so. For all intents and purposes right now, Ortmeyer is a body. He’s a body with NHL experience, yes, but there’s no one in their right mind who thinks that he’s going to be able to replace what Brodziak brought to the table – especially over the last handful of games.

Tighten Up
So the Wild are going to need to tighten up.

It’s a tired adage of how you play a road game, but it’s effective nonetheless.

Minnesota cannot get into a track meet today. They can’t hope to have their offense beat the Kings – at least not in a wide-open, high scoring game.

Instead, they need to dig in, lock up that neutral zone and wait for their opportunity to strike. In other words, they need to ask themselves “What Would Jacques Do?”

That’s going to be the key to their success tonight. The Kings have too many offensive weapons for the Wild to go blow-for-blow with them and come out smelling like roses. The Wild, instead, needs to get down and dirty. They need to grind and grind and grind some more until the cracks in the Kings’ armor begins to show.

Then they counter-attack and capitalize on the Kings’ mistakes.

This is a difficult game, yes. But it’s also winnable if the Wild play a smart road game.

The puck drops tonight at 9:30 p.m. and is televised on Fox Sports North.

Gameday Thread – Game 57 – Wild @ Blackhawks

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

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

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

* * * * *

Star Tribune Game Preview

NHL.com Game Preview

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Morning Musings: Devils and Gestures and Headshots. Oh My!

***Mid-Morning Musings is a feature that I’ll be doing every couple days (read: every day the Wild don’t have a game) during the week here at Wild Nation. It will have to do with anything and everything hockey related, Wild or otherwise, so sit back and enjoy my opinionated ramblings.***

Could things get any worse for the Devils right now?

I mean, honestly. Any worse?

First they get out to their horrific start, then they have to deal with a knee injury to Zach Parise and now Martin Brodeur is looking like he will have to miss time?

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear here. The Devils are a good team playing bad hockey. They’re much better than their 4-9-1 record indicates. But at the same time, they’re a team that’s doing next to nothing to get themselves out of this slump.

But, as much as this is the player’s and the coach’s fault, some of the blame with this has got to fall on Lou Lamoriello and the rest of the front office and ownership.

This team’s off season put them in this situation.

Lou addressed a big need on this team in bringing in Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder on defense – they were shrewd signings and very important ones at that. But then he did something very un-Lou-like.

Now I don’t know if it was pressure from the owner or a slight break in his better judgment, but the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk was not only ill-conceived, it was ill-timed as well.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Kovie. I think he’s a much better player than people give him credit for and I’m the first to jump to his defense. He was a point-per-game player for them and gave them another offensive weapon.

But the team was 13-9-5 while he was there. Not a bad record, to be sure, but look at the results. They never put together more than two wins in a row – something they did seven separate times before his arrival (four three-game winning streaks, and one five-game, four-game and six-game streak apiece). They also went on losing streaks (no matter how small) four times – something they did just five times the entire rest of the season.

Did he help their offense? Not a ton – approximately 2.81 goals for with Kovie against about 2.65 without.

The only thing that he did was come into the locker room and mix up a team that had very good chemistry prior to his arrival.

And you re-sign him?

You can say what you want about this team, but the franchise’s Stanley Cup hopes were squarely in the capable hands of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. The two were gelling and were beginning to come into their own as players in the league.

Give them another season together and they would have been the one-two punch that the Devils needed. But instead, you bring in Kovalchuk and screw up their chemistry.

So what you are left with now is a team that doesn’t know how they’re going to get under the salary cap once players return from injury and, what’s more, a team that doesn’t know how they’re going to keep their top players after signing Kovalchuk, not to mention one whose chemistry has been drastically altered in a bad way by his signing.

Any way you cut it; this was just a poor, poor decision by Lou.

*****

A lot has been made of the suspensions so far this season, and I definitely agree that the disciplinary culture of the NHL needs to be looked at in a big way.

So far, here’s what the suspensions look like (from the 2010-11 NHL fines and suspensions wiki page):

Date

Name

Team

Offense

Length

9/24/10

Nick Boynton

Blackhawks

Throat-slashing gesture

1 game

10/4/10

Mike Cammalleri

Canadiens

Slashing Nino Niederreiter

1 game

10/10/10

Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

Devils

Instigator penalty in last 5 minutes of game

1 game

10/12/10

James Wisniewski

Islanders

Obscene gesture to Sean Avery

2 games

10/12/10

Niklas Hjalmarsson

Blackhawks

Boarding Jason Pomminville

2 games

10/18/10

Shane Doan

Coyotes

Blindside hit to the head of Dan Sexton

3 games

10/22/10

Rick Rypien

Canucks

Grabbing a Minnesota Wild fan

6 games

10/27/10

Stephane Robidas

Stars

Automatic suspension for two game misconduct boarding penalties within 41 games

1 game

11/1/10

Daniel Briere

Flyers

Cross-check to the head of Frans Nielsen

3 games

So far this season, 20 games worth of suspensions have been handed out – two of which were automatic suspensions (Letourneau-Leblond’s instigator penalty and Robidas’s boarding call).

But other than that, what does this really tell us?

Well, for one, it tells us that the NHL is putting a greater emphasis on its image than on the safety of the players.

Of the 20 games, 9 were for incidents that had absolutely nothing to do with a hockey play.

Yes, we can all agree that Rick Rypien should have been suspended for what he did – no question about it. But James Wisniewski and Nick Boynton?

I guess I can see it to an extent, but to what extent are you bringing more attention to it by bringing down a suspension to the player?

I’ll be honest, I was watching the Isles/Rangers game when Wiz made the gesture and I barely caught it. The broadcast didn’t replay it over and over and over again – it was a one time thing that, odds are, if I hadn’t been paying attention at that exact moment I would have missed.

But the NHL is dead set on making sure that they keep their image up. They don’t want to be seen as the “rogue sport.”

But wouldn’t their efforts towards their image be better served going towards the safety of their players?

Boynton and Wisniewski just made an innocuous gesture. One that, if you weren’t paying attention right then, you would have missed (and if myself, a 28-year old man, barely caught the gesture, what are the odds that a kid is going to be paying attention to the game long enough to catch it?) and one that, at the end of the day, kids are likely seeing and hearing worse than on the playground?

I understand that you want to make sure that players know that this isn’t okay. I get it. But don’t we have anything better to do with our time?

So here’s a thought. Gestures, anything like that – automatic game misconduct, they forfeit that game’s salary and a $10,000 fine. There you have it. It’s over, done with. You don’t have to worry about the rogue fellatio gestures anymore.

But for plays that are dangerous to players, a suspension is needed.  So how about this?

A blindside hit to the head – automatic 3 game suspension. No questions asked, if you get booted from a game for a blindside hit to the head, you sit for three games, repeat offender or not. Heck, we can even make it reviewable by the league to ensure that the right call was made on the ice.

Sure, an automatic suspension isn’t going to quell the problem. It’s not going get rid of these types of dangerous hits immediately, nor will it likely do anything to stem the problem down the road – players who are going to be repeat offenders (yes, Matt Cooke I’m talking about you) are going to do it regardless of the ramifications – but what it will do is make sure that the players know that there’s no questions asked; if they do this, they will be suspended.

*****

That’s all for this time. Hope you enjoyed the first of many mid-morning musings. Feel free to discuss below and I’ll pipe in with my thoughts when I can.

Gameday Thread – Game 11 – Sharks @ Wild

I just want to start by saying sorry for the lack of posts the last few days. I’ve been busy at Hockey Primetime and at home so, unfortunately, the content here has suffered. Starting today, I’m going to try to have one new post up per day, whether it’s a gameday thread, game analysis or just some random schlock that’s bouncing around my head. Anyway. Apology done. Here we go.

Two games into an important five game homestand and the Wild are 1-1-0 and, to no one’s surprise, the story of the ‘stand so far is the team’s staggering inconsistency.

Just a couple of days following their strong victory against the Washington Capitals, the Wild came out strong in the first period against the Blackhawks – then, like has become commonplace for the team, they just couldn’t keep that effort going through the final two periods.

That’s what the Wild need to do here tonight. Come out with a strong effort and maintain it. The inconsistent efforts might work against the bottom half of the NHL, but against elite teams like Washington, Chicago and San Jose they must put together a strong effort from start to finish in order to be successful.

The Skinny

San Jose Sharks

@

Minnesota Wild

5-3-1 (11 pts)

Record

4-4-2 (10 pts)

3.22

GF/G

2.60

2.78

GA/G

2.50

31.8%

PP%

30.2%

80.0%

PK%

84.9%

56.4%

FO%

51.9%

Looking at these stats, these two teams match up fairly well on paper. Their special teams are about equal, as are their defenses.

The biggest concern for the Wild, though, is going to be penalties.

This team has had a steady march to the penalty box this season, their 57 minor penalties ranking them 28th in the league in that category – not something that they relish, I’m certain.

To give you an idea of how they’re stacking up, they took 345 minor penalties all season last year; an average of about 4.2 per game. If they keep taking penalties at the rate they are, they’ll take about 467 minor penalties this season – a mark that, last year, would have put them atop the NHL by a good 65 penalties last season.

That’s a scary prospect for a struggling Wild team, even if their penalty kill is in the top-ten in the league.

Lineup(s)

Well, due to injuries it looks like the Wild will be rolling out the same line up as against Chicago with the exception of Cam Barker replacing Clayton Stoner.

I’d expect the Wild’s line up to look something like this, based on the lines they rolled out in practice yesterday:

Brunette-Koivu-Kobasew
Clutterbuck-Cullen-Havlat
Nystrom-Madden-Wellman
Gillies-Brodziak-Staubitz

Burns-Schultz
Zanon-Zidlicky
Barker-Falk

Backstrom
Theodore

For the Sharks, it sounds like they’re going to be rolling out their top line of Heatley-Thornton-Marleau on a consistent basis again, which is a dangerous, dangerous prospect for the Wild.

Also, though no confirmation has been given, I’d expect to see Antero Nittymaki back in net again, as he’s been tearing it up recently for the Sharks and, given how well he’s been playing, I wouldn’t think they’d change anything.

Key(s) to the Game

Stay out of the box, stay out of the box, stay out of the box.

It’s pretty simple for the Wild. If they can keep their penalty kill off the ice, they’ll be able to keep some of their best weapons on the ice. It’s pretty clear.

Being short handed essentially makes it so that Andrew Brunette and Martin Havlat just don’t see the ice and that’s something that the Wild just can’t have if they want to win games.

If the Wild can stay out of the box, they have a shot at sticking with a much higher powered Sharks squad. But if they start their march to the penalty box again, they’re going to have a hard time sticking with them.

The other big key to this game is going to be keeping Backstrom going.

The Wild’s goalie has been hot to start the season. After the first game in Finland, against the ‘Canes, Backstrom hasn’t given up more than three goals in a game and he’s looking like he’s back to his Vezina Finalist self.

A solid start to the game and Backs gets his confidence going. If he gets his confidence going, the Wild have as good of a shot as any against one of the best teams in the West.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the deal.

The Wild have proven that they can put it together against the best teams in the league – but they have got to put 60 minutes of hockey together. They simply cannot expect to have Niklas Backstrom keep them in games. He’s been great for them, but they have to keep protecting him with strong efforts.

I don’t doubt that the Wild will come out strong as can be in the first period. They have in just about every game they’ve played. They come out with a fire in their bellies and tear around the ice like there’s no one that can beat them.

It’s the first five minutes of the second period that they’ve got to worry about.

If they come out strong, if they come out with an intense effort, there’s a good shot of them putting together a good, complete game.

But if they come out slow and soft – well, let’s just say that it’ll be a long, long game to watch.

The puck drops tonight at 7 pm on Versus.

Wild Nation’s Ridiculously Early Season Previews: The Central Division

Well, here we are. The Eastern Conference is down and just three divisions and the playoff picture are left to go, so let’s delve into the Western Conference picture, shall we?

The Western Conference has been the more competitive of the two conferences in term of depth over the last few seasons and this season should be no different. The core of this depth has come from the Central division. Last season, three of the five teams made the playoffs, while one more was on the bubble and there’s no doubt that there’s at four teams that could be challenging for the playoffs this season.

So let’s get started.

Chicago Blackhawks – There is no doubt that the Blackhawks are going to be a much, much different team than the one that won the Stanley Cup last season.

Gone are role players like Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien who have been replaced by Fernando Pisani and a handful of players who have been developing in Rockford. This is both troubling for Blackhawks fans and intriguing as well. Jack Skille, Jake Dowell and Bryan Bickell will finally get their chance in the big leagues, as will Viktor Stalberg.

The good news for their forward corps, however, is that returning are their core players like Toews, Hossa, Kane and Sharp. With those players to guide their incoming youngsters, the Hawks should still be in good hands next season.

On defense, the team has added big defenseman John Scott who will add some toughness in the absence of Ben Eager. While the contract of Niklas Hjalmarsson may be questionable, there’s no doubt that their top-four are as good as any in the league and the potential addition of Nick Leddy to the group is encouraging indeed.

Their biggest question lies between the pipes. With the decision to walk away from Antti Niemi and sign Marty Turco, the ‘Hawks have also made a statement that they are confident that it was not the young Finn who led them to the promised land.

While Turco’s record in big games is more than questionable, there is no doubt that he has both the drive to succeed, as well as the talent to be a successful goaltender in Chicago.

Columbus Blue Jackets – The Blue Jackets find themselves in a precarious position.

They are just one season removed from their first playoff appearance in team history, yet there is an air of uncertainty surrounding this team that is undeniable. In fact, questions are abounding when it comes to the Jackets.

Is Steve Mason a true franchise goaltender? Can Nikita Filatov find himself in the NHL? Can Rick Nash truly be dominant player without a top center?

If the answer to two of the three of those questions is yes, then you could very well see the Stanley Cup Playoffs return to Ohio.

The problem is, however, is that there is no certainty that the answer to any of these three questions is yes.

Mason started to find his game again at the end of the season, while Filatov may find himself much more suited to the style of Scott Arneil than of Ken Hitchcock, but the fact remains that Nash does not have that one player on his line that can complement him and help him become the dominant player that we saw in the Olympics.

The addition of Ethan Moreau makes the team tougher to play against, to be sure, but it does nothing to help their top-six forwards.

Unfortunately for Jackets fans, it would appear that this team is again going to be on the outside looking in unless things turn around very, very quickly. There are significant needs that the team has that were not addressed in either the draft or free agency, most notably help on defense. These needs must be addressed before the team can take any significant steps forward so, they may be looking at another lottery pick.

Detroit Red Wings – So, how do the Detroit Red Wings follow up an admittedly disappointing season?

Well, how about signing a future hall-of-famer, a gritty defenseman and getting back one of their top young players from the KHL?

Their forward corps now have Jiri Hudler back in the fold as well as newcomer Mike Modano, who will serve as a depth center and also get some powerplay time, most likely. But on top of that, they will have a healthy and rested forward unit that is one of the most potent in the NHL.

Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom will be back healthy and the return of Hudler will likely spell a resurgence for the team’s two superstars in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and that can only mean bad things for the rest of the league.

On defense, Ruslan Salei joins an already solid defensive unit and will provide them with some added grit. He, along with Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall will ensure that opposing forwards keep their heads up.

Led, once again, by Nicklas Lidstrom, the Wings blueline will be one of the toughest to play against in the league and Salei’s hardnosed style will only add to that and their defense should only solidify Jimmy Howard’s place in net with the squad.

Howard had a breakout season with the Wings last year and the Calder Trophy nominee unseated Chris Osgood in the starting role. He held the Wings together through the injuries last season and was the sole reason that the team was able to not only make the playoffs but claw their way as far up as they did. Howard will have a lot to prove in order to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump but he is in the best situation possible to be able to do so.

When you look at the Wings, they are a team that is poised and ready to be a competitive team in the Stanley Cup race once again and could easily find themselves as the frontrunner to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals again.

Nashville Predators – To be perfectly honest, Nashville is like the bad cold of the Central Division. When it comes down to it, there’s no reason they should be there but you simply can’t get rid of them.

The Preds are about $13 million under the salary cap heading into this season with 15 forwards under contract, but just five defensemen and one goaltender. As always, however, it should be expected that those positions will be filled from within.

Chet Pickard will likely get a good, long look as the team’s back up goaltender while it could be expected that Ryan Ellis or Cody Franson will get a look as the team’s sixth and seventh defensemen.

But overall, this is a Predators team that is looking like they could match up very well with the rest of the division.

Matthew Lombardi joins an underrated forward unit and Colin Wilson will find himself in an increased role as well, after the departure of Jason Arnott. The top six, while not flashy, are both reliable and clutch and their young players of Wilson and Patric Hornqvist are continuing to improve. Throw in the addition of Sergei Kostitsyn, who will have a renewed lease on life after a change of scenery, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow former-Montreal Canadiens underachiever, Guillaume Latendresse and some solid role players like Joel Ward and Jerred Smithson round out the group.

On defense, they still have their solid top-two of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. These two will anchor a defensive unit that could use some work, but is very promising.

With veteran Francis Boullion, youngsters Ryan Parent (who is looking for a new lease on life in Nashville as well) and Kevin Klein will round out a defensive unit that will look much different by the time the season starts.

In net, they have Pekka Rinne, who will look to improve on a pedestrian season last year. Without Dan Ellis looking over his shoulders, however, the starting job is Rinne’s to lose and the team’s hope is that the certainty of his job will elevate his play.

The Predators are likely going to be a bubble team this year, as they have been the past few seasons, but that shouldn’t be a problem for a team that is used to that tag being saddled on them.

St. Louis Blues – Last season was admittedly disappointing for the Blues, who had come in with high hopes of contending, or at least winning a playoff series.

The young Blues team faltered early on and, after the firing of Andy Murray and hiring of Davis Payne, began to find the fire that had made them a force to be reckoned with in the West.

This season will be one of change for the Blues, though it shouldn’t make them any less deadly. Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk are both gone, leading to a youth movement for the team. This will lead to increased ice time for players like David Perron, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund, all of whom will look to improve on their performances from last season.

The fate of the Blues likely lies in how these four perform. With the subtractions of Tkachuk and Kariya, their forward unit is significantly younger and has lost two of their more prominent leaders. That means that these four, as well as players like Brad Boyes and Andy McDonald will have to step up and fill the void both in leadership and in point production if this team is to be successful.

On the back end, the team has their potent young duo of Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo (who will likely finally crack the lineup for good this season). These two will be the cornerstones of a defensive unit that is as offensively talented as it is gritty, making for a potent combination.

Behind this defensive unit is the hero of the Montreal Canadiens, Jaroslav Halak. Halak proved in the playoffs that he is capable of bearing the load of a franchise and is really the first solid goaltender that the team has had in a few years. Behind him will be perennial solid back up, Ty Conklin, who will fill in admirably when needed and the duo will provide one of the more solid goaltending tandems in the West.

There is no doubt that the Blues are a bubble team, but there’s no doubt that Davis Payne has this team playing the way that he wants them to and heading in the right direction.

Predictions

1) Detroit Red Wings
2) Chicago Blackhawks
3) Nashville Predators
4) St. Louis Blues
5) Columbus Blue Jackets

It breaks down like this. The Red Wings and Blackhawks will most likely be back in the playoffs this season. As with the last couple seasons, one of the last spots in the West could be determined by who finishes third or fourth in the division, lending hope to Predators and Blues fans. Finally, Columbus will find themselves looking at the lottery once again; however, their future continues to look up under Scott Howson.

Up Next: The Northwest Division

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