‘Hawks down Wild in shootout

First of all, watch this shootout goal from Patrick Kane and not say, “Are you effing serious?” I dare you. It’s impossible.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I didn’t do a write up on the game last night because I was too busy watching 24/7. Like, watched it three times too busy.

Would I have watched it three times had I not had to write a review for it? Probably not. But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself in the process. My review will be up on Hockey Primetime soon, and I’ll link you too it as soon as it is, but I’ll give you a preview to how awesome the first episode was.

Not gonna lie – that song is now on my iPod.

Anyway, on to the Wild game.

As has been their M.O. this season, the Wild came out glacially slow again and, thanks to some spectacular goaltending by Niklas Backstrom, were still tied at zero when the buzzer sounded. Considering how badly they were outshot (11-2), this was no small feat.

They then kept their M.O. going, falling behind 2-0 in just over a minute on two quick goals from the ‘Hawks. The first, Marian Hossa potted on the power play after catching the Wild scrambling and then looking (just about every single player had their back to the blue line) and the second saw a beautiful pass end up with Michael Frolik, who had a tap-in into the open net.

The Wild, though, didn’t stop. In fact, they just kept getting better as the night went on. They, once again, scored two very quick goals to tie the game up. The first was a very controversial call, in which one linesman called an icing and the other waived it off. The ‘Hawks learned the hard way that they have to keep playing until the whistle blows, because Colton Gillies came in hard on the forecheck with Steve Montador and John Scott playing the puck very relaxed, expecting the icing to be called. Gillies got the puck out to Kyle Brodziak who scored on an incensed Blackhawks team – and rightfully so. I’ll take that kind of blown call any day of the week but it was, indeed, a horribly blown call.

Matt Cullen pounded home a Cal Clutterbuck rebound just a short time later to tie the game and the Wild were buzzing.

Jonathan Toews buried a beautiful wrister in the third to put the ‘Hawks back up, but the Wild were not to be denied with Mikko Koivu tying the game with a blistering one-timer on a beautiful play by Cal Clutterbuck.

Overtime was uneventful, in terms of goals, but was a tremendous pace and highly entertaining to watch and, seriously. Tell me that a 10 minute overtime of that pace wouldn’t end in a non-shootout win? If the league wants to minimize the impact of the shootout, that’s the way to go.

On to the shootout, where Jonathan Toews scored a typical shootout goal on Backstrom (five hole) and Patrick Kane made about a bazillion and two dekes before potting a shootout goal that, quite frankly, made Backstrom look silly.

So, how does this match up? Is this the Wild regressing? They’ve lost two straight, it obviously must mean that they are, right?

Well, not so fast.

Yeah, the Wild lost two tough, hard fought games. They didn’t find a way to win, when they needed to.

They ran into a hot Ondrej Pavelec, hell bent on rebounding from his seven-goal disaster against the Red Wings and, stuck with a team that about 99-percent of the pundits around the league would say is unequivocally better than the Wild, losing in the skills competition on a shootout goal that, quite honestly, bordered on the ridiculous.

This team isn’t regressing. This is a team that is coming together that has lost a couple tough hockey games in which they’ve played quite well.

The Wild play again on Saturday against the New York Islanders and you can bet they’ll be one hungry team.

Burning Questions

How do the Wild respond to a tough loss? They responded well, despite looking tired in the first period. They lost, yeah, but it was a hard-fought game that took the shootout for Chicago to win.

Can Guillaume Latendresse rebound? He ended up leaving the game with post-concussion symptoms. I was concerned that this would happen when he was rushed back into action, and it did.

Will Marek Zidlicky play and, if so, will he be useful? He didn’t look terrible, but he didn’t look great either. He had a few good looks, but one has to wonder if those good looks were worth scratching the puck magnet, Greg Zanon, against the Blackhawks.

How will Backstrom look in his second game in two nights? He looked good. None of the regulation goals could be pinned on him and, honestly, Backstrom didn’t lose the shootout; Kane won it.

Three Stars

1)      Cal Clutterbuck – Two assists, including the game-tying one on a delayed penalty and a gorgeous pass.

2)      Jonathan Toews – Great game. Goal and an assist, a shootout goal and was a force all night long.

3)      Mikko Koivu – Game-tying goal, +1, six shots.

Wild down Oilers in shootout 2-1

Snipe!

I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I was watching the game on my DVR (two kids, plus bedtime doesn’t always for an easy time watching the game make) and one of my buddies texted me to share something he did in Dark Souls (trust me, if you’re a gamer and you’ve played the game, you know doing something positive in the game is definitely something to brag about). Being that he’s a huge Wild fan, my response was to immediately tell him that I was watching the game because I didn’t want any spoilers.

His response to that was, “Well, I won’t tell you what happened then.”

To which, my response was, “If it went to a shootout, I can guess.”

Boy was my guess wrong, and I’m man enough to admit it.

Okay, so it's not the shootout. But he was still good.

Backstrom simply rocked the shootout. He got outwaited by Jordan Eberle first thing, then stopped three shots in a row to give the Wild a shootout victory and, according to Russo’s twitter, his second shootout win in his last ten.

I’ve always been a Backstrom sympathizer (not always a popular position among Wild fans), and seeing him come out and turn the Oilers away in a shootout yesterday just made me smile.

Before the shootout, Mike Yeo came over and pumped his tires (to steal some phrasing from ourVancouvercounterpart), and Backstrom looked like a completely different goalie than he did inOttawa. InOttawa, he wasn’t sure of himself. He almost looked timid trying to stop the shots. Tonight, he did not.

The Oilers came out strong and, again, the Wild struggled through the first period, giving up a goal midway through the period to Ryan Smyth, which seemed to wake them up a bit. From there, the Wild poured on the pressure and after being outshot 12-9 in the first period, the Wild outshot Edmonton26-10 the rest of the way.

Despite the disparity in shots, the only goal the Wild managed to get through Nikolai Khabibulin’s wall was Matt Cullen’s snipe in the second period. The rest of the way was typified by some great chances by the Wild and either some great saves by Khabibulin or missed opportunities byMinnesota.

The Wild came out of overtime assured of a point, but wanting the extra mark against a division foe and, this time, you saw just what kind of coach Yeo really was. Backstrom was staring at open ice, preparing himself for the shootout, and Yeo came over, leaned in and said something to him, then patted him on the back.

Now, I’ve never played goalie, but I can tell you from my experience playing organized sports, that sort of pep talk from your coach can do you wonders. Even if it’s a simple, “You got this,” it’s something that is vastly underrated in a coach’s arsenal, and Yeo utilized it to perfection last night. After allowing a goal to Jordan Eberle, Backstrom played the rest of the way perfectly and the Wild were able to skate away with a shootout win.

So, some thoughts on the game:

Yay! We won!

  • Backstrom truly looks back to his old form and, honestly, I feel a lot of the reason why is because of his level of trust in his defense. The last two seasons, he never really seemed to trust the players in front of him (and for good reason, because he never really knew who was going to be where) and it showed in his play. This season, he’s confident that players are going to need to be where they should be and he’s able to play much more aggressive and much more self-assured because of it.
  • Guillaume Latendresse continues to look great on the ice. He’s throwing his weight around and he’s shooting the puck and getting some great looks. It’s only a matter of time before he starts putting the puck in the back of the net, though I feel like he’ll have a lot better shot at doing that if he uses his quick release and stops winding up for slap shots.
  • Matt Cullen scored his third goal in four games and, though he’ll probably slow down sometime soon, he’s looking really good and really confident with the puck. More importantly, he’s scoring at even strength – something he did only three times last season.
  • The Wild’s first line was held off the scoreboard last night, but they still got some great looks. They already have some decent chemistry and haven’t even been playing together more than a couple of months. Once they start learning each other’s tendencies, watch out – they’re going to be very explosive.
  • How about Colton Gillies? The kid just keeps getting better and better. He hasn’t shown much of an offensive upside yet (though, in his defense, he hasn’t really played with any players that exude offensive ability), but if he keeps playing like he has, he’s definitely going to get a shot on the power play at some point.

Alright. There was no gameday thread, so no questions to answer, but here are our three stars.

Three Stars

1)      Nikolai Khabibulin – There’s no way this game even makes it to a shootout without the Bulin Wall playing like he did. 34 saves, many of them coming after defensive zone turnovers by the Oilers and, my goodness, that third period was spectacular on his part.

2)      Niklas Backstrom – Backs played solid again, and he looked like a man with a chip on his shoulder in the shootout. If he keeps playing like this, it bodes well for the Wild.

3)      Matt Cullen – Cullen scored the Wild’s lone goal and potted the opening goal in the shootout. He looks calm, confident and very, very good out there right now.

Alright. Coming up in a few is our look at the game for you all to watch tonight with no Wild game on. Cheers!

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

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: Colton Gillies

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@gmail.com.

Colton Gillies

Colton Gillies

Born – 12/2/1989
Position –
LW
Ht –
6’4
Wt –
189
Shoots –
Left

The Skinny

Gillies is walking, talking proof that most NHL Draft Picks need time to develop. The time that Gillies spent with the Houston Aeros turned him from a swift-skating, gangly young forward into a power forward that genuinely looked at home in the NHL during his brief call up last season.

NHL Goalies should get used to this.

Gillies has a definite mean streak to his game, but his offensive game hasn’t come around quite as quickly as the organization would like.

The common thought, though, is that power forwards take a little longer to develop their game. It’s not really until you see a fullydeveloped power forward spend some significant time in the NHL that you know what they will do, or how they will project. Gillies still has to grow into his frame, but if he adds some bulk and improves his hands, the Wild could have themselves a gem.

This Season

There’s no question, with the new contract that Gillies has signed that he’s going to be on the opening day roster – or, at least, will be given every opportunity to make the squad.

Gillies will likely be spending time on the fourth line this year, but if he continues playing the way that he did at the end of last season, there’s little doubt in my mind that he’ll find his way in front of opposing goaltenders on the power play from time to time. He has a lot of up side, and it doesn’t seem like the new Wild organization is one to rush (or waste) talent, so if he deserves more time on the ice, he’ll get it.

Potential

Gillies has tremendous, raw potential, but it’s looking less and less likely that he’s going to live up to that potential each season. The Hockey News has his career potential listed as a speedy energy forward with good size and, with some hard work, he could exceed that potential.

Our estimation is that Gillies will spend the 2011-12 season with the Wild full time, likely getting third and fourth line minutes.

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.

Wild embarrassed by Vancouver

Well, to be honest, that was to be expected.

I don’t think there’s any team in the NHL that could be missing their leading scorer, two of their top-four defensemen and ice six rookies (including four rookie d-men) and expect to contend with the Vancouver Canucks.

To the Wild’s credit, they hung with the ‘Nucks a lot longer than I thought they would but in the end the new Wild Killer, Ryan Kesler, put away the Wild with a hat trick en route to scoring his 40th goal of the season.

There’s not much to say about the macro in this one. The Wild were out matched in every facet of the game by a team that is just far superior to them right now.

So, let’s take a look at the micro:

  • Colton Gillies looked really good in this one, in my opinion. He spent a lot of time skating on the wing on the Wild’s second line and created a few good chances to boot. I’ve got to say, I’m very impressed with the way he skates. He’s very fluid on the ice and skates a lot like Brent Burns (that’s a compliment, folks). One thing I do have to say about Gillies, though, is that I’d like to see him a little stronger on his skates. There’s one time in particular that I’m thinking of, on the power play, when he skated into the slot and just got dumped by a Vancouver defenseman with a solid check to his chest.
  • Russo made mention that Niklas Backstrom is just emotionally deflated right now, and I’d say that goes for the entire team. They just look like they don’t have it in them to fight back anymore. I hate to say it but, they’ve given up. That much is plain to see.
  • The Wild’s defense was just awful. In fact, the team’s best pairing was probably the rookie tandem of Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner. Greg Zanon looked alright, but Brent Burns, Justin Falk and Maxim Noreau just looked terrible. It might be acceptable for Falk and Noreau to have an off game, given their lack of NHL experience, but Burns looks like he’s devolving to Martin Skoula with each passing game. He’s consistently out of position and he looks like he’s pushing far too much to make things happen – which is commendable because no one else seems to be, but he’s consistently making mistakes while he’s pushing to make things happen.
  • This last stretch of games, where the Wild has lost 11 of 13, has shown a lot about what this team is made of – not a whole lot of heart. The Wild come out against St. Louis and beat the Blues in a shootout and follow that up with a game against Edmonton for their first winning streak since mid-February. But then they come out and just get dominated by playoff teams in three straight games. Where’s the drive? This team should be getting up for big games like those. They should be amped up to play against the best of the best to prove to everyone and themselves what they can do. Instead, they consistently come out flat in those games. Not the make up of a winner, at all. In fact, if you want to see some heart out of a Minnesota team before the beginning of next season, I’d recommend checking out the Frozen Four finals tomorrow night and watching Minnesota-Duluth.

Sorry about the downer of a post, but there’s not much you can say after last night’s loss. I’ll check back in after the weekend!

Gillies Call Up Is Good News

In the wake of a bout of illnesses that the Wild have been dealing with, Minnesota has called up Colton Gillies from the Houston Aeros as either insurance or, potentially, a replacement for an ailing player.

If you recall, last season Gillies failed to make the squad right out of camp and was assigned to the Aeros of the AHL. Gillies was disappointed about his re-assignment, but took it in stride and did everything he was asked, despite being told that there was no opportunity that he would be recalled and, indeed, despite all of the Wild’s injury troubles, Gillies was never once one of their call ups.

Gillies struggled with injuries last season and scored just 20 points in 72 games, but has a goal and an assist in two games this season and this call up seems to be as much of a reward to his dedication as to his strong play this season.

But this call up is more of a testament to the new developmental philosophy of the Minnesota Wild under Chuck Fletcher – one of the largest changes between this regime and the previous management.

Player development.

When Gillies and James Sheppard were brought in to the organization, they stuck with the squad for “developmental” purposes.

It was thought that the players would learn more from Head Coach Jacques Lemaire than they would from their junior coaches and they were too young to play in the AHL at that time.

But here’s the rub. When Sheppard and Gillies were called upon by the Wild, they weren’t getting the playing time they would have in juniors, or even in the AHL.

They were players used to playing top-line minutes that were now being asked to be checkers and, instead of playing 17-20 minutes per night were playing 7-10 minutes per night – believe me when I say that 10 minutes of ice time makes a big difference, especially when players are developing.

Players like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin – players that can enter the NHL and make an immediate impact and have the skill level necessary to play immediately on the top lines – are very rare. Even players like Steve Stamkos and John Tavares – players expected to be top, impact players in this league – experience some sort of learning curve.

If players like Crosby and Ovechkin are rare, players like Sheppard and Gillies are the norm.

These are players that need development to succeed, and that is one of the hardest calls to make for a general manager.

For every Crosby and Ovechkin, there is a Bobby Ryan or a Jonathan Toews that are elite talents, but might not be ready for the NHL the day that they’re drafted. The difference between the Ryan’s and the Toews’s and the Sheppard’s and the Gillies’s are not necessarily the ceiling of their talents (though, admittedly Ryan and Toews may have a higher ceiling than Sheppard and Gillies) but the fact that Ryan and Toews were not thrust into the NHL spotlight immediately.

Ryan and Toews were allowed to develop in situations where they were the man. They didn’t have to fight for ice time; they didn’t have to wonder whether or not they’d even be playing on a nightly basis.

Meanwhile, Sheppard and Gillies had to struggle for ice time. They didn’t get to develop their games in game situations – instead, they were forced to develop their games in practice, playing on lines with players like Derek Boogaard or Aaron Voros; players who are good at what they do, but not necessarily the players you want to use in order to help develop your young players.

The best example of this that the Wild has, right now, is Mikko Koivu.

Koivu was drafted in 2001 when he was 17 years old. He made his NHL debut when he was 22, after playing three seasons with TPS Turku and one more with the Houston Aeros. Even in his first couple seasons he wasn’t the elite center that he has turned into, but his time spent being the go-to guy in other leagues helped mold him into the player that he is today.

Sheppard has never had that opportunity and, until last season, neither did Colton Gillies.

Gillies is 21 years old now and may not yet be the impact player that many hope he will become, but if you consider that Koivu wasn’t an NHL regular until he was 22, it’s certain that he’s not done developing yet.

But right now, he’s certainly closer to being a productive NHLer than he was at this time last 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.

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