Around the NHL: 7/26/11

Like I said yesterday, the mailbag was cancelled due to not enough responses, so yeah…Get your questions in to blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com and I’ll answer them next week.

Today, though, it’s time for a look around the NHL. Enjoy!

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Yashin Back to the Island?
Of all of the rumors and hearsay that one hears throughout the course of the off season, this one is potentially the most ridiculous.

The even more ridiculous thing is that it’s more than a rumor. The two sides are talking.

Consider this. The Isles are already paying Yashin $2.2 million over the next two seasons AND the reason for this is because Yashin was run out of town for underperformance. So…We thought that he was overpaid and underperforming at $8.75 million per year (which he was), but we like him so much that we’re going to pay him the $2.2 million buyout penalty, plus a salary?

Right.

I understand that the Isle have cap to burn, and maybe the Yashin camp will give them a break and sign at the league minimum so that his cap hit isn’t north of ridiculous this time (I doubt it), but either way his cap hit will be close to $3 million.

$3 million for a player who hasn’t played in the NHL since the ’06-’07 season and who has only topped 50 points in the KHL once since joining the league?

Yeah. I can think of better ways for the team to spend their money.

* * * * *

Draper to Retire
It looks like Kris Draper is set to announce his retirement today after being part of one of the most lop-sided trades in NHL history (from Winnipeg to Detroit for $1 in 1993).

All Draper did after that trade is win four Stanley Cups and a Selke Trophy for the Red Wings, while Winnipeg moved to the desert a few seasons later. Was losing Draper the reason? Probably not. But it’s fun to poke and prod anyway.

Draper leaves the league having scored 20 goals only once in his career, and having scored 40 points just once. He also never scored more than six points in a playoff run, but he will be sorely missed by the Red Wings and their organization.

His legacy won’t be one of gaudy numbers or of goal scoring or point production, but one of the blue collar work that it takes to do absolutely anything and everything necessary to win. He’ll be remembered as part of the famed “Grind Line” in Detroit which, along with Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty made life hell for opposing teams. He’ll be remembered as being a tremendous leader and one hell of a guy.

But more importantly than that, he’ll also be remembered for his daughter taking a deuce in the Cup.

* * * * *

Jets Release Logos
The Winnipeg Jets have released their new logos and I, for one, think they’re boring, bland and, quite frankly, ugly.

I get the tribute to the Canadian Royal Air Force, and it’s a touching tribute. It’s a great reason for a logo and the Jets truly are embracing their military as well as the history behind the RAF.

But where is the color?

Navy, silver, white and red. My guess, by looking at the logos, is that the primary colors of the sweaters will be navy and silver. Dull, dark colors.

It seems to me that navy blue is becoming the new black in the NHL. Columbus, Florida, Nashville – all of these franchises sport navy blue in one form or another as a primary color on a sweater, whether it be alternate or otherwise, yet you look at the sweaters that sell and they’re the brightly colored ones (or ones with Crosby on the back).

I get that Winnipeg doesn’t have the history of the old Jets to draw upon and I get that the team is trying to distinguish itself from the old but, in my opinion, they could have done a lot better with those logos.

Around the NHL: Stamkos, Osgood and DeBoer, Oh my!

This is the first of what will be an ongoing Wednesday staple here on Wild Nation – Around the NHL. We are, primarily, a Wild-centric website; however, we are all hockey fans in general so, from time to time, we’ll take a view around the whole NHL and look at some big stories going on.

So here…we…go…

* * * * *

Stamkos Signs 5-year Deal
First of all, just allow me to say how absolutely the idea that Steven Stamkos would end up anywhere other than Tampa Bay was. The idea that he would end up in Philadelphia or Toronto was patently absurd for a couple reasons, most of all the fact that the teams in question would have had to give up four first-round draft picks for the young sniper, but fans were getting worked up into a frenzy nonetheless.

At the end of the day, though, Stamkos signed a five-year deal to stay in Tampa with a cap hit of $7.5 million per year and I love the deal for a couple of reasons.

First, the term is much more sensible than some of the “lifetime contracts” handed out these days.

In my opinion, any contract over five years is absolutely ridiculous (yes, Wild fans, even Mikko Koivu’s deal). First of all, five years is a long time. Teams have started and completed rebuilds in much less time; plus, you have the entire final year of the player’s contract to work out an extension. Second, hockey is an extremely unpredictable sport when it comes to the health of players. The physicality of the game, coupled with the fact that it’s played on ice means that one day, you can be one of the top players in the game and the next, you can be a chronically injured liability (see: DiPietro, Rick).

Whether it’s Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby or some other superstar player, the simple fact is that you can never predict when an elite player is going to suffer a serious injury and become a shell of their former selves. A five year contract ensures that the players are around for long enough to make a serious impact on the franchise, yet short enough that it doesn’t tie the franchise to an inflated contract on a player that plays 40 games in a season.

Second, the contract is very cap-friendly on a superstar level. $7.5 million is a good number to be tied to for a superstar player, especially one with the upside that Stamkos has.

Either way, five more seasons of 40+ goals is looking pretty nice for the Bolts.

* * * * *

Osgood Retires; Conklin to Back Up Red Wings
Well, it’s official. After Detroit media jumped the gun and reported Chris Osgood as re-joining the Red Wings, he did just that – right after he retired.

Osgood will work with the organization’s young goaltenders which, in the scheme of things, is great news for the Red Wings and for the future hall-of-famer.

What is better for the team is to be rid of Osgood’s shaky groin in the back-up position and even better than that is to have Ty Conklin back in the fray. Conklin has been one of the more solid back up goaltenders in the league over the last few seasons.

Despite a shaky season last year, Conklin had three straight great years, including one 25 win season with the Red Wings.

Bringing Conklin back is a coup for Detroit. The Wings were in desperate need of a veteran back up to Jimmy Howard, and they got just that. Conklin brings 200 games played to the back up position and gives the Wings someone they can lean on to not just fill in, but to win games on Howard’s off days.

* * * * *

New Jersey Hires Pete DeBoer as Head Coach
Well, amidst all of the speculation that someone tied with the Montreal Canadiens was going to be hired as the Devils’ head coach, Lou Lamoriello threw a curveball at everyone and hired Pete DeBoer, a coach with neither an extensive NHL head coaching record nor a winning record.

Granted, the lack of experience or a winning record makes it a heck of a lot easier for Lou to justify firing DeBoer around the trade deadline (maybe someone should explain to Lou that the trade deadline doesn’t mean trading coaches), but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for an organization that, seemingly, should have a win-now philosophy.

DeBoer might be a great coach for New Jersey – he might be the right man for the job – but, for a team that has done absolutely nothing to improve itself during the off season, it’s just not that great. I would have preferred someone with more NHL experience for a team that, at best, has had marginal chemistry of late.

Jacques Lemaire captured lightning in a bottle with their run last season, and maybe DeBoer can do it again – I’m not sold though.

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.

In Lieu of a Gameday Thread – Some Quick Hits

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

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

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

Wild Nation’s Ridiculously Early Season 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

Early Round Two Live Blog Schedule

Alright.  Second round, here we come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Early Postseason Playoff Thoughts

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

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

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

The Infernal Ramblings of an Incoherant Mind

Look, I’ll be honest here.  There’s really not a whole heck of a lot going on in the Wild universe to talk about. 

I didn’t catch all of last night’s game, as I turned it off after the second due to a combination of my wife being sick, my daughter being on a sugar high (without any sugar, go figure) and my disgust at the way the Wild were playing. 

Imagine my surprise when I pulled up the boxscore on my Blackberry later on in the night only to see the Wild pulled out a win in overtime. 

“@#$!. @#$%. @#$!.” 

That was about what it sounded like when I found out I turned the game off about 20+ minutes of game time too early.

Buuuut, win we did.  And it was a big one too, at least in terms of confidence.  We won with Koivu out of the line up, we beat a Flyers team that is still pretty decent, even with the injuries that they are suffering through and Casey Wellman proved that he is a beast (or, in the immortal words of our almost-GM, a MONSTER). 

Wellman was our most impressive player on the ice for about 75% of the game that I saw, and that’s not a knock on him or on the team — he just played that good. 

He also proved that he’s a good teammate too, jumping Carcillo after his hit on Latendresse despite being a buck-seventy, soaking wet. 

But, since I’m not able to speak to much of when the Wild played well last night, I’ll instead focus on thoughts on tonight’s game. 

* Not that there’s ever a GOOD time to face the Red Wings, but tonight’s tilt could be a very poorly timed one for the Wild.  Why, you ask?  Because Detroit has lost just twice in regulation since the Olympic break and just once more in overtime.  That’s right, they’re 9-2-1 during that time and haven’t lost a game in regulation in over two weeks. 

And you know what else?  They’ve scored 41 goals in these 12 games while giving up just 30.  And since their last regulation loss?  23 goals in seven games, giving up just 13. 

* Josh Harding is probably going to get the nod in nets tonight for the Wild and I wouldn’t expect another disaster like the last time the Wild visited Motown.  Harding knows that he didn’t play his best game that night and he’s probably had this game circled on his calendar since.  He’ll be ready. 

* Playoff probability reports need to start taking reality into their equations as well. 

I understand that the Wild could theoretically still make the playoffs, but come on…Can’t we all just agree that 0.2% means there’s a snowball’s chance in Hades that they’ll make it and stop giving people unrealistic hope? 

* I was knocked out of one of my two fantasy leagues this season — the one run by Justin Bourne.  I feel like I should get a part of whatever he’s going to give out as a prize though if he wins it because, after all, it was my spectacular collapse in the waning weeks of the season that allowed him to sneak in at the 7 spot. 

* Is there any question that Latendresse for Pouliot is the best trade in the NHL, bar none?  Here are their stats prior to and since moving to their new teams: 

The Tenderness w/ MTL: 23 GP, 2 G, 1 A, -4, 11:21 TOI
The Tenderness w/ MIN: 49 GP, 25 G, 11 A, +4, 16:33 TOI 

{Author’s Note: Yeah, Latendresse’s work ethic was definitely the reason he wasn’t producing, not a lack of ice time or a stifling coach…} 

Pool Boy w/ MIN: 14 GP, 2 G, 2 A, E, 11:56 TOI
Pool Boy w/ MTL: 32 GP, 15 G, 8 A, +11, 16:53 TOI 

{Author’s Note: See Previous Note} 

Imagine that.  They both start getting more ice time and quality line mates and they both start producing.  Who woulda thunk it? 

* Can I gush some more about Wellman?  I’m absolutely amazed that this kid has just one point with us.  He was given more ice time last night and he responded by playing just a fantastic game. 

In fact, I would say that he played the type of game that’s been expected of a certain other young center all season long.  (Hint: It rhymes with Games Peppered.) 

* Speaking of good trades, Cam Barker is quickly falling into that category as well. 

He’s not flashy, he’s nothing spectacular, but he’s got a great shot, he’s played D well for us and he’s proving to be an effective partner for Mr. Burns. 

* And speaking of Mr. Burns (eeeeexxxxcellent), I think it’s safe to say that he’s starting to get back to form. 

His defensive mistakes have been drastically cut down on and he’s starting to play like Brent Burns can play.  It’s only a matter of time before he gets hot and starts burying the puck on a regular basis. 

Well…That’s it from me for now.  Enjoy the game tonight all!  The puck drops at 6:30 and it’s on FSN.

Gameday Thread – Game 53 – Wings @ Wild

UPDATE: So the blogosphere is flip-flopping as much as John Kerry on tonight’s starting goalie.  First it was Backstrom, then it was Harding, then it was Backstrom again, now it might be Harding.  I’m just going to go ahead and say that no one but the coach has any stinking idea who will start tonight (but, between the two, my guess will be Backstrom).  Also, the Wild assigned Petr Sykora to Houston and have reportedly reached an agreement with his agent to mutually terminate his contract, pending league approval.

There’s no doubt that the Wild this season have been about as consistent as a schizophrenic on speed and have left many of their loyal fanbase in desperate need of some sort of emotional therapy. 

Bearing that in mind, consider this blog right here your own personal “truth zone.”  I promise that I won’t try to sugarcoat things for you and I promise that I’ll try to remain optimistic about the Wild’s chances this season. 

Realistically, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. 

Martin Havlat has finally caught fire and is playing like the player we thought we were getting at the season’s onset.  Mikko Koivu is on pace for yet another career season.  Guillaume Latendresse is playing like a man possessed for the Wild, having scored 13 goals and 19 points in just 27 games with the team. 

Have I mentioned that we’ve gotten Brent Burns back, and he’s actually playing Brent Burns hockey?  Or that Robbie Earl is scoring a goal in about every third game and truly looking like he belongs?  Or that this could quite possibly be the most closely knit Wild team that I’ve seen in quite some time? 

There is, indeed, light on the horizon for the boys in Iron Range Red. 

The problem is that we’re not on the horizon yet.  We’re in the here and now. 

It would be easy to go into some long rant about how this game is a must win, how it would do wonders for the team’s confidence, how a solid game from Backstrom would be great for his confidence. 

All of the above holds true. 

But we’ll just put it this way. 

We’re sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference, just five points from the final playoff spot.  Just five points behind the very team that we play tonight. 

A regulation win tonight puts us three points behind them (for those who, like myself, are mathematically challenged). 

Right now, Hockey Reference has the Wild listed as having a 14% chance of making the playoffs.  Hardly a foregone conclusion, but also there is hope. 

The problem, for the Wild, lies behind the fact that they are having to play catch up. 

The teams that they’re chasing? 

Well, the Sharks have won five straight, the Avs six, the Kings three – you get the point. 

The good news is that the teams that they are most likely to catch are either struggling or in a flat-out free fall. 

The team tonight gets lumped in with the former. 

While everyone in Detroit is remaining optimistic that this is a team that could do damage in the playoffs, if healthy (and let’s be honest, they really could), the fact is that they are currently decimated by injuries – something that the Wild need to take advantage of tonight. 

Lineup(s) 

To be honest, I’m not quite sure how the lines will roll out for the Wild past the top two, but here’s my best guess, otherwise known what I would do were I the one making the lineups: 

Brunette-Koivu-Miettinen
Latendresse-Brodziak-Havlat
Nolan-Belanger-Earl
Sheppard-Ebbett-Clutterbuck 

Now, I know what you’re asking.  Clutterbuck on the fourth line?  You’re demoting Cal for Robbie Earl?  WTF mate!? 

Am I crazy?  There’s a good chance.  But here’s my thoughts.  Robbie Earl has five goals this season.  Hardly Ovechkin-esque numbers, right?  But his shooting percentage?  41.7%.  He has five goals on 12 shots.  To me, that deserves a shot at playing with the big boys. 

Meanwhile, Clutterbuck has not been playing his best over the last few games.  By no means do I think he deserves a demotion to the eight minutes a game that Earl has been averaging, but I do think that Earl deserves a promotion to more than eight minutes per-game, to see what he can do. 

On defense, it’s likely going to be more of the same: 

Zidlicky-Zanon
Johnsson-Schultz
Burns-Hnidy 

Look for Burns’s icetime to start increasing, however.  He’s going to start getting more and more icetime as his level of conditioning continues to improve and the Wild need him to do just that, especially in a game like tonight’s against an extremely tough opponent. 

In net, we’ll get Backstrom despite him getting his “maintenance” day yesterday.  Don’t kid yourselves.  He’s struggling, but he’s still our number one and he needs to play his way out of this slump, no matter how painful it is to watch. 

What to Watch For 

Seriously.  Robbie Earl. 

Why?  The Wild is 10-3-2 with him in the lineup and 9-0-1 in his last ten. 

Whatever it is that Robbie brings to this team when he’s suited up, it’s infectious.  The team has, on a whole, played better with him in the lineup.  His speed and grit help this team a great deal and he’s just the type of sparkplug that the Wild need in their lineup. 

Also, keep an eye on Guillaume Latendresse. 

After his hot streak got him named the third star of the week a couple weeks ago, he has been silent in his last three games. 

The good news with G-Lat is twofold.  

First, he usually comes out of his shell quite nicely after a scoreless streak.  (Six game scoreless streak, followed by four goals in four games.  Four game scoreless streak, followed by seven goals and 12 points in seven games.)  

Second, even when he’s not scoring he can be an energizer and a difference maker.  How?  He’s averaging 2.5 shots per game since joining the Wild and 3.5 in his last ten games, and he has turned into a forechecking and checking machine since joining the Wild. 

Finally, Niklas Backstrom. 

Namely, which Nik will we get?  Will we get the one who stoned Columbus for 59:30?  Or will we get the one that saw a bad bounce break his shutout and get flustered into giving up one more. 

My guess is that he will come out like a man possessed as he did against Columbus.  He knows that the hasn’t been playing his best and he knows that the team needs him desperately.  Backs will be ready tonight. 

But will the Wild? 

Key(s) to the Game 

The Wild need to come out strong early. 

They simply cannot afford to fall into another hole against a good team. 

Jimmy Howard is proving that he is the man in net for Detroit and the Wild need to get to him early, as much for their confidence as his. 

The Wild tend to score in bunches, so if they can get an early goal, there’s a good chance that their jump will continue and they might be able to extend their lead. 

But they cannot afford to fall behind.  If they fall behind to Detroit, especially by more than one goal, they will be in deep, deep trouble. 

The Wild also NEED to limit the Wings’ scoring chances. 

Detroit likes to shoot.  Scratch that.  They LOVE to shoot. 

The Wild have got to protect Backstrom and get in shooting lanes.  If they can prevent the Wings from getting a dearth of solid scoring opportunities, they will be able to stay in the game.  But another shooting gallery, like happened in the teams’ last meeting?  

It could be a long game. 

Finally, the Wild need to, need to, need to stop the Wings’ top line.  Let Dan Cleary beat you.  Let Drew Miller beat you.  Let Ville Leino beat you.  But, for the love of God, do NOT let Bertuzzi or Datsyuk or Zetterberg beat you.  The three of them account for 28% of Detroit’s points and 30% of Detroit’s goal production. 

This isn’t saying that the three players I mentioned, or any of the Wings’ other players can’t beat you.  But shutting down the Berzettersyuk line gives you a much better chance. 

The puck drops tonight at 7pm and it is televised on FSN!  For those following me on Twitter, I’ll hopefully be posting updates on there as we go (though they will definitely not rival those of Mike Russo).  You can follow me on Twitter at @WildNation!

Game 51 Post Mortem

Well, it’s official. 

Niklas Backstrom is pissed off, and he all but said so to the Star-Tribune following last night’s shootout loss to Detroit. 

“You look at the goals, we’re giving too much to the other team,” Backstrom said. “It seems we’re in the same spot we were at the beginning of the year, that we haven’t improved on a lot of things. We are 50 games deep. That’s frustrating. It seems every night the same things cost us the game.” 

So wait. 

You’re telling me that the team hasn’t yet realized that defense is a problem? 

Is there anyone that didn’t see that last month? 

But the big news to come from last night’s game is the injury to Josh Harding.  No word has been released yet on how serious the injury is, or how long the young netminder will be out, but any injury is bad news for the Wild at this point – especially with Niklas Backstrom’s confession that his confidence is wavering. 

On the upside, though, Backstrom was solid last night.  He gave up two goals on 18 shots and made some big saves in the breakaway competition at the end of the game.  While it wasn’t quite enough to get the win, he did show signs of righting the ship. 

What’s most troubling about last night’s loss, however, is that the Wild got off to another horrific start.  In ten games this month, the Wild have mustered just six first period goals – a troubling statistic, to be sure. 

In fact, in the four games since their two goal “outburst” in the first period against Vancouver, Minnesota hasn’t scored a first period goal. 

What is encouraging, however, is that Minnesota scratched an important point out of a game that, by all rights, shouldn’t have gone to a shootout.  They dug deep and came back from two goals down – again. 

On top of that, Brent Burns returned to the ice to play a little over 13 minutes of ice time – a return that Head Coach Todd Richards graded as “decent.” 

He played 13 minutes, 36 seconds, and coach Todd Richards called his return “decent.” Burns, who missed in the fifth round of the shootout, was on for two goals against and will receive some video work, Richards said. 

Essentially, what the Wild can take away from last night’s contest is this: 

It wasn’t a failure, but it certainly wasn’t a success either. 

Wild Nation’s Three Stars 

1)      Drew Miller – The unheralded of the Miller brothers (you know, the other being the one who’s won a few games this season for Buffalo) had a phenomenal game.  One goal on one shot, plus the shootout winner.

2)      Shane Hnidy – The Wild d-man had his first two-point game of his career, assisting on both tying Wild goals.  All that in just ten minutes of ice time.

3)      Todd Bertuzzi – Big Bert continued his resurgence with the Wings, scoring his 14th of the year in the first and notching just over 23 minutes in ice time against the team and fans that hate him so.

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