The Dreaded Season Preview

 So the pre season is nearing an end and teams are beginning to take shape and look like what they might actually look like in the regular season.  In some cases, it’s scary good.  In others, it’s scary bad.  Either way, it’s the time of the year when you can start hearing the sounds and seeing the sights.

Camp is just around the corner.

I was going to get ambitious and do a full 30-team preview of this season…But that will be covered by our father site, Hockey Primetime, so I’ll leave that to them.

Meanwhile, the Wild have been linked to both Alex Tanguay and Mike Comrie in the rumor mill.  The Tanguay rumors have since been substantiated, but the Comrie rumors are still just that — rumors.  With Tanguay, if the Wild are to sign him, they will likely have to unload some salary via a trade.  Despite the fact that Tanguay will likely be looking at a pay cut from last season’s salary, the Wild still would need to make some moves to fit him under the cap.

Comrie is an entirely different animal.  He’s been spotty, at best, throughout his NHL career, but when he’s on, he’s a terrific talent.  It’s just a matter of whether or not he’s on.  He can put up numbers when he’s on, but when he’s off he can be horrible.  That said, he could be a bargain that the Wild could use.

In any event, the Wild are mostly done with their off season and moving towards the pre-season.  With that in mind, here is our season preview, here at Wild Nation.

Key Additions: RW – Martin Havlat, C – Kyle Brodziak, D – Shane Hnidy, D – Greg Zanon

Key Losses: RW – Marian Gaborik, LW – Stephane Veilleux, D – Kurtis Foster, D – Marc-Andre Bergeron, D – Martin Skoula

Overview: This off season saw the Wild receive a complete make over.  The only thing that was missing was Ty Pennington standing outside of the Xcel Energy Center, shouting “Move that bus!”  Immediately after the season ended, the only head coach in team history, Jacques Lemaire, stepped down leaving an enormous void for the team to fill.  A short time later, owner Craig Leipold decided that it was time for the team to switch directions and let General Manager Doug Risebrough go as well.  The General Manager search was punctuated by the hiring of wunderkind GM-in-training Chuck Fletcher signing on the dotted line.  The Wild got their man, now it’s time for the team to put the rubber to the road and see what they can accomplish.

Richards looks to bring a new style of play to the team.

Richards looks to bring a new style of play to the team.

Coaching: One of Fletcher’s first moves was to bring in Todd Richards as coach for the team.  Richards was, honestly, the team’s first choice and an easy hire for Fletcher to make.  The difficult part will be once the season starts.  With coaching candidates such as Peter Laviolette and Guy Carbonneau that were passed up for Richards, he will be expected to pay dividends immediately.  Having promised an aggressive, up-tempo style of play, Richards will be expected to get the most out of players like Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Benoit Pouliot and James Sheppard, who struggled mightily in Jacques Lemaire’s system.  Truthfully, I have never thought that Lemaire’s system was the problem with these players — but that will be put to the test this season.  The biggest problem for Richards is going to be experience.  He is going into the season with the prospect of facing the lion’s share of their games against their division rivals, most who have coaches that have a good amount of experience winning at the NHL level.  As Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau have both proven, that isn’t necessarily worth anything more than the paper it’s printed on.  At the same time, however, a new face coming into a new team could pose problems for Richards early.  Look for him to rely heavily on the experience of Mike Ramsay behind the bench early on in the season.  Grade: C+ 

The Wild will look to Havlat to replace departed Marian Gaborik.

The Wild will look to Havlat to replace departed Marian Gaborik.

Forwards: This season is going to see the Wild look drastically different up front.  Not necessarily because of the loss of Marian Gaborik (Wild fans were plenty used to not seeing him on the ice during his tenure with the team), but because of the changes that could come with a new coach.  The undersized Bouchard may no longer be relegated to the wing and may get a chance to play his natural position once again.  James Sheppard will likely get an increased role in the team, as will resident bowling ball, Cal Clutterbuck.  The team will roll into camp with seven players on the camp roster that can legitimately play center — something that is quite odd for a team that has struggled at depth at that position.  If a second-line center is not acquired before camp, look for Bouchard to fill that role.  Either way, though, the team is lacking a sixth legitimate top-six forward.  This isn’t to say that they don’t have players that have the talent to step up into that role, but the players that they have that are capable don’t have the best track record at doing so.  Where the team really excels is in their bottom-six forwards.  Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Eric Belanger and Antti Miettinen are all experienced checking forwards and can all be part of a line that is capable of shutting the other team down.  Factor in tough guy Derek Boogaard and prospects Pouliot, Sheppard and Colton Gillies and you have a bottom-six that could be pretty imposing to play against.  Overall, the team is certainly not top heavy at forward and will likely look to their role players to again play a significant part of their scoring.  The addition of a healthy Havlat will likely help the team significantly but, unless another top-six forward is acquired, the fans of Minnesota could again be looking at a low-scoring season.  Grade: B-

Brent Burns will be expected to rebound from a disappointing 2008 season.

Brent Burns will be expected to rebound from a disappointing 2008 season.

Defense: This could, yet again, be the team’s strong suit.  They have defensemen that are capable of stepping up and joining the rush in Brent Burns and Marek Zidlicky, but now have four defensemen that are more than capable in a stay-at-home role, including two that will be given increased offensive responsibilities as well.  Nick Schultz is one of the most under rated defensive defensemen in the game and, under Richards’ new system, I would look for him to flourish and have a tremendous year.  Schultz has the tools to be a fantastic two-way defenseman and now will get to use his offensive tools a little more, as Fletcher has asked him to take more of an offensive responsibility as well.  Kim Johnsson is a former 40-point scorer on the blueline that will likely be given all of the tools to return to that stature.  After concussion problems sidelined him with the Flyers, the Wild took a chance on him and got one of their more reliable defensemen over the past few years.  The biggest change in the blueline, however, is the sandpaper added through Greg Zanon, Shane Hnidy and John Scott.  These three will likely share minutes as the fifth and sixth defensemen for the team and add a great deal of grit to the line up.  All three love to hit and all three are solid, stay-at-home defensemen that can be paired with either Burns or Zidlicky to give the Wild a presence behind them when they pinch in.  As for Burns and Zidlicky, a new system gives them the opportunity to showcase their offensive abilities.  Burns had a rough season last year, switching back and forth between wing and defense and struggling with injuries and fans can expect him to rebound this season.  As for Zidlicky, you can expect more of the same.  Poor decisions punctuated by fantastic offensive moments.  Zidlicky will likely find himself paired with either Johnsson or Schultz most of the time and will be looked at to contribute heavily on the powerplay.  Overall, I feel that this is still one of the strengths of the team and the addition of the grit will easily make them better.  Despite playing in a new system, expect stalwart defensemen Johnsson, Burns and Schultz to continue to practice what they learned under the tutelage of Jacques Lemaire and don’t expect this unit to give up many chances.  Grade: A-

Backstrom will once again be the backbone of the team.

Backstrom will once again be the backbone of the team.

Goaltending: Let’s get one thing out of the way right now.  Niklas Backstrom is actually this good.  The system certainly helped him but, when he’s on, he’s one of the top five goalies in the league — easily.  Last season, Backstrom was one of the biggest reasons why the Wild were even in the playoff hunt and this season it will likely be the same story if they are to be there again.  He will likely face a few more quality chances per game, but I wouldn’t expect that to change the results much.  Behind him, barring a trade will be Josh Harding.  For Wild fans, that is great news.  Harding was slated to be the Wild’s heir apparent in net before the emergence of Backstrom, and he has evolved into quite the goaltender.  This is again a case of the Wild having a 1A and 1B goaltender, as Harding can easily slide in and the Wild won’t miss a beat.  If Harding is traded, the Wild picked up New York Islanders folk hero, Wade Dubielewicz as an insurance policy.  While Dubie is nowhere near the goaltender that Harding is, he is more than a sufficient back up and has proven that he is capable of winning games at the NHL level.  Overall, goaltending will again be the strongest part of the team and will again be the backbone of any playoff push that the Wild hopes to make this season.  Grade: A+

Line Combinations: This will likely be changed throughout the season, but here is what I would expect the Wild’s line combos to look like:

Forward
Andrew Brunette/Mikko Koivu/Martin Havlat
Owen Nolan/Pierre-Marc Bouchard/Cal Clutterbuck
Antti Miettinen/James Sheppard/Colton Gillies
Derek Boogaard/Eric Belanger/Kyle Brodziak

Extras: Craig Weller, Benoit Pouliot

Defense
Brent Burns/Nick Schultz
Marek Zidlicky/Kim Johnsson
Greg Zanon/Shane Hnidy

Extra: John Scott

Goaltending
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding

Nolan is a leader on and off the ice.

Nolan is a leader on and off the ice.

Captain: One of the biggest question marks this season is “who will the captain be?”  The odds on favorite, most likely, is Mikko Koivu.  He captained the team for most of last season and emerged as both a leader on the ice and in the locker room.

If I’m Richards, however, I look to one person and one person only.  The man they call Cowboy — Owen Nolan.

Nolan is one of the most respected and feared veterans in the league and commands respect wherever he goes.  Giving him the ‘C’ will give legitimacy to what is, once again, a young team searching for their identity and sends a message to all of the players in the locker room:

This is the standard expected of you.

The team was abysmal without Nolan on the ice last season and his dedication to the team shone through in the way he carried himself.  He is to this team what Wes Walz was when he was playing.  He is the type of player that will lead this team regardless of whether or not he has the ‘C.’

So why not make it official?  Slap the ‘C’ on number 11’s chest and watch it all unfold.

Expected Finish: Honestly, this is my expectation.  If the team is healthy (Havlat, Burns, Nolan etc.), this team is a playoff team.  They were a few points from the playoffs last season without their top scorer — there’s no reason to think that they can’t make it this season if they’re healthy.  To go one step farther…If this team is healthy, they can win the division.  Vancouver failed to improve this off season, while Calgary got better on the back end, but worse up front.  The two powers of this division are ripe for the picking and, the Wild are the best team for the job.  Realistically, I think this team can have a shot at the division crown once again — but things will have to go their way.  On this one, though, I’ll split the difference.  2nd in the Northwest, 6th in the West.

The Walking Wounded and other Wild Updates

Per Russo,

Goalie Niklas Backstrom will indeed have left hip surgery Friday in Vail. Brian Stensaas was on a conference call with acting GM Tom Lynn. He reports he has two cysts on the bony part of his hip.

Lynn says they won’t know how long he’ll be out until they operate. Worst case scenario, Stensaas says, could be four to six months!

But Lynn said the doctor cautions they can’t give a timetable yet. More from Stensaas in Wednesday’s paper.

Also, I hear Brent Burns is having shoulder surgery probably on Thursday.

This is in addition to Andrew Brunette having reconstructive knee surgery this off season and Derek Boogaard having shoulder surgery.

So what does this mean for the Wild?  Well, if the prognosis for Backstrom truly is 4-6 months, that puts Backstrom back at the earliest, August 24th and at the latest October 24th.  Knowing Backstrom, he will work his hardest to rehab and be back sooner, but this essentially makes the top priority for the new GM hammering out a deal for back up goalie Josh Harding.

If this is indeed the case, you can take Harding off of the table as a bargaining chip.  That is, unless the new GM is suddenly stricken by Barry Brust-mania and believes that Brust can shoulder the load as an NHL starter.  What this could do, however, is drive Harding’s stock through the roof.  If Harding can perform like Backstrom did when he wrested the starting job away from Manny Fernandez a few years back, Harding could easily become a hot commodity among NHL teams.

The Search Begins
After being denied permission by Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs to speak with Dave Nonis, Wild owner Craig Leipold recieved permission from the Nashville Predators to speak with a couple of his old employees; Director of Hockey Operations Mike Santos and assistant GM Paul Fenton.

From Russo,

Leipold declined comment on them, ”just like I won’t comment on any of the other candidates.” 

There are lots of candidates that have surfaced. These are just two that so far I know he’ll be allowed to talk with. I’m sure there are others. I’m working the phones.

Santos is in his third year in Nashville and is responsible in negotiating player contracts and preparing for salary arbitrations. He served as assistant GM for the New York Islanders from 1997-2002 and director of hockey operations for the Florida Panthers from 2002-03.

He was Commissioner and President of the North American Hockey League from 2003-06. He’s worked for USA Hockey and the NHL.

Fenton is in his third year as Nashville’s assistant GM after eight as the director of player personnel. He oversees the Predators’ amateur player development and managers the team’s pro and amateur scouting staffs. He’s also GM of the AHL Milwaukee Admirals.

Fenton, who played eight years in the NHL for seven teams and was a former Boston University standout, also spent five seasons working for the Anaheim Ducks. 

It hasn’t happened yet, but another person I’d assume Leipold would request permission to speak with his Pittsburgh assistant GM Chuck Fletcher. He’s 41 with 16 years of experience. He’s immensely respected after years in Florida, Anaheim and Pittsburgh.

Remember, Leipold has a fabulous relationship with Penguins GM Ray Shero, who used to be assistant GM in Nashville.

In addition, the Wild have been denied permission to speak with Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill.  Nill is under contract until 2010-11 and has a commitment in his contract to stay in Detroit.  In fact, this quote was run in the Windsor Star when Toronto was inquiring about Nill’s availability.

The way we do things here, I’ve already got most of the responsibilities and input that a general manager would have. Ken [Holland] and I work really well together.

I’m comfortable, I’m well-compensated and I like the organization. I know which side my bread is buttered on.

Risebrough Presser
You’ve got to love hockey guys.  Doug Risebrough held his “exit presser” yesterday and held it at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub.  Gotta love it.

Anyway, Russo had some snippets in his blog regarding the players and it just shows how well respected Risebrough was by his own players.  Derek Boogaard had his fiancee drive to the pub after he literally just woke up from having shoulder surgery, just so that he could thank Risebrough for the opportunity and have a chance to say goodbye.  Risebrough also spent some quality time with Marian Gaborik at the arena and went to Brent Burns’ home to meet with the youngster after the new broke regarding his concussion problems.

Again, on a personal level, I’m sad to see Risebrough go.  He was a great guy, probably the nicest associated with the NHL that I’ve had the pleasure to meet.  Part of me feels that he deserved a bit better treatment than he received from Leipold; however, that’s also Leipold’s perogative as the owner.  It’s his team and he can run it as he sees fit.

On a business level, however, it was time for a change.  Risebrough had become increasingly defensive about his decisions over the past few seasons and it seemed as if fans, management and players alike were all growing tired of his smug, “I know best” attitude.  As disappointed as I am that it had to end like this, it certainly had to end.

In the transcript of the presser, however, there was one quote from Risebrough that really rings true to me.

I think the club, I believe the club is in really good shape, and I’ll tell you why. I think it’s got a good core of players. It’s got good youth. I think it’s got great flexibility in terms of the salary cap. It’s got lots of room this year, it’s got lots of room next year. So whether that means what do you want to do immediate signings or future signings, it’s all there. It’s got a great fan base that’s still in love with this team. So it’s going to be energized. I believe players that had poor years will rebound. I’m pretty comfortable to say the injuries aren’t going to be the same magnitude. So I think it’s a great opportunity for a manager and I think it’s a great opportunity for a coach. And I feel good about that. I made decisions on a regular basis for the right  reasons, and the right reasons never included me. They never included me, they were always for the franchise. Now I can say, I didn’t always make the right decisions, but I did them for the right reasons. And I feel good about that.

That right there, to me, says it all.  Whoever it is has a good base, but also has his work cut out for him.  This is a solid team in need of a few key components to become a serious contender.  I don’t think this team needs to be blown up and start from scratch again, but at the same time I don’t think that this team is ready to contend next season after all of this going on this off season.  One thing’s for sure, though.  It’s still an exciting time to be a Wild fan!

Breaking News: Risebrough Fired

Per Russo,

According to two outside NHL sources, Wild GM Doug Risebrough has been fired by owner Craig Leipold. It is unconfirmed inside the organization.

Leipold was said to have agonized over the decision but decided, in the final analysis, that a change in direction was called for.

Here’s the memo from the team:

Minnesota Wild Owner, Craig Leipold, announced today that the organization will not renew the contract of President and General Manager, Doug Risebrough, beyond the 2008-2009 season.

“The entire Minnesota Wild organization is forever indebted to Doug for his substantial efforts in establishing this franchise’s solid foundation and winning tradition,” said Leipold. “The positive impact of Doug’s service will be felt for many years to come. We wish Doug the very best.”

The search for a new General Manager will begin immediately. The first order of business for the incoming General Manager will be to select the Team’s next Head Coach.

Until a replacement is found, Assistant General Manager Tom Lynn, will be acting-General Manager.

Personally, I’m sad to see Risebrough go.  I have had the pleasure of meeting with and talking to him at length, and I’ll tell you that you’re not going to find a better person in the NHL.  He’s personable, friendly and very fun to talk to.

On a business level, however, you had to see the writing on the wall with the departure of Jacques Lemaire.  It started with Craig Leipold buying the team.  At that point, the guard began to change.  Lemaire’s departure was another signal that the team was going to begin heading in a different direction, and this latest occurrance cements it.  This is a team that is going to look quite different come next season.

The question at hand is now not who will be the head coach for next season, but who will hire the head coach next season.

My guess is that Leipold already has himself a short list and, other than Jay Feaster and JFJ I’m not sure who would be available for the GM position so I won’t speculate as to who he is going to be looking at.  One thing is for sure, however.  This marks a new era for the Wild; 100%.

Risebrough has come under fire recently for not being able to land the “big fish.”  Whether that was a product of perception, with Lemaire as the coach, or a product of Risebrough not being willing to take big risks the fact remains that this was a change that needed to be made and in a sweeping manner.  I’ll have more on this as it unfolds, but there’s no doubt that it’s an extremely exciting time to be a Wild fan and this should be a very eventful off season for the team.

Great End to a Disappointing Season

14 goals in two games, leading to two comback victories in one exciting weekend of Wild hockey.

Unfortunately for the Wild, they were eliminated from playoff contention just a few short hours after dispatching the Nashville Predators 8-4.  The St. Louis Blues knocked off the Columbus Blue Jackets shortly after the Wild’s victory, leaving the team’s playoff fate squarely in the hands of one of the teams that the Wild have slowly become heated rivals with after their playoff series two seasons ago.

The Dallas Stars made a valiant effort to keep the Wild in the hunt, but to no avail as the Anaheim Ducks were victorious 4-3 in a shootout.

So Wild fans must now say goodbye to the boys wearing Iron Range Red; at least for another summer.  More importantly, however, is the fact that it is very likely that Wild fans must also say goodbye to the two people that have been the faces of the franchise since Day One.

Jacques Lemaire
Lemaire has likely coached his last game of his tenure with the Wild, and possibly his career.  It appears as if Lemaire has already made up his mind as to what his decision will be and all of his body language is pointing to retirement.  Too often this season, Lemaire seemed disheartened, frustrated and even down right angry at the way that his team was playing.  It’s no secret that General Manager Doug Risebrough had to fly down to Florida and all but beg Lemaire to come back for this season, and after the disappointing season that this team put forth, there’s no doubt in my mind that Risebrough could grovel at the feet of Lemaire this off season and he still wouldn’t return.

Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had this to say on the matter:

Like I said last night, when Lemaire said he’s made up his mind on his future, I think that’s a clear indication his era in Minnesota is over. If not, I think he’d just announce he’s staying to end all speculation.

But this is a guy that needed a few weeks away last year to be convinced he should return. Do you really think after this season’s disappointing ending that the decision he’s already made is to return? I just don’t think so.

Lemaire is also the type of person that doesn’t want to go to Florida, then come back for a press conference. So if his mind is made up that he is indeed stepping down, I can see a press conference very, very soon after the Easter holiday.

Again, though, this is conjecture.

Conjecture or not, Russo is one that has a consistent pulse of the team and is a consistent source of very reliable information.  Whether or not he is correct on this matter, one thing is for sure.  It is going to take what would seem to be a monumental change of heart to sway Lemaire and convince him to stay on for next season.

Marian Gaborik
After Friday’s victory over the Predators, Gaborik took a slow lap around the ice, waving to all of the fans.  When asked if he was waving goodbye to the fans, Gaborik’s response was that he didn’t know and a lot depended on the Wild’s final contract offer after the season was over.

I’ve got news for you, folks.  There’s a good chance that the Wild’s final contract offer may not even be close to what Gaborik is expecting, or even looking for.

Why?

He was offered a franchise-record contract early in the season only to turn it down, claiming that he was looking for more guaranteed money.  This was before the injuries.  Gaborik played in a career low 17 games this season.  In 17 games, however, he had 23 points for a career high 1.35 points per game average.  With a full 82 game season at this pace, Gaborik would have notched approximately 111 points.  Incidentally, this would have put him at 2nd in the NHL in points, not to mention that he would have been first in the NHL in goals, by a long shot.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am no fan of Marian Gaborik’s.  I feel that he is too fragile and too inconsistent to be a top level superstar in this league.  That said, however, the effort he put forth for the 17 games that he played was certainly one that superstars are made of.

I am a big enough man to admit when I am wrong and, after analyzing what Gaborik has done this season, albiet brief, has been the accomplishments of a superstar.

With that in mind, I do believe that it is in the team’s best interests to work out a short term deal with their enigmatic superstar and see if the surgery that he had this season truly has made him healthy.  I would not put more than three years into this deal, as it is a very high-risk deal, but what Gaborik has shown me over the past few games is that he deserves the chance to prove to the team that he broke into the league with (and that he is claiming he wants to remain a member of) that he is this superstar that he has shown.

There is absolutely no one on the free agent market that can provide the explosiveness that Gaborik has shown in the last 11 games and there is absolutely no one on the free agent market that can replace his offensive talent should we let him go.  I strongly believe that the franchise needs flexibility in the coming seasons, but what Gaborik has brought to the table since his surgery is something that cannot be ignored or denied.  The team needs Marian Gaborik in the coming seasons.

Do I think that he deserves the money that he was asking for initially?  Absolutely not.  He needs to prove that he is capable of staying healthy for an entire season as well as prove that he is worthy of the money that he has asked for (one 40 goal season and one 5-goal game does not a career contract make).  That said, the team is leaps and bounds better when he is on the ice.

So where do we go from here?  That is a question that will loom in the back of Wild fan’s minds for the coming months.  In the coming days, I will have a season review posted, starting with the forwards, then defense and goaltending.

Also, make sure to tune in Monday for the season review Wild Nation podcast, which we will attempt to stream live.

Wild's Hopes Dwindling

The Wild got an all important point last night in their overtime defeat to the Vancouver Canucks.  The problem?  They needed to make it two points badly.

Their desperation certainly showed in the game, as they outshot the Canucks by a margin of 34-19 and held Vancouver to zero shots in the third period.  The Wild were buzzing all night long and peppered Roberto Luongo with shot after shot after shot.  The only problem was that they ran into Roberto Luongo.  Luongo was dazzling last night, stoning the Wild at every turn.  That and some good fortune for the Canucks was the difference in this game.

With the loss, the Wild’s “tragic number” has shrunk to 7 according to nhlplayoffrace.com and the team’s chances at the post season continue to shrink.  According to Hockey Reference’s playoff probability chart, the Wild now have just a 12.8% chance of making the playoffs and are being projected to finish with roughly 86 points.

The advantage for the Wild, however, is that the remainder of the teams directly in front of them play the majority of their remaining games on the road.  While the Wild will need to take care of things on their own end, this certainly bodes well for the team if they can take care of business.  The key part, however, is taking care of business.  Something that this team has not been able to do since the beginning of the season.

To add another wrench into the situation, the St. Louis Blues hold a game in hand over just about everyone around them.

What this equals (other than an enormous headache if you’re trying to figure out every situation) is that the Wild cannot control their own destiny, even if they win out.  It paints a pretty grim picture for the franchise; however, missing the playoffs could be the best thing that could happen for the Wild.  Why you ask?  Well, here’s why:

  • Draft for Success.  The Wild started re-stocking their defensive corps in last season’s draft.  With Anthony Aiello, Tyler Cuma and Justin Falk likely playing in the AHL next season, the Wild’s defensive prospects are looking better than they have in a while.  Meanwhile, however, their forwards are getting thin.  Cal Clutterbuck is the most notable of the forwards that has made the big squad and Peter Olvecky is getting a good, long look as well.  What does this mean?  Well, it means that the Wild doesn’t have a great wealth of top forward prospects.  But, the good news is that this is a draft that is very deep in the first round at forward.  The Wild will certainly end up with a top 15 pick if they miss the playoffs, and it is certainly conceivable that they could end up with a top 10 pick if the lottery goes right.  Two of the three NHL.com mock drafts had the Wild picked to snag the University of Minnesota’s Jordan Schroeder with their first pick if this is the case, while My NHL Draft has the Wild slated to pick Dmitry Kulikov from Drummondville (a defenseman) with their first pick.  Meanwhile, NHL DraftSite has the Wild slated to take Landon Ferraro at 12th.  The bottom line is that the Wild needs some top tier talent at forward.  The picks are at 11th, 10th and 12th respectively; however, if you look at the ISS Rankings, you can see that there are currently only three defensemen slated in the top ten.  If the Wild have the number ten pick, there’s no doubt in my mind that they will use it on a forward.
  • Coaching Turnover.  Mike Russo stated in his blog that he would place the odds at Lemaire returning for next season at about 20-80, meaning 20% that he would return and 80% that he would retire.  I would go even further than that.  Lemaire has seemed frustrated much of this season and no longer appears to be having any sort of fun behind the bench; something that he was even doing through the team’s maddening inconsistency last season.  As much as I love Lemaire, I do think that a coaching change would behoove this team next season.  A change of pace could be exactly what it takes to get this team (which I still believe is a good one) back on track.
  • Do Something, Please.  After two seasons of making the playoffs only to find a first round exit, Doug Risebrough was under immense pressure to round out the team and come back with another contender.  He did not.  After a year of missing the playoffs, he will be under even greater pressure to do something.  He has definite assets that he can barter with at the draft and before free agency; however, he would be best served to make a very large splash and bring some players onto the team that will take this team to the next level.

All in all, the Wild can learn a lot from this season.  If healthy, this team could be a force to be reckoned with.  Unfortunately, they have not been fully healthy all season long.  If the playoffs are missed (which I believe they will be), this team has an interesting off season ahead of them and some big decisions.  They key to how this team comes into next season will be how they respond going forward.

Wild Trade Deadline's "Biggest Loser"

biggest-loser-logo

The Wild needed a “shot in the arm,” and more than what Marian Gaborik will theoretically provide them in the last few games of the season.  Losers of four straight, Doug Risebrough needed to draw a line in the sand in either direction.  Either be buyers or sellers.  Instead, he did what he always did and played it safe; drawing a line in the sand on either side of him and standing right in the middle, doing nothing.

Now I have always been very forgiving of the Wild’s management for a few reasons.  First, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Risebrough and found him to be a very sincere, kind person and, on a personal level, I think he’s a great guy.  Second, I know that no one knows the goings on behind the scenes.  No one knows what deals were on the table, what the hang ups were, what the circumstances surrounding the deal may have been.  We can only speculate.  Unfortunately for the management, however, they have been very forthcoming as to what could have been for the Wild over the past few seasons.

Last season, they were in the running for Peter Forsberg right up until the end and lost out.  They were also in the running for Olli Jokinen but didn’t want to give up what the Panthers were asking.  Over the summer, they threw their name in the hat of a plethora of free agents.  They were in until the end on Marian Hossa, put an offer in for Mats Sundin and also extended offers to Kristian Huselius, Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund; all signed with other teams.  Assistant GM Tom Lynn also told Mike Russo of the Star-Tribune that the Wild had a big deal on the table up until yesterday morning, when it fell through.

The old adage says that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.  This begs the question that isn’t it about time that Risebrough finds one?

The Wild are free falling right now.  They needed help.  They needed grit on their blueline and a scoring presence up front.  Instead, the team stood still and made no moves; not even minor moves.

Why were they unable to make any moves?

Simple.  They have no appreciable assets.  Risebrough has categorized their young players (James Sheppard, Colton Gillies and Tyler Cuma) as untouchable, and rightfully so.  It is also widely known that the Wild’s most productive players (Mikko Koivu, Brent Burns, Pierre-Marc Bouchard) are untouchable as well.  This doesn’t leave the team with many valuable assets.  The two most valuable assets that they had available were Marian Gaborik and Josh Harding.  Gaborik’s value to the league has taken a large hit this season due to his injury status and the team will likely have to trade his rights before July 1 or lose him for nothing.  Harding, on the other hand, will likely have much greater trade value after the season is over due to a very thin goalie crop this upcoming off season.  In terms of prospects, the Wild have mortgaged their future in order to win now.  Ryan Jones and a second round pick went to Nashville for Marek Zidlicky and a third round pick went to Anaheim for Marc-Andre Bergeron (it should be noted that both Bergeron and Zidlicky have provided a great deal of offense from the blueline for the team, but leave much to be desired on defense).

This left the team with very few draft picks to offer out a the deadline.  This, combined with the team’s less than stellar draft record after the first round has left the cupboard bare.

What does this mean for the team?

In my opinon, this trade deadline was time for Risebrough to put up or shut up.  The team is floundering and something needed to be done to elicit results.  Instead, the team did nothing.  Risebrough’s answer to this?

“This is our team.”

The bottom line is that, due to mismanagement of resources and assets, the Wild were handcuffed this deadline.  They could do nothing but watch as other teams acquired players that genuinely could help the team.  Patrick O’Sullivan, Ales Kotalik, Olli Jokinen, Erik Cole…Any one of those four could have helped.  Steve Montador, Derek Morris…Either one of those two could have helped.  Instead, a lack of assets had the Wild playing the role of the awkward kid standing in the corner during the school dance with his hands in his pockets.

This summer is quite possibly the most important summer of Doug Risebrough’s career.  Not only does he have to show the fans something in his free agent class that he brings in, he also needs to do something to improve the team’s stock of prospects.  If he can’t do these two things, the team will continue to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the talks of the Stanley Cup.