Koivu out; Should the Wild consider trading for a forward?

For those naysayers who have been waiting for the rails to come off of the Wild’s seemingly unstoppable train over the last few weeks, you might want to watch this coming stretch of games leading into Christmas – this could well be when it happens.

With the news that Mikko Koivu is now “day-to-day,” the Wild could be facing Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders without four of their top-six forwards, and one other who has been feeling in on the second line (Casey Wellman) severely handicapped with a wrist injury that has made his shot akin to a slow pitch softball pitch. {Ed. Note: That may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.}

So, right now, the Wild are left with Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley in their top-six.

Thankfully, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson have been putting up pretty decent numbers on their third line, but even so the lack of Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse and Devin Setoguchi leaves the team with a significant lack of both speed and skill as they’re heading into what could be the most crucial stretch of their season.

To give you an idea of what they’re looking at, here are the lines that Mike Russo posted from their Friday practice:

Clutterbuck/Cullen/Heatley
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson
Wellman/Almond/Staubitz/Gillies
Peters/Staubitz/Gillies

Obviously, they need to call up one more forward if none of their injured list can go (and it’s pretty doubtful that any of them will).

Russo speculated that it could be Jared Palmer that gets the call if the Wild are wanting skill (who has four goals and six assists in 26 games for the Aeros this season) or Jed Ortmeyer if they want some grit (five goals, six assists in 20 games). Either of those are possibilities, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jeff Taffe get the nod again, as he showed some pretty good chemistry with Dany Heatley in his two-game stint. Jon DiSalvatore (8 goals, 13 assists, 27 games) or Kris Foucault (6 goals, 6 assists, 25 games with a 20.6% shooting percentage) could be potential candidates as well, if the Wild are looking for skill, but Palmer had a very good camp for the Wild and stuck around quite a while, so he might be the natural choice.

Either way, it’s very clear that the Wild need to do something to help with their injured stable of forwards.

Now, I’m not speculating on anything that I’ve heard, nor do I think this is coming anytime soon, but might a trade be coming soon if these injury problems hold up?

Consider that the Wild currently have eight healthy, NHL defensemen on their roster (along with Nate Prosser and Kris Fredheim in the AHL). That gives the Wild flexibility in their roster decisions, and if they’re looking at the potential of spending a fair amount of time without four of their top-six forwards, doesn’t it lend credence to the idea that a trade might not necessarily be in the works, but might be a good idea?

Last game, Greg Zanon was a healthy scratch for the first time in a Wild sweater. Now, I’d be much more comfortable with the idea of moving Marek Zidlicky, but either of the “Z’s” have trade value – much more than any other of our defensemen (with the exception of Nick Schultz, who I don’t think Fletcher would even consider moving).

Both Zidlicky and Zanon could make for tempting pieces of a trade (especially Zanon, who is in the final year of his contract) and I don’t think that it’s outside of the realm of reason to consider moving either of them – especially with not knowing how long Guillaume Latendresse is going to be on the shelf for.

This is, again, baseless speculation. There’s no indication that the Wild are even calling around.

But if they start to slip with their top forwards out, they very well might need to consider it.

Wild rebound to down Lightning

Now that’s how you respond from a couple of down games.

After two pretty lousy games over the weekend, the Minnesota Wild came out on Monday and won a very impressive game over a very talented Tampa Bay Lightning team.

The Wild, as has been their M.O. this season, came out of the gates slow (though I think it was less of them coming out slow and more of the Lightning coming out like a bat out of hell), but rebounded with two incredibly solid periods of play to break their two-game losing streak and head into their 20 of 29 on the road on a high note.

Minnesota did exactly what had made them so successful for the first quarter of the season. They battled. When they got down in the second period (by the way, what an absolute laser by Steven Stamkos on that shot), the Wild didn’t just fight back – they fought back with an energy that I’ve never seen from a Minnesota Wild squad.

They didn’t just respond to the adversity; they thrived under it.

Cal Clutterbuck evened the score with a shorthanded goal shortly after Stamkos’s tally and that’s when the Wild really got going. That goal turned the tide of the game and, from that point on the Wild played like a boulder rolling downhill. They just kept pressuring the Lightning and the Lightning kept making mistakes.

With under five minutes left in the second, Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored what would stand up as the winning goal with a howitzer of a one-timer from right faceoff circle that, like Clutterbuck’s goal, was caused by a Lightning mishap. It would stand up as the game-winner and Mikko Koivu would put up the insurance tally with an empty-net goal late in the game.

The biggest story of the game, though, was the play of Niklas Backstrom.

Just one night after being pulled in the first period after giving up three goals on eight shots, Backstrom responded and responded big. He set the tone for the Wild’s game with his battle-level, fighting back after his terrible (and justifiably so, read Russo’s post if you want the whole story, but he’s not a robot) performance against the Flames and fought all night long, making some amazing saves to keep the Lightning off the board.

Overall, a great win for the Wild, especially heading into a very tough stretch that will see them on the road quite often.

Let’s see, what else…

  • Pierre-Marc Bouchard was absolutely spectacular on Monday. In fact, his whole line was solid, but Bouchard seemed to be right in the middle of everything. He was making play after play and he was the offensive force that the Wild need.
  • Clutterbuck was also terrific for the Wild. He was great in every zone and he was the Wild’s steadiest player all night long. He was even chirping Martin St. Louis, which I suppose is a bit like playing with fire.
  • The Wild’s fourth line was great. Both Wellman and McIntyre were buzzing all night long and, despite not finding themselves on the scoresheet, brought the “little bit of life” that Mike Yeo wanted them to.
  • I’ve never seen a player have so many scoring chances and such bad luck as Kyle Brodziak in the second period. He had two breakaways, he rung one off the post on one and got stoned on two shots on the other. He had a shot at an open net blocked by Stamkos and he just couldn’t buy a goal.

Burning Questions

How will Lundin and Zanon slot back into the line up? Quite well, actually. Both Lundin and Zanon looked terrific and they didn’t look like they had much rust at all.

How will Lundin and Zanon slot back into the line up? I’d say so, in a huge way.

Can the Wild find goals? They didn’t find much, but the players that needed to play well for Minnesota played very well. Dany Heatley still struggled, but the rest of the players picked up the slack.

Can the defense buckle down? The additions of Lundin and Zanon definitely helped and the Wild’s defense looked back to normal.

3 Stars

1)      Niklas Backstrom – Backs stopped 32 of 33 shots and that one that he let in was an absolute laser that I’m not sure any goalie in the league would have stopped.

2)      Pierre-Marc Bouchard – Butch was spectacular. He scored a goal and he was the wild’s best offensive player all night long.

3)      Cal Clutterbuck – See Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Clutterbuck was great for the Wild.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to rebound against Bolts

So, if you’re like me, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I insulated myself from the Wild this weekend, due to the holiday part of it, and after perusing the reading materials on the interwebz, I’m glad I did. It sounds like it was a brutal last couple of games.

Mike Yeo is always about the response, so I would expect the team to respond in a big way tonight especially with both Mike Lundin and Greg Zanon returning to the line up forMinnesota. In addition to the return of the two veterans, the Wild have recalled Casey Wellman and David McIntyre from Houston and Warren Peters and Nate Prosser have been returned to the AHL.

The insertion of Lundin and Zanon should provide a little veteran punch on their young blue line, whose inexperience has started to shine through over the last few games, and the youthful exuberance of Wellman and McIntyre should provide some scoring pop on the fourth line, or so the Wild hope.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here are the probable lines:

Clutterbuck/Koivu/Heatley
Bouchard/Cullen/Setoguchi
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson
Wellman/McIntyre/Staubitz

Schultz/Lundin
Zanon/Stoner
Scandella/Spurgeon

Backstrom between the pipes.

Burning Questions

How will Lundin and Zanon slot back into the line up? Both Lundin and Zanon have been out for extended periods of time (in Lundin’s case, this is his Wild debut). Backstrom came back against the Flames after a few games off and was extremely rusty, will Zanon and Lundin be the same?

Will Backstrom rebound? Backs is typically stellar the game after being pulled, and that looks to be what Mike Yeo is banking on here. As a father of two, I’m surprised Backstrom was slated in to start against the Flames simply because it takes a few days to get re-adjusted after you have a kid. Backstrom understandably looked rusty against the Flames. I wouldn’t expect that again.

Can the Wild find goals? Setoguchi will be back on the second line, where he had some great chemistry with Bouchard and Cullen. The down side is that Clutterbuck will be back on the top line, where he’s had some opportunities, but the chemistry just wasn’t there. With Guillaume Latendresse still out, the Wild need Clutterbuck to step it up. Also, they’re going to expect a lot from McIntyre and Wellman on the fourth line, hoping for some offense to be generated there.

Can the defense buckle down? The Wild’s defense has been abysmal the last two games. Against Stamkos and the Lightning, they can’t be at anything less than their absolute best.

The puck drops at 7 pm and will be broadcast on Versus.

Gameday Thread: @ Vancouver

This could be a tough one for the Wild. Mikko Koivu, Greg Zanon and Guillaume Latendresse are all questionable for the game tonight, all for various injuries.

Koivu, obviously, is because of the stitches he received after catching Dany Heatley’s skate in his face. Zanon is because of a groin injury and Latendresse is because he aggravated his left hip (the surgically repaired one).

If I were a betting man, I’d say that Koivu will be in and Zanon will be out (which means that Justin Falk will get his first action of the season). As for Latendresse, I’d imagine it will be a game time decision. He had surgery on the hip in question during the off season, so he’s likely going to be cautious with it, but I can’t imagine that he won’t go unless the pain is pretty debilitating.

It will be interesting to see the line up decision if Latendresse can’t go, though. Do the Wild dress Nick Johnson for a little more skill? Or Matt Kassian for a little more toughness?

Either way, the tilts with Vancouver are always highly spirited, so we can expect more of the same today.

Keys to the Game

  • Special Teams. I feel like a broken record here, but the Wild’s special teams have been absolutely horrific lately. In Edmonton, their power play wasn’t the momentum killer that it has been this season and their PK looked pretty good, but they’ve got to maintain that. They need a goal on the power play like the Cookie Monster needs a cookie – that’s bad, folks.
  • Come Out Strong. The Wild can get away with slow starts against the likes of Edmonton, but a slow start today will doom them. As Mike Yeo said, “We can’t just come out and test the waters.” Gametime in the NHL is a sink-or-swim scenario. The Wild just need to jump in the deep end and hope they can swim.
  • Put the Puck in the Net. It seems elementary, but there’s no reason that this line up should be struggling to score. The top line alone should be lights out but, as of yet, they haven’t. The scoring chances are there, the Wild just need to start burying the puck.
  • Stay Away From the Funny Stuff. With players like Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows, the Canucks have the ability to annoy people into slews of penalties. Especially with their special teams struggling, the Wild need to stay away from that. Play hard, hit hard and avoid the extracurricular junk.

Burning Questions

Who starts in net for the Wild? This is a big game for the team and Backstrom is coming off of a strong, strong start inEdmonton. Given that the Canucks are starting Schneider today, it’s going to be a game time decision inVancouver, but it might just be Harding getting the nod since the Wild will be facing a back up.

How healthy will the Wild be? Koivu, Zanon and Latendresse are all gametime decisions. If any of the three are out, the Wild have a rough go of it. If all three are out? Yikes.

Can Heatley keep it going? Heater got on the board with a timely goal inEdmonton. Can he use that momentum to get on track this season? We’ve got to hope.

Can the defense contain Vancouver? The Sedins, Mikael Samuelsson, Kesler, Burrows, Higgins. The Canucks can hurt you so many different ways, it’s going to be a task for the Wild’s defensemen to keep them under wraps.

The puck drops today at 3 pm on FSN and the NHL Network.

Preseason Gameday Thread: vs. Columbus

Minnesota/Columbus has started to turn into a pretty fierce rivalry of late.

So we’ll combine the roster and the game day threads again today, since I’m pressed for time again, but here it is. Wild fans finally get to see the line they’ve been waiting to see tonight, against Columbus.

Per Wild.com:

Devin SetoguchiMikko KoivuDany Heatley
Darroll PoweKyle BrodziakCal Clutterbuck
Kris Foucault – Zack PhillipsBrett Bulmer
David McIntyreChad RauBrad Staubitz

Chay Genoway – Kris Fredheim
Greg ZanonMarek Zidlicky
Marco ScandellaNate Prosser

Josh Harding will start in goal with Darcy Kuemper serving as the backup.

So, we’ll see the first and third lines in action tonight (just like Russo promised), but we’re also going to get to see the Foucault/Phillips/Bulmer line again. It looks like they might have done enough to make Mike Yeo want a second look at them, which is very encouraging.

No real surprises otherwise. Eden Prairie native Chad Rau gets his first action of the preseason, as does Kris Fredheim and Darcy

Minnesota will look to keep their momentum going

Kuemper.

No inside information here, but it looks to me like Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser might be the front runners for the extra defensive spot as they get the nod again. It will be interesting to see how they respond, especially since they likely won’t be seeing the ice time they did last game with Zanon and Zidlicky in the line up.

For comparison’s sake, here’s the Jackets’ roster, again per Wild.com:

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Maksim Mayorov, Vinny Prospal, Derek MacKenzie, Ryan Russell, Cody Bass, Cam Atkinson, Nick Drazenovic, Oliver Gabriel, Antoine Vermette, Rick Nash, Adam Payerl

Defensemen: Radek Martinek, Aaron Johnson, Kris Russell, James Wisniewski, Dalton Prout, Fedor Tyutin, Anton Blomqvist, Steve Delisle

Goaltenders: Curtis Sanford and Allen York

Some questions to ponder and discuss for tonight’s game:

How will Yeo’s chemistry experiment go with the de facto first line of the team? Will Setoguchi, Heatley and Koivu mesh well?

Foucault, Phillips and Bulmer are all getting another look. Will they impress again?

How much will Harding play? Will he get the full two periods tonight to see where his knee is at?

Scandella, Prosser and Chay Genoway are all getting another look. How will they fare?

Can the Wild finally put everything together and outshoot their opponent now that they have their big firepower in the line up?

Can the Wild contain the Jackets’ big line of Prospal/Nash/Carter?

Wild.com will have live in-game commentary and you can listen to the game here. The puck drops at 7pm from the Xcel Energy Center.

Around the NHL: 8/23/11

Sorry about the lack of posts the last few days. It was a bit of an extended weekend in preparation for a season where there won’t likely be many extended weekends.

Before we get into taking a trip around the NHL, we’ve got some housekeeping to take care of. First, starting around mid-September, the mailbag on Monday will be interspersed with a fantasy hockey blog (namely, one following the Wild Nation Hockey League). There will be some advice in there along the way, but a lot of it will be a chronicle of my quest for the Cup.

Second, there haven’t yet been any responses for the Wild Nation contest we’re having here. If you’re interested, make sure you get your submissions in soon, as the deadline is September 1.

And now, on to the NHL.

* * * * *

Top Free Agents Remain
The feeding frenzy that typically occurs over the first handful of days in free agency is long gone. For the most part, teams are happy with their rosters and are now looking ahead towards training camp, their rosters in place with maybe one or two spots open for roster battles amongst their youngsters.

So where does that leave players like Chris Campoli or Sergei Samsonov?

Unfortunately, it might mean a tryout contract or a stint in the KHL.

It’s strange that Campoli, a big ticket player at last season’s trade deadline, now finds himself on the outside looking in. Same with Samsonov, a skilled but highly streaky player, and veterans like Bryan McCabe of John Madden, but it’s starting to look like that’s the cost of doing business in the NHL these days.

{Authors Note: I’m leaving Teemu Selanne off this list because we all know that, if he plays again, it’s going to be for Anaheim.}

Fans of the other 29 teams shouldn't get their hopes up. He'll be a Duck.

Teams just simply aren’t looking for bargain bin veterans anymore. They’re not looking for a 36 or 37 year old who can come in and be a leader in their locker room and provide some experienced minutes as a third-pairing defenseman or a fourth-line forward.

By this point in the season, if they wanted that type of player, they’ve gotten them.

What teams are now looking for is youth and they’re looking within their own organizations to do it, because that’s how the NHL is trending these days.

Just look at this year’s free agency market and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The big spenders went after Brad Richards.

Don’t get me wrong. Brad Richards is a good player and he’ll undoubtedly be an invaluable one for both the Rangers and Marian Gaborik. But most looked at the free agent crop this season and decided that it just wasn’t worth the money.

That’s the view a lot of teams are taking these days.

Sure, the big ticket free agents are going to get theirs but, in these hard economic times, teams aren’t as willing to overpay for third-liners or for second and third-pairing defensemen as they once were.

Instead, they’re looking within their own organization to fill their holes and that’s become both a great thing and a bad thing for the NHL.

It’s great, in that it energizes the fans. Speaking as a fan, I can tell you that nothing is more excited than undiscovered potential.

When you get a free agent, you already have an idea of what they’re going to do with the team. In terms of the Wild, when they signed Matt Cullen, we knew he would get around 40 points, play on the point on the power play and play in a third-line role. When they signed Greg Zanon, we knew he would block shots and play great defense.

"Will Work for a Cup"

What we Wild fans didn’t know, last season, was that Clayton Stoner would emerge to be a terrific shut-down defenseman, or that Jared Spurgeon would get a call up to the big squad and just not let go of the role.

When you’ve got spots open for a roster battle, it’s electric and it makes for a great pre-season. The team showcases those players and you get to see a lot of players that you wouldn’t otherwise see a lot of. It’s just plain fun to watch.

On the downside, though, you’ve got players who still have some tread left on the tires relegated to the AHL or the KHL or other European leagues.

These established veterans are forced to search for tryout contracts where they have to impress ten times more than the rookies that they are competing with for these jobs because, let’s be honest, the rookies contracts are going to be cheaper.

That shift in culture is going to leave a lot of useful players like McCabe and Madden out in the cold. It’s even starting to take its toll on mid-range players like Samsonov and Campoli (the problem with those being that they may not be adjusting their contract demands to meet the stark reality that they might not be as valued as they think they are).

On the business side and the fan side, it’s a great thing. You don’t have to say to yourself quite as often, “Why the hell did we just spend $3 million on so and so.”

But there’s a human side to the equation too, and it’s leaving a lot of players who still have a lot left in them without jobs and that’s a hard pill to swallow.

* * * * *

Just one for today. I’ll be profiling Mikael Granlund tomorrow in our prospect profile (which will probably be up either tonight or later tomorrow night) and I’ll have some more pictures from the Octagon Camp for you tomorrow as well.

Also, starting next week, we’re going to start profiling our current roster, reacquainting you with the ones you know, familiarizing you with the ones you don’t and getting you amped for what’s looking to be an exciting season this year.

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!

Wild Down Blues 3-1

Like I said yesterday, can you imagine if these two teams got together in a playoff series?

Three fights, including one bloody one where Clayton Stoner established himself as one tough hombre, taking down the infamous David Backes at the end of the game, a butt load of hits and some pretty nice goals to boot were the story in this one as the Wild skated away with a 3-1 victory, looking very, very impressive in the process.

Minnesota has won nine of their last 11 games, 13 games since Jan. 2 and has outscored their opponents 34-18 during that time. If you’re not starting to get at least a little excited about the way this team is playing lately, you don’t have a pulse.

Tonight, Minnesota came out and dominated the game in every facet with the exception of maybe five or six minutes in the second period, and even then they weathered the storm quite well.

Cal Clutterbuck opened up the scoring in the first period with a change up that snuck through Jaroslav Halak’s five hole just as the Wild’s power play was expiring. Next up was Antti Miettinen in the second, flipping the puck past Halak on the power play off of a beautiful pass from Andrew Brunette. Next was Brodziak on a four-on-four that was the last shot that Halak faced on the night. Finally, Patrik Berglund scored a beautiful goal on the power play for the Blues to round out the scoring.

The Wild truly were dominant in this one and, in a playoff atmosphere, they were something to behold. With Vancouver coming up on Tuesday, they’ve got a great deal of momentum and look like they’ve finally figured this out.

Here are some of my thoughts from tonight’s game:

  • Cal Clutterbuck had probably one of his best games of the year. He threw his body around (as always) and was a force in every zone and he continues to grow offensively. His hits were the most impressive thing about his game, however. He threw his body around tonight like I haven’t seen from him in a long time. It left even T.J. Oshie impressed after an especially thunderous hit in the corner that even left Oshie commenting on how much the hit hurt on the bench, if you could read his lips that is.
  • Clayton Stoner and Greg Zanon continue to be one of the better defensive pairings the Wild has had in quite some time. The two compliment each other surprisingly well and Zanon’s experience has really started to rub off on young Mr. Stoner. Stoner was physical, he was smart with the puck and he even made some plays offensively as well. If he keeps going this way, he and Jared Spurgeon are going to make Fletcher make some hard decisions here over the next few months.
  • Koivu was probably about as dominant as he could be without scoring a single point. He controlled the puck and forechecked like a mad man and, again, was physical. There’s a reason this guy is the captain of the team and games like this just prove it even more.
  • If the Wild make the post season, it’s going to be on Niklas Backstrom’s back. Regardless of how good this team is playing, Backstrom is the end-all be-all in terms of whether or not they win and he’s on one of the more dominating stretches I’ve ever seen him be on, let alone a Wild goalie. Since returning from injury, Backs has given up just ten goals in his last seven games, including two shutouts. He’s got to be the man if the Wild want the make the playoffs and he was just that again tonight.

Wild Stomp Flames; Backs Gets Shutout in Return

Well, as they say about the best laid plans, I had plans to have a nice write up about the game tonight…Buuuuuuuuuut…Yeah. We’ll just say that I just decided to give you my game notes instead. Enjoy and feel free to leave your comments on tonight’s game!

  • Great effort by Brodziak on Havlat’s first period goal. No one but Havlat expected that puck to be coming to him and he just picked his spot and buried the puck past Kipper.
  • How in the world was Brunette able to just camp in front of Kipper? There wasn’t a defenseman within a stick’s reach of him. You can’t have that, especially not short handed.
  • Jared Spurgeon has been great in the last couple games. He’s making smart plays and he’s coming out of tough areas on the ice with the puck. He’s also got a great first pass out of the zone – something the Wild have sorely missed about not having Kim Johnsson in the line up.
  • 200 games played for Cal Clutterbuck and 869 hits. Really? That’s absolutely ridiculous, especially for a player who isn’t the biggest player on the ice. It’s no wonder why he’s such a popular player.
  • 471 straight games by Jay Bouwmeester. I wonder what Michael Peca would have to say about that?
  • Unbelievably dangerous hit by Curtis Glencross on Clayton Stoner. Glencross got five for it and, honestly, Stoner’s lucky that he was able to turn his head to the side. Bush league hit by Glencross that, honestly, should be looked at by the league. You shouldn’t need any sort of reminder not to hit a player in the back in that sort of position.
  • Maybe it’s a little cynical of me, but it isn’t really heartening that our second power-play unit has Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck on it.
  • The Wild had a five-minute power play that had a lot of pressure in the Calgary zone, but just couldn’t get anything going. That could easily be a shift in the momentum for the game.
  • How much confidence does Richards have in Stoner and Zanon right now? They were matched up against Hall’s line in Edmonton and now they’re matched up against Iginla in Calgary. Great play by these two.
  • Minnesota’s penalty kill looks good so far. We’re keeping players to the perimeter and, when we’re not able to, we’re clearing the puck away to the corner or down the ice.
  • Cam Barker looks like he’s making the most of being inserted back into the line up. He’s not making stupid plays and his footwork is a lot better than it has looked in the past. He’s playing physical, he’s playing well positionally. Everything the Wild wanted from him.
  • Great play by Jared Spurgeon to start the play that ultimately had Madden score. He won’t get an assist on that one, but his rush was what opened up the ice to give Madden the opening to score.
  • It’s a nice luxury when you have two defensive pairings that you can count on to play big minutes against teams’ top lines. Both Stoner and Zanon and Schultz and Burns have been called on to play against the Flames’ top line and both pairings have done a great job of it.
  • I don’t even know that Clutterbuck could believe that he scored his goal. He beat Kipper short side, over his blocker from the boards. So, yeah, it’s safe to say that he’s got a bit of an accurate shot.
  • Flames pressuring in the third and the Wild look like they’re scrambling a bit. Half the period is over, but the Wild need to be careful not to sit back on their heels and watch their 4-0 lead.
  • What an effort by Chuck Kobasew, diving backwards to slap the puck past Kipper as he sprawled to stop it. Yet another strong effort by a player on the Wild – something that’s really been emblematic of this team in this game.
  • Havlat is just a master at stick handling in traffic. It’s absolutely ridiculous what he can do with the puck with players around, going over, under, through – everything he can to get the puck to the net.
  • Great passing on Havlat’s second goal of the night. A beautiful tic-tac-toe play with a no-look pass from Cal Clutterbuck to Martin Havlat for Havlat’s 200th career goal and you’ve got to admire the way this line is meshing, especially in the absence of Havlat’s normal partner in crime, Guillaume Latendresse.
  • There looks to be absolutely no pride by the Flames in this one. They just look like they’ve given up and packed it in after a pretty terrible performance by the team in the last half of the game.
  • Great game by Niklas Backstrom, who gets a shutout in his first game back from injury. Absolutely terrific, doing exactly what Niklas Backstrom is expected to do – be a nice, stabilizing, calming factor in net.
  • Havlat and Brodziak both had three point nights and that entire line looked great. It’s going to be hard to break them up when Latendresse gets healthy again.
  • Minnesota has scored at least four in its last three games, out scoring their opponents 14-1 during that time. Not too shabby. There might be some hope for this team yet.

Since Hindsight is 20/20, We’re Looking Ahead

It’s not quite official yet, Wild Nation-ites, but it’s all but that. 

The Wild will miss the playoffs for the second straight season. 

The is still an infinitesimal chance that they could pull it out, but it would involve the Wild coming out and putting together a 5-0 stretch run combined with every single team that they’re chasing tanking. 

In other words: 

It ain’t gonna happen. 

Chuck Fletcher has a long, arduous road ahead of him too, because the cold hard facts have laid out a pretty rocky looking off season, so let’s play some fact and fiction here, shall we? 

FACT: Minnesota has approximately $48.2 million tied up in 18 players for next season. 

FACT: Minnesota has definite needs to be addressed at forward and not a whole lot of roster spaces or money to do so. 

FICTION: The Wild will be able to address their need for a scoring threat in free agency. 

FICTION: There are a number of free agents that could fill the Wild’s needs. 

Now, before you get all up in arms about this, let’s think this through rationally. 

You can cross Ilya Kovalchuk off your wish list.  It ain’t gonna happen unless Fletcher can work some sort of cap magic.  Kovie wants the league maximum and the Wild don’t even have league maximum type of space. 

Patrick Marleau is an intriguing option, but he’s been playing on a line with Jumbo Joe and Heater for most season.  It would be a risk and I don’t know that it would necessarily be a risk worth taking. 

Alexander Frolov?  I don’t know that we want another underachieving European forward. 

Tomas Plekanec? If he doesn’t re-sign with Montreal, their entire ownership will likely be run out of town. 

Ray Whitney?  Not at 37. Olli Jokinen?  No thanks.  Chris Higgins?  Not a chance. 

You get the picture. 

But, looking forward to 2011, there’s more potential there. 

Brad Richards, Joe Thornton, Alexander Semin, Simon Gagne, Martin St. Louis, Patrice Bergeron, Tim Connolly and Michael Ryder are all players that should at least be intriguing for Wild fans. 

Will all of them get to free agency? 

Probably not.  But there’s a good chance that a few might. 

So this off season is likely going to be filled with the Wild filling out their roster with role players — players that aren’t going to set the world on fire, but that aren’t going to be bad pick ups either. 

This off season, though, I think could be telling of how quickly the Wild will be built into the mold of what Fletcher wants. 

Below is a list of what I imagine will be keys to the Wild’s off season: 

  • Re-sign Guillaume Latendresse.
    • Say what you will about his performance this season, but Latendresse has proven that he’s a valuable player.  He’s managed to shake just about every single knock that Montreal fans have had against him and has been our best player since coming over in the trade.  The problem with this is that you don’t know what player you’re going to be signing.  Will you be getting the Guillaume Latendresse that was benched or skated on the fourth line in Montreal, or will you be getting his super-powered alter ego, The Tenderness, who has lit the lamp more times in one season than anyone to wear a Wild sweater not named Gaborik or Rolston?  It is conceivable that he’s got contract year-itis, but it’s also possible that the pressure being lifted off of his shoulders is doing wonders for his career.  Listening to him talk, I’d say it’s the latter of the two.  To be safe, though, I can’t see the Wild signing him to longer than a two-year deal with the promise of more talks to come if he keeps it up.
  • Lock Mikko Koivu up long-term.
    • This is a no-brainer.  While Koivu may never be a 100+ point player (though he could be with the right line mates), he is the heart and soul of this franchise.  I would like to see him signed to a Datsyuk-ian or Zetterberg-ian contract, meaning the rest of his career for a reasonable cap hit.
  • Hit the trade market
    • You’ve no doubt gathered by now that I just don’t believe that vast improvements through the free agent market this season are going to happen.  I’m not saying that it’s an impossibility — just more of an improbability.  Where the Wild are going to make an impact this off season is the same place that they made an impact this season.  The trade market.

Now I know that neither of these three are a huge revelation to anyone.  Latendresse are our two top players this season and Fletcher has shown a penchant to making good trades this season.  But I’d like to stay on that last one for just a moment. 

Trades are going to be made.  Plain and simple. 

And, given the performance of the team down the stretch, I’d say there aren’t many players that are safe.  In fact, I’ll list all the players that I think might be safe from trade. 

Mikko Koivu
Guillaume Latendresse
Martin Havlat
Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Cal Clutterbuck
Casey Wellman
Brent Burns
Cam Barker
Greg Zanon
Josh Harding 

Now, let me be clear.  There are two names on there that are on there due to injury status and not for any other reason.  Bouchard and Harding’s stock has got to be at an all-time low, which is one big reason why I think we’ll see Harding back in Minnesota next season. 

At forward, Koivu and Latendresse are fairly obvious.  Havlat, despite his horrible start to the season, has been pretty good in the new year, with 11 goals and 19 assists for 36 points in 36 games with a minus-four rating and even then Fletcher wouldn’t trade his big free agency pick up this early in the game…Plus, you know, no movement clause.  Clutterbuck is, well, Clutterbuck.  There’s no way that Fletcher is going to trade Wellman after winning out over 21 other teams.  Burns has played his way onto this list over the last couple weeks.  Barker was the centerpiece of the Johnsson trade and there’s no way that he’s going to be traded after giving up so much and Zanon…Well…Yeah. 

This is to say that, if you don’t see your favorite player on this list you might want to at least prepare yourself for the idea that he’s not going to be wearing the Iron Range Red next season. 

I’m not saying that everyone but these ten will be gone.  Far from it.  There are quite a few players in the organization that I think it would take a killer deal for the Wild to agree to trade (Backstrom and Schultz being two of these), but that being said…I truly don’t think that there are many players that Fletcher wouldn’t listen to offers for. 

Overall, the prognosis could be good for Minnesota next season.  The team has, legitimately, five top-four defensemen (Burns, Schultz, Barker, Zidlicky and Zanon) and one more that could turn into one if he’s healthy (Stoner).  They have one world class goaltender (Backstrom) who will be coming off of a down season (can you say incentive?) and potentially another (Harding) who will be looking to increase his value for his UFA day.  Then, at forward they’ll be getting Butch back (God-willing), will have a full season with The Tenderness, and have a young core with a bunch more experience. 

They might not be the best team in the league, but they’re a team that 1) is struggling through an injury-riddled season and 2) have had a few players who have not contributed to the extent that they were expected to. 

Do we have significant holes? 

Without a doubt.  But we also have enough on our roster to overcome these holes and become a potentially dangerous team. 

While they admit it or not, the Wild management is certainly undertaking some semblance of a rebuild.  Our former general manager (who will not be named in this blog) did his best to make sure that his predecessor wouldn’t have an easy job ahead of him, but you can see signs that the organization is headed in the right direction. 

Hopefully they have a roadmap so they don’t get lost along the way.

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