Around the NHL: 8/4/11

It’s time for another look around the NHL, and there certainly were some big stories to go down over the last couple of days.

Before I forget, keep it tuned here tomorrow for a big announcement in lieu of our look around the State of Hockey. I don’t think it’s one that you guys are going to want to miss.

Anywho, here we go!

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Weber Awarded One-Year, $7.5M Arbitration Deal
You can file this one under the “Oh Crap” category for anyone remotely associated with the Nashville Predators franchise.

Basically, the Preds have the next two years (this, plus what will likely amount to another one-year deal next season) to convince Weber to stay.

That could mean a few different things, but the common thought is that it means that they have to show him they’re serious about contending for a Stanley Cup.

The team’s GM, David Poile, was very diplomatic about the signing, congratulating Weber and stating that the deal was reflective of his value to both the Predators and the NHL, but if you read between the lines you could see the nervousness that Poile was feeling.

The fact that Weber didn’t lock himself into a long-term contract with the Preds is obviously disconcerting for the franchise and

Block this shot. I dare you.

speaks to the direction that the team’s captain feels the franchise is taking.

In other words, as was pointed out by Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy, he doesn’t seem to think that the team is capable of winning a Stanley Cup and, as we’re pointing out here, one can hardly blame him.

There are certain requirements that one assumes a team will exhibit if they’re serious about winning a Stanley Cup – namely, going out and acquiring big-name players.

The Predators, meanwhile, have been content with acquiring big-name players who have been on the downside of their careers, while building from within. Now, admittedly, the future is bright for players like Colin Wilson, Blake Geoffrion and Cal O’Reilly, but those aren’t the sexy signings that are going to make people think, “Hey, this team could win the Cup!”

Nashville has long been a defense-first franchise that spreads out the scoring. Heck, they only had two players that hit the 50 point barrier last season and only two that cracked 20 goals. The season before was the same story.

This is a team that has prided itself on building from within and they have a strong core of players that have come from within (Weber, Suter, Rinne), but the common thought is that there’s no way that they’re going to be able to keep all three.

You’ve got to have impact players to win in the NHL, and Nashville undoubtedly has three in Weber, Suter and Rinne. The problem is that these three impact players will want to be surrounded by impact players on the offensive side of the puck, which means that the Preds are going to have to dish out some money for a big name scorer, which means that these three are either going to have to agree to a pay cut (which one would imagine they would do if it meant contending for a Cup) or that Nashville is going to have to make the difficult decision as to which of them to keep.

And based on the facts surrounding the Weber arbitration hearing, there’s a very good chance that Weber might not be a part of the team’s long-term plan.

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David Perron Not Ready for Action?
The Blues were hit with some terrible news this week, as young superstar David Perron might not be recovered from a concussion that he received on November 4 of last season.

In fact, no one seems to be sure when Perron will be available to return to the Blues which shows just how unpredictable concussions can be.

Perron hasn’t played since getting sidelined by the blindside hit by Joe Thornton (who, incidentally, missed all of two games because of the hit) and hasn’t even done any hockey related activities since.

Perron will likely miss more time

The club is thankfully taking a cautious approach to the situation with Perron, but given what we know about concussions (which isn’t a lot), is it realistic to expect him back on the ice any time soon, or even that he will be the same player once (or if) he does return?

Returning from a concussion is a difficult prospect in any sport, let alone a sport where your brain has the potential of being jostled whenever you touch the puck (or don’t, in the case of some players). So little is known about head injuries like this that the topic gets even murkier when you consider that the symptoms didn’t present themselves right away either.

Quite frankly, the circumstances surrounding this issue mean that the team needs to take this as slow as humanly possible. The severity of this injury leads me to believe that Perron needs to be kept away from any physical exertion until at least a few weeks after the symptoms subside.

I get that we’re talking about a guy’s career here and that he’s likely going to be chomping at the bit to get back to work after this long of a layoff, but we’re also talking about a guy’s long-term health; maybe even about his life.

At 23, Perron is still young. He still has a long career in front of him; however, he needs to be cautious in returning because, with as much of a depressing situation he is in right now with this lingering injury, it would be even more depressing if his career or life were cut short because he rushed back from it.

Scoreboard Watching: 3/11/11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scoreboard Watching: 3/10/11

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

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

Chicago? Lost to Tampa in the shootout.

Calgary? Beat Dallas in the shootout.

Dallas? Got a loser point.

Los Angeles? Beat the Red Wings.

Anaheim? Beat the Rangers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scoreboard Watching: 3/9/11

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

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

Let’s get started.

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

1 2 3 OT

SO

F
Blackhawks 1 1 1

0

0 (0-3) 3
Lightning 2 1 0

0

1 (1-3) 4

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

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

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

1 2 3 OT

SO

F
Flames 3 0 0

0

1 (2-3) 4
Stars 1 1 1

0

0 (1-3) 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gameday Thread: Game 43 – Wild @ Predators

Ask, and you shall receive. I’ve received e-mails asking for the Gameday Threads to return, so here you go – albeit in a slightly different format.

Instead of giving you the stats, line ups, etc, what I’ll be doing instead is giving you some “required reading” for the game and a little insight to boot.

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NHL.com Game Preview
Russo’s Pre-game Blog
PredsOnTheGlass’s Game Preview

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The Wild comes into tonight’s game after a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Stars that was, quite honestly, disappointing yet expected.

The Wild, on the short-end of a back-to-back stretch, looked flat and tired for most of the game; basically leaving this blogger to consider the game a throw-away game – one that would have been a huge momentum boost if they had won, but not one that should sap their confidence or their momentum having lost it.

The bad news is that the Wild come into tonight’s game facing a Nashville Predators team that has been very, very, good in their last five games (starting with their New Year’s Eve win over the Wild) and are facing a goalie that is averaging a goal-per-game in his last four starts. Not good news for a Wild team that struggles to score.

The good news, though, is that the Wild will be getting one of their best offensive threats back in Antti Miettinen after “Mittens” missed the last four games first with a charley horse, then with a stomach bug.

That means that Chuck Kobasew (who I think has been one of the Wild’s best players over the last handful of games) will be slotted down, likely onto Matt Cullen’s wing on the third line. This, in my opinion, is a huge bummer for Kobasew, who has been playing his best hockey in a Wild sweater. With four goals and five points in his last eight games, Kobasew looks like he’s started to find the touch that caused the Wild to trade for him last season and that confidence transferred over to the rest of his game.

But, such is life.

Miettinen is comfortable on Koivu’s right wing and Koivu is comfortable with Miettinen on his right wing, so that’s all she wrote.

The line to watch tonight, though, is going to be the trio of Martin Havlat, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Kyle Brodziak. Havlat, one of the more notable all star snubs in my opinion (I’ll get into that later tonight), has been one of, if not the best player on the team all season long and Bouchard has started to find his game after a nine-game stretch that saw him tally just two assists (he has a goal and three assists in his last six games). The line has been meshing very, very well, so it’s only a matter of time before they start to take off. But, I digress.

This game is as close to a must-win for the Wild as they could get right now. They’re just two points out of seventh and three out of fourth in the West and they’ve started to look like they’re getting it together on the ice. They played spectacular hockey against some great teams over the past few games and have won five of their last seven – they certainly have confidence and momentum. But this pivotal game could easily see them lose both if they come out flat and get behind.

With the way they’re playing right now, it’s not hard to picture the Wild playing in the playoffs this season – but, at the same time, it’s just as easy to picture inconsistency biting them in the rear end again. They have to find that consistency and stop losing streaks before they happen. If they can do that tonight, after a stinker of a game on Saturday, I’ll tell you this – they might be on to something.

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Congratulations to Brent Burns on his first career All Star Game selection. Check back later tonight for my thoughts on his selection, as well as the rest of the selections.

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

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!

Wild Newcomers Are Starting to Pay Dividends

Right now, it’s looking like Chuck Fletcher might deserve to be locked away for robbery. 

Why, you ask? 

Because, at this point, that’s what his additions of Chuck Kobasew, Guillaume Latendresse and Andrew Ebbett look like. 

Okay.  So maybe I’m going a touch strong on the hyperbole, but you can’t deny that the Wild’s newcomers have given the team quite the boost in the last few games. 

Chuck Kobasew? 

Well, the man with an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt got off to a slow start for the Wild with just a goal and two assists in his first nine games, not to mention a minus-2 rating.  Since returning from his injury, however, Kobasew has three goals, all of which came as a hat-trick in the Wild’s post-turkey day feast against the Colorado Avalanche, a minus-1 rating and 15 shots.  15 shots in just four games, from a checker? 

That sounds like someone who’s making a difference to me. 

Then you’ve got G-Lat.  Dubbed as such by Wild.com scribe Glen Andresen, I’ve decided to adopt the nickname for my own purposes because, quite honestly, just thinking about typing his name gives me carpal tunnel syndrome. 

G-Lat was cast off from Montreal after tallying two goals and an assist in 23 games, including a minus-4 rating.  For Minnesota?  He’s equaled that output in just three games, with a plus-1 rating. 

Not only that, but G-Lat has seemingly transformed from a lazy, uninspired shadow of a power forward to the energetic, physical mountain of a man that he was billed as coming into Montreal his rookie season.  Not only that, but somewhere on the road between here and Montreal, he learned how to play defense. 

And then there’s Andrew Ebbett.  Mighty Mouse himself. 

Proving that it is indeed possible to be smaller than Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Ebbett has provided an instant offensive spark to whatever line he’s been put on.  

In his first game for the Wild, against Boston?  Game-tying goal. 

In the second of back-to-back games against Colorado?  Game-winning shootout goal. 

In Wednesday’s game against Nashville?  Game-winning overtime goal. 

Now that’s what I call coming through in the clutch. 

Now I know what a lot of you are thinking.  

For Kobasew, it was likely an aberration, right? 

But consider that he has scored 20+ goals in three of the last four seasons.  You simply just don’t forget how to score just because you come to a new team.  He is capable of putting up goals—it’s just a matter of finding players that he meshes with. 

For G-Lat, he’s just trying to impress his new team. 

Maybe.  I’m still going to hold my judgment on this one until his body of work is a little bigger.  But honestly, everyone knew that he had talent.  Everyone knew that he was capable of being a solid player in this league. 

Consider his circumstances in Montreal.  A Quebecois player, playing in Montreal?  It takes a special kind of good to be able to withstand the pressure that comes with that.  It takes a Maurice Richard-type of talent to be able to withstand that and, no matter how good G-Lat might be for Minnesota, no one will ever mistake him for The Rocket. 

So maybe, just maybe he’s playing this way because the pressure is no longer on.  His every move isn’t going to be critiqued in Minnesota (just every other move).  Maybe, now that he’s free of the expectations that come along with a French-Canadian player in Montreal, he’ll emerge into the player he is capable of being. 

But again, I’m going to hold my judgment until he has a larger body of work. 

As for Ebbett? 

Honestly, I can’t find any reason why anyone should be weary of his performance.  Despite his size, the man has put up points at every single level.  His last season at the University of Michigan?  14 goals, 42 points in 41 games.  His last full season in the AHL?  18 goals, 72 poitns in 74 games.  His first season with the Ducks?  8 goals, 32 points in 48 games. 

He’s capable of scoring and, honestly, has seemed to be a cap casualty in both Anaheim and Chicago this season.  But if he keeps playing this way, there’s no way he’s going to be one in Minnesota. 

But to be honest, the biggest contribution that these players have brought to the team isn’t necessarily on the ice. 

Yes, they’re helping the Wild win games.  But what their additions have done is juiced the locker room, so to speak. 

The Wild are 4-0-1 in their last five games and are playing their best hockey of the season.  The energy that is flowing through this locker room right now is absolutely amazing. 

The additions do two things. 

First, it shows players in the locker room that they need to perform, otherwise they might be on their way out. 

I can tell you that I was quite surprised when I pulled up TSN’s website and saw the article saying that Pouliot had been shipped off to Montreal. 

Pouliot was playing the best hockey of his career and was starting to show signs of improvement on the ice.  But it wasn’t enough for Fletcher.  He saw an opportunity and took it and now Benny Pooh is a Canadien. 

Second, it forces players to actually earn their jobs. 

In Wednesday’s game, James Sheppard was scratched and not necessarily because of his play.  Sheppard has been a force in the last couple games since he’s been slid over to the wing, but the Wild simply do not have the room for him in their lineup—especially not if they feel that it is necessary to skate Derek Boogaard. 

The Wild have a full roster right now, and still have Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the IR.  When those two players get healthy, who knows what’s going to happen. 

Players are certainly going to have to start earning their keep. 

Players like Sheppard and Boogaard, whose spots on the roster were once assured?  They might not be any more.  Or players like Martin Havlat who have been under-performing?  They might not be assured a spot in the lineup on a nightly basis anymore. 

The bottom line is that Chuck Fletcher is putting his stamp on this team and it’s already starting to pay dividends.  As it stands now, not only are the Wild out of the cellar in the division and the conference—they’re just six points back from the seventh seed in the playoffs. 

What this has done is sent a shot across the bow of all of the Nervous Nellies in the State of Hockey.  It’s sent a message to all of the fans deriding Fletcher, claiming that he hasn’t done a good enough job of setting the team up for success. 

It’s told them one thing: Patience is a virtue.

The Depth Chart and Other Randomness

Depth Chart
Earlier today, Mike Russo of the Star-Tribune posted what will be the Wild’s depth chart if it starts the season with the way the roster is now:

Goalie
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding
Barry Brust
Anton Khudobin

LD-RD
Kim Johnsson-Brent Burns
Nick Schultz-Marek Zidlicky
Greg Zanon-Shane Hnidy
John Scott-Jaime Sifers
Tyler Cuma-Justin Falk
Clayton Stoner-Jamie Fraser
Marco Scandella-Maxim Noreau

LW-C-RW
Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Martin Havlat
Owen Nolan-James Sheppard-Pierre-Marc Bouchard (RW until training camp)
Antti Miettinen-Eric Belanger-Cal Clutterbuck
Colton Gillies-Kyle Brodziak-Derek Boogaard
Petr Kalus-Benoit Pouliot-Craig Weller
Robbie Earl-Morten Madsen-Danny Irmen
Matt Kassian-Cody Almond-Carson McMillan

First of all, if you haven’t checked out Mike Russo’s blog and you’re a Wild fan, shame on you.  It’s one of the best resources for all things Wild out there.  Click here to go there.  Bookmark it, scour it daily and above all thank him for his amazing coverage of the Wild!

Anyway, off my soapbox for the moment.

Looking at this depth chart, the thing that immediately jumps out at me is not the center position.  A lot has been made of our depth (or lack thereof) down the middle.  In looking at the team, however, we’ve got five potential pivots on our roster, and that’s not including Colton Gillies, Owen Nolan or Benoit Pouliot.  Throw those two into the mix and we could have as many as eight players on the opening day that could be capable of anchoring a line in the middle.

The thing that really jumps out at me is our lack of depth at left wing.  After Nolan, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen, the talent level really drops off.  This isn’t a knock on Gillies; however, we have a serious lack of skill and depth on the left side and, honestly, on the wing in general.

To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, is our talent on defense and in nets.  Our top-six defensemen could be the best top-six that the team has had.  The additions of Zanon and Hnidy give the team two reliable, physical anchors on the blueline and will force opposing teams to keep their heads up.  Meanwhile, expect Scott and Sifers to compete for the seventh spot in camp, most likely with Scott winning the battle.  That’s not to say, however, that our youth could not come in and surprise.  With Cuma, Falk, Stoner and Scandella in the wings, there is a good chance that Scott and Sifers may not be foregone conclusions at the 7 and 8 slot.  It will take a lot for any of these four to make the squad, however.  Of the four, Stoner probably has the best shot as this could be his make it or break it year, but make no mistake — the Wild’s top 7 are pretty much set.

Olvecky Signs in Nashville
Joel Ward, Ryan Jones and now Olvecky?  Those Tennessee boys sure do like Wild prospects.

In all honesty, I think that Olvecky has a fantastic chance to make the Nashville squad next season right out of camp.  Olvecky is a big body with a lot of untapped talent to boot, and he performed admirably for the Wild in a limited role with the team in the handful of games he played for us last season.

He really started to come into his own last season and seems like he could be the type of player that Barry Trotz will really love.  For $600K and a two-way contract, I’d take Olvecky any day of the week.  A good depth pick up by the Preds.

Qualifying Offers Signed
The Wild had a few players of their own signed as well.

Restricted free agents Benoit Pouliot, Clayton Stoner, Danny Irmen and Robbie Earl all signed their qualifying offers and it seems as if the lot of them (with the exception of Pouliot) could see another year playing in the minors.  Earl and Irmen both have too many players in front of them to have a shot at making the squad (that is, barring a spectacular camp from either) and Stoner will have to do some serious damage in camp to work his way up the depth chart.

Injuries do happen, though, and we could very easily see one of them get a cup of coffee in the NHL and do what Cal Clutterbuck did last season and not let go.

In addition, Russo reports that the Wild could be close to signing Duncan Milroy and Joe DiSalvatore to plug some holes in their minor league system.

Fletcher Working Trade Market
There are a lot of people who are getting scared by the Wild’s seeming lack of movement this off season.

Those fans are the Chicken Littles of the fanbase.

While there are some quality players out there, there really aren’t any players that would meet any immediate needs for us.  I mentioned Mats Sundin, Robert Lang and Mike Comrie previously, but Sundin likely doesn’t have much more tread on his tires, Lang is rumored (or already has) to jump ship to the KHL and Comrie, well, let’s just say I don’t want to sign a player for his girlfriend.  In addition to those players, there are players such as Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora left over.  Undoubtedly, these players could make an impact on the Wild roster, but would they really fit?

In the case of Tanguay, he’s a tremendous talent, but he’s also been pigeonholed as a playmaker — of which, the Wild have many.  Sykora would be a cheap, effective sniper, but do the Wild want to sink the money it would take to get him on an aging player?

Bottom line is that the best route for the team to improve, at this point, is the route that Fletcher is taking — trades.

There are many top flight forwards that have been presumed available via trade.  Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins, Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators, Jonathan Cheechoo of the San Jose Sharks, even Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane have always been rumored to be available.

To be honest, the names remaining in free agency don’t even hold a candle to a lot of these names.  I’d much rather have a Kessel, Heatley, Sharp or Kane over any of those available — regardless of the assets we have to give up for them.

The bottom line is that the Wild are far from done, in my opinion.  But Fletcher has said all along that he’s not afraid to go late into the summer with a less than full roster to give himself the flexibility that he needs to get the players it takes to make this a winning team.

So…

Fear not Chicken Little.  The sky is not falling.  With a little patience, we could have a playoff team yet.

Wild Sign Zanon

So I’ve returned, after a very long hiatus.  Believe me when I say, it was a much needed one too.  Nothing like a little distance to clear your mind, but there’s no time for waxing poetic…It’s free agent time!

The Wild kicked off their free agency day with a whisper, rather than a bang.

They have shown a propensity over the last couple weeks to bring in players that are familiar with new coach Todd Richards (who I am very optimistic about, by the way) and this is no different.

The Wild used their first signing of the day, bringing in defenseman Greg Zanon, previously of Nashville.  Zanon, 29, is a defensive defenseman through and through.  Zanon played all 82 games for Nashville last season and had 237 blocked shots and 153 hits.  In other words, he’ll be manning the fifth/sixth defensive slot and spending a lot of time on the penalty kill for Minnesota.

I like this signing for the simple reason that I like the way that Zanon plays the game.  He is definitely not a signing that we would have seen in the Risebrough/Lemaire era, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Zanon is a rough and tumble d-man, of which we already have John Scott, but Zanon also is a much better skater than Scott.

Like any signing, time will tell how good this really is, but right now I think it’s an optimistic first signing for the Chuck Fletcher-era team.

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