Around the NHL: 8/25/11

The season is inching closer and, on Monday, we’re going to start our player profiles to start the season. Here’s what next week’s schedule will look like:

Aug. 29: Player Profile: Mikko Koivu

Aug. 30: Around the NHL

Player Profile: Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Aug. 31: Prospect Profile: Matt Hackett

Player Profile: Dany Heatley

Sept. 1:  Off

Sept. 2: Around the State of Hockey

Player Profile: Cal Clutterbuck

So that’s what we’re looking at, pending any more trades or any big news or anything, so keep tuned in, because we’ve got some great stuff on the way.

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Crosby Meets with Specialists
The big news coming is that Sidney Crosby has met with some leading specialists around the country and has said that he will make a full recovery.

Could everyone please just calm down? He'll be back!

The operative word there is will.

It’s nothing to panic about, it’s not a huge cause for concern, but he’s just not there yet.

Now, Pens fans really need to back away from the ledge with this one for a couple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that there is no return date set, only when he’s symptom free.

What’s important in that, though is that they’re actually mentioning the words return date. That means that Crosby’s career isn’t over. He’s not done. He’s just on the shelf. The Pens obviously don’t want him to turn into another Eric Lindros. They don’t want him to come back before he’s ready, nor should he.

The other reason why Pens fans shouldn’t have cause for concern is very simple. They still have Evgeni Malkin.

Think about it. This is a guy who, a few years ago people were debating about whether or not he was the best player in the NHL.

All indications are pointing to the fact that he’s going to be healthy to start the season and there isn’t anything that should give any Pens fans cause for concern.

Even without Crosby, the Pens will still be good. They’ll still have one of the elite offenses in the league, they’ll still have one of the elite defensive units in the league and they’ll still have Marc-Andre Fleury in net (take that however you want).

What I’m trying to say is that this team isn’t a one-trick pony. They’re not built so that the loss of a superstar player is insurmountable.

Are they going to be as good as they would be with Sid? No. Is it going to be clear sailing without him? No. But even if he doesn’t play at all this season, I don’t think it’s out of the question that the Pens could still be the class of the Atlantic, if not the Eastern Conference.

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Matt Cooke a Changed Man?
So, I guess we’re on a bit of a Pens theme today, but I just couldn’t pass this one by.

Anyone who knows me or who has followed this website for any period of time knows that I’m not a fan of Matt Cooke. I wasn’t when he was in Vancouver, I wasn’t when he was in Washington and I’m not now.

I don’t like the way he plays the game and I don’t like the level of respect (or lack thereof) that he has for his fellow players.

That’s not to say, though, that I think he’s a horrible human being off the ice.

If there was anything that HBO 24/7 showed, it was that Cooke actually seems like a decent guy, despite the way he plays.

Indeed, Puck Daddy even highlighted that Cooke’s season was marred with

personal turmoil that saw his wife undergo four surgeries. Nearly losing a loved one takes a toll on you, no matter who you are and my heart truly does go out to Cooke and his family and it’s truly a great thing that his wife has recovered.

To Cooke’s credit, too, he’s not using that turmoil as an excuse for his actions but, rather, as an excuse to change.

Cooke seems to have realized that the way that he plays (or, hopefully, played) the game was indefensible and just plain wrong and, for what it’s worth, I truly hope that he has. I just have a hard time believing it.

He’s always played the game right on the edge of legality and, it seemed, rarely tried very hard to stay on that edge, often crossing over to plain dangerous

You'd be surprised how hard it is to find pictures of Cooke that don't make him look like a maniac.

hits and I have a hard time believing that he’s going to be able to rein that part of himself in for a full season.

The nature of his game is and always has been that he’s a pest – he’s the guy that gets under your team’s skin – and the way that he did that most effectively was by toeing that line.

Now, I have absolutely no doubt that he’s going to try to curb that part of his game. In fact, I’m positive that he is. He sought counseling during his leave of absence from the team and that, coupled with his wife’s health troubles last season, seems to have given him a new lease on life (in terms of his career). He’s saying all the right things and he’s acting the right way.

But the question I have is, will he be as effective of a pest when he’s not sneaking over that line every so often?

Players like Cal Clutterbuck and Milan Lucic have managed to become pretty dang good agitators in the NHL without really crossing the line into illegality. Even Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows managed to do it last season (despite the bite) to the benefit of the Canucks.

But can Cooke be effective if he reins in his game? Can he still play that role that he has played so well for 12 NHL seasons and can he still do it effectively?

Maybe. But, the bigger question in my mind is what happens if he can’t?

He’s not a 20-plus goal scorer, though he does have some finesse in those hands. He’s not an elite offensive player, nor is he a terribly elite defensive player (though he has excelled in that role at times in his career). His bread-and-butter is getting under players’ skins and throwing them off their game.

But if he’s not toeing that line, will he be effective? And if he’s not, will he be able to adjust his game so he can be, or will he simply regress to his old self?

All of that remains to be seen.

Despite my doubts, I truly hope that we see a brand new Matt Cooke next season. He proved, last season, that the Pens are a better team with him than without him and they could definitely use him around for a full season.

I just hope he’s serious about this change, because it will be better for him, better for the Pens and better for the league if he is.

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Check back later tonight to see some of my thoughts on the demo version of NHL 12. So long!

Around the NHL: 8/16/11

Sorry for the lack of a mailbag yesterday. The kids and I were out at the Octagon Sports pro camp over at the St. Louis Park Rec Center and there wasn’t really any questions to be answered so, we had a day off. I’ll be heading there a few times a week, so I’ll put up some thoughts once more players get there.

Anyway, on to our look around the NHL. Enjoy!

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Rick Rypien Found Dead
We’re starting with a sad story today, as 27-year-old enforcer Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home on Monday.

Rypien’s dead was reported by News 1130 in Vancouver as a “non-suspicious, sudden death,” and, past that, no more details have been released.

Rypien is the second NHL player this off season to be gone to soon and, out of respect for him and his friends and family we aren’t going to speculate about the cause or circumstances of his death.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family during this trying time and, once more concrete information is available, we’ll have more on this.

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Kaptain Kontroversy in New Jersey?
As funny as it sounds, there might be a controversy brewing in Newark surrounding the captaincy of the New Jersey Devils.

Will it be Ilya Kovalchuck, the $100 million-dollar man or will it be Zach Parise, the team’s franchise player whose future with the team is seemingly in limbo? Or will it be someone else like Patrik Elias (despite his insistence that he doesn’t want the job)?

For me, I can’t even imagine why there is any controversy here. The right call, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is Parise and the

There should be a C added to that picture this season

rationale goes beyond a simple power play to try to convince him to stick with the team past this coming season.

First of all, Parise is the team’s true franchise player. He was drafted into the organization and has been the cornerstone of the franchise since he first suited up in a Devils’ sweater. In Parise, you have not only a strong player, but a player with a strong pedigree (son of former North Star J.P. Parise) and a player who has won everywhere he’s been. Not only that, but you have a player that has been the face of the Devils’ franchise for all the right reasons (as opposed to being the face of the franchise due to illegal cap circumvention.)

In Kovalchuk, you have a player who sat back, waited and went to the highest bidder. Does Kovalchuk really want to be in Newark? I have no doubt that he does. (He chose it over Hollywood, for crying out loud.) But he’s been the name that people think of when they think of the Devils for all the wrong reasons.

Kovalchuk does have the experience of being a captain on his side, but is that really a good thing? The Thrashers slapped the captaincy on him in the hopes that it would convince him to re-sign in Atlanta.

The experiment failed.

The franchise didn’t win and Kovalchuk left.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I love Kovalchuk. I’m probably one of his biggest supporters and he’s one of my favorite players outside of the Wild, but he’s not a captain. He’s not the guy you want your players looking to for guidance. He’s not the guy you think of and say to yourself, “Now there’s a great leader.”

I’m sorry, but he’s just not.

On the other hand, Parise has been a leader everywhere he has played. From North Dakota to the Devils to Team USA.

He is the man for the job and it’s not just a power play to keep Parise on the team. It’s the right call.

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Crosby May Not Be Ready For Camp?
In the interest of full disclosure: I hate Sidney Crosby.

I’m sure he’s a great guy and he’s certainly a great player, but I just can’t stand him.

Don't worry Pens fans. He'll be back.

But, my personal decisions aside, if he’s not ready for training camp, that’s a huge blow to not just the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the NHL. Crosby is a huge draw around the league and he makes the league more intriguing to watch. If he’s not ready to play this season, that’s a huge blow.

Should it be a cause for concern?

Yes.

Should anyone go into full out panic mode?

Absolutely not.

Head injuries are funny things (funny, weird, not funny, ha-ha). They’re unpredictable. One day you can be on top of the world and the next you can be unable to get out of bed.

Crosby is in a precarious position right now. He’s been cleared to work out and he’s doing so. As some Penguins blogs are pointing out, there’s a good chance that he’s feeling light-headed after workouts because, well, everyone does at one point or another.

He’s an elite athlete who is likely pushing himself to get into shape for training camp.

Yeah, he’s going to have instances where he’s not feeling his best.

As has been pointed out, though, the biggest key is going to be whether or not he is cleared for contact once camp comes around. If he is, great. If he isn’t, though, it’s going to be a huge hit for everyone.

Until then, though, it’s a disservice to everyone to speculate.

Crosby is still working out and that gives every indication that he’s doing just fine.

So, Pens fans, don’t panic…Yet.

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We’ll be hitting up more of the Octagon camp tomorrow, so we’ll try to get some photos to throw up here and we’re going to have the prospect report done tonight for you, focusing on the Wild’s newest prospect – Charlie Coyle.

Enjoy your day and we’ll be back later tonight!

Wild Nation Re-Launch: Winter Classic Live Blog

Okay, so it’s not much of a re-launch because nothing much has changed, but we’re back in business with a live blog of the now-postponed Winter Classic. I’ll be joined by Denis Gorman and J.P. Hoornstra and maybe a couple other of the Hockey Primetime staff, so enjoy!

Wild Nation’s Ridiculously Early Season Predictions: The Atlantic Division

August is almost upon us, which can only mean one thing – its training camp time.

The time in the NHL where there’s hope running through every team’s fan base, except for Toronto’s of course. But, with that hope in mind, it’s time for our ridiculously early season prognostications that will likely be proven to be dead wrong by the second week of the season or just the Ridiculously Early Season Predictions, for short.

We’re going to start with the Eastern Conference this season, namely the Atlantic Division so, let’s get started.

New Jersey Devils – The NHLPA filed their grievance on Thursday regarding Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract and one would assume that, despite their desire to resolve this quickly both sides are digging in for a fight.

Even without Kovalchuk in the fray, however, the Devils remain a much improved team over last season’s with the additions of Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder on defense and Jason Arnott up front. It could, in fact, be argued that the Devils could be a better all around team without Kovalchuk, as they would have to unload a contract in order to come into the season under the salary cap.

Looking at this team, however, Volchenkov and Tallinder should be upgrades over the departed Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin, while Arnott should give the team a solid second-line center that can pitch in on offense.

While these three players alone might not get the Devils back to the promised land, in the Stanley Cup finals, they will certainly go a long way towards making New Jersey more competitive both in the regular season and the post season.

New York Islanders – The Islanders may find themselves in the enviable situation of having to spend money in order to reach the cap floor this season – something that many teams might relish at this point in the off season.

The problem for the Isles, however, is how do they do that?

With the big fish out of the free agency pond, the Isles may have to resort to multiple signings, which could cut down on the amount of playing time that some of their youngsters would get.

It’s hard to imagine that forwards Doug Weight and Matt Moulson won’t be back with New York this season, so that will take care of some of it, but likely won’t resolve the entire issue, but this is good news for a team that only has seven roster players under contract for next season and 13 restricted free agents coming up.

Another year’s experience for their big time youngsters will be good for the Isles, and they’re headed in the right direction – they’re just not there quite yet.

New York Rangers – As has been the case the last few seasons, the Rangers are an enigma wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a puzzle.

They have Marian Gaborik who, after countless disappointing seasons in Minnesota, came out and showed that he could shoulder the load and be a superstar in the NHL, but past him they don’t have many players that chipped in offensively.

Then, this off season they made what many consider to be the shrewdest move, signing Martin Biron as a capable back up for a goalie who has never really had a capable back up, but they then went out and signed enforcer Derek Boogaard to a ridiculous four-year, $1.65 million per contract.

So, as it stands now, the Rangers aren’t really much better than they were at the end of last season. Alexander Frolov’s agent has stated that his client is close to a deal with the blueshirts and, if that’s the case, the team could be looking better going into this season.

But, as it stands right now, they’re in the same spot that they were last season, which means that they will likely be on the outside looking in once more.

Philadelphia Flyers – After spending most of the off season pretending like the salary cap didn’t apply to them, they’re now back under the cap by a whole $327k.

After replacing Simon Gagne with Nikolai Zherdev, which was likely a salary shedding move, it is apparent that the Flyers are anticipated increased production from James Van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux and Ville Leino next season, along with what Zherdev brings, to make up for the loss of Gagne’s production.

But the story here isn’t in the team’s offense, but in a defensive unit that could easily be the best in the NHL.

After their defense got embarrassed by Chicago through much of the finals, the Flyers responded by going out and trading for Andrei Meszaros and Matt Walker and signing free agent Sean O’Donnell.

That gives them five defensemen that could legitimately be considered top-five defensemen and two more that are legitimate shut down d-men, plus Oscars Bartulis who appears to now be on the outside looking in.

All of this points to the fact that we could very well be looking at a situation much like the Penguins and Blackhawks faced, of having to lose before you can win.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Let’s be perfectly honest here. You can never count the Pens out of anything.

While they still have one glaring need to address (a scoring winger), the Pens have upgraded their defensive unit which should be a big help for Marc-Andre Fleury.

Zybnek Michalek and Paul Martin give the Pens two more defensemen that can play in any situation and takes the pressure off of Kris Letang and Alex Gologoski on the powerplay and should help in the wake of losing Sergei Gonchar to free agency.

The best news for the Pens, also, is that they have the cap room to address their need for a winger before free agency is out. With the market value for free agent forwards taking a dive, especially with the signing of Nikolai Zherdev, the Pens can more than afford to improve their forward corps.

That, in and of itself, is encouraging news for Pens fans and they should expect to see the playoffs in Pittsburgh once again.

Predictions

Well, now that we’re done with the previews, let’s take a look at how I think the Atlantic Division is going to line up come playoff time this coming season:

1) Philadelphia Flyers
2) New Jersey Devils

3) Pittsburgh Penguins

4) New York Rangers
5) New York Islanders

Through most of the season last season, all five teams were in playoff contention and it should be much of the same this season, though I think that the Rangers and Islanders will fall of towards the end of the season once again and be on the outside looking in. The Flyers, Devils and Penguins, however, should all be back in the dance once again.

Up Next: The Northeast Division

Live Blog! Habs @ Pens, Game 1

What an intriguing series we have here.

On one hand, we have the defending Stanley Cup Champions, who struggled more than most thought they would against a surprising Ottawa Senators team.

On the other hand, we have a Montreal Canadiens team that is the surprise of the playoffs thus far after downing the Washington Capitals in seven games.

Can Halak and the Habs do it again? It starts tonight!

Early Round Two Live Blog Schedule

Alright.  Second round, here we come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Early Postseason Playoff Thoughts

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

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

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

Wild Schedule Released

For a complete version, click here.

The NHL has released the schedules for the upcoming season today.  Here are some of the highlights for the Wild. 

  • The Wild’s season opener will be on October 3, against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
  • Their home opener will be against one of Chuck Fletcher’s former teams, the Anaheim Ducks, on October 6.
  • The team starts the year with a very road-heavy schedule, playing nine of their first fourteen games on the road.
  • The Wild play fifteen sets of back-to-back games.  In other words, 37% of their games are back-to-back sets.
  • Marian Gaborik returns to Minnesota on October 30, while Jacques Lemaire returns on January 2.
  • The team will play home-and-home series against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Carolina.
  • Three of the team’s last five games are on the road against Division Rivals.
  • Todd Richards will return to San Jose on October 10, Martin Havlat will return to Chicago on October 26 and Chuck Fletcher will return to Pittsburgh on October 31.
  • Training camp will open on September 13 and pre-season games will be announced at a later date.

An Update of Sorts

Since there hasn’t been much (read: any) Wild news to report recently, I just felt that I should inform you all that I am writing for Hockey Primetime once again.  All of my Wild news will still be contained here on Wild Nation; however, I will be posting all of my NHL articles on there for the time being.  For those interested, here are the links:

HPT Western Conference Predictions: #3 Vancouver vs. #4 Chicago
HPT Western Conference Predictions: #2 Detroit vs. #8 Anaheim
HPT Eastern Conference Predictions: #1 Boston vs. #6 Carolina
HPT Eastern Conference Predictions: #2 Washington vs. #4 Pittsburgh
Masterton Candicates Announced
Canucks Stave Off Comeback; Win Game 1

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!

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