Wild Set Franchise Record; Down Edmonton

Don’t fret. If you didn’t catch last night’s game, it wasn’t any franchise record you’d like to see. The team took ten minor penalties last night, tying a record set back in the early years of the organization.

To take five penalties in a single game is considered to be a fairly bad game, but to take ten? Absolutely ridiculous.

Yet that’s exactly what the Wild did last night, facing off against the Edmonton Oilers.

Time and time and time again was the team’s parade to the penalty box; a lot of which were for penalties of the lazy kind.

Thank God for a strong first period, otherwise this game could have been looking much different by the end of the night.

Kyle Brodziak had two early goals and Guillaume Latendresse capped off the scoring to give the Wild a 3-1 lead heading into the first intermission and it was a lead that they would be glad to have by the time it was all said and done.

What was heartening, though, was the play of Niklas Backstrom in nets. Of the 36 shots that he saw, Backstrom had to face 27 of them in the final two periods as the Wild was drastically out played and out hustled by the hungry Oilers.

Backs stood on his head, though, and provided not only exactly what the Wild needed, but exactly what he needed as well – a win in Edmonton.

Random Thoughts

  • I’ll be honest, I was surprised that the Wild held on to win last night. It was a very poor performance by the team, yet still they came out on top. These are the types of games that the Wild are going to need to gut out a win during on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. If they want to continue to have success on the road, though, they need to have a better effort than last night.
  • The ice time in last night’s game tells the story of it all. 11 minutes for Andrew Brunette? 13 for Guillaume Latendresse? Both are players who don’t play on the penalty kill. The Wild took lazy and stupid penalties and, despite the disparity (yes, there could have been one or two more called on Edmonton) the Wild deserved every penalty they got. The worst part was that most of the penalties were due to the fact that the Wild just simply weren’t moving their feet. They were playing lazy and getting caught using their sticks more often than they should have.
  • How good has Latendresse been in these last few games? Since being re-united with Martin Havlat and playing on the team’s second line, Latendresse has been one of the Wild’s best players, getting a goal and an assist in both last night’s game and Tuesday’s tilt against Vancouver. This is good news, indeed, for a Wild team that desperately needs him to be the same player that he was last season. So far, he seems to be returning to form quite nicely.
  • Theo Peckham is quickly working his way up my sport-hate list. I’m sure that’s his role on the team, but I continue to be unimpressed with the way he plays the game. It’s much too close to Matt Cooke for me. He plays with a reckless edge that doesn’t show any respect for the players he plays against and, oftentimes, this leads to dangerous hits and situations on the ice. I’ll say this – at some point this season, we’ll be talking about Peckham in the same vain as Matt Cooke.
  • Man, did Taylor Hall look good or what last night? I don’t know if it was hi demotion to the third line that lit a fire under him or what, but he came out like gangbusters. He only had two shots on goal last night, but he fired a total of 11 Backstrom’s way. Six that missed the net and three that were blocked.
  • I’m guessing there was a reason why Ryan Jones, Zack Stortini and Colin Fraser didn’t see a whole lot of ice time last night. Fraser? Minus-two in 3:40 of ice time. Jones? Minus-two in 1:03. Stortini? Minus-two in 58 seconds. Something tells me that there’s going to be a special place in practice for these there today.
  • Burnsie continues his resurgence this season with another two-point night. He now has five points in six games and three of these are goals. Granted, last night’s was an empty-netter, but it proved one thing to me – I wouldn’t dare play pool against the guy.

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.