Wild Trade Sheppard to San Jose

It seems that Chuck Fletcher and Doug Wilson are becoming quick friends.

Just a few weeks after completing the trade that swapped Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat, the Sharks and the Wild have made another trade – this one sending the Wild’s much maligned center, James Sheppard, to the Sharks for a 2013 third round pick.

I think everyone will agree that this move is a bit of a surprise, especially considering that Sheppard has had to have more work done on the knee he injured prior to last season in an ATV accident, but most (if not all) Wild fans will be glad to see Sheppard move on to a different franchise after an underwhelming career in Minnesota saw him tally just 49 points in 224 NHL games.

So, what do we think of the trade?

Well, let me put the cork back in the champagne quick and I’ll tell you.

All snark aside, I think this move is and can be sold as a win-win-win trade for all three parties involved (Minnesota, San Jose and Sheppard).

Sheppard will be plying his trade in No. Cal next season.

Minnesota
How this trade is a win for Minnesota is pretty obvious. Chuck Fletcher took a player that many consider to be the biggest flop in the Wild’s draft history (not A.J. Thelen?) and not only dumped him on another team, but actually got a top-90 draft pick out of the deal.

Not only that, but the player in question will most likely not be ready for training camp and is a RFA that was in the midst of a hold out after rejecting a two-way qualifying offer from the team that drafted him – a team that, for all intents and purposes, looked like they genuinely wanted to keep him around and give him a shot to develop into the player everyone thought he would be.

Now, is there anyone that doesn’t think this trade is a win for the Wild? If they do, I certainly haven’t seen them.

Hockey Wilderness said that the poster boy for the Doug Risebrough regime is now gone and, while that is true, this trade holds more value than just the symbolism of shedding the stigma or mediocrity that Risebrough brought to this organization. This trade has more meaning than just cutting the fat of a bad draft (just two players from the 2006 draft remain with the organization). Trading Sheppard is also a shot across the bow for every player that is content or complacent in the organization.

The thing that characterized Sheppard’s stay with the Wild the most was, seemingly, a shocking lack of motivation or work ethic (and I say seemingly because I obviously don’t know what was going on behind the scenes and I do admit that there could be more going on than what I saw). He was also a player that Fletcher had gone public and said that he wasn’t ready to give up on just yet.

With the trade, Fletcher made the same point that the franchise has been making all off season: Anything less than your absolute best won’t be tolerated.

In sum, this is the third trade Fletcher has made this off season and, in my eyes, the third trade he has overwhelmingly “won.”

Now, obviously there’s a reason they play the games, but so far Chuck Fletcher is doing a pretty good job of silencing his critics this off season with his off season moves and there’s a better than average chance that he might not be satisfied quite yet, which is an exciting prospect.

San Jose
Now, at this point, one might be wondering how in the world I think this trade is a win for San Jose.

They’re getting a player who is still injured from last off season, who won’t be ready for training camp and who seems to think he’s worth a heck of a lot more than he actually is.

The truth is, though, if you’re San Jose you’ve got to look at Sheppard like a new prospect.

Sheppard is getting a much-needed change of scenery.

The Sharks organization is deep enough to where Sheppard probably won’t be sniffing the ice at the Shark Tank anytime in the near future. He’s going to be in the AHL to start his career for San Jose (which is exactly where he should have started his professional career) and he’s finally going to get the much needed opportunity to develop both his game and his confidence.

Let’s be clear. He’s 23. It’s not like the Sharks are getting a former first round pick on the downside of his career. Sheppard still could have some productive years in front of him.

Who knows. With some development, Sheppard could still find that skill and that confidence that had Wild fans so excited about his potential when he was drafted and, at the end of the day, the Sharks gave up a third round pick to get him.

Will he be worth it? Only time will tell, but there’s no doubt that this is definitely a potential low-risk, high-reward type move for San Jose and, when they work out, those are the best kind of moves.

James Sheppard
It should be pretty clear why this move is a good one for Shep.

He needed a change of scenery in a bad, bad way.

Sheppard had become a persona non grata in the Wild’s organization. The fans disliked him and, after his ATV accident prior to last season, the Wild’s front office didn’t really seem too wild about him either (no pun intended).

Basically, it broke down into the fact that Shep had worn out his welcome in Minnesota. They were tired of his underperformance, they were tired of his off-ice antics (to be fair, the only two things he did that they didn’t like happened in the last year, with his ATV accident and his hold out for a one-way contract). All of the Minnesota Nice had worn out for Shep.

In San Jose, he’s going to get a clean slate.

He’ll have the opportunity to shake the tags that he earned in Minnesota and he’ll have the opportunity to develop that he never got with the Wild.

And that is something he should be happy about.

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Look for the mailbag this afternoon unless something changes. Also, don’t forget about our contest to find the next Wild blogger. Send your submissions in to blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com!

Around the NHL: 8/2/11

There’s no shortage of news around the NHL the last few days, what with Alexander Frolov bringing up Sean Avery’s former racial intolerance, the 2011 class for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame being announced and Versus being re-branded as the NBC Sports Network, but those are just scratching the surface so let’s get to it.

* * * * *

Sharks Extend Burns
Just a few weeks after Brent Burns was traded to the San Jose Sharks, the NHL’s Bay Area team extended Burnsie to the tune of 5 years and $28.8 million. Not a small deal, to be sure, for a player that is likely going to be a cornerstone of their defense for quite some time.

Now, I’ve got as many mixed feelings about this contract as I do about Burns.

Sharks fans should probably get used to this picture. They'll see it a lot.

If the Sharks get the Brent Burns of the ’07-’08 season that was both an offensive threat and a defensive stalwart, they got a heck of a deal. That season, Burns came into his own as an offensive defenseman and was one of the best two-way defensemen in the league. He was as aggressive in the offensive zone as he was reliable in his own zone and, at 22, he looked poised to become one of the premiere defensemen in the league.

Unfortunately, Burns never had the opportunity to build on that successful season as he struggled through two injury-riddled seasons.

Then last season, he found his offensive game again, tallying 17 goals and 46 points and, most nights, was the Wild’s most dynamic offensive player.

The downside, however, was that the defensive portion of his game had disappeared.

He wasn’t the reliable defensive player that he was back in the ’07-’08 season when he was paired with Keith Carney. Instead, he was a defensive liability in most situations, getting caught with his back to the play in his own zone, or not boxing out or pursuing the puck when he should have been playing his position.

In other words, he started being responsible for as many goals in his own zone as he was in the offensive zone.

So, that’s the reason that I have mixed feelings about this signing. Burns is definitely an elite offensive defenseman, but over the last few seasons his game has become largely one dimensional and his decision making has become very suspect. No longer is he a reliable player in his own zone – instead, he is a player that has become cringe-worthy when he’s in his own zone and, for me, that’s not worth $5 million per season.

* * * * *

Isles Stadium Bid Rejected
On one hand, this is a very surprising development in what was becoming a very positive story for the New York Islanders.

The Lighthouse Project seemed to be gaining a great deal of momentum and it looked like it was a near certainty that the team would find itself looking at a new arena. Fans were hopeful, ownership was hopeful – it looked like it was going to be a sure thing.

On the other hand, though, one shouldn’t be surprised that voters wanted nothing to do with helping to fund an arena for a floundering sports franchise at this point in time.

With all the positive vibes that were surrounding the Lighthouse Project, it was largely overlooked that the United States was (and still is) embroiled in its most severe economic crisis in quite some time (and possibly ever). The buzz or the hype simply didn’t matter, at this point. The fact was that people were voting for a publically-funded arena for a franchise that has made the playoffs just four times since 1993 and hasn’t made it out of the first round since the ’92-’93 season.

The bottom line, unfortunately, was the bottom line. There was no way that taxpayers were going to put up their own money for a franchise that has cracked 90 points just three times in the last two decades.

It probably would have made a difference were the team a successful one but, at the end of the day, the team isn’t successful and the economic times are so uncertain that people just weren’t going to put up with funding a new arena.

It’s sad, it’s even more bad news for a franchise that has been wrought with bad news over the last handful of seasons – but it shouldn’t be unexpected.

* * * * *

That’s all we have for today. It’s a bit shortened, but be checking back later tonight for a look at the ten most-anticipated games from this year’s Wild schedule!

Wild Eeks Out Win Over San Jose

Wow…That was an ugly one.

I mean ug-lee, with a capital U. But, I suppose an ugly win is better than an ugly loss any day of the week and, on top of that, despite the fact that they were outshot 36-16 the Wild didn’t look outmatched.

In fact, they effectively shut down the “Big Three” of the Sharks, limiting them to a total of six shots throughout the entire game.

While they didn’t play the way they would have liked, I’m sure; the effort was there the entire game. They skated hard, they played hard and they were physical the entire game. The only thing that they couldn’t do was get shots on goal.

But, I guess when you’ve got Niklas Backstrom behind you, you don’t need to shoot the puck.

In honor of this ugly win, though, I’m going to break it down into four points.

U – Unassuming. That’s exactly what the Wild was here. They played a solid, defensive game and, while they didn’t make the most of an extended power play, they certainly used it to their advantage to take a lead that they had no intention of letting go. The Wild didn’t really get their offense going, but they just played a solid, defensively sound game. That’s all they needed to do – even with all of their struggles, they managed to sneak in and steal a game from a team that, for all intents and purposes, is (or will be by the end of the season) one of the best in the West.

G – Goaltending. Really, you had to ask? Niklas Backstrom continued his tremendous start to the season and shut down the high octane Sharks offense. Honestly, he probably put together one of the single best games I’ve ever seen from him, let alone from a goaltender wearing a Wild sweater. He. Was. Spectacular. That’s the bottom line and anyone who says otherwise wasn’t paying attention. He stopped 36 of 36 shots and he was the reason that Minnesota won this game.

L – Lockdown. The Wild have found their top defensive pairing. Brent Burns and Nick Schultz were, once again, spectacular in shutting down the Sharks’ top players – just like they were against Washington. Limiting the “Big Three” to just six shots was an effort of gargantuan proportions, but to limit them to six shots, none of which were from a prime scoring area? Absolutely unbelievable. These two are quickly becoming THE shutdown players for the Wild – even above the incomparable Greg Zanon.

Y – Y is this a good game? Forgive the text-speak here, but why is this game a good game? Well, for one, the Wild hung with the big guns pretty well. It wasn’t a spectacular win, but it was certainly not a failure by any means. It’s easy to win games that you’re supposed to win. The true test of a team comes in winning the games that you shouldn’t win and, for all intents and purposes, the Wild should not have won this game. Look at the shots on goal, the time on attack – all of the important stats point to the fact that the Wild should have lost this game. But, instead, they snuck in through the back door and stole away the victory. Andrew Brunette stuffed home a backdoor pass on the power play that gave the Wild the lead and they never looked back (though Backstrom may have wished they were looking back at their own zone a little more).

All of this is not to say that this game wasn’t without concern, but that’s for another day when it’s not so late and I’m not so tired.

Gameday Thread – Game 11 – Sharks @ Wild

I just want to start by saying sorry for the lack of posts the last few days. I’ve been busy at Hockey Primetime and at home so, unfortunately, the content here has suffered. Starting today, I’m going to try to have one new post up per day, whether it’s a gameday thread, game analysis or just some random schlock that’s bouncing around my head. Anyway. Apology done. Here we go.

Two games into an important five game homestand and the Wild are 1-1-0 and, to no one’s surprise, the story of the ‘stand so far is the team’s staggering inconsistency.

Just a couple of days following their strong victory against the Washington Capitals, the Wild came out strong in the first period against the Blackhawks – then, like has become commonplace for the team, they just couldn’t keep that effort going through the final two periods.

That’s what the Wild need to do here tonight. Come out with a strong effort and maintain it. The inconsistent efforts might work against the bottom half of the NHL, but against elite teams like Washington, Chicago and San Jose they must put together a strong effort from start to finish in order to be successful.

The Skinny

San Jose Sharks

@

Minnesota Wild

5-3-1 (11 pts)

Record

4-4-2 (10 pts)

3.22

GF/G

2.60

2.78

GA/G

2.50

31.8%

PP%

30.2%

80.0%

PK%

84.9%

56.4%

FO%

51.9%

Looking at these stats, these two teams match up fairly well on paper. Their special teams are about equal, as are their defenses.

The biggest concern for the Wild, though, is going to be penalties.

This team has had a steady march to the penalty box this season, their 57 minor penalties ranking them 28th in the league in that category – not something that they relish, I’m certain.

To give you an idea of how they’re stacking up, they took 345 minor penalties all season last year; an average of about 4.2 per game. If they keep taking penalties at the rate they are, they’ll take about 467 minor penalties this season – a mark that, last year, would have put them atop the NHL by a good 65 penalties last season.

That’s a scary prospect for a struggling Wild team, even if their penalty kill is in the top-ten in the league.

Lineup(s)

Well, due to injuries it looks like the Wild will be rolling out the same line up as against Chicago with the exception of Cam Barker replacing Clayton Stoner.

I’d expect the Wild’s line up to look something like this, based on the lines they rolled out in practice yesterday:

Brunette-Koivu-Kobasew
Clutterbuck-Cullen-Havlat
Nystrom-Madden-Wellman
Gillies-Brodziak-Staubitz

Burns-Schultz
Zanon-Zidlicky
Barker-Falk

Backstrom
Theodore

For the Sharks, it sounds like they’re going to be rolling out their top line of Heatley-Thornton-Marleau on a consistent basis again, which is a dangerous, dangerous prospect for the Wild.

Also, though no confirmation has been given, I’d expect to see Antero Nittymaki back in net again, as he’s been tearing it up recently for the Sharks and, given how well he’s been playing, I wouldn’t think they’d change anything.

Key(s) to the Game

Stay out of the box, stay out of the box, stay out of the box.

It’s pretty simple for the Wild. If they can keep their penalty kill off the ice, they’ll be able to keep some of their best weapons on the ice. It’s pretty clear.

Being short handed essentially makes it so that Andrew Brunette and Martin Havlat just don’t see the ice and that’s something that the Wild just can’t have if they want to win games.

If the Wild can stay out of the box, they have a shot at sticking with a much higher powered Sharks squad. But if they start their march to the penalty box again, they’re going to have a hard time sticking with them.

The other big key to this game is going to be keeping Backstrom going.

The Wild’s goalie has been hot to start the season. After the first game in Finland, against the ‘Canes, Backstrom hasn’t given up more than three goals in a game and he’s looking like he’s back to his Vezina Finalist self.

A solid start to the game and Backs gets his confidence going. If he gets his confidence going, the Wild have as good of a shot as any against one of the best teams in the West.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the deal.

The Wild have proven that they can put it together against the best teams in the league – but they have got to put 60 minutes of hockey together. They simply cannot expect to have Niklas Backstrom keep them in games. He’s been great for them, but they have to keep protecting him with strong efforts.

I don’t doubt that the Wild will come out strong as can be in the first period. They have in just about every game they’ve played. They come out with a fire in their bellies and tear around the ice like there’s no one that can beat them.

It’s the first five minutes of the second period that they’ve got to worry about.

If they come out strong, if they come out with an intense effort, there’s a good shot of them putting together a good, complete game.

But if they come out slow and soft – well, let’s just say that it’ll be a long, long game to watch.

The puck drops tonight at 7 pm on Versus.

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!

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 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.

Playoff Picture

Where’s Jim Mora when you need him?

Playoffs?!?  Playoffs!!?!

Okay, okay, so the reference has probably been beaten to death every single season for every sport since Mora’s famous outburst.  The fact remains, however, that the playoffs are bearing down upon us.  While the field has yet to be set, we do have a pretty good idea of who is going to be in the big show.  We’ll be rating the potential playoff match ups on our newly patented Mora-Meter.  One Mora would be the equivalent of watching the World Series of Gin Rummy played on ESPN (my guess as to what the next program to move into the Worldwide Leader instead of hockey) while five Mora’s would be a series that would lead to so much excitement that it would drive Jim Mora into a frenzy that would leave him frothing at the mouth.

So here you have it.  The playoff match ups, if the playoffs started today, complete with the new and improved Mora-Meter!

Western Conference
#1 San Jose Sharks v. #8 Nashville Predators
Analysis: The Nashville Predators are like that kid in high school that you never wanted to hang out with, but always somehow ended up getting invited wherever you went.  Over the last few seasons the Preds have been the whipping boy of the NHL, more specifically from Canadian fans, about how southern expansion just flat out doesn’t work.  The bottom line is, however, that the Preds continue to put a good package on the ice and continue to make the playoffs no matter what.  In this series, they’d be running up against a Sharks team that will be hellbent to prove that they can perform in the playoffs.  I don’t envy anyone in the position that the Preds are in, but if anyone can pull off a first round upset, it’s them.  This could be an intriguing series; however, it could just as easily be a case of the Sharks doing their thing and the Predators hanging on for dear life.
Mora-Meter: mora mora mora

#2 Detroit Red Wings v. #7 Anaheim Ducks
Analysis:
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, the Ducks bounced the Wings en route to a Stanley Cup Championship.  Can anyone think of anything more intriguing than the last two Stanley Cup Champions facing off and in the first round no less?  The biggest swing in this match up is that the Ducks still play like they’re the class bully, while the Red Wings bully teams by skating circles around them.  What makes this series even more interesting is the fact that the Wings and the Ducks quite simply don’t like each other.  Lest we forget Chris Pronger attempting to remove Tomas Holmstrom’s head from his body, amongst other things transpiring between the two teams that cultivated the bad blood in their last post season meeting.  The Red Wings always seem to be a step ahead of the NHL; however, this season, their goaltending could be their Achillies Heel and with a potent Ducks powerplay, it would make for some great playoff hockey.
Mora-Meter: mora mora mora mora

#3 Vancouver Canucks v. #6 Columbus Blue Jackets
Analysis:
Is it bad that there’s a large part of me that really wants Vancouver to slide down so that Calgary takes this spot?  I mean, let’s be honest.  I’m a Wild fan.  I have no vested interest in the playoffs to mention at the moment (maybe by the last game of the season…A guy can dream, right?) so I don’t really care who wins the division, other than the fact that I just want to watch an entertaining playoff series.  To me, there would be no more interesting series than a Flames/Jackets and Canucks/’Hawks series, because the teams just don’t like each other.  But I digress.  In this one, honestly, there’s not really any appreciable storylines to speak of, nor do either of the teams play extremely exciting hockey.  On one side, the Blue Jackets are almost 100% playoff un-tested (save for a few players), while the ‘Nucks have some star players with a propensity to do a disappearing act in the playoffs.  All of this adds up to a series that could prove to be pretty uneventful; though worth watching to watch how the Jackets respond to playoff hockey.
Mora-Meter: mora mora mora

#4 Chicago Blackhawks v. #5 Calgary Flames
Analysis:
As much as I would love to watch the ‘Hawks fight play the ‘Nucks, I think this series would be extremely entertaining to watch.  First, you have a rematch in net of the ’03-’04 Cup Finals (Kipper v. Bulin), then you’ve got two teams with some very dynamic players (Kane, Toews and Havlat v. Iginla, Cammalleri and Jokinen) and finally you’ve got two teams with some fantastic defensemen (Seabrook and Keith v. Phaneuf and Regher).  This could become the best series in the first round if it stays this way.  Plus, if Phaneuf keeps playing the way he has been, you could find yourself looking at a very formidable “sloppy” second defensive pairing of Phaneuf and Leopold.  Sorry.  Couldn’t resist.
Mora-Meter: mora mora mora mora mora

Eastern Conference
#1 Boston Bruins v. #8 Montreal Canadiens
Analysis:
How’s this for a role reversal?  The exact match up of last season’s first round, just with home ice turned around.  If both teams are on their game, this could be an exciting series to watch.  The problem is that both teams have battled inconsistency since the All Star Break.  The biggest thing to look forward to, however, is that these two teams always get up to play one another.  Look at last season’s first round.  A seven-game slugfest that was probably the most entertaining series in all the playoffs.  Plus, there’s also always the chance that you could hear Jack Edwards’ maniacal laugh again.  That in and of itself is reason enough to watch.  All of this equals one amazingly entertaining first round series.
Mora-Meter: mora mora mora mora thm-jack-edwards

#2 Washington Capitals v. #7 New York Rangers
Analysis:
Honestly, this is another that I wish was a little different, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?  This one, well, this could be interesting.  On one end you’ve got the Caps’ unbelievable offens and on the other you’ve got the Rangers’ unbelievable goaltender.  Coach John Tortorella has helped the Rangers find their game again; however, can he put a stop to the attack of the Capitals?  On the other side of things, you’ve got the Rangers’ aneimic offense squaring off against the Caps’ inconsistent goalie.  This could either be a very high scoring series or a series where you get nothing at all.  Any series pitting a high powered offense against a solid goaltender, however, can prove to be a fun series to watch.
Mora-Meter: mora mora mora mora

#3 New Jersey Devils v. #6 Carolina Hurricanes
Analysis:
Ok.  So can someone please explain to me if the Devils are just coasting to the playoffs or if something is going on and when, exactly, Lou is going to place himself behind the bench yet again?  Alright.  I feel better now.  Now that I’ve said my piece, this could be a very one sided series if the Devils don’t right the ship and quick.  The ‘Canes have had success against Newark’s finest this season, and if the Devils back into the playoffs this could get ugly quick.  Looking at the potential match up, the ‘Canes match up quite nicely against the Devil and have the hot hand.  Both teams have a solid defense and an under rated offense.  There should be some very tightly contested games in this series and some good, physical play.
Mora-Meter: mora mora mora

#4 Philadelphia Flyers v. #5 Pittsburgh Penguins
Analysis: The Broadstreet Bullies against the NHL’s wunderkid.  I don’t see how it could get much better than this; a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.  The Flyers were ran out of town by the Pens in the ECF last season, but this is also a Flyers team that has gained a lot more character since then, not in turnover of players but just in experience.  The big question mark for both teams is definitely in net and, in all honesty, that could lead to a very entertaining series.  These two teams are also division rivals and flat out don’t like each other.  That’s good enough in my book!
Mora-Meter: mora mora mora mora mora

So there you have it.  My thoughts on the current playoff picture.

Also, coming next week will be the first intrim show of Wild Nation.  Join myself and Nick in New York next week as we talk about all things Wild!  We will have a time and date set for our first show sometime this weekend.

St. Patty's Day Tribute to Owen Nolan

nolan2

Yes, it is the famous (or infamous) March 17th.  The day where public intoxication becomes not just acceptable, but expected.  So, we here at Wild Nation have decided to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by putting together a small tribute to our favorite Wild player and resident Irishman, Owen Nolan.

Nolan was born in Belfast, Ireland on February 12, 1972.  His family soon moved to Canada, where Nolan began playing hockey at the age of nine.  At the age of 15, Nolan began playing for the Thorold Bantam Hawks, putting up 53 goals and 85 points in just 28 games.  At 16, he made the jump to the OHL, playing for the Cornwall Royals.  He totalled 59 points in 62 games his first season, all while racking up an impressive 213 penalty minutes.  The following season, he took off, notching 110 points in 58 games as well as 240 penalty minutes.

His two seasons in the OHL were good enough to get him drafted by the Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche) and Nolan stepped into their line up and was making an impact by the age of 19.  After two solid seasons of 70+ points and 180+ penalty minutes, Nolan was sidelined for the majority of the 1993-94 season with a shoulder injury suffered in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He came back strong in the lockout shortened 1994-95 season, with 49 points in 46 games and was traded to San Jose in the following season for Sandis Ozolinsh.  It is in San Jose where Nolan would step into his own on the ice, becoming a team leader both on and off the ice for much of his time with the organization.  This was capped by the 1999-00 season where Nolan was 2nd in the league in goals with 44 and carved his niche with 18 powerplay goals as well.  By the time he hit his 30s, his body began to give out and a serious knee injury sidelined him for the lockout, as well as all of the following season.

Not one to be kept out of the game, however, the firey Irishman made a comeback with the Phoenix Coyotes; finishing third on the team in points with 40 and in goals scored with 16.  Nolan then signed with the Flames the following year, putting up similar numbers and providing veteran leadership for the team before finally settling in with the Wild this season.

Nolan’s career accomplishments include 9 straight 15+ goal seasons (which include 5 20+ goal seasons within the streak) as well as being the Sharks captain for much of his stay in San Jose.  What most remember about Nolan, however, are his exploits that have little-to-nothing to do with goal scoring.  First was his “run in” with Ed Belfour in the 1997-98 playoffs and second was his called shot goal against Dominic Hasek in the 1999-00 All Star game.  Nolan’s 148 career powerplay goals rank him 8th amongst active skaters and 44th all time, his 1744 penalty minutes ranks him 10th amongst active skaters and 79th all time and his 401 goals rank him 81st all time.  Also, his shooting percentage this season (17.7%) is good for 9th in the NHL.  His 20 goals this season leads the Wild and marks the 10th time in his career that he has broken the 20+ goal mark.

This season, however, Nolan has given the Wild leadership both on and off the ice, as well as showing the team’s youngsters just how the game is supposed to be played.  He’s played through an ankle sprain, he’s played through a pulled groin, he’s currently playing through a broken toe.  This is a man who flew out to Vancouver of his own volition, after being told that he wasn’t going to play on the road trip due to a broken toe.  He boarded the plane in a walking boot, didn’t skate with the team because his skate was too painful, came out during the game and was one of the Wild’s top players.

If the Wild are to make the playoffs this season, you can easily point to “Cowboy” or “Grandpa” or “Grumpy” (all of which Nolan is called in the locker room) as the reason.  The Wild’s core may consist of Brent Burns, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Niklas Backstrom, but Nolan is the heart and soul of this team.  Koivu may very well be wearing the ‘C’ on his chest, but Nolan is the true captain of this team.  His passion for the game has been infectious and his tenacity is starting to rub off on other players in the locker room.

All in all, our favorite Irishman is providing both grit and scoring for the Wild this season, of which we are ever appreciative.  So join me in toasting Owen Nolan at tonight’s game.  Erin Go Bragh Owen, Erin Go Bragh!

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