Stoner, Zanon both out on Saturday (Updated)

UPDATE: Well, that was quick. According to View From The Lighthouse, Nate Prosser will be the defenseman to get the call. He’s a good middle ground between Genoway and Bagnall and he has some good experience at the NHL level (remember, even though he only played three games back in the ’09-’10 season, he spent a good chunk of time practicing with the team). Prosser is expected to get the call tomorrow and be in town in time for the game.

So, with two of the Wild’s top defensemen out with injury and Mike Lundin still nursing a back injury, the question quickly becomes: Who fills in?

Well, let’s look at the candidates, shall we?

Nate Prosser

Prosser has seen time at the NHL level and he’s started to learn how to use that big body of his down in Houston. He looked pretty good this preseason, but ultimately it was felt that he could use a little more time down in the AHL getting much more ice time than he would have in Minnesota (where he would have been finding himself in the press box more often than not).  Even in his short time in the NHL (5 games played), Prosser really hasn’t looked out of place and his abilities as a puck-mover could definitely be an asset to the team.

Tyler Cuma

I’m probably as high on Cuma as anyone out there. The kid can flat out play. Unfortunately, injuries have hampered his development and he ended up being passed on the depth chart by fellow 2008 draft pick, Marco Scandella. Cuma’s got a great upside as a shutdown defenseman (think Nick Schultz style) and he makes great decisions with the puck. The down side for bringing Cuma in at this point is that he’s a number one draft pick, who would be playing his first NHL game at home, against the Detroit Red Wings. There’s never really a “good” situation for a player to make their NHL debut in terms of nerves, but this could be one of the worst situations out there.

Chay Genoway

Genoway made an impression in camp and has been playing well down in Houston. He doesn’t have a lot of size, but he has a lot of offensive ability and he’s not afraid to battle. He has some growing left to do, but he could be a good choice — especially if the Wild are looking for someone who might be able to chip in offensively.

Drew Bagnall

Bagnall is a bruiser, plain and simple. He’s not going to contribute much offensively, but he’s going to be that defenseman that wears teams out down low. With the losses of both Stoner and Zanon, we very well might see Bagnall, who has a little more pro experience (not NHL, just pro) than his aforementioned counterparts, get the nod due to his physicality.

At the end of the day, it could be any of these four or it could be someone completely different. It all depends on what the Wild are looking for. The move will likely be made later today and it’s rumored that Clayton Stoner will be going on the IR to make room, so whoever gets the nod could be here for more than one game.

In any event, we’ll be back and let you know as soon as we know anything.

Pre-Season Gameday Thread: @ St. Louis

I decided to forego the roster update last night because there was a birthday in the Benzel household, with my daughter turning 3 years old yesterday, so we’ll just combine the game thread and the roster into one today.

Anyway, it sounds like we’re going to get a good look at a lot of the youngsters that are vying for a roster spot on opening day, tonight so here it is, per Russo:

Coach Mike Yeo today opted to keep most of the familiar faces in Minnesota. Instead, here are the lines and defensive pairings against the Blues (note, Niklas Backstrom and Matt Hackett will play in net)

FORWARDS

Kris Foucault-Zack Phillips-Brett Bulmer
Jeff Taffe-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer
Colton Gilles-Eric Nystrom-Brad Staubitz
Jarod Palmer-Taylor Peters-Carson McMillan

DEFENSE

Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
Justin Falk-Jordan Hendry
Tyler Cuma-Chay Genoway

Jeff Penner and David McIntyre will be brought along as extras.

Zack Phillips will be one of the youngsters with a chance to impress tonight

So, basically what we have here is a chance for a lot of the youngsters to step up and impress. Forwards Cody Almond and Casey Wellman and defenseman Mike Lundin are all on the shelf right now with injuries, so there are some spots that could be won and some second looks that could be given after tonight’s game.

Also, we’ll get a look at the line of Gillies/Nystrom/Staubitz, which could very well be the team’s fourth line by the time the season starts.

To me, the most intriguing lines/defensive pairings are that of Foucault/Phillips/Bulmer and Cuma/Genoway. Foucault, Phillips and Bulmer are three of the Wild’s more impressive offensive talents in their system, so don’t be surprised if they get a lot of ice time and a lot of power play time tonight. As for Cuma and Genoway, Cuma might be one of the dark horses to make the squad this season while this will be our first look at Genoway this pre-season, so it will be interesting to see how the pairing fares.

Per Blues.com, this is the line up the Wild’s youngsters will be facing tonight:

TONIGHT’S LINEUP*
1 – Brian Elliott
10 – Andy McDonald
15 – Jamie Langenbrunner
18 – Jonathan Cheechoo
20 – Alexander Steen
22 – Kevin Shattenkirk
28 – Carlo Colaiacovo
32 – Chris Porter
36 – Matt D’Agostini
37 – Derek Nesbitt
39 – Philip McRae
41 – Jaroslav Halak
42 – David Backes
44 – Jason Arnott
46 – Roman Polak
54 – Anthony Nigro
55 – Danny Syvret
56 – Brett Ponich
58 – David Shields
59 – Anthony Peluso
63 – Mark Cundari
70 – Ryan Tesink
74 – T.J. Oshie
76 – Brett Sonne
84 – Tyler Shattock

Niklas Backstrom makes his first start of the pre-season tonight

Just look at all of those regulars.

So, basically, Wild fans. Don’t jump off the ledge if the Wild or goaltender Niklas Backstrom have a less than stellar showing tonight.

This also means that the Wild’s youth and fringe players will have a perfect chance to show that they have what it takes to be able to compete at an NHL level, because there will be a lot of NHLer’s looking at them from the other bench.

So, some discussion questions for you:

How will the Wild’s youth fare tonight against a fairly experienced roster?

Will Niklas Backstrom look like the Backstrom who was a Vezina Trophy finalist, or the Backstrom who has struggled at times the past two seasons?

Where will the Wild’s scoring come tonight, with mostly youth and fringe players playing?

Can Minnesota’s inexperienced defensive unit hold their own against a fairly experienced stable of forwards?

Will Zack Phillips (my dark horse roster pick), Kris Foucault, Brett Bulmer or Jarod Palmer emerge as surprise front runners to make the roster on opening day?

Will Jordan Hendry rebound from a less than stellar performance last game?

The puck drops at 7 pm tonight and is not televised. You can listen to the game here or on your radio at KFAN 100.3 FM.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Prospect Report: Tyler Cuma

Prospect Report is a weekly series that will look at a Wild prospect every Wednesday. If there is any prospect you would like featured, e-mail me at blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com.

Tyler Cuma

Tyler Cuma

Born – 1/19/1990
Position –
D
Ht –
6’2”
Wt –
192
Shoots –
Left

The Skinny
Cuma has a ton of upside, but his career has been derailed by a series of unfortunate injuries. After a series of knee injuries, this former first-round pick is going to be playing in his first full pro season after playing just 31 games last season for Houston.

If Cuma can shake the injury bug, he has the ability to become another Nick Schultz for the franchise – not flashy, but more than

Cuma's got to stay healthy to crack the Wild's roster full time

capable of playing against teams’ top lines night in and night out.

In order to crack the Wild’s roster, however, Cuma needs to get healthy. If he can do that and string a couple full seasons together down in the AHL, he’s going to have a good chance to meet his potential. He’s got to work on his strength and will have to get back into game shape after an extended time off, but there’s no reason why Wild fans should give up on Cuma just yet.

This Season
Barring a spectacular camp (which isn’t out of the question), Cuma is going to be getting some big minutes down in Houston.

He could be the team’s first call-up, much like Scandella was last season, but it would surprise me if the team moved him around a lot this season. The main target for Cuma this year is to stay healthy and log minutes, and he’s going to get a lot more minutes down in Houston.

Potential
The Hockey News has Cuma listed as a potential shutdown defenseman. He’s got a high hockey IQ and has great sense on the ice, as well as being a solid skater. He has the tools to be an offensive weapon, but won’t employ them if it means sacrificing play in his own zone.

If he can shake his injuries, Cuma can be a top-4 defenseman with the Wild as early as the 2012-13 season.

The Monday Mailbag: 8/1/11

First of all, be sure to head on over to Hockey’s Future and check out my review of the Minnesota High School kids drafted this season.

Now that the house keeping’s over with, we had a pretty good response to our call for mailbag questions, so let’s get to it. For brevity’s sake, we’ll split it up and get to the ones we didn’t get to this week next week.

Remember, if you have any questions you want in the mailbag, send them in to blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com!

* * * * *

Blake,

What do you think of the Wild’s defense after losing Brent Burns? How big of a role do you think Marco Scandella will play this season?

Dale
Little Canada, MN

Well, Dale, that’s a difficult one. There’s no doubt that the Wild’s defense is filled with promise this season, but it looks like that they could once again have difficulties moving the puck. Here’s how I see their D this season:

Zidlicky/Zanon
Schultz/Lundin
Stoner/*Up For Grabs*

Vying for a Spot: Spurgeon, Scandella, Falk, Bagnall, Cuma, Prosser, Genoway, Penner

So, basically what you see here is that there is one spot in the top-six available for about eight players that could legitimately have a shot at the roster this season. The front runners for that sixth spot are likely to be between Spurgeon, Scandella, Falk, Cuma and Prosser.

Scandella will have every chance to make the roster

Now, of those five, Spurgeon and Scandella undoubtedly have the inside track because of their time spent with the team last season. Falk is close, but I don’t think he’s quite there yet. Prosser could sneak in and steal the job with a good camp, but that would take pretty poor camps from Scandella and Spurgeon. As far as Cuma, I hesitated putting him on the list because I think that he needs a full, injury-free season in the AHL before he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL.

The seventh defensive spot gets a little more difficult. I would imagine that, between Spurgeon and Scandella, whichever player doesn’t make the team will be playing in the AHL this season to continue their development, and that makes a lot of sense.

So, that was a long-winded answer to the first question but, to the second question, I’d be surprised if Scandella starts the season in the AHL. The sixth spot seems like it’s going to be Spurgeon’s to lose. Now, that doesn’t mean that Scandella can’t win the job from him, but given Spurgeon’s play last season he’s definitely got the inside track.

As I mentioned, I don’t think it would be wise to keep Scandella on the team if he’s not in the top-six because he’s still young and, quite honestly, I think his development would be better served playing 20-plus minutes per night in the AHL as opposed to 10-15 per night every couple nights in the NHL.

* * * * *

Blake,

Do you think the Wild will make the playoffs this season?

Linda
New Brighton, MN

Linda, you just hit the most-asked question this week. In short, yes, I think they will make the playoffs.

Their offense has greatly improved with the additions of Heatley and Setoguchi, their goaltending is, again, strong with Backstrom and Harding in net. The big question mark is their defense and, with both Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor, I don’t think that the D will be as bad as everyone is afraid it will be.

That being said, there are a lot of variables to consider in this (which I won’t bore you with right now) but, yes. I do think that the Wild will make the playoffs this season. I see them finishing somewhere between 6-8 in the West and 2 or 3 in the Northwest.

* * * * *

Blake,

Is Niklas Backstrom an elite goalie in the league without Lemaire’s trap?

Rich
Duluth, MN

Short answer, Rich, yes. He is.

The main argument that I’ve seen against Backstrom is the exact point that you brought up. He can’t succeed in a system that’s not defense oriented which, in my mind, is a huge fallacy.

The biggest reason why Backstrom succeeded under Jacques Lemaire wasn’t necessarily the system (the trap is largely a neutral zone system), but it was because of the fundamentals that Lemaire preached to his defensemen.

Don't fool yourself. He's still really good.

Players didn’t get caught with their backs to the play under Lemaire. They didn’t leave their feet to block shots, they boxed players out and kept the puck to the outside – fundamentals.

The Wild did that at the beginning of last season, and Backstrom excelled.

Why? Because he’s largely a positional goaltender. Athletics are not his strong suit. He’s not a Tim Thomas-type goalie. He doesn’t flop around like a fish out of water to make saves. He’s at his best when he’s on his feet, cutting down angles.

I could go on, and on, but I’ll sum it up with this. The goalie position is one of the most contentious positions in sports. On one hand, yes, their job is to stop the puck. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. The goalie can’t control the defense not doing their job. They can’t control forwards not back checking. All they can control is where the puck goes when it comes at them and, even then, they don’t have a heck of a lot of control then.

As far as Backstrom is concerned, if the defense is doing their job, he’s still a top-ten goalie in the NHL. If they’re not, I’d say he’s still at least top-12.

Fringe: Wild Nation Style

Camp is winding down and, as such, the roster is starting to take shape. 

The team has just made seven cuts today, sending 2008 first round pick Tyler Cuma back to his junior team, the Ottawa 67s, and reassigning Anton Khudobin, Wade Dubielewicz, Justin Falk, Petr Kalus, Jon Disalvatore and Duncan Milroy to Houston. 

With that announcement, we’re closer to having our opening day roster.  So we’re going to take a look at the roster as it stands now. 

First, the locks: 

Center
Mikko Koivu
James Sheppard
Eric Belanger
Kyle Brodziak 

Wing
Martin Havlat
Petr Sykora
Owen Nolan
Antti Miettinen
Andrew Brunette
Cal Clutterbuck
Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Derek Boogaard 

Defense
Brent Burns
Nick Schultz
Marek Zidlicky
Kim Johnsson
Greg Zanon
Shane Hnidy 

Goalie
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding 

No big surprises there, right?  We pretty much knew, as of the Sykora signing, that the 20 regulars were set.  The big question, though, is going to be who the three players sitting in the press box will be.

This is…The Fringe Division. 

Colton Gillies - Gillies has impressed in spurts this pre-season, but it is clear that he is still a very raw talent.  He’s going to be one hell of a player for the Wild, but the team has quite the conundrum with young Colton.  Do they let him develop at the NHL level, where he’ll get third line minutes at best, or do they send him to Houston, where he’ll immediately be the leader of the Houston Aeros on and off the ice. 

Danny Irmen - Irmen is one of the fringe player that I think makes the squad.  First, his contract isn’t hefty so it allows the team some wiggle room.  Second, he has done absolutely everything the team has asked of him, to the T, this pre-season.  He is 100% pure energy and has spent the last few years developing in Houston.  It’s make or break time for the young buck and I think it’s time he makes it. 

Benoit Pouliot – I think you’ll see Benny Poo rounding out the Wild line up.  While he still has areas to improve in, it appears as if he was a bit mismanaged by the Wild last season, as he has shown some pretty good flashes getting first and second line minutes.  He’s a work in progress, but this season is a work in progress.  In the right situation, I think that he is capable of elevating his game and will get a chance to do so. 

John Scott - Yesterday, I wrote a little blurb about how Scott hasn’t really done himself any favors in making the squad this pre-season.  After I spoke to a friend about the way he played against Chicago, I am going to have to respectfully withdraw my previous comments.  He said Scott’s skating was much improved over last season and went even further to say that he looked pretty quick to the puck as well.  He also said that his shot looked much better and that, of the six shots he took from the point, all were through screens and five found the net before anything else. 

Jaime Sifers – Sifers could be the wild card for Minnesota.  He’s impressed this pre-season and was impressive in his limited call up with Toronto last season.  Sifers is a solid player and could be beneficial to the Wild in a seventh or eighth defenseman role.  The biggest thing that Sifers can bring to the table is his grit, but his lack of size may keep him off the roster for the time being. 

Marco Scandella - A long shot, at best, Scandella has been turning heads at camp this season.  He’s got a great first pass out of the zone and is slowly but surely getting better at making decisions on the fly and at his defensive zone play.  Scandella is a few years off still, but he’s steadily getting better.

Wild Quick Hits for your Morning

I apologize for the lack of a gameday thread and a game recap for the Chicago game.  Quite honestly, it’s my daughter’s birthday today and it’s been a very hectic weekend. 

Something tells me that he broke his stick on this one...

Something tells me that he broke his stick on this one...

I didn’t even know there was a game until one of my buddies texted me a picture of the ticket, then one of the empty seat that would have been mine. 

Jerk.

Anyway…Here are some quick hits for your Wild morning! 

  • Have I professed my undying love for Martin Havlat yet?  Two goals in his first game in a Wild sweater and one goal that I heard from numerous people that it was the single best goal they have ever seen.  Havlat will be playing first line minutes for the first time in his career and will be playing with a top-flight playmaker for the first time in his career.  Yeah.  He’ll have a good season.
  • How can a player have a goal and an assist in three games and still be said to not be “engaged” in the game?  I’m not sure.  Maybe someone should ask Benoit Pouliot.  Can you imagine what he’d do if he was engaged?
  • There’s starting to be a log jam at the number 7 defensive spot.  Scott, Sifers and Cuma.  Let’s just put it this way.  Cuma’s going to have to do something very, very special to stay with the squad this season.  You can’t tell me that getting seventh defenseman minutes in the NHL is better for a player’s development than getting first pairing minutes in juniors.  That leaves Sifers and Scott.  While I have a soft spot for Mr. Scott, I just don’t foresee him making the squad unless Fletcher deems they need extra toughness on the blueline.  Richards’ new system puts a premium on being able to skate well and that is one thing that Scott really has a hard time with.
  • Koivu and Bruno both have lower body injuries.  Richards maintains that neither is serious.  Hopefully they didn’t contract Marian-itis at the end of last season…
  • Backstrom has yet to let in a goal this pre-season.  Yeah…I know…It’s just the pre-season.  But is there anyone who is thinking that his stats MIGHT not have been because of the system and he just MIGHT be this good? 

That’s all for now.  But look for a new fantasy blog or two coming.  I believe my Bourne’s Blog league drafted on Saturday and my Beaver League drafts on Tuesday.

The Idiocy of Rumors

“Here we sit, the night before the deadline in the Dany Heatley sweepstakes and it sounds like the Minnesota Wild have tabled an offer that will be tough for Murray to turn down.

While the proposed deal does not include stud defenceman Brent Bruns, it does apparently include Mikko Koivu, Nick Schultz and Tyler Cuma. Rumours are there would be other pieces involved both on Ottawa’s end as well as Minnesota’s. Sounds like the swap could include a salary dump on Ottawa’s end and potentially Colton Gillies coming back from Minnesota.” 

The aforementioned quote is coming from a website called senschirp.ca. 

Let me just say, first, that I find it highly dubious that this offer was even proposed. 

Second, there are now people out there buying this rumor.  WTF?!? 

There is no way…And let me repeat, NO WAY…That Chuck Fletcher would give up the Wild’s captain and cornerstone center, the team’s top stay-at-home defenseman AND the team’s top prospect in one fell swoop.  Mike Milbury, Fletcher is not. 

On top of that, the swap could include a salary dump on Ottawa’s end?  So, the Wild are going to gut three of the more important players in their franchise, for a salary dump? 

Excuse me while I mop the soda off of my monitor. 

…………. 

The bottom line is this.  While Fletcher has flat out said that there is no one on the roster right now that he wouldn’t trade, Mikko Koivu is as close to that as they come and Nick Schultz and Tyler Cuma are probably as close to Koivu as they come, not to mention Colton Gillies.  Trading away Koivu, especially after he has clearly taken over this franchise as its leader on and off the ice, would be career suicide for Fletcher — regardless of the return. 

The bottom line is that, if the Wild are going to get into the Dany Heatley sweepstakes (and that’s not to say that they haven’t thrown their name in the hat), they are going to make a deal that is mutually beneficial.  Which this deal is not.  They are going to make a deal that puts them closer to being a Cup contender.  Which this deal does not. 

No…Dany Heatley will not be wearing a Wild sweater, my friends.  At least, not if this is the asking price.

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's Hopes Dwindling

The Wild got an all important point last night in their overtime defeat to the Vancouver Canucks.  The problem?  They needed to make it two points badly.

Their desperation certainly showed in the game, as they outshot the Canucks by a margin of 34-19 and held Vancouver to zero shots in the third period.  The Wild were buzzing all night long and peppered Roberto Luongo with shot after shot after shot.  The only problem was that they ran into Roberto Luongo.  Luongo was dazzling last night, stoning the Wild at every turn.  That and some good fortune for the Canucks was the difference in this game.

With the loss, the Wild’s “tragic number” has shrunk to 7 according to nhlplayoffrace.com and the team’s chances at the post season continue to shrink.  According to Hockey Reference’s playoff probability chart, the Wild now have just a 12.8% chance of making the playoffs and are being projected to finish with roughly 86 points.

The advantage for the Wild, however, is that the remainder of the teams directly in front of them play the majority of their remaining games on the road.  While the Wild will need to take care of things on their own end, this certainly bodes well for the team if they can take care of business.  The key part, however, is taking care of business.  Something that this team has not been able to do since the beginning of the season.

To add another wrench into the situation, the St. Louis Blues hold a game in hand over just about everyone around them.

What this equals (other than an enormous headache if you’re trying to figure out every situation) is that the Wild cannot control their own destiny, even if they win out.  It paints a pretty grim picture for the franchise; however, missing the playoffs could be the best thing that could happen for the Wild.  Why you ask?  Well, here’s why:

  • Draft for Success.  The Wild started re-stocking their defensive corps in last season’s draft.  With Anthony Aiello, Tyler Cuma and Justin Falk likely playing in the AHL next season, the Wild’s defensive prospects are looking better than they have in a while.  Meanwhile, however, their forwards are getting thin.  Cal Clutterbuck is the most notable of the forwards that has made the big squad and Peter Olvecky is getting a good, long look as well.  What does this mean?  Well, it means that the Wild doesn’t have a great wealth of top forward prospects.  But, the good news is that this is a draft that is very deep in the first round at forward.  The Wild will certainly end up with a top 15 pick if they miss the playoffs, and it is certainly conceivable that they could end up with a top 10 pick if the lottery goes right.  Two of the three NHL.com mock drafts had the Wild picked to snag the University of Minnesota’s Jordan Schroeder with their first pick if this is the case, while My NHL Draft has the Wild slated to pick Dmitry Kulikov from Drummondville (a defenseman) with their first pick.  Meanwhile, NHL DraftSite has the Wild slated to take Landon Ferraro at 12th.  The bottom line is that the Wild needs some top tier talent at forward.  The picks are at 11th, 10th and 12th respectively; however, if you look at the ISS Rankings, you can see that there are currently only three defensemen slated in the top ten.  If the Wild have the number ten pick, there’s no doubt in my mind that they will use it on a forward.
  • Coaching Turnover.  Mike Russo stated in his blog that he would place the odds at Lemaire returning for next season at about 20-80, meaning 20% that he would return and 80% that he would retire.  I would go even further than that.  Lemaire has seemed frustrated much of this season and no longer appears to be having any sort of fun behind the bench; something that he was even doing through the team’s maddening inconsistency last season.  As much as I love Lemaire, I do think that a coaching change would behoove this team next season.  A change of pace could be exactly what it takes to get this team (which I still believe is a good one) back on track.
  • Do Something, Please.  After two seasons of making the playoffs only to find a first round exit, Doug Risebrough was under immense pressure to round out the team and come back with another contender.  He did not.  After a year of missing the playoffs, he will be under even greater pressure to do something.  He has definite assets that he can barter with at the draft and before free agency; however, he would be best served to make a very large splash and bring some players onto the team that will take this team to the next level.

All in all, the Wild can learn a lot from this season.  If healthy, this team could be a force to be reckoned with.  Unfortunately, they have not been fully healthy all season long.  If the playoffs are missed (which I believe they will be), this team has an interesting off season ahead of them and some big decisions.  They key to how this team comes into next season will be how they respond going forward.