Around the NHL: 8/16/11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There should be a C added to that picture this season

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

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

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

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

The experiment failed.

The franchise didn’t win and Kovalchuk left.

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

I’m sorry, but he’s just not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should it be a cause for concern?

Yes.

Should anyone go into full out panic mode?

Absolutely not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Pens fans, don’t panic…Yet.

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

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

Why Seguin’s lack of ice time isn’t all Julien’s fault

Let’s get one thing out of the way, really quickly.

Yes, Claude Julien should be playing Tyler Seguin more. The kid has proven that, in the right situation, he can be a tremendous offensive talent.

Should he be playing 20 minutes a night? Probably not. But he should definitely be playing more than the 9:02 that he played on Friday night, and certainly more than the 12 seconds of power play time that he received. So, yes, Julien might be mismanaging a player that could potentially be a game changer in a series that has, with the exception of two games, been very tight defensively for Vancouver.

But it’s not entirely his fault.

When I was in high school, I was on the basketball team and getting a lot less playing time than I felt I deserved. I thought I could help the team a lot more than I was being allowed to.

I was venting my frustrations to my dad one afternoon, and he said something that stuck to me. He said, quite simply, “Well, make it impossible to keep you on the bench.”

That’s exactly what Seguin needs to do.

So, yes. Julien should be playing Seguin more. The kid can flat out fly and he can make things happen for a team that has looked offensively challenged with the exception of Games Three and Four. But, you know what? Seguin needs to give Julien a reason to play him.

After the second intermission of yesterday night’s game, both Keith Jones and Mike Milbury made mention that Seguin should have been played more than the four minutes and change he had seen to that point and should see more power play time, and I completely agreed with them. But, the thing is, I hadn’t realized Seguin had gotten that much ice time. I hadn’t realized Seguin had been on the ice at all.

He simply wasn’t doing anything.

Heck, through two periods Shawn Thornton was more noticeable than Seguin and Thornton played a grand total of four minutes in the entire game.

It’s perfectly clear that Julien doesn’t trust Seguin on the ice in just about any situation, and it’s up to Seguin to change that. It’s simple. If he wants more ice time, he’s going to have to show that he deserves more ice time. For better or for worse, Julien isn’t just going to hand him the ice time, so he’s going to have to be noticeable in the small amount of ice time he gets.

So, yeah. The Bruins need Seguin to play more and Julien needs to play him more.

But Seguin needs to prove that he’s worthy of playing more first.

Wild embarrassed by Vancouver

Well, to be honest, that was to be expected.

I don’t think there’s any team in the NHL that could be missing their leading scorer, two of their top-four defensemen and ice six rookies (including four rookie d-men) and expect to contend with the Vancouver Canucks.

To the Wild’s credit, they hung with the ‘Nucks a lot longer than I thought they would but in the end the new Wild Killer, Ryan Kesler, put away the Wild with a hat trick en route to scoring his 40th goal of the season.

There’s not much to say about the macro in this one. The Wild were out matched in every facet of the game by a team that is just far superior to them right now.

So, let’s take a look at the micro:

  • Colton Gillies looked really good in this one, in my opinion. He spent a lot of time skating on the wing on the Wild’s second line and created a few good chances to boot. I’ve got to say, I’m very impressed with the way he skates. He’s very fluid on the ice and skates a lot like Brent Burns (that’s a compliment, folks). One thing I do have to say about Gillies, though, is that I’d like to see him a little stronger on his skates. There’s one time in particular that I’m thinking of, on the power play, when he skated into the slot and just got dumped by a Vancouver defenseman with a solid check to his chest.
  • Russo made mention that Niklas Backstrom is just emotionally deflated right now, and I’d say that goes for the entire team. They just look like they don’t have it in them to fight back anymore. I hate to say it but, they’ve given up. That much is plain to see.
  • The Wild’s defense was just awful. In fact, the team’s best pairing was probably the rookie tandem of Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner. Greg Zanon looked alright, but Brent Burns, Justin Falk and Maxim Noreau just looked terrible. It might be acceptable for Falk and Noreau to have an off game, given their lack of NHL experience, but Burns looks like he’s devolving to Martin Skoula with each passing game. He’s consistently out of position and he looks like he’s pushing far too much to make things happen – which is commendable because no one else seems to be, but he’s consistently making mistakes while he’s pushing to make things happen.
  • This last stretch of games, where the Wild has lost 11 of 13, has shown a lot about what this team is made of – not a whole lot of heart. The Wild come out against St. Louis and beat the Blues in a shootout and follow that up with a game against Edmonton for their first winning streak since mid-February. But then they come out and just get dominated by playoff teams in three straight games. Where’s the drive? This team should be getting up for big games like those. They should be amped up to play against the best of the best to prove to everyone and themselves what they can do. Instead, they consistently come out flat in those games. Not the make up of a winner, at all. In fact, if you want to see some heart out of a Minnesota team before the beginning of next season, I’d recommend checking out the Frozen Four finals tomorrow night and watching Minnesota-Duluth.

Sorry about the downer of a post, but there’s not much you can say after last night’s loss. I’ll check back in after the weekend!

Gameday Thread – Game 56 – Canucks @ Wild

Here comes the measuring stick, so to speak. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been openly wondering about how good this Minnesota Wild team actually is. Are they for real? Or are they just a mediocre team on a hot streak?

Well, tonight’s game may just show the team for what it really is, one way or the other.

Minnesota and Vancouver have been two of the league’s top teams since Jan. 2, and tonight they square off in an ever important Western Conference battle. Just how important? Well, let’s take a quick look at the standings, shall we?

Minnesota is in ninth spot, with 65 points, with four games in hand on Calgary (8th), two in hand on San Jose (7th), one in hand on Nashville (6th), two in hand on Anaheim (5th) and one in hand on Dallas (4th).

In other words, if they can keep winning they’re going to be golden. But first, here’s you’re required reading for tonight’s game.

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NHL.com’s Game Preview

Nucks Misconduct’s Game Preview

Star Tribune’s Wild Gameday Article

Examiner.com’s Game Preview

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Injuries
So, the over arching theme of this game is certainly going to be Vancouver’s battered team.

Vancouver was already missing Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis from the blue line, and now it appears that they’ll be without Andrew Alberts, as well as possibly Sami Salo who left last night’s game late favoring his lower body.

While I never want to see anyone get hurt, this could be a very good thing for the Wild who have had Vancouver’s number in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center this season.

Minnesota has outscored Vancouver 10-2 in their two games at the X, and that home ice advantage is certainly going to have to play a big part of the Wild’s success in tonight’s game. If they play in front of a crowd that was as jazzed up as they were on Saturday for the Wild’s dominating display against the Blues, it could spell trouble for Vancouver.

The Rough Stuff
Now, while all games against the Canucks are physical affairs, Minnesota has seemed much more comfortable playing in physical games of late.

Even earlier this season, the Wild seemed to get a bit intimidated when games took a turn for the scrappier. They didn’t necessarily shy away from the contact, but it certainly took them off their games.

Against St. Louis, however, this team showed that they’re a vastly different team – taking that physical nature of the game and thriving on it. The more physical the game got, the more engaged the Wild got. Everyone, right down to little Pierre-Marc Bouchard, was finishing their checks and everyone was willing to pay the price and stand up for their teammates.

Once again, the Wild’s grinders are going to play a large part in this game. Brad Staubitz, Eric Nystrom, John Madden – they might not show up on the score sheet, but they have to bring their A-game tonight in a game that’s most certainly going to have both a rivalry atmosphere, as well as a playoff one.

Playoff Atmosphere
Let’s be honest, though. Every game from now until the end of the season (whenever that may be) is a playoff game for the Wild. They’re three points out of fourth place in the conference and, while they likely won’t win the division, these points are absolutely vital if they want to keep their head above water. One small losing streak and they’ve left themselves with a heck of a lot more work to do.

The team already knows this and the fans are getting it now too and there’s a buzz that’s starting to surround this team. The feeling went from the early season thought of “There’s no way we’re making the playoffs this season” to “Hey! We actually have a shot at this!” and as that sentiment changed among the fans, you could see the level of support change too.

So tonight’s tilt is going to be a playoff game or, at least, every bit as intense as one. Minnesota needs to win to stay in the hunt in a Western Conference that seems like every single team from first to fourteenth is as hot as they can be and tonight’s game would be a huge step forward for the Wild were they to come out on top.

The puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. and the game is on Fox Sports North.

{Author’s Note: No gamer tonight, as I won’t be able to catch a lot of the game. Check our Facebook page, though, for highlights from the game as well as some links to check out if you missed it.}

Wild Falls to Vancouver in a Big Way

Man, if you didn’t see this one coming, you weren’t paying attention.

The Wild came out tonight, after a lackluster performance last night in Edmonton, and skated like they had lead in their breezers and played like they had lead between their ears.

That might have been a bit harsh, but it’s not too far off from the truth. For three periods of play tonight, the Wild looked like absolute garbage.

But it really should have been expected after the way that they played for the last two periods of last night’s game. In back-to-back games, there’s absolutely no way that you come out strong the very next night after an outing like that.

Plain and simple, the Wild came out flat and it showed in the results. In fact, it should have been a shutout were it not for the fact that Miettinen scored a fluke goal late in the third.

Vancouver controlled play all night long tonight and Manny Malhotra had a three-point night to down the Wild quite easily in this one.

I’d say more but, to be quite honest, I don’t really have much more to say. The Wild got dominated from buzzer to buzzer and that’s all there is to it.

Random Thoughts

  • One game into his Minnesota Wild career and color me VERY unimpressed with Jose Theodore. The man looked so casual in net tonight that, honestly, it bordered on lazy. For most of the evening, his movements in net simply looked listless and sluggish. He was out of position and he was, quite frankly, out of the game. Now, this could have been in large part due to the fact that he didn’t really have a training camp and it was his first game, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but he has got to be better if the Wild are to be successful at all this season.
  • I can honestly say that I’ve never been as impressed with a young Wild defenseman as I have been with Justin Falk. The guy just keeps getting better and better with each and every game. His strength is absolutely fantastic (I’ve never seen a player that can manhandle a player in the corner with a single arm) and he has a great mind for the game. The scariest part is that he’s still young and still learning. Once he gets completely used to the speed and flow of the game, he’s going to be one hell of a defender.
  • If I had to take one positive away from tonight’s game, it would be that Guillaume Latendresse had another fantastic game for the Wild. Latendresse was physical, he drove to the net and, essentially, did everything that he is expected to do yet, for some reason, there were just five players on the Wild with less ice time than him. For whatever reason, he seems to be remaining in Richards’ doghouse, despite being tied for third on the team in points, not to mention having the best shooting percentage. At this point, it seems to be a mystery as to what he needs to do to get more ice time because, from my vantage point, he seems to be doing everything right.
  • Clayton Stoner had a relatively good game tonight – or, at least as good of a game that he could have with just 10 minutes of ice time. The most impressive part of his game, though, was his fight in the first period. He might not always be the best player on the ice, but he knows how to throw ‘em, that’s for sure.

Breaking News: Rypien Gets 6 Game Suspension; Canucks Fined $25K

Well, it’s official.

Rick Rypien has been suspended by the NHL for six games following his “assault” on James Engquist of Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

In addition to Rypien’s suspension, the Vancouver Canucks have also been fined $25,000 for the incident.

Now there’s no doubt that some people, including a lot of Wild fans, won’t be happy with this suspension; feeling that it should have been longer and, to be honest, I thought that it should have been about 10 games. But am I disappointed that it wasn’t longer?

Not really, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, despite the fact that Engquist is “feeling litigious” regarding the incident (again, allow me to repeat my sentiment – man up, buddy), Rypien didn’t actually do any harm towards him. He didn’t throw any punches, he didn’t injure him in any way – he didn’t really do anything more than ruffle up the guy’s shirt. He didn’t “climb into the stands” like some have claimed. He didn’t “pull him over the railing.” He just grabbed him and was pulled away.

Was it stupid? Yes. Was it potentially dangerous? Yes. Did anything come of it? Not at all; unless you count someone threatening to lawyer up as something coming of it.

Second, I don’t know that the NHL really needed to “send a message” here – at least, not to the players.

This isn’t an epidemic. This isn’t something that is taking the league by storm. This isn’t even something that has happened more than a couple times in the last decade. This is an isolated incident of a player getting a little too riled up and taking exception to something that a fan said and he just happened to be able to reach him with his hands as opposed to a water bottle.

A lot of pundits have been placing some of the blame on Minnesota for not having something separating the visitor’s tunnel from the fans (which they do, incidentally, it’s just retracted during the period) and, to be honest, I don’t really think that’s fair. They shouldn’t need to “protect” their fans from violence from the players and this is the first time any sort of incident has been spurred on from not having this protection.

And finally, if the league did need to “send a message,” it will be done through the teams.

Why?

Because Rypien just cost his team $25,000.

Do you really think that the Canucks organization is just going to sit back and not say anything to their players, or impose any fines on their players, whether publically or privately for this?

Do you think that other organizations won’t sit up and take notice and make sure that players know that this sort of thing will not be tolerated?

What the NHL did here is actually something that is quite ingenious. The put the impetus on the teams now to respond.

A suspension of a player like Rypien isn’t going to make a drop in the bucket for the Canucks. While he has his role on the team, and he performs it well, his absence isn’t going to lose them any games. But to fine the team? That is something that sends a message. Not to the players, but to the franchises.

Because the bottom line is that this league is a business. At the end of the day, from an organizational stand point, it’s as much about the profit as it is about winning and losing, and when you hit an organization where it hurts, in their pocket book, that is when you will see significant changes to the league’s culture.

Was I disappointed to see that it was just six games?

A little.

I wouldn’t have thought that ten games was egregious, but I thought that the proper suspension should have been between five and ten games and it was between that – a bit on the light side, but between that nonetheless.

But at the end of the day, this sends a message to the organizations that this won’t be tolerated, not just to the players. And that is what is going to prevent this from happening again.

Gameday Thread – Game 6 – Minnesota @ Edmonton

This is potentially a dangerous game for the Wild.

The Wild roll into Edmonton with much of a different attitude than they had the last time they played the Oilers.

Coming into the home opener, there was a sense of trepidation surrounding the team. The sense that, at any moment, this season could turn and the Wild could set the record for least points in an NHL season.

But now, following their 6-2 trouncing of the Canucks, this is a team that has a sense of optimism surrounding them. For 59 minutes, against the hated Canucks, they dominated play. They controlled the tempo of the game and they attacked, attacked, attacked. And even when they didn’t attack, they were able to keep the Canucks to the perimeter and not allow them to get to the net and create havoc.

For the Wild, this was the best and most complete game I’ve seen them play under the Richards regime.

So, this is a dangerous game.

Why?

Because of the letdown.

First of all, this is a Wild team that has become notorious for its inconsistency. They’ll come out one period and look like the best team in the world and the next they’ll look like they couldn’t find the net with a GPS tracker.

But the second reason why this game is such a big game for this team is the fact that, if they can keep their performance from Tuesday going, they’re going to have a load of momentum on their side heading back into Vancouver, and momentum can be a dangerous thing both ways. This could be both a momentum builder or a momentum killer.

Either way, it’s a pivotal game for the Wild.

The Skinny

Minnesota Wild

@

Edmonton Oilers

2-2-1 (5 pts)

W-L-T

2-2-0 (4 pts)

3.2

GF/G

3.0

2.4

GA/G

2.75

45.8%

PP%

15.8%

85.2%

PK%

73.7%

55.6%

FO%

40.2%

There’s no question that this is a pivotal match up. The Wild are going into a building where both Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore struggle and they need a big performance out of their goalie.

Their powerplay is clicking, their defense is working well – now they just need to start scoring more at even strength and they’ll be in business.

Either way, they’re going to have to deal with the Oilers’ young trio again, which they did quite well in their last meeting. If the Wild can limit their chances like they did against Vancouver, it’s going to be a good game for the man in nets.

If they can’t, it could be a long, long night in Edmonton.

Line-Up(s)
The biggest news coming out of this is that it sounds like Taylor Hall will be moved to the third line, playing with Gilbert Brule and Dustin Penner to try to relieve some of the pressure from him. Replacing him on the team’s first line will be fellow rookie Magnus Paajarvi.

For the Wild, I’d expect the same line up tonight as against Vancouver unless there’s someone that absolutely can’t play.

It has been confirmed that it will be Nicklas Backstrom in nets for the Wild, so it will be Jose Theodore tomorrow in Vancouver.

Key(s) to the Game
Limiting Edmonton’s chances in this one, especially early, is going to be key.

Backstrom struggles in Edmonton and they’re going to need to give him confidence in both himself and his defense. If they can limit the Oilers’ chances, especially second and third chances, it will go a long way towards giving Backs that confidence and keep him on his game.

But defense isn’t going to be the only key to this one.

In Minnesota, the Wild got on the board early and they’ll need to do it again. The more action that Khabibulin gets before the Wild get on the board, the more difficult it will be.

Khabibulin thrives on momentum and once he gets going, he’s even more difficult to beat. If the Wild can drive to the net, get some powerplays early and keep driving towards him, it will be a long game for him.

If not, it’s going to be a difficult one for the Wild.

The Bottom Line
The Wild put it together on Tuesday and, if they can keep it up they’re going to be one difficult team to beat.

It’s still early in the season, but stringing wins together is one of the things that the great teams do. Not just one or two, but strings of three and four. That’s what’s going to get this team into the playoffs and that’s what’s going to make this team successful.

This might not necessarily be a must-win for the Wild, but it’s as close as an early-season game gets.

Rick Rypien Is An Idiot, Not A Felon; How Long Should His Suspension Be?

Update: Per Mike Russo, apparently the fan in question is contemplating legal action towards Rypien, stating “I was assaulted, that’s just the bottom line.” I’m going to go ahead and call “shenanigans” on this one. Legal action? He was assaulted? I’ve seen more violence in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants than in this alleged “assault.”

This whole ordeal has been a stain on the NHL and the fact that this yahoo is contemplating legal action now only makes it worse. Is he well within his rights to do so? Absolutely. But now, instead of the focus being on Rypien and his lack of judgment, it is instead on Mr. James Engquist, who wishes to take an “assault” case to civil court.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, is my response. You got pushed, Mr. Engquist. There was no lasting injury, if any, and you, in fact, profited from this by getting moved up to seats on the glass. Just suck it up and deal.

The title says it all. That’s the big question today in the NHL.

What does Rick Rypien deserve?

Nathan, of Hockey Wilderness, offers up one view point:

By now you’ve seen and heard the commotion. Rick Rypien, after being pulled off of Brad Staubitz in a pathetic attempt to motivate the Vancouver Canucks, tussled with linesman Don Henderson, initiating contact, then jumping at a fan in the stands who was sarcastically clapping at him.

Well, as it turns out, looking at the video it certainly looks like it was a kid who drew the ire of the Canucks fighter.

So, what do you think? Does that look like a father protecting his child? Does it add to the already lengthy punishment that should be coming down from Colin Campbell?

Remember, Ron Artest got 73 games for attacking a fan. If it turns out that it is a child, Rypien needs to miss the rest of the season. No question about it.

While Greg Wyshynski, of Puck Daddy, offers a different perspective:

So what does Rypien deserve?

Five games is the minimum. We’d say 10 games are the maximum and would be a stout suspension that would get the casual fan’s attention. Anything over that, and we’re once again seeing the NHL overplay its hand because of the perception of an image problem that, honestly, it doesn’t have anymore but is hypersensitive about.

But knowing Bettman when confronted with an image problem … well, perhaps we’ll see you for Christmas, Rick Rypien.

I don’t think anyone, except for Manny Malhotra, thinks that Rypien doesn’t deserve the suspension that was handed down by the NHL (one of the indefinite variety, until a hearing is held today). He was, as he should have been, suspended for his violation of NHL Rule 23.7.

(We’ll overlook the ref’s definition of “Game Misconduct,” in this one, as well as their definition of interference as well, but that’s a different story.)

But Wild fans should back away from the edge of hyperbole a bit.

I get it – Rick Rypien, of the hated Vancouver Canucks, had the gall to accost one of our fans. The nerve!

And yes, you read it right – accost. Not assault, accost.

This is what assaulting a fan is like:

Not this:

Rick Rypien is guilty not of “assaulting a fan,” as it has been said, but of nothing more than being an idiot – than losing his cool at an inopportune moment.

So what does that mean, suspension wise?

Well, in our eyes, it means more than a bit and less than a lot, in very vague terms.

Basically, I would say a suspension of anywhere from 7-10 games would be warranted, up to 15 if the NHL REALLY wants to send a message but, in my eyes, 15 would be a tad excessive.

The fact is that the fan wasn’t injured in the altercation. Indeed, he actually got his seats upgraded to a pair of empty glass seats.

Did Rypien break a boundary? Yes. Should he have done what he did? Absolutely not. But it’s nowhere near as egregious as many pundits are making it out to be.

Our verdict?

Ten games and a personal and public apology to the fan the next time the Canucks come into town.

Wild Down Canucks in a Big Way

On Sunday, the message was sent. On Tuesday, it was apparent that it was received.

58 seconds into the game, the Vancouver Canucks awoke the sleeping beast that was the Minnesota Wild following the bag skate to end all bag skates and the Wild, for the remainder of the first and the entirety of the second were a dominant team – one that desperately needed to show up for this one.

The defense tightened up around Niklas Backstrom after a shaky start that saw Marek Zidlicky make a huge error, leaving Daniel Sedin wide open on the back door when Backstrom had to come out to challenge the shooter, and the offense responded well as it was all Wild from then on out.

Zidlicky made up for his early gaffe and tied the game then, just over one minute later Guillaume Latendresse responded to Todd Richards’ challenge scoring one and then, near the end of the period, assisting on Clutterbuck’s second of the season.

The Wild kept pouring it on in the second with three goals in six minutes with goals from John Madden, Andrew Brunette and Matt Cullen to put the Wild up big heading into the third.

In the third, the Canucks got one late goal off of a nice shot from Daniel Sedin, but it was a fast-paced period and one that was surprisingly subdued after the fireworks that were taking place as tensions boiled over in the second.

But everyone was on the same page in this one and the team did exactly what the buzzwords wanted them to – they competed. They were scrappy, they hit, they got to the net; the bottom line is they did everything they needed to do to win and, surprise, surprise, they won.

Random Thoughts

- Once again, the Wild came through on the defensive end. Backstrom played great in net again and, once again, got help in front of him; which always helps. As I mentioned before, the part of the game that Backs really struggles with is the athletic and, when the defense is on, they clear the second and third chances away from the front of the net that are a thorn in Backstrom’s side – tonight, they did that in a big way and Backs reward them with another strong performance.

- Latendresse responded in a big way tonight. He still isn’t at the same level he was last season, but you could tell that he not only felt more comfortable but felt more confident as well. His play isn’t measured in the number of shots he gets, but in the plays he creates. His size and skill are all that he needs to create chances both for himself and for his linemates. He did just that today, using his speed and size to give him the space to get to the back door and get the puck through to Luongo and using his vision to set up Clutterbuck’s goal as well.

- How stupid does Rick Rypien have to be? Not only does he punch Brad Staubitz after he is being held down by a linesman, he gets physical with a linesman and then with a fan in the crowd. Now, there’s been speculation of a suspension of anywhere between 5 and 30 games. So, you be the judge:

My guess? The suspension will be closer to 10 games than 30 – this was no Ron Artest situation – but all of the speculation should be true. Rypien will be sitting for a long period of time.

- Part of me knows that the production won’t continue, but Matt Cullen had another multi-point night and continues to be the Wild’s best player. Cullen is not only their powerplay quarterback, he’s the pivot on the line that could make or break the team. Now, there’s no doubt that he’s not a 90+ point producer, or probably not even an 80+ point producer and that he’s going to have to come back down to earth eventually, but if he keeps getting this sort of time with the man advantage, there’s no doubt that he will rack up a career high in points by the time the season is over.

Wild Nation’s No Longer Ridiculously Early Season Previews: The Northwest Division

It wasn’t long ago that the Northwest Division was one of the toughest divisions in the NHL.

The 2002-03 season saw four of its five teams qualify for the playoffs and, up until the 2008-09 season, the division qualified at least three of its teams for the playoffs every season.

The last two seasons, however, have seen an interesting disparity in the division begin to arise and it’s now become a matter of the haves versus the have-nots. Last season saw two teams pick in the top-10 and would have seen one more in the top-15 had Calgary not sold its soul to Phoenix for Olli Jokinen.

The season before saw both Minnesota and Edmonton starting out in the top-15 as well; needless to say, the division’s competitiveness is waning at the moment.

So how will they match up this season?

Calgary Flames – Flames General Manager Daryl Sutter is either going to be lauded as a genius or be burnt in effigy following this season.

Sutter has been largely ineffective at running the team in a salary cap world and has found himself forced up against the cap more often than not and has seen his team go from one that was one win away from winning the Stanley Cup to one that is struggling to keep their heads above water and is no longer a shoe-in to make the playoffs.

Sutter responded to missing the playoffs by bringing in two players that were largely ineffective in their previous stints in Calgary. First, there’s Olli Jokinen, who quickly feel out of favor after a solid stint with the team after being traded there but didn’t seem suited for the new system that Brent Sutter brought with him to the team. Then there’s Alex Tanguay who returns to the team after two seasons away. Tanguay was, again, effective in his first season with the Flames as a point-per-game player under Jim Playfair, but when Mike Keenan came in Tanguay just couldn’t find his stride.

IF these two players can find their form with the Flames and Jarome Iginla can prove that last season’s 69 point performance was an aberration, this could be an effective team. But these two players have been in decline over the past few seasons leaving many to question whether or not their best days are behind them.

On defense, the Flames are anchored by Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regher. Bouwmeester, last season, seemed to not be able to cope with the added pressure of being in a hockey-crazed town such as Calgary but will have a big opportunity to rebound with his first full season as Calgary’s top defenseman with Dion Phaneuf now in Toronto.

Regher, meanwhile, will provide the same thing that he always has – a hard-nosed, gritty defenseman. He’s not going to put up the gaudy numbers of Mike Green, but he’s the type of heart and soul guy that can really help a team out.

Past Bouwmeester and Regher, the Flames can turn to Mark Giordano and Ian White, both of whom had terrific seasons with the Flames last season and are looking to build on their solid seasons. Giordano put up career highs in nearly every statistical category and proved that he was capable of being the defenseman that the Flames thought he could be when they signed him in 2004. White, meanwhile, was probably the best cog that the Flames received in their trade for Phaneuf. White put up 12 points in 27 games en route to a career season split between the Leafs and the Flames. If he can continue that performance in 2010, there’s no doubt the Flames could have a formidable blueline.

In net, the Flames will again rest their hopes squarely on the shoulders of Miikka Kiprusoff.

Since coming over from San Jose, Kipper has been a mainstay in net for the Flames and seemed to return to form last season after two subpar years. While Kipper may have led the league in losses last season, it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying as his goals against average and save percentage were the best they’d been since the ’06-’07 season.

What the Flames have to manage, though, is whether or not Kipper is able to handle the amount of games that he’ll be getting in net. Behind him will be Henrik Karlsson, who the team signed in the off season. Karlsson played marvelously for Farjestad last season and the hope is that he’ll provide a better back up option than Vesa Toskala.

The pieces are all ready for the Flames this season and the hope is that they will all fall into place. If they do, they could be contending for the Division crown once again. But, if they don’t as many fear that they won’t, they’ll be a bubble team for the playoffs once again.

Colorado Avalanche – There are a lot of questions surrounding the Colorado Avalanche this season.

First and foremost is whether or not last season’s run to the playoffs was a fluke or whether this team is the real deal.

The team returns every single one of their key players from their playoff run last year and, with $18 million in cap space, has a lot of wiggle room to improve their roster throughout the season.

The forward crew will again be quite young and inexperienced, though not as inexperienced as last season. The big question marks will be whether or not their key forwards can replicate their impressive seasons that they had last year.

Chris Stewart is freshly signed and looking to build on his breakout season, which is the first extremely impressive season of his pro career. The fact that 17 of his 28 goals came in the second half of the season, however, is very promising and he’s certainly going to get his share of ice time.

In addition to Stewart, both Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene should continue to improve, though Stastny will be looked upon to set up some of the team’s goal scorers more than he’ll be expected to score himself. Look for Duchene, however, to take his next step towards being one of the league’s top superstars heading into his sophomore season. He likely won’t be as explosive as Steve Stamkos was in his second year, but Duchene will certainly get the job done for the Avs.

Peter Mueller is likely not as productive as his 20 points in 15 games last season suggests, but it does show that he is as explosive as they come. If he can carry a hot streak through a good part of the season, he could have a productive season for the Avs and give them another scoring threat.

On defense, the team has two kinds of defensemen — either ones who are extremely mobile or ones who are barely able to take the ice without the use of a walker.

All kidding aside, the Avs have a couple defensemen that are certainly either starting or in the waning of their career in Scott Hannan and Adam Foote. The good news, though, is that these two are both character players and both able to impart good leadership and good knowledge on the younger players of the team.

Past them, they have John-Michael Liles, who is good for 30-plus points and also good for a headache for any fan of the team watching. Players like Kyle Quincey and Kyle Cumiskey are still growing and are looking like they could turn into top flight defensemen for the organization.

In net, it’s pretty safe to say that Craig Anderson has answered all questions about his ability to perform. Last season was really his coming out party, as he finally had success in a full time starter’s role. That success will likely continue on into this season as the team has had barely any turnover from last season.

If Anderson can stay healthy and their young players can continue their progression and don’t have any major steps backwards, it’s safe to say that the Avs could once again be in the thick of things in the playoff race.

Edmonton Oilers – Well, there’s good news on the horizon for Edmonton fans.

The Oilers can only get better, because they certainly can’t get much worse.

To say that last season was a disaster for Edmonton would be an understatement, to say the least. The franchise had their lowest point total since the 1992-93 season and their lowest point percentage total since the 1980-81 season.

Suffice it to say, it was a bad year.

I’m sorry to say that this season probably won’t be much better, but I can say that it will be better.

Young guns Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Jordan Eberle will be on the roster this season and will get plenty of time to show what they can do. Will any of the there be rookie sensations the like of Crosby or Ovechkin? Probably not. But they will be upgrades over what the Oilers had last season and that is something that fans should take heart in.

In addition to their big three, the Oilers will also get a full season from Ales Hemsky, which likely would have helped them tremendously last season. Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Gilbert Brule all missed time due to injuries last season which likely would have made a serious impact on the team. With Hemsky fully healthy and playing on Gagner’s wing, and likely across from Dustin Penner, the forward unit will be a much improved unit over last season’s.

On defense the team is still looking to move the albatross contract of Sheldon Souray, but the good news is that they have a serviceable defensive unit behind him.

Ryan Whitney and newcomer (and underrated free agency signing) Kurtis Foster will find themselves manning the point on the powerplay and players like Jim Vandermeer and Tom Gilbert add a bit of character to the blueline. Ladislav Smid and Jason Strudwick also provide a bit of oomph on the back end, but the unit will have to get better at limiting opponents scoring chances, on a whole, if the team is going to climb from the cellar.

One of the biggest questions will be in net.

Namely, will Nikolai Khabibulin be healthy enough (or free enough) to reclaim his duty as starting goaltender and give the team some stability in net.

If he is it gives the team somewhat of a luxury that they haven’t had in recent years – the ability to relax and know that their goaltender will be there and, at times, be able to bail them out.

If he’s not, however, the team is back to the uncertainty of a goalie tandem of Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk – something that I don’t imagine any fan is looking forward to.

As I said previously, this season isn’t going to be great for the Oilers. They still have a way to go to get back to the level of an elite team. But it will be a great improvement over last season – and that’s a start.

Minnesota Wild – How much longer will the State of Hockey tolerate a sub-par team on the ice?

Well, if things don’t go well this season, owner Craig Leipold may very well find out.

Last season was an unbelievable disappointment for Wild fans and the fact that the team had a point percentage of above .500% for the eighth straight season was little consolation.

But, the good news is that the old regime’s players are beginning to cycle through and be replaced by players that are more conducive to the new style of play that the team is aspiring towards.

Added to the roster are Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom and John Madden – three players that are both talented and gritty. Cullen will be expected to fill in the ever elusive second-line center role that the team has been searching for now for years and will likely be slotted in between Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat.

Now the team’s lack of success isn’t to say that they don’t have talent up front, but there are far too many question marks to be able to concretely say that they are going to be a top team.

If Latendresse can continue to perform like he did last season (25 goals in 55 games for Minnesota) and if Havlat can find the form that caused Minnesota to sign him to a lucrative free agency contract, it’s certainly going to be a welcome addition.

On top of these two, the biggest question mark up front lies on the performance of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. When healthy, Bouchard can be one of the game’s elite playmakers, but he has struggled with injuries for the last season and a quarter and his production has not been up to par because of that. Last season, he missed the entire year with a concussion, but he has been scrimmaging at pro camps leading up to training camp and he will likely play at some point this season, though it is not known when.

If he can come back and play his game, he will certainly be a difference maker on the ice.

On defense, again, the team is faced with injury questions.

Brent Burns had a breakout season three seasons ago, but the last two years he has been mired with injury and inconsistency. If he can return to the player that he is capable of being, he will be a dangerous force on Minnesota’s blueline. If he doesn’t, though, he becomes little more than a defensive liability and a player that the team is reluctant to turn to when the going gets tough.

The Wild will also be hoping that defenseman Cam Barker can find his game again after a subpar performance last season. Barker is certainly better than his 21 point season indicated, but he will have to find that offensive mind frame and physical edge if he is to make an impact.

Also up in the air is the Wild’s sixth defensive spot.

Currently, it is thought that the spot will go to a younger defenseman – Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser and Marco Scandella are all names that have been mentioned. The biggest concern, however, is that these three only have a handful of NHL games between them and, though they have performed well at times, none have the body of work that would lead one to think that they could handle a full season.

In net, the Wild are again looking at the familiar duo of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, but that is not to say that there are not questions there.

Harding started slow last season, but gained his legs late and helped steady the boat when Backstrom was underperforming. Backstrom, on the other hand, struggled much of last season and a lot of that is being attributed to the fact that the team’s system is no longer as goalie friendly as it once was.

I, for one, don’t believe that Backstrom is nearly as bad as he looked last season and, with a little help I believe he could be right back where he was in seasons past. He’s a good goaltender that was, unfortunately, not given much help last season and I would look for him to rebound with a better season this year.

Overall, I don’t see the Wild contending for a playoff spot this season. While they have talent, not all of the players are in place for them to make a playoff push. That being said, they do have talent and if everything falls into place I could easily be proved wrong.

Vancouver Canucks – It may be the pre season, but the hype machine is already in full swing for the ‘Nucks.

It started with Roberto Luongo stepping down as the team’s captain and, as training camps begin, the Canucks are again one of the front runners to make a move deep into the playoffs. But will they be able to shake the monkey off their backs and make it to the Stanley Cup Finals?

At forward, the mantra will likely be maintain.

The team returns most all of their key forwards from last season, but the biggest question will be whether or not their top three can keep it going. Henrik Sedin is one year removed from a remarkable career season, and his brother Daniel would have been right there with him were it not for injury. Ryan Kesler put up career numbers last season. Now, the question that needs to be answered is was that their ceiling or are they capable of repeating.

With the Sedins, I’d be tempted to say that they are very capable of repeating. The two have long been one of the most potent duos in the league and that isn’t likely to change. Will it be another 100-plus point season for one, or both of them? Probably not. But I don’t think that another very strong performance by the two is out of the question.

Kesler, however, may have hit his peak at 75 points – a respectable number, to be sure. The team is deep in scoring, but will need Mikael Samuelsson to continue his scoring ways, as he scored more than 20 goals for just the second time in his career. On top of that, they will look at Mason Raymond to take on an increased role and continue his development.

The addition of Manny Malhotra will help the team’s checking line and their penalty kill, but won’t be much more than that. But that’s also why he was brought in. He’s a reliable checker and a solid penalty killer, which will only help the Canucks this season.

On defense, the team addressed their significant lack of grit the last couple years by bringing in Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis. Along with Bieksa, Salo, Edler and Ehrhoff, the ‘Nucks top-six defensemen all make over $3 million and, with the team $3 million over the cap heading into the season, will likely need to move one of them.

But, that being said, Hamhuis and Ballard are a huge upgrade over their previous defensive unit and the team certainly is looking better on the blueline than they have in previous seasons. With that being a huge concern for the Canucks, their fans should no longer be worried. This is a defensive unit, regardless of whether or not a move is made, that can handle the physical play of clubs bigger and stronger than them and will help protect Roberto Luongo much better.

Speaking of Luongo, he’s once again in net for the Cancucks in potentially the most uninteresting portion of the team to talk about.

Luongo’s in net, Schnieder’s behind him. There’s no question about the performance of either of the two and there’s no uncertainty about anything that is going on here. The only thing that could derail them in net is injuries, but that isn’t typically a concern of Bobby Lou.

Overall, this is the easiest to call. The Canucks will be back in the playoffs, just like they will win the division again. There aren’t any questions about any of these things.

Predictions

Alright. Here we go. This is how I think the Northwest will shape up:

1) Vancouver Canucks
2) Calgary Flames
3) Colorado Avalanche
4) Minnesota Wild
5) Edmonton Oilers

To be honest, the only for sure playoff team in this division is the Canucks. Both the Flames and Avs are bubble teams, though I could see both making the playoffs if everything aligns.

Up Next: The Pacific Division

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