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Archive for March 2009

How I Would Change the NHL

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A post today on Puck Daddy’s blog on Yahoo.com regarding whether or not the shootout really entertains got me to thinking on how I would change the game for the better (at least in my own mind.)  So, here you have it.  The changes that I would make to the game, in no particular order.

  1. Revise the Shootout.  Ok.  I admit it.  I’m a sucker for the shootout.  I love watching it.  I think it’s an iffy way to end a game, at best, but I absolutely love watching the extra time skills competition.  That said, there are definite ways in which I feel it could be changed for the better.  Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog already suggested this in his blog today, but I would take two of his suggestions.  First, have the players take the shootout with their helmets off.  How much more interesting would that make it?  You’d get to see the full expressions on the players faces, the visual of a player bearing down on the goalie with the wind rushing through his hair.  The argument against this is always that it’s dangerous for the player.  But, really, how many times have we seen a player blow an edge and slide into the boards or get tripped up by the goalie and go sliding into the boards?  To be honest, I can’t think of a single occasion off the top of my head.  Next, I also love Wysh’s idea of having a camera skate behind the player.  Don’t get me wrong.  The camera angles that they use for the shootout now are palatable.  But that’s just it.  It doesn’t make it any different to watch.  It’s like watching a penalty shot.  Give the shootout some distinction for crying out loud!  If you’re going to use it, make it a spectacle!  Give it some coverage that separates it from the rest of the game.  Finally, I would also extend the shootout from three to five shooters.  Let’s be fair here; three shooters in the shootout is one of the largest anti-climaxes in sports.  It can end far, far too quickly.  To me, five shooters just flat out gives a better on ice product.  It gives the fans a little extra hockey while giving the players a little more leeway.  In other words, one mistake will not necessarily lose the shootout this way, whereas in the current way, one mistake typically spells the end.
  2. Extend Overtime.  As much as I love watching the shootout, I would much rather see the game decided in overtime.  It decides the game the way it should be decided; with the entire team on the ice.  So why not extend overtime?  Extend it to ten minutes of four-on-four hockey.  If, by the end of that ten minutes, a winner still has not been decided, then the shootout comes into play.  If a hockey game has been deadlocked for 60 minutes, five more minutes most likely will not be enough to tip the scales one way or the other.  Add five more minutes on to that and see what happens.  If nothing else, it provides a little extra hockey before the end of the game.
  3. Get Rid of Concurrent Fighting Penalties.  You want an easy way to force those players that just can’t skate out of the game?  It’s as easy as this.  Fighting penalties are one of the most pointless penalties in the game, in my opinion.  For the most part, all it does is put a player in the box who would otherwise not see the ice for more than 15 seconds during that five minute period anyway.  It does nothing to penalize the team.  Taking out these concurrent fighting majors would bring each team down to four-on-four for those five minutes.  First of all, it would make for an exciting five minutes as it would open up the ice a great deal.  Second, it has the potential to save the fights for when the really matter; not just when two neanderthals on skates decide to pummel each other.
  4. Make the Regular Season Worth Something.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  We have division championships and the Presidents’ Trophy.  But realistically, do teams really care about that?  They care about making the playoffs and that’s it.  Why not expand the playoffs just a smidge to make it interesting?  Cut out the pre-season schedule and have the regular season start earlier.  Then, after the 82 games are completed, the top four teams in each division go into a “playoff” for the division title.  You could play single games or a best-of three series, but the four teams play it out for a shot at one of the top three seeds.  Once the “division playoffs” are completed, the top three are seeded in relation to their regular season record and the remaining five spots are filled by the top five remaining records, regardless of division.  Think of the intensity that this would bring to the final few months of the season.  Done this way, a team as hot as the St. Louis Blues or Columbus Blue Jackets have been would have a legitimate shot at getting home ice advantage if they got hot at the right time.  At the same time, however, teams like San Jose or Detroit who do legitimately deserve to be in the playoffs, would still make it.
  5. Get Rid of the Third Point.  The NHL needs to stop rewarding mediocrity.  A loss is a loss is a loss, no matter how you look at it.  Plain and simple, the NHL needs to get rid of the overtime loss and simply go by wins and losses like every other league does.  The extra point for making it to OT made sense when ties were part of the league, but now it has lost all context and does nothing but reward teams for losing and muddle the standings.  If you lose, you don’t get anything, plain and simple.
  6. Change the Trapezoid.  I don’t think we should get rid of it, but I think its definition could be changed.  My idea is to do much like lacrosse has done.  Make the trapezoid an extension of the crease and give the goalies quarter behind the net there.  However, if the goalies venture into the areas in the corner not protected by the trapezoid, they are fair game as any other player would be.  First, this would allow goalies who are genuinely good at playing the puck the opportunity, but it would also provide a potential deterrant for them doing so.  Goalies would still be protected everywhere else on the ice, just not in the corners.

So that’s a few of my views on how the game could change.  Any ideas, thoughts or your own views on how to change the game?

Written by bcbenzel

March 27, 2009 at 11:19 am

Posted in NHL

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Clutterbuck Breaks Hits Record; Wild Win

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Let’s be honest.  Everyone and their mother knew that Cal Clutterbuck would break the hits record last night.  He’s been averaging at least 6 hits per game over his last few games and needed just two more to eclipse Dustin Brown’s old mark.

Clutterbuck has been a breath of fresh air this season to a Wild team that has lacked energy at times.  He comes out hard every night and he is always moving.  His big hitting style of game has endeared himself to Wild fans the world over and has made him Public Enemy Number One to everyone else.  He has even drawn so much attention to himself through his hard work and energy that a grassroots campaign has started amongst Wild fans for a push for the Calder Trophy, awarded each year to the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.

Clutterbuck has gotten noticed, not only by Wild fans, but by opposing players, fans and hockey pundits around the league.  From Don Cherry’s rant to fans categorizing Cal as a cheapshot artist, he has raised the ire of many a fan and player in his short time in the NHL.  The fact of the matter is, however, that Clutterbuck is a player that plays the game like it was meant to be played.  He skates hard every shift, he works hard every practice and he doesn’t back down from anyone.

The most impressive part of Clutterbuck’s season this year (apart from the hits) has been the offensive upside that he’s flashed.  Let us not forget that Mr. Clutterbuck used to play on John Tavares’s wing in the OHL.  He has offensive instincts; however, he was not quite up to snuff when he came into training camp this season.  He was given things to work on down in the AHL and his wrist shot went from a mediocre one to what Mario Tremblay and Jacques Lemaire have described as the best wrist shot on the team.  This hard work and willingness to be coached will ultimately be what defines Clutterbuck in his career.

What’s more is that Clutterbuck has earned favor with management with his hard-hitting, explosive, energetic playing style and has even found himself playing on the penalty kill and power play this season.  While his rookie campaign has been fantastic, there’s no doubt that he will continue to get even more responsibility in coming seasons with the team and I have no doubt that what we’ve seen this season is only scratching the surface of his overall potential.

317.  It’s not 552, but it’s still a Wild player with his name in the record books.

Game Notes

  • Surprisingly enough, there was a hockey game that occurred last night.  Now I know it’s the Islanders, but a 6-2 victory is still a confidence builder no matter who you play.  The team played with an edge last night; something that I haven’t seen from this team for quite some time.  I don’t know if it’s the attitude that Owen Nolan has instilled with the ‘C’ on his chest for a brief couple games or if it is the desparation of realizing that they may not make the playoffs, but this team played a fantastic, physical game last night; something that they will have to continue to do if they are to make any sort of push.
  • I mentioned to a friend in passing yesterday that, if the Wild wanted to make the playoffs without Mikko Koivu, Marian Gaborik would need to average at leasttwo points per game from here on out.  Apparently he heard me all the way from Long Island.  After playing a fantastic game against the Rangers two nights ago, Gaborik came back last night with a quiet two goal, two assist performance.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am no fan of Marian Gaborik’s, but I cannot deny that he is a potential game breaker in every game he plays in.  Playing most of the game with Nolan, Gaborik showed instant chemistry with the veteran and easily had his best game of the season.  The best part about this?  I hardly even recognized that he was on the ice.  These are the types of games that define what a player is.  Not the five-goal games, but the games where you think to yourself, “He didn’t have an especially impressive game” and you look at the stat sheet and realize that he’d notched four points.
  • Speaking of Owen Nolan, is there anything that this man doesn’t do?  He leads, he scores, he hits, he fights.  Nolan is the type of player that the Wild have been missing for years and that Wild fans have been dreaming about for years.  As far as I’m concerned, he can play for the Wild as long as he wants to and he should have the ‘C’ on his chest for all of that time.
  • After a shameful performance in New Jersey, Niklas Backstrom looks to be back to his old tricks.  He has given up just 4 goals in 3 games and has looked absolutely spectacular at times.  He has proven time and again this season that his shoulders are broad and he could very well will the team into the playoffs.
  • The physical play of the Wild’s blueline last night was something that has been sorely missed this season.  Not necessarily during the whistle, but it seemed as if every single defenseman was playing with a chip on his shoulder last night.  They let absolutely no one get to their goalie and defended him marvelously.
  • In his post game comments, Lemaire mentioned something that I had taken note of throughout the game.  The Islanders were taking runs at anyone wearing a white sweater.  Lemaire was very blunt in saying that he felt their players were being a bit brave out there and that he thought it would be interesting to see what happens when the Isles play the Wild next season.  The Isles thought that they could intimidate the Wild with physical play; but the Wild certainly answered the bell and didn’t allow themselves to be intimidated. 
  • The Wild now travels to Alberta to take on Calgary and then Edmonton.  Needless to say, these are two huge games for Minnesota, as they are still jockeying for playoff position.  A win in one or both of these games could easily slide the Wild back into the playoffs.  The biggest problem, however, is consistency.  If the Wild can build off of this win and take the confidence into Calgary, there’s no doubt in my mind that they may be able to steal a win from the red hot Flames.  The game in Edmonton will be interesting as well, as Niklas Backstrom has even come out and said that he doesn’t play well in that building.  History will have to be put behind him and he will have to come out strong if the Wild are to make up any ground.

Written by bcbenzel

March 26, 2009 at 7:54 am

Gameday: Wild @ Islanders – 3/25/09

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Sans Brent Burns and Mikko Koivu, the Wild rolled into the Big Apple last night and left with a demoralizing loss despite a fantastic game by Niklas Backstrom.  The team dropped from 10th in the West down to 11th, chasing 8th place Anaheim who is two points ahead of them, and two points back from 9th place Nashville.

Ok.  That was the bad news.

The good news?  Tonight we roll into the island to play the league’s bottom team in the New York Islanders.

This is not to say that the Isles should be taken lightly, as they have been hot as of late; however, if there is any team that the Wild could use as a “slump-buster,” this is certainly it.

When you look at the two teams, they have similar stats on paper.  The Wild have only scored a paltry 184 goals this season (good for second last in the West) while the Isles are just two behind them (good for last in the East).  The difference between the two teams, however, has been their defense and goaltending.  The Wild have given up just 180 goals this season (good for third best in the league) while the Isles have given up 234 goals this season (good for eleventh in the East).  The Isles are also having similar problems to the Wild on the blueline; namely, not enough grit.  If the Wild are to be successful against this team tonight, they will need to get into the high traffic areas on the ice and push around an Isles defense that is extremely undersized.  This means that players that like to get their noses dirty in front of and behind the net, such as Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette, will be key to the Wild’s hopes of victory tonight.

Defensively, the Wild will need to focus on stopping the Isles offensive weapons.  Though young, the Isles still boast some players that have the talent to put the puck in the net; most notably Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Sean Bergenheim, not to mention their leading scorer, Mark Streit.  The biggest key to the resurgence of the Islanders over the last few weeks has been their balanced attack.  They have been given the freedom to play spoiler and have taken to it quite nicely and the Wild will have to focus on their entire line up in order to keep the team down.

Goaltending has been a concern for the Isles since the injury of franchise goalie Rick Dipietro; however, Yann Danis has stepped up in his absence and performed marvelously.  A little confidence can go a long way with Danis, and the Wild need to avoid giving him any at all, getting to him early and often.  This will involve shooting the puck and getting it on net; the latter of which the Wild have struggled with all season long.

In the previous meeting this season, the Wild cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Isles, outshooting them 39-16 and dominating for most of the game.  A repeat performance of this would be key to getting the Wild back on track and giving the team confidence heading into a crucial two game swing in Canada against the Flames and the Oilers.

Keys to the Game

  1. Shoot the Puck.  It seems to be common sense, but the Wild have gotten behind in the shots early in too many of their games this season and, as a result, have had to fight back in too many of their games.  Especially with an inexperienced goalie in net, the key to the Wild’s game should be to get traffic in front of him and get the puck on net.  If they can do this, there’s no reason that they can’t have an offensive outburst and win this game walking away.
  2. Be Physical.  The Wild are a team that have been pushed around a little more than they would like this season and it needs to stop.  The blueline especially has been a weak point for the Wild this season in terms of physicality and the Isles are a small team.  The Wild came out with a physical game last night against the Rangers and any carry over from this would be a huge help for the team.
  3. Establish Consistency.  The Wild have lacked consistency all season long, both in the micro and macro views.  In games they often go stretches without pressuring their opponent and oftentimes dig themselves holes during these periods.  If the Wild are able to maintain consistency during the games, this will translate over to the macro view and consistency will begin to be established from game-to-game as well.  This is key for the Wild to win games down the stretch and make a push for the playoffs.

This is a Wild team that can be good.  They just need to find the consistency to do so.  If they’re able to shorten their memories and put their loss last night behind them, they should have no problem handling the Isles.  The question will be if they are able to do just that.

Clutter-Watch 2009: For all intents and purposes, tonight will be the game that Cal Clutterbuck breaks the NHL Record for hits in a season, set by Dustin Brown.  Needing just two more hits to do so, it is very likely that this could be accomplished by the end of the first period, or even his first shift.  As Mike Russo mentioned in his blog, however, I wouldn’t expect much of a fanfare for this.  After all, the statistic has only been around for a few short years.  We could very well be watching young Cal’s statistics next season as well, as he’ll likely be given more responsibility, more ice time and more opportunities to do what he loves to do: hit.

The Road Trip and Wild Notes

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Finally, after delays and sleeping in airports, back home.

The site has been vacant as of late and there is most certainly a reason for this.  The past few days, I have been in New Jersey being hosted by the venerable owner of Hockey Primetime, Sam Woo.  A friend and I flew out for the Devils/Wild game on Friday night and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised.

All of the buzz that I have heard about Devils fans was, quite frankly, that they were some of the worst fans in the NHL.  I had heard to no end that they were dispassionate about their team and that when they did get riled up enough to actually go to the games that they were rude, loud mouthed and quite inconsiderate to visiting fans.

What I found, however, was that this was a group of fans that were passionate to no end about their team.  The arena, while not filled, was not as empty as you are always led to believe.  The upper areas of the arena were full, for the most part, and the majority of the seats open in the lower bowl were open in the Fire and Ice Lounge sections.  Why?  I can think of about 250 reasons why, as the price for those seats is astronomical.

As far as the characterization of the fans?  Absolutely untrue.  Yes, all fans have their bad apples, but the New Jersey fans I ran into were extremely friendly and extremely considerate.  I was wearing my Wild gear, as I do to every game, and I got fans walking up to me asking questions about the team to no end.  Asking about Gaborik’s return, about the team in general, everything.  On top of that, any cheers that were focused at the Wild fans there were all done in good fun.  There was no animosity towards the fans in the least.

There were also people telling me about the town of Newark and about the area surrounding the arena.  I was hearing that the town and area around the arena was extremely dangerous.  Again,  I did not see that one bit.  The area around the arena was no worse than in downtown Minneapolis or downtown St. Paul.  Common sense should be exhibited but I, for one, never felt in danger in the least.

The bottom line is this.  New Jersey fans are getting a bad rap.  The team is a fantastic team with fans that are passionate about them.  I was wearing my colors proudly and cheering on my team proudly (though there wasn’t too terribly much to cheer for in the 4-0 loss) and was met with nothing but the acceptance of knowledgable, friendly hockey fans.  There is no doubt in my mind that I will return to Newark in the future to catch another hockey game and to spend some more time amongst some of the best fans in the NHL.

Wild Notes

  • The injury to Mikko Koivu has definitely thrown a wrench in the Wild’s postseason plans.  With the loss of Koivu, the Wild’s season’s hopes lie squarely on the fragile “lower body” of Marian Gaborik.  With Koivu out, Gaborik will be looked towards to replace him offensively.  Whether or not this is something that he can do remains to be seen, but the hope for now is that he can return as soon as possible to help this team make a push for the playoffs.
  • More news on the injury front for the Wild; Brent Burns is still sidelined with concussion-like symptoms.  It’s hard enough when one of your top players is out, but having multiple star players on the shelf is just flat out demoralizing and could be the kiss of death for this team.
  • On the up side, these injuries are giving us good, long looks at players that could be in the line up next season.  Peter Olvecky has performed well in the absence of Gaborik and will need to continue to do so in the absence of Koivu.  He has gotten time on the power play (which, in Lemaire’s book, means he’s doing something right) and has been placed on the ice in increasingly more important situations.  John Scott is another that is slowly working his way up the depth chart.  While not as offensively skilled as the other Wild defensemen, Scott is a fantastic physical presence on the blueline and is playing fantastic hockey at the moment.
  • The Wild have a crucial road trip coming up this week.  They have back-to-back games in New York (of the Rangers and Islanders variety) followed by back-to-back games in Calgary and Edmonton.  This road trip will likely be the determining factor as to whether or not this team makes the playoffs.  If they can come away with 5 or 6 points on this trip, they will be sitting pretty.  Less than 4 points on this trip and I would wager that the playoffs aren’t anything more than a pipedream.
  • Finally, as you can see on the side bar, the Clutter-Watch 2009 is getting close.  Cal Clutterbuck, the Wild’s resident bowling ball, is just ten hits away from breaking the NHL hits record in his rookie season.  While his stats may not be as impressive as other rookies, there are few other rookies this season that have made the impact that Clutterbuck has.  So remember…You can’t spell Calder without Cal!

Gaborik to Return Sunday?

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Whether you love him or hate him, there’s no denying that having Marian Gaborik on the ice makes the Minnesota Wild a better team.  The problem is that this has only occurred in six games this season.

According to Brian Stensaas of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, however, it will happen at least once more this season.

Barring any setbacks, Marian Gaborik said he feels he will return to the lineup Sunday afternoon against Edmonton.
Gaborik will travel with the team to New Jersey this afternoon. But he said playing tomorrow night against the Devils is unlikely. Instead, he’ll wait for the Oilers.
“We’ll probably shoot for Sunday’s game,” Gaborik said after an hourlong practice this morning. “Hopefully everything will progress. Hopefully I’ll be more pain free each day and go from there.”

Coach Jacques Lemaire has said all along that the decision to return is the player’s. So this means it is a good bet Sunday will be the day.

This is fantastic news for a team that has been struggling of late.  The initial timetable for Gaborik’s return was set with approximately 5 or 6 games left in the season; not necessarily much time for the team to make much noise if they were not close to the playoff hunt.  Gaborik’s return with 11 games remaining in the season would be a huge shot in the arm for a team vying for a playoff spot.  A fresh Marian Gaborik could spell the difference between missing the playoffs and a potential deep playoff run for this team, as they have remained in the playoff hunt all season long without their top player.  A fresh Marian Gaborik for the Wild essentially equates to the same as a fresh Martin Brodeur does for the New Jersey Devils; that is exactly how important Gaborik can be to this team when healthy.

Now my thoughts on this are quite bittersweet.  I am, first and foremost, a Wild fan and this news brings great hope to our postseason possibilities.  Even injured, Gaborik is one of the better offensive talents that the Wild have and there are many games that his presence could have been the difference between a win or a loss or a loss and an extra point.  At the same time, however, I have never really been a fan of Gaborik’s (though I do concede that he brings a lot to the table that helps the Wild) and his (or his agent’s) seeming lack of cooperation in trying to work out a deal that would keep him in Minnesota has left a bad taste in my mouth.

Quite frankly, it was my hope that we had a team that could do it without him and allow us to be able to say, “See, we don’t need you,” upon his return.  It has been quite apparent, however, that this is not the case.  This team has been mired with inconsistency, both on a whole and offensively.  They have been competitive, but not dominant by any means and the hope that is prevalent from most Wild fans is that Gaborik will help turn a competitive team into a dominant one.

The Wild will also likely hope that this return gives Gaborik a spark to sign a short-term deal with the team, likely at a reduced rate, to try to build up his value and his reputation once more.  The value shouldn’t be hard to re-build.  Let’s face it, this kid can score.  When healthy and willing to work, he can be as dynamic an offensive player as anyone in the league.  Just as the New York Rangers.  His largest problem, however, is inconsistency which stems from a lack of work ethic.  Don’t misread this…He’s in fantastic shape and he certainly works very hard off the ice and outside of games.  Where this lack of work ethic manifests itself is in games where things are not going his way or where he gets shuffled onto a line he does not like.  A great example of this would be the season opening game against the Boston Bruins.  While the Wild won this game, their “superstar” was near invisible for most of the game as he was placed on a line that he considered to be the “checking line” with James Sheppard and Stephane Veilleux.  (It should be noted that Lemaire saw this as another scoring line and not the checking line that it turned into without Gaborik on it.)

His reputation, however, may be a bit harder to repair.  There’s no question about it that, when the Wild’s contract offers got leaked, Gaborik immediately lost the PR battle.  Originally, everyone was under the impression that the Wild were lowballing the Slovakian Sensation.  When the contract offers got leaked (ranging between $8.5M and $9.5M), public perception immediately turned against Gaborik and many questioned his dedication as a team player.

My personal opinion is that the Wild should attempt to re-sign Gaborik to a short-term contract (at most three years) at the same average cap hit that he currently sits at.  While I don’t like Gaborik, I cannot deny that he brings a certain dynamic to our line up that we otherwise would not have and I question both other teams’ willingness to sign an injury prone player to a lucrative, long-term contract with the assumed drop in the salary cap next season and the Wild’s ability to land the “big fish” that would replace Gaborik in terms of productivity.

Regardless of what happens, Wild fans will be able to see Number 10 flying up and down the ice in a Wild sweater for at least a little bit longer.  Like him or not, he’s still with the team and he’s going to be able to help us.  From the reports, it appears as if he’s been practicing on a line with Peter Olvecky and Dan Fritsche, which has the potential to be a pretty fun line to watch.  It will be interesting to see on Sunday how he fares on this line, as well as how the fans react to his return.

Either way, I still can’t escape the feeling of wanting to be able to say, “We can do it without you,” though.

Written by bcbenzel

March 19, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Five For Fighting

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Let me clarify one thing right off the bat.  This will not be a long diatribe condemning fighting, nor will this be a thesis on how the NHL should let players police themselves.  Like Fox News, I will attempt to be “fair and balanced” in my views (and likely have much greater success at doing so).

I’m not going to mince words.  I enjoy fighting in the NHL.  I certainly do think it has a place and I most definitely do not think that it is a distraction from the game; at least not all of the time.  In the right context, fights can change the momentum of a game or limit the effectiveness of a player.  At the same time, however, I appreciate the fact that the Board of Governors is attempting to get a handle on fighting in the NHL.

Let’s face it.  As entertaining as the occasional “enforcer” fight may be, it adds little to nothing to the game itself.  I would imagine that seven or eight times out of ten, these fights between heavyweights involve the two bruisers lining up next to each other on the face off, chirping at one another, then dropping the gloves in an attempt to make their paltry five minutes or less of ice time memorable.  The simple fact is that the role of enforcer on an NHL team is as antiquated as players not wearing helmets. 

What exactly do these enforcers bring to the game?  It’s certainly not protection, as there are now many players on teams that are not considered to be enforcers but drop the gloves when need be.  On most teams, the enforcers are relegated to a few minutes of ice time that will likely be eclipsed by their penalty minutes in that game.

Derek Boogaard (F Min) – 50 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 87 PIM, 5:03 TOI
Donald Brashear (F Was) – 63 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 121 PIM, 8:14 TOI
Wade Belak (F Nas) – 53 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 79 PIM, 5:15 TOI
Georges Laraque (F Mon) – 28 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 52 PIM, 7:35 TOI
Eric Godard (F Pit) – 65 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 159 PIM, 4:02 TOI
David Koci (F TB) – 27 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 99 PIM, 5:31 TOI

There you have it.  Six of the more “notorious” fighters in the game today.  Not one topping ten minutes in ice time and not one topping more than four points.  Can you honestly tell me that these players have an impact on their team or on the game?  Yes, there are certainly players that can have an impact on the game in eight minutes of ice time.  Those players are also the ones that are atop the leaders in points or even in hits or even in plus/minus rating.  But the honest truth is that the majority of enforcers in the NHL are nothing more than liabilities on the ice.

But fighting does have a place in the NHL.  Looking at the new rule changes that the Board of Governors are thinking about instituting, I whole-heartedly agree with the decision to give anything that could be construed as a “staged fight” a 10-minute game misconduct.  What I do not agree with, however, is the NHL’s decision to attempt to negate fights after a big, clean hit.

Think about it.  Hockey is an emotional game and the majority of fights in hockey are spurred on by emotion.  Some of the most memorable are as well.  But what the NHL is trying to do here is nothing more than a token attempt to “clean up” fighting, and a poor one at that.  If a player gets caught by a big, clean hit, he should certainly have to answer for it.  Now I’m not talking about those big hits where the player gets knocked over the boards or gets plowed behind the net or anything where the player gets hit and pops back up.  I’m talking the Brandon Sutter type hits, where the players gets run through cleanly and, consequently, is not able to get back up immediately and return the favor.

There are players on all teams whose job description, quite frankly, is to check.  Some have talent past that, some are solely used for checking purposes.  Just like fighting, hitting is part of the game.  The problem I have with the NHL’s proposed rule change is that the team has no recourse in these situations.  The opposing player does not have to pay any price for running around, hitting anything that moves.  Clean or not, it is a dangerous precedent to allow players to run around, hitting anything and everything and not have to answer for doing so.

Look at the fights that are spurred on by emotion.  Jarome Iginla vs. Vincent Lecavalier?  The Buffalo Sabres vs. the Ottawa Senators?  Brent Burns vs. Chris Kunitz?  Emotion can make a fight, just as lack of emotion can break it…Just as with hockey.  Animosity in a fight can lead to an absolutely brilliant brawl; not two heavyweights who can barely skate holding each other up for 30 seconds.

My thought?  Take the staged stuff out of the game.  Force those players to evolve or be forced out of the NHL.  Let emotion rule the fights; not two players just trying to get their minute in the spotlight for the game.

Luck ‘o the Irish; Wild Win in OT

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Last night’s game was anything but predictable.  Maybe it was the haze of inebriation that was hanging over the St. Paul crowd, many of whom had been going since 8 am.  Maybe it was a lone home game amongst a streak of road games.  Maybe it was just what comes with a division rivalry.  Any way you slice it, though, it was a very unpredictable game.

The puck was bouncing all over the place last night, for better or worse for both teams.  The puck hopped over sticks, under skates, between legs, off of heads.  In otherwords, the puck hopped everywhere that couldn’t result in a scoring chance.  So bizarre and unpredictable were the bounces that there was even one point in time where Colorado forward Ben Guite was sliding on his backside, trying to touch up on a delayed penalty call and he couldn’t get the stick on the puck, despite the fact that it was right at his feet.

The goals were no different.  With four goals scored in regulation, the hockey gods were certainly toying with goalies Niklas Backstrom and Peter Budaj.  For the first goal of the game, a Cody McLeod shot somehow managed to pop off of the ice, bounce off of defenseman Kurtis Foster’s helmet and land in the net, behind Backstrom.  The second saw a Martin Skoula slapshot get awkwardly re-directed by Stephane Veilleux off of the far post and past a sliding Budaj.  The third saw Ryan Smyth get a deflection past Backstrom; nothing odd until you add in the fact that the puck had already been deflected once; right onto Smyth’s stick by a defender.  The final goal of regulation saw Eric Belanger use absolutely every part of his body to keep the puck in the zone, before poking it to Dan Fritsche, who set up Nick Schultz on the halfboards whose shot got deflected past Budaj by Wojtek Wolski.

A strange game indeed.

No one can say that the Wild didn’t shoot the puck last night, however.  The team took a staggering 66 shots (29 of which made it on net) and controlled play for a good portion of the game (save for an 18 minute stretch where the team was outshot by Colorado 15-1).  The team’s lack of scoring was maddening at times; however, one can’t deny that they were trying their hardest to get pucks on net.  The Avs were simply doing a fantastic job of collapsing around and protecting Budaj and just not letting these shots through.

The win last night was especially inspiring for a few reasons.  First, it was Kurtis Foster’s first game back from injury and, I’ve got to say, he looked rusty by he looked good.  He showed why the team had missed him on the blueline, as he was a solid defensive presence all night long and he continued to fire pucks towards the net (though every single one of his shots ended up blocked).  The team broke a four game skid by coming from behind twice and putting down one of the league’s best shootout teams (the Avs were 9-1 in the shootout coming into this game).  Most importantly, the team did something that they haven’t done much since the beginning of the season.  They gutted out a win in a game that they did not play particularly well in. 

Despite not playing particularly well, the team got two points.  If the team makes the playoffs, one would hope that it would not be on the back of many more performances like this; but, in the grand scheme of things, no one will remember how the team played last night…Just the outcome.

Random Notes

  • Cal Clutterbuck was one of the unsung heros of last night’s game.  He played his usual, high energy game, contributed four hits and had one of the best moves I’ve ever seen a player in a Wild sweater make.
  • Niklas Backstrom looked fantastic in net last night.  Two fluke goals got by him, but otherwise he was spectacular.  He also reversed his shootout fortunes by stopping two of the best shootout men in the league in Milan Hejduk and Marek Svatos.
  • It was great to see Fozzie back on the ice.  He hasn’t played much this season and has been rusty when he has, but I would love to see the Wild take a chance on him for next season with a one year contract.
  • I continue to be impressed by the play of Dan Fritsche and Peter Olvecky.  Unfortunately, Olvecky will likely be a casualty upon the return of Marian Gaborik, but both players are playing absolutely fantastic and both seem primed to try to stick with the team past this season.  The biggest thing that stands out to me with these two is that they are both big, strong and both seem to have a nose for the net.
  • Martin Skoula was quite possibly the Wild’s best defender last night.  He broke up multiple scoring chances by the Avs, played with a physical edge like we’re not used to out of him and created plays in the offensive zone.
  • The Wild now sit just one point out of 8th (which will surely change by Friday) and are going into New Jersey to face one of the hottest teams in the league.  It’s going to be a tough game, but the Wild typically gets up for games against the top teams in the league, so it will be interesting to see how they respond.

Clutter-watch 2009
NHL Hits Record: 311 (Dustin Brown)
Clutterbuck: 290
Games Remaining: 12
Magic Number: 21

And remember…You can’t spell Calder without CAL!