Archive for April 2009
First off, I’d like to thank you all for bearing with me over the last few days. My seven month old daughter had come down with something which necessitated my being gone for a few days. But never to fear…It’s the off season, so not a whole heck of a lot occurred over those last few days!
It’s been a big couple weeks for the Finnish netminder. First, his surgery was a huge success, leading Dr. Philippon to conclude that Backstrom will be ready to go in full in about 12 weeks. I don’t know all of the details, but apparently the cartilage damage was much less than the doctor had originally thought and the issues with Backstrom’s hip have been corrected by the surgery. Keep in mind that this is the same surgery that Marian Gaborik underwent during the season.
In addition to a successful surgery, Niklas Backstrom also became the third member of the Wild’s organization to be named a finalist for a voted-upon NHL end of the year award. The other two? Jacques Lemaire and Wes Walz for the Jack Adams and Selke trophies respectively. This is not the first hardware that Backstrom has won as a member of the Wild. In the ’06-’07 season, his rookie season, he walked away with the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for the league’s best save percentage and teamed with Manny Fernandez, winning the William M. Jennings Trophy, for the team with the least goals against.
Backstrom will have a tough time winning this award, however, as he will be going up against Boston’s Tim Thomas and Columbus’s Steve Mason.
My personal thoughts on this is that Backstrom will come in second in the voting. Backstrom was certainly the Wild’s best player, and Josh Harding’s 3-9-1 record on the season certainly helps Backstrom’s cause, but let’s not forget that Harding posted extremely impressive stats during those 13 games as well. The way I look at it is like this:
- Without Mason, the Jackets miss the playoffs AND are likely to have a lottery pick in the top six.
- Without Backstrom, the Wild are likely to have a lottery pick in the top ten.
- Without Thomas, the Bruins probably wouldn’t have won the conference, but still likely would have made the playoffs.
To me, what that equates to is that Mason will get the Calder-Vezina sweep this season (and, honestly, I think there’s a pretty good argument for him getting the Hart as well, but that’s neither here nor there.) Backstrom had a phenomenal season and, let’s be honest…If the Wild make the playoffs, there’s no question that he’s up there for the frontrunner. The bottom line is that, as important as he was this season to our team, Mason was just a touch more important in their run.
Aeros Advance to Round Two
Leave it to the farm team of a Minnesota team to take every opportunity to give their fans more hockey. Houston won game seven against the Peoria Rivermen 5-2 on the strength of goals by Krys Kolanos, Marco Rosa and Maxim Noreau as well as empty netters by Corey Locke and Mitch Love. Goaltender Anton Khudobin was credited with the win, saving 19 or 21 shots.
Houston advances now to play the first seeded Milwaukee Admirals in what should prove to be an intriguing match up; at least from a front office point of view. Milwaukee is the farm team for Nashville, making it Craig Leipold’s current farm team vs. his former farm team. In other words, two candidates for the Minnesota Wild GM position (Tom Lynn and Paul Fenton) fighting it out for GM supremacy, though I doubt this series would be the deciding factor in one or the other getting the job.
Houston has three of the top 20 scoring leaders thus far for the playoffs, with Corey Locke third in scoring (4-5-9), Matt Beaudoin sixth (2-6-8) and Krys Kolanos sixteenth (2-4-6). Meanwhile, Khudobin is trucking along with a 4-3 record, a 2.45 GAA and a .906 Sv Pct, as well as one shutout. The most interesting stat? Corey Lock has 24 penalty minutes. Anyone care to explain that one to me??
Wild Sign Carson McMillian
The Wild also have signed another of their 2007 draft picks to an entry level deal. Carson McMillian of the Calgary Hitmen has been signed to a three-year, entry level deal. McMillian was in his fourth season with the Hitmen this season and recorded career highs in goals (31), assists (41), points (72) and penalty minutes (93). On top of that, he added seven game winners, five powerplay tallies and four shorties. It will be interesting to see how McMillian fares in Houston next season, as he is certainly an intriguing player for this organization (one that has rarely seen success at drafting in the later rounds).
There are two game sevens on the docket tonight and, honestly, does it get ANY better than a Game Seven in the NHL Playoffs? It’s win or go home for four teams and it’s going to be I-N-T-E-N-S-E!!! Now I typically shy away from predictions (for those unable to pick up on sarcasm through text, I’ll note it here), but I feel inclined to share my views on these two games.
2) Washington v. 7) NY Rangers – I made the observation a few days ago that, if any team is equipped to come back from a 3-1 defecit, the Capitals were certainly one of them. It took a few games for the Caps to realize that they can’t shoot at Lundqvist’s mattresses (and for Boudreau to realize that he can’t have Theodore in nets), but once the Caps got it figured out and started executing their gameplan, they started rolling. Torts will be back on the bench for the Rangers after his Game 5 hissy fit and, if I were a Caps fan, I wouldn’t relish sitting behind him because he’ll likely be packing for this one.
The Rangers Win If: They score first. If they can do that, they can tighten up around Lundqvist and clog up the neutral zone. In their three wins, the Rangers have proven that they can give the Caps fits when they do this. The Caps offensive stars need room to skate in order to be effective, and if the Rangers are protecting a lead, they can afford to tighten up and not give the Caps the space to skate
The Capitals Win If: They get to Lundqvist early and often. Not necessarily score, but pepper him with shots. He’s been pulled in two straight games and they can’t afford to let him gain any confidence. Crash the net, get in his way, do anything and everything they can to disrupt his game. If that means buzzing him and taking a goalie interference penalty early on, that’s what they have to do. Get in his head and this one’s over.
My Prediction: Washington 4 New York 2
(3) New Jersey Devils v. 6) Carolina Hurricanes – This series has been the epitome of even. Neither team has won more than one game in a row and only two of the six games have been decided by more than one goal. At the onset of the series, everyone expected this to come down to goaltending and, tonight, it will. Both Ward and Brodeur will be at their best and this game will be very, very tightly played.
The Devils Win If: Their offense shows up early. This team has an absolutely explosive offense. The problem is that they have been extremely inconsistent this series. One game, they’ll look like absolute world beaters; the next, they look like they couldn’t find the back of the net if it were the size of the broad side of a barn. If they come out of the gates ready to skate hard and ready to play, they’ll gain the advantage over Carolina. If they falter, though, Carolina will exploit this.
The ‘Canes Win If: Cam Ward plays like he did in Games 5 and 6. Ward is the catalyst for this team. If he’s playing well, this team gains confidence and can steamroll opponents. This team does not have the defense to protect Ward if he’s playing poorly and that can lead to a collapse if he is. A couple big saves early and Ward’s confidence will go through the roof. If this happens, it gets exponentially harder for the Devils to take ahold of this game and get any sort of momentum.
My Prediction: Carolina 3 New Jersey 2 (OT)
Goalie Niklas Backstrom will indeed have left hip surgery Friday in Vail. Brian Stensaas was on a conference call with acting GM Tom Lynn. He reports he has two cysts on the bony part of his hip.
Lynn says they won’t know how long he’ll be out until they operate. Worst case scenario, Stensaas says, could be four to six months!
But Lynn said the doctor cautions they can’t give a timetable yet. More from Stensaas in Wednesday’s paper.
Also, I hear Brent Burns is having shoulder surgery probably on Thursday.
This is in addition to Andrew Brunette having reconstructive knee surgery this off season and Derek Boogaard having shoulder surgery.
So what does this mean for the Wild? Well, if the prognosis for Backstrom truly is 4-6 months, that puts Backstrom back at the earliest, August 24th and at the latest October 24th. Knowing Backstrom, he will work his hardest to rehab and be back sooner, but this essentially makes the top priority for the new GM hammering out a deal for back up goalie Josh Harding.
If this is indeed the case, you can take Harding off of the table as a bargaining chip. That is, unless the new GM is suddenly stricken by Barry Brust-mania and believes that Brust can shoulder the load as an NHL starter. What this could do, however, is drive Harding’s stock through the roof. If Harding can perform like Backstrom did when he wrested the starting job away from Manny Fernandez a few years back, Harding could easily become a hot commodity among NHL teams.
The Search Begins
After being denied permission by Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs to speak with Dave Nonis, Wild owner Craig Leipold recieved permission from the Nashville Predators to speak with a couple of his old employees; Director of Hockey Operations Mike Santos and assistant GM Paul Fenton.
Leipold declined comment on them, ”just like I won’t comment on any of the other candidates.”
There are lots of candidates that have surfaced. These are just two that so far I know he’ll be allowed to talk with. I’m sure there are others. I’m working the phones.
Santos is in his third year in Nashville and is responsible in negotiating player contracts and preparing for salary arbitrations. He served as assistant GM for the New York Islanders from 1997-2002 and director of hockey operations for the Florida Panthers from 2002-03.
He was Commissioner and President of the North American Hockey League from 2003-06. He’s worked for USA Hockey and the NHL.
Fenton is in his third year as Nashville’s assistant GM after eight as the director of player personnel. He oversees the Predators’ amateur player development and managers the team’s pro and amateur scouting staffs. He’s also GM of the AHL Milwaukee Admirals.
Fenton, who played eight years in the NHL for seven teams and was a former Boston University standout, also spent five seasons working for the Anaheim Ducks.
It hasn’t happened yet, but another person I’d assume Leipold would request permission to speak with his Pittsburgh assistant GM Chuck Fletcher. He’s 41 with 16 years of experience. He’s immensely respected after years in Florida, Anaheim and Pittsburgh.
Remember, Leipold has a fabulous relationship with Penguins GM Ray Shero, who used to be assistant GM in Nashville.
In addition, the Wild have been denied permission to speak with Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill. Nill is under contract until 2010-11 and has a commitment in his contract to stay in Detroit. In fact, this quote was run in the Windsor Star when Toronto was inquiring about Nill’s availability.
The way we do things here, I’ve already got most of the responsibilities and input that a general manager would have. Ken [Holland] and I work really well together.
I’m comfortable, I’m well-compensated and I like the organization. I know which side my bread is buttered on.
You’ve got to love hockey guys. Doug Risebrough held his “exit presser” yesterday and held it at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub. Gotta love it.
Anyway, Russo had some snippets in his blog regarding the players and it just shows how well respected Risebrough was by his own players. Derek Boogaard had his fiancee drive to the pub after he literally just woke up from having shoulder surgery, just so that he could thank Risebrough for the opportunity and have a chance to say goodbye. Risebrough also spent some quality time with Marian Gaborik at the arena and went to Brent Burns’ home to meet with the youngster after the new broke regarding his concussion problems.
Again, on a personal level, I’m sad to see Risebrough go. He was a great guy, probably the nicest associated with the NHL that I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Part of me feels that he deserved a bit better treatment than he received from Leipold; however, that’s also Leipold’s perogative as the owner. It’s his team and he can run it as he sees fit.
On a business level, however, it was time for a change. Risebrough had become increasingly defensive about his decisions over the past few seasons and it seemed as if fans, management and players alike were all growing tired of his smug, “I know best” attitude. As disappointed as I am that it had to end like this, it certainly had to end.
In the transcript of the presser, however, there was one quote from Risebrough that really rings true to me.
I think the club, I believe the club is in really good shape, and I’ll tell you why. I think it’s got a good core of players. It’s got good youth. I think it’s got great flexibility in terms of the salary cap. It’s got lots of room this year, it’s got lots of room next year. So whether that means what do you want to do immediate signings or future signings, it’s all there. It’s got a great fan base that’s still in love with this team. So it’s going to be energized. I believe players that had poor years will rebound. I’m pretty comfortable to say the injuries aren’t going to be the same magnitude. So I think it’s a great opportunity for a manager and I think it’s a great opportunity for a coach. And I feel good about that. I made decisions on a regular basis for the right reasons, and the right reasons never included me. They never included me, they were always for the franchise. Now I can say, I didn’t always make the right decisions, but I did them for the right reasons. And I feel good about that.
That right there, to me, says it all. Whoever it is has a good base, but also has his work cut out for him. This is a solid team in need of a few key components to become a serious contender. I don’t think this team needs to be blown up and start from scratch again, but at the same time I don’t think that this team is ready to contend next season after all of this going on this off season. One thing’s for sure, though. It’s still an exciting time to be a Wild fan!
A few days prior, I outlined the season in review for the Wild’s forwards.
Now, it’s time for the back end of the team. Defense and goaltending. By all accounts, this was a Wild team whose defense had to be bailed out by their goaltender far, far too often. But this was also the first time that the Wild had multiple defensemen capable of putting points up on the board, so here we go with the review.
Marek Zidlicky – 3 – D | 76 GP, 12 – 30 – 42, -12: There are a couple things that are telling about Zidlicky’s first season in Minnesota. First, the man is a powerplay machine. Ten of his twelve goals game with the man advantage and, for the first time, gave the Wild a real, genuine threat with his shot from the point. The second, however, is that Zidlicky is also not known for his defense. He showed flashes of what he could do in the defensive end, but he is primarily known and kept for his abilities moving the puck and in the offensive zone. Zidlicky’s lack of size and his propensity to turnovers aggrivated Wild fans to no end, but there’s no denying the fact that he provided the Wild with a fantastic threat from the point. Grade: B
Marc-Andre Bergeron – 47 – D | 73 GP, 14 – 18 – 32, +5: When I look at Bergeron’s season, there’s one thing that pops to mind that really sums it all up. He was a plus?!? Look, Bergeron has a lot of skills that can be/are useful to an NHL team. It’s just that his defensive prowess is certainly not chief among them. While a force on the powerplay, Bergeron’s play in his own zone was inconsistent at best. He was often the victim of poor decision making and mistakes with the puck that caused the coaching staff and the fans to get a bit more grey hair on their heads. Overall, though, his offensive skill was something that we definitely needed from the blueline and he was one of the big reasons why our powerplay was as good as it was this season. Grade: B-
Brent Burns – 8 – D | 59 GP, 8 – 19 – 27, -7: It’s very hard to categorize Burns’s season, especially due to the fact that he was bounced around so much and because of the most recent news that he played his last six weeks of the season with a concussion. That said, Burns regressed a bit this season and the Wild management is largely the reason why. Everyone came into the season expecting a Mike Green-esque outburst from the young defenseman, but the flip flopping between forward and defense early in the season led to what could be called a mediocre season at best for the youngster. Grade: C
Kim Johnsson – 5 – D | 81 GP, 2 – 22 – 24, -3: Johnsson has his share of detractors in Minnesota, largely due to his contract and lack of offensive production. But looking at the current landscape for defensemen, his contract is not so outrageous in comparison to what other defensive defensemen are making; especially considering the fact that Johnsson has the ability to skate his way out of trouble and can provide some solid puck movement. Johnsson played in all situations for the Wild and was oftentimes matched up against teams’ top lines which makes his season all the more impressive. Grade: B+
Martin Skoula – 41 – D | 81 GP, 4 – 12 – 16, -12: Let’s just get the shocker out of the way right now. Martin Skoula was the Wild’s most dependable and most consistend defenseman all year. I know, I know what you’re thinking. “Human Sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…Mass hysteria!” (Author’s Note: A shiny penny for anyone who can name that movie.) Anyway, the bottom line is that Skoula had a very un-Skoula-like season on defense. He did not make the catastrophic mistakes that he had previously been known for and he made sound decisions with the puck and actually used his size. Grade: A-
Nick Schultz – 55 – D | 79 GP, 2 – 9 – 11, -4: Let’s get one thing out of the way here first. Nick Schultz will never be known for his offensive output. He’s never going to be a powerplay specialist. But what he does do is play against teams’ top lines night in and night out and shut them down more often than not. He’s not flashy, but he rarely makes mistakes and has become a staple on the Wild’s blueline. One area where I think he could excel a bit more, however, is his physical play. He’s not a small guy by any means, but he relies predominantly on his positioning to take players out of the play. While this is extremely effective, the Wild’s blueline has been severely lacking in its physicality in recent seasons. Schultz is one of those players that I would love to see step up that part of his game. Grade: B
Kurtis Foster – 26 – D | 10 GP, 1 – 5 – 6, +7: Okay. I’m going to be honest here. I was going to give Foster a “passing” grade, simply because he was out for the vast majority of the season and came back from a pretty harrowing injury. But that was before I actually looked at his stats. 6 points and plus-7 in 10 games is pretty darn impressive, let alone for someone returning from a serious injury. Let’s clear one thing up right away. Foster is never going to be a top-pairing, or even second-pairing defenseman. Quite simply, he’s a solid d-man who can play 15-17 minutes a night and contribute offensively. But that stat line at least gives him a little bump in his grade. Grade: B-
John Scott – 36 – D | 20 GP, 0 – 1 – 1, -1: Scott was recently rewarded for his solid play for the team with a one-year contract and, quite honestly, he deserved it. He came in and provided a physical presence on our blueline that we have never had and played quite admirably for us. His skating needs to improve for next season if he’s going to have a shot of playing any sort of regular minutes and he may be looked at to be Boogaard-Lite for us next season. Grade: C
Niklas Backstrom – 32 – G | 71 GP, 37-24-8, 2.33 GAA, .923 Sv %: Quite simply, on most nights Backstrom was the reason that we either a) won the game or b) were in the game. He was spectacular this season and played his way into a handsome contract extension. He also proved that he was one of the elite goalies in the league and should likely be in the running for the Vezina trophy. There’s not much more that you can say about his season apart from this, as he was the reason we were as close to the playoffs as we were. Grade: A
Josh Harding – 29 – G | 19 GP, 3-9-1, 2.21 GAA, .929 Sv %: You’ve got to feel for Harding. On any other team he’d likely be starting by now, but he just happens to be stuck behind Backstrom. Harding performed marvelously as the back up to Backstrom, though his wins and losses don’t necessarily reflect it. He is still growing in his game, but looks as if he could easily step up and be a starting goaltender if need be. Grade: B
So there you have it. The season grades for the defense and goaltenders. Check back here as I will have a season recap and my thoughts on this season in coming days!
The Wild has re-signed one of its unrestricted free agents.
In his first move as the acting general manager, Tom Lynn — who negotiated every contract anyway in his previous role as assistant GM — signed defenseman John Scott to a one-year, $550,000 contract.
The 6-foot-8 Scott had one assist in 20 games this season, providing a physical presence on a non-physical blue line.
The Wild’s other notable unsigned unrestricted free agents are Marian Gaborik, Martin Skoula, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Kurtis Foster and Stephane Veilleux.
A few days ago, this signing would have meant that the Wild have made a decision on one of their 5th or 6th d-men. Today, I’m not so sure. Assistant GM Tom Lynn has made this signing and it has been confirmed by Russo that this is a one-way contract. One thing that we do know is that Lynn might be on his way out in Minnesota and the team’s new GM may have a different opinion ofScott’s abilities. One thing is for sure, though. Scott is a physical presence on the team’s blueline; something that they desperately need.
Now don’t get me wrong; I love the big guy. He brought something to our team that we have never had before and he actually made forwards skate through the neutral zone with their heads up. Keeping that in mind, however, Scott is not the world’s greatest skater nor is he very fleet of foot. All of this adds up to the fact that he might be the odd man out if the team begins playing a more up tempo style of hockey. Although he’s never going to be more than a third-pairing defenseman, Ithink that Scott can contribute a lot to this team in the way of a physical presence and I think that he could find himself logging regular minutes next season in the right system.
With this signing in mind, here is our current line up without any of our free agents:
I will continue to provide updated rosters as the Wild sign and trade players.
With Jacques Lemaire stepping down as Head Coach and Doug Risebrough now on the outs as General Manager, Owner Craig Leipold needs to put together an intensive search for the new General Manager of the team. There are some pretty good odds that he will look both within and around the NHL for his candidates and you would have to imagine that he already has a good idea of who he’d like to approach.
That said, the man that Leipold should offer the job to is right underneath his nose.
At least…He was until a few days ago.
That’s right. The man who would be perfect for the job is none other than former coach, Jacques Lemaire. This may not necessarily be the popular decision for Wild fans, but the bottom line is that Lemaire is best suited for this job.
Why you ask? Simple. First, there is absolutely no one in the league that knows the personnel that the Wild currently have at their disposal better than Lemaire. He knows what the team needs, he knows what will work with who the Wild currently have and he is one of the best hockey minds in the league. Second, he is a winner through and through. With how used to winning he is, you’ve got to think that the Wild’s mediocrity over the last few seasons (yes, they were mediocre in winning the Northwest Title) has eaten away at him like nothing else. He wants to win and he genuinely cares about the franchise. You can see this in his press conference, where he did not step aside because he was done coaching, but he stepped aside because “it was time.” That, to me, speaks to someone who is acting in the franchise’s best interests.
Lemaire spoke highly of the organization in his press conference and it was clear that it was going to be hard for him to leave. While his tenure as coach is certainly over, I don’t believe that his tenure with the Wild has to be. There’s no doubt that, if Leipold hasn’t already contacted him, he should. Lemaire knows the game better than almost anyone else in the league and he certainly knows the team better than anyone else in the league. It’s also evident that he knows what the players are looking for in a coach as well, as evidenced by his comments after announcing that he was stepping down.
Who better to provide the team with what everyone’s clamoring for than the man who got them to where they are?
I don’t know who Leipold has contacted or will contact. But I do know that, if he’s interested, the job should be Lemaire’s.
Update: Russo has reported that Lemaire has said that he’s not interested in the position. I don’t know who is going to replace Risebrough, but one thing is for certain; they’re going to have their work cut out for them.
According to two outside NHL sources, Wild GM Doug Risebrough has been fired by owner Craig Leipold. It is unconfirmed inside the organization.
Leipold was said to have agonized over the decision but decided, in the final analysis, that a change in direction was called for.
Here’s the memo from the team:
Minnesota Wild Owner, Craig Leipold, announced today that the organization will not renew the contract of President and General Manager, Doug Risebrough, beyond the 2008-2009 season.
“The entire Minnesota Wild organization is forever indebted to Doug for his substantial efforts in establishing this franchise’s solid foundation and winning tradition,” said Leipold. “The positive impact of Doug’s service will be felt for many years to come. We wish Doug the very best.”
The search for a new General Manager will begin immediately. The first order of business for the incoming General Manager will be to select the Team’s next Head Coach.
Until a replacement is found, Assistant General Manager Tom Lynn, will be acting-General Manager.
Personally, I’m sad to see Risebrough go. I have had the pleasure of meeting with and talking to him at length, and I’ll tell you that you’re not going to find a better person in the NHL. He’s personable, friendly and very fun to talk to.
On a business level, however, you had to see the writing on the wall with the departure of Jacques Lemaire. It started with Craig Leipold buying the team. At that point, the guard began to change. Lemaire’s departure was another signal that the team was going to begin heading in a different direction, and this latest occurrance cements it. This is a team that is going to look quite different come next season.
The question at hand is now not who will be the head coach for next season, but who will hire the head coach next season.
My guess is that Leipold already has himself a short list and, other than Jay Feaster and JFJ I’m not sure who would be available for the GM position so I won’t speculate as to who he is going to be looking at. One thing is for sure, however. This marks a new era for the Wild; 100%.
Risebrough has come under fire recently for not being able to land the “big fish.” Whether that was a product of perception, with Lemaire as the coach, or a product of Risebrough not being willing to take big risks the fact remains that this was a change that needed to be made and in a sweeping manner. I’ll have more on this as it unfolds, but there’s no doubt that it’s an extremely exciting time to be a Wild fan and this should be a very eventful off season for the team.
Thank you to Nick in New York and Ms. Conduct for all of their help on this. It wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Without further adieu, here it is. Episode one of Wild Nation!