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The Depth Chart and Other Randomness

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Depth Chart
Earlier today, Mike Russo of the Star-Tribune posted what will be the Wild’s depth chart if it starts the season with the way the roster is now:

Goalie 
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding
Barry Brust
Anton Khudobin

LD-RD
Kim Johnsson-Brent Burns
Nick Schultz-Marek Zidlicky
Greg Zanon-Shane Hnidy
John Scott-Jaime Sifers
Tyler Cuma-Justin Falk
Clayton Stoner-Jamie Fraser
Marco Scandella-Maxim Noreau

LW-C-RW
Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Martin Havlat
Owen Nolan-James Sheppard-Pierre-Marc Bouchard (RW until training camp)
Antti Miettinen-Eric Belanger-Cal Clutterbuck
Colton Gillies-Kyle Brodziak-Derek Boogaard
Petr Kalus-Benoit Pouliot-Craig Weller
Robbie Earl-Morten Madsen-Danny Irmen
Matt Kassian-Cody Almond-Carson McMillan

First of all, if you haven’t checked out Mike Russo’s blog and you’re a Wild fan, shame on you.  It’s one of the best resources for all things Wild out there.  Click here to go there.  Bookmark it, scour it daily and above all thank him for his amazing coverage of the Wild!

Anyway, off my soapbox for the moment.

Looking at this depth chart, the thing that immediately jumps out at me is not the center position.  A lot has been made of our depth (or lack thereof) down the middle.  In looking at the team, however, we’ve got five potential pivots on our roster, and that’s not including Colton Gillies, Owen Nolan or Benoit Pouliot.  Throw those two into the mix and we could have as many as eight players on the opening day that could be capable of anchoring a line in the middle.

The thing that really jumps out at me is our lack of depth at left wing.  After Nolan, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen, the talent level really drops off.  This isn’t a knock on Gillies; however, we have a serious lack of skill and depth on the left side and, honestly, on the wing in general. 

To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, is our talent on defense and in nets.  Our top-six defensemen could be the best top-six that the team has had.  The additions of Zanon and Hnidy give the team two reliable, physical anchors on the blueline and will force opposing teams to keep their heads up.  Meanwhile, expect Scott and Sifers to compete for the seventh spot in camp, most likely with Scott winning the battle.  That’s not to say, however, that our youth could not come in and surprise.  With Cuma, Falk, Stoner and Scandella in the wings, there is a good chance that Scott and Sifers may not be foregone conclusions at the 7 and 8 slot.  It will take a lot for any of these four to make the squad, however.  Of the four, Stoner probably has the best shot as this could be his make it or break it year, but make no mistake — the Wild’s top 7 are pretty much set.

Olvecky Signs in Nashville
Joel Ward, Ryan Jones and now Olvecky?  Those Tennessee boys sure do like Wild prospects. 

In all honesty, I think that Olvecky has a fantastic chance to make the Nashville squad next season right out of camp.  Olvecky is a big body with a lot of untapped talent to boot, and he performed admirably for the Wild in a limited role with the team in the handful of games he played for us last season.

He really started to come into his own last season and seems like he could be the type of player that Barry Trotz will really love.  For $600K and a two-way contract, I’d take Olvecky any day of the week.  A good depth pick up by the Preds.

Qualifying Offers Signed
The Wild had a few players of their own signed as well.

Restricted free agents Benoit Pouliot, Clayton Stoner, Danny Irmen and Robbie Earl all signed their qualifying offers and it seems as if the lot of them (with the exception of Pouliot) could see another year playing in the minors.  Earl and Irmen both have too many players in front of them to have a shot at making the squad (that is, barring a spectacular camp from either) and Stoner will have to do some serious damage in camp to work his way up the depth chart.

Injuries do happen, though, and we could very easily see one of them get a cup of coffee in the NHL and do what Cal Clutterbuck did last season and not let go.

In addition, Russo reports that the Wild could be close to signing Duncan Milroy and Joe DiSalvatore to plug some holes in their minor league system.

Fletcher Working Trade Market
There are a lot of people who are getting scared by the Wild’s seeming lack of movement this off season.

Those fans are the Chicken Littles of the fanbase.

While there are some quality players out there, there really aren’t any players that would meet any immediate needs for us.  I mentioned Mats Sundin, Robert Lang and Mike Comrie previously, but Sundin likely doesn’t have much more tread on his tires, Lang is rumored (or already has) to jump ship to the KHL and Comrie, well, let’s just say I don’t want to sign a player for his girlfriend.  In addition to those players, there are players such as Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora left over.  Undoubtedly, these players could make an impact on the Wild roster, but would they really fit?

In the case of Tanguay, he’s a tremendous talent, but he’s also been pigeonholed as a playmaker — of which, the Wild have many.  Sykora would be a cheap, effective sniper, but do the Wild want to sink the money it would take to get him on an aging player?

Bottom line is that the best route for the team to improve, at this point, is the route that Fletcher is taking — trades.

There are many top flight forwards that have been presumed available via trade.  Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins, Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators, Jonathan Cheechoo of the San Jose Sharks, even Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane have always been rumored to be available.

To be honest, the names remaining in free agency don’t even hold a candle to a lot of these names.  I’d much rather have a Kessel, Heatley, Sharp or Kane over any of those available — regardless of the assets we have to give up for them.

The bottom line is that the Wild are far from done, in my opinion.  But Fletcher has said all along that he’s not afraid to go late into the summer with a less than full roster to give himself the flexibility that he needs to get the players it takes to make this a winning team.

So…

Fear not Chicken Little.  The sky is not falling.  With a little patience, we could have a playoff team yet.

Wild Schedule Released

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For a complete version, click here.

The NHL has released the schedules for the upcoming season today.  Here are some of the highlights for the Wild. 

  • The Wild’s season opener will be on October 3, against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
  • Their home opener will be against one of Chuck Fletcher’s former teams, the Anaheim Ducks, on October 6.
  • The team starts the year with a very road-heavy schedule, playing nine of their first fourteen games on the road.
  • The Wild play fifteen sets of back-to-back games.  In other words, 37% of their games are back-to-back sets.
  • Marian Gaborik returns to Minnesota on October 30, while Jacques Lemaire returns on January 2.
  • The team will play home-and-home series against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Carolina.
  • Three of the team’s last five games are on the road against Division Rivals.
  • Todd Richards will return to San Jose on October 10, Martin Havlat will return to Chicago on October 26 and Chuck Fletcher will return to Pittsburgh on October 31.
  • Training camp will open on September 13 and pre-season games will be announced at a later date.

An Update of Sorts

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Since there hasn’t been much (read: any) Wild news to report recently, I just felt that I should inform you all that I am writing for Hockey Primetime once again.  All of my Wild news will still be contained here on Wild Nation; however, I will be posting all of my NHL articles on there for the time being.  For those interested, here are the links:

HPT Western Conference Predictions: #3 Vancouver vs. #4 Chicago
HPT Western Conference Predictions: #2 Detroit vs. #8 Anaheim
HPT Eastern Conference Predictions: #1 Boston vs. #6 Carolina
HPT Eastern Conference Predictions: #2 Washington vs. #4 Pittsburgh
Masterton Candicates Announced
Canucks Stave Off Comeback; Win Game 1

Playoff Picture

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Where’s Jim Mora when you need him?

Playoffs?!?  Playoffs!!?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the Playoffs Started Today – 3/12/09

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It’s that time of the year.  The time when every point matters.  The time where the difference between losing in regulation and losing in overtime could mean a playoff spot.  Both conferences are jam-packed, especially towards the bottom, so we’re going to keep an eye on potential first round match ups and even do a little prognostication as to how the teams match up.  We’ll also keep an eye on who’s on the outside looking in.

And here…we…go…

Eastern Conference
(1) Boston Bruins vs. (8) Florida Panthers – This is a pretty intriguing match up for the first round.  You’ve got the Bruins, who have been struggling recently against the Panthers who have been one of the biggest surprises of the season.  The Bruins struggles have been in large part to the disappearing acts of Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, as well as some inconsistency with the rest of their offense and the Panthers are a scrappy team that may thrive on the close quarters and pressure of the playoffs.  All told, though, it’s hard to think that the Bruins couldn’t pull out a seven game series in this one.  Advantage Boston.

(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Carolina Hurricanes – If I’m the Devils, Carolina is the absolute last team I would want to face in the first round.  The ‘Canes are buzzing right now and the acquisition of Erik Cole has re-energized Eric Staal.  On the other hand, the Devils have a fresh Martin Brodeur and one of the most dynamic group of forwards in the league.  This series could be an instant classic, with both teams having unlimited amounts of energy as well as fresh and re-energized superstars.  Brodeur ultimately gives the Devils the edge in just about any series, but this one would be fun to watch.  Advantage New Jersey.

(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) Pittsburgh Penguins – Is it just me or would this be the NHL marketing department’s dream come true?  I can’t think of a more compelling match up for the first round and the only thing that I can think of that would be better is if the two teams met in the Conference Finals.  The Pens are the hottest team in the league, while the Caps are, well, the Caps.  The animosity between these two teams has continued to grow throughout the season and a playoff series between the two would send it over the top.  This is also a series that could go either way.  It’s hard to pick a clear cut winner in this one.  Draw.

(4) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (5) Montreal Canadiens – To round out the first round, a Philly/Montreal series?  This could ultimately be some pretty exciting hockey in the first round.  The Flyers were the team that knocked the Habs out of the first round last season and don’t think that the Habs or their fans have forgotten it.  This is another series that could make for an instant classic; mostly because of how well these two teams match up against one another.  Looking at this, it’s very hard to pick a team that would have a distinct advantage, but Philly’s physical game could easily put them over the top.  Advantage Philadelphia.

On The Outside Looking In: With just 15 games remaining in the season, a big part of the Eastern Conference is already eliminated (not necessarily mathmatically, but realistically).  The two that remain in contention are the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers.  Of those two teams, the Rangers have the most realistic chance of supplanting the Panthers in the 8th seed, seeing as how they are one point behind.  Both teams have struggled recently, with the Sabres losing Ryan Miller to injury and the Rangers having to be broken into a new coach, so it’s likely that the way the playoffs sit now could easily be how they sit come the end of the regular season.

Western Conference
(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Nashville Predators – Once again, the Preds are making a hard charge at the playoffs late in the season.  Meanwhile, the Sharks are, well, the Sharks.  They have struggled lately, but are still a strong team and, though he has had a sub-par season by his standars, Evgeni Nabokov is one of the top goalies in the league.  It is pretty hard to think that the Preds could give the Sharks a run for their money as they did with the Wings last season, but if the stars align, anything is possible in the playoffs.  Advantage San Jose.

(2) Detroit Red Wings vs. (7) Edmonton Oilers – The last time the Wings and Oilers met in the first round, the Wings were bounced unceremoniously en route to the Oilers magical run to the Cup finals.  Don’t expect that to happen this time.  The Red Wings are one of the most talented teams in the league and, despite not having a designated “enforcer,” have a great deal of sand paper on their roster.  Meanwhile, this Oilers team is nowhere near as gritty as the team that contended for the Cup.  The Wings should have no problem in this series.  Advantage Detroit.

(3) Calgary Flames vs. (6) Columbus Blue Jackets – This series is a crap shoot in that there’s really no telling how the majority of Columbus’s roster is going to react to playoff hockey.  They could take to it like a fish to water and fly, or they could flounder.  Looking at the Flames roster, however, it’s very difficult to bet against this team as they have a roster that is even better than the last time they reached the finals.  As hard as it is to discount a team coached by Ken Hitchcock, you can’t look past the talent and depth of the Flames roster.  Advantage Calgary.

(4) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (5) Vancouver Canucks – This is an interesting series.  The Blackhawks are certainly more talented, but have limited playoff experience, while the Canucks have multiple players on their roster that have been involved in deep Cup runs.  The wildcard for the Canucks, however, is Roberto Luongo.  Time and again he has proven that he’s one of the best in the game, but he’s also only played in the playoffs once (though he was dazzling).  Ultimately, you’ve got to believe that the ‘Hawks talent would win out of the ‘Nucks experience in a seven game series.  Advantage Chicago.

On the Outside Looking In: There are four teams within three points of the playoffs and and one more within four.  The Wild, Stars and Ducks all are within one point of 7th, the Blues are just two points back from them and the Kings are just one back from the Blues.  In a tight playoff race, the extra points can make or break a season.  The team that could have the best shot of squeaking in is the Wild.  They hold a game in hand over both Dallas and Anaheim as well as Nashville and they hold the tiebreaker over Edmonton.  The Wild are a good team mired by inconsistency and they will be getting their most dangerous offensive weapon back soon.  It’s no stretch to think that they could make a solid run at the playoffs in the last weeks of the season.  Both the Ducks and the Stars have been inconsistent at best of late, while the Blues and Kings have been streaky as well.  If one of these five teams finds any modicum of consistency, they could easily streak into the playoffs.