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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.
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Backstrom For Vezina; Aeros Advance

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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!

Niklas Backstrom
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). 

Seventh Heaven
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)

Updated: Who Replaces Risebrough?

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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.

Written by bcbenzel

April 16, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Breaking News: Risebrough Fired

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Per Russo,

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.

Written by bcbenzel

April 16, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Season in Review: The Forwards

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The season has ended and Jacques Lemaire has stepped down as the coach of the Minnesota Wild.  A big weekend in Minnesota hockey, to be sure.  So today, true to my word, I will begin my season review of the team; first, starting with the forwards.

Mikko Koivu – 9 – C | 79 GP, 20 – 47 – 67, +2:In a word, Koivu’s season was okay.  Most likely, more was expected of him both by himself and by the fans, however he showed marked improvement over his last couple seasons and looks as if he will continue to improve towards next season.  He certainly showed flashes of brilliance; however, he was mired by inconsistency late in the season, at one point going eight games without even registering a point in what could have been considered the period of the season where the Wild needed him most.  In all, Koivu had a good season, but was not what was needed by the team.  Grade: B

Andrew Brunette – 15 – L | 80 GP, 22 – 28 – 50, -5: Let’s be fair.  Bruno was exactly what Wild fans expected.  He did everything that the team expected from him and was a true leader on and off the ice.  I don’t think that anyone expected him to be a 80 point scorer, but he was expected to be steady and he was exactly that.  He munches minutes, he controls the puck and he’s solid in his own zone.  I’m sure he would have liked to be more consistent, as there were multiple long stretches where he failed to register a point, but overall he was one of the top players on the team.  Grade: A-

Pierre-Marc Bouchard – 96 – C | 71 GP, 16 – 30 – 46, -5:Fresh off of a new contract, Bouchard struggled for the first half of the season.  He struggled to find his groove in the offensive zone and was tentative for a lot of the season.  Once he hit his stride, however, he was as good as any player in the league.    After the All Star break, Bouchard turned it on and was one of the top players on the team.  As with Bruno and Koivu, however, finding any sort of consistency was a struggle for Bouchard and his season could have been much better than it was with some sort of consistency.  Grade: B-

Owen Nolan – 11 – R | 59 GP, 25 – 20 – 45, +5:I was as thrilled as anybody that the Wild had signed “Cowboy” during the off season.  Nolan has always been one of my favorite players and to see him come to the Wild was something that I absolutely loved.  While injuries slowed his season, Nolan was one of the big reasons why the loss of Marian Gaborik for the majority of the season was not an unmitigated disaster for the Wild.  He came on with a punch that I don’t think anyone expected from him and immediately became a fan favorite.  Despite playing injured for most of the season, Nolan was one of the Wild’s best players and the only thing that holds his final evaluation back is the fact that he was injured for a good chunk of the year.  Grade: B+

Antti Miettinen – 20 – R | 82 GP, 15 – 29 – 44, -1:I think if you asked any Wild fan what they expected from Antti Miettinen, they would have said something like the old Antti that the Wild had (of the Laaksonen variety).  I don’t, however, think that they would have responded by saying that the young Finn would be a 40+ point scorer.  “Mittens,” as he has so lovingly been dubbed by Wild fans, came out like gangbusters and, eventually, cooled off later in the season but his impact on the Wild’s roster was immediate.  He brought a hard-working, defensively sound presence to the team that complemented the line up that they had perfectly.  He meshed well with countryman Mikko Koivu, but also fit into other roles quite easily.  His performance was a pleasant surprise on a team that did not have many this season.  Grade: A-

Eric Belanger – 25 – C | 79GP, 13 – 23 – 36, -5: One thing can be said of Belanger.  He is certainly consistent.  What is frustrating about him, however, is that you occasionally see flashes of brilliance that make it maddening to watch him at times.  There were times this season where Belanger was a magician in the offensive zone and there were times where he was brilliant in the defensive zone.  Belanger is a checking line center that was thrust into a second line center role this season and performed admirably.  He plays with a passion for the game that is hard to miss.  The trouble is that the team didn’t need him to produce like a checking line center this season.  They needed him to step up his game and produce like a second line center; and this, he did not do.  Grade: C

James Sheppard – 51 – C | 82 GP, 5 – 19 – 24, -14: By all accounts, James Sheppard was a massive disappointment this season.  His performance towards the end of last season had Wild fans and management alike optimistic that he might step into the limelight and take over a larger role on the team.  Sheppard failed to step up to the task and was such a disappointment that he even began to see regular shifts with the fourth line or be benched in important moments.  The only thing that salvaged his season was, again, a late season push in which the youngster began to show his true potential, notching 1 goal and 7 assists for 8 points in eleven games and a +6 over this time.  Grade: D

Marian Gaborik – 10 – R | 17 GP, 13 – 10 – 23, +3:In what will likely be Gaborik’s last season with the team, fans are left wondering what could have been.  In just 17 games, Gaborik proved his worth to the team by lighting a fire under himself.  Not only did he lead the team to a 7-3-1 record down the stretch, but also gave Wild fans one of the most electrifying 11-game stretches in recent memory.  This stretch saved Gaborik’s season from being a bitter disappointment; however, 65 games missed cannot be ignored.  Grade: D+

Stephane Veilleux – 19 – L | 81GP, 13 – 10 – 23, -17:Again, in what will likely be Veilleux’s last season with the Wild, the scrappy winger put together a fairly solid campaign.  After his outburst at the end of last season, however, the team was certainly expecting more from him and he simply didn’t deliver on this early in the season.  As he approaches free agency, he may have to reevaluate his standing with the team as he will likely not be back.  Grade: C-

Cal Clutterbuck – 22 – R | 78 GP, 11 – 7 – 18, -5: Cal Clutterbuck came to Minnesota, leaving his car parked in the airport parking lot; thinking that he would be back in a few days.  A couple months later, he was told to find a place to live.  That pretty much sums up the rookie’s first full NHL season that made him a cult hero in Minnesota and even incited a grassroots Calder Trophy campaign.  In his rookie season, he broke the NHL hits record and showed some offensive flair as well, leaving Wild fans hopeful for the years to come.  Grade: A+

Dan Fritsche – 49 – L | 50 GP, 5 – 8 – 13, -5: Fritsche was a press box mainstay in New York, but quickly became a checking and fourth line mainstay for the Wild.  With many fans disappointed that the Wild simply did not claim him off waivers, Fritsche quietly came out and made an impact for the Wild and endeared himself to the fans.  A hard worker and a solid player, Fritsche will be looked towards to play a larger role on the team if he stays in Minnesota.  Grade: C+

Benoit Pouliot – 67 – L | 37 GP, 5 – 6 – 11, +1: Pouliot was another of the Wild’s young disappointments this season.  Expected to come in and help complement Marian Gaborik, Pouliot came out and showed flashes of brilliance during his stay with the Wild.  Unfortunately, these flashes of brilliance were punctuated by stretches of apathy by the youngster.  If he remains with the team, he will likely be on his last shot to make the big show.  Grade: F

Peter Olvecky – 28 – L | 31 GP, 2 – 5 – 7, +1: The young Slovak may have played his way into a short one-way contract for next season with the way that he played in his limited call up.  Solid two-way play and some solid offensive zone play even led to the youngster getting time on special teams as the season wore down.  If he stays in Minnesota, next season he will be looked at to show some more of his offensive talent.  Grade: C

Colton Gillies – 18 – L | 45 GP, 2 – 5 – 7, -2:This season was to be a learning season for young Colton, and learn he did.  A relentlessly hard worker, Gillies was among the last off every practice, even when he was playing and soaked up all he could from the Wild’s extremely experienced coaching staff.  Gillies wasn’t expected to do much this season, but next will be where the rubber meets the road.  Grade: C

Krystofer Kolanos – 39 – C | 21 GP, 3 – 3 – 6, +3: Kolanos showed flashes of why he was a first round pick this season, but was ultimately deemed to inconsistent to remain with the team.  Should he be re-signed, he will likely need to show more consistent offensive production to stick with the team.  Grade: C-

Derek Boogaard – 24 – L | 51 GP, 0 – 3 – 3, +3: Much to the surprise of many, Boogaardcame out this season and actually tried to play hockey.  In fact, the big man didn’t even break 100 PIMs or just the second time in his career.  Hampered by injuries again, this fan favorite didn’t stand out in any way; surprisingly, not even fighting.  Grade: C

Craig Weller – 12 – R | 36 GP, 1 – 2 – 3, -3:Weller was slated to be “Boogaard Lite” for this team; however, he was unable to stick with the team for any extended period of time.  Often scratched, Weller simply did not impress enough to earn consistent ice time and was regularly a mainstay on the bench next to the back up goaltender when he was dressed.  Grade: F

So there you have it.  The season review for the forwards.

Up Next: Defense and Goaltending

Also, keep it tuned here tonight for the premiere of Wild Nation, Hockey Primetime’s official Minnesota Wild radio show!

Great End to a Disappointing Season

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14 goals in two games, leading to two comback victories in one exciting weekend of Wild hockey.

Unfortunately for the Wild, they were eliminated from playoff contention just a few short hours after dispatching the Nashville Predators 8-4.  The St. Louis Blues knocked off the Columbus Blue Jackets shortly after the Wild’s victory, leaving the team’s playoff fate squarely in the hands of one of the teams that the Wild have slowly become heated rivals with after their playoff series two seasons ago.

The Dallas Stars made a valiant effort to keep the Wild in the hunt, but to no avail as the Anaheim Ducks were victorious 4-3 in a shootout.

So Wild fans must now say goodbye to the boys wearing Iron Range Red; at least for another summer.  More importantly, however, is the fact that it is very likely that Wild fans must also say goodbye to the two people that have been the faces of the franchise since Day One.

Jacques Lemaire
Lemaire has likely coached his last game of his tenure with the Wild, and possibly his career.  It appears as if Lemaire has already made up his mind as to what his decision will be and all of his body language is pointing to retirement.  Too often this season, Lemaire seemed disheartened, frustrated and even down right angry at the way that his team was playing.  It’s no secret that General Manager Doug Risebrough had to fly down to Florida and all but beg Lemaire to come back for this season, and after the disappointing season that this team put forth, there’s no doubt in my mind that Risebrough could grovel at the feet of Lemaire this off season and he still wouldn’t return.

Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had this to say on the matter:

Like I said last night, when Lemaire said he’s made up his mind on his future, I think that’s a clear indication his era in Minnesota is over. If not, I think he’d just announce he’s staying to end all speculation.

But this is a guy that needed a few weeks away last year to be convinced he should return. Do you really think after this season’s disappointing ending that the decision he’s already made is to return? I just don’t think so.

Lemaire is also the type of person that doesn’t want to go to Florida, then come back for a press conference. So if his mind is made up that he is indeed stepping down, I can see a press conference very, very soon after the Easter holiday.

Again, though, this is conjecture.

Conjecture or not, Russo is one that has a consistent pulse of the team and is a consistent source of very reliable information.  Whether or not he is correct on this matter, one thing is for sure.  It is going to take what would seem to be a monumental change of heart to sway Lemaire and convince him to stay on for next season.

Marian Gaborik
After Friday’s victory over the Predators, Gaborik took a slow lap around the ice, waving to all of the fans.  When asked if he was waving goodbye to the fans, Gaborik’s response was that he didn’t know and a lot depended on the Wild’s final contract offer after the season was over.

I’ve got news for you, folks.  There’s a good chance that the Wild’s final contract offer may not even be close to what Gaborik is expecting, or even looking for.

Why?

He was offered a franchise-record contract early in the season only to turn it down, claiming that he was looking for more guaranteed money.  This was before the injuries.  Gaborik played in a career low 17 games this season.  In 17 games, however, he had 23 points for a career high 1.35 points per game average.  With a full 82 game season at this pace, Gaborik would have notched approximately 111 points.  Incidentally, this would have put him at 2nd in the NHL in points, not to mention that he would have been first in the NHL in goals, by a long shot.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am no fan of Marian Gaborik’s.  I feel that he is too fragile and too inconsistent to be a top level superstar in this league.  That said, however, the effort he put forth for the 17 games that he played was certainly one that superstars are made of.

I am a big enough man to admit when I am wrong and, after analyzing what Gaborik has done this season, albiet brief, has been the accomplishments of a superstar.

With that in mind, I do believe that it is in the team’s best interests to work out a short term deal with their enigmatic superstar and see if the surgery that he had this season truly has made him healthy.  I would not put more than three years into this deal, as it is a very high-risk deal, but what Gaborik has shown me over the past few games is that he deserves the chance to prove to the team that he broke into the league with (and that he is claiming he wants to remain a member of) that he is this superstar that he has shown.

There is absolutely no one on the free agent market that can provide the explosiveness that Gaborik has shown in the last 11 games and there is absolutely no one on the free agent market that can replace his offensive talent should we let him go.  I strongly believe that the franchise needs flexibility in the coming seasons, but what Gaborik has brought to the table since his surgery is something that cannot be ignored or denied.  The team needs Marian Gaborik in the coming seasons.

Do I think that he deserves the money that he was asking for initially?  Absolutely not.  He needs to prove that he is capable of staying healthy for an entire season as well as prove that he is worthy of the money that he has asked for (one 40 goal season and one 5-goal game does not a career contract make).  That said, the team is leaps and bounds better when he is on the ice.

So where do we go from here?  That is a question that will loom in the back of Wild fan’s minds for the coming months.  In the coming days, I will have a season review posted, starting with the forwards, then defense and goaltending.

Also, make sure to tune in Monday for the season review Wild Nation podcast, which we will attempt to stream live.

Wild’s Hopes Dwindling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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