Posts Tagged ‘Niklas Backstrom’
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:
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
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.
Fear not Chicken Little. The sky is not falling. With a little patience, we could have a playoff team yet.
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!
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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!
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.
- 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.
NHL Hits Record: 311 (Dustin Brown)
Games Remaining: 12
Magic Number: 21
And remember…You can’t spell Calder without CAL!