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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.

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Tanking the Season?

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Around this time of year, you hear the term “tanking the season” quite a bit.

What is tanking the season?  It’s the theory that losing eventually begets winning through a plethora of high draft picks.  The team that is ultimately pointed to for this theory is the Pittsburgh Penguins.  With draft picks of Marc-Andre Fleury (1st Overall in ’03), Evgeni Malkin (2nd Overall in ’04), Sidney Crosby (1st Overall in ’05) and Jordan Staal (2nd Overall in ’06), the team has built a winner through the draft.  Great in theory; however, the team struggled through four losing seasons to get to this point.

This path will make you good for a few years; but once you have to pay all of these players, it makes it much more difficult to ice a winning team.  Just look at the top-heavy Ottawa Senators.  With a considerable amount of coin locked up in Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson (approximately $19M this season and $20M next), the Sens have about 36% of their cap room allocated to three players and that’s if the cap stays where it is right now.  To stay with our example team, in Pittsburgh, they currently have their core of Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury locked up for a total cap hit of approximately $26.65M until the ’12/’13 season at the earliest, not to mention another additional $3.75M for Brooks Orpik.  That’s a total of $30.4M on five players.  If the cap stays where it is, the Pens would have approximately 54% of their cap hit allocated to five players.  A number that I would not be happy with if I were a Pens fan, especially with the impending drop in the cap ceiling.

Conversely, take a look at the Detroit Red Wings.  9 seasons with 100+ points.  They have not missed the playoffs since the ’89-’90 season and have won four Stanley Cups since this 17 season stretch began.  The Red Wings currently have fifteen players that have dressed for them this season that were drafted by the organization.  Of these fifteen, only one (Niklas Kronwall) was drafted in the first round.

So…How have the Red Wings achieved this sort of dominance?  Shrewd late round draft picks (Datsyuk, Zetterberg etc.) combined with shrewd free agent signings (Stuart, Hossa).  In fact, the Red Wings are proof that you do not need to lose to be good.  They are proof that, in fact, a winning tradition and solid management from the top down are a better strategy than “tanking it.”

Why?  The reason is simple.  For a free agent player, or any player for that matter, are you going to give your all for a team that packed it in and stopped trying just a few months earlier?  Are you going to want to come play for a team that just packs it in when the going gets tough?  Are your young players going to benefit from just coasting through games, playing for an early first round draft pick?

For teams on the outside with no hopes of making the playoffs, there is much to play for still.  There is pride.  These late season games are some of the most important for young players, because a late season winning streak can be the difference between a positive off season and an off season spent dwelling on what could have been.

As a fan, I never want to see my team pack it in or tank the season or whatever you want to call it.  I want to see my team fight to the bitter end.  There is nothing that brings a team closer together than adversity and winning in the midst of adversity.  This is what I want from my team.  Not a team that just gives up so that they can get a good draft pick. 

And if there’s a single NHL player out there thinking that way, he’s got no place on the roster of this fan’s team.

Mondays Links

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A new week and 3 games on tap for this evening.  Carolina takes on the Rangers tonight on Versus, while CuJo will get the start tonight for Toronto against Ottawa and Vancouver rolls into LA to face the Kings.

  • The Red Wings should be getting a shot in the arm soon (as if they need it).  Homer is back for the Wings and Marian Hossa should be returning soon.
  • Wild Road Tripper has a good look at the Wild’s victory last night over the Anaheim Ducks at Hitting the Post.
  • Speaking of the Wild, Hockey Wilderness has a nice e-mail exchange between a disenfranchised former season ticket holder and Wild owner Craig Leipold.  Kudos to Mr. Leipold for standing up for himself and for the team.  I don’t necessarily know that I agree with the author’s sentiment about Mr. Leipold’s take on the team; after all, there really were no moves for the team to make at the deadline this season.
  • An absolutely fantastic piece by James Mirtle at From the Rink on hockey in Nashville.
  • Sounds like Devils coach Brent Sutter wasn’t happy with losing to the Isles 7-3.  I can’t really think of a larger embarrassment for an NHL team, can you?
  • An old post, but a good one nonetheless.  A good list of hockey people using Twitter.  I wonder if they’re going to add “Brian Burke”?
  • Patrick Roy is backing Martin Brodeur?  Really?  If I were Marty, I’d be careful of any loose doors lying around.
  • It’s a bad time for the Panthers to be dealing with injuries to key players.
  • An interesting look at stats since the all star break.  Steve Ott has more than 20 points?  Couldn’t have called that one.
  • Matchsticks and Gasoline is circling the wagons around Curtis McElhinney.  I agree.  Cut the kid a break.  I can’t imagine backing up Kipper is an easy job by any means.
  • And finally, because the playoffs are just around the corner, the guide to grading the playoff beard.

Enjoy!