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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Olvecky

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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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!

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.

The Road Trip and Wild Notes

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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.

Wild Notes

  • 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!

Gaborik to Return Sunday?

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Whether you love him or hate him, there’s no denying that having Marian Gaborik on the ice makes the Minnesota Wild a better team.  The problem is that this has only occurred in six games this season.

According to Brian Stensaas of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, however, it will happen at least once more this season.

Barring any setbacks, Marian Gaborik said he feels he will return to the lineup Sunday afternoon against Edmonton.
Gaborik will travel with the team to New Jersey this afternoon. But he said playing tomorrow night against the Devils is unlikely. Instead, he’ll wait for the Oilers.
“We’ll probably shoot for Sunday’s game,” Gaborik said after an hourlong practice this morning. “Hopefully everything will progress. Hopefully I’ll be more pain free each day and go from there.”

Coach Jacques Lemaire has said all along that the decision to return is the player’s. So this means it is a good bet Sunday will be the day.

This is fantastic news for a team that has been struggling of late.  The initial timetable for Gaborik’s return was set with approximately 5 or 6 games left in the season; not necessarily much time for the team to make much noise if they were not close to the playoff hunt.  Gaborik’s return with 11 games remaining in the season would be a huge shot in the arm for a team vying for a playoff spot.  A fresh Marian Gaborik could spell the difference between missing the playoffs and a potential deep playoff run for this team, as they have remained in the playoff hunt all season long without their top player.  A fresh Marian Gaborik for the Wild essentially equates to the same as a fresh Martin Brodeur does for the New Jersey Devils; that is exactly how important Gaborik can be to this team when healthy.

Now my thoughts on this are quite bittersweet.  I am, first and foremost, a Wild fan and this news brings great hope to our postseason possibilities.  Even injured, Gaborik is one of the better offensive talents that the Wild have and there are many games that his presence could have been the difference between a win or a loss or a loss and an extra point.  At the same time, however, I have never really been a fan of Gaborik’s (though I do concede that he brings a lot to the table that helps the Wild) and his (or his agent’s) seeming lack of cooperation in trying to work out a deal that would keep him in Minnesota has left a bad taste in my mouth.

Quite frankly, it was my hope that we had a team that could do it without him and allow us to be able to say, “See, we don’t need you,” upon his return.  It has been quite apparent, however, that this is not the case.  This team has been mired with inconsistency, both on a whole and offensively.  They have been competitive, but not dominant by any means and the hope that is prevalent from most Wild fans is that Gaborik will help turn a competitive team into a dominant one.

The Wild will also likely hope that this return gives Gaborik a spark to sign a short-term deal with the team, likely at a reduced rate, to try to build up his value and his reputation once more.  The value shouldn’t be hard to re-build.  Let’s face it, this kid can score.  When healthy and willing to work, he can be as dynamic an offensive player as anyone in the league.  Just as the New York Rangers.  His largest problem, however, is inconsistency which stems from a lack of work ethic.  Don’t misread this…He’s in fantastic shape and he certainly works very hard off the ice and outside of games.  Where this lack of work ethic manifests itself is in games where things are not going his way or where he gets shuffled onto a line he does not like.  A great example of this would be the season opening game against the Boston Bruins.  While the Wild won this game, their “superstar” was near invisible for most of the game as he was placed on a line that he considered to be the “checking line” with James Sheppard and Stephane Veilleux.  (It should be noted that Lemaire saw this as another scoring line and not the checking line that it turned into without Gaborik on it.)

His reputation, however, may be a bit harder to repair.  There’s no question about it that, when the Wild’s contract offers got leaked, Gaborik immediately lost the PR battle.  Originally, everyone was under the impression that the Wild were lowballing the Slovakian Sensation.  When the contract offers got leaked (ranging between $8.5M and $9.5M), public perception immediately turned against Gaborik and many questioned his dedication as a team player.

My personal opinion is that the Wild should attempt to re-sign Gaborik to a short-term contract (at most three years) at the same average cap hit that he currently sits at.  While I don’t like Gaborik, I cannot deny that he brings a certain dynamic to our line up that we otherwise would not have and I question both other teams’ willingness to sign an injury prone player to a lucrative, long-term contract with the assumed drop in the salary cap next season and the Wild’s ability to land the “big fish” that would replace Gaborik in terms of productivity.

Regardless of what happens, Wild fans will be able to see Number 10 flying up and down the ice in a Wild sweater for at least a little bit longer.  Like him or not, he’s still with the team and he’s going to be able to help us.  From the reports, it appears as if he’s been practicing on a line with Peter Olvecky and Dan Fritsche, which has the potential to be a pretty fun line to watch.  It will be interesting to see on Sunday how he fares on this line, as well as how the fans react to his return.

Either way, I still can’t escape the feeling of wanting to be able to say, “We can do it without you,” though.

Written by bcbenzel

March 19, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Luck ‘o the Irish; Wild Win in OT

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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.

Random Notes

  • 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.

Clutter-watch 2009
NHL Hits Record: 311 (Dustin Brown)
Clutterbuck: 290
Games Remaining: 12
Magic Number: 21

And remember…You can’t spell Calder without CAL!

Playoff Window Closing for Wild

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If I were to tell you that the Wild have gotten points in 9 of their last 15 games, you’d figure that this was a pretty impressive feat, no?

Indeed, getting points in 9 of 15 games looks very nice on the resume.  But when you look at the actual wins and losses, the picture becomes much, much more grim.

The Wild, in need of a late season push to make the playoffs, have just four wins in their last 15 games.  Thank goodness for the consolation points.  In their last 15 games, the Wild are 4-6-5.  Hardly an impressive record; much less a record for a team that is trying to remain in the playoff race.

The good news?  The rest of the bottom half of the Western Conference is just about as inept at winning as the Wild are currently.  The bad news?  The Wild lost its games in hand without coming away with a single victory.

The Wild need a spark, and badly.  A lot has been made of the leadership on the team this season, and this team is showing a distinct lack of leadership with Mikko Koivu at the helm.  He’s had a fantastic season as the captain of this team, but has been near invisible since being named the captain in March.  In the month of March, he has 2 goals, 4 assists and sitting at -4.  Hardly the numbers you want from your team leader in the most important stretch of the year.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think that Mikko has more leadership in his little finger than the majority of the team does.  But it’s time for our best players to be our best players.  The Wild have started the disturbing trend of digging themselves a hole early, and our top players need to step in and put an end to this.  How bad is this trend?  The Wild have scored first in just two of our eight games this month.  They have dug themselves into large holes too often and have had to play catch up too much.  This is not a winning formula.

The bottom line is that, though they are just a point out of a playoff spot, the window in which they can control their own destiny and make some noise in the playoff race is slowly closing.  The Wild play two of their next three games at home before heading on a crucial road trip that starts out east, then heads to Canada.  If this team is to make the playoffs, they need to step their game up, stop playing catch up and win hockey games.

The Picture of Irony
Ironically, the Wild’s troubles in the month of March have not been of the offensive kind.  With the exception of a few games, the team is finding the back of the net.  The problems that the Wild are encountering are not stemming from their offense.  They are stemming directly from a lack of team defense.

It’s amazing to me that Niklas Backstrom even allows Lemaire to put him out on the ice anymore with the distinct lack of help that he is getting.  This team is completely lost in their own zone at the moment.  Opposing teams are allowed to get to Backstrom with frightening consistency and our players are doing little to nothing to stop them.  One of the biggest differences between this team and last season’s team is grit.  While Sean Hill and Keith Carney may not have been the fleetest of foot or have made the best decisions, one thing that they would not stand for were players pushing around our team in front of the crease.  With them gone, this is now met with ambivilence at best and apathy at worst.

This team needs a complete change in mindset going forward and, even if they do make the playoffs, I can’t imagine it would be more than a one and done series as I don’t believe that this team has the fortitude to last an entire playoff series.

The addition of John Scott has added a lot to this blueline and it’s starting to show as well.  Scott is a physical presence and is playing very solid, defensive hockey.  If the Wild is going to do anything in the last weeks of the season, it is going to be on the backs of players willing to get physical and play soundly in their own zone.  If we control our own zone, the offense will follow.  It’s just a matter of keeping the puck on the other end of the ice.

The Walking Wounded
With all signs pointing to this team being one of the softest in team history, it is quite nice to see some players emerging to lead by example.

It started with Owen Nolan, who was tired of watching the team perform poorly and stepped up in practice, letting Lemaire know that he was playing.  It continued to Marc-Andre Bergeron, who exploded upon finding out he was scratched when he felt that he was healthy enough to play.  Nolan once again set the bar high by flying out to Vancouver, broken foot and all, to join the team and now there is news of Andrew Brunette playing with a torn (or at least partially torn) ACL?

This, my friends, is what real hockey players are like.  They don’t pack it in at the slightest sign of discomfort as some “superstars” have done.  They don’t disappear when the going gets tough.  They don’t sit by the wayside and ignore their team.  They do whatever they have to do to help the team win.

Pleasent Surprises
How about Peter Olvecky?  Over the last few games, we have really seen him come into his own.  The youngster has a large frame and a nose for the net and is even showing that he is improving in his own end.  He has began to earn the trust of Lemaire; so much so that, with the game on the line against the San Jose Sharks, Lemaire put Olvecky out on the ice in place of James Sheppard.  From the little we’ve seen of Olvecky, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I defintely like what I see and hope that he can find a permenant place in the Wild’s line up.