Summing Up 2010 In 150 Words

Five goal comeback against Chicago. Latendresse steps up to become goal-scorer needed since Gaborik. Bye Bye Leddy, Johnsson and Belanger. Hello Casey, Cam and riots. Modano plays his final game fittingly in St. Paul (or not). Long off-season with no playoffs. Staubitz for a fifth. Welcome Mikael Granlund as the newest Wild first round pick. Boogaard goes East. Cullen comes home. Kaptain Koivu gets paid. Boom, John Madden! ATV > James Sheppard. 0-for-preseason. Down goes Harding; up comes Theodore. Sellout streak ends. Havlat goes "unused" according to agent while power play saves team. Latendresse pulls a Gabby and not the good kind mentioned earlier. Welcome home Patrick O'Sullivan! Bouchard returns after 13 months from a concussion. Miettinen gets his hot streak. Burns becomes an elite defenseman/goalscorer. Booed off the ice. Theodore ends up being worse than Backstrom in shootouts. Richards not fired.

Columbus Post-Game Thoughts (Wild Lose 4-3 - SO)


"The shnozzberries taste like shnozzberries..." (thanks to Felix for the picture and videos)

The "Someone Sponsor This" 3 Stars:
1. Steve Mason G (37 saves and played well for one of the first times all year)
2. Mikko Koivu (1 G)
3. Rick Nash (2 assists; now the all-time leader with Columbus)

After out-shooting their opponent for the third time all year, your Minnesota Wild fell in a shootout 4-3 to Columbus. I'm not going to lie, it was a disappointing loss as the Wild need to start picking up wins and this was a game book-ended by Detroit and San Jose. My quick thoughts, as there will be more on the Wild later:

-Brent Burns is off right now. I'm not sure what is going on, but he's hit a funk the last few games.

-Unlike the last time he was scratched, I didn't miss Patrick O'Sullivan at all. In fact Brad Staubitz played well in his short time on the ice. It's pretty sad how fast the fanbase went from being up in arms to apathetic.

-Columbus' third jersey is great outside of the fact the circle crest has been overdone.

-Always good to see Mikko Koivu take over, but with two really good opportunities late in the game it would have been nice for him to get the winner. Plus this goal was nice with 1.5 seconds left.


-The "Backstrom sucks in the shootout so plz put in Theodore" crowd has to be rethinking their position.

-And with that, the Wild haven't won a shootout since February (including the pre-season). Other than PMB and maybe Mikko Koivu, no one looks like they are able to pull off a goal when they need to. And in a league where three point games are frequent, that kind of play is the difference between 8th and 13th.

-Really enjoyed the PMB move.


-A pissed off Cam Barker is better than a regular Cam Barker; however it's still not quite the Cam Barker I want.

-I enjoyed the Wild battling back from a 3-2 deficit, but the 37 second meltdown where Columbus had two goals was unacceptable.

-With that said, it was sort of funny how the entire collapse started after the Versus announcers talked about how great Theodore was playing.

-Other than a fall in OT, Marco Scandella looked great. At this point it's going to be hard to send him back to Houston.

-Most importantly, the Wild missing powerplay after powerplay is the reason why they lost. Minnesota had a five-minute major and seven powerplays but failed to score. When those fail, your team fails. Now onto San Jose...

USA-Finland Thoughts


M-I-N..err U-S-A

My thoughts after watching the USA-Finland game. These are replacing any thoughts on Minnesota-Detroit (spoiler: the Wild sucked) mostly because I didn't watch that game. Playing hockey outside just sounded better.

-Jason Zucker looks like a steal right now. He scored a highlight-reel goal top-shelf off the post and nearly had a shorthanded one to boot. Right now he is firing on all cylinders and I am happy with how his development is going.

-However with that said, he didn't play as much as I thought he would and Zucker didn't even step on the ice in OT.

-NHL Network has done a much better job with production this year compared to the previous two. Also, Gary Thorne is the best hockey play-by-play guy this side of Mike Goldberg.

-Props to Finland for playing above my sixth-place prediction.

-The US is not 100% behind Coach Allain's system. That might be an issue further down the line.

-Erik Haula played well like he has this season at the U. His assist was the result of hard work and while I'm not sure how he will project at the NHL level, he is someone to keep an eye on. Also it's weird to have a Gopher play for a team in the WJC other than the US.

-Speaking of Wild prospects, it was disappointing to watch Finland without Mikael Granlund because I really want to see him live.

-Why is the Buffalo Sabres logo on the US jersey? I know the game is in Buffalo but the Sabres aren't sponsoring it and that jumps out. Boo-urns Hockey USA. Boo-urns.

-It was also nice to not hear boos every time the US was on the ice after two straight years of the tournament being played in Canada. With that said, I would love to know the percentage of Canadians in Buffalo because it has to be a vocal minority. Our neighbors to the north love hockey and really love the WJC.

-As a Gopher fan and alum, it was really refreshing to see Nick Bjugstad get the winner. I'm a big boy and can take all the crap heaved at the Minnesota program, but things are looking up for the maroon and gold.

-And speaking of Minnesotans, man did they make their names known. I hate to go the "local" route but it is always nice to see. Besides Bjugstad, Justin Faulk scored.

-The Finnish goaltender played well all game but the last goal was fairly soft.

-Looked like Brock Nelson got injured, which is a shame. Not sure what his status is but that will impact the American's depth.

Tidbits...The "Somewhere In the Between" Edition



Again, in the midst of a nice December run (5-3-2, 12 points out of 20 so far) but yet find ourselves in the "between"- four points from the eighth and final playoff spot (with games in hand against most of the teams ahead of us,) but six points from the cellar, and just three ahead of Calgary. It's a maddening situation, where at times its seemingly impossible to improve your position and easy to slip, but also to get a clear idea of what to do as the buildup to the Trade Deadline begins; while The Wild are within grasp points wise, are they really if you look at the year so far? But on the same hand, maybe Chuck Fletcher feels they are, and they just need that piece to get them there. Its a matter of perspective, but in a way this team is built for either scenario- we've got pieces in place to add to, and we've also got pieces that can be sold to build for tomorrow.
- While it may not be a priority, but you have to think with the emergence of Jared Spurgeon, Todd Richards' new found love of Marco Scandella, and a healthy and effective Clayton Stoner, that Cam Barker can be had. You simply cannot allocate roughly three million dollars to the pressbox; but on the same hand, you need an insurance policy for when one of the rookie D hit a rough spot. I can see maybe Fletcher shipping out Barker and bringing in a veteran, with an expiring contract, who is willing to mentor and be a healthy scratch.
- Tis a slippery slope too...Barker really has to show (barring injury) the coaching staff he's ready to get back into the lineup, which has been playing very well of late, meaning he's got to work really hard. Which, by all accounts, isn't a strong suit.
- And one last piling on- if and when Nick Schultz returns (and I wish a speedy recovery to you Schultzie) I think you'll see Jared Spurgeon sent back; the Burns/Scandella pairing is showing potential, you don't want to break up Zanon/Zidlicky, and Stoner's earned the right to play- paired with Schultz that could be another effective matchup pairing for Todd Richards.
- Credit goes to Richards for shaking up the line combinations and sticking to them; Antti Miettinen has fit in very well with Matt Cullen and Patrick O'Sullivan, and Chuck Kobasew, now that he's healthy, is flying with a newly focused Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette.
- As Wild fans we should be excited for the World Juniors: Jason Zucker (USA), Johan Larsson and Johan Gustafsson (Sweden), and Erik Haula (Finland.) Its a nice chance to see this kids, and to see how they stack up on the big stage.
- I wonder if Richards has made adjustments in his game planning, in that this team doesn't have the team speed desired to play the way he wants, so they have to do what they can to get puck possession. This is the sort of thing you want to see in Richards, growth.
- That being said, he's got to be able to keep his players on track, keep the foot on the gas pedal. Now is the time where three-point games are imperative; the team has to tell themselves that you must leave these games with nothing less than a point, and that point is just to keep themselves where they are.
- With that being said, we'll find out when Detroit comes to town.

From all the contributors here at FRB, we hope everyone had a Merry Christmas.

What I'm Reading (12/24)



The Wild have won three games in a row, the rinks are flooded and I've gotten to go home for the holidays and catch up with old friends. All is well in the world besides the extreme amount of snow in the Twin Cities. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Channukah and an Amazing New Years! Now onto what I've reading this week* which is mostly a mixture of WJHC and Wild/former Wild news.

-Canadian enthusiasm sweeps across the border just in time for Christmas. (NY Times)

-NHL Network is broadcasting the WJHC once again with the help of Gary Thorne. Here's the schedule.

-Jacque Lemaire will never die although New Jersey's streak of playoff appearances might. (ESPN)

-And Marian Gaborik's groin will never heal. Throw in the Wild being who they are and it's just in time for the 3 Ghosts in the Christmas Carol. (Pro Hockey Talk)

-One of my favorite WJHC blogs of the last week with a pro-American and anti-everything else spin: The Sleeping Giant.

-Hockey Wilderness takes over for Hockeybuzz Hogwash (RIP) with an "advanced" version of the Eklund Rumor Generator.

-Before they were stars: NHLers in the WJHC. (TSN)

-No one's an Adrian Dater fan. (Hitting The Post/every other Wild-related blog, including FRB)

-So many mustaches! (KARE 11)

-A look at the Wild pre-holiday break. (Gone Pick Wild)

-According to the Pioneer Press, the Wild need Cam Barker to regain his scoring touch. That or continue to win while he sits in the press box.

-Some Winter Classic notes and interviews. (PHT/Puck Daddy)

-Speaking of outdoor hockey, the Wild released the Hockey Day in Minnesota schedule.

*I'm just going to assume everyone reads Michael Russo and his game recaps at Startribune.com. And if you don't, you should because he'll find you.

Thoughts on the Eve

After last night's win in Colorado, their third in a row (!), I was quick to make a point on the FRB twitter that we can expect a giant laugher on Sunday against Detroit. My reasoning, in essence, was that despite this recent string of success against Division opponents, that a couple days off followed with a matchup with arguably the heaviest of the heavyweights in the West would mean that we'll get drilled.
If we did it earlier this year, where we won three straight and then stunk it up for a few games on a Southeastern road trip, then surely we'll get curb stomped the day after Christmas. Nothing against the team I follow, but in no way has this team showed the ability or the moxie to win four, five, six, seven games in a row. The team is just too inconsistent.
After getting home and reading about Adrian Dater's comments on Cal Clutterbuck's trash talk, I'm beginning to change my tune. Cal, in case you missed it, had this to say:

"We're on the road, we'll take a power play any day of the week. If they want to flaunt their egos, they want to show how tough they are, well, guess what, we're going to beat you, and we're coming for them in the standings."

While this on the surface is directed towards Colorado, I think there's more to it though- while Clutterbuck has firmly thrust himself in to heel role, especially in the eyes of the Avs, their fans, and their beat writer, the comments may also reveal a newfound sentiment, or now personify the feeling of the locker room- that this team is now playing with swagger.

And swagger can do a lot for a team.

An In-Depth Look At The Future: Johan Larsson




Who is this guy: Johan Larsson is an eighteen-year old left-winger from Lau, Sweden and the second of three second-round picks by the Wild in 2010. The net result of trading Eric Belanger to Washington, Larsson has been a bit of an enigma. Maybe it's because he's the only one of the second-round picks playing in Europe or a Swede on a team which is known for its Finnish players, but the 5'10" 200 lb Larsson has been overlooked by many fans while playing for Brynas IF (the same team Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals played for in Sweden).

What's he doing: Mixing things up. A versatile player, Larsson has played twenty-four games in the Swedish Elite League as an eighteen year-old and ten with the junior team. While he has dominated the younger competition by scoring six goals and nine assists in ten games, Larsson has been unable to adapt his scoring touch against men. Right now he is looking for his first SEL goal and only has two assists. Larsson has also been named to Sweden's national team for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships and hopes to add onto the praise he received at this year's World Under-18 tournament.

How this compares to other Wild prospects: Fairly well. It's tough to compare different development paths and Minnesota hasn't really had many prospects come through Sweden (anyone remember Morten Madsen?). Hockey's Future has Larsson as Minnesota's seventh-best prospect in the fall rankings. That's above the other two second-round picks so there are some high expectations. He has improved his play and scoring from year-to-year in the J20 junior level in addition to dominating his age group last year in the World Under-18 tournament. In five games, Larsson had fourteen points and was the biggest talk of the tournament this side of Teemu Pulkkinen. However like fellow second-round draft pick Jason Zucker, Larsson has been more known for other attributes besides goal scoring as seen by this THN article before the draft.

He is a dynamic and intelligent player who works extremely hard and is beyond competitive. His skill set isn't over the top or flashy by any means, but he does come with a bag of tricks he can rely on to create space when needed.

Why he can still be a first second round bust: A small sample does not equal future long-term success. If that were true Antii Miettinen would be the king of St. Paul. As it is, all three second-round picks this year were boom/bust players and while Larsson isn't the reach Brett Bulmer was, he still is susceptible to underachieving. Although his two-way skill and hard work has been there, the World Under-18 tournament was the first time Larsson scored goals in bunches. That can be either good or bad as it shows this was an one-time fluke against top competition in a short tournament or a player putting everything together and maturing.

Right now Larsson is a mixed bag since he has continued to play well against younger players but not against real men. To be fair, he is a young (July birthday) eighteen year-old playing in one of the top professional hockey leagues in the world. That's not the best learning environment for a youngster as Wild fans would sadly know all too well. With that said, there's plenty of positives to take from Johan Larsson in his play and growth but until he can from hold his own in the SEL, Larsson will be a work in progress. And works in progress can be busts.

(Sources used/consulted: The Hockey News, wild.com, Hockey's Future, eliteprospects.com, Hockey DB, inlouwetrust.com, ESPN, thescoutingreport.org and hockeyligan.se, )

World Junior Hockey Championships Part II



The greatest Wild Team USA alumni since Dan Fritsche.


If you haven't checked out Part 1, go ahead and do so. Seriously, read it. Twice. For those who have read it, here are my semi-biased, semi-informed predictions.

10. Germany. The Germans aren't as bad as Kazakhstan from 2009 or Latvia last year, but it's going to be one and done.

9. Norway. Nothing to look at here, sorry.

8. Slovakia. The Slovaks have had some recent success in the WJHC, upsetting the US in 2009, but unless the goaltending stays at "brick wall" there won't be a repeat.

7. Czech Republic. If Czechoslovakia still existed, they might be a decent team; unfortunately for communism and Eastern European hockey the two split teams

6. Finland. The only reason I put Finland finish sixth is due to Mikael Granlund. It doesn't look like Granlund is going to play due to a concussion which hurts after his performance last year (7 points). They do have great players coming back like Toni Raaja and are a dark-horse in Group A (second place is there for the taking), but need to get goaltending from Jonathan Iilahti to overachieve.

5. Switzerland. I'm neutral on the Swiss but their style of play and getting back El Nino (Nino Niederreiter) does lend itself to a short tournament like the World Junior Hockey Championships.

4. Sweden. The Swedes have a lot of talent but are fairly young. Throw in a tough group with Canada and Russia and I don't quite see them medaling. However they should be an exciting team to watch if not for Johan Larsson and Johan Gustafsson and a force next year.

3. Russia. The Russians have been flying under the radar due to the Canada-US hype. It doesn't help that many people don't know much about their team due to where most of their team plays (hint: not in Canada or the US) and the fact that they didn't medal last year after melting down, but they do have exciting players like St. Louis first-round pick Vladimir Tarasenko. Russia also returns seven players from last year's team and because of that experience and skill (albeit not the star power of past Russian squads) I see them returning to the podium.

2. USA. Yes, I'm not predicting the Americans to repeat on here. I'm sad too. Team USA has the easier group, eight returning players (including Wild prospect Jason Zucker) and home-ice advantage but when was the last time they were able to live up to their high expectations? Hopefully I'm proven wrong as the anti-jinx always works, right?

1. Canada. It looks like Hockey Canada has learned a lesson or two from last year and are trying to ice a full team rather than an all-star squad. Plus they get the added bonus of merging their squad with Quebec. I'm sure there's other stuff like maybe talking about possible 2011 #1 pick Sean Couturier or their dominant wins in exhibition play but my red, white and blue blood has said enough.

The End Of The Road



He'll forever be ingrained into the fabric of the the organization, linked to the surrounding community, and for the time being, the holder of the single most significant, famous, and most triumphant moment in the short history of the Minnesota Wild.



But at the age of 37, and in the final year of his three year, seven million dollar contract, Andrew Brunette's reached the end of the road.

I don't want this to sound like a eulogy, or an ode to his career because he isn't done, but it looks like he's just not the same. He's managed just six goals and 15 points in 31 games, despite seeing top minutes with Mikko Koivu and on the power play. He doesn't fit the ideal for Todd Richards' uptempo system (although its fair to say that there isn't a ton of personnel on the roster that makes that system work) now, and in the future. And in the midst of another inconsistent season, in a league where its easier to slide down than move up, its time to look to move Andrew Brunette.
Why?
Because he'll bring more value to a playoff bound team than to a team that is still in transition, looking to retool a roster for a scheme that Bruno is ill fit. Let's be real here- despite a really solid recent road trip, and a nice win in Calgary last night, The Wild will be hard pressed to make the playoffs. While I'd love to be proved wrong, its in the numbers; the presence of three-point games make it hard to improve your standings after Thanksgiving, and frankly, the team just isn't good nor consistent enough to peel off a six, seven, or eight game win streak. So with that being said, now is the time to look toward the future. I'm not talking about a full scale rebuild, sell everything, and "Crash for (Sean) Courterier", but continue to add pieces that can aid the rest of the season and next.
Brunette, despite not being the swiftest of skaters, has immense value on the playoff stage, where the game may not be as up tempo where a slower skater can be exposed. Puck battles, puck possession, and special teams are of utmost importance, things that Brunette excels in (well, you know, except for the penalty kill.) Add to that is his ability along the wall, his playmaking ability, and quality character as a teammate and leader, you have a valuable (and cheap!) possible addition to any team who is serious about making a run toward the Stanley Cup. He just does us little good to retain him through the end of the season- now I'm not saying he's worthless, but there comes a stage where Chuck Fletcher has to determine whether Bruno brings more value with our without the team. Me personally, unless you are sure that there will be a bidding war for Bruno's services at the Trade Deadline, I'm on board for moving him sooner than later.

We've signed Mikko Koivu long term, so in a sense he's now the cornerstone. While he isn't a finished product, you still have to build around him, and that means bringing in pieces to play with and elevate Koivu's game now and for the future. And for Andrew Brunette, it means the cost is him.

The Necessity of Evolution

We know this guy; in fact we love this guy. Since his arrival in the NHL in 2005, Mikko Koivu has looked and played the part of a guy destined to Captain the Minnesota Wild, eventually getting the permanent "C" last fall as the Chuck Fletcher/Todd Richards regime began their tenure. His production has grown every year (he did miss 25 games in 07-08 with the broken leg, but was on pace to improve his totals from the previous seasons), and by now he receives recognition as being amongst the elite two-way players in the league. At times Koivu can be a dominant force in both ends of the rink, the consummate gamer who you want on the ice in big situations.
But that cannot be enough. His still has to grow his game.
Koivu has struggled somewhat this year- whether it be underachievement as his longtime linemates, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen, have failed to consistently provide the offense of years past, or that the theory that he isn't completely recovered from two offseason surgeries, or that he finds himself facing the opposition's best, in both ends, which forces him to devote his attention away from his offensive game. Maybe its that he feels the weight of accountability for what looks to be another unspectacular, middling Wild season since he is the lead dog- whatever the case, he must find a way to improve his game.
There was some criticism of his long-term extension, in that a large sum of money was devoted to a guy who isn't a naturally gifted goal scorer. While his goal totals are evidence of that, I think there is still things he can do to improve that. Because, well, on a team chock full of pass-first players, someone has to start scoring goals.
I was reading a piece on Sidney Crosby on how when he first came into the league, there was sentiment that he wasn't a goal scorer. Aside from the obvious (and forever eternal) Alex Ovechkin comparison (who doesn't look like they have stone hands,) Crosby knew that in order to score goals, you had to go to the dirty areas in front of the net. But he also knew that because he was such an accomplished playmaker, he would be given time and space; so instead of looking to pass, began to shot from the slot, at the half walls, and from the blueline, because as the old axiom goes, you can't score if you don't shoot the puck.
Now, in no way am I putting Mikko Koivu and Sidney Crosby in the same tier,category, or even stratosphere, but I think there is an applicable lesson to be gleaned; Koivu needs to shoot the puck more because it can add another dimension to his offensive game. We've seen him make that power forward move and bull his way to the net, and we've seen him score between the faceoff dots, and occasionally beyond that- but I watched his play during the Ottawa game, and he often passes up opportunities to shoot the puck because of his pass first playmaking mentality- and in these days of video, advance scouts, and other recon, teams are able to contain him by taking away his options. That being said, there should be a balance- on the Kyle Brodziak non-goal ("there's too many men out there...NOOOOOO!!! - Antoine Winfield) Koivu brilliantly drew the Ottawa goalie and defender towards him, giving Brodziak a free look at a wide open net. That's going to be a big part of his game, but he's got to continue to improve the goal scoring aspect. Even by shooting more it can create rebounds and opportunities for his other teammates.
We've committed the time and money to retain his playing services, so with that comes the onus of being "the guy". He won't have the same linemates forever, and without evolving his game he'll become easy to scout and defend- the bottom line is Mikko Koivu's shot is too good for him to be scoring just 20 goals a year.

In where I make a Minnesota Wild/Bad Religion Allegory

After tying the last home game against Calgary and getting the pity point (we lost in a shootout), the boys hit the road for a small road trip through the Pacific Division- Dallas, Phoenix, LA, and Anaheim.

Let's take a musical journey.



You might need this- Land of Competition Lyrics

Verse One
"See there's a girl who's afraid of the world so she stays at home.
Next there's a boy who seems so lost in his joy, he's all alone.
The camera's on them, they're in the land of competition.
Southern California air feeds them.
And they know they are best 'cuz of the way they are dressed,
But you can bet you are not welcome in their home."


However, in similar fashion to the Phoenix game, we rallied late to get a point out of the deal (which is a herculean feat on the Stars' home ice) before losing in overtime. Its not so much the end result of these games that got me wondering about the team, it was how they got there- this team battled back late, to at least get the overtime point. And points are an absolute necessity, especially this time of year when it seems like no one is making a move up in the Western Conference standings, because, well, everybody gets at least a point every night.
So the next game in Phoenix was huge- not just for the standings, not just that the Brunette-Koivu-Miettinen line combined for six points, not just that Niklas Backstrom made 33 saves and ended a personal four-game losing streak, but that it also ended a 1-5-2 record in the past eight games that had us sliding down the standings within the Division and Conference. On top of that, Phoenix had completely owned us of late, so their domination ended as well.
So off we went to sunny, warm, not snowy Los Angeles. The Kings, despite their current record, were considered to be a Stanley Cup contending team, with their core of immensely talented youngsters, cagey veterans, and outstanding goaltending- a tough task no matter how LA is playing.
We responded with a 3-2 victory, with Brent Burns scoring his franchise-record 5th Overtime Goal.

Verse 2
"See there's a girl who sits and watches the world from her blue screen.
Also a boy who truly wants to destroy his hometown scene.
They both want to travel to the land of competition.
Southern California will destroy them,
And they won't be the best, they'll be the poseurs who dress
Like the plastic idiots who they copy."


There were chinks in the armor along the way, hidden in the fact that we were winning games, if not getting points from, quality opponents who play in a better, tougher, more talented Division than the Northwest. At points during these games the ice became significantly tilted in the opponent's favor, essentially bottling the Wild up in their own end for shifts at a time. In a way, these games reminded me of the old-school Lemaire era; bend but don't break, and take advantage of the opponent's mistakes. Jonathan Quick's two puckhandling gaffes and Drew Doughty's OT interference call did in LA, despite giving the Kings NINE POWERPLAYS. Stick infractions galore.
And then we broke in Anaheim. More stick infractions, bad penalties, bad goaltending from Backstrom, and of course, that crazy ass Bobby Ryan goal, which more or less summed up the night for Minnesota.

Verse 3:
"Tell me what do you need to make you happy? Indeed, is it out of your reach?
Beware of number one, see all the damage it has done, there are so few of them.
You won't find to many in the land of competition.
Southern California doesn't breed them.
If you just want the best turn to yourself for the rest
And forget about the ones who "have it all."
Be careful of the ones who "have it all."
Be careful of the ones who "have it all."
Forget about the ones who "have it all."


Do we look at this road trip, or even the month of December as a whole, and say its been a success? Sure we have points in four of the six games, five out of the eight possible on the road, but yet you look at the Anaheim game and just go WTF. It was such a suck job, that you have to question whether the wins previous were luck or fluke considering just how flat on their faces they fell. Even taking five out of eight, and little ground was made in the Conference standings- we're still five points from the eighth spot. I guess if there's some consolation to be drawn, its that we've gained a little separation from the last place Oilers, although Calgary lurks just a point behind.
Look at the goal differential. -15. That means it's gotta take strong goaltending to get wins until something clicks, if ever, in the goal scoring department. I do think Todd Richards is doing the right thing, eschewing the Starter/Backup system for the "we gotta win, so we're going with the hot hand otherwise they're gonna fire my ass" model; in theory it should raise both Jose Theodore and Backstrom's games. Just think about how it worked with Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez. Jesus, another nostalgic Wild reference.
As I've said before, the guys in the locker room have to look to themselves for the answers. They're gonna have to be responsible for the goals, because the likelihood of Chuck Fletcher bringing in a goal scorer is slim and Guillaume Latendresse is still on the shelf for a while. While there's been some encouraging signs; Brent Burns scored in a few games and Koivu's line made an appearance, but someone else has to step up and do it. Otherwise they're dead in the water.

The Hunt For What Nordy Really Is: Mr. McGibblets

Mr. Mcgibblets doll Pictures, Images and Photos

As a Wild fan, one of the things I am frequently asked about is what Minnesota's mascot Nordy actually is. For those who are unaware of Nordy, the animal is 6'6", full of energy and came out of the woodwork in 2008 to take the job of mascot and childhood hero to those in the State of Hockey. Looking like one of nine different animals, no one, not even the Wild themselves, knows what Nordy is supposed to be. So being the shrewd investigator I am, the hunt for what Nordy really is continues.

After going through the ever-popular wolfbearcat triumvirate, it's apparent that Nordy is as big of a mystery now as ever. Hell, I'm still wondering how he took the bus down to St. Paul or found money to previously buy hockey skates. But enough of that. Today we look at the similarities between Nordy and Mr. McGibblets.

For those who are unfamiliar with Mr. McGibblets, he is a fictional child toy from the FX series The League. While children love to dance with Mr. McGibblets and his catchy song "Tickle Me and Rub My Belly," he has a dark and twisted side as well.

Next time, just don't drop Mikko Koivu from your fantasy team!

Unlike Nordy, who doesn't teach kids anything other than how to succeed while being different (thanks Glee!), Mr. McGibblets sometimes teaches kids how to kill a man with their fingers in his dojo. No it's not like that you dirty perv, although Mr. McGibblets is apparently a very sexual creature. Not sure about Nordy, but when your lineage is a French guy with a mustache and a hooker that should never be surprising.


This explains so much...unless you're at work.

Verdict:
Same father, different mother. I can't find a good picture of Mr. McGibblets' father (see the video) but when you see Movember Nordy it all makes sense.

It's okay kids, he has candy back in the van...

Mr. McGibblets and Nordy's father is French, likes alcohol and women. It's not out of line for him to have done something ridiculous and out of the ordinary. Obviously Nordy's mother or pride or whoever actually raised him did a good job, but there's just something about Nordy which screams Daddy issues. And by something, it's the Movember mustache.

Anaheim Post-Game Thoughts (Wild lose 6-2)


This is Sean Couturier. He plays for the Drummondville Voltiguers of the QMJHL which is the same junior team Wild forward Guillaume Latendresse played for. He can score.



He can fight.


And he deserves more of our attention than the Wild after tonight's game. I was worried about the Wild coming out flat after taking penalty after penalty but didn't expect them to give up a goal twenty seconds in for the second consecutive night. Unfortunately for Niklas Backstrom, this one counted and it was all downhill. The lowpoint of tonight's game had to be Mikko Koivu being one-upped by Bobby "Silver" Ryan as taking his stick did not end well.


Yikes. The good news is that Minnesota now has three days off to reflect on tonight's game and hopefully they think about what can be improved on rather than bask in the greatness of going 2-1-1 on a four game road-trip. If not, there might be more Sean Couturier articles.

Los Angeles Post-Game Thoughts (Wild win 3-2 in OT)


Snow plus Rocky equals tonight's game.

The "Someone Sponsor This" 3 Stars
1. Jon Quick (Minnesota's best assist machine)
2. Brent Burns (scored the game-winner)
3. Jose Theodore (24 saves; came up big when needed)
HM: Cal Clutterbuck, Mikko Koivu, Georges "Rush" St. Pierre

Sometimes wins are beautiful and sometimes wins look like Rocky at the end of his first fight with Apollo Creed. This game was the latter. It might have been fitting given the weather back in the Twin Cities and the other sporting event tonight, but the Minnesota Wild found an extremely interesting way to get buried and come back.

After Los Angeles scored had a goal waved off to start the game, Minnesota got on the board first on a Mikko Koivu shorthanded goal. Yes, I said shorthanded goal. And yes, I said Mikko Koivu. Koivu scored on what can best be described as a play out of NHL 11 as Kings goaltender Jon Quick came out of the crease and passed the puck straight to Koivu's stick. Add a second Quick miscue nine seconds after Los Angeles' first goal and Minnesota had two of the three easiest goals scored today (sorry Rick DiPietro).

Other than that, the Wild didn't play well for most of regulation. I skipped about the last six minutes of the second to watch GSP-Koscheck II (at least I'm honest) so maybe there was something special which I missed, but Minnesota had about as many opportunities to score points as Josh Koscheck. Sure, part of that had to do with all the penalties the Wild took - the Wild took a complete 180 in the discipline department compared to the Phoenix game - but teams win very few games when they get four or five Grade A scoring chances.

Fortunately for Minnesota, this was one of those games. Jose Theodore was above-average between the pipes and the team (with Greg Zanon and Chuck Kobasew in particular) blocked many timely Kings chances. There were many moments in the third period where it appeared that the Wild were holding on for a point and a shootout for some strange reason. I'm never sure why Minnesota wants to be in a shootout since no one can remember the last time they won one, but they are good in overtime. In seven games this season, the Wild are 3-4 in overtime with three wins in the extra five minutes and four losses in a shootout. In tonight's case, Minnesota took advantage of power play with Brent Burns scoring the game-winner.

In the end, it's hard to be impressed with the Wild's performance. Teams have to be gritty on the road to grind out a win, but that's not what most coaches have in mind. I'm happy Minnesota didn't give up, played good defense, stood up for themselves and were able to take advantage of Los Angeles' mistakes but there are plenty of negatives to take from the game. Losing two staged fights while ahead, allowing the Kings to own the crease and most importantly taking penalty after penalty after penalty are all things which will haunt the team both in the short and long-term.

Right now I won't be surprised to be writing about a tired Wild squad tomorrow in Anaheim - teams can only take so much between killing penalties and injuries - but hopefully Minnesota proves me wrong. As for tonight, Minnesota has Jonathan Quick and Jose Theodore to thank for two gift points.

Getting to Know Your Opposition: Los Angeles Kings Edition

If pictures are worth 1000 words, go ahead and caption this yourself...

As a public service, we here at First Round Bust would like to spotlight some of the other twenty-nine NHL clubs from time to time. Or mostly when they play the Wild. Today we take a look at the Los Angeles Kings and preview (I mean actually preview) tonight's game which is thankfully in Los Angeles.


Overview: The Los Angeles Kings are the hottest team in the Western Conference right now and riding a three-game win streak. Hooray for parity! Anyways, the Kings are lead by Anze Kopitar who is making plenty of teams regret passing him up. Along with Kopitar is captain Dustin Brown who might be enemy number one for Antii Miettinen and a cast of young talent assembled through drafts and trades. While the Kings are not yet at an elite level, they are a frightening team to face.

On the Minnesota side, your Wild are coming off of a 3-2 victory in Phoenix. Between the pipes will be everyone's favorite goaltender Jose Theodore. It looks like Matt Cullen will not be playing tonight as the Wild recalled Warren Peters from Houston. Greg Zanon's also a gametime decision, but he looks more likely to play along with John Madden. And of course James Sheppard is out with a knee injury.

Five Pros for the Wild: Top line is finally producing, Brent Burns scoring his seventh goal, discipline and a lack of penalties last game, Martin Havlat and did I mention Minnesota actually won a game Thursday?

Five Cons for the Wild: Road game, facing Drew Doughty, no Matt Cullen, 2-7-0 record in the last two-plus years and the Kings are sure to remember losing on national television.

What was said last game as today's GDT is bare:
-Los Angeles is the second-most populous city in the United States with 3.83 million people.

-151-1. It's been decided, now if only Minnesota could shoot the puck 151 times.

-The Kings were founded in 1967 as one of the original six expansion teams.

-Are unethical in their hunting since everyone knows it is not bear season. Then again, they are Kings and can do what they want.

-On another note, why does only the head of the "Wild bear" have markings?

-Los Angeles enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with an average of 35 days with measurable precipitation annually. In other words, that sounds nice right now.

-Are worried about coming out flat. Well that and believe the team can handle the Wild.

-Led by captain Dustin Brown.

-Like making puns.

-Have won as many division titles in forty-three years as Minnesota has in ten.

-Is not the city of choice for Biggie Smalls.

-Trying to win one for Snoopy. Not sure if that works since Snoopy's from St. Paul, but it's okay. Snoopy's sneaky like that.

Tidbits: The "One Foot On The Gas, One Foot In The Grave" Edition



The Patrick O'Sullivan Quandary: I think to get the most out of O'Sullivan, you need to give him the same leash as they did with Guillaume Latendresse. If you want to get the most out of him, then putting him in a situation where he can succeed, a top 6 role with plenty of ice time and skilled linemates, then you need to give him that- with unwavering support.
I feel there is some confidence issues with him; in that teams give him that same opportunity, and then take it away from him, which effectively limits his effectiveness- let's be honest here, he's got shortcomings like he gets bumped off the puck easily, there isn't enough jam for him to be an efficient and effective bottom-6 guy, and he ends up being a healthy scratch...or run out of town, and thrown onto the scrap heap.
The Wild are a team that are not in a place where they can make forwards with offensive acumen healthy scratches. Period. They're missing their arguably best goal scorer in Guillaume Latendresse, and the lineup is chock full of pass-first set up guys, so when you have a guy with an elite shot and goal scoring ability, you have to play him. And play him and play him and play him. He fucks up? Send him right back out there. Have confidence in him and he'll produce.
That's the only way to make this low risk waiver claim a high reward.

- In talking about the context of winning games (and to a greater scale saving Todd Richards' job), this Andrew Brunette quote is worrisome: "I feel there has been anxiety in the locker room." To me, this is trouble- because it means that they are preventing themselves from playing well.
- Maybe Chuck Fletcher needs to bring in Mike Redmond so he can walk around the locker room naked and take batting practice in the shower or something. Worked for the Twins...
- Very valid point from SI's Darren Eliot: Todd Richards has to make this team work despite it being unable, for the most part, to play the way he ideally wants. This right here, is why we need to stay the course, and let Chuck Fletcher continue to bring in the personnel needed for Richards' system to work.
- Jared Spurgeon is really a savvy player; he might get exposed by a bigger player, and its happened recently, but he rarely is found in a position like that we he can be outmuscled. Ideally he should be paired with a crease clearing guy.
- It'll be interesting to see how Todd Richards deals with Matt Cullen and his groin injury. He's a key cog in nearly everything we do, and groin issues can linger.
- If Pierre-Marc Bouchard has been able to get a firm grasp of Todd Richards' system by watching it from the pressbox then James Sheppard should be able to master it when he returns. #cheapshot
- Finally, here's why rebuilding isn't a feasible option- because our UFA's may have little value, and the East is so bad that we still would be picking around 9 or 10 in this year's Entry Draft. And who would want to go through a rebuilding process? Look how its worked out for teams like Florida or Atlanta.

Welcome Back Bouchard



It's hard to believe that we essentially skipped over one of the larger pieces of news to come out of St. Paul this season, but that is the case. It's not that we have anything against Pierre-Marc Bouchard. In fact, I've always been a fan of his work both on and off the ice.


That's cheap even for the old ownership group...


In all honesty, I had no clue what to expect from the new Bouchard. The old adage "out of sight, out of mind" was true in his case and the fact that spending an entire year on the shelf with post-concussion syndrome didn't make his questionable contract easy to swallow. If anything, the time off made the deal look like the worst of all Doug Risebrough decisions.

However there were good memories too. The speed. The chemistry with Brian Rolston during the Northwest Division title runs. The vision. And of course, the spin-o-rama.

The French makes it cooler.

So when I heard Bouchard was coming back, it was a wait and see approach but one filled with hope. Let's face it, Minnesota is pretty thin depth-wise in terms of players who can create opportunities and score. No one's magically coming out of the prospect pool and it's not everyday a team gets to add a former sixty-point scorer for nothing (fifty though...). The Wild desperately need someone to score and set up players - especially with Guillaume Latendresse on the shelf - and I thought there was a chance Bouchard's strengths would pay off in the Richards system. On the other hand, I also thought it was going to be tough for him to find chemistry on the team. There aren't many shoot-first players for the playmaker to work with.

Thankfully Bouchard has been able to make an instant impact and put my fears aside for now. His chemistry with Martin Havlat - something I am happy to eat crow about - has pushed both men into playing better hockey (although in PMB's case it's not like there is much of a recent slate to compare) and Bouchard even scored a goal.


It's also good to see Bouchard not afraid to take a hit or two. I don't expect him to become Cal Clutterbuck overnight (unless Burrows is playing), but the nature of his comeback and seriousness of PCS does make contact and the possibility of another concussion worrisome. I'd love to see how PMB plays with Guillaume Latendresse when he comes back, but until then I will take a feel-good story. Despite having no clue what to expect about Bouchard, I do know that Wild fans need something to cheer for after this recent stretch of play.

Wild $#*! I Found On The Internet (12/8)


Paging Dr. Freud to the TSN studios. Paging Dr. Freud...


So close to game day. So close. We still have Twitter and a plethora of new blogs, but in the meantime, here are some stories and blogs that have helped us get through the tough times.

-Brent Burns refutes every opposing trade on HF Boards. Or his head's fine. (Star Tribune)

-It's hard to have missed this as Deuce wrote a commentary on it, but Rory Boylen has a nice piece in The Hockey News about missing Jacques Lemaire. He also tweeted that the second choice for coach (according to former assistant GM Tom Lynn) was Dave Tippett. *puts on sunglasses* Either way, it's still a trap. YEEAAAAAHHHH!!!!

-Wild.com has an interview with Patrick O'Sullivan which doesn't go too far in-depth, but he did let everyone know Cal Clutterbuck doesn't snore. Clutterstache on the other hand...

-Chuck Fletcher takes a page out of the Dana White playbook by bringing in an Army Ranger to motivate the troops. (Pioneer Press)

-As mentioned earlier, Wild prospect Jason Zucker made the USA preliminary roster for the World Junior Hockey Championships. If you don't know what the WJHC is then there's a nice blog on the subject here at FRB to read.

-Gone Puck Wild writes a Mikko Koivu Christmas letter. And no, he doesn't ask for a sled.

-Robbie Earl leads the Aeros to a win against Oklahoma City. (The Third Intermission)

-Darren Eliot gives the Wild a mirror as a gift. (SI.com)

-And in a related note, Pierre LeBrun gives the Wild a "D" for their efforts. Sort of a negative way to end things, but then again it's not like the grade is out of place. (ESPN.com)

To The Woodshed: The Nostalgia/Hindsight is 20/20 Edition



Rory Boylen, who writes a Tuesday Column for THN.com (The Hockey News' online site,) wrote a nice, well-thought out and statistically accurate assessment about the Wild in the post-Jacques Lemaire era. Basically was the theme of the blog was that we, as Minnesota fans, miss the Old Coach because he got the team to overachieve on a consistent basis.

Really, is this what we're left with? Waxing nostalgic about the days of yesteryear? I don't want to launch a Tet Offensive on Mr. Boylen (who is a fine writer, and also a gentleman and a scholar) but come on- no one is pining for the "Days of Lemaire". The reality is we overachieved once (considering the lineup), and that was the magical albeit fluky run to the Western Conference finals. The other two playoff appearances (including home ice advantage due to a Northwest Division Title) were gross underachievements especially when they were arguably the most talented Wild teams ever: Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Brent Burns, Niklas Backstrom...The reality is that Jacques Lemaire left because it became crystal clear that his old school coaching techniques were falling on deaf ears, and he wanted to leave on his own terms before he was gonna be fired.
And no one wants to relive those days.

Now...a combo platter, because for some reason I keep hearing this guy's name.



This fucking clown. (Thank you Getty Images!)

I know the Wild is going through a goal-scoring slump, and since there's no immediate on-roster and/or in-house solution (Not counting Guillaume Latendresse, who is on Injured Reserve) I keep hearing about Gaborik this, Gaborik that. Look, folks...its not like we are the only team in the league without a dynamic goal scorer. And its not like we can't win without one. So stop already.
- Gaborik didn't like it here.
- Gaborik averaged roughly 50-60 points in the average of 60-odd games he'd play in, BECAUSE HE GETS HURT ALL THE FUCKING TIME.
- Gaborik wasn't going to resign here, and we couldn't trade him because HE GOT HURT after his 42 goal season. What was Doug Risebrough to do? Trade him before extension talks? This town would have marched to the door of Risebrough's home in Edina with torches and pitchforks!
Does it suck that we didn't get squat for him? Yes, and it probably set us back. But look- it would have been a bigger mistake committing however much money it would have taken to lock him up long term (what was the obscene number floated around? 10 years, 100 million?) for him to only play 65 games a year, and having Chuck Fletcher hamstrung by that albatross of a contract.
I'm happy that he's enjoying life in New York, wearing Yankees hats to Wolves/Knicks games, eating Nathan's hot dogs, driving his little car simulator, and scoring bunches of goals against the terrible hockey teams in the Eastern Conference.
We'll get by without him, besides its not like he's got the Rags on the cusp of the Stanley Cup.


Let's move on, for christ's sake.

The World Junior Hockey Championships Part I


Despite popular belief, the Junior Goodwill Games are not the same thing.

With the news that Wild prospect Jason Zucker has once again made the preliminary US roster (along with a former Wild first-round pick who shall remain nameless, a Gopher and a few other Minnesotans) and a few other prospects making bids for their own country's team, it's in the best interest to catch up and learn about the World Junior Championships. Plus it lets us take a break from the lack of news coming out of the Wild (you're lucky Todd Richards). The WJHC, a tournament so loved in Canada that the opening day is its own holiday there, runs from the day after Christmas to January 5. Usually hosted by a different country every year (besides the last two tournaments), this year's tournament is in Buffalo, NY. The location, chosen partially for its hockey fans and partially for its proximity to the Golden Horseshoe.

The World Junior Hockey Championships features the best players under the age of 20 and gives most scouts an idea of how their prospects fare against the top competition in their age group. Or in the armchair scout's case, it's the one time a year they get to watch players instead of stat sheets. The WJHC also plays a small role in determining the draft rankings, but since most draft-eligible players are 17 and 18 the fact that they play in the tournament is usually a boost in itself. This is a 19 year-old's tournament plain and simple.

Of course there's always the possibility a player who deserves an invitation doesn't get one. Politics play a role in everything in life and there's only so many spots on each team while everyone has a different idea of who is deserving. Usually certain teams have certain patterns like the US selecting players from the National Development Team or Hockey Canada eschewing those who took the college route. And of course there's the ever popular Latvian method of selecting most of a junior KHL team.

The rules are fairly simple. Ten countries are divided into two Groups of five based on last year's results. Let's call them Group A and B. Still there? Good. Now each team plays the other four once in a round-robin style tournament where regulation wins are worth three points, overtime wins are worth two, OT losses are are worth one and losing in regulation merits nothing. The top team in each group gets a bye to the semifinals and the second and third place teams face off with the other group's respective team (i.e. A2 faces B3 and B2 faces A3) in a single elimination game for the right to join them. The bottom two teams in each group also face off in the relegation round and try to avoid being demoted to the first tier while the two top teams in that tier are promoted next year. And since no one cares about that end, the four semifinalists play in a single-elimination tournament where the winners advance to the finals and the winner of that wins gold.

So there you have it. The World Junior Hockey Championships is a great time to be a hockey fan and spend your post-Christmas/pre-New Years puck fix provided the rinks aren't flooded. Hopefully this gives you an idea of things to come and I'll be taking a look next at the ten teams in the tournament and offering some predictions.

Fire Richards, and Fire Him Now

Why do I always look like I have gas?
OK, I'll be the first to admit I'm something of a Chuck Fletcher apologist––I loved the Latendresse trade and signing, I've liked POS for the short time since we got him for nothing, I was glad to see Mikko extended, I'm very happy with 2010's draft class (especially Granlund and Zucker), and the Havlat deal has looked pretty brilliant as of late. In my book he's succeeded on a lot of tangible fronts that this organization severely struggled with under He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. For that, he's earned some time and some leeway in my book. But he's been preaching patience with Richards, and a need for more responsibility from players. And while there's certainly room for players to step up, there are a lot of fundamental problems with the way the team's playing that can only be solved from the top down, so I have to disagree with him on this one. Richards has to go, and here's why:

The top line hasn't changed since
this guy left––and it desperately
needs to compensate for his absence.
For starters, he's abysmal at creating lines. The Brunette-Koivu-Mittens line has, frankly, been a failure this season. Mittens is a solid NHL player, especially on the PK, but he plays a third-line game and has certainly earned his nickname "Antti Missedthenettigan."Bruno is just too slow to keep up with other teams' first lines and is dragging down a franchise player at this point. He's constantly behind the play and that's not helping anyone. I'll agree with Fletch that it would be nice to see Mikko step up his game––he's looked a bit lost the past month––but he doesn't pick his own lines; that's the coach's job, and he's failing. (Or if he does pick his own lines, then Richards is doing even worse than I thought!) Let's see Mikko play with Havlat, who has been tearing it up lately, and maybe we'd have a legitimate scoring threat line for the first time since a certain Slovak left us. Throw in Bouchard, who looks like he hasn't missed a beat and who has shown tremendous chemistry with both of those players, and we might even start winning some games! Even if that's not the line Richards wants––maybe he wants Havlat and Koivu on separate lines to spread the tough matchups––there are still players vastly more deserving of that first line spot. To wit, Patrick O'Sullivan. In my book he's looked fantastic in his short tenure here. He brings speed and a decent shot (and he can even score in the shootout... hallelujah!) and has appeared to be playing with intention. Why, then, was he a healthy scratch in the Wild's 13th straight loss at American Airlines Center? Plodding turnover machines like Nystrom and Madden don't bring the sort of upside to the lineup that anyone can see the team is lacking.

One of the reasons POS has fairly quickly endeared himself to the legions of the State of Hockey is his presence on the ice. Most of the team's play just has the wrong atmosphere out there. It's lazy, there's absolutely nothing holding the team up in the second period, and frankly, they often look like they just don't know where they're going. Sometimes this is a problem player, but when it's this pervasive throughout lines or the entire roster––extending to both veterans and newbies, and even a fierce competitor like Koivu––it suggests a coaching difficulty. And it's not like his decisions once the puck has dropped are any better than what's coming out of the locker room: Richards' situational decisions are equally disappointing––sending out ineffective grinders when the team needs momentum most (like right after an opposing goal), bringing the goalie to the bench for the extra skater at the wrong time and killing any chance of a late tie, failing to use timeouts when the momentum starts tilting the ice the wrong way, even leaving Backstrom in for an obscene 7 goals against in Denver this past week.

Back during the Wild's horrific eight-game road loss streak in '09, people were talking about the need to adjust to a new system, but to be blunt, I think the players look lost because Richards doesn't really have a system. They keep repeating these buzzwords like "up-tempo" and "offensive" but don't have any consistent play to support this. Nothing they are doing on the ice looks in any way like they're even trying to generate chances, or know how to. Richards was an offensive defenseman in his college days, but carrying that distinction can be a trap to ignoring defensive responsibilities. When Richards has encouraged DFDs like Schultz to jump into plays deep in the offensive zone, he seems to have completely ignored the defenseman's primary purpose: preventing pucks from getting to the goalie. Statistically speaking, all Richards accomplished in the transition from '08-'09 to '09-'10 was allowing vastly more goals against; the Wild scored exactly the same number of goals in each of those two years, and without any particularly significant personnel turnover to blame for it (remember that Gaborik barely played in '08-'09 due to that nagging crotch of his). It's possible that the "system" he preaches––defensemen playing like fourth and fifth forwards, letting the players manage themselves and create their own plays, and placing all the blame on them and their effort––worked in the AHL. But it doesn't work in general, and it certainly doesn't work with the Wild roster's skillsets. 

Remember that string of games that everyone felt the Wild "shouldn't have won" even though they somehow pulled one out? Like that OT win in Detroit? Yeah, games like Gaborik's return and that awful game against the Flyers are what we all felt coming in our gut the whole time, because even the wins, while enjoyable, aren't convincing. It's not about Richards' record; he simply does not coach a responsible, sustainable style of hockey, and it's obvious from watching the team in 80% of the games they play. There are plenty of coaching options, both internally and externally, who would do much better. Michel Therrien is even already on payroll! Fletcher, I understand your desire to see players step up, but a lot of the problems the team is having just can't be solved by "trying harder" on the level of individual effort. The Wild are scraping the bottom of the barrel of the tough Western Conference. If the team is to make the stated goal of participating in playoff hockey, then this change needs to happen before the hole gets any deeper.


PS: Every time you use a defenseman in the shootout before Marty Havlat, an angel loses its wings.

Wild $#*! I Found On The Internet (12/6)



Good morning/afternoon. Sorry for the delay, but it helps to have the internet when you are scouring it. We're in the middle of a four-day break by the parent team, but there's plenty on tap here in the meantime so check in regularly. And if you haven't read it already, check out my piece on Darcy Kuemper and follow us on Twitter. It's a lot of fun.

-Are Havlat's goals enough to stave off changes? I don't know, but it makes an interesting blog. (Star Tribune)

-Friend of the blog CircularTheory pumps out his December prospect rankings. (Hockey Wilderness)

-Jayson Werth signs with the Nationals. That part doesn't matter (although they do have a lovely park), but former Wild CEO Jac Sperling is going to run the New Orleans Hornets like the Phoenix Coyotes (LA Times)

-Hitting The Post reviews yesterday and previews today.

-Top 5 NHL Brothers Thankfully the Sedins don't run this league. (Neon Tommy)

-Aeros won Saturday and sounds like Casey played well. (The Third Intermission)

-And lastly, Saturday was the final game at the DECC. I was fortunate enough to be able to play on the ice surface and watch a couple Gophers-UMD games up in Duluth and it's going to be a weird feeling for the top-ranked Bulldogs to not have a unique home-ice advantage. Thankfully they went out with a win Saturday but Wild prospect Jason Zucker led the Pioneers to a 5-4 OT victory Friday night with a hat trick. (Duluth News Tribune and USCHO)

An In-Depth Look At The Future: Darcy Kuemper




Who is this guy:
Darcy Kuemper is a twenty-year old goaltender in his third and final season with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League and a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2009. He is originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the same province as injured Wild goalie Josh Harding. Standing tall at 6'4", Kuemper has been the best goaltender in the Dub so far this season.

What's he doing: Blocking pucks and stopping shots. Kuemper leads all goalies in the WHL with a 1.71 GAA (.7 more than the next best goalie), .937 save percentage, five shutouts and twenty wins. He has also been awarded the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week award and is tied with former Rebel (and current Carolina goalie) Cam Ward for the most shutouts in team history. Darcy is one of the reasons alongside 2011 NHL draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that the Rebels are on top the Central Division standings. Although Kuemper is too old to represent Canada in the upcoming WJC, it wouldn't be far-fetched for him to win the Del Wilson Trophy as the Dub's top goaltender if he can keep these numbers up.

How this compares to other Wild prospects:
Fairly well. For a team with a haphazard drafting history, the Wild have been good at recognizing goalie talent. Present Wild goalie and former second-round pick Josh Harding previously won the Del Wilson Trophy in 2003 while present Houston Aeros goalie Matt Hackett was one of the top goalies in the OHL last season. Speaking of Houston, Darcy did spend some time with the Aeros during their playoff run last season (the Rebels were already eliminated) and won a game against Texas. Hockey's Future does not have Kuemper rated as one of the Wild's twenty-best prospects but the fact that he has accomplished what he has without being one does deserve merit.

Why he can still be a first sixth round bust: Well it's hard to consider a sixth-round pick to be a bust as the odds are slim for a player picked so late to be an impact NHLer (Henrik Zetterberg notwithstanding), but there are a few major obstacles standing in Darcy Kuemper's way. First of all, it is hard for goaltending prospects to separate from the pack - each team does only carry two on their roster - and Minnesota has a large backlog of goalies. Besides the previously mentioned Hackett (a third-round pick from the same draft as Kuemper) and Harding, Minnesota has Anton Khudobin, Johan Gustafsson and Dennis Endras in their system without even counting irreplaceable and untradeable starting goalie Niklas Backstrom. Now while it is very possible that Harding and Khudobin will not be around this time next year, Kuemper will still have to compete with Hackett and Endras at the very least.

The second reason why Kuemper can end up "busting" is that while he has been successful this season a lot of it has to do with being twenty years-old. That's not to take anything away from Darcy, but it is a lot easier to put up elite numbers against younger competition than doing the same thing in Houston or a European league. He wouldn't be the first hockey player to be guilty of that and it will be interesting to see what plans the Wild brass have for Kuemper after this season.

(Sources used/consulted: WHL.ca, reddeerrebels.com, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Hockey's Future, Wild.com, The Third Intermission, ontariohockeyleague.com, USA Today and the Red Deer Advocate)

In Which The Rattling Saber is Double Edged



Just win, baby.

I guess in some sort of weird, twisted, allegorical way Wild (Majority) Owner Craig Leipold is similar to Al Davis- he wants to win, and dammit, he wants to win now. Who doesn't, right? So with that in mind, that urgent desire to win trickles down throughout the organization, even though that trickle may feel like sand bags upon the shoulders of Head Honcho Chuck Fletcher.
Fletch (we got a good vibe, trademark "The Common Man" Dan Cole) was featured in Mike Russo's most recent Insider Column in expressing that this current lineup needs to get their crap together and win, or there will be changes. He did stress however that this wasn't attempt at "saber-rattling", a scare tactic, but as a player, how do you take that? Damn right it was saber rattling, a veiled threat under the guise of improving an erratic and inconsistent team that is skidding down towards the bottom of the West. Yes, there's been injuries, but essentially this team's been surviving on a surprisingly good power play and excellent goaltending; neither of which is enough to get this team back to the playoffs. And while Martin Havlat's become dominant (!!!!) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard has returned (and the two of them combined looks promising) we still aren't getting what we need from the so-called veterans: Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen (nevermind the gaudy power play point total.) These guys are supposed to contribute, and for whatever reason they aren't, which puts Fletcher in a precarious position.
So the decree is "changes will be made". But what is it that can be done? Sure, we have guys with expiring contracts (Brunette, Miettinen, Kobasew, Madden) and guys who've been underwhelming (Ya, you Cam Barker) but do any of these guys have enough value to get a player that can presumably kick start the even strength offense? Likely not- if we as fans, the local and national press, and the Brass have seen that these guys have been underachieving, what makes you think someone else's GM and Pro Scouts will offer the farm for them? Do we dare offer up a key roster player (Nick Schultz, Brent Burns, young guys like Justin Falk) for that player?
Here's the catch-22; the likely scenario is that if we're gonna look for outside help, we're going to have to open the cupboard and let another GM peruse through our draft picks and prospects; the same cupboard that Fletcher and Brent Flahr have worked on diligently restocking with solid, serviceable, if not unspectacular players, but assets nonetheless.
But the stark reality is that you have to give to get; there comes times where you dangle a prospect like Jason Zucker (hat trick last night, 12 goals in 17 games at Denver U) for a player who can help the big club now, whether it is well received or not. Because the message from the top is "just win, baby."

Guest Blog: To Trap Or Not To Trap...The Future Of The Minnesota Wild

By: Jarick


I’ve started to come around on former head coach Jacques Lemaire.

After coaching the Wild to the Mirace Playoff Run of 2003, Lemaire enjoyed little success. Two seasons of missing the playoffs entirely, followed by two seasons of quick first round exits, and one more season of missing the playoffs before leaving the team.

“He was old,” I thought. “Out of touch, clinging to defense, boring hockey, trap trap trap! Where’s the forecheck? Where’s the creativity? Where’s the OFFENSE?”

And so, general manager Chuck Fletcher granted our wishes. Out with the old, in with the new. Head coach Todd Richards, of the high flying San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins (well, their minor league affiliate anyway). In to save us from boredom by instilling an aggressive, high-tempo, two-man forecheck brand of hockey.

But we still couldn’t score and were giving up way more goals than under Lemaire. Right up against the salary cap ceiling, the Minnesota Wild are 13th in the West, 24th in goals per game, and 15th in goals against per game. Translation: the team stinks, can’t score, and is merely “okay” defensively.

As of this morning, the sharks are starting to circle around the Wild. An “abnormal” number of scouts were in Minnesota to watch the game this past Wednesday, and although Fletcher denied trade rumors, he did admit there was more talk among GM’s and there was pressure to improve.

One of the killers of the current Wild team are the “lulls” that last anywhere from a few minutes to most of the game. It’s as if the team stops moving their feet, stops working, and there are usually a couple quick goals against.

Can a head coach control how hard his guys work? No. But he can control the amount of ice time players get. Lemaire was really good at two things: giving ice time to players who were playing well, and matching lines against the other team. Richards on the other hand seems to give players the same amount of ice time every night regardless of how they are playing, and he doesn't seem to match lines well at all.

So even though Koivu and Brunette look like they are wearing cement skates and Miettinen has cement hands, Richards continues to throw them out for 20 minutes a game, even against the top line, night after night. Lemaire on the other hand would have seen two shifts of that and nailed them to the bench. Which means more ice time for the guys who are skating well and working hard.

When it comes to offense, Lemaire let the players figure it out. He didn’t have schemes and forechecks and plays drawn up. Just make sure the center stays high and let the players do their thing. It worked great when the team had skill, but without the talent, they struggled to score. Richards draws up an aggressive forecheck to try and pin the puck carrier behind the net, put the guys to work along the boards, and try to score off a centering feed or rebound (or lately, by banking in off the goalie’s rear end). But the Wild lack the speed necessary to play that style.

Defensively, Lemaire had his players learn the simple trap scheme...one man pressures the puck carrier, the rest position themselves to cut off passing lanes and prevent the opposition from getting any speed or numbers advantage into the zone. And it worked extremely well. Richards, on the other hand, seems to have no particular defensive scheme...make sure two guys are back and hope to hell the other team doesn’t score. And the result, as we saw against Phoenix: teams came flying into the zone with speed AND numbers.

In that way, Lemaire was able to get the most out of a group of scrubs...you can teach any idiot how to play the trap, and for the most part you will be strong defensively. Offense will depend on your talent up front. Meanwhile, Richards seems to be awful with a subpar lineup, because he doesn't scheme well defensively, and the scrubs can't score up front because they don't have the speed to win the puck battles on the forecheck.

So in my opinion, one of two things needs to happen:

1. Dump all the slower players and bring in fast players with offensive skill. This is obviously hard because fast players with offensive skill are highly valued, both from a trade and cap perspective. But that would allow the team to run the aggressive forecheck, win puck battles (which they are losing), and have the puck skills to score goals. Right now we have fast players who can't score and players who can score who aren't fast, which is why we rely on the PP so much and suck 5-on-5.

2. Get a new coach who runs a defensive system. This will allow us to use our slower skilled players and not have to make a huge roster change. We should give up a lot fewer goals and have fewer breakdowns (and collapses because they keep it simple), and the offense will probably be at least as good, because the current system is not working for them. Less defensive zone time means more potential offensive zone time, which means more potential scoring.

Fletcher has been trying to do the former for about 18 months now, which is not enough time to reconstruct a team that’s already strapped for cap space. If he continues down that path, it’s going to take time, trades, and smart signings to build up the team, and it won’t happen any sooner than next year, likely the year after.

But with Koivu as the long-term captain and piece to build around, it might be time to admit defeat and return to the trap. He is an incredibly strong player with great hands, great strength, and high intelligence. But he does not have the foot speed to skate up and down the ice for 20 minutes a night, as we’re seeing now. A coach that could slow down the game for both teams would allow him to use his strengths rather than expose his weaknesses.

One option would be Michel Therrien, who took the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup final in 2008 before being replaced mid-season the following year. He is currently a scout for the Wild, although former coach Mario Tremblay speculated he was brought in to potentially replace Richards. He has a reputation for being a hard-nosed, defensive-minded coach who can get a group of young players to work hard, but may not be a great strategist for a talented team.

Another option is Ken Hitchcock, who won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999 and took the Columbus Blue Jackets to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history before being replaced mid-season the following year. He is another defensive coach who worked for years with Wild assistant coach Rick Wilson in Dallas.

It’s certainly not an enviable position for Fletcher to find himself...his hand-picked coach and re-structured team is not a threat to make the postseason. To replace the coach, he would have to admit defeat and welcome second-guessing. To bring in an impact forward, he would have to move a top defenseman like Brent Burns. To remain patient and see how Richards and the team responds, he would risk an already fragile fanbase’s alienation.

Of those three options, the best might be a return to a defensive system with a new head coach. You don’t give up significant assets and have the potential to turn around the season while it’s early. If that’s the case, Wild fans might have to prepare themselves for the “boring” label. But if that comes with winning, it would definitely be worth it.