The dawn of every hockey season brings many things to the Minnesota hockey fan: excitement for the return of the game they love, new faces coming in to town to put on the red and green, and of course, the predictable snarky dismissal “season preview” from the blogosphere. Oddly enough, this particular column was NOT written by everyone’s favorite hockey blogger Ryan Lambert but by a Vancouver Canucks blogger named Harrison Mooney of Pass It to Bulis. Read the 2011 season preview and see if you find it as enjoyable as I do.
The legend of Brent Burns. Boy, string together a few good months of hockey with timely goals, and all of a sudden you’re a Norris candidate. Well, after you get traded to a fashionable team instead of flyover country.
Brent Burns is a guy who in the last three seasons missed 60 games and posted a -32. Yet he was a “stalwart on the back end”. I love to watch him as much as the next guy, but he was by no means a sure thing. Even last year, he scored 14 goals before the All Star break and 3 after. And anyone who actually watched him play knows that his second half of the season was as shaky as could be.
When he’s on, he’s fantastic to watch. His speed was unmatched on this team. He had a wicked wrist shot that always seemed to find the net. He has size to drool over. But at the age of 27, he has yet to put together one full season of consistently great hockey. His decision-making in the defensive end is shaky. He takes a lot of risky rushes and pinches.
Just because he is going to a stacked San Jose club doesn’t guarantee his success (look at Dany Heatley).
Guillaume WHO? Only a writer who hasn’t watched the Minnesota Wild over the last two years (read: practically any hockey writer outside the state) can make this omission.
By nearly any offensive statistic, Guillaume Latendresse is a BEAST for this team. Look at some numbers from 2009-10: leading the team with 25 goals, leading the team with 4 game winning goals, leading all forwards in plus-minus, and second among forwards with 110 hits while taking a meager 12 PIM. Except he did all this in only 55 games after his trade from Montreal.
Unfortunately, he seemed to have ate his new contract, came into camp last year terribly out of shape, and proceeded to injure his groin and hip so badly that he needed THREE surgeries to repair them. Safe to say that last year was a write-off.
And now, after being hounded by Wild trainers with regular weigh-ins, he’s back and in shape in a contract year. Even if he only matches the 25 goals that he put up with the team two years ago, wouldn’t that be worthy of a mention?
Heatley is better than Havlat. Not that I disagree, just that nobody will say or admit this currently. Nevermind that prior to the trade everyone would have made the same claim. A lot of analysis has been done on Dany Heatley vs Martin Havlat, and I personally thing that Heatley is a much better fit for this team since he is a shooter and goal scorer and the team has playmakers in Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Not to mention the attitude problems that Havlat displayed last year.
I just wanted to point out something positive before going right back into the negative.
The defense is the worst in the league. Okay I’ll give you that it doesn’t look good. But worst in the league? Maybe in goal scoring, but I prefer my defensemen to play DEFENSE. Scoring is just a bonus.
The biggest subtraction is obviously Brent Burns. But the author glosses right over the Mike Lundin acquisition. A fun fact is that Lundin was the #2 defenseman for Tampa Bay in 2009-10. Who was the defense coach? Rick Wilson. Who joined the Wild last year and greatly improved the team’s defensive play, including Brent Burns? The same Rick Wilson. Lundin right now is slated to be on the top defensive pairing with Nick Schultz, who has quietly been the go-to guy for the Wild since the lockout.
Beyond the top pairing, Marek Zidlicky will be back, reportedly in much better shape, and hopefully healthy for the first time in two years. This is a defenseman who routinely outscored Burns. Yes he has defensive issues, but that’s why he’s a second pairing powerplay specialist.
By no means am I saying that this squad will perform great. They have a couple sophomores and a dearth of star power. But I can’t see how the defense would be worse than last year, especially with a more defensive head coach. And speaking of…
The Wild will be the worst team in the league. Why would the Wild finish last, or close to it, for any logical reason? They had an awful head coach the last two years who didn’t believe in playing defense or manage ice time, and they still only finished 21st and 22nd. The subtraction of Brent Burns is enough to completely throw out the season? Might as well just give that Cup to San Jose!
Look, I’m not planning the Cup parade just yet. I’m not confident they will make the playoffs. But there is no reason to believe this team should be asking which number Nail Yakupov will want. The team has improved up front with the addition of Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. Latendresse, Zidlicky, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, and Josh Harding were injured or had down years and are coming back with something to prove. Burns is gone, but Lundin comes in along with a more experienced Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon. And a new head coach who hopefully doesn’t exclaim “I don’t have any answers” EVERY SINGLE POSTGAME CONFERENCE.
Am I going to be wrong? Probably. But this is a team that made major offseason changes addressing their problems. Notice I’m not making any absurd statements like so many of these previews toss around. Then again, maybe if I was trolling for views I’d be able to write for a national hockey blog.