Your Chincy Post of the Night



Yep, that Mikael Granlund who was left hanging by his teammates. Reminds me of something...

Behold A Dark Horse

Last night was abysmal.

So now the speculation is really starting to fire up; if (it could very well be when) Todd Richards is fired, who is the replacement?

Just looking through the twitterverse, I've seen the names Ted Nolan, Dean Blais, Ken Hitchcock, Andy Murray, and some others; all have some sort of head coaching legitimacy to them. It's all a part of the coaching carousel- who is next to be hired and fired? Michel Therrien has ties to Chuck Fletcher from their days in Pittsburgh, and is currently serving as a scout for the Wild- the familiarity is there, and in a sense Therrien is already in-house.

However, this is just my opinion- I think Richards returns next season (to much dismay for many) for many reasons, some of which are just out of his control, some aren't; but I think it still behooves Chuck Fletcher to stay the course and continue to alter the roster to give Richards more to work with. It's obviously not a quick fix, but there is also an intriguing option that is also in-house if things are just as putrid next season- Houston Aeros Head Coach Mike Yeo.



Yeo and his staff have guided The Aeros to the rarified air of the American League's elite with a team that isn't overly talented, yet they continue to win- the Aeros have set themselves up for what could be an extended run in the Calder Cup playoffs. Yeo, like Therrien, is also has a connection to Fletcher from Pittsburgh, serving as an Assistant Coach to Michel Therrien, and won a Stanley Cup with The Pens in 2009. So there is continuity there; and with the renewed commitment of adding young players and prospects, Yeo essentially is hands-on. That, in turn, means if Yeo were to take over in Minnesota, he'd be coaching the same kids he has/had in Houston. And one has to figure that he'd be a bit more in touch with the players than say, guys like Murray, Hitchcock, etc. Old school methodology could very well work; the tough love aspect often rights the ship however there is a trend that that same methodology becomes lost on the players after a finite amount of time. Look at those same coaches' records; Both saw success with Columbus and St. Louis, yet were fired after those teams stopped responding. Yeo, considering his age, would be able to connect and get the most out of the players Chuck Fletcher is bringing in via draft picks and free agents/overagers.

You also have the issue of contract demands from the established coaches, so it makes even more sense fiscally to keep the hire in-house.

I'm not saying this is necessarily true because there are examples where it didn't work; but look at the success Jack Capuano on Long Island has had after being promoted after Scott Gordon was fired, and of course the ultimate parallel would be Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh- who was promoted from Wilkes-Barre after Therrien was fired.

When you think about Mike Yeo in this context, it makes a ton of sense.

Patience



In any professional sport (you could even expand this into high profile collegiate sport as well,) there is a saying- "coaches are hired to be fired". You see it across the board, that the coach is often the chief figurehead for a team's success, or failure, whether it is deserved or not.

For every Bill Belicheck, there is a John MacLean. The reality is the Lindy Ruffs, the Barry Trotz', the Gregg Popovich's, the Bobby Cox' are exceedingly rare. That's just how the coaching carousel works.

There isn't any question that the interrogator's spotlight is shining brightly on Wild Head Coach Todd Richards. I'll spare you the timeline of the now well-documented flameout; any fan can tell you that this season went from promising to toilet-bound in what would be called ludicrous speed. The Wild have gone plaid indeed. Now that the season's relevance is over, the same vultures that were circling about Richards last season and into the early part of this season have returned. It's just crazy that there was some talk about Richards being a candidate for the Jack Adams, and now we're talking about whether or not he has a job in two weeks.

Hypothetically, if Todd Richards is fired, there would be some rejoicing by a segment of the Wild fanbase. Can someone tell me though, what is it the team stands to gain by firing him?

To me this isn't just a matter of competency; this extends beyond that. There are just some things that are out of a coach's control- Richards can't help that Niklas Backstrom has been just terrible in the past month (and I cannot overstate this enough- I don't think Backstrom is getting enough heat for his play, because he's been a huge reason why this team has bottomed out,) or that Brent Burns has lost his way, or injuries (most notably Mikko Koivu, Cal Clutterbuck, and to a lesser extent Guillaume Latendresse,) or that his lineup has been exposed as a group of guys who more or less don't have the ability to create their own offense. Why should Richards take the brunt of the blame when he a.) inherited a lineup that is in the process of being turned over on the fly, and b.) doesn't really have the personnel to play his style of up-tempo forecheck hockey (speed and talent,) and c.) has a team with not much talent. I understand that you have to make do with what you got, but at the same time there are certain limitations when you are trying to install a methodology of how you want a team to play.
I give Chuck Fletcher, who's in a very tough spot considering he brought in Richards, credit for doing what he can as quick as possible to give Todd Richards the pieces he needs, but I also thought Fletcher was absolutely spot on when he told Elliotte Friedman that "all we've done here is make change. New coach, new players, new system. What we need is stability, not more changes." Fletcher can only do so much folks; he's got little assets and is increasingly handcuffed by some very sketchy contracts.

Up until roughly a month ago, Todd Richards had established some legitimacy as a coach, and his preferred style of play, with a moderately talented and ill-fitting roster. Now that 3-4 month stretch should just be disregarded because of the finish?

So we want to forsake patience for what looks like a quick fix? To hell with continuity?

I understand the want and the need for playoff appearances, success, and in the end a Stanley Cup. I get it; I got roughly $6000 with the Minnesota Wild's name on it for ticket renewal- don't think that it isn't a tough pill to swallow. I'm sure I'm not the only stiff paying his/her/their discretional monies to the Wild who feels the same way. I also can understand Craig Leipold's stance too; he's the bankroller here, forking out 60 million for a non-playoff product, with more and more customers becoming frustrated, disillusioned, bitter, sullen, and withdrawn. Not to mention the the reported ten million he is losing a year on this team. No one, no matter their business acumen, wants that.
But there has to be a bit of patience as well; Fletcher's trying to overhaul the roster without completely blowing it up and starting from scratch- so that means that there is going to be some low moments; last year's game against Florida and the 8-1 thrashing by Montreal being the lowest- but there has to be some continuity and a commitment to staying the course moving forward otherwise this franchise won't ever move forward when the coaching turnstile continues to spin.

Selling Points; or Say Shhh....

A couple days ago I was leaving work when I got a tweet from fellow FRB writer Nate Wells- it was a bit of a chirp, but the gist was that Matt Read, the Senior Center from Bemidji State, signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a bit disappointing, but nothing that would make me want to curl up in the fetal position and cry; Read was a higher profile NCAA free agent, and since this is the initial harvest season for NHL teams to bolster their organizational depth at roughly no personnel or asset cost, I was hoping The Wild would sign Read for that very reason (although I did spend a considerable amount of money and a few years at BSU in my formative years- we'll just disregard that though.)

Ultimately, because Read was going to be 25 as of September 15th, he was beyond the stage where he could be offered an entry-level contract meaning there was a possibility a bidding war could happen; teams upping the ante with seven figure money and one way deals. Paul Holmgren ended up winning his services, with a three year, 2.7 million dollar one way deal.

Minnesota, realistically, probably never stood a chance when it came to signing Matt Read.

So while Chuck Fletcher and Co. are still hot on the trail of a few players, who are currently engaged in the NCAA Regionals. While no names have been explicitly said, you can connect some dots: Justin Fontaine of Minnesota-Duluth and Cameron Schilling of Miami of Ohio participated in the Wild Prospect Camp last summer; and North Dakota Captain Chay Genoway is superbly talented, and likely will get an NHL contract. There could be more; who saw them signing Scott Campbell of UMass-Lowell to an ATO?

But the holy grail is Merrimack's Stephane Da Costa.

Da Costa is seen as a player who could be an impact guy at the NHL level; granted the caveat is that he'd likely need top-6 and power play minutes, but any time a team can add that sort of potential for financial cost, you do your damndest to do it. Last night on ESPN 1500 Mike Russo stated the Wild were "going really hard on Da Costa" and understandably so; in theory he'd be an immediate boost to a goal-starved team, if not an offensively-anemic pipeline. The problem to this is that there are roughly 19 or 20 other teams on Da Costa like hounds chasing a fox. If not more.



So I ask you this; what does Chuck Fletcher or Brent Flahr or whomever sell Stephane Costa on in attempting to persuade him to sign with the Minnesota Wild? The likelihood is that once Merrimack's NCAA run is finished, Da Costa and his "advisor(s)" will sit down and vet out the NHL offers. The money, the situation, the personnel, the coaches, the GM's, etc. Signing a professional contract shouldn't be done is hasty fashion, after all.

Which could mean trouble for our Minnesota Wild. This is a team that:
1. Inexplicably melted down from playoff contention, and now we're looking at a possible lottery pick.
2. A Head Coach that went from hot seat to creating some legitimacy to possibly back on the hot seat.
3. Three straight years of no playoffs, in a cut throat Division in the toughest conference in the league. Not exactly a legacy of winning either.
4. They have 20 players signed for next year, with just under seven million in cap space.
5. This is Minnesota. Not New York. Not Chicago. Not LA. Not Washington. Not Boston. MINNESOTA. Really gets you excited doesn't it?

That being said, there would definitely be a top-6 spot available and all the power play time Da Costa could handle almost from the get-go. What do you say to him? "Our Media is pretty soft on the players, and we got a nice arena full of fans who continue to pay and show up despite our current stretch of mediocrity"?

But at this point would you really be surprised if Da Costa signs elsewhere? Minnesota just doesn't have the selling points that really makes them a viable option for a player of Stephane Da Costa's caliber and potential.

Groundhog Day

This morning, as I sat down at work with my cup of coffee and my edition of the Star Tribune (this is before I actually do work, mind you), I generally make it a point to read the Sports section before I start my work day.

Part of the morning routine you know?

So today myself and the fellow readers of the Strib were treated to a rare hockey column by the venerable Patrick Reusse. In his column, the long time Minnesota sports columnist talks about how largely the Wild have been underachievers in their decade of existence by pointing out the time between the magical 2003 playoff run between the present, and sprinkling in the playoff disappointments of 2007 and 2008 as an added layer of malaise that surrounds the franchise. Reusse also uses the words of the fans, such as the "Woo-Man", and a few other season ticket holders, as a sounding board and what would seem to represent a cross section of the Wild fanbase.
There were a variety of opinions, some good, some bad. There were pointed fingers at Doug Risebrough (rightly so,) and even Chuck Fletcher. By the end of the column, it was clear that the motif was that these highlighted fans were disenchanted by the current state of the franchise.

Sound familiar?

This was the exact formula found in a column that Reusse wrote roughly a year ago; that the "sounding board" for the most part, weren't too terribly impressed by the season, and in turn, are contemplating a change in their investment in the Minnesota Wild.

You see, to put this in context, Patrick Reusse is a baseball guy- he himself even proclaims that he just doesn't "get" hockey. So a column like this, even the most complimentary of essays, can be taken with a grain of salt. Even as a big baseball guy, if your job is a columnist, you got to write about something. I can't find blame in that at all. But here is where I take a bit of umbrage; I get the sense that there is a sentiment by some in the local media that there is a failure to comprehend the fans' devotion to our NHL team, and that Wild fans are bit besieged for it.

(Note: if some of our readers aren't local Minnesotans, then it should be noted that despite a slick marketing slogan, "The State Of Hockey", that the Wild, aren't on the forefront of the Minnesota Sports landscape. Not even close, unless the team is keying in on the playoffs.)

Maybe its just curiosity, or maybe it has more ill intent than that, but I pick up a sense of wonder; why do we continue to be so devoted to a team that is going to miss the playoffs for the third year in a row, and has only made the playoffs three times out of ten? Its funny in a way, because I think there is some frustration that the fanbase isn't as bandwagon as the others; say what you want about the Metrodome, but if the Vikings suck, ain't no one going to the game, forcing corporations to swoop in last minute to help avoid TV blackouts. However, that place is rocking if the team is good.

As if this column (and last year's precursor) are a more veiled way of going "WHY IN THE HELL DO YOU GO TO THE GAMES WHEN THE TEAM IS MEDIOCRE???? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!? DON'T YOU KNOW YOU'VE GOT TO ABANDON THEM TO SHOW YOUR DISGUST?!?"

Maybe its because hockey fans know what its like to watch their team move away, or because The Wild is treated like the red-headed stepchild of the local scene. Or that the situation is just column fodder.

Who knows. Isn't that a part of fandom though, to ride out the lows and revel in the highs?

I guess we'll find out this time next year courtesy of Mr. Reusse.

The Fork in the Road

As another Minnesota Wild season comes to a disastrous end, we look to the future. No, not the seventeen months of Stanley Cup playoffs (or however long they are, all I know is it’s well into summer and the Wild are never in it for long). We look toward next year and beyond.

For the third consecutive year, Wild fans will watch their team implode, players seemingly giving up, and wondering when--or if--it will get better. And if so, how?

Two years ago, we had a great excuse: injuries. Gaborik, the team’s offensive engine, was out for most of the year with groin surgeries. Burns and Bouchard both suffered concussions and were out for much of the year. Brunette was reduced to playing on one leg down the stretch.

Last year, we had a great excuse: injuries. Havlat was injured at the beginning of the year, Bouchard was injured all year long, Burns missed a couple months with illness, Backstrom AND Harding both got injured, and down the stretch several players all succumbed to fourteen months of NHL hockey (or however long the season is, it starts in late summer).

This year, we had a great excuse: injuries. Latendresse was injured very early on and barely played again, Harding and Sheppard were injured before the season began, Zidlicky went out with injury for a couple months, and most importantly, Koivu missed a crucial stretch of hockey.

Is there a common thread as to why we’re so bad? If you said injuries, go to the back of the class. The fact is, injuries happen to every team. The Vancouver Canucks lead the NHL even after suffering numerous blows to their defense. Philadelphia is right behind them even with Chris Pronger out of the lineup for much of the year. Pittsburgh lost their two best players yet is still headed toward the playoffs.

The answer isn’t staying healthy, it’s having the depth and talent to overcome injuries. This is analogous to how the Wild never seems to get the “bounces” or “puck luck” or runs into “hot goalies” so frequently. Here’s a hint: good teams aren’t lucky, they’re just plain good. In terms of talent, depth, and performance on the ice.

Now sure, I could make a blog entry about the one or two guys that we could sign/trade for this year and make another run, and then with a healthy Latendresse, we’d be right back in it. But the reality is, we wouldn’t be. This team has so very little depth, not just in terms of scoring, but in the minor leagues as well. Yes, we had a great draft last year, but those kids are a few years away, even if they pan out. Yes, we could sign a couple college free agents, but those players are usually depth guys, not impact players (sorry Nate...I love Wellman too).

As I see it, this team needs serious offensive depth AND defensemen who can shut it down. We have one of the best goalies in the league, and we saw just how good this team can be when the defense buys into assistant coach Rick Wilson’s “box out” system. Add in a high end goal scorer, a 30-40 guy like we used to have in Gaborik. Add in a 20+ goal scorer, someone to light the lamp when the big guys are cold. Add in a shutdown defenseman, someone who can keep players to the perimeter with size, skating, and smarts.

But how do we get there? In my opinion, there are two ways:

1. Trade Brent Burns

Now I just had an article detailing why Burns should get a payday and why the Wild should give it to him. If it bothers you that I’m going to pull a 180 and explain why we should trade him, feel free to stop reading, call me an idiot, write your congressman, I don’t care. There’s a reason I’m writing this on my lunch break at a desk job and not actually calling the shots.

Regardless, there is only one player on this roster who can get a 30-40 goal scorer in return, and his name is Brent Burns. Number Eight, God love him, he’s gone downhill exceptionally quickly since the All Star Game. In basically what amounts to his contract year (yes, he’s signed for next year, but high end players don’t hit free agency like they used to, they get extended or traded).

Over the seven game losing streak, the Wild’s goals against per game has been 4.43. Horrendous. This is a team that is defensively awful. You can’t blame that on the goalie, that’s a team stat. Over this stretch, Burns has ZERO goals, ONE assist, and has been -6. Not a good audition for his next contract.

Yet, he still has a lot of value. This was a guy that, heading into the All Star break, was on pace to hit 24 goals and 30 assists. And that’s on a team that struggles to score. You’d expect that assist total to be a lot higher on a team that could finish off his passes. Those numbers would put him top ten, maybe top five in defensive scoring in the league.

Burns could get a 30+ goal scorer in return, which would help the Wild more than 15 goals on the back end and inconsistent defense. And with a couple shrewd signings, the Wild could look something like this:

Parise-Koivu-Jokinen
Havlat-Brodziak-Latendresse
Clutterbuck-Cullen-Bouchard
Nystrom-Almond-Staubitz

Ehrhoff-Schultz
Zidlicky-Stoner
Zanon-Spurgeon

Backstrom/Endras


That should be a team that can not only make the playoffs, but do some damage.

2. A Five-Year Rebuild

This is what some fans were calling for two years ago. They said that mid-round drafting and keeping the same roster would get nothing but more mid-round drafting and missing the playoffs. And they were right. This team lacks depth to overcome injuries, lacks talent to score goals, and lacks smarts on the back end to shut down the other team.

The only way to build depth under this CBA is with the draft, and you need a lot of high end draft picks. Taking one player in the top 60 or 90 each year doesn’t cut it. Just ask Doug Risebrough. Because when that one guy doesn’t pan out, you get in trouble pretty quickly.

Now there are some good prospects in the system...Granlund, Zucker, Wellman, Haula, Scandella, Hackett, Kuemper. Those guys should play in the NHL someday, but they are likely at least two years away. If we could move players this summer for draft picks in 2011 and 2012, you could have an entire stable of quality players, including a couple top ten or top five talents, which the Wild has been lacking. Imagine getting a Couture, a Skinner, a Kessel, a Backstrom. Imagine getting two. Combine that with our prospects and a couple core guys like Koivu, Havlat, Burns, and Schultz.

But that takes time, patience, and a lot of losing. We’d have to move players that could bring a big return. Latendresse. Brodziak. Backstrom. Clutterbuck. We’re talking about at least three years of definitely missing the playoffs, and not only that, but losing on most nights. How much fun is it to watch a team that likely won’t win? Just ask either of the Timberwolves fans. And that doesn’t account for teams that continually lose yet can’t draft the big time player, like Florida, Phoenix, Atlanta, Toronto. Ask either of the Timberwolves fans how much fun it is watching your team draft a mediocre player with a top five pick year after year.

We’d likely only have Koivu, Havlat, Latendresse, Clutterbuck, and Schultz remaining, plus Burns assuming he gets re-signed. Many of those guys would be near or over 30 years old. Still a fairly young roster if you add in lots of 21-25 year old kids.

But lets say we were able to draft a Jeff Skinner and a Luke Schenn. We could have:

Latendresse-Koivu-Skinner
Zucker-Granlund-Haula
Larsson-Almond-Clutterbuck
Lehtonen-Wellman-Bulmer

Burns-Schenn
Scandella-Schultz
Stoner-Spurgeon

Hackett/Kuemper


Insert a couple veterans in there, and that’s a team with a lot of potential. Still probably a year or two off from doing damage in the playoffs, but a lot younger, cheaper, and with a lot deeper than the current roster.

3. Stay the Course

Of course, we could always do what we’ve always done: retain a couple good UFA’s, try and sign a 2nd/3rd line tweener in free agency, and hope someone “steps up”, just like we’ve hoped the lats two years:

Havlat-Brodziak-Bouchard
Brunette-Koivu-Latendresse
Clutterbuck-Cullen-Nystrom
Gillies-Almond-Staubitz

Burns-Schultz
Zanon-Zidlicky
Stoner-Scandella

Backstrom/Endras


A team that could overachieve and slide into the 8th spot, or could just as easily be one injury away from early tee times.

Sins Of The Father

We've accepted the fate of the Wild this season; as fans we are just going through the motions now with the remaining games. I mean really, what else are we going to do when the Twins don't start until April 1st? (Really, that's what it has come down to: the metamorphosis from must-see television to filler entertainment until baseball season.)

After the season is over with, the analysis begins; the who's, the whats, the whys, the whens, the questioning, and the how's when it pertains to next season and the future. Clearly its evident that this is a team that pales in comparison to those around us in the West, in regards to the volume of talent; The Chicagos, The San Joses, The LA's, The Detroits, etc. In the cases of Chicago and LA, the teams are now reaping the windfalls of a rebuilding process; repeated top 10 picks, and the proper development of the other pieces. Detroit's hit on a few late round gems, but like San Jose, there's been a commitment to development, whether it is a first rounder or a seventh rounder.

There just never seems to be a shortage of talent; I believe organizational depth is the term. Depth to the point where the team can let someone go via free agency, or trade someone away and still have a player in place to fill the void.

Which brings us to Minnesota.

The Wild, as we all know, have little in the pipeline. To Chuck Fletcher's credit, he's done a very good job at restocking that cupboard (at least attempting, you have to wonder what sort of selling points Minnesota has at the moment) by way of the Draft and Free Agents of the CHL and NCAA variety. While Fletcher still views prospects and draft picks as assets, he's done what he can to at least give himself some things to work with.

But this dire lack of assets isn't the doing of Chuck Fletcher. The current state of the organization is the product of Doug Risebrough's version of Trickle Down Economics.

Risebrough and his Chief Lieutenant Tommy Thompson viewed an NHL contract as a priviledge, a proverbial golden ticket to Willy Wonka's NHL Factory. So instead of bringing in an influx of youth one way or another, those assets (good chance that Risebrough viewed prospects and draft picks- especially draft picks- as assets) where dealt in an almost willy-nilly fashion at times for what seemed like one three million dollar/year player after another. 2007 and 2008 yielded just nine; NINE!!! picks total.
It goes beyond that however; first round picks were given the red carpet treatment, often fast tracked to the NHL (for better or for worse, usually the latter) while the rest of the draft classes had the NHL contract carrot dangled in front of their faces, as to taunt them about the sheer honor it is to have affixed their name on one. So needless to say, the systemic philosophy of development barely existed; year after year waves of unsigned prospects disappeared off the radar.

So here we are now; a organization too good to rebuild, but not good enough to contend, heading into another offseason watching others play for Lord Stanley's Cup. In Chuck Fletcher's defense, trying to overhaul a team on the go can be a risky proposition; it can take time and when you've got so few assets to work with, you are bound to have seasons like this, where you are stuck in the middle. But we've got to take a look back to comprehind the scale of the rebuild part of "rebuilding on the fly" that Fletcher has undertaken.

Die Die Die My Darling






Dan:

Sunday was the day the season died. There may have been a good chance that this animal may have been already dead, but at the very least it was limping badly, having lost a limb or two on the last road trip. Whatever the case, the 2010-2011 season has been put out of its mercy in craptacular fashion, an 8-1 disemboweling and emasculation by the Montreal Canadiens.

We'll miss you. Nate and I are even prepared to pour out some Grain Belt in your memory too.



If there's a silver lining, its that this wasn't a sudden thing, something that took us by surprise- this team's been in a slow decline for a while now, and just like in nature, it is survival of the fittest; if you can't keep up, or you're too old, or you are limping down the stretch because your Captain got injured, well, you die. So pretty much, while all of the thoroughbreds in the West have gained their stride, this donkey of a team started its death rattle.

Not only did it rattle, it fell apart like the Bluesmobile after the Chicago chase scene in "The Blues Brothers."

It was a cute little run for a while, enough to get the casual observer's attention and get the diehard fan all randy, but all good things must come to an end. And its ending badly. VERY badly.

So, nine games left, and who cares? The season's over.

Try again in October.


Nate:

Pour some out for my homeboys. Koivu, Backstrom, Havlat you all played elite hockey...well for most of the season. Same with you Burnsie, you first-time All-Star. There were some great moments like the emergence of Cal Clutterbuck and Jose Theodore becoming a great 1B after spending the preseason unsigned. There were some bad moments like that one game which we already bitched about. I know that the team can't overachieve for an entire year and that injuries were going to take their toll eventually but c'mon we're fans first. We want the best for our team and when that crash and burns like the Hindenberg it's something that is taken personally.

Because Time Is Running Out...


...Minnesota made a run and it fell apart like Charlie Sheen's career. Or James Sheppard on an ATV. #notwinning

But if there is one thing that I've learned as a Minnesota sports fan/haphazard blogger-journalist it's that there is always next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.

Sorry Guys, But We're Not The Greatest Hockey Fans In The World




At the Wild's 8-1 embarrassment at the hands of the Canadiens last night, Adam Abrams' customary attendance announcement sounded more than a little pathetic. Now, no question he had a tough job that night—he was essentially reminding us out in the crowd that 18,595 of us pathetic saps paid (on average) upwards of $60 to watch the team give up and bend over. But the fact of the matter is, "the greatest hockey fans in the world" were in attendance that night. They just weren't wearing Forest Green or Iron Range Red. They were wearing the good ol' Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.

Yeah, it's hard to get enthusiastic about your team when they give up a goal thirty-some seconds into the game. Or when they're losing by an astonishing, franchise-worst seven goals. Or when they're on the wrong end of a six-game losing streak. But the sounds coming out of the pond on Kellogg were just pathetic. I don't fault the thousands of Canadians and Canadiens gleefully Oléing, screaming "Go Habs Go," and (this one stung the most) singing "Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye," as if we needed more reminders of the fact that our season ended this week. What got to me was that us fans, much like our team, didn't even try and answer. The Habs fan next to me remarked that "the Canadiens are the only team who plays 82 home games a year," and, really, apart from one rather weak "Let's Go Wild" early in the first, it sure didn't sound like the Xcel Center I remember. The one that was always "tough to play in," that sounded like a playoff game every night, that cheered along and stayed in the game even in the midst of a pathetic 25-win inaugural season.

But it wasn't just a deflated crowd that didn't really have a lot of cheering in them. It wasn't just a crowd that felt like they couldn't make a difference in the game. It wasn't even just the usual dull Wild fans who, apparently, never learned any chants other than the one the scoreboard taught them: "Let's Go Wi-ld." It seems like we've now fostered an atmosphere actively hostile to getting loud and supporting our team. The stoic man sitting to my left sat through the entire game, arms folded, without booing, cheering, or even clapping once. When I'd start applauding a decent rush or booing after one of the many Habs goals or power plays, not only would they not join in my single-handed attempt to drown out the road fans; several of them actually turned around and glared at me in Minnesota's trademark, passive-aggressive way. One of them seemed upset at the noise I was making near her infant. Sorry, but a hockey game is not the place to go for an evening of peace and quiet with the family. For goodness' sakes, they watched two grown men punch each other in the face—and didn't seem to have a problem cheering along with that.

So why are the fans so uninvolved? Ultimately, I think it’s because after we lost our real team and got an expansion franchise back, we established an entirely different fan culture—and not a better one. Losing our history and our rivalries doesn’t help; all hell used to break loose when the Blackhawks came to town. Trying to position Vancouver, some 1,400 miles away, as our big bad rival does not and will not ever bring about that sort of excitement. A team whose greatest historic moment is a big goal in the first round of the playoffs doesn’t exactly carry the same emotional attachment as a franchise on which generations were raised.

But as much as I’d like to blame Norm Green for everything (and I do love blaming Norm), I can’t just pin this one on him alone. Team management has established the Wild as a very different kind of team: for their fanbase they’ve targeted, frankly, a bunch of boring yuppies. 

I understand that running an NHL team and spending up to the cap takes a lot of money. But ticket prices are prohibitively expensive for a lot of the kinds of working class families who actually care about the game. When the cheapest––and, I might add, most in-demand––seats in the arena go for upwards of $30 after all the fees are included, and when the seats that are actually available on a nightly basis are more in the $80+ range, it’s hard not to see this coming. The natural consequence of obscenely expensive tickets and private clubs with guarded elevators is a crop of “fans” who show up to about half of the games they paid for and care more about schmoozing with their guests than the product on the ice. I know season ticket holders provide stability to the franchise, but between the prices and membership fees, the Wild have filled half their arena with fans more interested in chatting about the weather and how the kids are doing than pumping up the decibel meter and coming in to work with a hoarse voice the next morning.

This is not to say that high-priced seats aren’t an important part of maintaining a team, or that wealthier fans looking to shout and cheer and boo and yell a fast-paced, hard-hitting game aren’t absolutely welcome at our pond. But look at the history of those very same Canadiens fans who made the Xcel Center their own. The Habs are one of the most financially profitable teams in the league, and yet their fanbase is also the product of a tradition dating back to the Old Forum where the “poor people” were not only able to afford tickets, but were so rowdy that they had to be fenced off in a chicken wire cage from the wealthier patrons. Not to generalize too much, but I sort of doubt it’s the people in the expensive seats who gave Montreal its reputations (good and bad).

The greatest hockey fans in the world don’t get quiet just because the team’s struggling; they get vocal in their disappointment and even louder in their support for a turnaround. They don’t quit cheering just because of an early goal. They don’t ask fans around them to keep it down because they’re trying to have a conversation; they join in. They don’t miss a game because the weather was kind of bad. They shout and yell because they want the team to win, not because the scoreboard tells them to get up out of their seats. They clap like mad because the team put in a good shift, not half-heartedly because the organ prompted them.

I’ve been to high school and college games in this state. There are bars in St. Paul full of really enthusiastic fans who care about this team and this state enough to watch every game even if they can’t afford to get into the arena.  I know Minnesotans know how to cheer at a hockey game. We need to get those fans excited about our team. From the play on the ice it was clear that the team needs to turn around in a big way, bring in key pieces for the future, and replace a whole lot of underperforming players. Maybe the Team of 18,000 needs to do the same thing.

Eight To ****ing One...

In my last blog, I stated that as long as the Wild played well and gave it their all the last would be fun and worth it regardless of the playoffs. Then there was last night.



Seriously, 8 to 1? No one is immune to a bad game but this hasn't been one game. Minnesota has gotten one point in their last six games and this is a culmination of sloppy play which Dan has covered a lot of the specifics in his blog. Losing six straight games is one thing but losing 8 to 1 is beyond pathetic. Having your home fans boo you off the ice and being overshadowed by the Montreal faithful (it looked like Bell Centre West at times) is pathetic. I hope the players are embarrassed because I sure am as a fan.

That is all.

Tidbits: The "Watch It Crash" Edition




I guess I'll speak for myself in that the disappointment doesn't lie so much in the fact that it looks like myself and others will be watching eight other teams in the Western Conference play for the Stanley Cup in a couple of weeks; the harshing of my gig is that Minnesota is melting down on a Fukushima Daiichi level (yes I went there.) By now we're all aware that there are shortcomings on the roster, and that on paper and on-ice we just don't stack up to the teams that are ahead of us in the standings but for a team that was playing great hockey under the flag of locker room solidarity has just gone in the jug. I'm understand fully the impact of losing Mikko Koivu for a stretch of games during a season where the standings change on a nightly basis- arguably he is the straw that stirs the drink- but there's more to it than the Captain's absence. There are a number of players on the roster who have not just failed to step up to not only fill that void, but to help carry this team to April and beyond, but have sputtered down the stretch, and in some cases, regressed in their play. I'm not talking secondary or role players; some of these tank jobs are key guys, players counted on to produce and contribute.
There is an odd coincidence in that this derailing began around the time of the Trade Deadline; there was a sense of disappointment in that there wasn't a move made to help the current roster moving forward; since then The Wild have gone 2-5-2. This team, like the song above, is a train that's gone off the tracks and we are watching it crash. It isn't like as fans we are watching tight games, close contests where the opponent scores late against a suffocating defense to win- the scores are belying the context of the game. These are games where Minnesota is effectively playing their way out of contention until the opponent lets up and The Wild score a couple of late goals; games where it was over after the first period.

10 games to go and all we can do is watch them crash...

- Culprit #1, and maybe the most under the radar tank job: Niklas Backstrom. 2-6-2 in his last 10 games, 4.34 GAA in the six losses. For some reason he's fallen apart; doesn't look comfortable in net, letting in soft goals. If there was going to be one guy Minnesota absolutely needed to step up, its Backstrom.
- Culprit #2 - Brent Burns. I wrote about this Friday Night, and Jim Souhan wrote something similar for today. Burns has been erratic since the All-Star Break, to point where he is costing the team victories. His primary assist to Columbus' Antoine Vermette was Skoula-like in its gaffe-ability.
- I don't want this to devolve into a post where I just point fingers, because there are a fair share of players whose play has suffered for one reason or another- there are some things out of one's control. I can't really blame Todd Richards though, he can only work with what he has, and at this point its clear that aside from a couple of players, its not much.
- The biggest truism is that this team struggles to score goals. Duh. But if you look beyond that, this team lacks players who are capable of creating their own chances. Some guys need a certain element to contribute, and some guys just don't have that sort of offensive ability.
- It would be a huge injustice of me to not mention how great John Madden was yesterday. He played with determination, and was out to make a difference every shift. This is the type of character he was brought in for, and I wouldn't mind if he was brought back next season too.
- Missing Persons Alert: Anyone seen Eric Nystrom?
- Tough ride for Marco Scandella...comes back from a concussion, and now breaks his finger blocking a shot. I hope he's healthy in time for Houston's playoff run, but the upside is we can see what we got in Nate Prosser now that he's got some AHL time under his belt.
- Finally...it's always amusing reading the comments section of the Star Tribune. Yesterday Page 2 highlighted "some of the best Wild-related comments of the week", and it never ceases to amaze how some folks think that Craig Leipold and Chuck Fletcher have the resources to readily make changes but don't; like it is just that easy. I thought we as Minnesota hockey fans had a reputation for "being smart"?

Head Trauma Drama In The Toybox; Or Granlund is Concussed...Again.



Earlier this season Mikael Granlund, arguably the crown jewel of Minnesota's prospect pipeline (or "the toybox") suffered a concussion; not just your little bump on the head, but the kind that kept him out of the lineup for a good chunk of time.

Right around the 3 minute mark is when you see how it happened; I've been told that the Finnish text that follows are articles stating that worst case scenario would be that Granlund give up the game.



So fast forward and Granlund returns to the lineup, and continues to produce at a nice clip. And this happened.



That's former NHLer Ossi Vaananen catching him with a right elbow before Granlund's face bounces off the cross bar (at the .59 second mark,) and then the right iron on the way down like a plinko board.

Here are some stills:









That collective "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!" you just heard was Wild Nation, and maybe an executive or two.

Mike Russo, being the ever-diligent ink stained wretch, checked in with Wild Brass, who were told that Granlund is day-to-day. However, HIFK Coach Kari Jalonen acknowledged that his career is in danger. The hit just keep on coming; Jason Zucker suffered a concussion at the World Junior Championships, and now Mikael Granlund has suffered his second one this season.

The in-jest notion that there is a curse may have some legs to it.

The Burns Identity

As the Wild sputter down the stretch, and the season winds down, the collective view begins to shift toward the offseason. While the roster flaws have begun to be apparent; that this team needs more speed and scoring touch, there is also the specter of a decision on at what cost its gonna take to resign Brent Burns to a long-term extension.

Burns' game went in the jug after he shaved this beard of for the All-Star Game.

By now we know Burns well; the kind of person he is off the ice- the man-child is now married and a father, a cycling fanatic, animal lover, big admirer and supporter of the Armed Forces in the US and Canada. He's a big goof, and perpetuates a child-like love of the game despite being a veteran of the NHL, breaking in as an 18 year old in 2003-04. Despite being a grump to the media at times, he exudes the joy of playing a child's game for a living, which tends to endear many to him. In a sense, we as Minnesota fans have more or less seen Brent Burns grow up in front of our eyes- he didn't have a driver's license or a car when he arrived in Minnesota, and now he is what he is now.

On the ice its been the same metamorphosis; A surprise when he was drafted 20th overall in 2003 (possibly the greatest draft class of all-time) as a forward; makes the big club out of camp, and by year's end he is back on the blueline (where he played his minor hockey before moving to forward in Brampton) and showing an immense amount of potential. Buoyed by a year in Houston during the lockout, he showed increased development and production, until he was jostled back and forth between forward and defense, and then became hampered with injuries. Concussion(s?), shoulder surgery, sinusitis, a ruptured eardrum...all slowed him down. Now that he's healthy, Burns is back to where he was before he missed all that time.
At his best, Burns is capable of physically dominating a game. He's an elite skater for a fellow who measures in at 6'5", 219 lbs; capable of using his long reach to poke the puck away or just plain rub out an opposing forward into the boards. He's a natural on the rush, able to attack better than most forwards; he's also able to pinch in and be able to recover, and possesses a heavy shot from the point. In summary, he has an immense amount of potential.

But.

There's a part of me that wonders if the Brent Burns we see now, is the best he's ever going to be- not a stranger to inconsistency (who isn't really?) Burns can struggle when he tries to do too much. There is a certain irony involved with that, seeing as Burns' wealth of talent would make him capable of many things, yet he excels when he simplifies his game to the simple tenets of defensive play- make the safe read, box out opposing players, and make a solid first pass out of the zone. At his worst, like the past 10-12 games, his ability to think a game fails; poor reads, poor decision-making, trying to do too much with the puck, and getting away from the simple plays. His tendency to take penalties increases- which in turn puts a team that struggles to score goals, in constant peril of being down a goal or two.

Its not that I don't like Brent Burns (in fact I have an autographed jersey of his on my wall above where I'm writing this) or that I don't want him to get the Brinks Truck backed up to his front door; its that contract situation like this can stifle a team's ability to make moves in the future. Should Burns finish his career here? Sure; but I don't want it to be a situation where Chuck Fletcher and Co. overpaid, and that contract is an anchor around the team's neck, much like, say, Brian Campbell's deal in Chicago- which coincidentally, is could viably be a number Burns could get on the open market.

So what do you do with a player who is capable of dominating a hockey game night in and night out, yet has an iffy history of injuries, and still exhibits signs of inconsistency and poor decision-making? I understand that he's on the verge of setting the single season record for points by a defenseman; but there's more to a player than just his production- sure he sees ice time in every situation, but do you offer him money like he's got the potential to be one of the best defenseman in the league, or that he's likely the best overall defenseman you have on the current roster?

Restocking The Cupboard: Chay Genoway



Chay Genoway
Defense, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)
5'9", 177 lbs.

I think this says it all about Chay Genoway. To boil it down, Genoway is one of the best players (and as a person) to ever play in the WCHA, let alone North Dakota. All of these qualities displayed by Genoway certainly make him a hot commodity when North Dakota's season ends; maybe the second most coveted NCAA free agent after Merrimack's Stephane Da Costa.





Redline Report Scout Max Giese had this take on Genoway in an interview with FRB a few months ago:

"Even at his diminutive frame, I think Chay Genoway has a chance at being an NHL defenseman because he's so dynamically fast and skilled, and his competitiveness both on the ice and off the ice working on his game is off the charts."


Pictures courtesy of USCHO.com and Pictoria.com respectively.

Wild Flounder But I'll Still Take Them Home



As a hockey fan, March is my favorite month of the year. With spring on its way, the culmination of everything in the winter comes together as over a two-week period, the boys HS hockey tournament, WCHA Final Five and NHL stretch run all take place. However with the recent stretch of play by the Wild, even my favorite time of the year for hockey can be tough to swallow.

It isn’t too surprising to see Minnesota descend from a playoff berth to 11th place. When your team loses its captain and top energy guy they will be hard-pressed to rely on goaltending and defense. That’s especially true for the Wild, who haven’t been an offensive juggernaut and are where they are this season because of outstanding goaltending and special teams play. So when both of those positives fail alongside no Koivu, Clutterbuck and Latendresse (for the most part), Minnesota is going to look like a lottery team.

This past weekend was particularly bad after consecutive 4-0 losses to Nashville and Dallas. Both teams are fighting for a playoff berth and in the same position as Minnesota. To see them utterly demolish an overmatched Wild squad the way they did just shows how much progress needs to be made in St. Paul.

Todd Richards has done a good job this season getting away from forcing his offensive philosophy on the team and getting them to play to their strengths; however the reality of the team is that Minnesota has little depth and without Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck is a one-line team. Yes most teams would be hurting without their captain and three of their top-six forwards, but they wouldn’t be hurting to the effect a depleted Wild are. There’s no one to bring up in Houston and years of poor drafting have led to third-liner after third-liner. So when injuries hit, there are few players who can step up.

Despite expecting some sort of drop, it still hurts. The worst part of watching bad hockey down the stretch is just that. While some fans are fine with cheering for the tank, I want to see my teams leave it on the ice and win. That’s just my nature. They aren’t going to win 100% of the time, no one does, but as long as it is a good effort, I can live with it. But I can’t live with producing stinker after stinker and just watching a team that looks like it has given up. It would be nice to see more efforts like Minnesota’s failed comeback against Vancouver; even if the Wild are missing the playoffs for the third straight year, at least leave it on the ice.

I Want Your Salvation

I'm not gonna lie and say that I'm as invested as ever in The Wild and their push for the playoffs as I have ever been; because, well, that would be lying.



What I can tell you is that I think there is a significant portion of folks, both fans and media, who have left the team for dead after the first period of the game in Nashville, and if they didn't, then they surely hit the bricks after Vancouver. I know this has been said, but four points and two teams to jump over seems like a monumental task for a team struggling to manufacture offense, our best defenseman is a mess, and a Six Million Dollar Goalie who has become a manifestation of Dan Cloutier. That's a tough combination to overcome if you want to extend your season by at least four games.
However, based off what I've read, Mikko Koivu provided some jump to the team, and suddenly Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen are functional again.
And, to top that off, the teams ahead of us are sagging, which, in theory, means that we're still in it mathematically speaking. I guess?

Minnesota needs to decide what the hell they are going to do with these final 12 games; make it interesting, or roll over. Winter has broken, the sun is emitting warm cancerous rays, and my attention span is fleeting for a team that resides on the tipping point of April tee times or April playoff games; because, well, at this point I'm envisioning April tee times.

So, this is my challenge to you Minnesota Wild. Go out and beat San Jose tomorrow. Get points. Make me want to continue to give a shit for these final dozen games. Make me less grudgingly write a check for next year's season tickets.

Because being let down on the last day of the season is better than not giving a shit with 12 to go.


Guest Blog: Wild Guillaume Returns At Home : Right When Needed – Part 2

Editor's Note: In the true spirit of FRB, we encourage and endorse guest blogs from Wild fans near and far. If you want to guest post on First Round Bust, please email us at
firstroundbust@gmail.com. Today's post is the second part of a special experience of visiting the Al Shaver Press Box from Tim Karsjens aka Bozak. You can read the first part here.



Our tour next stopped at probably the second coolest room up on that level. This is the Hockey Information Tracking System room. The coolest would probably be the AV room, but by the time we got there, the third period had already started and we were not allowed in.

The HITS room is a very simple room. It is at center ice, across from the player’s bench which commends the most impressive view of the entire playing surface. Spread across the counter which is perched over the edge are five laptops. Also in this room are quite a few coffee cups, but not tossed around, clean and organized. Oh, and two very hyper, yet very focused men.

This is the source of any and all information captured during a game; Time on ice, hits, shots, blocked shots, and more. As software geeks, my wife and I were immediately immersed in the explanation of the system. Several people constantly enter the statistics as they happen on the ice. The UI for this application is straightforward and simple. Each shot is clicked at the location it is taken and then quickly associates it with the player that took it. Time on ice is also associated by a rapid click.

All of the information tracked in the HITS system is entered by a small group of people. These guys have to have remarkable reflexes. The HITS UI is so elegantly set up, that as a software system analyst, it purely amazing. I could go into a bit more detail, but without having a background in software, I doubt you would think it is as cool as we did.

After we left the HITS room, we were walked by several more rooms, including the local TV and Radio booths and it was explained that Bob and Tom do not ever use their booth. They prefer to sit down a level. Since it was a national broadcast, the local TV booth was being occupied by the walking wounded. It was filled with Koivu, Clutterbuck, Sheppard, Stoner and Harding. The next room over, Jason, our guide, pauses and says “and this is where the Wild Management conduct business”. Sure enough, we peak around the corner and unmistakably, there was General Manager Chuck Fletcher.

I’m not too terribly awe struck by celebrity. I shook Craig Leipold’s hand while I was in line for Movember. I’ve met a few star musicians. I’ve arm wrestled a professional wrestler (and won, but man was he drunk). At this point, though, we were sort of already in overload.

Which is why Tom Reid escaped without being mugged shortly after we peaked in on Chuck Fletcher and also why I probably didn’t ask to pop down to the lower level to stalk Michael Russo. Plus, we really didn’t think it was appropriate at all.

At this point, the third period was close to starting. Jason wanted to show us the AV room, but with game play about to kick off, we were only allowed to peak in. Yeah, we sort of absorbed a lot of time in the HITS room. Did I mention that my wife and I are both software geeks? The AV room looked bad ass, but it’s not really our thing. The sheer amount of hardware that was contained in that room was mind boggling.

As the puck dropped, we were allowed to hang out on the visitor press side and watch a little bit of the game. I asked a few questions, one in particular that I have been curious about for a while. Do the play by play guys memorize names to go with numbers? Pattern matching led me to being curious about it because often, a 25 would be confused with a 45 and so on. Jason answered that yes, even the visitors memorize the names to go with the numbers, although some of them use cheat sheets and mostly just focus in on their players, at least to start the season.

That about did it for our tour… We slowly made our way back to the elevators and Jason thanked us for being respectful and appreciative and I’m pretty sure that he got that we were overwhelmed. We thanked him and expressed how the sheer awesomeness that is press row.

Oh, and as the elevator dinged? The door was held open for us by WES WALZ!

A couple of points about Wes Walz; I’m taller than he is, he’s way more handsome, and he’s way more intimidating. The man is just inspiring to be *near*. I know he is not technically employed by the Wild, but they were talking about a PR event coming up and I have to say that he is as articulate as Brunette. Both of them have a future in television, at least, although, why Walzie doesn’t have a coaching gig… I don’t know.

Getting back on topic; Mr. Walz could tell that we were excited just to be in the elevator with him. My wife and I didn’t do anything obnoxious and let him go about his conversation, but every now and then, he would look over at us with an amused smirk. As we were getting off the elevator, I looked back and he gave us a quick nod and a smile.

All in all, this promotion is a wonderful thing to experience and my wife and I wish to thank the Minnesota Wild organization.

Wild Guillaume Returns At Home : Right When Needed

Too bad he's out again... Bleh.

Restocking The Cupboard: Matt Read



Matt Read
Forward, Bemidji State Beavers (NCAA)
5'10", 185 lbs.

Read, the senior captain of BSU, has never missed a game in his time as a Beaver; in fact is the second fastest to reach 100 points since BSU's step up to Division 1 hockey, and also one of the few players to serve as a captain in back-to-back years. Read received numerous offers to turn pro following the end of last season, but turned them down in order to return to Bemidji and finish his degree in Exercise Science. Read made the Development Camp tour the past few summers, including a stop in St. Paul.



Read is fast, and skilled, but does it all; scores goals, makes plays, kills penalties, wins faceoffs, digs pucks out of the corners. He begin his BSU career as a Right Wing, but has since moved back to Center, giving him versatility at the forward position. Scouts have shown up all season to check out Read's progress, and recently Beaver Hockey Beat Writer Eric Stromgren intimated that Read has a huge fan in former NHL Coach/Scout Andy Murray. It should also be noted that Read is a big game player; he scored some huge goals on Bemidji's magical run to the Frozen Four in 2009, and recently had three goals in the most recent WCHA playoff series on the road against Nebraska-Omaha, helping lead the Beavers to St. Paul for the Final 5 (6?)
Barring another influential playoff run (and this former BSU attendee hopes so,) we'll know Read's future plans by the end of the weekend. I'd imagine that The Brass will be in attendance.

Fit For Consumption



I think that despite St. Patrick's Day is impending, that the video of "the perfect pour" is an oddly appropriate analogy for the 2010-2011 season for your Minnesota Wild.

Every season begins anew, with questions and unknown, and ultimately it can take time for things to shake out- which teams are contenders, pretenders, overachievers, underachievers, the good, the bad, the ugly. The bottom of the tulip glass is the first to settle; The Edmonton Oilers if you will.
As a consumer waits, more truths are revealed about halfway through the glass/season. Hot starts are exposed as mirages, or injuries and/or distractions decimate a team's chances for the postseason. Think Colorado.
So with 13 games left, we are one of the last remaining teams left in the "surge"; the cream at the top is seen with much more clarity as the regular season games dwindle down; Chicago, LA, Calgary (who saw this coming?) There is still that brown surge left.

But we've gone stout. Into the black.

My friends, although as painful and obvious it is to point out, we aren't in that creamy top of the Pint of Guinness. Back-to-Back shutout losses on the road, eight goals to our none, 33 shots for nothing to show for it- granted, the tiniest ray of hope is that we're still just four points out of that Eighth Spot. The problem is that the rest of the Surge, and the Cream keep winning; its become a vast divide between 8 and 11, where we currently sit. We've been resigned to our fate; that despite our proclamations of depth, that we can't win when three of our biggest difference makers aren't in the lineup, and if they did return, would be just a shell of themselves really.
I thought Dan Terhaar said something last night about Todd Richards and Marc Crawford last night that was profound (I'm shocked too;) in regards to dealing with injuries, Todd Richards said they were "trying to figure out what to do to win." Marc Crawford said that Dallas "is doing what they can to win." A distinct difference indeed, no matter what the talent levels on paper look like.

A few more games, and the story of the season is complete. The brown surge has worked itself out- the cream's risen to the top, the rest all the same, dark malted foundation that the elite rest upon. The waiting is over; our part of the surge has ended, our playoff push filtered out and digestible. The story arc of this season is now fit for consumption.

Drink it in.

Where I Impose My Musical Sensabilities On The X; or Fun with Audio and Video

Roughly a week or so ago Nate had a post about 5 Songs That Should be Goal Songs. It was a fun post; and since I'm not really in a mood to spew out a dissertation about the state of the Wild at the moment, I think I'll do something along those lines.
See, I'm a season ticket holder, and have been since 2003-04; so I've been to a ton of games at the Xcel Energy Centre, so I've heard the full gamut of arena music. And since I'm kind of a snobby douchebag when it comes to music, I think I'll tackle what I would do if I had creative control.

The warmups are done...arena goes dark:



Into this:



My reasoning is that Motorhead "The Game" song is putrid. Just awful. It just doesn't have the tempo I'd want for the puck drop.

Wild Draw a Power Play? You don't say...(credit to MSU-Mankato for this one. Brilliant.):



Or...



Although there are times where this should just play during the entire 2nd period, if you catch my drift. Or games against Nashville.

Don't like a call against Minnesota?



I HATE HATE HATE that Morpheus speech from "Matrix Whatever: Unnecessary Sequel"; in lieu of that:



And to follow that up, to really get the crowd amped up and cheer for the home team (because the X crowds tend to need prompting,) let's take a cue from the students at The University of Wisconsin:






Some Intermission Music:










I've noticed that the crowd likes to sing along with the music, so let's go old school:



Nothing really specific here, but I cannot stand that "HIYYO" sounder they use for no apparent reason. Use this instead.




And finally...Since Gary Glitter likes to touch little boys, and Joe Satriani's "Anthem Song" whatever its called is the worst piece of instrumental music EVER, let's make the goal song funky. People can clap along, its upbeat, and its got...soul.





Finally a quick Arena Music related story...

I was at the god awful Panthers-Wild game last year, where Minnesota completely sucked and only had like 13 shots on goal. So after the game, arena music guy puts on this:



It was oddly appropriate, and worth a laugh...until the 1:47 mark of the video came over the PA. Needless there was a song change immediately after that.

Guest Blog: Wild Guillaume Returns At Home : Right When Needed – Part 1

Editor's Note: In the true spirit of FRB, we encourage and endorse guest blogs from Wild fans near and far. If you want to guest post on First Round Bust, please email us at
firstroundbust@gmail.com. Today's post is a recap of a special experience of visiting the Al Shaver Press Box from Tim Karsjens aka Bozak.


No, this isn’t an article about Guillaume. While it was a pleasant surprise to find out that Latendresse was playing for the first time in four months, this article isn’t about him.

This article is about about one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in regards to hockey and it is also saying a big thank you to the Minnesota Wild organization for doing very cool and awesome things like this for their fans. Oh, and it’s also a big thank you to my awesome wife who had the awesome answer.

The Wild organization has introduced in-game contests this season. Most of the time they are subjective, which is fine. For the majority of contests that I’ve seen tweeted, the reward for winning is normally getting to attend Todd Richards post game conference. Since I’ve been probably one of the most vociferous member of the masses calling for his head, I can honestly say that I’ve never been interested in attending his post-game presser.

However, this time around, the reward for the contest was a guided tour of the Al Shaver press row. Both my wife and I got stoked about even that possibility. A tour of the press row? How awesome would that be? The tweeted contest question was;

#mnwild contest time-Must be at game to win! Since prize is tour of press box let's get in the spirit - Write the headline for Gui's return!


My response was admitedly lame. I tweeted back almost immediately; “Latendresse triumphant in his return! Natural hat trick!” Yeah, I admit that it was really lame. I mean, Lats was about half speed and seemed sometimes a bit shy of contact. My wife thought it was really quite lame and I agreed. She took some time to think about it and came up with;
@mnwild Wild Guillaume Returns At Home : Right When Needed #mnwild


It was the winning choice! (Hence, the title of the article.) Sound it out, it rhymes, it’s clever, it won.

In my writing, I tend to use hyperbole and exaggeration in the words I use, mostly due to the creative bend that my brain possesses. This experience is just too awesome to use flowery language to describe it.

The Wild PR team followed my wife on Twitter. She initially didn’t suspect that meant anything, but I figured that she was a “finalist” and they had to send her a DM. That’s how Twitter works, after all. Shortly thereafter, she did indeed receive a DM that she was a “finalist”. They asked for her section, row and seat number and she promptly responded. A young member of the Wild’s PR department then came down to our seats and asked her a few questions. With my ear issue, I had a hard time hearing the conversation, so here is how my wife remembers it. Basically, he came down to make sure that we would be appropriate “tourists”, meaning, not drunk, not with screaming kids or I also suspect that we would have been disqualified if we were wearing Avalanche gear.

He gave us directions and instructions. With a couple of minutes left in the second period, we needed to start making our way to the elevator. As we were on our way, we did miss the Bruno power play goal, but considering that I missed the win against Nashville to take part in the Movember effort, we were okay with that. We waited by the elevators for a couple of minutes and our PR guy (Jason?) popped out of the elevators.

The awesomeness began as soon as we got into the elevators. I remember a lot of details about nearly everything and I’m pretty sure that we rode up the elevator with Carly, the intern. Carly isn’t that popular of a name so I figured it was the Carly that I’ve heard Ryan Stanzel and Mr. Russo talk about.

Jason (I’m going to call him that, I’m horrible with names) introduces us to the Media check in station and explains how the media members check in, get their pertinent information and then stop by the media pack station. The media pack is an absolute wealth of information. Each pack contains more facts and stats than any fan could possibly imagine. All of the quips and bits of information that are revealed during a broadcast are a small scratch on the surface of what is contained in these media packs. At one point, I thought it would be a neat little business idea to collect box scores and generate various reports. Every single report I had outlined multiplied by ten are contained in these media packs. What’s even more impressive? These are produced for every single game, individually.

The first main area is a "home side" for various media types but when we were up there, we spied a very handsome young man (Tyler Cuma) sitting watching the busy-ness around him. My man card is safe, because this young man was dubbed as “gorgeous” and "super hot" by my wife. Tyler Cuma was in the general press area, with his crutches. I nodded at him as we were walking by and I have to say that he looks nothing like the pictures of him which primarily depict him as a somewhat gangly youth. Since I was at the game he was injured, I wanted to go over and wish him my sympathy, but we kept any intrusions away from our tour.

The next “station” we were shown was very amusing to me. A running joke on the Wild Message Boards and HF Boards is about the popcorn running that our healthy scratches do while they sit in the press box. Sure enough, the next room had a popcorn machine. Several people that we recognized were hanging out in that room, including the anthem singer for that night and Tom Reid. There was also a reporter that wasn’t Mr. Russo that I recognized.

Jason showed us the various rooms and studios for television broadcasts, pointing out the Versus crew room (which honestly looked messy and cluttered in comparison to everything else which was mostly pristine).

The next stop… The HITS room.

Which will have to wait until Part 2.

The Warriors




If you by chance have completely missed out on life and have never seen The Warriors, then I recommend that you go out and watch it. Not to spoil it for you, essentially a street gang is framed for murder, and have to fight other street gangs (all with themes) on their way home. The Warriors are wanted dead; but its about survival for the protagonists.

Sounds like the upcoming road trip for your Minnesota Wild.




This road trip isn't a walk down the primrose path; to say that the ramifications of the trip could very well mean life or death for the Wild's playoff chances. It's a veritable murderer's row; four teams that all have direct ties to the playoff race in the Western Conference. Here are the proverbial "gangs" on the horizon:

Nashville:


Tomorrow night Minnesota locks horns with the Predators, who are just one point back, with 76 points. The issue, however, is that despite the Wild outplaying Nashville in their first meeting of the season (Martin Havlat was brilliant that game), the team speed of the Preds is has been too much for the Wild too handle the past two meetings, both Minnesota losses. This has been one of the storylines this year, that The Wild struggle against speedier teams.

Dallas:


Fear The Mooterus.

As if having a back-to-back in the road can't be hard enough, the ass end of this combo platter is in American Airlines Arena in Dallas, where Minnesota hasn't won since Stegosauruses roamed the Earth. Or before the Lockout. Whichever was most recent. And, and, if things don't get hairy enough just by being in Dallas, Brad Richards is supposed to be making his return to the Stars lineup after dealing with a concussion. You know, the same Brad Richards who has 63 points in 56 games.
In the Glossary of All Things Minnesota Wild, Dallas is roughly the 6th ring of Hell. And it bears mentioning that as of tonight, The Stars are two points ahead of us, which 79. Which is five back of Pacific Division leading San Jose, so there is clearly some motivation to win.

Then we head out West...and a couple days later we get:

Vancouver: We know them well, we know their smell. They lead the entire league in points, their goalie is overrated, and they have "The Green Men." Not that I endorse giving a team with heavy artillery a power play, it might be worth it just to see what sort of creative taunt they come up with against Minnesota.



Although thinking about this game in the context of the post concept, it would be pretty funny to see a gang of green men in a street fight.

And after a couple of days in the sun, We end this road trip in...

San Jose: Like I mentioned earlier; they had a tenuous lead in the Pacific over Dallas, and they've been rolling for a couple of weeks.

And they don't like The Jets.




It's been easy to say that every game for the last two months has had serious implications, that it has a do or die nature about it. Well, literally, this road trip is nut cuttin' time; a couple losses could be so detrimental to where The Wild stand in the Conference. Its not just a loss, but two points for the same guys they're fighting with for a playoff spot.

But some wins, hell, even a decent amount of points, could do wonders for a team that's been band-aided for a couple of weeks; but there's a distinct possibility that this team could be full strength by the Vancouver game.



Think about that...Just in the nick of time, or a few games too late.

A Different City



It's been a while since I've done a full blog, so in the spirit of Dan's Tidbits, here are some quick thoughts on the Wild and recent actions. Don't worry, there's more soon.

-The Highs and Lows: It is hard to remember sometimes in the heat of the moment that the season is a marathon rather than a sprint. For every loss to an Islanders squad, there's a victory or two which raises the expectations. Every game is getting more and more important but at the same time it is best to look at the big picture from time to time rather than only being along for the ride.

-Trevor Gillies: Got what he deserved. When you just finished serving a nine-game suspension and have all eyes on you, hitting a defenseless player into the boards after the play is over is one of the stupidest things you can do. I mean, does anyone think Gillies learned a lesson? No. And because of that, he's sitting out ten more games and the Wild are without Clutterbuck for the time being.

-Cal Clutterbuck: After losing Mikko Koivu (whose absence has been apparent throughout the last two weeks), the last thing the Wild needed was to lose another scorer. Thankfully they have gotten back Guillaume Latendresse; however all of these injuries are paying a huge toll on the Wild and their playoff chances.

-Buffalo game: Disappointing ending, but one point is better than none.

-Colorado: Pitiful team (1 win in their last 17), pitiful coach and pitiful decision to put in two enforcers with 3.5 seconds left.

-Chara: Have to agree with the NHL on this one. It was more of a hockey play gone wrong than anything which Chara intentionally did. He got a penalty for interference, which was deserving, but there's not a rule to suspend Chara under and he's not a short leash like Gillies.

-Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament: The best weekend of the year! It may be hard to understand if you are not from Minnesota, but we love hockey at all levels. The Boy's tournament might be the hardest ticket to get hockey-wise and it's held at the Xcel Energy Center. So with no offense to Nashville or Dallas, these are the games which will hold my hockey attention this weekend.

Uncomfortably Numb

Over the course of the last half day or so the hockey media and Twitterverse has been opining on the unfortunate hit on Montreal's Max Pacioretty by Boston's Zdeno Chara. There's been reports, columns, commentaries filed about the incident, the soapboxes and bully pulpits have now become occupied, and the torches and pitchforks now abound in the digital landscape.
After Mike Murphy, Senior VP of Hockey Ops, issued the declaration that Chara shall not be subject to a fine nor a suspension, my Twitter timeline erupted with outrage. Calls for suspension were the most common tweet, with a few well wishes to Pacioretty sprinkled in; very few thought the previous night's punishment, the interference penalty plus a game misconduct, was enough, and that they agreed with Murphy. Still the outcry for a pound of Chara's flesh was the main objective...and it was getting nasty; the railing of "protecting the star player" and a wide ranging assault on the "wheel of justice" and the League's Hockey Ops.
I had seen the footage of the hit a few times, and it is disturbing and unfortunate; and two images associated with it, still frames, are maybe more haunting.


(Getty Images)

As I read on, in 140 characters and in longer editorial form, I thought about what I saw, what I know about the game, the league and its uh, supplemental discipline system, and attempted to formulate an opinion so I could say which side of the fence I was on; surely someone, at some time, would ask me about which side of the proverbial line in the sand I stood in regards to "the hit."

I have nothing. In fact, I'm numb.
To the hit.
To the League's Statement.
Numb.

This troubles me; its not that I don't care about it, or its possible long-term effects on the game, or how it tarnishes the league's already niche image in the landscape of sports, but its that something like this isn't shocking anymore. Don't get me wrong, I wish Max Pacioretty a full,speedy recovery and a quick return to the lineup, but this is an instance where we cannot be surprised that something like this- what ultimately looks like a unfortunate series of events- happens. The dirty plays aside, these spectacular train wrecks have happened, are happening, and will continue to happen; at times the frequency is too much to bear, despite being part of the game. The elements in play in the game of hockey; the speed, the physicality, the contained space- it just leads to stuff like this.

I think there are alot of factors at work though in the court of opinion; the shift from embracing the "Rock Em Sock Em Hockey" to the newfound emphasis on brain safety; the wanting to apply a justice thats black/white to a gray area situation; the reading into of what may or may not be extenuating factors (the Pacioretty/Chara "rivalry", the Habs/B's history, etc.); using past disciplinary cases and language to articulate a point; and the presumption that we, all not named Zdeno Chara, know what his true intent was. And nevermind the argument that the situation was avoidable; it has happened before, and it happened last night.

But in the end it boils down to this. A promising youngster may never play in the NHL again, one of the league's best players now has a stained legacy, and the hit cannot be undone. And all we can really do is hope that Pacioretty heals, Chara doesn't crumble under the weight of the scrutiny, and that the next incident, which will happen, doesn't happen anytime soon.

SMOKE and MIRRORS (?)

In case you haven't been paying attention, the Wild News nugget du jour is that Coach Todd Richards had things to say about the return of Guillaume Latendresse and Mikko Koivu, both of whom skated with the team today.

On Latendresse:



On Koivu:




Here is my question: how much of this is a motivational tactic for the locker room?

Latendresse has missed all but eight games, and Koivu has missed the last seven games; both of whom are as close to impact players as there are on the Wild roster. It extends beyond the impact on the ice though; I'm contending that these newsworthy bits have an impact off ice just as much.
Let's be honest with the situation; the team without Koivu is a rudderless ship. His absence from the lineup has affected every single forward line (and that's a severe understatement in regards to Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen) in the seven games since, and I get the sense by watching the team that no one is capable of making the same sort of impact that Koivu can on the ice. I'm not saying that guys like Martin Havlat or Pierre-Marc Bouchard can't, but they aren't the same animal as a Koivu, a guy who willingly battles and gets physical to make a play. That sort of "take charge" sort of mentality- a quality I think every player on that roster looks to Mikko Koivu for. Suddenly the Greg Zanon post-game quote from Islanders game about the disappointment about the lack of an acquisition at the Deadline makes sense; that this team is in serious trouble without him, and some of the efforts since the Anaheim game where Koivu left with a broken finger reflect that.
There's no doubt that the loss last night to Buffalo was a tad deflating; so now the Wild come to practice and see Koivu AND Guillaume Latendresse skating with them, so what does that do to a team of morose players? I'd expect this team to come out flying tomorrow, now knowing that they are nearing the end of the storm because two of their best forwards look to be back in the lineup much sooner than later.

Whether or not Guillaume Latendresse returns tomorrow, or that Mikko Koivu is or isn't back by Friday isn't the point of what Todd Richards did; it was that he simply pulling a string or two to inject some optimism into a locker room coping with a tough stretch.