Tidbits: The "Auld Lang Syne" Edition

2011...quite the calender year for your Minnesota Wild franchise. Hirings, firings, retoolings, signings and resignings, trades, hosting the Draft, and in the span of 365 days, the Wild is essentially at the same point now where it was last year at this time; clicking under a head coach and in contention for a playoff spot. We've seen this team completely go haywire when Mikko Koivu leaves the lineup for a period of time with injury TWICE. We've seen an exhorbitant march of interchangeable parts keep a team afloat. We saw Mikael Granlund in the flesh. We saw trades that brought in Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, and Zack Phillips- all the while waving goodbye to Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, and worst of all, James Sheppard. We saw an article of clothing become a meme (It's a MOCK turtleneck!,) and we've been told of the impending regression to the mean. We've been taught Fenwick and Corsi. We saw a complete philosophical change in regimes in regards to NCAA free agents. We saw a 21 year old 5'9" free agent signing become our keystone on the blueline.

We saw a vision set forth, and we've seen it put into motion.

We're seeing the process, and the Church of Yeo.

But what we didn't see is the playoffs.

Here's hoping 2012 brings that.

- I can unequivocally state that this is the best I have ever seen Mikko Koivu play. His skating is so powerful yet agile enough to move east-west, much like his goal Thursday. He's begun to shoot more, especially in-stride. This sequence sums up exactly what he's done this season.

He's become dominant in all three zones, yet I can't help but be concerned at just how ineffective this team becomes when he's out of the lineup. As we all know, especially this season, that injuries happen- so what happens if that hamstring becomes an issue again?
- Kyle Brodziak has hit 12 or 13 pipes this season. Sounds like the TV series centering around Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.
- What concerns me about this isn't necessarily that they ended up as suspensions for the offenders, but it breeds an ethos where reckless play can be justified by the powers that be. This is an issue, because it doesn't change the culture of the game at all- players can continue to go out and put others in positions of possible injury but because of this or that, its perfectly ok...for the offender. Nevermind that the player injured is a key cog for not just my team, or your team, but anyone's team.
- Now that Nick Johnson has settled in, we're beginning to see his hands. He must have 5-6 scoring chances last game, and its a matter of time before they start going in.
- Finally...Have a safe and fan New Year's Eve. We'll catch you in '12.

2012 WJC: The Good, Bad & (Mostly) Ugly On Day 3

Day 3 of the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships came and went and if you are American like I am, it's a day which would like to be quickly forgotten. Team USA followed up their 11-3 win over Denmark by laying an egg and losing 4-1 to Finland while Canada shut out the Czech Republic 5-0. To make matters worse, Canada has almost assured themselves of winning Group B even if America rebounds and defeats the host country in Edmonton on New Year's Eve.

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (unless you are Canadian or Finnish, then congratulations) continued with the Minnesota Wild and their six prospects playing in the WJC. Mikael Granlund scored a goal and Johan Larsson, Jonas Brodin and Johan Gustafsson's Swedish squad defeated Switzerland but no one playing Wednesday particularly stood out.

Read on to find out the good, the bad and the ugly for Day 3 (December 28th) of the 2012 WJC.
Swedish D Jonas Brodin (photo from Elite Prospects)

Fun with Stats Episode 1: Why the Statgeeks Were, and Still Are, Wrong about the Minnesota Wild

As we all know by now, the Wild is in free fall mode.  They are two losses away from the “Fail for Nail” campaign.  Panic has nearly set in along the streets of St Paul, meaning passive aggressiveness as risen a full 2% across the state.

Several weeks ago, as the Wild were winning game after game, we were treated to article after article about how the Wild’s winning ways were “unsustainable.”  Corsis and Fenwicks and PDO’s and Offensive Zone Starts were trotted out to explain just how bad the Wild were, even as they continued to climb up the leaderboards.  They were wrong.

Instead of seeking to explain why their precious stats were failing them, the Statgeeks were penning articles predicting the implosion of the team.  Of course, everybody and their grandma could tell you a team that was near the bottom of the league in scoring and severely lacked talent and depth up front was going to fall back to Earth.  That’s a no brainer.  Still, Statgeeks stuck their necks out with several key stats to tell us Wild fans just how bad our team was going to be.

And even though the Wild have lots seven straight, the Statgeeks are STILL wrong.

The Mikko is not impressed with your PDO

The Wild’s season thus far can be split into three neat segments:

1. Stumbling out of the gate, going 3-3-3 to start the season
2. Winning 17 of 21 games to shoot up the NHL standings
3. Dropping seven straight games, going 0-5-2

So let’s look at some stats over each of those time frames.  Goals per game, goals against per game, shots per game, and shots against per game are self explanatory.  Power play and penalty kill stats as well.  Save percentage is obviously one minus goals against over shots against.  Corsi is the net of total shots, missed shots, and blocked shots for versus against.  Fenwick is the same thing without blocked shots.  I didn’t do PDO because I didn’t want to go through game by game (again) and grab all the special teams numbers.  Someday I will.

(all stats courtesy of NHL.com)

During the first 9 games (0.500 win%):
G/G: 2.22
GA/G: 2.56
S/G: 25.3
SA/G: 28.4
PP%: 13.9%
PK%: 74.2%
Save%: 91.0%
Corsi: -8.22
Fenwick: -4.56

To start the season, the Wild’s numbers were pretty mediocre.  Struggled to score, not great defensively, poor special teams, and negative Corsi and Fenwick indicated they were getting “outchanced” by the other teams.

During the winning streak (0.810 win%):
G/G: 2.81
GA/G: 1.95
S/G: 26.0
SA/G: 33.7
PP%: 18.4%
PK%: 89.9%
Save%: 94.2%
Corsi: -18.52
Fenwick: -12.81

During the streak, the Wild picked up the offense somewhat, tightened up significantly defensively, and improved special teams quite a bit.  Yet the Corsi and Fenwick were EVEN WORSE than before.  These stats are already calculated on a per game basis, so it’s not a cumulative error.  You can also clearly see that the shot differential was much wider.

During the losing stretch (0.143 win%):
G/G: 1.29
GA/G: 3.14
S/G: 28.9
SA/G: 31.4
PP%: 9.1%
PK%: 79.2%
Save%: 90.0%
Corsi: -6.57
Fenwick: -5.00

As the team lost, clearly they fell apart both offensively and defensively (although a 0.900 save percentage isn’t atrocious) and special teams have fallen as well.  But the Corsi and Fenwick are better than ever and that shot differential has tightened up quite a bit.  Hurrah!

Stats are boring.  Here's a monkey playing tennis!

We have two options here:

1. We can believe the Wild came back to Earth, are defying all kinds of luck and logic, that the goaltending has been below average the last couple weeks, that the pucks “just aren’t going in” for the team, and that they’re showing a lot of improvement and will break out of the slump at any point in time.

2. We can throw shots, Corsi, and Fenwick out the window.

In future episodes, I’m going to tell you why #2 is the correct answer.  I’ll have a lot of evidence backing up my claim.  Over 8,000 games worth of evidence.  And if I can find access to a database with special teams statistics, I’ll analyze those as well.

But for now, I’ll give you the short and sweet version.  Why do the Wild “defy” statistics?  Because shots, and any derivative of shots (Corsi and Fenwick) are terrible predictors of success.  The Wild and other teams who play defense are perfectly content to let the other team take a shot through a half dozen bodies from the point or boards.  That’s a low scoring chance.  More importantly, the Wild DON’T want you taking a shot on a 3-on-1.  That’s a high scoring chance.

And no, playing defense doesn’t rob you of offense.  Lacking offensive talent robs you of offense.  Boston plays a pretty tight system but scores plenty of goals.  Stamkos has done quite well for himself under Guy Boucher.  Crosby isn’t exactly playing in a run and gun system.  

The bottom line is this: in hockey, you win by outscoring your opponent.  Look at the goal differential during each of the three sections of the season.  The Wild were getting slightly outscored while playing 0.500 hockey (which is really not 0.500 hockey because of the charity point), they were outscoring their opponents significantly when winning, and are getting crushed by opponents during the losing streak.

Yes, it’s obvious.  But the Statgeeks haven’t figured that out yet.  Let’s wait a little longer to tell them.

2012 WJC: The Good, Bad & Ugly On Day 1

All six Minnesota Wild prospects got in their first game of the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships today and there was plenty to see. Blowouts were the theme for Boxing Day with the United States thrashing Denmark 11-3, Finland being blown by Canada 8-1 and Sweden defeating Latvia 9-4. Each game, however, had its moments and all three were close after twenty minutes.

Unfortunately with six prospects, not everything went right for Minnesota fans in Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta. It's hard for that to happen but there were great moments which showed off the future of the Wild and gave the State of Hockey some excitement. So without further adieu, here are the good, the bad and the ugly for Day 1 (December 26) of the 2012 WJC.

What Does It Take To Get A Suspension?

Once again, that is the question on Wild fans' minds after another game which has featured a questionable hit. It's to the point where almost every game has one and Hockey Wilderness has even made a form letter.

This time Jared Spurgeon, the 5'9" defenseman who only three days ago was featured in a Star Tribune article calling him Minnesota's iron man, was hit from behind in the first period by Colorado's Cody McLeod.

Video courtesy of Felix Levasque

McLeod was given a five minute major and game misconduct but will he follow the path others have and not be suspended? More on the other side.

The Church Of Yeo Christmas

Unsurprisingly, it's spent outdoors at the rink. From ford0016 on HF Boards (italic words and photos are his own):
My dad and sister went out to the rink today and Mike Yeo was there with his family. They were playing a pick up game on one half of the ice while I worked on sniping corners on the other end.

I asked him if he was looking for any players for the Wild. At first he thought i was talking about asking to join the pickup game, after he heard the wild he laughed and said yea we will keep looking at yea, we'll let ya know. Pretty cool seeing him there. Merry Christmas!
Regardless of how the Minnesota Wild have been playing after losing six in a row, this is hockey at its best. Nothing is better than going out to an outdoor rink with friends and family, being able to skate, mess around and enjoy the game at its roots with the people you love. Despite the fan and media attention, hockey is and always will be a game. If Mike Yeo can remember that while working through a six game losing streak, then maybe the rest of the Church can too.

2012 WJC: Jason Zucker Named Team USA Captain

Although Minnesota Wild prospect Charlie Coyle wore the "C" on his chest in Team USA's 6-3 exhibition loss to Russia, it is another future Wild player who will wear it in the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship December 26-January 5.

Jason Zucker was named the captain of Team USA today (December 23rd) while Emerson Etem (ANA) and Jarred Tinordi (MTL) were named alternates. The 5'11", 174 lb Las Vegas native has 24 points (11 goals - 13 assists) in 18 games playing for the University of Denver. One of two players along with Jack Campbell who were on the gold-medal winning 2010 team also coached by Dean Blais, Zucker is a natural choice.

That said, it's interesting to see how far hockey has grown in the United States. All three players wearing a letter in 2012 are from non-traditional hockey markets (Zucker being from Las Vegas, Etem from California and Tinordi from Maryland). Although the team is well represented by the 3 "Ms" - Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts - other states like Pennsylvania (with 3 players), Illinois and Ohio are represented.

In addition, having another captain come from the Minnesota organization is great because the amount of leadership and talent the Wild have in their prospect pool is mind-boggling.  Besides Zucker, the 59th overall selection in 2010 by Minnesota, fellow Wild prospects Mikael Granlund (Finland) and Johan Larsson (Sweden) are also World Junior captains for their countries. It would be interesting to see the last time, if ever, an organization has had three WJC captains in one season. Regardless, Minnesota's international prospect flair and number of players in leadership roles speaks heavily to the quality of drafting General Manager Chuck Fletcher has done since taking over.

2012 WJC: Jason Zucker & Charlie Coyle Named To US Team

It comes as no surprise but the two Minnesota Wild prospects at Team USA's Selection Camp made the roster for the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships. Both Jason Zucker (59th overall pick by Minnesota in 2010) and Charlie Coyle (28th overall pick by San Jose in 2010; acquired in the Brent Burns trade) will be returning to Team USA after being a part of the bronze-medal winning 2011 squad. Zucker also played on the 2010 gold-medal winner under-20 team.

As two of seven returning players, both prospects look to take key roles on the team.

Wild prospect Jason Zucker (photo from Zimbio)

2012 WJC: A Wild Fan's Guide To The World Junior Hockey Championships

The 2012 World Junior Championships are almost here and with six Minnesota prospects (along with some Minnesotans whose rights are not owned by the Wild) playing in the December 26th - January 5th tournament, there is plenty to follow.

For those who need a primer on what the WJC entails, here's a quick introduction from last year. This year's tournament is being played in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta and features the top under-20 hockey players, including players who might be the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, from ten different countries competing against one another. Specifically for Minnesota fans, it's a rare chance to see the future of the Wild play now.

Mikael Granlund, Postage Stamp Hero

Quitting, Spin & Other Thoughts About Charlie Coyle Leaving BU...96 Hours Later

It's been four days since Minnesota Wild prospect Charlie Coyle left Boston University in the middle of his sophomore season for Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which has been enough time for the story to clear up. When the news first broke there were reports about academic issues which were proven to be incorrect and more information has come out as Coyle and many of the main principles have commented on the situation. So having these four days to decompress and analyze all sides of the story has led me to come to one conclusion.

No one wins.


With much of the focus on Mike Yeo has come with leading the Minnesota Wild to the top of the National Hockey League standings, he's become a sure-fire Jack Adams Trophy candidate when the Award Tour begins. However, the hardest part of the job has just started- as Nate pointed out recently, Minnesota's gotten clobbered by the injury bug. We've seen a revolving door with the goalies, the blueline, and now with five top-6 forwards out of action (Setoguchi, Koivu, Latendresse, Bouchard, and Wellman,) Yeo has his work cut out for him.

It doesn't even resemble the hockey team that broke Camp this fall- if anything, it resembles some sort of ensemble play, like a "Tony and Tina's Wedding"; the principle characters are there, but the supporting cast changes every night. 10 rookies and 33 skaters in 33 games so far; and with the scuttlebutt being that Eden Prairie Native Chad Rau (#FSNBingo) and Jed Ortmeyer are on their way up for the upcoming Western Canada road trip, that could possibly make 11 rookies and 35 skaters in 34 or 35 games.

Still, this team continues to push forward- grinding out games to get wins and points no matter what it takes.

There's some good that comes from the growing infirmary list; The Brass and the fans alike get a chance to see what some of these players, long buried in Houston in some cases, can do at the NHL level; meaning these cups of coffee could very well be their "big break", and could determine the organization's long-term viewpoint of the player's future with the team. Kris Fredheim has his American League contract torn up, and was greeted with a fresh new NHL Entry-Level Contract (part of which was necessary just to get him up) and responded with solid and responsible play. Jarod Palmer was undeniably the best forward in last night's game against New York; Warren Peters has cemented himself a role as 4th line center. Casey Wellman, until the wrist injury (please tell me they made him test his wrist by holding the stick like Adam Banks did in one of the Mighty Ducks movies) looked like a different player than before and was a legitimate offensive player in this last stint. This interchangeable element of the organizational depth is huge during a long season; because its not just the 23 skaters on the NHL roster who've bought in to the Church of Yeo, its 23 skaters in Houston as well.

But...at what point does General Manager Chuck Fletcher have to look outside of the organization for help?

Zack Phillips Signs NHL Contract Per Zack Phillips [UPDATE 12/19: Signed to an ELC]

Social media pays off once again...or not.

A day after Charlie Coyle did not sign a NHL contract with the Minnesota Wild and instead left Boston University for Saint John, his future Sea Dogs teammate Zack Phillips has signed with Minnesota.

Per Phillips' Twitter account (@zackphillips7):
just signed my first NHL contract! #minnesotawild
Minnesota Wild Prospect Zack Phillips (photo from Zimbio)

The 2011 first round selection (28th overall), chosen with the pick Minnesota received in the Brent Burns tade, had a 22 game point streak snapped last week. Before that was named the QMJHL first star of the month in November for his efforts.

Phillips' 51 points (17 goals and 34 assists) in 30 games lead the Sea Dogs despite playing on the same team as heralded prospects Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan Beaulieu, Thomas Jurco and now Coyle. However, he did not make Canada's 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships roster as concerns about his skating and not standing out at the Canadian Selection Camp were too much.

With the signing of Zack Phillips, Minnesota has now signed both of their 2011 first round picks after Jonas Brodin signed an entry-level contract in July. It doesn't change much for Phillips because he will still play in Saint John. As a draft pick out of the CHL, Phillips is ineligible to play in the AHL and the Wild already sent him back before the season started. However, Zack's clock will start once he is in the Minnesota system.

The Minnesota Wild have not commented on Phillips' tweet and terms of the deal are undisclosed.

UPDATE (1:55 PM): The original tweet by Phillips has been deleted by him, although the deal still looks to go through at least going off of Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. Per his own tweet:
#mnwild would like @zackphillips7 to fax it back so they can file with league and announce Ha  
UPDATE II (12/19 4:30 PM): After the whole mix-up, which Russo discussed in a blog tidbit on players and social media, he Wild organization announced today that they have officially signed Phillips to an entry-level contract. He gets the maximum a 2011 draft pick can get, which $832,500 in salary and a $92,500 signing bonus for 3 years.

Guest Post: Minnesotans and Lust for Homegrown Talent - Is it the Right Thing?

Editor's Note: This post was written by frequent First Round Bust contributor BigT and is timely given the Wild's call-up of Minnesota native Jarrod Palmer yesterday. As always, First Round Bust has an open pulpit policy so if have something Wild-related (good or bad), send it in.

New Jersey Devils Forward, Free Agent-to-be and Minnesota Native Zach Parise (photo from Zimbio)

As [former Minnesota Wild head coach Todd] Richards was fired due to lackluster seasons and futile play, I could remember hearing people exclaim if we had more Minnesota players we wouldn’t have this issue. I beg to have the question answered though, “how can you actually claim this and back it up with evidence?” Here is the thing I have noticed about these types of fans:

1. They typically do not watch any other team outside of the state of Minnesota
2. They believe that superstar players want to come home because they are from here
3. They believe these players from different schools would have immediate chemistry

Let me start by debunking all three of these:

1. These are usually the same people I lump into the rest of the fandom in Minnesota that believe our professional teams are always going to the big game. World Series, Superbowl, even the Rose Bowl for the Gophers. Without having a working knowledge of how the rest of the league/conference is leaves an extremely biased opinion that our team is actually good or relevant enough to compete day-in/day-out with some of the more elite programs out there.

2. Players like Paul Martin, Blake Wheeler, and Jordan Leipold were all given offer sheets from the Wild and all three declined to come here at this point in their careers. However, Cullen and Parrish signed almost immediately with the team. Simple answer to the question many ask to that is 22-30 year old players in their prime want to be on teams who can compete or go to various other locations to play since they’ve grown up in Minnesota, as opposed to other players who are on the decline of the career wanting to play in front of family or retire back home. This is also a magical reason I personally believe we cannot sign top grade UFA’s because this is not a desirable place for a 25 year old single male as opposed to Chicago, New York, or even Washington DC would afford them. Contrary to popular belief, there are 49 other states in the United States, many of which do have things we do not have here.

3. Most of these players did not play high school together or even played college together. To insinuate that a line of Parise-Langenbrunner-Backes-Martin-Leddy would mesh together for instant 100 point seasons is wishful thinking. Many have different styles of play and work well with their own linemates they currently do have on their respective teams.

Basically housing them all up within the state also proves to hinder the very thing we as Minnesotan’s hold dear, and that is the pride we produce the most consistent players in the NHL for North America. How? Every single national game on television the Wild are not playing in and every single team being watched for the first time by a fan miss out on what makes Minnesota the State of Hockey in the first place. When New Jersey’s Captain Zach Parise is talked about it is almost a sure thing they’ll discuss how he played in Minnesota for his development. Or even any of the other 35 Active players from Minnesota in the NHL today. This speaks levels of importance when the argument occurs between Michigan v. Minnesota for hockey supremacy.

Minnesotan’s as a whole need to realize that being greedy with our kids playing here truly is not going to do anything other than break up our own team that is performs very well, and also is not allowing our kids still to have that important step of development with other teams and performing for other fans. We should embrace the fact our state is highly sought after by hockey scouts for players because of how great our development programs we have are. Hockey is in our blood, but we also much remembers the whole point of any sport is to help it grow in areas that have never seen it before. Hoarding our players to stay home hinders that for not only the players, but the overall game itself. We will always see the great players from our state perform on the big stage together every 2-4 years, but let them wear the USA Flag on the front of it instead of a maroon “M.”

How Bad Are The Wild's Injury Woes?

At least the trainers in St. Paul are earning overtime.

With injuries to Wild forwards Devin Setoguchi and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, it was a relief Tuesday to see Guillaume Latendresse return to the Minnesota lineup after missing a month with a concussion. He even scored a goal in his return against the Atlanta Thrashers Winnipeg Jets. But the joy of having the "Big Bear" wearing Iron Range Red lasted all of four periods after Latendresse suffered post-concussion symptoms during the Wild's 4-3 shootout loss to Chicago.

Minnesota Wild forward Guillaume Latendresse (photo from Zimbio)

Losing Latendresse again is a blow for the top team in the NHL, albeit one that they've been used to over the last two seasons, but that's only the tip of the injury iceberg. Minnesota Captain Mikko Koivu joined his three top-six teammates on the shelf with a leg injury suffered at the end of the Blackhawks game and Casey Wellman has a wrist injury.

That means four of the top-six (and if you include Matt Cullen missing a game due to being sick, only Dany Heatley stayed healthy this week) are out right now with injuries. Coupled with how depleted the defense was early in the season and it's a testament to Mike Yeo how much he's been getting out of this team.

Mikko's just showing the irony of getting injured

It feels like Minnesota is cursed right now and this isn't the first season they have to deal with multiple injuries. But how bad is it compared to the other 29 NHL teams? Although man-games lost is not an official stat, I took a look at every team's media notes to try to put the Wild's 2011-2012 in perspective.

Most man games lost by team (source: NHL media notes of the team's last game before December 15, 2011):
Montreal 159 games
Winnipeg 151 games
Pittsburgh 143 games
Columbus 121 games
New York Islanders 120 games
St. Louis 117 games
Minnesota 113 games
Edmonton 105 games
Buffalo 104 games
7th in the NHL doesn't look that great for the Wild and there's not much room to complain, right? Of course not! That would be the easy way to end this article.

Like most stats, these numbers are a little misleading because there is no one way to track man games lost. Each NHL team has a different definition. Some, like Montreal or St. Louis, include players who have missed the entire season while others like Edmonton do not. Others include suspensions in their man games lost.

If those players who have missed the entire season and suspensions are removed from the equation, the list would go something this:
Winnipeg 151 games
Pittsburgh 143 games
Minnesota 113 games
Columbus 113 games
Edmonton 105 games
Buffalo 104 games
Toronto 102 games
Florida 102 games
Montreal 98 games
Tied for third sounds much worse for Minnesota, although having nearly 40 fewer man games lost than Winnipeg and 30 less than Pittsburgh (who are up there with Crosby's brief return) does put things into perspective.  Of course, the Wild have played more games than a few of the teams - the game against Chicago Wednesday was Minnesota's 32nd while the Islanders have played 28 - but for the most part they are one of the more injury-prone teams this year.

That cursed feeling Wild fans have in the back of their stomach is right; however just remember that it's not just you. Minnesota's 113 lost games is still more than the combined man games of San Jose (13 not including Marty Havlat's start to the year), Chicago (21) Boston (26 not including Marc Savard) and Carolina (26 before Skinner and Pitkanen).

Although it would take more injuries (*knock on wood*) for the Wild to reach the Islanders' 614 man games lost last season, lets just hope the loss of Gui Latendresse and Mikko Koivu aren't the tipping point for an overachieving Minnesota team like losing the captain last season was.

Charlie Coyle Leaves Boston University; Will Sign With Saint John

This would be a game changer.

Four days after Boston University forward Corey Trivino was removed from the team due to being arrested, fellow linemate and Minnesota Wild prospect Charlie Coyle has left the Terriers. Nothing would take place until after the World Junior Championships, which run from December 26 to January 5, as Coyle is a lock to make the United States' team.
Boston University Forward Charlie Coyle (Photo from Michael Cummo) 

From College Hockey News, who first reported the story:
Sources told College Hockey News on Thursday that Coyle has had ongoing academic issues and was in danger of being ruled academically ineligible for the second semester.
First Round Bust's #2 Minnesota Wild prospect was acquired by the team in the Brent Burns trade along with Devin Setoguchi and the 28th overall pick (which became Zack Phillips). Coyle had 14 points this season, which was tied for third with Boston University after being named the Hockey East Rookie of the Year last year.

What makes this move even more interesting is that Coyle's CHL rights are owned by Saint John, who Phillips plays for. Although he could sign with the Wild and play for the Houston Aeros despite being under 20 - Coyle was not drafted out of the CHL - the US Hockey Report (which is behind a paywall) has him signing with the Sea Dogs and could make for a lethal Wild prospect pair with Phillips. Either way, it becomes another devastating blow for Boston University who have now lost 31 points of scoring between Trivino and Coyle and have a team upset at Coach Jack Parker's handling of Trivino's arrest.

UPDATE: According to Mike McMahon of the Eagle Tribune, one the best college hockey writers in Boston, Coyle has chosen to play with Saint John. Minnesota General Manager Chuck Fletcher would have been fine with either Saint John or Houston as the next destination, but Charlie ended up choosing the Sea Dogs.

This has also been confirmed by Michael Russo.

UPDATE II (2:30 PM): In a text to the Boston Hockey Blog, Coyle stated that "yes I have made my decision to leave BU because I'm done with being a student-athlete and I want to focus on just hockey. I was not failing out." The last part would go against the rumors that Coyle was going to be ruled academically ineligible.

Sorry Winnipeg, But One Game Does Not Make A Rivalry

Last night the Minnesota Wild played their first-ever game against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre. I didn't know what to expect from the Winnipeg team and the crowd coming into the game but despite the Wild losing 2-1 to snap their seven-game winning streak, it was one of the better games of the year from an entertainment standpoint.

For all the talk of how Minnesota holds onto the past with Jacques Lemaire hockey, both teams were aggressive and played like they had something to prove. Winnipeg had the better legs and opportunities but as has been the case with Mike Yeo's team, they battled back and played hard for sixty forty minutes.

And of course, there was physical play and a hit which changed the mood of the game.

From one repeat offender to another...or not. (Video courtesy of Felix Levasque)

(The Pierre-Marc Bouchard hit by Zach Bogosian has been well-covered by the Wild beat writers and blogosphere - FRB might toss in its own two cents later - but that's for another article)

All of that action on the ice made for an exciting game but what for me brought it over the top was the Winnipeg crowd. Although the MTS Centre only holds 15,004 - which is 1200 less than the nearest NHL arena and less than the Kohl Center in Madison - the building sounded like it had twice that. Fans were chanting like a European soccer match, booing the heck out Dany Heatley and cheering on the Jets like it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

It almost felt like a time warp and we were in the Xcel Energy Center for the first couple seasons of the Wild's existence. The Jets fans were so grateful to have NHL hockey back that the passion which came out was one of the best things I've heard in my years of hockey.

In fact, I'm a little jealous Wild fans have gotten away from that passion and energy about their team over the years. Who doesn't play in front of a crowd like the MTS Centre had every night? It pumps players up and gives exciting games like the one we saw last night.

However, there was one thing which bothered me about the Wild-Jets game. Every media outlet and pundit spent half the night discussing the supposed "rivalry" between the two teams. Now I expect this from Fox Sports North, even if they sounded more desperate than a teenager who just discovered women, because they have to sell the Minnesota Wild and well...it's just par for the course for FSN. Remember the great Minnesota-Colorado rivalry of last year?

I might be fine if it was just Dan Terhaar and Robby Incmikoski going overboard with the rivalry talk and asking loaded questions. But seeing the Star Tribune bring it up, sports radio weigh in on this like Jets-Wild has become the new Minnesota-North Dakota and others is way too much. Rivalries are not created in one game!

Now in fairness to those on board the Winnipeg rivalry train, it's easy to wish for one. The Wild have gone their entire existence without a main rival due to geographic isolation and a lack of history. That can be frustrating at times. With the Jets being a new team close to the State of Hockey in the same conference next year (although the old Minnesota team and old Winnipeg team never played in the same division nor shared a rivalry), the chance of the teams hating each other sounds sexy on paper.

But hockey is not played on paper.

While the two teams played a hard-fought game and there was a hit which might spark bad blood, these things have to happen organically. As much as the media wants to manufacture rivalries between teams, there's no substitute for the real, sustained thing. Remember the first game when the Dallas Stars came back to Minnesota?

Skip to 5:00 and enjoy Mike Goldberg

It was an insane atmosphere which blew last night out of the water and only made better by a 6-0 Wild victory. Now Dallas is almost just another opponent for Minnesota fans. The only difference is the diminishing number of North Stars jerseys which come out of the closet twice a year.

And that's just sad.

Fortunately with realignment next year, Minnesota fans will likely end up with a team who they hate. Maybe it will be Winnipeg but there are other great options including Dallas, the St. Louis Blues or even tonight's opponent (Chicago Blackhawks).

Regardless of who the fans end up anticipating facing the most, it's likely to come through playing those teams 6-8 games per year, incurring bad blood and divisional playoff series year-in and year-out. That's how the Wild had their two hot and cold (now cold despite what FSN says) rivalry with the Canucks and Ducks - the playoffs breed rivalries, not one regular season game.

So with all apologies to the Winnipeg Jets, their enthusiastic fans and the Minneapolis media, table the rivalry talk until there is a reason for it. As close and crazy as their fanbase is, one game does not make a rivalry.

2012 WJC: Brett Bulmer Cut By Hockey Canada

After surviving the first round of cuts to 35 yesterday, Minnesota Wild prospect Brett Bulmer did not survive the second. Hockey Canada cut the Kelowna Rockets forward this morning (December 14) from their 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships Under-20 team, one day after cutting fellow Wild prospect Zack Phillips.

This means there will be no player with Minnesota ties on Canada's WJC team for the second consecutive year. The 2012 WJHC runs from December 26th - January 5th in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.

Minnesota Wild prospect and Forward Brett Bulmer (Photo from AP)

Bulmer, who plays for the Kelowna Rockets, has 23 points (11 goals and 12 assists) in 15 games. Before that, the 2010 2nd round pick (36th overall) had three assists in nine games for the Minnesota Wild before being sent back to the WHL. Bulmer's 11 goals put him on pace to shatter his career WHL high of 18.

Brett's release came as a surprise to some who are in the know about the Canadian WJC team. Aaron Vickers of Future Considerations had Bulmer in his Team Canada while head coach Don Hay had this to say about Brett:

I thought [the Bulmer-Bournival-Connolly] line played very well so, you know, [Brett] Bulmer played well, [Michael] Bournival played well, Connolly played well so they did some real good forechecking and gave us a lot of energy.

However, depth proved to be too much in the end for Brett Bulmer's 2012 WJC chances. Making the Canadian WJC team is tough with the number of NHLers the country produces. Even a guy who played in the NHL this season has no guarantees, as friend of FRB Jermone Berube points out.

Other final round cuts by Canada are forwards Tyler Toffoli, Phillip Di Giuseppe, Christian Thomas, Brad Ross and Phillip Denault, defensemen Cody Ceci, Ryan Murphy Alex Petrovic and Joe Morrow and goaltenders Louis Domingue and Tyler Bunz.

The full Hockey Canada roster can be found here.

The Big Bear Is Coming Out Of Hibernation

One of the blessings and curses about a concussion is that there is no set timetable for an athlete to return. They might be out for a couple days or, like in the case of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, 15 months.

Fortunately for Minnesota Wild fans, it appears that Guillaume "Big Bear" Latendresse (I kid you not, that's his actual nickname and the over/under on Dan Terhaar and Mike Greenlay calling him that will be at 4 mentions) is making his return tonight.

This has nothing to do with Guillaume Latendresse but it's a F-ing Bear holding a gun while riding a shark. How cool is that? (h/t HF Boards user Minnesota)

According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, Latendresse will be activated today after missing 15 games because Matt Cullen is sick with the flu and there are no other forwards who made the trip to Atlanta Winnipeg. The Wild forward was put on injured reserve after being receiving two hits - one by Calgary's Mark Giodano and one by San Jose's Douglas Murray - which were a little dirty and gave him concussion symptoms.

Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo stated that he will bring Gui back slowly and give him fourth-line minutes tonight. Like Bouchard last year, that's probably the best course of action.

Right now I think it's good to get Latendresse back; even if he's not 100% healthy. As a team, the Wild need scoring and shoot-first players and that is exactly what he brings to the table. It's unfortunate that Gui's concussion has not let the fans in the State of Hockey see much of the 25 goal scorer for Minnesota in 2009-2010 trying to return to full health this season. Those are the breaks in hockey.

However on a team which has battled through injuries and illness all year (the Wild are leading the league in number of players used), getting back an important cog like Guillaume Latendresse goes far.

2012 WJC: Zack Phillips Among Seven Cut From Hockey Canada; Bulmer Still Alive

Hockey Canada just released their first round of cuts for the forty-two players attending their 2012 World Junior Championships Selection Camp and Minnesota Wild prospect Zack Phillips was among the seven cut this morning. Fellow Wild prospect Brett Bulmer still remains in camp and will face a university team tonight (December 13) before a 22 man team will be named tomorrow (Wednesday December 14)

The two forwards played in a pair of intra-squad scrimmages the last two days and while neither particularly stood out, Bulmer did assist on Phil Di Giuseppe (from the University of Michigan) in Sunday's 3-2 White victory.

Forward Zack Phillips, who was cut from Team Canada today. (photo from Zimbio)

The 2012 WJHC runs from December 26th - January 5th in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. Neither Wild prospect has played in the Under-20 tournament before for Canada but the 19 year-olds have both had an outstanding start to their 2011-2012 junior hockey seasons.

Phillips, who plays for Saint John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is sixth in the league for scoring despite playing three or four fewer games than other competitors. His 51 points (17 goals and 34 assists) in 30 games lead the Sea Dogs but concerns about skating and not scoring in either scrimmage doomed his longshot campaign to make the Canadian squad.

The 2011 first round pick (28th overall) had his 22 game point streak snapped Friday but before that was named the QMJHL first star of the month in November for his efforts.

Brett Bulmer has 23 points (11 goals and 12 assists) in 15 games for the Kelowna Rockets. Before that, the 2010 2nd round pick (36th overall) had three assists in nine games for the Minnesota Wild before being sent back to the WHL. Bulmer's 11 goals put him on pace to shatter his career WHL high of 18.

If Bulmer makes Canada's WJC roster, he would be the Minnesota Wild prospect to represent them since defenseman Marco Scandella wore the red and white in 2010.

Metrics And Minnesota: A Love Story

Apparently this is the topic du jour in the Wild Blogosphere: So consider this one that causes the hats to fly for the hat trick:

Vexing Wild Driving Eggheads Crazy - Hitting The Post
Comparing The 2011-12 Minnesota Wild To Past Teams - Hockey Wilderness

Vexed indeed- for the Advanced Stats disciples have long railed against Minnesota's success this year: that Mike Yeo's system belies the issues this team has. What is that issue exactly? Well, our Corsi and Fenwick is terrible.

Our....what? Ya, because our Fenwick is terrible, so is Minnesota.

In case your late to the party, Corsi and Fenwick are "measurements of possession", which has some truth to it. Basically, they serve as a measurement of pucks directed at nets in either direction; shots on goal, shots missed, and blocked shots; Fenwick eschews block shots for its number. So, boiled down to its very wicked essence, if you "generate" more shots at your opponent's net than what is generated at yours, you're a good team- because to shoot the puck, you need possession of the puck. And because our Fenwick/Corsi isn't very good, it means we "struggle to generate shots." Which just isn't true- every single Minnesota Wild fan whose watched a game on the television or in person has had the urge to yell "SHOOT THE FRACKING PUCK" because someone (and there are serial offenders here- I'm looking at you Mikko Koivu. And you Jared Spurgeon. And you Dany Heatley. And you Devin Setoguchi) passed up a prime scoring chance instead choosing to defer to a teammate, and inevitably we end up with nothing. Its not that we "struggle to generate shots", we "struggle to just shoot the goddamned puck instead of passing it off." Hey, if improving our shot total, hence improving our Fenwick, would get the Metrics guys off our backs, we could just lob every puck at the net...or the direction of the net.

Ya, about shots...and save percentage.

"Shot" has a rather ambiguous quality to it; its basically a puck sent in the direction of the goal- no specifics in terms of velocity, height, or direction; that means a shot from the corner counts the same as a shot from the high slot, which also counts the same as a shot from the blueline; a shot is a shot, despite the quality of the shot in the slot being of much higher quality than that of the sharp-angled shot from the corner (in the business we call it a "low-percentage shot") and also from the point. However, there is no distinction here, and despite the systemic philosophy of forcing shooters to the outside, a shot is a shot is a shot, and therefore a combined save% of .936 (three goaltenders) is "unsustainable"- despite that Minnesota forces shooters (not always, but in general) to take shots that any NHL-level goaltender (yes that means you Steve Mason, but not you Vesa Toskala) SHOULD stop.

Where's the context?

It's getting there- friend of FRB Corey Sznajder is apart of an ambitious project where scoring chances in NHL games are being tracked and recorded; he uses use as a general reference, along with a few other exceptions. Now, this being said- I could understand the notion of unsustainable goaltending if Backstrom/Harding/Hackett/Denis Lemieux were stopping 94% of PRIME scoring chances- which during the Todd Richards years would have been near-miraculous- but is it really that far fetched that this collective is stopping the pucks they are supposed to?

Alas things change- shot totals may go up, and the goaltending may, yes, "regress to the mean." But will it matter- talking with Timo Seppa of Hockey Prospectus about these very issues- he intimated that Fenwick/Corsi is valuable early in the season based off the limited sample size, but the deeper the season gets that goal-related statistics may carry more value.

But do we really need numbers to tell us what we already see for ourselves?

Tidbits: The "Can't Wait" Edition

Minnesotans are of the provincial variety; admittedly I'm somewhat of a Johnny-come-lately, moving here in my youth, but over the years I've come to learn about the sometimes insatiable thirst of the born and bred locals to root for and derive satisfaction from someone being "one of us."
It's comical, overbearing, nonsensical, and understandable all at once- maybe its a need for validation on the national level, maybe its just the belief that you become more invested in and can get behind something that has a common bond with you. As much as I dread hearing the "Minnesota Wild needs more Minnesotans!" chant from some, its hard to blame someone for saying that- that sort of thing is essentially hard-wired into the collective Minnesota consciousness.

Which brings me to Zach Parise.

A native Minnesotan, Parise last played a season of hockey at Shattuck St. Mary's in 2001-02; since then he's laced for The University of North Dakota and the New Jersey Devils. But the free agency hourglass is ticking for him; as of now, there has been nothing in terms of an extension between he and New Jersey. This, of course, has given the rumor mill fodder, Devils fans heart palpitations, and makes Minnesotans- specifically Wild fans- become lost in the day dream of seeing Parise in a Wild sweater.
Understandably, as the business goes, if New Jersey and Parise can't work out an extension, GM Lou Lamoriello HAS to trade Parise before he walks away without The Devils getting any sort of compensation; and with a kid like Parise, entering his prime as one of the world's premier players, in theory there should be a very nice compensation package in that deal.

However, there has been nothing concrete about Parise's desire to leave (or stay for that matter) in New Jersey, or even the want to play in Minnesota; conjecture and hearsay from local talking heads does nothing more than to feed fuel to the unsubstantiated fire. This, of course, was a focus when New Jersey was in town to play The Wild a few weeks ago; Star Tribune had a column about it (taking a note from the Toronto media and talking with Zach's dad J.P.) and Parise was forced to artfully deflect questions during media scrums. Now the ever-increasing body count to the Injured Reserve- Devin Setoguchi being the latest for an indefinite amount of time, Parise's name is being tossed around as an addition to the current roster (never mind the depth Minnesota has.)

So that being said, why move an exhorbitant amount of assets (picks and prospects, which we suddenly have) NOW when Minnesota can make a run at Parise at the opening bell of free agency? Sure, July 1 isn't as sexy a date as Christmas, The All-Star weekend, or The Trade Deadline, but it would be less expensive as a whole compared to a simple contract offer; lest we forget that there will be some players on roster whose contracts won't be extended, or are entering the last year of their respective deals- they can be dangled in trades to gain assets or even to maneuver for more cap flexibility, if getting Parise long-term is the end game.

Whose to say if we did acquire Parise that he didn't just walk away at Free Agency either?

The bottom line is this; when it boils down to it, its better to just wait out the process; maybe its worth keeping an eye on what happens in Newark, but there is plenty going on here for now. We are only 30 games in.

- About that depth; we saw it with the defense, the forwards, and now Matt Hackett comes in and sets a record in terms of rookie goaltenders not allowing a goal, and wins two huge games.
- Its things like this, depth, that allows the same sort of flexibility as cap space- look at some of the big deals this last Summer; Philadelphia received picks and young prospects in returns for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Minnesota's almost to the point where they can afford to swing a big deal like that because it won't wipe out the toybox.
- Re: Setoguchi. Is it a loss? For sure. But the reality is that he's bounced up and down the top two (sometimes three) lines for the most part, so its not like he had 20 goals and was carrying the team. I wouldn't say he's struggled, but he just hasn't slipped into a role/line where he can get comfortable and really take off.
- My take on Dany Heatley; he looks like a guy who is aware that he just can't do some things that he used to do. It shows in his play; a sort of "I'm aware of my limitations" thing. He's playing better, and I think its still a bit of a feeling out process in terms of finding positions where he can succeed i.e. shooting the puck.
- Wanna see more offensive assertiveness out of Marco Scandella. His game winning goal last night is something that should happen with more frequency; taking the puck, stepping up, and shooting it from the slot.
- After watching Brent Burns play in a different sweater, I'm fully convinced that Chuck Fletcher made the right decision to trade him. Burns' physical talents can mask his sketchy hockey sense and decision making.
- Ok, so I was wrong about getting rid of Greg Zanon.
- Thinking Cody Almond gets extended run at 4th line Center with Setoguchi on the shelf. He's a Yeo guy, so he knows the system and its been made clear to him what he needs to do in order to be an NHLer. That message has worked out for Justin Falk so far (despite the injury...)
- Man, gonna be interesting to see what happens if this team actually gets healthy. Getting guys back like Latendresse, Setoguchi, Zidlicky, etc. would be like Trade Deadline acquisitions.
- I know he'll never just take it to the net, but Pierre-Marc Bouchard would open up a world of opportunities if he didn't just curl back toward the offensive blueline after gaining the zone. Needs to use his speed to gain space more often- he did it effectively toward the end of last season when he was playing well.
- Re-sign Kyle Brodziak. Nuff Said.
- Finally...Sigh.

Is it so hard to actually do some research? For Wild fans, this sort of lazy analysis isn't anything new- we all see it EVERY year with the same season preview from multiple outlets, and in throwaway analysis from idiot Edmonton columnists. I get it- Minnesota in the dead of Winter isn't exactly destination travel, but as a journalist (which is a coveted titke, or so says those in their Ivory Tower) wouldn't you want to see what the best team (or at least one of the most surprising) in the league is about, as Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo! did?

There is no excuse for the laziness. None, especially if you are paid media.

NHL Realignment: Welcome Back Norris!

Realignment is a subject that has almost been beaten to death by the blogosphere, so as fans of a team named the Wild it seems fitting to swoop in and pick clean the bones of a rotting carcass. If you haven't heard by now (and if you haven't yet still came across this blog then Mazel Tov to you), the NHL Board of Governors voted Monday to radically realign the league. Instead of six 5 team divisions, the league will have four 7 or 8 team conferences.

It also means that the Minnesota Wild, who have spent their entire existence in the Northwest Division, will leave behind imaginary rivalries with Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver to join a conference with teams fans actually care about. Instead, teams like Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit - all old Norris Division rivals for the North Stars (speaking of the spawn of Norm Green the devil, they are also in the Conference)- will be there to rekindle old hockey rivalries.

It's almost like welcoming back an old friend:

We'll welcome back Kotter but not John Travolta.

There's not much to be said about realignment which hasn't been mentioned by others but like others I'm very happy to see the Wild out of the Northwest Division. Minnesota is meant to be with teams in the Central time zone and shares more in common with the Midwest teams than any of the Western Canadian clubs.

Between cutting back on travel and time zone changes, the Wild benefit greatly. A popular talking point by Minnesota brass has been the fact that the team hasn't had a road game in the Central time zone yet this season and they are right. The fact that it's December 8th and Minnesota is on their second or third West Coast trip with 9:30 local divisional starts and no 7:00 PM local time road games is beyond ridiculous.

Heck, even the downsides to realignment aren't bad. Like Lemaire's Trap writes, it's hard to complain about an extra team in the "western" conferences when it benefits them more than the Eastern teams. Plus, as State of the State of Hockey shows, having 8 teams instead of 7 leads to one less playoff appearance every 30 years. Not significant enough to worry.

With closer teams to cut down on travel, better rivalries and divisional playoffs to breed those rivalries, it finally feels like the Wild are home after years of being exiled in the Northwest Division. Say what you want to about the how the league is run, but no Minnesota fan can be upset with Gary Bettman or realignment in general.

Seriously, the more I look at the passed realignment plan the more new things pop out to me. It that's good. But enough poetic spewing from me - what's your favorite or least favorite part of the NHL's realignment plan?

More WJC Notes: 6 More Wild Prospects On Path To Play

Last week brought the news of Brett Bulmer and Zack Phillips being named to Canada's World Junior Hockey Championships Selection Camp. Now another six Minnesota Wild prospects have been added to their country's rosters or selection camps.

Americans Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, Swedes Jonas Brodin, Johan Larsson and Johan Gustafsson and Finn Mikael Granlund are all on their respective countries' radars for the under-20 tournament, which runs from December 26th - January 5th in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.

Mikael Granlund aka Finnish Baby Jesus (photo from Zimbio)

Both Coyle and Zucker are veterans of the 2011 United States team which finished third and Zucker is also a member of the 2010 gold medal American team. Coyle, the 28th pick in the 2010 draft by San Jose who was acquired by Minnesota in the Brent Burns trade, is in his sophomore season with Boston University and looks to play a big role for the Americans.

From Chris Peters of the United States of Hockey blog:

With that experience and that success, Coyle is going to be relied on heavily. His versatility should allow him to answer whatever challenge he is met with. Coyle has a sound two-way game, good physical strength and can get to the net.

The same goes for Zucker, who leads the Pioneers with 20 points (8G-12A).

[United States head coach Dean] Blais trusts Zucker and knows he can slot the forward in any position or on any line and get the same effort out of him regardless. Expect Zucker to be a key component to this U.S. team. He’s got tremendous wheels and a keen goal-scoring ability, but he’s also great at getting under an opponent’s skin. Zucker is the guy you love to have on your side and he’ll be used a whole bunch in Alberta.

Sweden has a triumvirate of Wild prospects as 2011 first round pick Jonas Brodin, 2010 second round pick Johan Larsson and goaltender Johan Gustafsson. All three were on the Swedish under-20 team that came to America in August. Larsson, who is tenth in points (7G-15A) in the SEL for Brynas IF, has been rumored to be Sweden's captain and is playing leagues above his age.

Larsson is not the only Wild prospect playing above his age with Finnish Baby Jesus having 36 points for HIFK and being the SM-Liiga scoring co-leader. Granlund, the 2010 first round pick for Minnesota, is the only Finnish player with Wild ties because Erik Haula is too old to compete.

Despite being a part of Finland's gold-medal winning World Championships team, Mikael actually missed last year's tournament with post-concussion symptoms. Just getting him back is a huge boost for Finland as they look to improve on their sixth place finish in 2011.

Just having talent spread across different countries is a plus and one of the reasons Minnesota General Manager Chuck Fletcher has improved the Wild's drafting. Although there is nothing wrong with drafting players from more traditional paths, finding the best off-the-beaten-path player who continues to improve works much better than the fifth or sixth-best player from a traditional path.

Regardless, with somewhere between five and eight prospects playing in Edmonton and Calgary, there will be plenty of opportunities to watch the future of the Wild in the World Junior Hockey Championships.

The Tragedy of Boogaard: Of Evolution and the Index Fossil

I finally brought myself to check out the Derek Boogaard piece in the New York Times, which was masterfully done by John Branch. I didn't so much as read it, but I watched the three-part video offering- equal parts sad and haunting, and had other people I know tell me that the written word conveyed the same emotions.

What an utterly tragic story this has become.

I remember standing in my garage, beer buzz in my head and cigar in my hand, along with my best friend, both of our lips quivering as our heart strings were being plucked during the recent Derek Boogaard tribute night at the Xcel Energy Center. Both of us were left speechless and saddened; I can only imagine feeling being there in person. Can you blame Niklas Backstrom for a miserable performance that night? Its just awful.
After I watched the NYT piece, I began to feel a bit ashamed for what I had done as a Wild fan- under the guise of rooting on "The Boogey Man" clobber another nameless and interchangeable fighter, we were rooting for what essentially was his path to self-destruction. The cult status got bigger, the injuries got worse, the need to medicate and cope got bigger than the jersey sales, the bellowing chants, and the youtube hits of Boogaard caving in Todd Fedoruk's face. Boogaard's story, as tragic as it was, has opened eyes to the role of designated fighter, and fighting in general in the game. It also allowed guys who once filled that role, and still do, to discuss what they go through.

Its created dialogue.

See, hockey is unique in the sense that there is an underlying correlation to society. With the advent of fighting, and the "self-policing" of the game, players were kept to a modicum of honesty- you do something that warranted punishment, you were generally dealt with; its "The Code", that intangible but universally understood logic of action and reaction. You run my star player, you deal with the consequences. There was this system of checks and balances- akin to a citizen's arrest for example, or someone getting a black eye for insulting someone's mother. I'm not saying it was all hippie commune out there, but the onus was on the players, not on the referees or off-ice officials.

There are costs, and in the instance Derek Boogaard, it was his life. Now at every level of hockey where fighting is allowed (and encouraged to some degree,) there are assessments as to the validity of dropping the gloves and throwin em'. But where I think where thinks go a bit awry is that people hear about Boogaard, and Bob Probert, and Wade Belak and their on-ice roles as it coincides with the fighting debate. The reality is that these guys were a dying breed, and Boogaard may just be the last; someone you will point to as the last of the dinosaurs.

The game is constantly evolving, which at one point necessitated the need for "The A Bombs"; the hired muscle, the protector, the Sheriff, the goon. The Proberts, The Boogaards. The gong show atmospheres encouraged that; the staged fights, the anticipated throwdowns between the heavyweights, a side show act to the actual game itself.
Things change; the lockout in 2004 and the changes to game play encouraged speed, yet players continue to get bigger and stronger and more skilled. In a way, the lockout signaled the end of "the goon." At a certain point, a decision is made in terms of personnel where it just doesn't make sense to carry a roster player with a limited skill set in favor of someone who can put the puck in the net. You're seeing this reflect on the rosters today; teams just don't carry a straight up enforcer anymore, unless the player can actually play competently.

The fighting debate will continue to rage on; I, for one, believe there is a time and a place for it during the game; however, I don't want the death of Derek Boogaard to become some sort of watershed moment for the anti-fighting pundits- that this is cause for a knee-jerk reaction. That in essence would be making him a martyr for the cause; using a tragedy for one's gain in a war of viewpoints. The players in the NHL now the risks that come with playing the game.

The Ballad of Derek Boogaard should be about knowledge- about CTE, about substance abuse, about how athletes cope with pain and their public persona, and how the dynamic nature of the game of hockey may not need change forced upon it, but that it may just change itself.