How To Get Off On The Right Foot: A Tom Gilbert Story

Change is never easy. From the Minnesota Wild locker room, where Cal Clutterbuck was visibly upset, to the blogosphere, the Wild's trade of longtime defenseman Nick Schultz to Edmonton for Tom Gilbert has been met with skepticism.

New Wild D Tom Gilbert or fans last night (photo Bruce Bennett/Getty)
More on Gilbert's first night after the jump

James Sheppard Returns To The Ice

This has nothing to do with the present Minnesota Wild but lets be honest, we here at First Round Bust have a creepy obsession soft spot for James Sheppard. After all, he is the site's Patron Saint and a reminder of an era that (hopefully) is past.

Sheppard, the only Wild first rounder since 2003 to play more than 100 games with the team, has spent the last 18 months recovering from a knee injury. In that time, Minnesota traded the 9th overall pick in 2006 to San Jose for their third round selection in 2013 last August. James has only recently been cleared to play and was assigned by the Sharks to their AHL affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts on a 14-day conditioning stint.

The video below is from after his first game against the Connecticut Whale.

It's interesting to note that this was Sheppard's first-ever game in the minors. He made his NHL debut in 2007 straight from the QMJHL and played enough games in his first two seasons (exactly 150) where James would have had to pass through waivers.

(h/t Andrew Ferraro and the Worcester Sharks)

Talking Penticton and Mario Lucia: Q&A with Fraser Rodgers

As we all are aware by now, Minnesota's 2011 2nd Round Pick (60th overall), Mario Lucia, opted to head to the lovely town of Penticton, British Columbia to play for the Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League.

What you may not know is that Fraser Rodgers, who serves as Penticton's Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations, has had the best seat in the house in terms of watching not only Lucia, but Penticton's improbable 37 game (yes 37 games!) win streak (they'll attempt to tie the BCHL record 38 consecutive wins Friday, March 2nd, against Salmon Arm); Rodgers is the "Voice of The Vees", calling their games on the radio.

So by way of the series of tubes we call the interwebs, I reached out to Fraser to get his thoughts on the sights and sounds he's taking in.

2012 Minnesota Wild NHL Trade Deadline: Greg Zanon Traded To Boston For Steve Kampfer

And now we say goodbye to the last of a dying breed.

A couple hours after Wild General Manager traded longtime defenseman Nick Schultz to Edmonton for Tom Gilbert, the final veteran defenseman, Greg Zanon, found himself shipping off to Boston in exchange for prospect Steve Kampfer.

According to Hockey's Future, Kampfer was the Bruins' seventh-best prospect. Although he is not the second-round pick that for some reason got tossed around when discussing Zanon's worth, Minnesota fans could be more pleased with this return than any other trade.

More on the Zanon trade after the jump.

2012 Minnesota Wild NHL Trade Deadline: Nick Schultz Traded To Edmonton For Tom Gilbert

For once, Minnesota fans have something to discuss on Trade Deadline Day which isn't "wish our UFAs were sold for picks" or "Chris Simon?"

In a pair of deadline deals, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher continued to retool his defensive corps. Longtime defenseman Nick Schultz, the only player left from Minnesota's inaugural draft class in 2000, was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for offensive defenseman Tom Gilbert. A couple hours later, Greg Zanon was shipped to Boston for Bruins prospect defenseman Steve Kampfer.

Bloomington Native Tom Gilbert (photo from Zimbio)
On the surface, neither of these deals make Minnesota a better team down the stretch. They still have depth issues and the Wild's blue line is so young that Clayton Stoner is the longest-tenured defenseman and Jared Spurgeon leads the team with 113 games Kurtis Foster (of Friday's trade and an earlier Minnesota stint) leads the team with 182 games (thanks Tommy and Wild PR guy Ryan Stanzel for pointing that out). The Wild are, however, setting themselves up well for the next few seasons.

More on the Nick Schultz trade after the jump

Marek Zidlicky Traded To New Jersey For Washington's 2nd, Kurtis Foster, Stephane Veilleux & Nick Palmieri

After writing a couple days ago about how Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher needed to get the most out possible if he decided to trade disgruntled defenseman Marek Zidlicky, he did just that.


The Minnesota Wild got into the pre-trade deadline action today, acquiring two former Wild players and a big, young winger in the process. The Wild landed forwards Nick Palmieri and Stephane Veilleux, defenseman Kurtis Foster, a second round pick in 2012 and a conditional third round pick in 2013 from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Marek Zidlicky.
The second-round pick is the one New Jersey received from Washington for trading Jason Arnott. Minnesota only receives the conditional third-round pick if the Devils reach the Eastern Conference finals and Zidlicky plays in 75% of the games in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The deal is one which every Wild fan can be happy with. Besides the fact public enemy number one has left the State of Hockey, Fletcher has gotten back two former Minnesota players (if you're into that), a mid-level prospect (if you're into that) and essentially gotten the second-round pick traded for Brent Burns back (if you're into that. Presently it would be the number 40 pick while Tampa Bay, which got Minnesota's second rounder from San Jose in return for Dominic Moore, would pick 39th.

Like everyone, I like the deal. No offense to Kurtis Foster or Veilluex, who are more of nostalgic add-ons (both are unrestricted free agents and salary dumps in lieu of New Jersey picking up a year-plus of Zidlicky's 3 year, $12 million contract), but getting a second and a mid-level prospect with upside is a good pick up. In fact if you switch Palmieri with Ryan Jones it's exactly what the Wild parted with to get Marek three and a half years ago. Given his deterioration due to age and injuries, that's a win on its own.

Fletcher has shown for the most part that he has a good eye for talent and another high-end pick will only pay dividends. As for Palmieri, we'll see how he pans out but at the very least he's a big body who fits in with the rest of the prospect pool and can score.

The only issue I have with trading Zidlicky is that the crippling lack of offense from the blue line is that much worse. Foster brings back some offensive skill and his cannon of a shot to Minnesota. He was criticized for not scoring in New Jersey but Foster's four goals would lead all Wild defensemen and are 40% of the total scored by the blue line (for those math-inclined, they've scored 10 in 60 games). New Jersey needs a puck mover and have the talent to get the most out of Zidlicky; it is the reason they paid a premium for him. However, with Minnesota in need of offense and defensemen who can move the puck, this is an issue that I hope Fletcher can solve with free agency.

For now, the parade marches on.

The Czech is in the Mail

Minnesota and Czech born players just don't seem to mix. I don't know if it is the Scandinavian nature of the state or if they just aren't able to get the right food. No matter what, Czechs and Minnesota don't seem to mix.

The first Czech that I paid attention to as a fan was Martin Škoula, the 6' 3", 200+ pound defenseman. He was the whipping boy of most of the fans that I interacted with no matter that Jacques Lemaire loved the guy. He was "ok" in my book, but it would aggravate me every time I heard an announcer state; "Skoula can't keep it in." That phrase became common enough, that if it were turned into a shot-per-phrase drinking game, any fan playing would have died of blood alcohol poisoning.

Even after Skoula left for free agency, there were fans that would yell "Get off the ice, Skoula" the following season. Yes. My wife and I sat in several different sections at the start of the next season and we frequently heard some inebriated fan shout that a player who was no longer with the team, should get off the ice. That is how badly a lot of fans wanted to drop that Czech in the Mail.

The next Czech that the Wild signed was Martin Havlat. I'll get to him later.

To make Martin Havlat happy, we also signed Petr Sykora. Frankly, I didn't understand this signing because this also coincided with the administration change from Risebrough/Lemaire to Fletcher/Richards. The stated goal of the new Fletcher/Richards direction was to play a fast and up-tempo system. Petr Sykora, fast and up-tempo? Uhm, no, he was most definitely not either of those while he was with Pittsburgh and he certainly seemed to have come into the Wild organization with a lost step or eight.

For a while, there was a twitter meme going to #FreePetr. Todd Richards was making him a healthy scratch more often than not, and with the team having trouble scoring goals, there were fans that were unhappy with that decision. Unfortunately for Petr, the #FreePetr movement took a turn to a different meaning. His on ice play was troublesome, causing a lot of goals against, and he was just bad. He turned into yet one more Czech that needed to be mailed, and Fletcher eventually put him on unconditional waivers and he was gone.

The storied history of Martin Havlat with the Wild included him being relatively healthy, yet somewhat of a primadonna. I feel that it is necessary to remind the readers that Martin Havlat called the Wild on July First. The Blackhawks had already made the decision to move on from their Czech, not really mailing it away, just letting it "bounce" for Marian Hossa. For a brand new GM to get a call from Havlat's agent on Free Agent Frenzy day? No brainer to sign him. Or was it?

This particular Czech also never seemed to fit. There were some instances of "rumors" coming out of the team's practices that Havlat was having personality conflicts with our Kaptain Koivu. There was a water bottle instance of conflict with the team and probably the worst thing a player can do in the NHL, happened. Havlat complained about his ice time, through his agent. After that, it really seemed that Havlat mailed in his on ice performance every night and was not the difference maker he was brought in to be. Sure, he had chemistry with Latendresse and Brodziak for a while, but at this point, I would hope that every fan realizes that Brodziak makes any player with him better.*

Chuck Fletcher mailed the Czech to San Jose in his purchase of a Heater.

Now, the Wild organization has one more Czech to write. Marek Zidlicky.

As detailed here and here the woes and worries surrounding Mark Idiocy (Damn you auto-correct!) are well documented.

In other venues, I've gone so far as to somewhat defend Mark Idiocy. Again, to a relative degree only, because I still resent Doug Risebrough for trading a 2nd round pick and Ryan Jones to Nashville for the guy. Mark Idiocy is what he is; A Czech Offensive Defenseman who cannot thrive in a system in which he is the "primary" situational threat.

He had a great year when he was paired with Marc Andre Bergeron. Our opponents knew that MABs had a more deadly shot, so they would gravitate towards his lanes during penalty kills. Mark Idiocy was still more horrible, defensively, than even the guy whose name rhymes with the spanish word for "shark". Idiocy can see the ice very well, but he refuses to shoot unless the shooting lane is perfectly clear. Otherwise, he will pass it back to the left point or down to the forward on the right wall. Sure, this works, but if he is relied upon as the primary shooting threat? He'll just dump the puck to whomever.

Here is a clear example, as I remember it; The Wild were on the Power Play with Idiocy manning the right point. Koivu was on the right wall and Cullen was on the left point. Idiocy passed the puck to Cullen, who was covered, and he held onto it for a moment and then passed it back to Idiocy. Then, the puck was passed to Koivu, who was also covered well, and immediately, Koivu blasts a pass back to Idiocy, who tries to tap it to Cullen. At this point, the opponents knew exactly what was going to happen, and they intercepted the puck for an easy, easy clear. The problem? Mark Idiocy had a clear shooting lane and was not covered. It was wide open, he had a screen in front, and no one was even pressuring him. No shooting.

Things have come to a head. GM Chuck Fletcher would like for this Czech to clear because a) he is causing locker room issues and b) he went to the media with (delusional?) issues that he was having with the coach, the system and the staff. Mark Idiocy's agent leaked that he wanted a trade to New Jersey. All of these things, frankly, you just don't do.

Does it seem that the Wild has an issue with bad Czechs? Our owner has plenty of money, so I wouldn't think that our Czechs would bounce.

*Point to emphasize how Brodziak makes other players better. Idiocy shot the puck tonight, broke his stick, and Kyle Brodziak earned Mark Idiocy an assist on that play. Just sayin'...

Update: Mark Idiocy traded less than 8 hours when this was posted. Foster, Veilleux, Palmieri, a 2013 2nd and a very conditional 3rd.

Fun With Stats Episode 2: Dancing on the Grave

For the first ten weeks of the 2011-12 NHL season, hockey fans were forced to endure the success of your Minnesota Wild.  The Statgeeks told us about the inevitable Great Regression, yet we did not heed their warnings.

As the articles stacked up against the Wild’s success, like so many missed shots against, the Fenwick and Corsi champs vowed we would see our fragile tower crumble.

And it crumbled.  Oh, did it crumble.  Not just a freefall from 1st to 22nd.  The rumblings of a Winter Classic coming to our little town surely are gone.  Re-alignment which would restore the Wild to playing with teams that are actually in the same time zone, nixed indefinitely.  The careers of skilled forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse are in danger.  Captain Mikko Koivu has now been tagged with the dreaded “injury-prone” label.  Any and all good karma, mojo, and vibes which seemed so long overdue cruelly vanished, like so many Minnesota professional sports teams before.

Mikko Koivu raising the late-season white flag

Perhaps it is pity, then, that so few of those Statgeeks have come out to claim victory.  Maybe it’s modesty or humility.  But maybe they checked the numbers, and saw that it did not add up.

In my previous entry, I analyzed the then-seven-game losing streak and concluded that the Wild’s shot-based statistics were not consistent with the on-ice success (or lack thereof).

Small sample size?  Luckily, the Wild have treated us to a 29-game-streak of incompetence.  So let’s dig right in and take a look at the stats.

Here are the old-fashioned goal-based statistics, before the collapse, which occurred right around the time that Pierre-Marc Bouchard was violently boarded and concussed with no supplemental discipline by Sherriff Shanahan.  They should be fairly self-explanatory.

Games Played: 30
Goals per Game: 2.63
Goals Against per Game: 2.13
Power Play Percentage: 17.0%
Penalty Kill Percentage: 85.5%
Save Percentage: 93.4%
Shooting Percentage: 10.2%

And here are the shots-based statistics.  Note that I re-calculated the Fenwick and Corsi as ratios, which is the sum of scoring chances for divided by the sum of scoring chances for and against.  Fenwick includes both shots and missed shots, while Corsi includes shots, missed shots, and blocked shots.

Shots per Game: 25.8
Shots Against per Game: 32.1
Fenwick Ratio: 0.44
Corsi Ratio: 0.43

Now my stats are incomplete.  I only have total shots, missed shots, and blocked shots from the end of the game.  Statsgeeks love them some Fenwick Tied, and they have some great reasons why.  When teams are down, they tend to be more aggressive and take more shots.  When they are up, they tend to sit back and be more defensive.  So they look at shots, missed shots, and blocked shots only when the score is tied.  They also love road stats, because every scorekeeper gives his team better statistics (never mind the fact that almost every team plays better at home).  

So here’s the data from November 30, two weeks before the collapse:

Fenwick Tied: 0.41 (30th in the league)
Fenwick Tied Home: 0.45 (28th in the league)
Fenwick Tied Road: 0.35 (30th in the league)

Yikes.  Any way you slice it, the Wild were routinely out-shot and out-chanced by their opponent.  Yet the bottom line is winning games.

Win Percentage: 71.7%

Somehow they managed to win more games and earn more points than any other team in the league, even though the advanced stats said otherwise.  Clearly this was the Prophecy of the Great Regression, right?

Now let’s look at the losing streak:

Games Played: 29
Goals per Game: 1.79
Goals Against per Game: 3.10
Power Play Percentage: 13.2%
Penalty Kill Percentage: 80.6%
Save Percentage: 90.2%
Shooting Percentage: 6.5%

Goal scoring went down drastically.  Goals against went up drastically.  Special teams sputtered out.  Save percentage (foreshadowing!) went down drastically.  Shooting percentage went down drastically.  In every area the Wild are dramatically worse.  The bottom line bears this out:

Win Percentage: 31.0%

The Wild have taken less than half the points they did early in the season.  That’s not just coming down to Earth, that’s racing Brendan Fraser to it’s delicious, chocolate-y core.

Clearly their already dismal shot-based statistics have plummeted as well?  Obviously you cannot score goals if you don’t take shots, and if you give up more shots, you’re going to see more goals against.  It all comes down to shots, right?

Shots per Game: 27.4
Shots Against per Game: 31.5
Fenwick Ratio: 0.47
Corsi Ratio: 0.46

Hmm...shots for went up.  Shots against went down.  Fenwick ratio went up.  Corsi ratio went up.  This doesn’t add up at all.  Maybe the Fenwick Tied can clear some things up:

Fenwick Tied: 0.46 (29th in the league)
Fenwick Tied Home: 0.46 (28th in the league)
Fenwick Tied Road: 0.46 (23rd in the league)

So...the Wild were going to regress to the mean because they were being out-shot so often, yet they improved in every shot-based category both in absolute and relative terms, yet they are losing at an incredible pace?  Or maybe they’re overdue for a Great PROgression?

Or maybe it’s just a bunch of bologna, like I said last time around.

Obligatory snarky picture to illustrate my point.

Look, the Wild clearly overachieved early on.  And they’ve clearly been hit by injuries in the second half.  They shouldn’t have been as good as they were, and shouldn’t be as bad as they are.

But we were asked to believe that shot-based statistics were predicting the collapse, and what I’ve just pointed out states that is pure coincidence.

Just like save percentage is a systems-based statistic, Fenwick, or Corsi, or shots, tied, at home, wherever, they are all systems-based statistics.  You can compare WITHIN a team, but not AMONG teams.  We’ll look at that someday, I promise.

Getting More Than Pennies On the Dollar For Marek Zidlicky

The NHL trade deadline is less than five days away and there is some reason to be excited. The deadline normally means the fun of looking at HF Boards' trade proposal forum, going on Twitter and seeing who falls for the hundreds of fake Pierre McGuire and Eklund clones (speaking of which, there is a great article on the subject from the folks at On The Forecheck). For Minnesota Wild fans, however, it has the feeling of being a Jewish kid on Christmas (which as a Jewish kid is only fun when you're older and get paid triple to work).

Seriously, Minnesota's trade deadline deals last year were selling third-string goalie Anton Khudobin and busted prospect Petr Kalus for an AHL player and ham sandwich.

That's why the possibility of trading Marek Zidlicky is so tantalizing. Zidlicky, the resident scapegoat/doghouse leader, is the biggest piece of trade bait Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has in his arsenal. Josh Harding has the dubious distinction of being an unrestricted free agent goalie, Niklas Backstrom is hampered by being an overpaid goalie and Kyle Brodziak was re-signed to a three year deal on Sunday.

Despite that and the fact Zidlicky wants out - even going as far to leak that he waived his no-trade clause to go to New Jersey - it seems to be setting up the State of Hockey for failure.

Look, it's Eklund!

Kyle Broziak Re-Signs With The Wild For 3 Years, $8.5 Million

Good news everyone!

Minnesota Wild F Kyle Brodziak (photo from Getty)

After a 2-0 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on national television, which in itself is a Hockey Day in America miracle, the Minnesota Wild announced that they re-signed forward Kyle Brodziak to a three-year contract.

The Romantic Notion of Mikko Koivu

With the onset of the Todd Richards Era in Minnesota, the days of the inane concept of the rotating captaincy were abandoned. The previous Head Coach, Jacques Lemaire, had used that system as a way of spreading around responsibility and to reward players to had exerted the required effort and then some the previous month.

Which is why we had Alex Henry be the Captain of the Minnesota Wild once. Say that sentence aloud (no offense to Mr. Henry of course) and listen to how odd it sounds.

So when the old was gone and the new was brought in, Mikko Koivu was elected the first permanent Captain in Franchise history. Made perfect sense; he's got pedigree, he'd proven himself to be integral to whatever it is the Front Office and Head Coach were trying to do, he's strong and powerful yet creative and agile, and the time just seemed right.

Unequivocally he looked like a Captain, played like a Captain, so it made sense in a time of sweeping change that he be, well, the Captain.

There's no question that he's the very backbone to the team; the team flat out struggles when he's not in the lineup (which should be a point of concern, considering how much time he's missed the last two years.) The collective looks rudderless, punchless, and flat-out hopeless when they are Koivu-less. When he's in though, the natural order can be successful; the pieces fall into place as they have the team's heart and soul taking the ice in front of them.

I think there can be a fair argument as to whether he's not truly appreciated or noted in the Hockey world; sure, he's an absolute rock star in Finland and in the NHL he's basically a victim of market- a market that's on the verge of a catastrophic tumble from the top of the standings into the subterranean, a lowly place where a seat has been reserved in the Playoff-viewing area. Again, for the fourth year in a row.

But I think it may be fair to say that Mikko Koivu may be over-romanticised as well.

Full disclosure here, as if you need it; I'm as big a fan of Mikko Koivu as anyone else, and fully understand the ardent support that comes from being a fan of a team or a player. For now, Koivu's reputation as a Selke-Caliber forward is more or less just heresay; sure you have the metric stats guys arguing he was/is/will be because of things like Quality of Competition, yet he wasn't in the Top 20 for Selke Voting. In Koivu's defense, Awards voting is generally ALL F*CKED UP.

This isn't about Mikko Koivu the player, though. This is about Mikko Koivu, the leader.

Poke around the interwebs, or ask someone, and they'll give you examples of "leadership". Jarome Iginla and Vinny Lecavalier throwing down in the 2004 Stanley Cup. Wendel Clark taking on Marty McSorley. Brendan Shanahan taking on Donald Brashear. I think the easy conclusion to draw would be that well, Koivu should fight someone. Not that I endorse him fighting, but the jist of the three aforementioned videos is that each of those guys stood up and laid themselves on the line for their teams.

Then there are guys like Owen Nolan. Drew Remenda, who does analysis for San Jose Sharks games, joined the Marek vs. Wyshynski Podcast to talk about Nolan, who had retired earlier that day. Remenda had a lot of good things to say about Nolan and how he handled himself on and off the ice, particularly the locker room- more specifically how he kept his teammates accountable, and made it clear to every one of his teammates that losing is completely unacceptable.

We saw some of this crusty desire to win in Nolan's short stint here in Minnesota, and to a certain extent, the same sort of leadership from John Madden, who is currently plying his trade for the surprising Florida Panthers. Or even a guy like Chris Pronger (#15.)

In a "quiet" locker room, and on a team that can seem to get off of skid row, and for a franchise that has the promise of better days ahead, its important to get that sort of presence in the locker room because Mikko Koivu doesn't seem to be that guy. Of course the balancing act is now upsetting the balance of who is "the guy" (the Pronger/Mike Richards
power struggle would be the precedent) but the fact of the matter is that this team has been in the SAME SITUATION THIS TIME OF THE SEASON THE LAST 4 YEARS- a fragile team that just wastes away and crumbles when the ears should be pinned back because its nut cutting time.

Whose to say that Mikko Koivu isn't done learning how to be a leader; there are always lessons to be learned and applied as not just a hockey player, a person in a role of responsibility, but also as a human. But maybe getting in guys faces and demanding their best every night just isn't in his nature- there's nothing wrong with leading by example and speaking up when it matters, but with a lot of stake now and going forward with a new "in-house competition" model of development in place, its important to find the requisite leadership to accompany Koivu's role in order to get this franchise over the hump.

Chuck Fletcher on Jason Zucker: "We Would Look To Turn Him Pro After The End of His College Season"Turn Him

This morning, KFAN's Paul Allen was live from the Xcel Energy Center penalty box along with Brandon Mileski and the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Michael Russo. He had on Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher in the first hour to discuss the team's current state as the trade deadline approaches and a number of other Wild-related topics.

The biggest news to come out of Fletcher's interview was Minnesota's intention to sign 2010 second-round pick (59th Overall) Jason Zucker after the end of his collegiate season. Zucker is currently a sophomore at the University of Denver and has 34 points (15 G - 19 A) in 25 games for the Pioneers. He also was Team USA's captain last month in the World Junior Championships

By signing a professional contract, Zucker would be giving up his final two years of eligiibity.

Jason Zucker (photo from Getty Images)

Other Fletcher thoughts on the prospect pool include Zack Phillips' skating, Charlie Coyle possibly spending time in the AHL, Jonas Brodin's North American transition and Mikael Granlund.

You can listen to Fletcher's interview through KFAN's Fan On Demand service here. It's the first hour of today's show.

On The Winter Classic, Hockey Day In Minnesota, And Other Mutterings

Arguably the worst kept secret in Pro Hockey, the next cash grab/attempt at luring the casual fan/placating the East Coast/Winter Classic will be heading to The Motor City, where Detroit and Toronto will likely wear nostalgia based jerseys that result in one giant trip down memory lane and right toward the cash registers and checkout pages at Nevermind the rampant capitalism, well wait- the game will be held at The Big House in Ann Arbor, where they'll likely try and jam a quarter of a million drunken Leafs fans, Red Wings Conspiracy Theorists, and media types into one condensed space. Oh ya, did I mention that they'll lift the booze ban too?

In the realm of contrived spectacles for the sake of New Year's Day television programming, I mean promoting the game, this will undoubtedly be the biggest.

But what makes the whole spiel for me is not what will take place in and around Michigan Stadium- it will be the celebration of hockey up the road in downtown Detroit at Comerica Park, where soon Prince Fielder will be causing minor aftershocks as he trots around the base paths after he sends a Scott Baker meat ball soaring toward Alpena.
Comerica will host what is being billed as the "Hockeytown Winter Festival", a take off of the wonderfully crafted marketing slogan that belies the shoddy attendance a perennially dominant NHL team draws at the aging Joe Louis Arena. The baseball field/batting practice zone-now-hockey facility will play host to an NHL Alumni Game between Toronto and Detroit (I want to see Rick Zombo and Aki Berg, dammit!), an American League game between affiliate teams Grand Rapids and Toronto, A doubleheader of Ontario Hockey League action featuring 4 teams located in the greater Detroit Area (Saginaw, Plymouth, Windsor, and London), NCAA games in the form of the relocated Great Lakes Invitational, and some Michigan High School games.

You brain wizards at the Minnesota Wild corporate offices and Fox Sports North jotting this down?

"Hockey Day in Minnesota" took place when I was out of town on a USHL road trip, so basically the coverage I got came in the form of tweets and exchanging test messages with Nate Wells. We talked about a number of things, how the whole experience could be or should be, and just let it go by the wayside as the days went by since.

Detroit, the host city for the 2013 Winter Classic, absolutely NAILED the concept that Minnesota/FSN/whoever should adopt. HDIM does a great job of providing hockey coverage all day; but isn't necessarily as wide ranging as it should be. Sure, a marquee matinee matchup between four of Minnesota High School Hockey's elite makes for great theater (and admittedly some of the mustard came off of the hot dog when unseasonably warm and completely welcome weather forced Minnetonka and Duluth East off of Tonka Bay and into the rink) but there's more to just boy's high school hockey, Minnesota Golden Gopher Men's Hockey, and the Minnesota Wild.

While two completely different events, I think the message should be the same; hockey in Minnesota extends beyond the aforementioned. There's girl's hockey at the High School and Collegiate level, there's four other Division I teams in Minnesota, and then there are two North American Hockey League teams in Minnesota too- Austin and Alexandria. The NAHL would LOVE that sort of exposure.

So why couldn't these aspects, along with the advent of FSN+, all get face time?

Ideally with The Winter Classic you'd have a rink at Target Field for the Main Event, but you could have a rink at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota Campus where games of all levels could be played. Did I mention that The Schwan Cup, one of the premier High School Hockey tournaments in Minnesota, is played the week leading up to New Years? Why not have the Championship games for all of the levels be played outside at The Bank? How's that for incentive? Or the much-speculated "Hotdish" tournament, featuring all of the Minnesota NCAA schools? Don't think that wouldn't be a gas for the Bemidjis, The Mankatos, The Duluths to participate in? It would create a draw, something people would not just want to watch, but to experience.

So put the Winter Classic monkeyshines off for a second; even for HDIM, FSN has a whole other channel/feed at its disposal, which would allow for another block of hockey programming, which could essentially create a situation where people could literally flip back and forth and just catch game after game after game.

I know I'm probably all over the place on this- talking two different events, two different time frames, two different set ups; but the point remains that there is real potential for a massive Minnesota Hockey Celebration in both cases.

A Pair of Frightening Hits For Jason Zucker & Zack Phillips [UPDATED]

It's easy to use the future as an escape from the Minnesota Wild freefall that has seen the team go from first to twelfth in 53 days. Unfortunately with how things went this weekend that might not be the wisest decision.

Two prospects, Jason Zucker and Zack Phillips suffered injuries after hits this weekend. Both will be okay and as of now will play in their next game. However, it's still a reminder of how fast things can change with young players from draft day to when they wear Iron Range Red.

Zucker's hit was delivered by Minnesota forward Kyle Rau in Denver's Friday night game with the Gophers and is easily the worse of the two.

Video courtesy of CJ Fogler (@cjzero)

The 59th overall pick by Minnesota was motionless for several minutes on the ice but was able to leave under his own power, much to the delight of the crowd at Magness Arena. Rau was suspended one game for the hit the day after after initially being given a five minute major for boarding and game misconduct.

Zucker also missed Saturday's game as a precaution. He did not suffer a concussion and appears to be on track to play next weekend according to those in the know about Denver hockey. Best of all, he tweeted this after Saturday's game:

Thanks for all the wishes everybody. Feeling better as of now, will have an update for you at a later time.

Unfortunately the video only shows the aftermath (the fight) and not the hit on Phillips but according to Station Nation it was not as bad as it could have been. That's a sigh of relief as the Wild's 2011 first round pick (28th overall) did score in the game (a 7-2 win for Saint John) and has 70 points (28G-42A) in 48 games.

UPDATE 2/15: Jason Zucker spoke to Mike Chambers of the Denver Post on Wednesday about his health after the Rau hit. He appears to be fine and ready to play this weekend. Zucker also stated that he did not lose consciousness, which is surprising given that he was motionless for several minutes and it goes against what Pioneer head coach George Gwozdecky said.

Fan outrage?

In January, I started writing an article about where the Wild's season was going. The impetus of the article was the December 22nd game against Edmonton. You know the one where we lost at the X against the Oilers? The score was 1 to 4?

This is how the article began;
Has the Wild's season "Jumped the Shark"?

Granted, I thought that was a common colloquialism up until today. What I learned in using that phrase is that the phrase itself, may have jumped the shark.

To define the phrase; "Jumping the shark is an idiom used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery." wikipedia link...

The Minnesota Wild, after a mediocre start to the season and a hot stretch through November and the beginning of December have now plummeted to being out of a play off position. One may argue that the cause of this decline is due to advanced stats catching up to us, injuries, or many other reasons.

I really regret not finishing that article, but with the holidays and the busy post first of the year work related garbage, I never got around to finishing it.

The recent fan outrage shouldn't really be recent but it does coincide with the Wild falling down the standings. Falling? How about plummeting. For the month of January, they were hanging on, amazingly so, but now the plummet is in full swing.

The fan anger started with the first loss to Columbus. My question is; Why did this loss set the fan base off? Why not the loss to Calgary on the 7th of January? What about the loss to Toronto on the 19th? Were those not worthy of anger?

Evidently not. The combination of losing two games to the worst team in the NHL and our former head coach, #FireToddRichards seems to be the final fuse.

For me? I didn't get angry, I got deflated. I was in the stands at the X when we blew it against Nashville on the 31st. After the game was over, I sat there with my wife and friend, just utterly deflated.

There are fans that are blaming Yeo. There are fans that are blaming Fletcher. There are fans that are blaming the players.

Before casting blame, there are facts that need to be covered.
1. During this losing stretch, this team has been without 2 to 5 of their top six forwards.
2. Other teams have the ability to shut down single scoring threats.
3. When it is known that your blueline doesn't shoot, other teams take away passing lanes to the forwards.
4. Our prospect pipeline is strong, but most of them aren't even in Houston yet.

Let me address items in order.

1. When the majority of your top prospects aren't even in Houston yet, how do you replace top six forwards from an AHL team comprised of mostly career AHLers or third line grinders? You don't. The organization just doesn't have the depth, yet. If you want to blame Fletcher for this, I daresay you are nuts because names like Larsson, Granlund, Coyle, Phillips, Zucker and Bulmer are not *able* to be inserted into the line up. Fletcher did pull off a trade to try to bolster the up front skill, see also Erik Christensen. If you want to blame Yeo, he can't magically pull a top-six forward up from Houston. See Also; Casey Wellman.

2. It is hard to put together a consistent two line threat when your top line consists of Heatley - Brodziak - Johnson. When that is your only scoring threat, shut down Heatley and the game is yours. For those blaming Yeo, what was he supposed to do? He worked with what he had and attempted many different combinations to get things going. Heatley was still the only scoring threat out there, no matter how you mix things up. If you want to blame Yeo for something, blame him for putting Seto and Heatley back with Koivu once Koivu came back from injury.

3. How do you fix a blueline that doesn't shoot? We all knew that the offense from the blueline was going to be horrible this season. With Zidlicky regressing even more and then throwing a tantrum to the media, it isn't shocking to see how other teams play against our two points on both the power play and even strength. See also Justin Falk's shot and how it surprised all of our opponents. I saw that in Rockford when he was still with the Aeros. You can fault Fletcher for trading away Burns, but frankly, I'd rather have Setoguchi and Phillips than having lost Burns for pretty much nothing. Yes, that was a possibility from everything that we've heard since. In this situation, feel free to blame the players, especially Zidlicky. He hasn't been doing what he is paid to do all season. Spurgeon shoots, but his shot is weak and he telegraphs it.

4. With as strong as a prospect pipeline that the organization has, are fans really clamoring for us to sell some of our best prospects to help the team now? A completely not scientific survey draws the conclusion that we'd rather suck than give away Zucker, Granlund, Coyle... Etcetera. Yet, the hurt and disappointment continues...

With anything I do in life, I always have a possible suggested solution. Rather than point out the flaws and bad things and leave it at that, here are the things that I would suggest to the organization.

First; Never dress Zidlicky in a Wild uniform again. Trade him or waive him. *waveshand* He is not the defenseman you are looking for... This one is on Fletcher and Yeo.
Second; Split up Setoguchi and Heatley. I don't particularly care which of them work well with Koivu. Just split them up. Maybe consider; Heatley - Koivu - Johnson / Christensen - Brodziak/Cullen - Setoguchi instead of having both primary scoring threats together. This one is on Yeo.
Third; Sell. Get what you can for the following; Zidlicky, Harding, Zanon, Brodziak and others. Don't worry about filling those holes with roster players from other teams. Take a rental back if necessary. None of the pieces mentioned are going to put us back into the play-off race if we keep them. The core remains untouched. This one is on Fletcher.
Fourth; Yes, I said trade Brodziak. While he is one of my "least objectionable" players, we will need that center spot come next season. This one is on the fans to accept. There are teams that will over-pay for a guy like Brodziak.

And to finish this up... (*gasp* I'm actually finishing an article!)

It is encumbent on the fan base to take a step back and drop the anger. The season truly Jumped the Shark when Edmonton slayed their dragon, ditched their elephant, and broke their curse. You can look back to the December 22nd, 2011 game and confidently say;

"That is when the hockey gods pushed the handle on the toilet this season has turned into."

Accept it and start trying to figure out where Coyle, Granlund and Larsson are going to fit with the Wild next season. Hey, that's a super line right there! Granlund - Larsson - Coyle! Solved!


Open For Business

"I’m not paid to get in the playoffs. I want to win a championship here. Getting in the playoffs, we could have done that last year. We could have traded our young players and gotten in last year with a couple of 30-year-olds. We could have gotten in the year before, too, I believe, if we traded all the kids. If you look at what’s happened here, it’s not just that we’re in a playoff position today. We’ve been in a playoff position almost all year … this is no fluke … Would I improve the group if I could, even if it meant taking someone out of the group? Absolutely. I’m not interested in making the playoffs and getting our asses kicked in the first round. I’ve done that. It’s not much fun. I’m interested in getting in with a realistic, reasonable chance to win or bloody somebody’s nose doing it and use that round or two rounds — or whatever we can do — as a building block for a championship team.”

This was Toronto GM Brian Burke, on a recent radio interview with a Toronto-area sports radio station. It was also a point he made last year around this time, and simply reiterated it.

It's not an admission of defeat- that this team isn't good enough, but that there is more value in getting into the playoffs with a legitimate chance to win The Stanley Cup, even if it means the cost of just getting into the postseason means pulling the plug on this season's chances of playing hockey in late April. Just getting in only to be summarily dismissed might be worse than missing the cut outright.

Which brings us to our Minnesota Wild.

We know that we've been postseason spectators for three straight years. We know that at one point we were atop the league, that we were in playoff position until this week, and we know that we've won five times out of the last 20 games. Not only has this team dropped like a lead zeppelin, but everyone else has elevated their games- not just the teams that passed us by on this rather spectacular descent, but the teams below us in the standings (aside from Edmonton) have started to roll too.

In fact, we are on pace to set a rather dubious standard; to be the first team in playoff position in mid-December to miss the playoffs. Not quite an accomplishment worth raising a banner into the rafters for. Really, it would be the only sentence needed to describe what has become a gross reversal of fortune.

Last night marked the second time in a week that we lost to Columbus, arguably the worst team in the league. A Todd Richards-coached team while we're at it; an indictment if there is ever one. We're at the point where air-it-out locker room meetings are the norm, there's a new cliche every other day ("gotta score greasy goals" is the clubhouse leader), and to top it off, the public declaration of "we stink" by the Head Coach tells you everything you need to know.

Its time to park the taco truck, open the doors, and tell the league we're open for business, make us some offers.

The reality is that we weren't supposed to make the playoffs this year; not with a young defense, not with the additions of an less than mobile former 50 goal scorer and an occasionally brilliant winger, not with a lack of offensive depth, not with a rookie Head Coach. The future wasn't now; not with the Granlunds, Coyles, Phillips, Zuckers, etc. still property but unsigned. The recently implemented "vision for the franchise" is merely a promise of better days ahead.
This gives us a chance to do something we haven't been able to do for the last three years; to be all-out sellers. A defined position, one of the few peddlers in the league, the pusherman for all the contenders and pretenders at this point in time.

Have you seen the prices for rentals? How about a lottery pick higher than 9 or 10 or 12? Think Jacob Trouba wouldn't look marvelous slipping on a Wild Sweater on Draft Day?

As a fan, as a blogger, as a paying season ticket holder, it pains me to say pull the plug; but it's worth it if it gives us direction with purpose- that losing but selling is better than where we are at. I'm not advocating tanking ("fail for Nail", "Shart for Reinhart", "Stink for Grink", et al) but more that we call a spade a spade.

A Call To Arms (Vote For Defending The Blueline)

Many of us in the hockey community are aware of the great charity Defending The Blueline, which enables children of Military families to stay in the game of hockey by way of free equipment, hockey camps, special events, and financial assistance for fees and costs that come with playing the game.

For instance, a kid from Brainerd was recently outfitted with brand new goalie gear donated by the NHL Players Association.

Defending The Blue Line was one of 20 charities selected by The White House for the "Joining Forces Campaign", which brings recognition to the services that aide military families. The fine citizens of America are allowed to vote on the winner, so this is where I need each and every one of you to help.

DTBL is currently in second place, so I want everyone to go here, find "Defending The Blueline", and vote everyday until March 16th. They do a phenomenal job, and I think it behooves us to do what we can to bring them attention and recognition for the work they do.

Please bookmark and vote every day.

Let's Talk About Zach Parise

Let's be honest here, folks: the Parise-to-Wild rumors have practically been circulating since before he suited up with the Devils for his first NHL game. But lately, it's felt a bit different. Actual media sources have been picking up on it, including ESPN, SB Nation, The Hockey News, the Pioneer Press, the Star Tribune, and the ever-reliable Mike Russo, in appearances (among other places) on KFAN radio. And outside the media, here in Fan-land? The buzz, from both Wild fans and outside observers, is reaching a fever pitch––and it's only February.

Yes, I know that every single big-name player draws their share of rumors, based on wishful thinking and not much more, from every single fanbase's corner of the Internet. But this one seems to carry a bit more legitimacy to it than your typical "Selanne is a lock to sign with the Leafs," or the annual "Vancouver will sign Suter and Weber, salary cap be damned" post. Why?

The Worst Collapse In Minnesota Wild History Cannot Save Marek Zidlicky

Everyone loves a scapegoat.

Whether it's the referee, Ray Finkle or that dwarf in my book club who steals my ideas, losses never seem to be a team effort. There's always someone to point fingers at when things go wrong because it's much easier to point fingers at one thing as an excuse covering many. It doesn't matter if that person saves a baby from a burning building or scores a hat trick, there is always some fault to find with the designated scapegoat.

For Minnesota Wild fans this season, that guy is Marek Zidlicky.

Marek Zidlicky (photo from Zimbio)
More on Zidlicky and the Wild after the jump...

The Tipping Point

Just as the news cycle is these days, where the onus is to get the scoop/report/whatever out for public consumption first (accuracy be damned!) it goes the same for the identification of trends in sports.

Being an avid golfer and fan of the PGA Tour, I see it constantly with the media jackals as they continually try and lay claim to "this shot" or "this hole", whatever major, (and) or waffle house waitress conquest as where Tiger Woods "got it back." "You see, he showed signs of being the Tiger of old when he shot that 67 in the third round!" Then inevitably Woods hits it all over the place on the last day, shoots an uninspiring 74 and ties for 24th, sending all of the pundits and scribes off on the "watershed moment" Easter Egg Hunt all over again.

(For the record, the "Dominant Tiger" era is over. So is he if he keeps messing with his damn swing, because you can only make so many lengthy par putts.)

Not gonna lie- its fun. Especially as someone who fancies himself an armchair pundit of a professional hockey team, then broadcasts that stupid opinion on the series of tubes we affectionately call the "interwebs." There's a certain humblebrag about being the first one to call it right, like somehow that shot in the dark or misguided attempt at analysis translates into more credibility for the guesser, or the blog, or whatever have you. Everyone does it, especially in the hockey community, people take notice and then maybe you get dap on Puck Daddy for your Nostradamus-like surmise that the last game, yes game number whatever of 82, was THEE MOST PIVOTAL GAME OF THE SEASON!

Now with all that said...last night's Hindenburg like crash and burn, is the tipping point for your Minnesota Wild. How could it not be?

Look at the circumstance; after just an awful stretch where The Wild plummeted from the rarified air of the TOP OF THE LEAGUE STANDINGS, they somehow managed to scrape together two wins consecutively, against teams also fighting for a playoff spot, before going into the mood-killing and fan momentum cock blocking All-Star Break (seriously, what a wet blanket that extended stretch can be. Finally a reason to get excited again about my team and then I watch Ottawa fans heckle Maple Leafs players for three days.) The amateur armchair types probably pointed to that Colorado win as "the tipping point" of the season anyways, which shows why they are amateurs.

So, season starts up again, and Nashville, which is of course rounding into late season form, comes to town. The Preds are white hot, and Minnesota promptly sticks it to them for 55 minutes.

And lose 5-4 in the dying seconds of the game, in maybe a bigger choke job than Mama Cass on a ham sandwich. You scratch your head, mostly in bewilderment, because you're asking yourself this:

Just all types of terrible adjectives to describe this loss- including words you don't even use to describe people you don't even like.

Now, Minnesota goes to Denver to face Colorado (Puck Daddy's choice to take the 8th spot in the West) and the mighty inky wrath of Adrian Dater with the spectre of a level 5 sub-atomic implosion (just made that up) against one of the league's best teams looming not just over the dressing room, but pretty much over the entire State. Whatever momentum you could have possibly had is surely gone, no matter if Mike Yeo wants the team to focus on the good parts of the Nashville game, even if the standings and press clippings remind them that they effectively laid a giant turd on the ice for the final 5 minutes.

Do they rebound to start another streak of wins (or least points), or is this just the beginning of the slow and painful death rattle we've seen the last handful of years from the fragile-psyche'd teams of the past? Sure, there is the impending arrival of Mikko Koivu back to the roster, which is great considering his value to the line up, but it then means a bit of a jolt to the line charts- the same lines which up until late last night had almost won three games in a row without him. And not just squeaking by either- there were actually goals (multiple) scored too.

Does Niklas Backstrom finally just wrestle the starting job down to the ground, give it a nougie, and make it his?

If its going to happen, its gotta happen on the road, which is where the next three games are- not from the coozy confines of the X. In hostile territory (and Dallas is about as inhospitable to the Minnesota Wild as it gets) with just the dudes sitting across from you putting on the same doofus-looking white sweater (seriously, reboot that damn thing and make it a cash grab. The road sweater is terrible.)

Really, though, we've come to the point where this team builds or it self destructs. If the collective just lets it fester, then its over- but, if they wrap it around their heads that what happened with Nashville is the worst thing that could happen to them, and that if it is, then the worst is already over and then they can pin their ears back for the stretch run. We've reached the tipping point ladies and gentlemen.

I wonder if Chris Simon can be had at the Trading Deadline?

(Did I mention that we get dap from The lovely editors at Puck Daddy from time to time?)

Thanks to SBNation for the Schwartz Gif and for the squid pic.

Also thanks to Adrian Dater for not getting mad that I suggested he is actually a squid. Not that squids couldn't be sportswriters, but you know. To recap: Adrian Dater is not a squid.