FRB Book Club: The Instigator

Last week I flew out to Washington State to spend Thanksgiving with some family; and since I tend to read when I travel, I picked up a couple of books for the flight (and subsequent delays) to and fro; it makes the flight go by a bit faster, and also allows some distraction from the rancid body odor being emitted by the swarthy gentleman sitting in the seat directly in front of me.

Its timely (and at times prophetic) subject matter, considering the NHL Lockout is entering the stages of increased fan apathy, and with no end in sight. (#assmode)

Erik Haula Named An Alternate Captain At The University of Minnesota

(This article was originally posted on SB Nation Minnesota but since it involves the Wild and I wrote it, figured there were some who would want to see it that don't visit SBN MN. Although you should...)

Win or lose, Erik Haula has an "A" to join the "M" on the front of his #19 jersey.

The junior forward was named an alternate captain for the rest of the 2012-2013 season before Friday's game against Vermont by head coach Don Lucia. It's an honor for Haula, who currently leads the Gophers with 14 points.

Went to The Aeros Game and All I Got Was This Lousy Parking Ticket

 Ah yes.

So, pretty much every year we here in Minnesota get treated to an American Hockey League game, as the Houston Aeros, teeming with much-lauded prospects, came to town Sunday afternoon to take on Rockford, who is Chicago's AHL affiliate.

(nothing quite like recanting the Nick Leddy trade to my gal. I don't think she fully grasped just how much of a stiff Cam Barker was/is/will be.)

Back to the narrative; a reported 11,000+ plus braved the terrific and unseasonal 50 degree weather and gravitational pull of NFL football on flat screen high definition televisions to take in the game, and get a healthy dose of the Wild Youth Movement; as this marks the beginning as seven 20 somethings turned pro. Mikael Granlund (leg, I mean lower body injury) and Jonas Brodin (broken clavicle, uh, upper body injury) didn't play, which was a bummer since both looked to be legitimate NHLers this year.

I guess they did have a hoot at the Minnesota/Wisconsin game during the weekend though.

It turned out the forgotten European prospect- Johan Larsson- stole the show as his two goals powered Houston past Rockford. Well, since you're dying to know, I'll tell you some more observations after the jump.

Minnesota Wild Prospect Handbook Issue #2 Is In The Works

Back in June, First Round Bust and Hockey Wilderness joined forces for the first-of-its-kind Minnesota Wild Prospect Handbook. It ended up being a labor of love with original articles and analysis of the Wild prospect pool in an simple, easy to read format.

(If you haven't downloaded the first issue of the Wild Prospect Handbook, it is still available in the 2012 Draft Section. For free. Free!)

Thanks to the overwhelming positive response and demand for the first issue, everyone involved has decided to do it again. Issue #2 should come sometime in December for the World Junior Championships. From Dan Chan of Hockey Wilderness:
Features that will show up will include: 
  • Which Wild players are playing in the WJCs? 
  • A Houston Aero season update
  • Scouting reports on certain Wild prospects ...and more!!  
Best of all, you don't have wait for everything until December. We wanted to give something as a taste of things to come for everyone so here is one of our scouting reports on 2012 first round pick Mathew Dumba.


Mario Lucia Returning From Broken Leg Tonight

We interrupt our terrible Lockout coverage to report that Mario Lucia, Minnesota's second round pick from 2010, will be making his college debut after missing Notre Dame's first nine games of the season. Darin Pritchett of WSBT was the first to report.

The Big Contract Head Scratcher

Throughout writing for this site during this lockout, I have unabashedly been pro-owner and pro-league. In doing the research for my fan submitted proposal, there were a lot of details where I could easily point out flaws in the NHLPA’s line of thinking. Revenues are not profits, travel costs were skyrocketing, and even revenue sharing were all issues where I stated that the players association were wrong.

This being said, I have given the contracting demands of the NHL a thorough review and I have come to the conclusion that…

The NHL is on crack.

RIP Zach Parise's "Phil Kessel Moment"

I've tried to make an effort to not get wrapped up in the ongoing CBA negotiation talks. Sure, I know think hope like to lie to myself that plenty of people are wondering what we think about a few things like Ryan Suter's comments on Craig Leipold and subsequent backtracking (don't backtrack) or the recent Donald Fehr interview or even the CHLPA fiasco (so many issues with that one), but the truth is that the longer this Lockout goes on, the harder it is to really want to write about the NHL. Apathy is setting in.
I'd almost rather wait until there's an agreement to analyze and both sides make a big deal out of how amazing the fans are by coming back than the latest counterproposal.

(And rest assured, if there is one thing to expect it will be empty words over how the NHL has the "greatest fans in world.")

What To Make Of Tyler Graovac

I've written some in the past about the curious nature of seventh round picks in the NHL Entry Draft; how some are legitimate attempts at finding the next Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg- taking kids who have the skillsets but are just missing something, whether it be a hitch in their stride or physical immaturity- and some are acts of good will (see: David Carle and Louie Nanne), and some are born of a restlessness of sitting at a table, on a crowded draft floor for a second day in a row (see: Florida trying to take Alex Ovechkin in 2003.) We'll never really be privy to the discussions that take place in those tight huddles, but I think its safe to say that as fans we all hope that these types of late picks DO end up being something worthwhile.

That the kid they took just needs a bit more strength, or hits a growth spurt, or that the proverbial "transmission clunks into gear." Which brings us to our 2011 Seventh Rounder, Tyler Graovac of the Ottawa 67's.

The Minnesota Wild’s Inter-Lockout Team

Oh how I yearn for the days of shady advanced puck possession statistics.  Perhaps in a few weeks given the secret CBA negotiations.  In the meantime, here’s a fun exercise: who’s your Minnesota Wild Inter-Lockout starting lineup?

Flash back to 2005...starved for hockey, I bought a pair of skates and a stick and got back on the pond.  I was unathletic, out of shape, and determined to play in the annual pond hockey tournament.  Meanwhile, the Wild returned from the lockout with such heroes as...Alexander Daigle and Marc Chouinard?  Those cheap bastards spent a cool $25M on the roster.  Of course, we missed the playoffs and drafted 9th overall.

All the way up to 2012...I’m still unathletic, out of shape, and have played probably 200 games of hockey (yet no pond hockey tournament).  Meanwhile, the Wild racked up $55M on roster players such as...Warren Peters and Brad Staubitz.  Yikes.  Of course, we missed the playoffs and drafted 7th overall.

Somewhere in there were a few great years of hockey.  Former owner Bob Naegele and (thankfully) former GM Doug Risebrough got out the checkbook and signed a couple solid players.  The team made the playoffs a couple times.  Even won the division once.

These lockouts give us a chance to neatly break up the ages of the team, and after the expansion era, we have the inter-lockout era (oooohhhh...aahhhhhh).

Without further ado, here is my Minnesota Wild starting lineup from those glorious years:

In goal...from Helsinki, Finland...number 32, NIKLAS BACKSTROM!

327GP 160W 26 SO 0.918 SV 2.42 GAA

Okay, we’ve always had good goaltending in Minnesota.  Having Jacques Lemaire sucking the life out of the opposing team will help that.  After trading Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton, Manny Fernandez (the coach’s nephew, oddly enough) was given the reigns...and went all headcase crazy goalie on us.  Our top goaltending prospect, Josh Harding, was fighting an injury, so in came some free agent goalie from Finland as backup.

And then he stole the starting job, making Manny expendable (for Petr Kalus, yay!), and took the team to the playoffs.  He was seriously good.  We take it for granted now, and his glove hand has been exposed (and the shootouts), but we hadn’t seen consistency from a starting goalie like that before.  He followed up the rare stinker with almost always a great performance.

In the last few years, his age and the games have taken a toll.  He’s had hip and groin injuries and hasn’t been quite the same goalie.  But he’s been the team’s starter from 2006 onward and will be playing the last year of his contract.  Quite a run.

On defense...from Barrie, Ontario...number 8, BRENT BURNS!

417GP 54G 123A 177PTS 313 PIM -11

In 2005, Burns was a promising young...something.  He was big, fast, athletic, and had a great attitude.  We just didn’t know what the hell he was going to play.  Forward?  Defense?  He’d be bouncing between those positions his whole career.

Burns broke out in spring of 2007, as the team fought for their first playoff berth since 2003.  Burns was mostly on defense and started to use his deadly wrist shot and one timer, scoring some seriously clutch goals.  The next year he picked right up and went from a healthy scratch to a top defenseman.  Sure he made plenty of mental mistakes, but the raw talent was giving way to some polish under Lemaire’s watch, as well the play of mentor Keith Carney.

Along the way there were some setbacks, including a prolonged stint at forward, a concussion, and...something else (whiplash? sinus infection? snake bite?).  But Burns was one of the most beloved Wild players between lockouts, with his charity work, man-child approach to the game, and his zoo.  Burns was of course traded for Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle in 2011.

Also on defense...from Malmo, Sweden...number 5, KIM JOHNSSON!

289GP 15G 72A 87PTS 269 PIM -8

Okay, apologies to Nick Schultz, who has played more games in a Wild sweater than anyone else, and has been a heart and soul member of the team since nearly Day One.  But this is my starting lineup, and if I was going to pick any defenseman from between the lockouts, it would be Johnsson.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know who he was when the Wild signed him, aside from his one YouTube highlight reel goal with Philly.  And boy did we have a laugh at his salary when he wasn’t scoring goals.  But something funny happened...the Wild made the playoffs.  They stopped being a punching bag, and started pressuring the other team.  They were (gasp).....BREAKING OUT OF THEIR ZONE!

Kim Johnsson didn’t have much of a shot, wasn’t a speed demon, didn’t fight, and really didn’t do anything to stand out.  But he was quietly the Wild’s safety valve in the defensive zone.  He learned from fellow Swede Nick Lidstrom that, when you get the puck, take two strides before passing.  That simple advice, along with his high hockey IQ and solid all-around skills, allowed him to evade many forecheckers and put the Wild on the attack.

Since his early retirement due to concussions, the Wild has been a laughingstock in terms of puck possession and shot measurement statistics.  While we hope Jonas Brodin could one day become our own poor man’s Lidstrom, Johnsson filled that role for a few seasons, including the only playoff appearance in that stretch.

At right wing...from Trencin, Slovakia...number 10, MARIAN GABORIK!

207GP 123G 106A 229PTS 169 PIM +38

This is our starting roster for the all-time IR squad, right?

Okay, Gabby couldn’t stay on the ice with his glass groin.  And he bailed for the greener pastures of Manhattan.  But he STILL led the team from 2005-2012 in goals and plus-minus.  Let me say that again.  He played only 36% of the Wild’s inter-lockout games, and leads them in goals.  That’s just sad.

But Gabby was and still is a treat to watch.  Fastest player in the league depending on who you ask.  Deadly on the breakaway.  Underrated in his defensive abilities (okay that’s a stretch...).  #10 put fans in the seats during the leanest of years for the Wild.

Of course, there’s always the “coulda beens” with Gabby.  His goals/points per game are ridiculous and he really only got one full season with the club.  What could Risebrough have fetched if he decided to trade the Slovakian sniper before he ripped his groin to shreds with a hackey sack (seriously, that’s how it happened)?  What could have happened if Gabby had better linemates than Todd Fedoruk or Aaron Voros?

As it is, we still got to see some great play from Marian, including his friend and countryman Pavol Demitra (RIP).  I’ll take that.

At left wing...from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan...number 24, DEREK BOOOOOOGAARD!

255GP 2G 12A 14PTS 544 PIM -12

If Gaborik put butts in the seats, Derek Boogaard got them out and up.

Thinking about Boogaard brings back memories of a simpler time.  We weren’t taking sides in players versus owners.  We weren’t crunching numbers on revenue sharing, cap space, or even strength road shot differential when the game is tied and Mars is in retrograde.

With Derek, it was just brutal, simple, glorious violence.

The Wild had no early success, a superstar who was always injured, and a group of scrubs.  But in comes this behemoth of a man with a crooked smile who looks like he has no business on skates.  And he just pummels his opponents.  The Fedoruk fight.  The barking at Anaheim after the cheapshot of Johnsson.  The knockouts.  The dark stare.

NHL hockey is likely moving away from the age of the enforcer, in large part to the tragedy that was Boogaard’s pain, addiction, and untimely death.  But for a moment, the Wild had the most feared man in hockey, and us fans loved it.

And at center...from Turku, Finland...the captain of YOUR Minnesota Wild, number 9 (and 21), MIIIKKO...KOIIIIVUUUUUUU!

488GP 108G 253A 361PTS 334 PIM +24

Franchise.  Kaptain.

In 2005, Mikko was Saku’s little brother.  Today, he is the face of the Minnesota Wild (well, until Parise came along).  While he hasn’t led the Wild to the promised land (yet), he has racked up an impressive ELEVEN podium finishes for his country including two Olympic medals and a World Championship.

Mikko is the blue-collar player that Minnesota fans love to cheer for.  Mikko isn’t the fastest or most skilled player on the ice, but he is almost always the hardest worker and one of the smartest.  He rags the puck to the net, does the heavy lifting for his linemates, and of course, the forehand-backhand-shelf shootout goal.  He’s a natural leader and was the first full-time captain of the team.

Although he hasn’t had the best linemates (....Miettinen....), Mikko led the team in points between lockouts, and it’s not close at all.  He’s been a plus player not just in the good years, but also the lean.  When he’s in the lineup and healthy, the Wild are typically a winning team.  But when he’s out, the team sinks like a stone.  What if he had been healthy last year, could the Wild have rode that early season hot streak and avoided the meltdown?  Made the playoffs?  Traded for talent at the deadline and made a run?

Fortunately for Wild fans, we don’t have to play the “what if” game anymore.  With Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, and several others in the pipeline, Mikko should have more opportunities to score and not face all the opposition on his own. 

Now we just need some leadership elsewhere so we can watch Mikko and the rest of the Wild again.

Thanks to for the wonderful statistics database.

Mikael Granlund & Jonas Brodin End Up Injured Friday Night

I'm not a doctor but my prescription after watching these is anything that will drown your sorrows.