Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Does Big Ten Deputy Commissioner Brad Traviolia really understand the frustration of college hockey fans?

It is October and we all know what that means, hello hockey season! 

This year, the Minnesota Gophers enter their fourth season in what I like to call the debacle that is known as the Big Ten Conference. I've stated in a previous blog post that I am NOT a fan of the Big Ten conference (as I've stated here).

Recently, I came across an article from earlier this year about Big Ten Deputy Commissioner Brad Traviolia. 

In reading this article, I don't think Brad Traviolia gets the frustration of Gopher hockey fans (or college hockey fans in general).

First of all, Traviolia doesn't have a hockey background and he admits it. He made this statement in the previously mentioned USCHO.com article from Feb.10, 2016 (Big Ten's Traviolia weighs in....) Traviolia states:
 "Coming from a non-hockey background, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine a fan in the state of Minnesota who wouldn’t be excited to see a Michigan or a Michigan State come in to play..."
What is he thinking? Does he honestly think that Mariucci Arena is going to sell out for a series against Michigan or Michigan State? Because it is the Gophers, there is going to be a decent crowd there. However, a two-game series against Michigan and Michigan State just isn't going to sell out because there isn't a true rivarly between Minnesota and these two schools. Yes, there is some history between Minnesota and Michigan (with having met in the semi-finals of the 2002 and 2003 Men's Frozen Four tournaments), but these rivalries aren't just going to happen overnight. Rivalries will draw fans to games (i.e. the Minnesota-North Dakota series scheduled for Nov. 4 and 5 at Marriucci Arena). 

(Just in case anybody was wondering, Traviolia was a wrestler at Northwestern University). 

Traviolia also stated this:
“In a perfect world, we’d have great national success in the early years of Big Ten hockey and it’d be perceived by the vast majority as the greatest move ever...Those things didn’t coincide. I understand that there is some frustration from the various fan bases that see the alignment of Big Ten hockey with the lack of national success that some of our programs are used to having and equate the two."
No, Traviolia doesn't get it. He conveniently forgets that one of the most successful and storied college hockey conferences was basically destroyed with the creation of the Big 10 hockey conference. That conference being the old WCHA conference (when it consisted of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, Mankato State, Colorado College, Denver, et al.) For a school like Minnesota, those games were constant sell outs because of the rivalries between those schools--especially the in-state rivalries and the storied rivalry between Minnesota and North Dakota. 

This is coming from the guy who doesn't buy into a theory of " the lack of attendance is that fans simply aren’t intrigued enough with the new conference foes to make the effort to actually go to games." I'll be honest with you, watching Minnesota play Penn State is like watching an exhibition series to me. Penn State is only entering their 5th year as a D-1 hockey program. They have a LONG way to go when it comes to developing rivalries. 

Brad Traviolia just doesn't get it when it comes to hockey...and the tradition of college hockey.













Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Wild made coaching changes…now, what about the roster?

New Minnesota Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau
Now that the Minnesota Wild have their coaching staff in place, with the hiring of Bruce Boudreau as the new head coach. John Anderson and Scott Stevens were hired on as assistant coaches. Darby Hendrickson remains as the only assistant coach from Mike Yeo’s staff, along with goaltending coach Bob Mason (who has been with the team for the Wild’s entire existence).

The big question now is what moves are the Wild going to make in order to improve their roster? With the 2016 NHL Draft starting Friday in Buffalo and free agency starting at midnight on July 1st  (general managers meetings are either currently going on or start on June 22), Chuck Fletcher is going to be closely watched on what moves he makes (and which ones he doesn’t).

Let’s start off with the draft. 

This year, the Wild have only four draft picks. Yes, that is correct. Minnesota currently holds the 15th pick overall (first round). The Wild don’t have a draft pick again until the fourth round (at 106th overall) with another two picks remaining in the 7th round (at 196th and 204th overall respectively). That’s not a whole lot to build on. Chuck Fletcher traded a few draft picks away last season for upcoming drafts for basically rent-a-players (a couple of them who were busts for the Wild). I think I just saw recently that what would have been the Wild’s third round draft pick has changed teams at least 5 times already—most recently this week. (Fletcher also stated in a press conference yesterday that he’s not looking at trading for any draft picks.)

Tom Powers said on Monday, “…With the cupboard of their American League farm club now containing nothing but ant bait, the Wild need to get busy on improving their personnel.” That’s not good. (Wild must improve roster or expect miracle from Boudreau, twincities.com)

(Joel Eriksson Ek, who was the Wild’s first round draft pick last year, will be playing in Sweden this upcoming season with F√§rjestad of the SHL).

What about free agency?

The salary cap for the 2016-17 season has been announced at being $73 million (up only $1.6 million from last season). The Wild currently have approximately $9.2 million available in cap space, according to www.spotrac.com. That’s not a whole lot.

The Wild’s list of unrestricted free agents are forwards David Jones (acquired via trade from Calgary), Jarrett Stoll and Chris Porter (both claimed off of waivers last season), Ryan Carter, and Justin Fontaine. Out of those five, the possibility of any of those being re-signed remains to be seen. 

Darcy Kuemper will become a restricted free agent again on July 1st (and could become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-17 season), along with forwards Zac Dalpe and Jordan Schroeder (whom the Wild are expected to tend offers to). There have been reports as of late that Darcy Kuemper could possibly be moved (via trade). 

It's going to be a very interesting part of the off-season these next couple of weeks. What Chuck Fletcher does (and doesn't do) is going to be very interesting...and could potentially cause new coach Boudreau, along with Wild fans), some serious headaches this upcoming season...




Wednesday, September 9, 2015

2016 World Cup of Hockey…and what does that mean for the NHL’s involvement in the 2018 Winter Olympics?


Today, in Toronto, the NHL and the NHL Players Association announced the World Cup of Hockey and the format for the tournament that is scheduled to take place at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto from September 17-October 1, 2016.


With this announcement today, what does this mean for the NHL’s involvement in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea? As of right now, there isn’t an answer on the NHL’s involvement in the South Korea games. When asked about the impact of the World Cup of Hockey (which hasn’t been played since 2004), Gary Bettman told the AP “I don’t think one has anything to do with the other.” However, both sides have dodged answering about the Olympics. The AP did state that the players "made it very clear they want to keep going to the Winter Olympics every four years," along with the sentiment of the team owners "don't seem to like shutting down their league for two-plus weeks in the season while hoping their stars don't get injured at the Olympics." (The issue was raised about stars being injured in the Olympics when the Islanders' John Tavares suffered an MCL and meniscus while playing for Team Canada in the 2014 Sochi games and missed the rest of the season). 

Talks have not been scheduled regarding the NHL's involvement in the 2018 games in South Korea with the International Ice Hockey Federation. 

The two week tournament will feature approximately 150 NHL players. 

NHL.com had the following quote from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on the creation of Team North America and Team Europe:

"Those two teams, they're more competitive than any other country team would have been for this event, so it will make the competition more competitive as well...Otherwise, you would have had a country with maybe just a couple of NHL players. Now you have what are going to be two very strong teams highlighting more NHL players being included than any other way we could have done it."

However, the World Cup of Hockey is not without it's critics. Tom Gulitti (Devils beat writer for The Record) posted this criticism on Twitter:

(courtesy of bleacherreport.com)


The level of play at this tournament will have to wait to be seen. I'm pretty sure there will be more coming out in regards to questions about the level of play as the tournament draws closer. 

Meanwhile...

The following format was announced, along with the team pools, and schedule for the tournament:

Team Groups:

Group A:

Team Canada
Team Czech Republic
Team Europe
Team USA

Group B:

Team FinlandTeam North AmericaTeam RussiaTeam Sweden

(Team North America will be made up of North American players who are 23 and younger, while Team Europe will consist of players from other countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, et al). 

The schedule is:


Preliminary Round (round robin)
Saturday, Sept. 17
Team Europe vs. Team USA, 3:30 p.m.
Team Canada vs. Team Czech Republic, 8 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 18
Team Russia vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m.
Team Finland vs. Team North America, 8 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 19
Team Czech Republic vs. Team Europe, 3 p.m.
Team North America vs. Team Russia, 8 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Team Finland vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m.
Team Canada vs. Team USA, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 21
Team North America vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m.
Team Canada vs. Team Europe, 8 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 22
Team Finland vs. Team Russia, 3 p.m.
Team Czech Republic vs. Team USA, 8 p.m.
Semifinals (single elimination; A1 vs. B2, B1 vs. A2)
Saturday, Sept. 24
Semifinal 1, TBD
Sunday, Sept. 25
Semifinal 2, TBD
Final (best-of-three)
Tuesday, Sept. 27
Final Game 1, 8 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 29
Final Game 2, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 1
Final Game 3, 7 p.m. (if necessary)
(Schedule and group information courtesy of nhlnfa.com)
According to nhl.com, the tournament will be played using NHL rules and officials. 

It will be interesting to see how this World Cup of Hockey plays out, considering it's going to be taking place during teams' training camp, leading up to the start of the 2016-17 NHL season. 

(link to NHL.com article NHL, NHLPA unveil plans for 2016 World Cup)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Niklas Backstrom—history repeats itself

Once again, it’s announced that during the off-season, Niklas Backstrom has been dealing with in injury that has plagued him since during the season. This time around, it’s an injury to his right elbow that has resulted in nerve damage. According to various reports, Backstrom suffered this injury during a preseason game last season and had surgery on that elbow in May. 


I wrote in one of my first blog articles about Backstrom and his future with the Minnesota Wild, (Does Niklas Backstrom have a future with the Minnesota Wild?) about how Backstrom has entered training camp coming off surgery he had to have in the off-season. 

Niklas Backstrom
Well, this preseason (as training camp for the Wild is quickly approaching) is going to be no different. Backstrom has been dealing with an injury to his right elbow that occurred during the preseason and since suffering the injury, has been dealing with nerve damage. 

Backstrom gave an interview back in June with a Finnish TV station and stated this:

“It was a bit scary situation...It happened pretty fast. All of a sudden two fingers are not working. Even in rest, two fingers were motionless. I couldn’t use my right hand to drive a car or to hold a phone. There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened during my career, but this really made me stop and think. You need your hand for the rest of your career. I’m right-handed.”

This injury prevented the Wild from buying Backstrom out of the final year of his contract. (A second buyout window was opened for the Wild when Erik Haula filed for arbitration, but the Wild were not able to take advantage of that buyout window because Backstrom hasn't been cleared medically). 

According to Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy, Backstrom's injury and sports hernia surgery last summer prevented the Wild from using their second compliance buy out on him last summer. For the second straight year, Backstrom has been able to "handcuff" the Wild and preventing the Wild from buying him out. 

What are the Wild's options at this point with Backstrom (who is in the final year of his contract and is owed about $4 million this season)? At this point, the Wild's best option is to put Backstrom on long-term injury researve. He has a no-move clause in his contract, so he can't be sent down to the minors. When (and if) he's cleared to play, he'll end up being the third goalie behind Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper. 

This will be the LAST season the Wild have to deal with this drama with Niklas Backstrom, his injuries, and off-season surgeries. Hopefully, the Wild will let him walk after this season. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Minnesota Wild Free Agency Updates...Why Did The Wild Re-Sign Nate Prosser?

Not long after I posted my previous two articles about the top three free-agents who should be re-signed and the three free-agents the Wild should let walk, the Wild made their moves on some of the free-agents.


The Wild did come to a contract agreement with Devan Dubnyk. The deal is a 6 year deal for $26 million. If you recall from my article about the top three free agents the Wild should focus on re-signing, Dubnyk was at the top of that list (the link is here). Hopefully, the 2015 Bill Masterton award winner will be able to build upon his success with the Wild during the second half of this past season and provide some stability for the Wild in goaltending...which is what the Wild desperately need. 

The Wild also managed to re-sign Mikael Granlund to a two-year deal, along with re-signing Ryan Carter to a one year deal. (Mikael Grandlund was #3 on my list of free-agents the Wild should re-sign). 

Nate Prosser
However, there is one re-signing that did take place that I don’t think a lot of fans are happy about and that is the two year, one-way deal for Nate Prosser. In my last post about the three free-agents the Wild should let walk, Prosser was at the top of that list. (The article can be found here). As I have previously stated, I have never been impressed with Prosser as an NHL player. 

Another blogger (Tony Wiseau from Hockey Wilderness) wrote this about Prosser, and Wiseau hit the nail on the head with his statement:

"We know what Nate Prosser gives you. We've seen it for the last 4 seasons. Prosser will be an OK defender, a fine penalty killer, but a non-factor offensively. He's also 29, meaning that in all likelihood, there aren't going to be any major improvements in Prosser's game."

Prosser only played in 63 regular season games and one playoff game this past season. I would rather see another player, like Christian Folin or Mike Reilly, get NHL ice time than seeing someone like Prosser--who has been prone to committing turnovers and is an easy target to be hit. 

I hope Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher wakes up sometime this season and either puts Prosser on waivers or includes him in a trade. This was not a smart move on Fletcher's part and I hope he sees his mistake in signing Prosser. I don't care if he's a native Minnesotan, he's not that impressive on the ice and the Wild need to move on from him. 






 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Minnesota Wild and those players who are free agents…who should the Wild let walk?

My last blog post was about the three free agents the Wild should focus on re-signing. This post is going to be about the three players who are due to become free agents on July 1st that the Wild should let go.

**Disclaimer: I am not going to include goalie Josh Harding in this list. His current contract with the Wild is up on June 30th and there are rumors that he is going to announce his retirement.**

Here is my list of the three players the Wild should let go.

#1. Nate Prosser

I have never really been impressed with Nate Prosser to begin with. In my opinion, Prosser commits a lot of turn-overs in the defensive one and he seems to be an easy target to be hit. The only thing I may consider a positive is that his effort on the penalty kill unit has somewhat improved, but that's about it. 

Last year, he signed a one year deal with St. Louis—only to be put on waivers after the preseason and picked up by the Wild. 

Joseph Gunther wrote this on Prosser on examiner.com:

Prosser has had a mercurial career that includes plenty of highs and lows. He only has five goals and 23 assists while posting a minus-10 rating in 189 career games, but is one of the more physical defensemen on the team. One of the more interesting stats in Prosser’s career is that 60 percent of his goals have been game-winner’s, including back-to-back games during the 2013-14 season.(link to article is here)

With Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, and Marco Scandella locked in for five spots on defense, there is only one spot left. There are players in Iowa such as Gustav Olofsson (who missed all of this past season with a shoulder injury) and Guillaume Gelinas that Yeo and Fletcher may look at to be in consideration for that final defensive spot. Christian Folin could also be in the mix, but he is a restricted free agent and the Wild need to figure out the goaltending situation first (working on signing Dubnyk has been a priority for the Wild).


If the Wild should make the offer to Prosser, it needs to be a short term, two-way deal. However, if it were up to me to make the decision, I would let the Elk River, MN native find a new team. 

#2. Sean Bergenheim
Before Bergenheim was acquired from Florida in a trade in February, he was scratched for six straight games before being traded and playing in his first game with the Wild. The Wild traded a draft pick for him because the Wild, at the time, were dealing with several injured forwards.

He is a physical forward and he should have been a good fit on the fourth line and on the penalty kill unit.  However, he really didn’t produce much and it seemed to me like he took a while to get acclimated to the Wild. In 17 games with the Wild, Bergenheim had one goal, one assist (along with 6 PIM and a -6 rating). Before joining the Wild, Bergenheim had 8 goals, 18 assists in 39 games played with Florida.

One thing that worked against Bergenheim is that once those injured forwards started getting healthy, there wasn’t room for Bergenheim in the lineup and he found himself being scratched for a few games. When he did play, he did play well defensively and got into those battles along the boards—which the Wild needed.

Injuries have also been an issue with Bergenheim. Actually, he’s never played a full season in the NHL and has played more than 70 games twice in his career. That is something the Wild should take into consideration.

Since the Wild did place Matt Cooke on waivers and are buying out the last year of his contract, Bergenheim could have a chance at signing a new deal with the Wild. But, can the Wild afford to give a contract to a player that hasn’t played a full season? Time will tell. He made $2.7 million this past season, I don’t think the Wild are going to have the cap space for him.

I think the best thing is to let him sign with another team.


#3. Kyle Brodziak

This one is a tough one for me. Kyle Brodziak doesn’t light the lamp a whole lot. When he does, it’s usually by surprise (for me, anyway). However, Brodziak has been very valuable on the Wild’s penalty kill and defensively. 

Jason Gunther wrote this about Brodziak:

“Despite the lack of offensive production over the last three seasons, Brodziak has been a valuable member of the Wild’s lineup. He is very good on draws as well as penalty killing and defensive responsibility. He is the perfect fourth line center. When in an emergency, he can move up the lineup to help, but can be a shutdown player against the opposition’s top line.(link to article is here)

Brodziak played some very tough minutes this past season. He’s been the center of the fourth line that has had to go up against some very good competition this past season.

This is what was written about him on hockeywilderness.com (by @the_noogie on Twitter):

His job is to keep the opponents top lines from putting points on the board, and this upcoming season that is exactly how he should be judged. He's not an offensive juggernaut, with the right line mates though he is as valuable a defensive forward the Wild have on the roster.(the link to @the_noogie's post is here)

General Manager Chuck Fletcher has a very tough decision to make when it comes to Brodziak. He made about $3 million last year and with the $12 million in cap space the Wild have, the Wild may not have the cap space to be able to re-sign him at the money he may be looking for. 

This one is a tough one and right now, I'm still undecided on whether or not the Wild should re-sign him. 


Free agency begins at 12 pm ET on July 1 and it's going to be an interesting free agency period for the Wild and Chuck Fletcher..........



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Minnesota Wild and those players who are free agents…who to re-sign?

Hockey season’s over. The draft is around the corner (actually, the NHL Draft is this weekend). However, the free-agency period starts on July 1st and the Wild have some decisions to make on some of their players who are eligible for free agency.

As of today, the Wild have about $12 million in salary cap space for seven roster spots.

So, who should the Wild look at re-signing? Here is my top-three list of the players the Wild should re-sign:

#1. Devan Dubnyk

Devan Dubnyk has made it clear that he loves it here in Minnesota and he wants to remain with the Minnesota Wild. We all know about the miraculous run the Wild had after he was acquired back in January.

The reason why I am saying that Dubnyk should be re-signed is because of the goaltending mess before Dubnyk arrived with Backstrom and Kuemper. As of right now, I don’t see Backstrom playing again in a Wild sweater (he had elbow surgery in the off season and that affects the Wild’s ability to buy him out of the last year on his contract). Kuemper did have a good start to the 2014-15 season (opening the season with back-to-back shut outs against Colorado), but his inconsistency reared its ugly head and he failed big-time when he was given the chance to take over as the Wild’s top goaltender. In addition, there is speculation that Josh Harding is going to retire. (Harding did not play a single game in a Wild uniform this past season and it was the last year of his contract).

All I am going to say on the contract talks is that both sides are talking this week.

**Update** Dubnyk was awarded the 2014-15 Masterton Trophy at the NHL awards. He is the second Wild player in three years to be awarded the Masterton Trophy (named for the late Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton). Josh Harding was awarded it back in 2013.

#2. Chris Stewart

I know right off the bat here that this isn’t going to sit well with a lot of people, especially with Stewart being a “streaky” player and the questions about his effort and consistency.

The reason why I believe the Wild should make an attempt to re-sign him is that he brought a physical presence to the Wild that they haven’t had in a while. He is another free-agent who is hoping to return to the Wild next season.

Mike Yeo said this of Stewart during the play-offs, “He's a guy that has a physical edge. He's a big body. He's going to play the game hard.” The Wild haven’t had that in a while and it was great to see the Wild bring someone like him in, especially because he stands up for his teammates on the ice.

He was hampered by a separated shoulder during the series against Chicago, which he did try to play through before missing games 3 and 4.

However, Stewart could have potential suitors this free-agency period other than the Wild. So, the above mentioned cap space limitations for the Wild could come into play.


#3. Mikael Granlund

I know that Mikael Granlund is a restricted free agent and his name has been mentioned as a possible trade candidate. I think right now that the Wild will re-sign him, and depending how he does during the upcoming 2015-16 season, he could possibly end up being traded—which I know isn’t a popular decision.

From what has been reported, Granlund is only looking for a short-term deal and he will probably get it.

This is what was recently written about Granlund (and some of this is obvious to Wild fans):

 “On the other hand, he is small by NHL standards, doesn’t have elite speed, chooses to pass when he should shoot too often and has missed significant time with several different upper body injuries, most notably at least one concussion. In addition to failing to developing into a No. 1 center through three seasons, it sounds as though his camp will be seeking that kind of money. The Wild don’t have it and need him to prove capable of being a consistent and healthy top center before they can think about giving it to him.”

Granlund needs to prove that he can produce and he can stay healthy before any team will give him a long term deal.


Key NHL Dates (from NHL.com):

June 26-27 NHL Draft, BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL
July 1 Free agency begins at 12 PM ET
July 5 Deadline for player-elected arbitration notification at 5 PM ET
July 6 Deadline for club-elected arbitration notification at 5 PM ET

August 6 Deadline for arbitration decisions to be rendered