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 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Minnesota Wild eliminate the Saint Louis Blues in round 1…now on to the next round against the Chicago Blackhawks

The Minnesota Wild did something at home for the first time in their 14-year history—they clinched a playoff series on home ice. They sent the Central Division Champions St. Louis Blues out of the playoffs in game six with a 4-1 win.

It was the first time in over 20 years that a Minnesota NHL team won a playoff series on home ice. The last time it happened was in 1991 when, ironically, the Minnesota North Stars eliminated the Blues.

Just three months ago, the Wild were in 12th place in the Western Conference. Devan Dubnyk was acquired by the Wild and we all know what has happened since.

It is also the second consecutive season the Minnesota Wild has eliminated the Central Division Champions in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Last year, the Wild knocked out the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.

According to NHL.com writer Dan Myers (from his column Five Reasons Wild advanced to the second round), one of the top five reasons the Wild beat the Blues was how the Wild were winning on the road.

Myers wrote:

Dubnyk blocking a shot from the Blues' Paul Stasny
(courtesy of twincities.com)
“Over the final few weeks of the regular season, no team was better than the Wild at winning away from home. Minnesota tied an NHL record with 12 consecutive road victories from mid-February until the regular season finale in St. Louis, a game where several regulars from each team sat out...That trend continued into the postseason.” 

The Wild also had not lost back-to-back games and that continued into the playoffs, especially after losing game 4 by the score of 6-1. Dubnyk and the Wild responded by winning games 5 and 6, both by scores of 4-1. 

Devan Dubnyk stated to the press:

"I was thinking about it over the last couple of days...It just feels right. It feels right for our group to be where we are and to continue to move forward. That's why it's easy to go out and play and feel like we're going to win because we've done it all year. Hopefully we can continue doing that." 

It's been quite a roller coaster year for Devan Dubnyk, considering last year he was a "playoff extra" for Montreal. Now, he has been named as a finalist for the Vezina trophy last Friday and yesterday was named a finalist for the Masterton award. 

(All I am going to say is that Chuck Fletcher better sign Dubnyk to a new contract!!) 

Myers included in another article about the Minnesota-St. Louis series that:

“While the Blues have been beasts in the regular season the past four seasons, they’ve gone cold in the playoffs. And all four early exits came in series where the Blues had home ice advantage…While the Blues have dominated in the regular season, they have failed to reach anything close to that level in the postseason.” 

For the Wild, it also helped greatly that they were able to actually score on the power play during this series. Matt Dumba scored a power play goal in game 1 to give the Wild a two goal lead, while Jason Pominville scored a power play goal that happened to be an empty-netter to secure Minnesota's 4-2 win. Mikko Koivu scored a goal late in the second period on the power play to give the Wild a two-goal lead going into the third period of game 5. (We ALL know how horrible the power play was for the Wild during the regular season).  

Now, for the second straight year, the Wild will open round two against the Blackhawks in Chicago. It's going to be quite a series, and this isn't the same Wild team the Blackhawks have run into in the playoffs before....

Hopefully, this is the year the Wild beat the Blackhawks in the playoffs. 

To read Dan Myers' article Five reasons Wild advanced to the second round, link is here.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round of Favorite Hockey Memes


**I apologize for not posting any articles for the past couple of weeks. I started a new job last week and had been really busy with that. I do plan on getting some new articles up on here soon. I appreciate the patience.~Shannon**


It's the NHL's second season--the Stanley Cup playoffs! The Wild have made it for the third consecutive year and sent the Saint Louis Blues home, defeating them today in game 6. 

And now, on to the memes:


Enough said!
We all know how big of an idiot Steve Ott was in this series with two game misconducts and being tossed...

Self explanatory! 



I found this on Facebook after game 5. This is one of my favorites!!

For the THIRD straight year, the Wild and the Blackhawks meet in the playoffs....


Yes, the Stanley Cup IS the best trophy in all of professional sports!

This next item is NOT a meme, but I had to share...

A couple of nights ago, I made a smart aleck remark about playoffs and other playoffs other than the Stanley Cup playoffs to Dan Flynn on Twitter (from my personal twitter account). Dan is a paramedic in New Orleans, LA and is one of the stars of  A&E's new hit reality show, Nightwatch (which just finished its first season in March). I also happened to be on the phone with a friend of mine, Brianah (who lives in California).  This was Dan's response to Brianah and I on twitter....




Brianah and I laughed so hard when we both saw that....

Until next time...

















Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Wild DID turn things around in the second half of the season…and clinched a playoff spot

Flashback to January 29, I wrote this:

“…the Wild are going to need about 46 points in the remaining 36 games of this season (with a record of 22-10-4). Can the Wild pull it off? It will be interesting…I would like to believe the Wild could possibly turn things around and make a push towards getting into the playoffs. However, I think the Wild have dug themselves into quite a hole and I can see them possibly playing spoiler towards the end of the season.” (From Can the Wild turn things around in the second half? January 29, 2015). 


Back to the present, the Wild managed to clinch their playoff spot with a 2-1 over the Blackhawks at the Madhouse on Madison last night.


Yes, I will admit, this die-hard Minnesota Wild fan was skeptical that the team was going to be able to pull this off.

There is one person who I would like to thank for this Wild turn-around, Devan Dubnyk. 

Dan Myers from NHL.com wrote this in the article “Five reasons Wild clinched playoff berth” (nhl.com) under the number one reason of Dubnyk’s Brilliance:


The Wild were a battered and beaten group the morning of Jan. 14. They had lost 7-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before, and at 18-19-5, Minnesota was third from the bottom in the Western Conference standings…Later that day, general manager Chuck Fletcher traded a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to the Arizona Coyotes for goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The rest is history.”

Graphic Coutesy of NHL on NBC on Twitter
Nino Niederreiter gave this statement to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo:

…Let’s be honest: The Dubnyk trade changed everything…During that time, we just needed a new face in the locker room. Everybody was very frustrated, everything always looked the same. We called up players, but it never really felt different. We brought Dubnyk in, it was a fresh, new face, we got to know a new guy, we had a great start and there was trust right away in each other again.”  (startribune.com, April 1, 2015)
Russo mentioned in the same April 1 article:
The turnaround for the team and thus individuals since Devan Dubnyk’s Jan. 15 arrival has been remarkable. The most stunning statistic in the Wild’s NHL-best 26-6-2 second half is the fact its goal differential is an NHL-best plus-47. That’s 104 goals scored (3.05 per game) and 57 given up (1.67 per game)” 
It also doesn’t hurt that the Wild have been winning on the road.
Myers included this in his “Five reasons” article (under the fourth reason, Winning on the road):
"Minnesota has lost once in regulation on the road since the Dubnyk trade, going 15-1-2 over that span. The Wild have won 11 consecutive road games since a 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 16, the longest road winning streak in the NHL since the San Jose Sharks won 10 in a row in 2007.
The Wild have already set team records for road victories (23) and road points (48) in a season, and they still have two games left away from Xcel Energy Center."
Going into the playoffs, I think those road wins are going to be key. The Wild have been winning on the road and teams are definitely starting to take notice. 
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said this after last night's loss to the Wild to NHL.com's Brian Hedger:

"We tried to make plays [in the third] and turned pucks over, and that led to plays in our own end…The Wild have gotten better the last three years. They've got some younger guys, they've got some depth, they've got some speed and skill throughout their lineup, and they check extremely well, and they can frustrate you. They'll make you pay if you try to take them on."

Courtesy of Kevin Lass from Facebook

The Wild did it. They clinched a play off spot this year after the roller coaster of a season they had. This is the third straight year the Wild will be in the playoffs.  As I stated before, I was skeptical and believed the Wild would be playing the role of "spoiler" this season. The Wild proved me wrong, and I'm happy about that. 



Link to Dan Myers's Five reason Wild clinched playoff berth here.

Link to Michael Russo's April 1st article from Star Tribune here



                 


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tough lineup decisions as injured Wild players are nearing return to the ice

I think at this time of year, as teams such as the Minnesota Wild are making the final push towards the playoffs, a coach would love to have the issue of which lineup decisions to make with players either returning from injuries, or being close to returning.

Well, Mike Yeo is facing this problem…or is getting close to facing this problem…

Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke
Kyle Brodziak (who has recently missed three games) could return to the Wild lineup on Thursday against the New York Rangers. Ryan Carter just returned to the lineup on Saturday against the Kings. Matt Cooke has been skating and recently joined the team in practice this week, his first since having hernia surgery in early February. (Jason Zucker and Nate Prosser were not in Tuesday’s practice, but both skated before the team practice. Zucker’s been out since the middle of February with a broken clavicle and surgery, Prosser has missed several games with a sprained MCL.)

Michael Russo, from the Star Tribune, wrote the following in a recent article about Zucker:

Wild forward Jason Zucker
“I feel perfect. I feel great,” said Zucker, sweating after another long, hardworking skate with a few teammates and coaches on Friday. “I don’t feel I have any restrictions shooting or passing or definitely skating. But it’s the docs. They know what’s best and what’s right and the right timeline. And whatever they say goes. Nothing else matters.”

From what I read, both Cooke and Zucker could make their returns during the playoffs. 

With how well the Wild have been doing since the middle of January (since Devan Dubnyk was acquired by the team and you know the rest of that story), the return of these injured players is going to have Mike Yeo looking at his roster and making the decisions of who is going to play and who is going to skate. The question is WHERE do you put these guys who are either coming back?

I think a lot of the shuffling is going to be taking place on the fourth line. Thomas Vanek has finally found his spot as the left wing on the third line with Charlie Coyle at center and Justin Fontaine at right wing. Chris Stewart has been a good presence on the second line at right wing with Mikko Koivu at center and Nino Niederreiter at left wing. Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, and Jason Pominville make up the first line. These three offensive lines are pretty much set. 

Yeo made the following statement regarding his first three lines:


“I don’t see any reason why we would change anything up right now in the immediate future. Obviously things could change, but I look at a guy like Fonzie (Justin Fontaine) and there’s no reason why he should be looking over his shoulder. Certainly you look at the Islander game, we felt that we needed to switch for that game (he means that Schroeder took Fontaine’s in the third period and overtime), but this is not situation where if he has one bad game, one bad period. Doesn’t mean you might not change things during a game, but he’s earned enough to give him a chance to go out and respond.” (Michael Russo, startribune.com 3/31/2015). 

Yeo also replied when asked how difficult these decisions are:


“It’s going to be hard and everybody’s going to have an argument, and everybody’s going to have an opinion. In many cases, it’s going to be right. In a lot of ways it’s going to be difficult for us to make a wrong choice. In other ways, difficult for us to make the right choice just because everybody that’s here has had an impact in getting us here. Everybody has had success with us at different points of the season. And everybody that’s here we feel could help us. So, what that means is there’s going to be people out of the lineup that are very tough decisions to make. But at the same time, the people that are in will recognize that and they’ll take advantage of the opportunity.” (Michael Russo, startribune.com 3/31/2015). 

It is going to be very interesting to see how of this all plays out, especially with Zucker and Cooke's eventual returns to the line up could take place during the playoffs. Like I stated at the beginning of this article, this is a problem I think coaches love to have--depth on their roster and almost every one healthy. 



Michael Russo's article on Jason Zucker can be found here

Russo's article on Cooke and Brodziak can be found here

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Has Thomas Vanek finally found his groove with the Minnesota Wild?

Having been traded twice last season and signing a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild to basically “come home,” one would think Thomas Vanek would have continued his scoring ways coming into this season.

Well, that wasn’t exactly the case. And the critics noticed. 

The 16-11-1 record the Wild had to start off the season made it somewhat easy to forget about Vanek his slow start, where he only had one goal in the first 20 games of this season. 

Vanek stated to the NHL.com’s Dan Myers:

“I went from left to right, to right to left, and finding linemates hasn’t been as steady as you’d want it to be…That’s what happens when you come into a new place, you try and find chemistry.”

Minnesota Wild Forward Thomas Vanek
Myers went on to state in his article on NHL.com (Thomas Vanek finally found his way with Wild) that “Vanek began the season on the second line and went nine games without scoring a goal. He requested to play next to Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund on the first line, but that didn’t work either. With few other options, Vanek spent time on the fourth line, trying to get his game going.” 

Earlier, Vanek has joked that he has “played with every Wild forward in his two months with the team, and it’s hardly an exaggeration.” (Chad Graff, twincities.com, 12/10/2014). 

Mike Yeo stated this back in December about Thomas Vanek to Chad Graff from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press:

“It's not like he's trying not to work…It's just other things get on your mind and you forget about the little things. Quite often when I talk to players afterward, they actually think that they are working hard, and that's because they don't see the other parts of the game that are missing."

One can also speculate that Vanek’s slow start this season could also be tied to a gambling investigation out of New York (the investigation came to light shortly after Vanek signed his three year deal with the Wild). 

Fast forward to the present:

Since starting out with 7 goals and 18 assists in the first 42 games of the season, Vanek has found a good spot on the Wild's third line playing left wing on a line with Charlie Coyle at center and Justin Fontaine on right wing. 

Myers wrote, "It took sometime for Yeo to figure out how to use Vanek. A right-handed shot, Vanek said he feels more comfortable at left wing. But when the Wild couldn't find consistency on the right side early in the season, they needed Vanek to fill in a top-six role there. 'I think he's more effective on the left side.' Yeo said. 'He creates a lot more from there. I think we've seen that lately.'"

Vanek told Myer, "Coyle is a big man down the middle and I think he creates room for us on the sides, especially when I have the puck on the left, I think he's good at opening up space in the middle...Fontaine is a good playmaker, good in the corners. He can shoot the puck but he can also find Coyle and myself." 

After last night's game against the Los Angeles Kings, Vanek currently has 20 goals and 30 assists. Vanek scored his 20th goal of the season Friday night against Calgary, making it his 10th straight season where he has scored at least 20 goals in a season. 

One can imagine the goals Vanek would have had if he was on that third line with Coyle and Fontaine all season. Hopefully the line of Vanek-Coyle-Fontaine will be intact next season....

To read Dan Myers' article, go here





Monday, March 23, 2015

Devan Dubnyk worthy of Hart Trophy consideration?


When Devan Dubnyk was acquired by the Wild from Arizona, the Wild had a six game losing streak and were in 12th place in the Western Conference standings when Wild GM Chuck Fletcher bit the bullet and made the trade. At the time, the Wild’s Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper were a big part of the reason why the Wild were sitting eight points of a playoff spot. Acquiring Dubnyk seemed like an act of desperation.

Minnesota Wild Goaltender Devan Dubnyk
Well, things have obviously changed in the past two months. Since Devan Dubnyk joined the Wild back in January, he is 23-6-1, with a 1.74 GAA, a .937 SV%, has 5 shutouts, and has allowed 2 or less goals in 23 of 31 games he has played. He also made his 31st consecutive start of the season against Toronto. The Wild are currently sitting in 7th place in the Western Conference standings (the top Wild Card spot), and are five points behind Chicago in the Central Division.

I stated in a previous post "Is Devan Dubnyk the answer to the Minnesota Wild's goaltending situation" (Feb. 8, article is here), that "Before Dubnyk’s arrival, the Wild had seemed to find ways to lose games where they had the advantage on the shots on goal, with shaky goaltending to partly to blame." If either (Darcy) Kuemper or (Niklas) Backstrom had started in the net for the game in Saint Louis, where the Wild won 3-1, I'd say the Wild would have easily lost that game. 

Judd Zulgad (from 1500 ESPN Twin Cities SportsWire) wrote this in an article posted after last Tuesday's overtime win in Nashville:

"The Wild's turnaround goes beyond Dubnyk, but without him, it doesn't happen. Everything changed when Dubnyk arrived. He began making both easy and tough saves that Kuemper and Backstrom failed to make and Wild players started to play as if they thought they had a chance to win games." 

Now, Dubnyk's name has been brought up for consideration for the Vezina and Hart Trophy nominations. 

Zulgad went on to write:

"Dubnyk's candidacy for the Hart Trophy is based around what I call the 'It's a Wonderful Life' theory. The Wild was given an opportunity to see what life is like without competent goaltending and now they are seeing what life is like with a guy putting up all-star numbers." 

Remember, Dubnyk was named the NHL's first star for the month of February. Since the NHL trade deadline, the statement can be (and probably has been) made that no trade has been more valuable to a team this season than Dubnyk's trade to the Wild. Not bad for a goalie who has bounced around from Edmonton to Nashville, and Montreal last season, started the season in Arizona as a back up, and now has basically won the starting goalie job here in Minnesota. Considering how crucial Dubnyk has been to the Wild's turn-around right now, he is the most valuable to this Minnesota Wild team. 

It would be a real shame if Devan Dubnyk isn't nominated for the Hart Trophy. 

With Dubnyk in net, the Minnesota Wild have been the NHL's hottest team
 since the All-Star Break