Wild, NHL and Olympic News Right……Here!

Marc Elliott

SKIBO… Friends, I am sitting here viewing the Minnesota Wild-LA Kings tilt tonight as I pound this keyboard and there is plenty of news to go around. This morning it was announced that Russia has been banned from participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee. This ban has been placed into effect by the proof that Russia has had a state sponsored doping program in place for it’s athletes in violation of IOC rules and after an intensive investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency. This story will have multifold impact as it reaches back to the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. At that competition it was alleged and then verified that up to 100 urine samples from high level Russian athletes were tampered with to hide their steroid usage. As a result, there will be a mini-ceremony at the upcoming games to reassign vacated medals retroactively to athletes that were affected by this. 

This will also obviously impact the upcoming Games as many prominent Russian athletes will not be at the Games that may have been in medal contention in different events. There is a provision as I understand it for “clean” non-steroid offenders from Russia to still participate and compete, but they will do so in neutral uniforms and if they medal, that will not count in the standings as a Russian Medal victory and so forth. The entire record for the 2108 Games will be void of any Russian entries. I am kind of shaking my head at this news. It was rumored that some strong sanctions were forthcoming, but in my lifetime, this is the first time I have been witness to an action of this magnitude. 

Of course, most of my focus at the Games will be on Ice Hockey and upon one of my other favorites of the winter sports, the Bobsled and Luge competition. I was recently watching a Woman’s Bobsled Olympic tune-up meet over in Europe and it was exciting to say the least. They were running at night to take advantage of cooler temps, and due to that my first observation was that the track appeared to be extremely quick that night, and potentially dangerous. I wasn’t surprised when no less then three of the two Woman teams flipped their sleds as they zoomed down the ice laden chicane. All you can do at that point is to tuck into the sled and ride it out. Thankfully no one appeared to have suffered any injuries.  

But back to the Russian matter. How does the Ice Hockey tournament look now without perhaps, any participation from a Russian team? Will they still send a team even though they will be relegated to the neutral Uni’s and no official note of participation? We will see I guess. I have been contemplating for months now how that whole tourney will unfold sans NHL participants. Yes, this is a huge opportunity for non-NHL players to represent their countries, but let’s face it, the NHL presence was perhaps the biggest TV ratings draw of the entire games. Sure, figure skating is a huge draw as well, but this hockey competition has a lot of eyes on it the world over. This has got to be torqueing off the brass at NBC quite a bit. And it’s disturbing to me as well. After years of being relegated to the back of the line as far as the 4 major sports here in the States go, the NHL has made huge inroads into the TV world. And they have forged a fantastic relationship with the network as a result. And how does that stand now that the NHL has said no-go? NBC has a major investment in the Games, if I were them I would be venting steam out my ears…

WHO IS THE BEST TEAM in the NHL right now? There are a few candidates. Some teams that started hot have cooled a bit, and some that didn’t, have heated up. In that first category, Tampa Bay and St. Louis have settled down a bit from the pace they began with but are still riding intense W-L records. In the heatin’ up side of the ledger look at Columbus, NY Isles and the NY Rangers in the East with all 3 clubs sporting L10 records of 7-3. In the West look at Nashville with an 8-2 record, the LA Kings, (who just finished spanking the Wild tonight) Vegas and Dallas all are 7-3 in their L10. In the who is surprising me category in the East the NJ Devils continue to mostly play well, the Isles have solidified their game and place in the standings and I continue to wonder if clubs like Pittsburgh and Boston will get into the Stanley Cup tourney this year. And I had thought to an extent, early in the fall, that the Pens could three-peat. Ouch…

In the West the Vegas Golden Knights, Winnipeg and Vancouver are eye opening teams for me while teams like Chicago, San Jose and Anaheim sort of plod along. At this point I like the playoff chances for Vegas and Winnipeg. But my current Gold Standard team of the right here and now is Nashville. When they have it working they are every bit as impressive as Tampa was at the beginning of the year. This evening they ran a basic smackdown on a relatively respectable team in the Dallas Stars. They had a 5-0 lead that was an eventual 5-2 Final. I will not be surprised to see them in the Conference final once again. Who makes it from the East? Oh man, check with me later for that one… 

A SCANT FEW WEEKS ago I asked “Will the real Minnesota Wild please stand up”? Suffice it to say that I am still seeking an answer for that. This past Saturday we saw a wonderful game with the Wild gaining a small semblance of revenge in a return match with the STL Blues in St. Paul, besting the Note in a 2-1 very exciting OT victory. The Blues outplayed the Wild mostly, but netminder Devan Dubnyk stood tall in goal. For the week the team went 2-1 and has begun this week with a 5-2 loss to the Kings. They will be @ ANA on Friday and @ SJ Shark on Sunday…

THE ATHLETIC; 14TH with a 55% chance at the playoff (Tues AM) THE SAGARIN; 14TH on a 13-13 record, 3-8 versus top 10 teams (Tues AM) NHL STANDINGS by points percent; 17th on a 13-13 record and a .558 points percentage, 6th in the CENTRAL (13-14 record updated post game) and 10th in the playoff race, 2 spots removed from a Wildcard… PEACE OVER & OUT!