The Wild Post-Season Wrap, Part Three; The Stanley Cup, Round Two; And The Mfan Cup Power Rank, The M5!
CANAL PARK… To say that injuries drastically altered the course of the Minnesota Wild’s season would be an understatement. The club dressed a record 47 different players over the past campaign. One injury in particular seemed to have a sudden effect on the team that they would not recover from. On December 13th the team was in Winnipeg and was in first place in the league’s overall standings. Late in the third period and down by a 2-1 score, the Jets’ Zach Bogosian checked Pierre-Marc Bouchard from behind, and PMB went into the boards face-first and went down hard.
Bouchard, who had been progressing nicely from post concussion syndrome from two seasons previous, would only appear in six more games the rest of the year. This would also serve as the beginning of the team’s downward spiral. Would the Wild have continued on their (then) path to the playoffs, or would reality have taken over at some point? It’s hard to say. When healthy they had enough veterans who knew the nuances of the pro game to be pretty competitive, and enough youth to bring some spark and energy. At the end of the day, I think they would have been in a dogfight for the seventh or eighth spot.
If you look to four areas where you can improve your club—entry draft, free agents, farm system, and personal player improvement—where do the Wild stand? They will draft seventh overall in the first round and are projected by some to take a defenseman. The team also has three players in the pipeline from prior drafts who have yet to sign but should be at a camp in the near future. Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, and Zack Phillips could eventually be difference makers, along with another player, Charlie Coyle, who left BU early to play in the QMJHL (38 pts in 23 games).
On the farm down at Houston, the Aeros had mixed results for the year, finishing fourth in their division and eighth in the Western Conference, bowing out in the first round of the playoffs. Stats-wise, the team was unremarkable, with the 16th best scorer, Jon DiSalvatore, and the 16th best net minder in Matt Hackett. While I could see Hackett in the show at some point, DiSalvatore is 31 and in spite of all of the injuries with the big club only got a one-game call-up. While there are five or six players there who I think could be in the show in the future, I don’t believe any of them could be considered a one– or two-spot player at their positions.
Free agency? I’ve looked at the list. Over and over and over again. There are several names on there of some pretty good talent. One stands out to me like a sore thumb. Load up the guns, Chucky Fletcher! If you are not going after Minnesota home boy Zach Parise with a fervor and a full-tilt fever, you should be locked in an elevator with Five Farting Finlanders! Would ZP come back home so his dad, former NorthStars legend Jean-Paul Parise, and his mom could see him 42 times a year? That would be an “impact” signing.
From the perspective of age, team-wise the majority of the club is between 18 and 30 years old. The bulk of those players are in the 26– to 30-year-old range. In my opinion, there is a ten-year window (18–28) where a player can get stronger and improve his skills, backed up by experience, and be on the upward side of the curve. After that the player can still be productive, but may have in all likelihood peaked in production. Dany Heatly’s points graph would be an excellent indicator of this, for instance.
So, are the Wild in position to “climb the ladder”? Not yet, in my opinion. They need more points from their forwards, which will have to come through the draft or free agency. They need a couple of ‘D’ men who can add some offense, and a shutdown ‘D’ man. In the nets, Niklas Backstrom is still serviceable, but is a guy who definitely needs the group in front of him to be doing their jobs. Coach Yeo: good guy, knows his stuff, but seriously, is there much difference between him and the deposed Todd Richards? TR had to deal with a couple of problem children, and Yeo hasn’t. ’Nuff said.
Bottom line? CF needs a superb draft this year and he needs to start incorporating some of the young talent-in-waiting into the Wild system if they are ready, and into the ‘A’ if they are not. Quit putting a pretend roster on the ice because the fans who have an above-average knowledge of the game are getting restless. It is discernible by the attendance
trends, and it is not trending back upward, not yet anyway… Let’s go, Wild!
IN THE STANLEY CUP tourney, I went 4-4 on the first round, but many experts will tell you there were some unexpected upsets, and the dreaded ‘P’ word, parity, is in full play right here and now. For the second round, in the West, you have St. Louis vs. the LA Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes vs. the Nashville Predators. These are two tough series because four of the five best goalies left in the tourney are on these four teams. In the end, give me the Kings over the Blues because I think they are the slightly better team defensively. I hate to go against my nephew’s boys in the desert, but I think the Preds will advance in a tight, tight series.
In the East you have the NY Rangers vs. the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers vs. the New Jersey Devils. I am taking the NYR over the Caps based on goaltending, coaching, and overall team play. The other series is tough. I know a fellow columnist thinks that Gary Bettman just might be handing the Cup over to the Flyers in mid-June, and he might be right. I think the Flyers should prevail in this series, but can they win the Cup? Under the right conditions they should probably outscore everyone in the tourney. However, I can’t recall the last time a Cup was won by a team with such inconsistency between the pipes. At least not in the modern era. Besides that, I think the winner is coming out of the West this year! PEACE
THE MFAN STANLEY CUP POWER RANK, THE M5, FOR 4/30/2012:
1. LOS ANGELES KINGS: Coach Sutter has team firing on all 12 cylinders…
2. NASHVILLE PREDATORS: team ready and poised to make Conf. final…
3. NEW YORK RANGERS: King Henrik tough in net, rookie Krieder on fire…
4. PHOENIX COYOTES: just when you think, wait, don’t think, just play…
5. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: scoring machine, many questions on defense…
OVER & OUT!
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.