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A look at the Minnesota Wild, and other happenings in the NHL

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Todd Varga

Coyle Debut; Wild Get Aggressive Early in Short Season

Tonight the Minnesota Wild look to win their first road game of the season at the Jobbing.com arena as they face off against the Phoenix Coyotes. While the Wild definitely need the two points, there are bigger story lines at work tonight. The Wild started the season off strong, before being absolutely dominated by Ducks in Anaheim on Friday. With any momentum gone, and the Wild struggling to score goals (Yeah, I know, they’ve never had that problem before…), head coach Mike Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher have gone on the offensive by shaking up the lines and the roster.

Charlie Coyle was called up to the Wild roster from Houston on Saturday despite any injuries or other roster turnover. If you’re not familiar, Charlie Coyle was drafted 28th overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks. The Wild acquired him in the trade at the 2011 NHL entry Draft that sent Brent Burns and a 2nd round pick to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and the 28th overall pick (Zack Phillips). Coyle is 20 years old, 6’2 205lbs, and is a big power forward with great hands. He will add skill, size, and strength (all things the Wild are missing) to the stuttering group of forwards. Coyle will skate on the second line made up of himself, Center Matt Cullen, and winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Coyle will also see time on the second power play unit.

So, the aggressive significant part…

Up until Friday’s debacle at the Honda Center, the Wild’s second line was Cullen-Granlund-Setoguchi. Devin Setoguchi has had a very rough start to the season. He has no goals on 10 shots and 2 points on the season. He has been largely ineffective and at times gone unnoticed on the ice, especially after opening night. Mikael Granlund has also had a rough start. After scoring his first NHL goal in the opener, he has managed just 2 assists in the 7 games since then. Granlund has also been noticeably out muscled and pushed around on the ice, leading to bad turnovers and sloppy defensive play. Both guys have been relegated to the fourth line for tonight’s game, and will be centered by Zenon Kenopka.

Yeo and Fletcher have put Setoguchi and Granlund on notice: Get your game right or you’re out. The Wild have the benefit of a great amount of depth that allow them the ability to do this type of thing that they didn’t have in previous years. Charlie Coyle can probably stick in this line up if the Wild need him to. Whether that happens or not depends largely on what affect this has on Setoguchi and Granlund. Granlund is still young (20) and is only 8 games into his NHL career. He is still adjusting to the speed and strength of NHL players. He is immensely talented, and will put in the work to be successful. He will get through this. Setoguchi on the other hand, I have real concerns about. He has just not been the same player since he came to Minnesota. He is passing up shots to make passes, something he would not do in San Jose, and one of the main reasons the Wild wanted him. I remember him describing his game in his first interview after the trade to Kevin Falness, he said very simply “I shoot the puck. I get the puck, and I shoot.” That’s not what he’s done with the Wild. There have been reports since the start of the year that he’s been on the trading block. I will be very surprised if he is with the team after the deadline.

I like the move in the sense that it sends the message to the team that there is accountability amongst the team. Let’s hope it delivers the spark they need to get going.

Thanks for Reading.

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0998843001358488597.jpgWild Musings 1/18/2013

Wild Outlook and Season Predictions

An Aside: If this is your first time reading the blog (or if you’re getting reacquainted, after all, it’s been a while) let me explain what it’s all about. First off thank you for taking the time to read. I appreciate it, and encourage you to create dialogue in the comments, and comeback and keep reading. Now, Wild Musings is a blog that focuses on the NHL, with an emphasis on the Minnesota Wild (clever title right?). I will post articles on both the Wild, and the general happenings around the NHL usually at least once a week. Now with that said, it’s good to have the NHL back, and it’s good to be back writing for the Hockeyboards.net readership. Thank you.

Hello everyone, and welcome to the 2013 NHL Season. Hope everyone is well rested because the next hundred or so days are going to be intense. In this edition of Wild Musings we are going to take a look at expectations and realistic outcomes for the Minnesota Wild, and I’ll give out my season predictions for the divisions and the Stanley Cup at the end, so stay tuned.

The last time we saw the Wild play, they were finishing twelfth in the Western Conference. No wait, it’s worse than that, they were finishing twelfth after starting 2012 as the first seed in the Western Conference, which if you’re wondering, is a historical collapse. It’s important to remember that. Now, were the Wild really the third worst team in the West? No, but that’s what they played to. Were there lots of injuries? They absolutely did. The Wild lost 395 man games last year, and suited up almost 50 different players trying to stop the bleeding. But looking past the injuries; past the Kris Fredheims and the Jeff Penners, the Wild lacked scoring. They were amongst the worst in the league in goals (177), and just about every major offensive category. They were also last in scoring from the blue line (One of the major reasons for that Tom Gilbert for Nick Schultz trade). That was the Wild last time we saw them.

Now let’s hit fast forward by say 9 months, and the Wild have become an enigma. The addition of superstar winger Zach Parise, all star defenseman Ryan Suter, and Calder hopeful Mikael Granlund have the hockey world all over the place. I’ve seen people predict the Wild to finish out of the playoffs and fourth in their division (Harrison Mooney of Puck Daddy- Yes, I am aware he is a Canucks fan. He is also a very good and intelligent hockey writer), as well as making the playoffs and winning the Western Conference (Barry Melrose of ESPN/NHL Network). I dare say no other team in the league is as spread across the grid as that. Yet strangely, after all the reports out of camp, the Red Vs. White scrimmage that happened on Wednesday, and the look of the Wild line up, I can’t discredit either Mooney or Melrose. I could see it either way. If Mikko Koivu can play to his potential, Parise and Suter are as advertised, and the defense can be a bit more aggressive in the offense (Keep your eyes on Jared Spurgeon folks)- they could be a major player in the West. If Parise and Suter struggle out of the gate, Granlund takes some time to get his legs under him, or the goaltending should struggle- I could see them in the lower half of the West.

With all that said, let’s look at what I stated in the first paragraph: “realistic expectations” for the Wild.

-Can the Wild win the Northwest Division? Could they, Sure. Will they, probably not. The Canucks are still the more complete team (and who knows what a Luongo deal could bring them), and are still the overwhelming favorites to win the Northwest, as they should be.

-Can the Wild make the Playoffs? Yes, and they should. The Wild should give the Canucks a run for their money in the Northwest. The scoring is improved, the defense has matured, Niklas Backstrom is in a contract year, and knows he is auditioning for other teams with Josh Harding recently signed and Matt Hackett waiting in the wings to jump into the NHL (not to mention Backstrom is a notoriously fast starter, which should bode well for 48 games). This team is legitimately three lines deep with a good checking line, and a lot of added depth. With the improvements the Wild have made, the Wild should be in the playoffs.

-Can the Wild make a run at the cup should they get in? As the Kings showed us last year, anything can happen. If the Wild are healthy come playoff time, they could make a run.

Now…. Predictions time. I’ll run through the conference standings, the cup final, and the winner.

Western Conference

1. St. Louis Blues- Central

2. Los Angeles Kings- Pacific

3. Vancouver Canucks- Northwest

4. Phoenix Coyotes

5. Chicago Blackhawks

6. San Jose Sharks

7. Minnesota Wild

8. Detroit Red Wings

9. Nashville Predators

10. Colorado Avalanche

11. Anaheim Ducks

12. Edmonton Oilers

13. Columbus Blue Jackets

14. Dallas Stars

15. Calgary Flames

Eastern Conference

1. New York Rangers- Atlantic

2. Boston Bruins- Northeast

3. Tampa Bay Lightning- Southeast

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

5. Carolina Hurricanes

6. Philadelphia Flyers

7. Ottawa Senators

8. Washington Capitals

9. Buffalo Sabres

10. New Jersey Devils

11. Toronto Maple Leafs

12. Florida Panthers

13. Montreal Canadiens

14. New York Islanders

15. Winnipeg Jets

A couple notes: *The Jets travel is going to be nuts. *The Islanders are building for Brooklyn. *It was really difficult to not put the Sabres in the playoffs. *The Ducks could be the most misplaced team depending on what happens with Perry and Getzlaf. *If the Leafs get Luongo, they would be in my top 8.

My Cup final- Chicago Blackhawks Vs. New York Rangers- Rangers in 7.

Thanks to all who made it this far. Feel free to tear apart my standings (or agree….) and ask questions or what have you in the comments.

Thanks for reading,

Todd Varga

Find me on Twitter @Wild_Halo

Also, check out Varga and Shulman present The Box Score Podcast on Itunes or at theboxscore.libsyn.com .We talk all kinds of sports, hockey included, and people seem to like it. On twitter @VandSSports

Todd Varga

blog-0452649001347068990.jpgFive Pucks- 9/7/2012

Puck 1- Shane Doan, Greg Jamison, and the Phoenix Coyotes

It has come out over the past day the Shane Doan has a deal in place to remain with the Phoenix Coyotes. I know, easily the most shocking news of the summer (yep, that’s sarcasm. Nobody should be surprised… at all). Now, this deal between Doan and the Coyotes is contingent on Jamison’s ability to buy the Coyotes, which appears likely as it has been reported that he has secured the money through partners and investors. Then what’s the holdup you ask? Well, now the city wants to rework the lease agreement for the arena between them and Jamison. With the CBA set to expire next Saturday, and that day being Shane Doan’s “deadline” to sign a new deal, the timing of the city of Glendale is impeccable. I still think they work it out, and Doan signs with the Coyotes, so I wouldn’t fret yet Coyotes fans. If Jamison really has the money to buy the team, which it appears he does, they’ll work it out. If Doan hasn’t left yet, he’s suiting up in Phoenix next month (yes, I’m an optimist on all counts).

Puck 2- Contract Extensions for Everyone!

In the midst of CBA negotiations, we have seen a number of contract extensions handed out this offseason. There have been more, but these are the bigger ones we’ve seen over the summer. The Oilers extended both Taylor Hall (7yrs, 42mil) and Jordan Eberle (6yrs, 36mil), the Senators extended Kyle Turris (5yrs, 17.5mil), the Flyers extended Scott Hartnell (6yrs, 28.5mil) and Wayne Simmonds (6yrs, 23.850mil), and most recently the Bruins extended Brad Marchand (4yrs, 18mil). This isn’t a huge surprise really. The CBA is expiring, and teams are trying to get some of their core pieces locked up before the any major changes occur (there is no guarantee that the economic landscape will change in the next CBA, but the rumors surrounding negotiations certainly point in that direction). The Oilers are wise to lock up their core early, and to stagger the contracts so they do not have to deal with them all becoming UFA at the same time. The Senators have locked up a young piece that has shown some promise, and could be a crucial part of the young Sens going forward. I think the Flyers were wise to lock up pieces of the core in the wake of losing Jagr, and half of their defense (The Flyers can’t be done spending either. They are going to have to do something to shore up their defense). Marchand is one of those heart and soul guys who can really get under the skin of opponents (See the Stanley Cup final against Vancouver), and will hopefully earn his contract in such a way. The larger scope of these extensions is that the press from the CBA negotiations has the owners complaining that player salaries are too high, and that contacts are too long. The word contradiction, or some form of it, has been typed in relation to this probably hundreds of thousands of times by now, and that’s fair. There is also a school of thought that owners are signing players to these deals with the idea that salaries will be rolled back. All we can really do is wait and see.

Puck 3- Are the Toronto Maple Leafs really the worst team in sports?

ESPN: The Magazine has ranked the Toronto Maple Leafs as the worst teamin all of sports in their annual ranking. Yes, ESPN and hockey don’t necessarily go along all that well, so make of it what you will, but their list makes some sense. They have 8 categories that apply to the team, the fans, and the team’s management. I’m not going to recap the entire article here (but it is a good read), but this isn’t all that farfetched. The Leafs have been mediocre at best since the lockout. The personnel decisions are questionable, tickets are expensive, Brian Burke and the rest of the Leafs management isn’t what I would deem likeable, and perhaps worst of all- they don’t seem to be getting all that much better. Most people point to the waiting list for season tickets as a reason for the team’s shortcomings, stating that there is no need to be good if the building is sold out regardless of the team’s performance (I would call it Chicago Cubs Syndrome). I don’t know that I would call the Leafs the worst team in all four of the major sports, but I don’t have a huge argument against it either, which is very unfortunate for a great city, with such a storied team as the Maple Leafs.

Puck 4- Are you ready for NHL 13?!

There are not many video games I play outside of the NHL series (I am looking forward to Assassins Creed III and WWE 13 however), so September 11th, when NHL 13 is released is a day I have been looking forward to for a while. If you love hockey, the newest installment of the NHL series by EA sports is simply amazing. The demo was released two weeks ago, showcasing the upgraded skating engine, the heightened ability of the AI, and the enhanced skills of the goalies are all huge additions that really make the game the most realistic hockey simulation to date (I also really like the change to the ice surface, that for some reason looks much better than the previous installment). If you have not downloaded the demo yet, I highly encourage you to do so. The demo also advertises the new game modes and enhancements to existing features, which also look to be a great deal better in this year’s edition.

Puck 5- The Collective Bargaining Agreement

You knew it was coming. The Fehr brothers and Comish and Co-Comish held two informal talks today, which is the first time they have met since breaking off talks last week, which has to be a good sign in some sense. No reports have surfaced yet as to what was discussed in either meeting. We really don’t know tons about these discussions, other than the proposals that have surfaced. The PR battle is definitely being won by Fehr and the players, but I don’t really think that is important this time around. The league can’t afford another long lockout, especially now when the league seems to have some momentum going for it. As I stated above, I am an eternal optimist- my glass is always half full. I am holding out faith that the season will start on time, but it is looking bleak.

I apologize for the lack of posts lately. My wife and I are trying to buy our first home, and it has been an extremely stressful process. I will write when I can, which is hopefully more frequently than it has been this summer.

Thanks for reading.

Todd Varga

On Twitter @Wild_Halo

And please check out The Box Score podcast. We do at least 1 episode a week, and we have been getting great reviews. We talk about the sports world and its happenings, and we are both big hockey fans, so there is no shortage of puck in the broadcasts. It is available for free on Itunes or at theboxscore.libsyn.com, and we are on twitter @TheBoxScore, so check us out!

Todd Varga

blog-0602263001343962832.jpgFive Pucks: Around the NHL 8/2/2012

Puck One: Shea Weber is a Predator, forever and ever

Last week the Nashville Predators matched the offer sheet the Philadelphia Flyers extended to Defenseman Shea Weber, locking up the face of the franchise for the next 14 seasons. The offer sheet was a bold move by the Flyers, and it was not a huge shock to see the Predators match and retain. This was really the only move the Predators could make. They lost Weber’s star defense partner Ryan Suter to free agency, and after a year of going all in to try and win a cup, the Predators couldn’t afford to lose Weber as well. The message to the fans would have been terrible. It would have make Nashville look incredibly “Small Market” after they spent the entire season selling themselves as one of the big boys. This is a franchise that was definitely on the upswing last season, and though it has kind of leveled off with a couple of losses (Most notably Suter, but also Jordin Tootoo and some others) the Predators should still be a solid team that should be in the playoffs this season. They race between the Predators, Red Wings, Blues, and Blackhawks for the Central Division crown should be fantastic to watch.

Puck Two: The Rangers acquire Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets

The New York Rangers, who lost in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, may have solved some of the offense problems that found them during the playoffs. Rick Nash is a great two way winger with amazing offensive skills. Alongside a Center like Brad Richards, Nash should be able to score 30+ goals easily. In return for Nash, the Blue Jackets got back Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixson, and the Ranger’s First round pick in the 2013 entry draft. The buzz around this trade after it happened was how Scott Howson got hosed in this deal. Did he get fair market value for Nash? No, he didn’t, but he wasn’t going to. There was no way he was going to get back pieces that could replace the face of that franchise for the last decade and the team’s Captain. With that said, Howson shouldn’t have talked about the trade afterwords like he made a killing either. Even though they gave up the most talented player, I like how this deal ended up for the Jackets. From his comments, Dubinsky seems to be on board with being in Columbus, Anisimov is a good winger who can put up points, and Erixson should be part of a solid Defense core in the near future. The Jackets need to keep adding guys like Dubinsky, and Jack Johnson who want to be there, and can create a good culture for that franchise moving forward.

Puck Three: Shane Doan and The Ever Popular Tortured Free Agent Syndrome

The best free agent still available by far is Coyotes Forward Shane Doan. Doan has been waiting on the Coyotes’ ownership situation to resolve itself before making a decision. The word being passed around is that potential owner Greg Jamison is around $20 million short of the price to buy the team. Knowing that, Shane Doan has been “shopping” his services to other teams around the NHL. He has visited New York (Rangers), Philadelphia, Montreal, and most recently Vancouver. The loyalty Doan has shown to the Coyotes is nothing short of remarkable, and is something we rarely see in professional sports nowadays. Having said and admired that, Shane Doan has every right to move on if that’s what he wants. This is going to be Doan’s last good opportunity to sign a sizeable contract and maximize his earning power. If he wants to sign with the Rangers or the Canucks, and make money chasing a cup without the constant worry of relocation of the franchise, he should do it. But even with all that, I don’t expect Doan to sign before the Coyotes’ issues are settled…. and I expect him to stay in Phoenix (I’m just sighting precedent).

Puck Four: The Curious Case of Bobby Ryan

For those unfamiliar with the situation, Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan is a bit disgruntled and may be available for trade. Philadelphia and Buffalo have been rumored destinations, but the talk has really died off recently when I would think it would be picking up after the Nash trade. This leads me to believe that Ryan isn’t going anywhere, which is smart if you’re the Ducks. Next season, the two best UFAs are Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who along with Ryan make up the Duck’s top line. With the possibility that both could end up on another team after next season, it would be foolish to trade away a vital piece of the offense that is under contract until 2015. The Ducks are not terribly deep offensively. Cogliano had a good year last year, Devante Smith-Pelly could develop into a good scorer, and Emerson Etem looks good but is still a ways away. Trading Bobby Ryan makes no sense for the Ducks, unless they get another all star winger in the deal, but then what would be the point?

Puck Five: As the CBA Turns…

Negotiations between the Owners and the NHLPA are ongoing. The NHLPA has requested and received financial records from all the teams, and will now examine them before coming back to the table. I still get the idea that the general perception amongst most people is that the start of the season will undoubtedly be delayed in some way. Personally, my hope is that they extend the current CBA for a year, and continue to negotiate into next summer, but that sounds like it is getting less likely. The last thing the NHL needs right now is a work stoppage. There is a good buzz going on for the upcoming season, there are some big names in new places, and delaying the season would just kill any buzz/momentum that the league has going for it (and to add to that- I’ve talked my wife into going to see the first Wild pre season game which is being played in Boise, Idaho, and if it doesn’t happen because of a work stoppage I’m going to be pretty sad). Hopefully we hear some positive news come from this in the coming week. The sides still seem to be “negotiating in good faith,” so let’s hope they continue to make progress and keep the season on schedule (Yes, I’m an optimist).

Thank you all for reading. I’ll be back with more next week.

Todd Varga

On Twitter @Wild_Halo

Also, please check out The Box Score Podcast. I co-host the show, and we talk about the happenings in the sporting world every week. We always talk some hockey, and I encourage you to check it out, and let us know what you think. The show is available for free on Itunes, or at Theboxscore.libsyn.com

Feel free to hit us up on twitter @TheBoxScore or by email TheBoxScore@yahoo.com

Todd Varga

blog-0169208001342548676.jpgWild Musings: Free Agency Rocks Minnesota- 7/17/2012

The last time I checked in, it was the night before free agency, and we were previewing where some of the top talent would land (I got 3 right, with 3 yet to sign). I did not predict that the Wild would make the splash that they did, but I am of course, pleasantly surprised (who am I kidding, I’m ecstatic). Ryan Suter and Zach Parise make the Wild a whole lot better than they were when I last wrote this blog on June 30th. The Wild have also added Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell to bolster the third and fourth lines, and add that grit that Chuck Fletcher is so very fond of. Now, with all that said, I think this without question makes the Wild a much better team, but I do not think it is the “Monumental Shakeup” in the Western Conference that I think everyone is making it out to be.

The Western Conference is tough. The Wild finished 12th last season, after a strong first half. They are going to have to bump someone out to get in, which will be no easy task.

The Playoff teams last year were:

Vancouver Canucks

St. Louis Blues

Phoenix Coyotes

Nashville Predators

Detroit Red Wings

Chicago Blackhawks

San Jose Sharks

Los Angeles Kings

None of these teams have gotten substantially worse (As of this writing Shane Doan hasn’t signed anywhere yet, and I am going to act under precedent and assume he will remain in Phoenix), and the other non playoff teams: Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets- have all gotten substantially better (especially Colorado, I really liked what they did on July 1st). I think the Wild are very capable, and should be making the playoffs this season, but I feel this is far from a guarantee.

With all that said, I like the Wild’s chances for a couple of reasons. I think the big asset the Wild gained with the Parise and Suter signings is depth, which is what really killed them last season. Last month Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, Zack Phillips, Brett Bulmer, and Johan Larsson were going to be fighting for roster spots, and making a splash in the NHL next season. Now, with the exception of Granlund, these guys are all more than likely starting with the Houston Aeros in the AHL. These guys are going to be developing, and be available for call ups and fill-ins as the season wears on. This is a depth that few organizations have, and that the Wild have never even been close to having. This would have been a game changer last season, and may save the Wild in the coming year. The other big reason is that Mikael Granlund, and any of the other rookies that may make the squad, are going to be able to fly under the radar a little bit. When Granlund signed his deal at the beginning of the summer, he was the Wild’s focus as far as improvements to the team at that point. The signings of Parise and Suter are going to let Granlund be more like one of the guys, and take most of the media attention off of him, which can only help him as he adjusts to Minnesota and the NHL.

With Granlund and the Wild’s Wild summer in mind, let’s look at some of the line combonations that Mike Yeo could be running out at the Xcel Energy Center in October (make it happen Donald Fehr).

Heatley-Koivu-Parise

Bouchard-Granlund-Setoguchi

Mitchell-Cullen-Clutterbuck

Powe-Brodziak-Konopka

Kassian and Veilleux would be the scratches in this scenario. You can obviously switch guys like Cullen, Brodziak, Powe, and Mitchell around as they have the ability to play both Center and the Wing. I think that the top two lines above are going to be the top two lines to start the season (unless Bouchard hurts himself before the season starts….which is entirely possible given the way he has been going over the last couple of seasons). That top line should be great. Setoguchi should return to form playing with real offensive playmakers in Bouchard and Granlund. If Seto can get back to his game (shoot the puck- ask questions later) he could possibly have a career year. The third and fourth lines can go any number of ways depending on how tough Yeo wants to get. A line of Kassian-Powe-Konopka would quite possibly be the most menacing lines we have ever seen in the State of Hockey. The Wild could also role out three legitimate scoring lines with Brodziak-Cullen-Clutterbuck as the third line. This is what the Wild have created during free agency: depth and options. If Pierre-Mark Bouchard gets hurt, Cullen or Clutterbuck could play that wing, or Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, or Johan Larsson could be called up. These are great decisions the Wild would be forced to make (I hope Bouchard stays healthy, this is just an example).

As for the Defense pairings:

Suter-Spurgeon

Scandella-Gilbert

Falk-Stoner

Nate Prosser will be with the team, as he signed a one way deal last season, but I do not see him as being better than Falk or Stoner (If I was putting him in, I would replace Stoner). Word out of camp, and amongst the Wild brass, is that they think Jonas Brodin will make this Wild team. That obviously remains to be seen. Brodin is still very young, and could use more time developing and growing. But if he does impress as it’s believed he can, a move will have to be made to fit him in. Yeo has said he will start Suter with Spurgeon when camp opens up. Yeo has always had a lot of faith in Jared Spurgeon, so that probably plays a factor in the pairing, but I have to believe that the Scandella and Gilbert pairing at the end of last season played a bigger part. These guys were fantastic in the last two weeks of the season. They played big minutes, and played very well with each other. Things are always subject to change, and the pairings can be mixed up and players can change, but this is what I would expect when the Wild break camp.

The coming season is going to be very exciting for the State of Hockey (and it is definitely not getting here fast enough). The product on the ice should be much better, and the results at the end of the season should be much better. Of course, only time will tell, but I am much more optimistic about this season, than I have been leading up to seasons in the past.

Thank you all for reading- Please feel free to ask questions or leave feedback.

Todd Varga

Please check me out the Box Score Podcast on Itunes or TheBoxScore.libsyn.com We talk about the sporting world in general, and always talk a good chunk of hockey. We would love to get more feedback on the podcast, so please give it a listen and let us know what you think.

Follow me on Twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0947756001341098978.jpgWild Musings 6-29-2012 Free Agency is Upon Us...Almost

In just a day’s time, the questions about Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will finally at least have the opportunity to be answered. Free Agency officially begins on Sunday July 1st, and the dreams of fan bases around the league can either start rejoicing or start crying. Parise and Suter are unquestionably the best players available, but there are a number of other players available that could help out any number of teams, and the number of UFA’s available seems to be growing as we get closer to the deadline. Sunday, and the week that follows, should be very fun.

Zach Parise is going to be in high demand. The places I could see him signing are New Jersey, Minnesota, Detroit, Pittsburgh or Los Angeles. These teams have the cap space, young talent, and a number of exterior factors that could entice Parise to join their ranks. I am very curious to see how this all plays out for Parise not just in terms of destination (not counting for the fact that I am, of course, a Wild fan), but also in terms of salary. Sidney Crosby just got a big contract that gives him an 8.7 million dollar cap hit moving forward (8.7 for #87- get it?!). Will the Penguins, or anyone else for that matter, really offer Parise more than Crosby? Somebody may, especially teams like the Red Wings or the Wild that have lots of cap space and are looking to hit homeruns in free agency. This is going to play out a lot like Brad Richard’s free agency last season, and kind of like Justin Schultz “free agency” has been the past few days. Parise will be with his agents in Toronto fielding offers and presentations. The various reports and tweets that I’ve read have said Zach is going to take his time with this, so we may not see this end until Monday or Tuesday.

From what I’ve read, Ryan Suter will not be signing somewhere tomorrow, and won’t even field offers until Monday. He has to be happy that Justin Schultz just signed with Edmonton, and Calgary acquired and signed Denis Wideman, thinning the market for defensemen considerably. Wideman was a lot of team’s backup plan if they missed out on Suter (Jason Garrison and Matt Carle just smiled the kind of smile you get when you are about to make a lot of money…) and his signing has definitely upped the ante for some teams in the Suter sweepstakes. I see Suter landing in Detroit, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, or back in Nashville. These teams have the cap room to sign him, and can offer him the opportunity to be “the” guy on their blue line, with perhaps the exception of Nashville. Like Parise, Suter has been very coy about his intentions for free agency, and it doesn’t surprise me a ton if he returns not Nashville.

The rest of the free agent class drops off after Suter and Parise, but there are definitely some pieces that can help teams both offensively and defensively. The aforementioned Jason Garrison and Matt Carle will get offers after Suter signs. I think there is a real good chance Carle resigns with the Flyers, but I can’t see him doing it until after Suter signs. Martin Broduer has decided to test the free agent market, should the Devils not resign him before July 1st, which could be a great opportunity for a team like Chicago or Washington to apply a short term fix to their goalie questions (and could contribute to doomsday for the New Jersey faithful). In terms of offense, guys like Alexander Semin, P.A. Parenteau, Shane Doan, Dustin Penner, and Guillaume Latendresse will be available. There have always been questions about Semin’s effort and work ethic, but he could be an upgrade on the wing for a number of teams. Parenteau has been a good piece for the Islanders, and should garner some attention from teams looking to add forward depth, provided he doesn’t end up staying on Long Island. I find it hard to believe that Shane Doan is really going to leave Phoenix, but with the ownership issues and the constant state of flux for the Coyotes, Doan may look to latch on to a Chicago, a Detroit, or another contender in order to get that elusive Stanley Cup before he hangs it up. Dustin Penner has expressed his desire to return to the Los Angeles Kings, but that may not be in the cards unless he is willing to play for less money. If he isn’t he will be a good pick up for someone looking to add some scoring depth. Guillaume Latendresse is leaving Minnesota to get closer to his family in Montreal. This guy really found his game in Minnesota, and can be a big difference maker for a team, provided he can stay healthy. All of these players could have a huge impact on the right team.

My 10 Predictions (because predictions are fun to read and…. You know… what the hell! J)

1. Zach Parise- Minnesota Wild

2. Ryan Suter- Detroit Red Wings

3. Jason Garrison- Pittsburgh Penguins

4. Matt Carle- Philladlphia Flyers

5. Alexander Semin- Detroit Red Wings

6. Dustin Penner- Los Angeles Kings

7. Shane Doan- Chicago Blackhawks

8. P.A. Parenteau- New York Islanders

9. Guillaume Latendresse- Pittsburgh Penguins

10. Martin Brodeur- New Jersey Devils

Free agency is always a very exciting time in the NHL. This year will be no different. We have some players that could help to turn some teams looking for that guiding piece into contenders, and some players that could bolster a strong team and put them over the edge. Sunday should be exciting, so stay tuned.

As always, thank you for reading. I am very appreciative.

Todd Varga

On Twitter @Wild_Halo

And PLEASE check me out on The Box Score Podcast. We talk about what’s happening in the sporting world (and we always talk a good amount of Hockey). It’s getting good reviews, so please check us out on Itunes or at TheBoxScore.Libsyn.Com

And follow us on Twitter @TheBoxScore

Todd Varga

Draft Review

blog-0744517001340845196.jpgWild Musings 6/27/2012: Draft Review

The Minnesota Wild are in the final days of preparation of what is perhaps the most anticipated free agency period in franchise history. The expectations of both the fan base and the organization are to bring elite talent to the State of Hockey, and to add them to a team that is seen as being a couple of pieces away from being something special. But before we get to all of that (I know- its exciting and fun to think about) let’s take a look at what the Wild and some other teams accomplished this past Friday at the Draft in Pittsburgh.

The Wild held the Seventh overall pick in the draft, and were able to draft Defenseman Matt Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels with it. This was definitely a solid pick for Chuck Fletcher and the Wild Brass. Before the draft started, I didn’t think Dumba would be available at 7. Even during the draft, I thought for sure the Ducks were going to take him at 6 (they took defenseman Hampus Lindholm- more on that later), and was shocked and happy to see him fall to the Wild at 7. Dumba is going to be a great piece on the Wild blue line. He is physical, he moves the puck, and he has a great shot. The guy has great leadership qualities, and will be more than capable of leading the Wild Power Play (and actually contributing to it). When the Wild are able to put the Matt Dumba-Jonas Brodin pairing on the ice, Brent Burns will seem like a very distant memory (Brodin may make the team this season- I don’t think Dumba will. We may see Dumba get the Brett Bulmer treatment, but I don’t believe he’ll be on the team for the full season). The other notable picks for the Wild were Winger Raphael Bussieres at 46, Defenseman John Draeger at 68, Center Adam Gilmour at 98, and Winger Louis Nanne (Yes THAT Nanne) at 188. Overall, I think this was a good draft for the Wild. They got some good talent, and a lot of young talent, which is good given the Wild’s situation. The Wild have their top 7 prospects all turning pro next season. It’s a good idea to draft developing talent that you don’t have to sign right away when you have what the Wild are going to have next season. These guys will get to develop, and hopefully have an impact in 2 to 3 years.

The draft itself was very entertaining. The Penguins pulled of a huge trade that I think really helps both teams, sending Jordan Stall to Carolina for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin, and the 8th overall pick. We saw prospects fall, prospects taken higher than believed, and a great crowd in Pittsburgh to provide a wonderful backdrop.

The Best Picks I saw at the Draft-

Washington- Filip Forsberg at 11 and Tom Wilson at 19. Forsberg fell well below where he should have gone. It may have been the best value for a pick in the Draft. This guy will more than likely be on the Caps roster next year, quickly making people forget about Alexander Semin. Tom Wilson reminds me of Mike Alstott (Former running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and I imagine that is what he’ll look like on the ice. He plays a physical and punishing game, and will add a lot of grit to the Caps lineup. Love this draft for the Caps.

Pittsburgh- Not only did they clear cap space, not only did they get two first round picks, but they got Olli Maatta at 22! Matta should have probably been a top 10-15 pick. It could be argued nobody did better at this draft than the Penguins (especially if their cap space yields what they hope it will).

New York Islanders- I loved the Griffin Reinhart pick. The Islanders have young forwards that can score, and by adding Reinhart, and Lubomir Visnovsky over the weekend through a trade with Anaheim, they have a good Defense Core that

should supplement that well. The Islanders are going to be vastly improved next season.

The Questionable Picks I saw at the Draft-

Anaheim- They took Hampus Lindholm with the 6th overall pick. I don’t have a problem with this player, I think Lindholm is going to be good, I just think they reached and took a guy they could have traded back to get. With Forsberg still on the board, and the offensively starved Wild picking behind them, I have to imagine that there were at least a couple of teams expressing interest. I know Lindholm was on the rise, and he was on a lot of team’s radars, but I still think they could have moved back and got him.

Tampa Bay- They had 2 first rounders, so they were able to be somewhat adventurous I suppose, but they took Andrei Vasilevski at 19 when Malcolm Subban was still on the board. I think Subban is a better prospect, granted with their acquisition of Anders Lindback they are not in desperate need of a goalie- but still, Subban was there, they should have taken him.

Calgary- They went completely off the grid when they took Mark Jankowski at 21. I didn’t think this guy would go until the mid to late 2nd round. If this was the guy they wanted, they should have traded back- Maatta was still on the board, everyone knew the Penguins would jump on him at 22, sell high and get your guy later. This was the only baffling pick of this draft for me.

I’ll be back later this week with a look at Free Agency for the Wild, which gets under way Sunday. It should be interesting.

Thanks for reading, check back for my free agency preview later in the week.

Todd Varga

On Twitter @Wild_Halo

And PLEASE check me out on The Box Score Podcast. We talk about what’s happening in the sporting world (and we always talk a good amount of Hockey). It’s getting good reviews, so please check us out on Itunes or at TheBoxScore.Libsyn.Com

And follow us on Twitter @TheBoxScore

Todd Varga

blog-0120705001339648732.jpgFive Pucks- 6/13/2012

~Puck One- The Los Angeles Kings are the Stanley Cup Champions

On Monday, the LA Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils 6-1 to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The powerhouse Kings finished the playoffs with a 16-4 record, becoming the first 8th seed in history to lay claim to the cup. Jonathan Quick was unbelievable during the playoffs and was awarded the Con Smythe award. Game six turned on a boarding call on the Devil’s Steve Bernier that resulted in a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct. The Kings would score three power play goals on the penalty, and that was pretty much the end of the Devils’ season. I’ve seen a lot of opinions on the boarding call and whether Bernier deserved the penalty he got, or whether Scuderi turned at the last second. Either way you see it, Bernier can’t make that hit. That is the kind of hit that has been punished and penalized all year. Bernier should have just played the puck. It will be very interesting to see if the Devils bring him back next season. He had a good playoffs, and was part of the Devil’s great fourth line that was so pivotal in the playoffs, but it may be a tough sell sfter game six.

~Puck Two- Zack Parise will NOT play for the New York Rangers

There is only two and a half more weeks Zack. That’s how much more time Zack Parise has left until he is an unrestricted free agent. And you can bet that until then, Parise is going to be asked about it constantly. Parise may have cooled down that fire a little bit however, saying that he was open to returning to the devils next season, and hopes they can work out a deal. He also stated he would absolutely not be playing for the arch rival Rangers next year, which will certainly go a long way with Devils fans. So Lou Lamoriello has 17 more days to either negotiate a new contract with Parise, or trade his right to another team should their negotiations fall apart. They certainly haven’t given any indication that they are looking to deal his rights, but the closer we get to July 1st, the more teams may get desperate. This especially holds true for teams that may miss out on Rick Nash should he be traded at the NHL Draft on June 22nd.

~Puck Three- So it’s time to pay Sidney Crosby…

This is a tough one for the Penguins. Sidney Crosby is going into the last season of his current contract, and he needs a new deal. The dilemma for the Penguins, and intrigue for the rest of us, comes with the question of how the Penguins are going to pay Sidney Crosby. The man is without question one of, if not the best hockey player in the world. The man has also not played a full season in the last two seasons and has a serious concussion history. The numbers that are being thrown around are 90 million over 10 years. That is a huge contract, a huge cap hit, and if you are going to give him that contract he has to be on the ice for the entire season. When healthy, Crosby is without question worth every cent of that contract, but you can’t have that cap hit and get no production. This is a big dilemma for the Penguins. Add to that the fact that Jordan Staal is also in the final year of his deal, and Evgeni Malkin will be going into the last year of his deal next year. The smart move, and the move I would certainly expect the Penguins to make, is to wait for the new CBA to go through, and adjust according to any new rules that go into effect, before they back the truck up for Sid.

~Puck Four- The Edmonton Oilers may be open to trading the first overall pick

There is zero doubt in most people’s minds that Nail Yakupov is going to be the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Whether the sweater he pulls on is the Orange and Blue of the Oilers is still up for debate. The Oilers are picking number 1 overall for the third consecutive year, and Yakupov is a lot like the two men they have drafted the previous two years. The Oilers more pressing need is on the Blue Line, so it is conceivable that they could trade down and pick one of the great defensive prospects available at the top end of the draft. You have to think that teams like the Blue Jackets, Islanders, Maple Leafs, and maybe even the Wild would have interest in trading up to draft the young offensive star. Of the teams mentioned, I would think the Maple Leafs and the Wild would be the best matches for a trade. Both of these teams have NHL ready Defensemen that could be dealt, and would be able to include good prospects and draft picks. But who knows what may happen on draft day. Draft day is always unpredictable, and especially this year with factors like Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo, and Tim Thomas possibly in play for trades. My guess is that Edmonton keeps the pick and drafts Yakupov, and adds him to their ridiculous bounty of young offensive talent.

~Puck Five- Tim Thomas is taking a year off from hockey

Tim Thomas released a statement on his Facebook page last week, stating that he was taking a year off from hockey to focus on Family, Friends, and Faith (He referred to them as the three Fs). That sounds great, and if he means that and those are really his intentions, more power to him. But it is very, shall we say, coincidental that Thomas’ NTC ends on July 1st, and Boston has young Tukka Rask waiting in the wings to take Thomas’ job. Add to that the fact that Boston needs to clear cap space, and Tim Thomas suddenly becomes expendable for trade. A lot of people feel this is a ruse by Thomas, and that he is just trying to pick the place Boston deals him to. Either way, it’s Tukka Time in Boston because Tim Thomas is not coming back in black and gold. The Bruins can still trade Thomas if they can find a team that will take him given his situation, and a team that is not spending up to the Cap Floor may be the perfect fit for Timmy Thomas.

Thanks for reading,

Todd Varga

@Wild_Halo on Twitter

Todd Varga

blog-0725662001338848369.jpgFive Pucks- Around the NHL

Hello everybody, and welcome to the first edition of Five Pucks. This is going to be my “Look around the NHL” piece that I will try to have up weekly or bi-weekly at the very least. I’ll discuss 5 topics, hence the 5 pucks (genius, out of the box thinking on my part….). Please feel free to comment, debate, or shoot me topics you’d like to see featured. So without further delay…

Five Pucks- 6/4/2012

~Puck One- Nicklas Lidstrom Retires

On May 31st Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement from the NHL and the Detroit Red Wings, thus ending a wonderful 20 year career. Very few athletes have ever been more respected amongst their sport than Nicklas Lidstrom was throughout the hockey community. Even fewer athletes get to go out on their own terms, while they are still healthy and in demand. Lidstrom is leaving the game with 4 Stanley Cup rings, and legendary status in Detroit and the NHL. With all that said, I personally found it very odd that he chose to do it the day after game one of the Stanley Cup Final. This is a guy that is called “The Perfect Human” and is quite possibly the most gracious and mild mannered athlete I’ve ever seen, and it just seems really strange to me that he announced his retirement right in the middle of the pinnacle of the NHL season. Patrick Roy did this exact same thing when he retired and was significantly criticized for it (granted Patrick Roy had a much publicized attitude problem, and was nowhere near the spectrum of liked that Lidstrom is). With all that said, Congratulations to Nicklas Lidstrom on an amazing career. Like everyone else, I wish you nothing but the best in your retirement.

~Puck Two- The Road Warrior Kings are up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final

The Kings are taking home ice tonight for game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993, and they already have a 2-0 lead in the series. Realistically, given the way they have played on the road throughout the playoffs, all the Kings have to do is win one of these home games and the series will end in New Jersey in game 5. That’s obviously not written in stone, but I am not going to be against the Kings on the road. There are a lot of factors at work here going into game 3. The Devils outplayed the Kings in the last half of game 2, and were beaten by Jonathan Quick in overtime. If the Devils can keep the momentum going into game 3, the Kings are going to have to step their game up. Speaking of the Devils, this is the first time they have been out of the Eastern Time Zone during these playoffs, and the first time they have been on a plane since game 7 of the first round in Sunrise FL, against the Panthers. This series felt like it really got going during game 2, and it will be interesting to see if the momentum continues as the series moves to Los Angeles.

~Puck Three- Washington Capitals trade Tomas Vokun to the Pittsburgh Penguins for 7th round pick; Vokun signs with Pens for 2 years.

Earlier this morning, the Caps traded the rights to soon to be UFA Goaltender Tomas Vokun to the Penguins for a 7th round pick in the upcoming draft. The Penguins then came to terms on a 2 year 4 million dollar contract with Vokun shortly after. This looks to me to be a solid deal for both clubs. Braden Holtby became a star in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and is all but announced as the starting goalie in Washington next year, and Michal Neuvirth is more than a capable backup. Vokun was not the piece to put the Caps over the hump, and they were not resigning him. The Penguins can really use a solid back up to Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was terrible in the 1st round against the Flyers. If he was tired and worn down, Vokun will be able to take some of the work load and get Fleury some rest. If he was rested and played poorly, Vokun is a guy who can step in and light a fire under Fleury, and provide some competition to keep Fleury in shape. This is a great move for both teams, which are always nice to see.

~Puck Four- The NHL Draft Combine

The NHL Draft is happening in Pittsburgh starts June 22. The NHL Draft Combine happened this past week in Toronto. If you are unfamiliar, it is kind of like the NFL draft. The draftees are put through a number of athletic and callisthenic exercises and tests to help show their endurance and shape. The most impressive and intimidating test seemed to be the bike test. This whole process is very underwhelming from the fan perspective. It’s cool to see what Nail Yakupov and Ryan Murray can do in some of these tests, but it would be the pinnacle of the Draft process if these guys did skill tests on the ice. If we got to see shot speeds, passing skills and other things of that nature it would be an incredible process the league would really be able to market, and a great way to get people excited for the Draft. Just a thought as I was looking at the combine coverage.

~Puck Five- The Stanley Cup Final has lowest ratings in 5 years

This was sad to see, but understandable to a point. The NHL has been blessed in the last few Stanley Cup Final matchups:

Boston vs. Vancouver- Two polarizing franchises/cities/fan bases that people either love or love to hate.

Philadelphia vs. Chicago- Two of the NHL’s most storied franchises that were just full of young stars.

Pittsburgh vs. Detroit- This was Sid’s first cup, and the revenge for last season.

Pittsburgh vs. Detroit- Two big fan bases, Sid’s first shot at the cup.

Not to knock the Kings or the Devils, but there just isn’t a ton of animosity or story lines between these teams or fan bases. The Devils still have a wrap as being a trap team, which is completely false- this team has a ton of offensive talent and plays the game in a way that utilizes it. The Kings are largely unproven and mostly unknown. The series’ first game didn’t help matters, as it wasn’t the most exciting hockey game, but it is picking up steam and hopefully the ratings increase.

Thanks to everyone for reading, I hope everyone enjoyed it.

Have a good week, enjoy the Cup Final!

Todd Varga

On Twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0237633001337903113.jpgGranlund has landed in Minnesota 5/24/2012

Welcome to the State of Hockey Mikael Granlund!!!

Yesterday it became official: Mikael Granlund is a member of the Minnesota Wild. It was widely expected that the 9th overall pick in the 2010 draft and the Wild would have no problem getting a contract done before the June 1st deadline, but that withstanding, it is nice to see it become official. Granlund signed his 3 year 2.1 million dollar entry level deal yesterday morning, bringing the Wild much needed offense, and creating some good buzz for the organization. The Wild have been very savvy with the Granlund signing. They have advertised that Granlund jerseys, featuring his well known number 64, will be in all 3 Hockey Lodge stores (the official merchandise store of the Minnesota Wild) on Friday. They also have a promotion offering the first 64 people to become new season ticket holders an autographed Mikael Granlund jersey. Very well done from a marketing and advertising perspective, now let’s hope this all rolls over to good things on the ice.

With that said, where will Mikael Granlund fit in on the Wild roster as constructed? He will be a top 6 forward for this team, be it at the Wing or at Center. My guess is that he will Center the second line. Things can always change with free agency, the draft, and the Wild’s mass amount of blossoming prospects entering the fold this year, but Granlund is going to be on the Wild roster from day 1. Who will be around him may be another story. Pierre-Marc Bouchard will be back provided he is healthy to finish out the last year of his contract. Guillaume Latendresse may be another story. Gui is a RFA this year, and his qualifying offer is 2.5 million, which is a little steep for a guy who has played only 27 games over the last 2 seasons. Will the Wild extend that offer, or let him become UFA? Time will tell, but I would really hate to see Gui go. The guy can be an absolute monster if he can get healthy. In the brief time we saw him last season, he was astounding. He was physical, he was working hard, and he was scoring goals. The Wild need to do the utmost possible to keep G-Lat in the Iron Range Red for the foreseeable future, even with the emergence of Charlie Coyle, who has a great chance at making this Wild team next season as well.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this signing is the realization that this is the new era of Wild hockey that has been bantered about for the last couple of seasons coming to fruition. All these building blocks for the future are here. Granlund has clearly been the most polarizing of the youngsters, but right behind him are Charlie Coyle, Zack Philips, Johan Larsson, Brent Bulmer, Jonas Brodin, and the now experienced vet of the group Jason Zucker (Zucker signed out of Denver University last season and played in the Wild’s last 6 games). Perhaps for the first time in a while there is legitimate hope for the Wild franchise and its fans. After so many failed first round picks (A.J. Thelen, Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard, Colton Gillies, and Tyler Cuma- not necessarily a bust yet, but It’s been 4 years and he has only played 1 NHL game) and some mediocre play over the last few seasons, the Wild look primed and ready to build on that hot start they had at the beginning of last season.

In closing, I can’t wait for the Draft, Free Agency, and Training Camps to start. Luckily the playoffs have been amazing, and a great watch in between all of that. Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings on their Stanley Cup finals birth. They are playing amazing hockey at the moment. The Finals are going to be an awesome show no matter which team they play.

As always, I wish you all a wonderful weekend and Thank You all for reading.

Todd Varga

On the Twitters @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0086823001336758855.jpgThough not in the playoffs, it’s been a nice week for the Minnesota Wild. Yesterday, the Wild announced a two year contract extension with defenseman Clayton Stoner. Stoner racked up 5 points in 51 games for the Wild last season, and played well when he was healthy. The durability, unfortunately, has been the biggest problem for Stoner in his career so far. This locks in another member of the Wild Defense Core, which currently includes:

Tom Gilbert

Marco Scandella

Nate Prosser

Jared Spurgeon

Steven Kampfer

Clayton Stoner

Justin Falk

For those that think Ryan Sutter is Minnesota bound, the openings in the defense are being filled pretty rapidly, not that one wouldn’t open up for Sutter, but the Wild sure aren’t leaving many holes to fill.

The Wild also announced the addition of an ECHL affiliate in the newly created (or recreated for those of you that remember the original) Orlando Solar Bears. Now, this doesn’t really mean a ton for the Wild in terms of the main roster. The Wild have had several ECHL affiliates over the years, with the most recent before the Solar Bears being the Bakersfield Condors, and none of them have housed many main prospects or produced serviceable NHL players for the Wild. What it will do is provide the Houston Aeros with some help should the entire Wild roster get hurt again next year (Please no- fingers crossed). In any case, it is always nice to have depth to draw from, and the Solar Bears will definitely help to provide that.

The Quebec Major Junior League’s President’s Cup was one this week by the Saint John Sea Dogs. For those not following along, two of the Wild’s prized prospects, Zack Phillips (28th overall 2011- pick acquired from San Jose) and Charlie Coyle (28th overall 2010 by San Jose- acquired from San Jose in trade for Brent Burns), are on the top line for the Sea Dogs. Coyle was named the QMJHL Playoffs MVP registering 34 points (15G, 19A) and has been in beast mode since joining the Sea Dogs mid season. This is the team’s 2nd consecutive President’s Cup, and the team will now turn its attention to defending its Memorial Cup that they also won last year. Both of these guys are playing great hockey, and both will be in the Wild organization next season in either Minnesota or Houston. It will be a huge shock to me if Coyle is not on the Wild roster at the start of next season.

Lastly, with the New Jersey Devils advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Wild acquire the Devil’s 3rd round pick in 2013, which was conditional in the Marek Zidlicky trade. Well worth it, Thanks Lou.

Thanks to everyone for reading, sorry for the inconsistent updates, I’ve been moving. It’s been stressful.

Hope everyone is enjoying the playoffs. They have not yielded many dull moments and our not lacking for storylines.

Have a good weekend everybody.

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0786406001335293883.jpgThe Wild’s Biggest Trade Chip? 4-24-2012

We are just under 2 months away from the 2012 NHL Entry draft. The playoffs are in full effect (and so far they have been amazing), and teams are either focused on winning the cup, or the draft and other ways to improve their team. Unfortunately for the Wild, it’s the latter. Right now, Chuck Fletcher, Craig Leipold, and Mike Yeo, are all looking at ways to make the team better, so that this time next year, they are chasing the cup. No doubt that the Wild will be counting on the young prospects coming into the system full time next season. Owner Craig Leipold has also stated that the Wild will be very aggressive on the free agent market, going after the best talent available. The other way to improve the team would be through trades, which is what I’ll be focusing on today.

The Wild got a real good look at the prospect pool in Houston. Some of the young Aeros were good, and some even stayed a while, and I think the most impressive call up came in the form of goalie Matt Hackett. He wasn’t perfect, hence the 3-6 record this past season, but he was very impressive. With some consistent work in the NHL, and some good coaching, Hackett could be a good NHL net minder. Now, this information is relevant for a couple of reasons. Josh Harding is UFA, and the Wild will be in need of a second NHL goalie. It’s entirely possible that Harding resigns in Minnesota. The Wild drafted him to eventually be there number one goalie, and he is capable of such a role. But before free agency, we will have the draft, and what is sure to be rapid player movement. With all this in mind, the Wild have a wealth of goalie depth in their system, and could move one of them if they plan to resign Harding. Today we will look at the idea of the Wild moving current starting goalie Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom would undoubtedly fetch the most in a trade, especially with so many goalie needy teams next season.

The goalie market is filled with the usual suspects, the Kings Jonathan Bernier, the Predators Anders Lindback, and one of the Canucks goalies (looking like Luongo who has a NTC). If the Wild were to make Backstrom available, they would be offering a proven net minder, versus unproven, though very impressive, un-established back-ups. Now the question is which teams are in need of a proven goalie. There are 3 obvious teams with goalie needs: Columbus, Tampa Bay, and Toronto. The Blue Jackets are in the best position to grab an elite goalie. They have the number 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, and are open for business on Rick Nash. Columbus can probably get any goalie they want, provided they can convince Nash to go to the desired location. Toronto has the 5th pick in the draft, and a couple of assets it could move to acquire a goalie. I can’t see Brian Burke moving the 5th pick, maybe the Leafs 2nd round pick, but not the 5th pick. Tampa Bay will have the hardest time acquiring a goalie out of these 3 teams. They have the worst picks, and the least moveable assets, but perhaps they have the highest ceiling of the three teams.

Some dark horse teams to watch in terms of goalie movement: the Sharks, the Blackhawks, and the Devils. Antti Niemi was largely underwhelming for the Sharks this season, especially in the playoffs. The Sharks have said they are going to make a run at it again next year with the same core group of players, which means they are going to need an upgrade in net. Their main problem is going to be a lack of moveable assets. They don’t have great picks, or any decent prospects to move. I’m not sold on Corey Crawford, and I doubt the Blackhawks are either. They signed Ray Emery to a contract for next year, but they aren’t going to be relying on him to back them to a cup. Crawford is going to have to step up his game in order to hold on to the Hawks job. The Devils are going to have to realize at some point soon that Martin Brodeur is on the decline. Brodeur has been very inconsistent, and is declining each year. Johan Hedberg is not a long term solution in goal.

These are all teams that have goaltending issues. And they are all teams that could use an established number one goalie like Niklas Backstrom. The Wild should be able to obtain prospects, picks, or roster players for their starting goalie, if they were to choose to move him. It will be very exciting to see what happens at the draft. I think we will see a lot of player movement. Nash will probably be dealt, and perhaps a goalie or two. I’m looking forward to see what happens. Until then we have the playoffs to watch.

The Panthers will look to close out the Devils tonight in game 6 in New Jersey. It should be a great game.

I hope everyone has a great week.

Todd Varga

On Twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0660857001334685421.jpgThe Wild Report Card – 4/17/2012

How great have the playoffs been…and it’s only been a week! Every series has been emotional and entertaining, and the hockey has been fantastic. Add into that the start of baseball season and this is truly the greatest time in sports for the year. With that said, it is also the time of the season for reflection for teams that have failed to make the playoffs. Those teams are doing exit interviews, preparing for the draft and free agency, and looking internally for ways to make their team better. For observers of these teams, it is time for reflection and reviews. Today, we are going to grade every player to suit up for the Wild this season. For those of you that haven’t been paying attention to Minnesota, or haven’t been keeping up with the blog ( :’( ) that adds up to 47 different players. So without further ado, here is the Wild Report Card.

Mikko Koivu ©

It was a rough year for Captain Koivu. He missed 27 games this past year, making for some very pedestrian numbers for what you would expect from him (12G, 32A 45P). Koivu played well when he was healthy, and showcased the ability to distribute the puck and make the people around him better. He was the heart and soul of this team, and his absence was very noticeable.

Most memorable moment: Game winner in OT against the Florida Panthers. He skated through2 defenders and scored in 15 seconds.

Grade: B-

Dany Heatley (A)

Dany Heatley is easily the most polarizing figure that has put on a Minnesota Wild sweater in recent memory, and quite possibly ever. A lot has been said about him, and after the Wild acquired him this summer, it was amplified (kind of the perfect storm- the Sharks fans and media spoke up, and the Wild’s second game of the year was Ottawa’s home opener). I saw Heater called things such as, locker room cancer, selfish, lazy, washed up, and choke artist… to name a few. Not speaking for his time in Atlanta, Ottawa, or San Jose, I can say that in Minnesota last year I saw none of that. Dany Heatley was a great member of the Minnesota Wild last year. He led the team in points (24G, 29A 55P) and played every game of the season. Heatley did everything you could ask: he scored points, he stuck up for his team mates, and he played hard on both sides of the puck.

Most memorable moment: Scored a goal with 1.4 seconds left in the game to force overtime in Edmonton. The Wild would win in a Shootout.

Grade: A

Devin Setoguchi

It wa a rough year for Seto. He only scored 19 goals, and missed significant time with a knee injury. He also seemed to have trouble adjusting to the trade to Minnesota. It clearly took Setoguchi by surprise, and he didn’t really look all that comfortable with the team until the end of the year. I think Yeo’s healthy scratching of him against the Sharks after he missed a team meeting because he was out late with old team mates got to him a little bit. I really like Seto, and I think that he will have a much better year next season as he is more accustomed to the team and the city, and because there will probably be more talent around him to play with. Hopefully he will get back to his game, and take more shots, which is what the Wild traded for him for in the first place.

Most memorable moment: Overtime game winner in Detroit after Mikko’s exploding shoulder forced turnover.

Grade: C

Matt Culen (A)

It was another rough year for Matt Cullen. He got off to a fast start, but tailed off in the middle of the year. A lot of that was the ever rotating talent around him, and some of it was his health. He missed some games due to illness in the middle of the year, and missed the last 2 weeks of the season because of a broken finger caused by blocking a shot. Cullen also played his 1,000th game this season, which is a great accomplishment that he was very proud of. Hopefully Cullen is healthy next year, and hopefully he is playing with more talent regularly.

Most memorable moment: With the Wild injury riddled and down to 4 defensemen, Cullen turned around and played the last half of the third period on defense.

Grade: C

Cal Clutterbuck

Cal had sort of a down year by his standards. This was the first time in 4 years that he did not lead the league in hits, and scored only 15 goals (27 Points), which was down from his growth over the past few years. Like most of the other Wild players, Cal missed a little bit of time due to injury, which may have attributed to the stunt of growth in his stats. That is not to say Cal had a bad year, he provided a lot of energy for the Wild, and was very good on a line with Brodziak and Johnson, when the Wild were able to keep them together.

Most memorable moment: In a game against the Canucks early in the year, Cal was being pushed over the boards after the whistle, as a referee tried to break it up, he was punched in the face by Clutterbuck who couldn’t see what was happening, thus living out the dream of hockey players everywhere.

Grade: B-

Erik Christensen

Christensen came to the Wild in a trade for young prospect Casey Wellman. Christensen had been a healthy scratch for the Rangers for months, and Casey Wellman was going to get lost in the Wild’s incoming prospect pool, so this trade worked for both sides. With that said, Christensen got off to a slow start with the Wild. He was great in the shootout (really, really great to be precise), and once he scored his first regulation goal, he just took off. He was arguably the Wild’s best offensive player in the last month of the season, and it wouldn’t surprise me or anger me if the Wild brought him back next season.

Most memorable moment: Any of Christensen’s shootout goals. This guy has it completely figured out when it comes to the shootout. He has great hands, and just makes it look so effortless and easy.

Grade: B

Kyle Brodziak

It was a great year for Kyle Brodziak. He played all 82 games, and established a new high in goals (22) and registered 44 points total. He also earned himself a 3 year contract extension with the Wild that he signed in the middle of this year. The signing was perhaps the best move the Wild made this year. Brodziak is a hard working, heart and soul part of this team. He played with black eyes, and played the last 3 games wearing a Dany Heatley visor on his helmet after taking a high stick. Brodziak will be a great example and leader for all of the young guys coming into the Wild over the next few seasons.

Most memorable moment: The contract extension: Long overdue and well deserved. The excitement and expression he conveyed after it was announced made me feel good about this team going forward. #SignBrodziak

Grade: A-

Nick Johnson

Nick Johnson had an outstanding rookie campaign for the Wild. He was claimed on waivers from the Penguins 3 days before the first game of the year, and stayed with the club for the entire season. He notched 26 points (8G,18A) and really became a part of a strong energy line with Clutterbuck and Brodziak, unfortunately injuries didn’t allow them to keep the line together all year, but Johnson was productive no matter where they put him. He was also chosen to go to the All Star game as part of the rookie class, which is an honor he deserved.

Most memorable moment: His first goal. He was excited, and he earned it. Maybe the best move Chuck Fletcher has made for the Wild so far.

Grade: B-

Darroll Powe

Darroll Powe was a great grit guy for the Wild. He was touted as a Penalty Kill Specialist and a good defensive forward after he was signed. That is a good starting point. Powe is a master of killing penalties. The guy makes it look like a science. He was very strong defensively, and added 6 goals to help out the Wild offense. He also took up for his team mates whenever he needed to (his fights were awesome-see below). Powe was a great pick up for the Wild in the offseason.

Most memorable moment: His staged fights. Powe had two staged fights, and before both of them he threw off both gloves, his helmet, and rolled up his sleeves as he put up his dukes. It reminded me of an old fashioned duel.

Grade: B

Warren Peters

Peters spent his time with the Wild centering the 4th line. At times, the 4th line played really well, depending on who was on it. Peters was able to help that line generate a lot of time in the offensive zone. He had 5 points in 58 games, but was very good as a checking line center. Yeo was able to throw his line out and know they were going to be physical, and command the puck.

Most memorable moment: His constant drives to the net that never worked. Peters would contantly drive to the net, and for whatever reason (loses the puck, weak shot, stick lift, poke check) it just never happened.

Grade: C+

Matt Kassian

Kassian was basically the Wild enforcer. He played in 28 games, had 2 goals, and 55 PIMs. Kassian was good on a checking line, and played decent defense. His 2 goals came in the same game, on the road in Montreal, and unfortunately for him they get forgotten behind Devin Setoguchi’s shootout face plant. Kassian played well in stretches, and did his job well.

Most memorable moment: His two fights in one game in Minnesota where he was taunting the crowd WWE style. Both fights: decisive wins for big Matt Kassian.

Grade: B-

Jed Ortmeyer

Jed Ortmeyer spent the last part of the year on the Wild’s 4th line. He played in 35 games, and registered 2 points (1G,1A). Ortmeyer was a very good energy guy, and brought a good physical presence to the ice whenever he was called upon. This guy really brought his all to the rink every day, and played well in his role on the team. Ortmeyer is a free agent, and I really hope he gets an NHL job. I think he earned it.

Most memorable moment: His deflection goal. Orts deserved a goal and was super stoked when he got it.

Grade: B

Jon Disalvatore

Disalvatore played 1 game with the Wild. He had no points, and registered 2 shots. Disalvatore is the Captain of the Houston Aeros, and from everything the players say he is a great captain and leader for that team. He is a very important part of the Wild organization in this capacity, and will be more important next year as the Wild’s young future don the Aeros sweater. Take care of our boys Jonny.

Most memorable moment: Being billed as the Captain of the Houston Aeros. Not that the Captaincy is not an accomplishment, but being built up off of it was kind of entertaining.

Grade: C

Kristopher Foucault

He played one game for the Wild, and registered no points. He was up early in the year, and held the spot he was in fairly well.

Most memorable moment: He was one of the earlier call ups. I remember their being some excitement to see one of the young Aeros. That was of course before we realized we were going to see all of the young Aeros.

Grade: C

Cody Almond

Almond played 10 games with the Wild, and registered 1 goal. I see Almond as a guy who is going to be a mainstay in the AHL for the Wild. He doesn’t really blow you away with any aspects of his game, and I think with all the guys coming in, he may get lost in the shuffle of talent in Houston. His size may be his biggest asset, and if he learns to use it more as a weapon, he may be more of a factor. Time will tell.

Most memorable moment: He is a big kid. My most memorable moment is just that. I was shocked at how big he was. I don’t remember that being the case in the previous year.

Grade: C+

Guillaume Latendresse

G-Lat just can’t buy a break. Last year he had the abdominal surgery, this year it was a concussion. Latendresse is a beast when he suits up for the Wild. He had 9 points in 16 games for the Wild this season (5G,4A), and is a legit scoring threat every time he hits the ice. Gui was really learning how to use his size to go along with his scoring prowess, and was easily the best offensive threat for the Wild before he went down. The top line of Latendresse-Koivu-Heatley looked awesome for the short time it was on the ice. Gui has said he is symptom free, and will be ready to go next season, so hopefully we see what these three guys can do on a line, and see Latendresse reach the potential that we all know he is capable of.

Most memorable moment: In his first game back from his first IR concussion stint, he scored a goal in his first shift. Get well Gui.

Grade: B

Pierre-Marc Bouchard

It was another short year for PMB. In 37 games he registered 22 points (9G,13A), and played well during his time on the ice. However, Bouchard suffered at least 1 more concussion that ended his season, and has now raised legitimate concerns about his health going forward. This has become an all too familiar tale for Bouchard. I really hope he can play next year, and I hope he can stay healthy. Bouchard has amazing skills, and plays with great heart, and I really hope he ends his career on a good note and on his terms.

Most memorable moment: Not to be a Negative Nancy, but it really is the boarding call in Winnipeg. I’ve never seen a hockey player leave so much blood on the ice. No justice for PMB. Get well #96.

Grade: B

Brett Bulmer

Bulmer was the biggest surprise for the Wild at the beginning of the year. He made the club out of training camp as a 19 year old rookie. He registered 3 assists in his 9 games with the Wild before being sent back to his Junior Club. Bulmer did not look out of place and was playing very good hockey until he was sent down. I was really surprised they sent him back at the time, but it was a good move in hindsight. Bulmer is going to be a good piece for the Wild next season.

Most memorable moment: His making the team. Bulmer played well in Traverse City, and made the team on the second line out of camp. It showed that Bulmer is someone we should be excited about, and that Mike Yeo will put the best players on the ice, no matter what.

Grade: B+

Jason Zucker

It was really exciting to see Zucker both sign and play in the NHL this season. It was a good way to show fans what lies ahead. Zucker was really fun to watch, and I really look forward to see what he can do with the Wild in the near future. He is very fast, and has developed some good offensive skill in his time at Denver University. He is a good reason to be excited about next year.

Most memorable moment: The speed. Zucker can flat out fly on that ice. He created a number of scoring chances off of his speed, and his willingness to drive to the net. I am thoroughly excited to see him with the Wild.

Grade: A-

Brad Staubitz

Staubitz was puzzle piece that just didn’t fit. Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher saw that Matt Kassian could fill the role Brad Staubitz was occupying, and made moves in that regard. He didn’t have a great year with the Wild, and was not being a huge help to the team in any facet of the game. I’m glad Staubitz ended up with an NHL club, and wish him nothing but the best in Montreal.

Most memorable moment: His gaffe against the Oilers where Theo Peckham baited Staubitz into fights and then refused to drop the gloves. Good luck Stauby.

Grade: D

Stephane Veilleux

Veilleux played in 21 games with the Wild this season, and registered 2 assists. He was a great third line winger. In the last month of the season, nobody was winning more battles, or throwing more weight around than Stephane Veilleux. It was great to have him back in the State of Hockey. He was definitely playing for a job next season, and if the Wild bring him back, I would not be disappointed.

Most memorable moment: His interview between periods with Kevin Fallness about a week before he was reacquired by the Wild. Said he would love to come back. Your Minnesota Wild, making dreams come true.

Grade: C

Nick Schultz

Oh dear. This trade was a complete shock when it was announced. Schultz was a big heart and soul guy. He was the quintessential member of the Minnesota Wild. I was genuinely sad when I saw the trade, and it hurt a little bit when I saw him in an Oilers jersey. I also miss following his brother on Twitter, who watched every game and is hysterical. Even with that, the Wild needed to get more offense from the defense. I think this trade will be good for both for teams in the long run. Schultz was great, good luck to him with Edmonton.

Most memorable moment: TSN reporting that the Schultz found out about the trade through twitter, not from the Wild, and then trashing the Wild for about two minutes on how terrible it is to find out about a trade that way… then rescinding the comment 5 minutes later.

Grade: B

Greg Zanon

Zanon was a good defense man that blocked a ton of shots. Zanon showed up for every game, and always gave his all out on the ice. He scored two goals for the Wild this season, and is playing great for the Bruins in the playoffs. That being said, I think the trade was good. Zanon was not going to be resigned, and getting something for him versus letting him walk was good. Good luck to Greg Zanon.

Most memorable moment: He scored his first goal of the season against the Red Wings at the Xcel energy center. It was his first goal in 137 games.

Grade: B

Marek Zidlicky

Zidlicky was a joke with the Wild this season. He added no offense to the team from the blue line, and was a huge distraction off the ice as he was complaining about Mike Yeo or Chuck Fletcher or God knows what else. The bottom line is the Wild were playing better without him, and Mike Yeo played his best team with or without Zidlicky. Now, the deal that sent him to New Jersey was an amazing win for Chuck Fletcher. He turned disgruntled and unproductive Marek Zidlicky, who had a No Movement Clause, into a prospect and 2 expiring contracts. He helped the future and created a good chunk a cap room for some possible offseason shopping.

Most memorable moment: His giant whiff on a power play that resulted in a shorthanded goal. He was at the point, completely whiffed on a shot, and the other team put it in the back of the net.

Grade: D-

Casey Wellman

Wellman was part of the Wild’s top 6 for a good portion of the beginning of the season. He played OK, but never blossomed into the scorer that the Wild envisioned he could be. Not that he still can’t. The Wild moved Wellman because of the influx of talent they have coming in next year. He was going to get lost in the shuffle. Good job by them to get something back for him. Good luck to him in the future.

Most memorable moment: His first multi point game in Anaheim. He played great, scored a go ahead goal that held up as the game winner.

Grade: B-

Nick Palmieri

Palmieri had some very impressive games right after arriving in Minnesota. He was able to use his size and strength to make an impact in front of the net, but was unable to burry anything in the goal. He has a lot of potential, and could be a good power forward somewhere down the line. He had some flashes of brilliance, and it won’t surprise me to see him with the Wild at some point next season.

Most memorable moment: His first game. He played very well. He used his size and speed to be a real difference maker on the ice. This was a great piece to get back for Zidlicky.

Grade: B-

Chad Rau

Rau had 2 goals in 9 games. He was a very energetic forward with some scoring skill. He is very young and needs some more time to develop.

Most memorable moment: His goal against Boston on Hockey Day in America. He looked off Tim Thomas and buried it. He’s got lots of potential.

Grade: B+

Jarod Palmer

He played in 6 games, and scored 1 goal. Palmer looked fairly good in his short time with the team, which was unfortunately cut short.

Most memorable moment: His first goal in his first game. A Great goal, a great kid, and another sad concussion story.

Grade: B

Carson McMillan

McMillan had some good games for the Wild in his 11 games with the club. He was mainly on the 3rd or 4th lines, and had that awesome breakaway game winner against the Avalanche in December. He is a good third line center who is decent in the faceoff dot.

Most memorable moment: The game winner in Colorado. A great goal, in what at the time was seen as a very important game.

Grade: B

David McIntyre

McIntyre played very well in his time with the wild when he was in his role. McIntyre reminded me of a sort of Cal Clutterbuck type of player. When he was on the 3rd line as an energy/grit guy, he was awesome.

Most memorable moment: I remember his goal, and his grit. He played a very physical game, which was nice to see.

Grade: B-

Jeff Taffe

Taffe played 5 games, and scored 2 goals. He did not look totally out of place on the Wild, and brought great energy and effort.

Most memorable moment: His first game with the Wild in Florida where he scored a goal on the top line. He played very well for his short stay with the team.

Grade: B

Marco Scandella

Scandella took huge steps forward this season. He started to show us glimpses of the potential we have been hearing so much about. Scandella looked very confident and very poised on defense at the end of the year, and will hopefully gain more in Houston in the playoffs. Marco Scandella is going to be a cornerstone of the Minnesota wild defense for years to come.

Most memorable moment: His 35 minute game. He was on the ice the whole game it seemed like.

Grade: B+

Tom Gilbert

Tom Gilbert had a very interesting last few months with the Wild. When he arrived in Minnesota, he could not have looked more lost. His first game had me legitimately worried about how he would be able to perform for the Wild. The more he played, the better he looked. He really got a feel for the system and the team, and was very good in the last few games of the season, and played for 30+ minutes in several of them as well.

Most memorable moment: His pass to Koivu in Overtime for the game winner (see Koivu). Great play.

Grade: B-

Jared Spurgeon

Spurgeon had a great year going for the Wild before the concussion. This guy became the anchor of the Wild defense this year. At the beginning of the year, he was playing the most minutes, he was on both special teams, and even got an attempt at the shootout. If Spurgeon can get healthy and rejoin the defense that has been growing and learning without him, the blue line will be a lot better.

Most memorable moment: Again, not to be Negative Nancy, but it’s the boarding call in Colorado. No Justice for Spurgeon.

Grade: B+

Clayton Stoner

Stoner played alright this season. His main problem is his inability to stay on the ice. He played 51 games this past season. The Wild need him to put a season together, and to start adding some more points to his big physical style.

Most memorable moment: His goal. With the Wild’s defense, you can remember all the individual goals. His was a good snipe.

Grade: C+

Justin Falk

Falk played really well when he was healthy. He is learning more and more to use his size and strength to muscle his way to pucks, and his opponents into glass. Like the rest of the wild’s young core, the more he plays, the more confidence he gains. I really like Falk, and think he can be a very big piece of the wild defense for the foreseeable future.

Most memorable moment: His fore check. He created a great scoring chance while being stuck in the zone for the fore check. It was funny.

Grade: B

Steven Kampfer

Kampfer was by far the best piece the Wild got back in trades this spring in terms of immediate impact. Kampfer was sent back from Boston for Greg Zanon. I really liked Kampfer, he was dependable on defense, and he scored goals. He should have a good shot at being with the team out of camp next season.

Most memorable moment: His first goal. I had forgotten up to that point that the Defense was allowed to score goals.

Grade: B+

Kurtis Foster

Foster came over as part of the Zidlicky deal. He played very scarce minutes at times due to his back injuries. He still looked to have his booming shot, even though he couldn’t put it in the back of the net for the Wild. I don’t see him coming back, but we shall see.

Most memorable moment: His first game back in the Iron Range red. It was really nice to see him back in Minnesota. It sucks that the injuries got him.

Grade: C-

Nate Prosser

Prosser was solid on the backend for the Wild. He played good defense, and contributed to the offense regularly. I think he will be a good young piece of the Wild blue line next year. The more he plays, the more confidence he gets, and the better he seems to play. Glad they signed him.

Most memorable moment: I really want to say his goal, or his big minute game, or his moxy after the whistle, but it’s the head butt. It was a terrible move by Nate on that one. He also looks like Stiffler.

Grade: B-

Chay Genoway

Genoway played 1 game, and had 1 assist. He moved the puck really well, and was able to help the Wild get some scoring chances. I look forward to his next stint with the Wild, whenever that may come.

Most memorable moment: He wore number 47, and was the 47th man to suit up for the Wild this past year. I see what you did there Tony DeCosta.

Grade: B-

Tyler Cuma

Cuma played in 1 game, and registered no points. He looked OK out there with the other D-men. It was mostly just nice to see him get his shot at the NHL after all the injuries he has had to deal with.

Most memorable moment: Being the last defenseman from the first round of the 2008 draft to make his debut. He has dealt with a lot of injuries, and it was nice to see him get a shot in the NHL.

Grade: C

Kris Fredheim

Fredheim played in 3 games for the Wild and registered no points. He looked comfortable and solid on the blue line for his short visit, especially for a guy the Wild didn’t even have under contract at the beginning of the year.

Most memorable moment: His call up was a surprise, as he had to be signed out of Houston by the Wild before he could be called up. Michael Russo actually made the joke of his call up before he was signed, then it actually happened. It was funny at the time.

Grade: C+

Mike Lundin

Lundin spent most of the season injured or as a healthy scratch. When he was on the ice, he went mostly unnoticed.

Most memorable moment: When he signed with the Wild in the summer. I didn’t really get it then, and it didn’t really

matter anyway.

Grade: D

Matt Hackett

Hackett played a good fill in role for the Wild, and even got some starts down the stretch against some really good teams. He looked great in his debut, and played well for most of his time with the Wild. He looks really rough around the edges, and really looks like he just needs more time with Bob Mason refining his form and perfecting his craft. There is no doubt that this kid has the skills, and could be a crucial part of the Wild’s future.

Most memorable moment: The debut- his 50+ saves and shutout of the San Jose Sharks in San Jose.

Grade: B-

Niklas Backstrom

Backstrom had the typical up and down year that we have started to become accustomed to over the past few seasons. He had stretches where he played out of his mind, stretches where he played semi-mediocre, and stretches where he couldn’t stay on the ice. When he is on top of his game, he looks border line unbeatable, but he has got to find a way to stay healthy. If the Wild can’t increase team scoring, the goalie is going to be a huge piece of each victory, and the Wild need him to be that goalie.

Most memorable moment: Improvement in the shootout. I’ll always feel nervous, and never completely trust him, but Backs has definitely gotten better.

Grade: C+

Josh Harding

Hards got off to a very fast start, only to be slowed by injury. He played well for most of the year, making his case to other teams that they should sign him next year. I really think Harding can be a Number 1 goalie in this league. I’m very interested to see where he lands next year, and what kind of deal he winds up with.

Most memorable moment: His 4-0 start, which included a big 50+ save shutout.

Grade: B

So there it is: the Wild report card.

Have a good day; I’ll be back later in the week.

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0879521001334187065.jpgA Wild Season… And Playoff Picks – 4/11/2012

This is a great week to be a hockey fan. We have some great first round match ups that are going to create some classic hockey moments (and undoubtedly some future commercial spots for the NHL and NBCSN). Alas, this week can also be a very cold reminder that your team came up short, and is now a spectator just like us. Such is the case for the Minnesota Wild. The team has missed the playoffs for the past 4 years, and will be drafting 7th overall at the draft in Pittsburgh (How incredibly lucky are the Edmonton Oilers when it comes to the draft?! Absolutely ridiculous odds for them to have the first pick again…). But as much as this season looks and feels like a disappointment and a letdown, it isn’t totally a loss.

This year was not supposed to be the year the Wild broke through and started leading the Western Conference, or the NHL as it were. The Wild were supposed to finish in the 8th to 10th place range this year. With that said, the historical meltdown the Wild suffered after December was brutal and very hard to watch. The Wild became the first team in NHL history to be leading the NHL after December 1st to completely miss the playoffs. Their hot start completely raised the modest expectations set upon the team and rookie head coach Mike Yeo, and left us all feeling saddened and disheartened as the Wild were officially eliminated from the playoffs. In hindsight, the start of the season is very encouraging. When healthy and playing the game the way Mike Yeo wants his team playing, the Wild are a good hockey team. The story of this season, whether anyone wants to say it or not, was injuries. December saw the Wild lose Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard to concussions, Mikko Koivu to a shoulder injury, and Devin Setoguchi to a knee injury. The injuries crippled the Wild. This team was having trouble scoring as it was, taking away all of those guys is crippling. The Wild didn’t have the depth to replace the scoring from any of those guys, much less all of them. That however, is where next year is going to be very interesting.

The genesis of what will ultimately become the Minnesota Wild will start next season.

-Mikael Granlund

-Zack Phillips

-Charlie Coyle

-Jason Zucker

-Brett Bulmer

-Johan Larsson

-Jonas Brodin

All of these guys will be able to play for the Wild next year. Most of them will probably start in Houston, and provide the depth that the wild will need to overcome the injuries that a team endures over an NHL season. Add to that, whoever the Wild draft this summer, whoever comes to the team through free agency, and that Latendresse and Bouchard should be back and healthy (reports have said Latendresse is symptom free, and will should be good to go for training camp- Bouchard is said to be feeling better, but with his history of concussions, I would not put all my eggs in that basket). This team is going to be younger, faster, and much more exciting to watch next season. The competition that these young men will create in camp and throughout the season should help the Wild get back into the playoffs and be competitive next season.

Now…. Playoff picks.

East

Rangers V. Senators- Rangers in 5

Bruins V. Capitals- Caps in 7

Panthers V. Devils- Devils in 6

Penguins V. Flyers- Pens in 6

West

Canucks V. Kings- Kings in 7

Blues V. Sharks- Sharks in 7

Coyotes V. Blackhawks- Hawks in 5

Predators V. Red Wings- Preds in 6

The only real upsets I think are here are the Caps over the Bruins, and the Kings over the Canucks. I know that New Jersey, Chicago, and San Jose winning are technically upsets, but I don’t think it would surprise anyone to see the Hawks, Sharks, and Devils advance. With that said, I have no statistical or realistic reason to believe in the Caps. There is just something about that team as of late that gives me a hunch. I do not think they can make it to the cup, but I think they get out of the first round. The Canucks and Kings is a different beast. Jonathan Quick can flat out steal games. If the Kings can find that groove that had them leading the division before Carter got hurt, I think Quick will be more than enough to help them upset Vancouver. Quick is ridiculously underrated nationally, and should be a finalist for the Vezina trophy.

As for the Stanley Cup finals, I’m going with a Penguins V. Predators finals- Predators in 7.

Thanks to all who read. Please leave comments and questions, and subscribe to the blog.

I’ll be back later this week with my grades for the Wild this season. I’m going to grade everyone who suited up for the team… all 47 of them.

Have a good day.

Todd Varga

On Twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0245314001333476865.jpgWhat a Difference a Week Makes! 4-3-2012

Last week, I discussed how the current losing streak that the Minnesota Wild were on could drop them to 14th in the West and possibly give them the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Since then the boys in Iron Range Red have won 3 out of 4, including wins over division leaders Florida and Los Angeles. If the Wild win out, which looks possible if they keep scoring at the rate they are, they could finish 10th in the West, something I would not have thought possible last week. Last week the Wild also started the long awaited future, signing and playing prospect Jason Zucker.

Jason Zucker was the Wild’s 2nd round pick in 2010. Since then, he has been playing college hockey at Denver University, and captaining the U.S. team at the World Juniors. Zucker was seen as a third line energy guy when the Wild drafted him, but has developed into a good offensive threat in his time at DU. His first game with the Wild was last Wednesday against the Panthers, and he didn’t look out of place. He had a few shots on goal, and was definitely feeling out the game, but he looked good. He has great speed, and may be the fastest guy they have at this point. He scored two assists in his second game on Saturday against the Kings. This experience looks like it could be invaluable to Zucker going into training camp next season. The Wild will have all of its major prospects turning pro next season, and Zucker may have a leg up on the other guys coming into camp (I will be discussing this in the offseason, probably more than once J). The move to get Zucker signed, and the decision to have him play in the NHL immediately, has offered Wild fans a nice sneak peek at what the future holds for the franchise, which has worked out very well.

Lastly, Wild head coach Mike Yeo has been asked a lot lately about tanking and the team’s draft position. He’s repeatedly answered the way you would expect- he cares about winning and culture not the scouts and the draft team. While I personally think it would be better long term to get the best pick possible, if anyone is complaining about their team playing well and winning, they are insane. I understand and agree with the argument for tanking, but most teams, and especially this group of Wild players that has had such a rough run of it the last three months, need to win and get that momentum and feel back. If the Wild can win out (yeah I know, just go with it for second) these guys will be more excited and pumped up to get back in the summer than they would have been had they limped into the offseason like we all thought they were. Again, this is just a thought, and I am very excited and intrigued to see what training camp will look like next year with all the young talent the Wild are bringing into the fold (and that’s not counting the draft prospects of this year- for all intensive purposes they could lose out, win the draft lottery, and have a great pick- we’ll see). I’m also excited to see what Yeo can do with healthy players, fresh young talent, and healthy competition. Despite the results of this year, I think Chuck Fletcher and the Wild hit a homerun with hiring Mike Yeo. With all of the aforementioned traits at his disposal this summer, I think he can get the Wild where they need to go.

Some closing thoughts-

-Tom Gilbert has really come around over the last week or so. He has played 30+ minutes in 2 of the last 3 games, and has really looked strong as he has learned the Wild players and the system. He made an amazing pass to spring Mikko Koivu for a break away to win the game last Wednesday in overtime. He looks better every game.

-Niklas Backstrom returned last week, and has looked pretty good in his return. His play, and his injuries, should make it very interesting when it comes to whether or not to re-sign Josh Harding.

-The top line of Heatley-Koivu-Setoguchi has looked pumped and energized since Zucker got into the lineup. I really think his exuberance and excitement has gotten the Wild going again. They pranked him in his first game by making him skate around in warm ups by himself. He got two laps in before anyone ever came out… Awesome.

I hope everyone has a good week. I will be back on Friday with some thoughts on the Wild season, and the upcoming playoffs.

Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, and subscribe to the blog.

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0972634001332865677.jpgThe Countdown is on... 3-27-2012

The Minnesota wild were officially eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday by way of a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Washington Capitals (I stress the word officially). The Wild have now officially become the first team to have lead the NHL on December 1st that missed the playoffs. And the cherry on top: Matt Cullen broke his finger blocking a shot Saturday in Buffalo, and is more than likely done for the year. This isn’t unexpected; the Wild have won 12 games since the second week of December. That’s obviously not going to get it done. With that said, most Wild eyes will turn to the NHL Entry draft, where the Wild will more than likely have a lottery pick. As it stands now the Wild have the 4th pick, and are only one point put of the 2nd pick. The possibility of having the 2nd pick are very good, taking into account the way the Wild are playing and their remaining schedule.

Picking in the top 5 at the draft would be a big help for a team that has a severe need for some elite talent right now (A lot of people are speculating about what the Wild may try to do in free agency, which could certainly help the team significantly, but is by no means guaranteed). A lot has been made of the Wild’s good line up of prospects (Mikael Grandlund, Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips, Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson, Jonas Brodin, and Erik Haula- Go Gophers J, among others), but this is a team that needs help now. I know having a top 5 pick obviously doesn’t guarantee that, but the odds are significantly better than picking 9th or 10th. This is the problem the Wild have been enduring for the last several years. They have been mired in that 8th to 12th draft spot that yields talent, but not immediate impact talent (For the record, the Wild have done an amazing job at the draft over the past few years. They have gotten great talent in their draft position and in the later rounds. This is just a critique of circumstance and not a knock on the Wild at the draft for the past few years under this new regime of ownership). Now, with all of that said, the Wild will go out there and try to win games as best they can. Mike Yeo is not a guy who is going to coast to the end of the season. That will all start tonight in St. Paul as the New York Rangers roll into town…. So that’s looking promising.

For tonight’s game:

-Josh Harding will get the start and Nicklas Backstrom will back up- This is Backstrom’s official return from injury, so emergency call up Matt Hackett will be sent back to Houston. Harding has looked very good as of late, and may be trying to show the Wild how important it may be to re-sign him (He wants to stay with Minnesota).

-Jared Spurgeon (Concussion) and Matt Cullen (Broken Finger) are both likely out for the season- Chad Rau (brother of Kyle Rau- Go Gophers J) is an emergency call up for Cullen and Kurtis Foster (Back) will play in tonight’s game.

- The Rangers have the Penguins hot on their heels for the one seed in the Eastern Conference, so expect them to come out and play their best- This is the first night of a back to back for the NYR, who are in Winnipeg tomorrow, so it could be Biron or Lundqvist, but my money will be on Biron.

Have a good day everybody- feel free to leave comments and questions.

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0688142001332262216.jpgWinning Now? Or Winning in June? 3-20-12

Last night, the Minnesota Wild defeated the Vancouver Canucks 2-0. Josh Harding recorded his 6th career shutout, and his second of the season. This was Harding’s first start since he suffered an injury last week, and he looked great. Erik Christensen scored his 4th goal in the last 4 games on the Power Play at the end of the first period, and Kyle Brodziak netted an empty net goal in the 3rd to seal the game. Last night was the best effort I have seen from the Wild in a while. The team gave a very good effort, and was rewarded with what is becoming a rare win. The Wild have just 3 wins in their last 11 games, and the remaining schedule does not get any easier.

Their remaining games: CAL, @BUF, @WAS, NYR, FLA, LA, @CHI, @NAS, CHI, PHO.

All teams that are in the playoffs or fighting like mad to get into one of the last spots. And with Mikko Koivu yet to make his return from a shoulder injury, and Niklas Backstrom yet to return from a groin strain (though it is said both are close to return), I am trying hard to be optimistic. However, the Wild could be losing the battle while winning the war.

This was not supposed to be a year where the Wild were supposed to be great. They were supposed to be a 8th to 10th place team that was building for the next couple of years with their young prospects. The Wild’s fast start skewed those expectations, and the injuries and their freefall over the past few months have even killed the modest goal established in the summer. Currently, the Wild are 13th in the Western Conference, and 26th overall in the NHL. As they sit, not counting any changes that occur due to the lottery process, the Wild will be drafting in the top 5 at the NHL Entry Draft in June. Looking at the standings and the schedule above, the Wild could easily play themselves into a top 3 pick, and if Edmonton gets hot, maybe even a top 2 pick, if their current trend of play continues. This would obviously help the Wild by giving them an elite level prospect that could possibly contribute at the NHL level next year, and at this point in the year, with things the way they currently sit, that will be the biggest benefit to this team.

(Disclaimer: I am not advocating that the Wild should be tanking for a draft pick. I am simply looking at the current trend of play, the schedule, and the standings and drawing conclusions. Trust me, every time the Wild hit the ice, I want them to win. When they don’t, it bums me out… just ask my wife.)

The Wild will be back in action at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday against the Calgary Flames.

-Unless Backstrom is fully recovered, Harding should get the start in net.

-Someone must have finally told Erik Christensen that he is playing for a job next year. He has scored 4 goals in the last 4 games, and has played very well in the last several games. If he can keep up anything close to this pace, especially playing with 3rd line minutes and his current line mates, I would welcome him back next year.

-Mikko could be back, but is it worth it to bring him back at this point?

Have a great week everybody.

Feel free to leave comments or questions.

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0369785001331659518.jpgDon't Fire My Coach! - 3/13/2012

The NHL has seen a lot of coaching changes happen this year. The Blues, Blue Jackets, Kings, Ducks, Capitals, Hurricanes, Canadiens, and Maple Leafs have all made in season coaching changes. Some have worked out great (St. Louis is by far the best of this group, with Anaheim having success as well), and some have yielded results that are less desirable (The Caps have been a big disappointment, and Montreal had a huge backlash from fans and media when they hired a coach that doesn’t speak French). The in season coaching change is a decision we see made with struggling teams to try and get the team fired up. As we have seen this year, it yields mixed results. Today we are going to look at a couple of coaches that I feel should still be around next year. And we are going to start with the coach of the team that this blog usually focuses on, the Minnesota Wild.

Mike Yeo has had a very up and down season as the rookie head coach of the Minnesota Wild. If you remember back to December 10th, the Wild were at the top of the NHL, and were firing on all cylinders. Since then they have gone 9-25-7, and have dropped to 13th in the Western Conference, 10 points out of 8th. No question that is a brutal free fall for any team to suffer. But it is hard to put the blame on Yeo, his system, or Chuck Fletcher. The main problem the Wild have dealt with this season is injuries, especially to their key players. The Wild have played the majority of this season without 3 of their top 6 forwards. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse have missed most of the season with concussions. Mikko Koivu has missed extended time with a shoulder injury. Earlier in the year, Devin Setoguchi missed a month with a knee injury. This was a team that has struggled to score in the past, and losing these guys has not been a big help in this area. In the past two weeks, the Wild have lost their goaltending tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. The wild have used 45 different players, most in the NHL, and are near the top for man games lost. We have all heard the same thing all year “Every team has injuries; they are not an excuse for losing.” I understand that, and Mike Yeo would tell you the same thing. But not every team plays the majority of the season without 3 of their top 6, including the stretch run of their schedule (not to mention the Wild’s brutal January that saw them play only 3 home games and pull out a stellar 2-6-1 for the month). Mike Yeo has kept this team battling and focused, and he deserves to stick around (and he will, I only bring him up because I have been reading some fan posts and hockey talk about him being fired. The guy is a good coach, and he will be great for shaping the young talent the Wild will be bringing in over the next few years).

The Columbus Blue Jackets have had a year that they could not have even dreamed about in their worst nightmares before the year started. This team has been through a lot. Jeff Carter played most of the year with hurt feelings and bitter beer face, and was not the spark or the goal scorer they envisioned when they acquired him. James Wisnewski started the year with a suspension, and has been hurt for parts of the year. We are all aware of the Rick Nash situation, and how that was a constant distraction to the team for more than a month leading up to the trade deadline, and having to deal with the aftermath of him not moving (huge props to Rick Nash- the guy has continued to play great hockey, and be a consummate professional). Through all of this, Todd Richards took control of the Jackets after Scott Arniel was fired on January 9th. Since then, he has led the Jackets to an 11-14-2 record. Richards has the Jackets playing the best hockey they have played this season. Rick Nash has remained a leader and a good captain for the team, and Jack Johnson has been a positive force in that locker room, which has helped the Jackets build some momentum as the season comes to an end (You can make the argument that the Jackets got a bad deal for Carter, and you may be right, but the extra 1st will be a huge help- especially if the Kings don’t make the playoffs- and at the very least Johnson is happy to be there. The Jackets seem like they could use that in their locker room right now… along with a decent NHL goalie). I don’t think it is outlandish to make the case that Richards should remain in charge in Columbus. He has got his team playing good, and believing in themselves. There is also the question of who else is out there? Carlyle, Boudreau, and Hitchcock aren’t going anywhere. Is there a better fit? Ron Wilson? Dale Hunter? Craig MacTavish? Time will tell.

Kirk Muller has done a great job with the Carolina Hurricanes since taking over the team from Paul Maurice on November 28th. Before the change, the Canes were 8-13-5. Eric Staal struggled heavily out of the gate scoring goals. Jeff Skinner spent a lot of time on IR. The team was not clicking. Since the change, the Canes have gone 19-15-11 and look a lot more like the Hurricanes we are used to seeing. Stall has found the scoring touch again, Skinner has been back, and scoring goals like we saw him do as a rookie, and Cam Ward is still Cam Ward. I know in the preseason we heard a lot of reports that this may be a transitional season for the Hurricanes, and they took the opportunity to take care of some business. They re-signed Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu, and have all of their core players under contract for next year. It makes a lot of sense to keep Kirk Muller. He has demonstrated he can win with these players, and has developed a relationship with his players, and has them buying in to what he is selling.

These are the coaches I feel should stick around despite talk that they might. There are others, like Joel Quennville, who aren’t going anywhere despite slumps and cold streaks. And there are others, like Darryl Sutter and Todd McLellan, who need to make the playoffs to keep their jobs.

It should be an interesting summer for coaching changes, as we get to see who is sticking around, and who is moving on.

Thanks to everyone for reading- please leave your thoughts on these and any other coaches that may be on the hot seat.

If you dig the blog, please subscribe and follow “Wild Musings” for thoughts and news on the Minnesota Wild, and topics along the NHL.

Until Next time,

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0365358001331319324.jpgThis is getting a bit ridiculous.

This was my thought after Wild goaltender Josh Harding was helped off the ice last night in the 2nd period of the Wild’s Shootout victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. The injury didn’t look serious as Harding was skated off the ice, but looked pretty painful for the 4-5 minutes before Harding left. For those unaware, the Wild’s number one net minder Niklas Backstrom is currently out with a pulled groin. With Harding hurt, the goaltending burden falls to youngster Matt Hackett, who has looked good for the most part. For Hackett, and the Wild, having Hackett shoulder the goaltending load could be a blessing. Harding is a free agent at the end of this year, and if Hackett can prove he is a capable NHL goalie, Harding may become expendable. There are other scenarios that can play out, especially if Harding is resigned (He has made it clear he loves Minnesota, and wants to play with the Wild), but that is another debate for another day (more than likely an offseason day- stay tuned). The main problem the Wild are facing is backing up Matt Hackett. The other young goaltending stud the Wild have is Darcy Kuemper, who is also hurt. The only other goalie in the system that would possibly fit at the NHL level would be Dennis Endras who is on loan in Finland. More than likely, Harding will be on the bench and everyone will be praying that nothing happens to Hackett, but it is definitely a situation the Wild is going to have to deal with down the stretch.

The ridiculousness of the Josh Harding injury was exaggerated by the events that happened before it. Jared Spurgeon, the heart of the Wild’s new look defense core, was a healthy scratch due to illness. Tyler Cuma was called up from Houston to fill in, but missed the flight from Houston to Phoenix and was unavailable. Kurtis Foster is having terrible back problems and really shouldn’t be on the ice, but was suited up to play. The Wild ended up playing the game with 5 ½ defensemen. Foster had 13:26 TOI, while the other 5 defensemen all played 30+ minutes. To add to that, Devin Setoguchi missed a good chunk of the second period as he apparently caught Spurgeon’s illness, and was running from the bench to throw up in trash cans.

How ridiculous that this is the game out of the last 5 the Wild actually win.

Mike Yeo called this a big character win in his post game press conference. Yeah, I’d go with that.

Hopefully it is something the Wild can build on, and string together some wins. If not, they can keep falling up the draft boards and maybe end up with a top 5 draft pick.

Either way, the Wild’s last 14 games should be entertaining in some form or another.

Thank you greatly to everyone for reading. If you’ve been reading regularly I’m sorry for the abrupt gap in posts. My wife and I are in the midst of trying to buy a house, and I had a big job interview this past week, so I had to put this on hold. It was a very hectic and crazy week. I will be back with a new blog on Monday, so please give it a read when you see it.

Please feel free to leave comments and questions, I love talking hockey with everybody.

Have a great weekend,

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0173441001330451539.jpgWild Musings- The Wild Trade Deadline 2/28/2012

It’s been a busy trade deadline for the Minnesota Wild. Last Friday, The Wild were able to turn disgruntled defenseman Marek Zidlicky into Kurtis Foster, Stephan Veilleux, Nick Palmieri, a 2nd round draft pick, and a conditional draft pick. This is a great deal for the Wild. Foster and Veilleux are big fan favorites, and guys who will get on the ice and give it all they have every time they hit the ice. Palmieri is a big power forward who knows how to use his size, and has the ability to get pucks at the net. All three of these guys looked good in the Wild’s victory over San Jose on Sunday, especially Palmieri who had some great scoring chances and really infused some energy into the offense. Foster looked good on the power play, and Veilleux was good on the fore check and great on the boards. I honestly thought the Wild were going to get very marginal returns for Zidlicky, so when they actually got people back who will help the team, and a needed draft pick (the Wild didn’t have a 2nd round pick in this draft) I was amazed. Now I do realize Foster and Veilleux are UFA on July 1st, and the Wild were taking back salary from New Jersey to fit Zidlicky in, but the players coming back will help. Perhaps the best part for the Wild is that they will be rid of Zidlicky’s cap hit next year, which will allow them more money to spend on free agents this summer. I think this was a great trade for the Wild. Hopefully the Devils will benefit from a Marek Zidlicky who is focused and trying, and not the guy that the Wild fans will remember from the last several weeks.

Deadline day for Minnesota was very bitter sweet. The Wild were involved in two deals on deadline day. The more expected trade they made was the Greg Zanon/Stephen Kampfer deal. Zanon was UFA at the end of the year, and the Wild have been carrying 7 defensemen for months. They got young defenseman Stephen Kampfer, who Chuck Fletcher said yesterday will start his Wild career in Houston. Kampfer is very young, and has experience playing with the Boston Bruins last year. This was a nice trade for both sides. The Bruins are getting a very gritty, hardnosed, shot blocking defenseman that will help them in their playoff run. The Wild are getting another young asset that may help now, or in the near future. The trade that took me and everyone I’ve talked to about it by surprise. The Wild traded Nick Schultz to the Edmonton Oilers for Tom Gilbert. Schultz was a heart and soul guy who had spent his whole career with the Wild. He was a great teammate that was very liked in that locker room, and the fans that took to twitter to wish him well show how much he was loved as a member of the Wild. He will be missed. With that said, I think this was a really good hockey deal for both sides. The Oilers are a young team that is going to be looking to build a good young defensive core in the next few seasons. Nick Schultz is going to be a great leader for that young defense. He is a good teammate, and is a good, responsible, defensive defenseman. Schultz is a good piece for a team like Edmonton to have. Tom Gilbert is a more offensive minded defenseman. He likes to join the rush, and contribute to the offense, which is always something the Wild are in need of. He also plays some good defense, which is always good. Gilbert will be around for two more years as well, which will mean that he will be able to grow with the young Wild Defense core. TSN was also very adamant about his friendship with Ryan Suter, and how that may help guide him to Minnesota this offseason. Personally, I am skeptical about that, but TSN made a note of it, so take that for what it’s worth. Speaking of TSN, they reported during their trade deadline coverage that Schultz found out about the trade from twitter or the internet, and not the Wild, and then made some not so nice comments about the Wild. This was untrue, Fletcher told Schultz about the deal, and TSN gave a very poor apology for reporting the story wrong. TSN is supposed to be better than that. I was a bit disappointed that they were a bit quick to throw stones. Other than that, I enjoyed their deadline coverage, and thought they did a great job keeping the show going between trades.

Among the other deadline happenings, I thought Nashville, Vancouver, and Boston helped themselves out quite a bit. Nashville is going to be a tough out in the playoffs- that defense in front of Pekka Rinne, look out.

Thanks to everyone for reading- feel free to leave comments and questions.

If you like the blog please subscribe to “Wild Musings” and stay up to date on all the Wild happenings in the NHL.

Have a great day.

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

The Deadline Cometh

blog-0664027001330127161.jpgWild Musings- Reverse the Curse; the Deadline Cometh 2/24/2012

Hello, and Happy Friday everybody. Today the Wild are gearing up for the second day of a road back to back. They are coming off a shootout win in Sunrise against the Panthers, and are looking to sweep the trip with a win in Dallas. Tonight will be a crucial game for the wild’s playoff hopes. The Stars are sitting in 8th place, three points ahead of the Wild in 12th place. A regulation win for the Wild tonight would be huge. It puts them right behind Dallas, and in the thick of the battle for 8th. A loss, or even an OT win, is going to keep the Wild in this sort of trade deadline haze of whether to buy or sell.

With that said, I’d like to break down what the Wild may be willing to move at the trade deadline. The obvious place to start is with players who are going to be Unrestricted Free Agents on July 1st.

-Erik Christensen- The Wild just acquired Erik Christensen, and are not going to deal him. Christensen has been an interesting pick up for the Wild. He hasn’t really had an impact on the ice during regulation, or Overtime, but has been pretty invaluable in the shootout. He’s 2 for 3 in shootout attempts for Minnesota, and makes it look effortless. The guy has great hands, and great moves. He instantly injects some confidence into the Wild as they go into the shootout, which is an area they desperately needed help in. Hopefully as he plays more, he finds his game in the first 65 minutes of the game.

-Warren Peters- Peters has been a serviceable fourth line center for the Wild. He is a center with size, and some offensive talent and instincts. He has some good speed for his size, and is able to get pucks to the front of the net on rushes or off the boards. I don’t see any value in moving Peters, or any teams wanting him.

-Greg Zanon- This is a player I actually see having some value at the deadline. Zanon is a serviceable defenseman that can really help a team heading into the playoffs with depth on their blue line. Zanon is a shot blocking machine, and I could really see him being a good depth defenseman for a team heading into the playoffs. I also see him as a guy the Wild will move. He isn’t a player the Wild will be bringing back, so I could see them moving him for picks or prospects.

-Mike Lundin- Lundin has been somewhat forgettable for the Wild this season. He spent the first third of the year on IR, and has been a decent defenseman or a healthy scratch the rest of the year. I think he could be a good defenseman for a team in the playoffs, but I’m not sure he is someone teams are going to depend on, and I don’t see him fetching much in return.

-Clayton Stoner- Stoner is a young defenseman with size. He is currently on IR, and the Wild have had preliminary talks with him on a contract extension. I don’t see him going anywhere.

-Josh Harding- Here is the biggest chip the Wild have had all season that may not be worth anything anymore. If the Wild would have traded him when they were winning earlier in the year, when his numbers were robust and he was generating buzz, they probably could have acquired some real talent from a team in need of goaltending. Since December, the buzz about Hards has greatly died, and as of now I don’t see him being moved. With that said, Toronto and Ottawa have made it known they’re in the goalie market. Tampa Bay and Columbus could use an upgrade; Detroit may need a back up for Jimmy Howard, Chicago may look to upgrade, so Harding could be dealt. After hearing all that, he picked a very poor time to get sick and stay off the Wild road trip.

Now to add to all of that, we have the Marek Zidlicky cloud hanging over the Wild. I have no doubt that if he is not moved before the deadline, he will be dealt over the summer when his full no trade clause becomes limited. Zidlicky has shown signs of the offensive skills that make him valuable and still could be dealt before the deadline. The trick is finding a team he agrees to go to, due to his no trade clause.

It should be an interesting weekend by all accounts. I hope everyone enjoys the trade deadline buzz and all the coverage that goes along with it.

Have a good weekend everybody.

Todd Varga

Subscribe to my blog “Wild Musings”

Follow me on twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0026515001329849581.jpgWild Musings 2/21/2012 - Hockey Day in America #SignBrodziak

On Sunday, the Minnesota Wild beat the Boston Bruins in 2-0 shutout. Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom was in masterful form, stopping 48 shots, and 3 breakaway chances in the first period. Fitting enough that on Hockey Day in America, Matt Cullen and Chad Rau, two Minnesota Natives, scored the two Wild goals (Interestingly enough, Chad Rau has scored twice in the NHL: once on Hockey Day in Minnesota, the other on Hockey Day in America, so let’s make sure somebody tells him Thursday is Hockey Day in Florida). The win pulled the Wild within 4 points of 8th place Calgary, ended a 7 game losing streak, and sent the Wild into a 4 day break with some much needed momentum. Now if Mikko Koivu could get healthy enough to get back into the lineup on Thursday, the Wild would be firing on all the cylinders that it has. They are gearing up for a back to back on the road in Florida and Dallas, and the Wild need all hands on deck to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Now, the biggest story to come out of the Wild win on Sunday was the announcement of the club reaching a contract extension with Kyle Brodziak. The Wild Center signed a new three year deal worth 8.5 million with an annual cap hit of 2.8 million. That is a very workable cap hit for a heart and soul type of player that really drives the Wild. Kyle Brodziak is a grinder type of player that plays in all facets of the game. He is a great third line center, which is where the Wild will play him ideally. He is great on the penalty kill, and is third on the team in goals on the power play. He scored a shootout winner in Edmonton earlier this year, and has 15 goals on the year so far. Over the past two seasons Brodziak has really stepped up his offensive game, scoring 37 points last year (16G-21A) and being on pace to score more goals and hopefully more points so far this year (15G-14A 29 points). The real value in this contract is going to be seen in the next few years. Brodziak is a hard worker, he plays the game the right way, and he never takes a shift off. Brodziak is going to prove invaluable as the Wild infuse all the young talent they have accumulated into their lineup over the next few years. Guys like Brodziak and Koivu are going to be the examples that young guys like Zack Phillips and Mikael Grandlund are going to be held to. This is all part of the culture Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher are trying to build and instill in the organization. This is a great sign for the Wild, and a well deserved pay day for Kyle Brodziak.

Up next for the boys in green, a trip to Sunrise to play the Panthers on Thursday, followed by a trip to Dallas on Friday, where the Wild haven’t won since 2003. This is a crucial stretch for the Wild’s playoff hopes, as the deadline looms near on the 27th.

Friday I’ll look at the Wild and the trade deadline, and breakdown what they should and shouldn’t be doing.

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to comment and ask questions. I love talking hockey with you guys.

Have a good day.

Todd Varga

On Twitter @Wild_Halo

Todd Varga

blog-0632350001329540470.jpgWild Musings, Marek Zidlicky, and NHL Thoughts 2/17/2012

The Wild dropped a heartbreaker to the Winnipeg Jets last night, losing 4-3 in the shootout. Evander Kane scored twice, and had the shootout winner. Devin Setoguchi remained hot for the Wild, scoring twice in the losing effort. Setoguchi has been on fire, scoring 4 goals since the return of Mikko Koivu on February 9th, who also scored a goal last night. The topline has actually been responsible for all of the goals since Mikko’s return, which is a huge problem (one of many, mind you) for the Wild as of late. They have zero secondary scoring right now. Matt Cullen has been snake bitten the last couple games, getting stoned on golden scoring chances in the past few games. Clutterbuck has been hurt, Nick Johnson hasn’t really been playing on a line with NHL talent, and Erik Christensen has not really been much of a factor- although he scored in the shootout yesterday and he made it look really easy. I like Christensen, and hope he finds his game here quick, because at this point he is a complete non-factor.

Now Marek Zidlicky….

What an interesting mess Zid is creating. In case you missed the past few days of this, Zidlicky told the media he would waive his no trade clause and approve a trade to the Devils, fueling speculation that the Wild was close to a deal with New Jersey. Chuck Fletcher seemed genuinely surprised, and said no deal was in place. That may or may not be true, as are all statements made by GMs ten days before the trade deadline. The Wild have to move Zidlicky. He and Mike Yeo are not on the same page, he is becoming a distraction, and in all honesty was not contributing to the team before that anyway.

Random thought: If there really is no deal in place, or no talks ongoing with the Devils, why did Zidlicky pick the Devils? Does he like the city? Does he like the team? Or did he think he could create a bunch of media buzz and false hope in fans minds by picking the team with the most desired, soon to be UFA that is being clamored about in Minnesota in the franchise’s short history? Minnesotans are salivating at the mouth at the thought of Zach Parise coming to the Wild. Convincing him to play in his home state for the foreseeable future, would be a grand slam for the Wild. The man scores goals the Wild desperately need, and would instantly become the face of the franchise (sorry Mikko). I just found Marek Zidlicky’s statement and choice of team interesting in this light, if Fletcher is being truthful, and there really is no deal in place.

Around the NHL:

-The Red Wings are ridiculous. 22 game home winning streak. Absolutely absurd, but not all that surprising given how good this team always is. What a great time to be a Detroit sports fan. The Lions are on the verge of being great, The Tiger’s have added Prince Fielder to the middle of their lineup, and the Wing’s haven’t lost at home in 22 games. Good for you Detroit.

-The Hal Gill trade worked out well, even though that is a big price for a rental player. Nashville is making their push to be a serious contender in the West. The Preds have added another talented defenseman to an already impressive D-core that will provide needed depth come the playoffs. They also add size and strength which, as we’ve seen, goes a long way in beating a team like Canucks. Montreal got two good youngsters and a pick for a UFA. You’ve got to feel good about that. All that being said, good luck to Blake Geoffrion in playing in Montreal with the media.

-Rick Nash is for sale, and is using his no trade clause to pick his team. Rumored teams include the Kings, Sharks, Rangers, Canucks, Flyers, and Bruins. All of the trade’s people have been coming up with have been really entertaining. But at the same time, it is kind of sad. Rick Nash is the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the thought of him not being there is kind of strange. I understand him wanting to move on, and wanting to be in the playoffs, it is just that “end of an era” kind of feel to it… if he gets traded. For comparisons sake: Borrowing from the world of baseball this reminds me of one of my boy hood heroes, Tim Salmon. I have been an Angels fan since I was a baby (1987 is the first season I remember). Tim Salmon joined the Angels in 1992 and retired with the team at the end of the 2006 season. Timmy was part of those brutal teams I grew up watching in the 1990s. If you’re not familiar with baseball, the Angels in the 1990s were terrible. They made the playoffs in 1989, and didn’t get back until 2002. Fortunately for them, and Timmy, they won the World Series in 2002, so it was well worth it. This is what the Rick Nash in Columbus situation reminds me off. It all worked out for Tim after he stuck with the Angels through all those years. Rick Nash has been that guy, just without the happy ending. Nash is the Blue Jacket’s Tim Salmon… unless he gets traded.

Thank you all for reading. I really appreciate everybody’s input and support.

I hope you have a great weekend.

Todd Varga

Follow me on Twitter @Wild_Halo

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