Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Time To Send Erik Christensen Packing

On February 7th, Chuck Fletcher sent forward Casey Wellman to the New York Rangers in exchange for forward Erik Christensen and a conditional 7th round pick (The Wild get the pick, if Christensen does not resign here next year). Christensen was brought in to help the Wild in shootout situations (He had 24 shootout goals prior to playing with the Wild), an area they have struggled in this season.

Since being acquired, Christensen has played in all 12 games and has gone 2/3 in shootout opportunities (The Wild have won just one of the three shootouts). But beyond that, he has been horrendous. He has produced 0, that's right 0, points while taking shifts on the third and fourth lines. But his most noticeable stat (It's pretty hard to beat the 0 points), is the fact he is a -11 in those 12 games (He had a 1-4-5 line and a +/- rating of 0 in 20 games with NYR). His past three games he has put up a -2 (@DAL), -1 (vs SJ), and -2 (vs LA) respectively. Needless to say, he has been as useful as a broken stick so far.

The Wild didn't give up much to get Christensen here (Let's face it, Casey Wellman did not have much of a future here with all the prospects on the way up). In fact, they will end up getting a draft pick out of this when they don't bring him back in 2012-13. So it has been a low risk situation to get him here. But its time to end this.

Fletcher should send Christensen packing. He may have some usefulness in Houston, so might as well try sending him through waivers to get him there. And if someone else picks him up, then that's just our gain (Not sure if we will still get a draft pick if that happens). Anyone at this point, would be better to have in the lineup than Christensen. That's how bad he has failed here.

So please, Chuck Fletcher, I beg you. End this, and send Erik Christensen away. He has just caused more headaches than you could possibly imagine...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Purely A Hockey Move

Yesterday, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher sent shockwaves through the organization and the State of Hockey, when he traded the one of the team's leaders and longest tenured player in Nick Schultz. Schultz was shipped to Edmonton for defenseman Tom Gilbert, a graduate of Bloomington Jefferson High School.

This move was met with immediate shock. As Russo pointed out, the Wild locker room was in silence just minutes following their practice yesterday, as word got out that Schultz, the franchise leader in games played (743), had been moved. It was a move that you had to read multiple times, to make sure you are reading it correctly (As I did yesterday).

But, once the shock started to wear off, you see that this was a move that will almost surely help this hockey team. Gilbert is a solid puck moving defenseman, who will help add some offense to the blue line (Erik Karlsson of Ottawa is just 9 points behind the entire Wild defense in scoring this year. Karlsson has 65 points, the Wild defense has 74). He comes in for Schultz, who is a stay at home, play solid defense type of d-man, something the Oilers need very much.

As I mentioned before, Schultz was a leader on the club and one of the most respected guys in the locker room. But, as we all know, this is a part of the game. Its tough to say goodbye to someone who has played so well and for the same organization his entire career. But, as Chuck Fletcher told the media yesterday, "Its about adding different pieces for us moving forward." So basically what he is saying is that this is a pure hockey move.

And in the end, this move will be one that should benefit this hockey team in a big way...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Zidlicky Soap Opera Ends

Minutes prior to Saturday night's game against Dallas, defenseman Marek Zidlicky was pulled from the lineup. Not to long afterward, the entire world found out Zidlicky was finally shipped out to New Jersey. In exchange for 'Z', the Wild received D Kurtis Foster, F Stephane Veilleux (Both former Wild players), F Nick Palmieri, a 2012 2nd round pick, and a conditional 2013 3rd round pick (The pick hinges on whether or not the Devils make it to the Eastern Finals and Zidlicky plays in 75% of those playoff games).

This move needed to happen. The Wild needed to dump Zidlicky. He had been a cancer to the team, since asking to be traded on January 31st, and his play during that time sure didn't help him or the team whatsoever. Zidlicky had been a great offensive defenseman (5 times in his career he topped the 40 point mark in a season), but he lacked effort and often clashed with coach Mike Yeo. And Yeo showed no mercy towards his highest paid defenseman, when he wound up scratching him more frequently as of late.

Meanwhile, the team gets a couple of well respected players on and off the ice(Foster and Veilleux) and a decent prospect (Palmieri). As Russo points out, Foster (4 G, 10 A, 14 P in 37 G) and Palmieri (4-3-7 in 29 G) will for sure be in the lineup sunday against the Sharks at Xcel Energy Center, and Veilleux will be headed to Houston, but look for him up with the Wild soon. Clearly the move will help bolster the atmosphere in a very dead locker room. Oh and don't forget, the team got two (2012 2nd round, and a conditional 2013 3rd round) draft picks, which will help beef up an already stellar farm system.

The drama surrounding Marek Zidlicky has come to an end. He got his wish and was shipped out of town, and the Wild got a very decent haul for his services for not only this year, but the following season as well (He is under contract for $4 million in 2012-13). If you are Chuck Fletcher right now, you have to be giving yourself a pat on the back. You took advantage of a weak trade market for D-Men three days before the trade deadline, and traded an almost useless player on a fading team to a contending team for a ridiculous return (Even if Foster and Veilleux, both UFA's on July 1st, don't return in 2012-13, the Wild still have Palmieri and the draft picks).

Now lets put all this behind us and hope Fletcher can swing a similar deal for Greg Zanon and his expiring contract at season's end too...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Can I Get Some Love For Chad Rau?

On Saturday afternoon, Wild Center Warren Peters delivered an illegal cross check to the head of St Louis Captain David Backes. NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan came down on Peters handing him a one game suspension, which left an open spot on the Wild roster for Sunday’s game against Boston. Enter Chad Rau, called up from Houston for Sunday’s game (His second stint with the Wild this year), and he did not disappoint.

In front of a national audience, Rau broke a scoreless tie with the defending champs in the second period as he broke out on a 2 on 1 with D-Man Marco Scandella and wristed a shot past Thomas just inside the left faceoff circle. It was Rau’s 2nd goal in 5 games played this season (His first came on Hockey Day Minnesota against Dallas). On the season Rau holds a line of 2-0-2 and is a +2. But stats don’t tell the entire story here.

If you watched Sunday’s game, you should of come away very impressed by Rau’s performance. He had just the one goal, but he was given nearly three minutes more of ice time than he averaged in his first stint with the club, due to his stellar play in both ends of the ice.

Mike Yeo was so impressed by Rau’s performance after the game he noted this to the media, “I thought his D-zone coverage was very strong. I thought his puck execution was very good. He knows when to make a smart play and when to make more of a skilled play. And I was impressed with his puck strength.” (Quote courtesy of Mike Russo)

As I mentioned on Twitter Sunday, Chad Rau was a breath of fresh air on a team full of dead air on Sunday. And with all that said, one has to believe that he would be sticking around for most of, if not all of, the remainder of the season, mainly as the fourth line center.

Rau does what Mike Yeo is looking for from the rest of his squad: He plays hard, he plays smart, and he takes care of the little things that helps the team win. If he can continue to do that, he will not only finish out the year in a Wild uniform, it should also help him remain in one for the next season as well. And with any luck, his hard play can rub off on his teammates too, and propel us back to those winning ways.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Kyle Brodziak Resigns

Yesterday, following a stellar 2-0 win over the defending champs Boston Bruins, the Wild announced that they have resigned center Kyle Brodziak to a 3 year contract extension. Russo writes that the deal is worth $8.49 million, which accounts for a $2,833,333 cap hit for the team in each of those seasons.

As I wrote on Friday, this was something the team needed to do. Brodziak has played extremely well this year, and has seen plenty of time as a second line center (some due to injuries to Mikko Koivu and some because of his stellar play). Brodziak is currently fourth on the team with 29 (15 G, 14 A) points. He does hold a +/- rating of -11, but if you watch this team on a regular basis, that does not properly show the way Brodziak has played this season.

The move is extremely crucial for this organization. And Nate over at First Round Bust describes that pretty adequately in his post from yesterday:

"Signing Brodziak - a guy who wants to play in Minnesota - is also a good way to show free agents that the Wild organization is on the up; especially in light of two players with no-trade clauses (Marty Havlat and Zidlicky) wanting out. It's tough to convince the Zach Parises (even if he's "one of us!") or Ryan Suters to sign with an organization that hasn't made the playoffs in three years (possibly four) and is trying to embrace a youth movement while being competitive. Minnesota may have money (approximately $20 million in cap space give or take Zidlicky, albeit some of it will be taken by guys like Mikael Granlund and Guillaume Latendresse if he gets qualified) but they're not alone.

At the same time, I also like the length and money of Brodziak's contract. One of the issues the Wild have had in the past is having money tied up in long-term deals which saw guys overpaid and not produce. Some of it had to do with poor drafting but it's better having guys like Brodziak, Latendresse and Devin Setoguchi (all who can score 20+ goals) for under $3 million while letting the Granlunds, Coyles, Zuckers and Phillips slowly develop. Kyle has proven he can produce with a plethora of players (this season has shown he didn't benefit from Havlat), is durable (he's only missed two games in three years) and play two-way hockey.

If all goes right, Brodziak can help develop the next generation of Wild players - by the time his contract is up the prospect pool should be ready - and the deal is far from being an albatross if the time comes to trade."

Perhaps this deal, at this point, shows that the team still wants to make a playoff push. Or, it could merely just be a coincidence that it was signed with one week to go until the February 27th deadline. I do think they will sell (Zidlicky, Zanon, Lundin, and possibly Harding) more than they buy. But this is a definite sign that things are starting to look up for this team.

We may not see things get better until next year (Granlund, possibly Parise, and hopefully a solid blueliner is brought in), but we will all be glad Kyle Brodziak will be in a Minnesota sweater for the next three as well.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cold Hard Facts

I saw this segment on NHL Live yesterday, so I figured I would give this a try on here. This one is not pretty so please read with caution:

1. Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre Marc Bouchard will not return this year:
Russo hinted at this the other day, I believe. But to expect either of these two players to return to action this year, is rather ridiculous. Both are battling concussion symptoms (Latendresse returned briefly in December, but had a relapse after throwing his body around too much), and as we all have seen, this takes a lot of time to recover from. The Wild have suffered greatly with both out of action due to the team’s lack of depth, and it will continue moving forward with both out of the lineup. So please don’t expect both to return at all this year…but one can hope right?

2. The Matt Cullen signing has failed: If hockey were a 2 month sport, Matt Cullen would Wild’s top scorer. But, unfortunately, it’s not. And Cullen has been abysmal in the months not named October or November in his two seasons in a Wild sweater. In 56 games this year Cullen has posted an 11-18-29 line, and is a -7 on the season as well. He is on pace to score around the same amount as he did in 10-11 (12-27-39 in 78 games). Cullen was brought in to add some offense and some depth to the power play. But he has done nothing to that extent (It pains me to watch him on the power play now). When you are being paid $3.5 million, you have to put up more than 39 points in a season. Too bad we have to endure one more year of this.

3. Time to resign Kyle Brodziak: Before injuries to Latendresse and Bouchard, Brodziak was playing unbelievable hockey. But, he has come back down to earth a bit, but nonetheless, it’s time to sign him to an extension. Brodziak has been the team’s best center at times (sorry Mikko) this year, and held sometime on the top line while Mikko Koivu was down with injury. He is a very valuable asset to this hockey team now and for the future, so locking him up should be a no brainer for GM Chuck Fletcher.

4. We still got the better of the Heatley-Havlat trade: Despite Heater’s slow production pace to start the year, he has picked it up as of late. He currently holds a line of 19-21-40 and has played in every game this season. Heatley still has a shot to hit the 30 goal mark this season (He needs to score 11 in the team’s final 26 games), something that has not been done since Marian Gaborik resided in St. Paul. Meanwhile, Havlat has seen injuries holding him back to just 26 games so far this year, and has produced horribly (2-13-15) on a very offensively gifted team. So if there is one thing Wild fans can hold their head up about this year, it’s this trade that landed us Dany Heatley.

5. This team will not make the playoffs: It can’t get much worse than this. This team was atop the NHL standings in mid December. But since, it’s been a train wreck. The team has lost all confidence in its ability to do anything. And it cost them their spot atop the NHL standings, the West, the division, and now it will cost them an appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s been a very painful couple of months for the State of Hockey, and it won’t get better until next season. The front office might as well admit defeat and start trading some players (Zidlicky, Zanon, Harding) and get something in return. In fact, at the rate their playing, they could end up with a top 5 pick in June’s entry draft. And what’s the harm in that?