Thursday, March 28, 2013

Angry Mikko

Last night, Mikko Koivu scored the game winning goal for the Wild with 2:17 left in overtime. Following the goal, Mikko took part in one of the more angry goal celebrations you will ever see.

Maybe Mikko was angry about the team's performance in the last 30 minutes of that game (A good way to describe it would be asleep at the wheel). He did say after the game the team could of played better.

But nonetheless, the Wild have now won seven in a row, thanks to their usually non angry captain.

Thanks to @cjzero for this ridiculously awesome gif

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wild Starting To Get National Attention

Last night, while I was looking up to see how my march madness bracket was doing (Yes, I filled one out) on, I figured I would click on the NHL tab and see what ESPN had going on. And to my surprise, one of the main tabs on the ESPN/NHL homepage was labeled Minnesota Wild.

And I stumbled upon a post by Pierre LeBrun, which hails the Wild as the team we all thought they would be back in July, and a video from the pride of the ESPN NHL department, Barry Melrose.

An excerpt from LeBrun's post:
"Right now, [Fletcher] sees this a total team effort. Of course the star free agents, Suter and Parise, have been terrific, but everyone is contributing. The goaltending has been strong, the blue line rock solid and the offense -- yes, the offense ! -- has been clicking. 

The key has been the arrival of a second line, mainly featuring Setoguchi and Matt Cullen. While Setoguchi has been on fire, with six goals in his past five games, old man Cullen has been a great story, with 11 points (1-10) in his past 11 games."

Also, the Wild are starting to pick up some notice in Yahoo's Awards Watch, with Suter and Brodin getting nominations for the Norris (League's Best Defenseman) and Calder (League's Best Rookie), respectively.

And finally, Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher made appearances on NHL Network this past week to discuss the Wild's current success.

After 5 years of futility, it is finally nice to see the Wild: A) Winning and B) Getting some national coverage. Now that the team had a highly successful 3 game road trip, 2 games coming in places they haven't won since 2006 (Detroit) and 2009 (Vancouver), there will be a lot more eyes watching them. And perhaps, we will continue to read about the Wild on a national level more frequently as well too.

Its kind of a good feeling isn't it?

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Saluting NHL 94

This week, did a tribute to NHL 94, which debuted 20 years ago. And I thought I would follow suit, and pay tribute to the first video game I ever played.

Players tell us about their NHL 94 experience

Super Mario! (No, not this one)

My preferred team in this game, the St. Louis Blues

If you, much like I have, still want to play this game, but no longer have it on the old consoles, you can get it here and play on your computer.

But fair warning, it can take a few games to get used to it (I was owned 5-0 by Ottawa in my first game).

Tomorrow, we will return to regularly scheduled Wild posts.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Backstrom's Future

If one thing is quite clear following last night's 3-1 victory over Vancouver, is that the Wild still need Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom made 35 saves and helped give the Wild sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division.

As you can see, Backstrom made some huge saves to preserve the Wild's 3-1 win.

So far this season, Backstrom carries a 14-7-2 record with a 2.34 GAA and .915 save percentage. None of those stats are towards the top of the NHL leaderboard, but it does not paint a picture of how well Backstrom has played this season. And you may remember previously this year, that I offered my support of him following a tough loss.

In his 23 games this season, Backstrom has allowed 4 or more goals just 4 times this season. He does not have a shutout (His closest was his relief appearance against Chicago on January 28th, where he did not allow a goal after taking over for Josh Harding 5 minutes into the game), but he given up just one goal in 6 games and 2 or fewer in 15 games.

Also take into consideration that the past two seasons, Backstrom has only 22 and 19 wins respectively in those years. His GAA is considerably lower than the past two years (2.66, 2.43), and his save percentage is about the same as his career average (.918).

Backstrom was also touted as the 7th best player in Wild history on this blog a few months ago.

Why all of this is important now, is that Backstrom is in the final year of his 4 year, $24 million deal, and there has been no signs of whether or not he will return next year. Backstrom's age (35), more than likely has something to do with the fact he is not under contract past this year (But as we learned with goalies like Dwayne Roloson, Chris Osgood in recent memory, goalies can still play well despite their age).

But as the Wild continues to win big games like Monday night, with big help from Backstrom, one more thing is becoming clear: The Wild will need to retain him past this year.

As long as Backstrom continues to play well, he needs to be kept here. Good goaltending is hard to find in this league. He may not have league leading stats, but he does his job better than most others.

Josh Harding has been M.I.A. since he was placed on IR several weeks ago, and there has been almost next to no news on his condition. Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper are having great years for Houston and have had stints with the Wild this year, but it is yet to be determined if either of them could handle the #1 role.

At this point in the season, it is probably too late to be thinking of a contract extension. So talks will have to wait until the Wild season ends. And when it does, one should certainly hope that Chuck Fletcher's first priority will be to get Niklas Backstrom to re-sign here for another couple of years.

Because without Backstrom's brilliance in net this year, the Wild would most certainly not be in first place in the Northwest.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Monday, March 18, 2013

This "Rivalry" Ends Here

There have been 72 regular season and 7 playoff meetings all time between the Minnesota Wild, and the Vancouver Canucks. And tonight, on the 73rd regular season installment of this so called "rivalry", the two meet for the final time as division rivals.

Back in the Wild's early years, the two teams fit the description of a rivalry. They hated us, and we hated them. Then it was at its most intensified state, when they met in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, which the Wild won in 7 games.

But since that epic playoff series, the rivalry has become, really, a non rivalry anymore. For the last 5 years, Vancouver has dominated the Wild, including an impressive 12 game home winning streak dating back to March 3, 2009 (The last Wild win in Rogers Center was January 31, 2009 on a Marc-Andre Bergeron GW OT goal).

The domination by the Canucks in recent years, has allowed them to even up the all time series record with the Wild at 29-29-14. So the winner of tonight's game, can say they were the better team when they were division rivals. (Insert sarcastic celebration here)

For something that has been considered a rivalry for this long, there sure have been a lack of great moments in these contests. Only two distinct moments come to mind when you think about this matchup:

There was that time the late Rick Rypien tried to fight a Wild fan.

And then the other was the Wild's comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in the 03 semis.

All because of Jacques Lemaire and his "lucky socks"

But after that, all you can think of is guys like Matt Johnson and Derek Boogaard getting into the occasional fight with the Canucks goon at the time, or the Sedin twins lighting up the Wild defense on a Wild power play, or Roberto Luongo's utter dominance of the Wild at Rogers Arena, and his utter awfulness against the Wild at Xcel Energy Center, or Todd Bertuzzi playing that awful Vancouver style of hockey (AKA Dive City)

There has not been a rivalry between the two teams in 10 years. And tonight, this "rivalry" will finally come to an end. Minnesota can move on and make rivalries with new divisional opponents next year, such as, Chicago, Winnipeg, and St. Louis.

And when those rivalries actually take off and become rivalries, the Canucks-Wild rivalry will just become an after-thought.

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Road Points

Today, the Wild open up a 3 game road trip beginning in Colorado. They make a trip to playoff contenders Vancouver (3/18) and Detroit (3/20) to finish this short trip.

Luckily for the Wild, they do not have a road trip longer than 3 games this season. But unluckily for them, they have won just 4 out of 12 games on the road and have picked up points in just 5 out of those 12 road games.

As Minnesota makes its run at their first playoff appearance in 5 years, it is of the utmost importance that they begin picking up points on the road. There are only 5 teams in the West who have a winning record on the road so far this season. That honor belongs to Chicago, Anaheim, Vancouver, St. Louis, and Dallas. The first four teams occupy the top 4 spots in the West opening play today, with Dallas sitting in the 11th spot. So with seemingly all of the West still in the mix for a playoff spot (Columbus' charge has, yes, put them in contention for a playoff spot), those teams who can start picking up road points will seemingly get locked in for a spot in the big dance.

Remaining on their road schedule this year, the Wild have games with Calgary, Colorado (2 games), Columbus, Dallas (2), Detroit, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose (2), and Vancouver. (BOLD denotes a team who sits in the top 8 of the West entering play today.) And as you can see, the Wild have a more favorable road schedule (Yes, more favorable).

The Wild have no problems picking up points at home, winning 10 of 14 and having earned points in 11 of 14 at Xcel Energy Center. And if they can continue their level of play that they showed on this most recent homestand (Dominating all 3 games against Vancouver, Anaheim, and Colorado, while winning 2 out of those games), this team will have no issues picking up wins and points on the road now.

This team has set themselves up to make the playoffs. With a good mix of veteran and young players, this is a team that should be able to lock in a playoff spot. And it will come down to how many points they can pick up on the road.

But as we all know, playing at home and playing on the road are two completely different things.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

For Your Enjoyment

This is one of the best plays that I have ever witnessed at a Wild game. Please feel free to watch this video as many times as possible.

As Russo tweeted last night, that was a $243.25 million goal. And it was worth every penny.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mid-Season Grades

After an incredible 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks to take the division lead, the Wild find themselves atop their division and sitting in the #3 spot in the Western Conference as we hit the halfway point in the 2013 season. So, we hand out a report card to the Wild as they prepare to get set in for the second half of the season.

Forwards: C
Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise have been tremendous on the top line registering 20 and 19 points respectively, and youngsters Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker have been making their presence felt in the past 10 games since being called up (Perhaps no better example of that than last nights game). But, Dany Heatley (Heatley had a great start, but he has been horrific as of late), Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, and Mikael Granlund have had rough seasons to date, with Granlund and Bouchard now being healthy scratches. It took quite some time for the forwards to start registering points consistently, but the rough days appear to be behind them now.

Defense: C+
After a bad start, which had many fans calling him out for lack of production, Ryan Suter has been the $98 million defenseman we all expected, averaging 27:29 of ice time per game, which leads the NHL, and has risen to 2nd in the NHL among defenseman with 17 assists. Jonas Brodin has been Suter's defensive partner since being called up, and has showed the poise of a 10 year veteran in this league, despite being just 19 years old. Together, Suter and Brodin are one of the NHL's top D pairings. Behind those two, Jared Spurgeon and Tom Gilbert have had up and down seasons, while Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, and Nate Prosser have all performed below expectations.

Goalies: A-
If not for the talents of Niklas Backstrom, who know where this team would truly be. Backstrom has performed well (Minus the Chicago game, of course) putting up a 11-6-2 record with a 2.30 GAA and a .914 save percentage. Josh Harding got off to a good start, but he was placed on IR after a few rough games, and has yet to be heard from since. Darcy Kuemper played real well in his first 4 NHL games before going on IR as well.

Special Teams: B-
After an extremely slow start to the season on the power play, the Wild have raise their PP to 20th in the league (16.3%) and have registered a PP goal in 6 of their last 7 games and appear to be finding a groove while playing with the man advantage. Meanwhile, their penalty kill has been stellar, coming in 4th in the NHL with a 86.5% success rate. The top PK line of Koivu, Brodziak, Suter and Brodin have been phenominal, along with the solid presence of Backstrom in net.

Coaching: C+
It was an extremely rough start for Head Coach Mike Yeo and his staff. Minnesota suffered from slow starts, dysfunctional line combinations, poor execution, and awful defensive play. But, Yeo finally appears to have found 4 functional lines, and the team is firing on all cylinders. He has righted the ship so far, but as we learned last year, the second half of the season can be a completely different story. Yeo has the Wild tied for the Northwest Division lead at the halfway mark, and the question is: Can he hold on to this momentum and get this team to the playoffs?

Overall: C+
This team under performed to begin the year, but you can credit that to next to no training camp with a high roster turnover. But in the last 10 games, Minnesota has righted the ship and has played very exciting hockey, which has seen them rise to the division lead alongside Vancouver. Minnesota has no long road trips (Only a 3 game max road trip) and plays an equal number of games on the road and at home. This team is starting to have a playoff like feel to it. And their first test of the second half, will be against Anaheim, who holds the 2nd best record in all the NHL.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

NHLPA Say "Yes" To Realignment

Yesterday, the NHLPA gave its consent to a revised realignment plan that will see the league move to just 4 divisions and will see the East have 16 teams to the West's 14. The Wild will be in a more central division, with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, and Winnipeg. During last season, the NHL's Board of Governors voted in favor of a similar realignment plan, but the only difference is that Columbus and Detroit are moving to Eastern divisions, not staying in the West. My post on this can be found here.

So should the BOG votes in favor of this plan, the league will be realigning for the 2013-14 season. But as we learned last year, we will hold the celebration until it becomes official.

There are some pros and cons to this realignment. A big pro to this is the less travel for all teams (Especially the likes of Detroit, Columbus, Minnesota, and Winnipeg), but a big con to this, is the fact the East will have 16 teams and the West only has 14 teams, giving teams in the West a better chance of making the playoffs (A 7% greater chance to make the playoffs in the West). For more on the pros and cons of this, watch the video below taken from NHL Live last night.

The playoff format for this realignment would be the top 4 teams in the division make the playoffs, and then play each other, with the 2 division winners in each conference playing each other for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Final. But there has been talk of adding a Wild card team, but that has not gone forward yet. Look for that to get voted on once realignment becomes official.

If this goes through, Wild fans can get accustomed to watching divisional road games in the same time zone, with the exception of Colorado, who is an hour behind us. So you can say goodbye to many of those late nights while watching the Wild play a big divisional game.

With the future of the club being as bright as it is, the Wild would be favorites in this division every year, along with Chicago and St. Louis. But dont sleep on the other teams. Colorado has some good young players and are continuing to build. Dallas has a collection of veterans on their roster so dark days could be ahead for them. Nashville has been a pain in the Wild's side in recent years. And Winnipeg projects to be the Wild's new main rivalry, and they are a bubble playoff team in the East right now.

If the Wild were to put together a consecutive string of playoff appearances, this would be the format most favorable to that happening.

Again, lets not get too happy right now. The BOG must still vote on this new plan. But it is expected that they move forward with this too.

Here's to hoping the Smyth Division returns.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Monday, March 4, 2013

Time For An Upgrade

As many of you know, the Xcel Energy Center is regarded as one of, if not the best, arena in the NHL. In face, in the most recent ESPN Ultimate Team Rankings, The X, came in 6th in overall stadium experience out of all the 122 major sports teams (MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL). It was the highest out of the 30 NHL teams.

In the most recent Bleacher Report countdown of the top 10 NHL arenas, Xcel came in 6th, behind Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Joe Louis Arena in Detroit (This is why I hate Bleacher Report. The Joe is a pit.), Madison Square Garden in New York, Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, and the Bell Centre in Montreal.

And I too, believe that The X is one of the best arenas in the NHL. The concourse is open to the ice and is very spacious. It is basically a museum to hockey's past. And there is no bad seat in the house.

But, in order for Xcel Energy Center to maintain its top arena status in the NHL, it needs to make a major upgrade in one area: Its scoreboard.

When it opened in 2000, the scoreboard was considered state of the art. It was viewed as one of the best in the league. And even up until a few years ago, it was still considered one of the best.

But lately, NHL teams have been bringing in new scoreboards to keep up with modern times. Perhaps the best one now residing in Montreal. The big thing with upgrades is simply making them bigger (Some seemed to be modeled after the monster scoreboard in Cowboys Stadium. They all are getting bigger to get fans a better view of a replay. And in Minnesota, the video boards have suddenly become "small" in the eyes of fans. To make things look worse, Minnesota's expansion brother, the Columbus Blue Jackets, one upped the Wild for once, putting $6.4 million into a new scoreboard this past offseason

You dont see it in this photo, but the score of the game is now on the bottom ribbon board of the main scoreboard. The video boards you see right above the "Xcel Energy Center" in the picture above, are now being used for ads and stats throughout the game. Its as if they are trying to keep up with the times, but they are not quite sure how to do that. (Tip: Leave the score on the 8 video boards and the ads on the ribbon boards)

I took the time to look through all 30 teams scoreboards. And I tooked the time to rank the scoreboards from best to worst. Here are the rankings:

1. Bell Centre-Montreal (Upgraded in 2008)
2. Staples Center-Los Angeles (Upgraded in 2010)
3. Rogers Arena-Vancouver (Upgraded in 2006)
4. First Niagara Center-Buffalo (Upgraded in 2007)
5. American Airlines Center-Dallas (Upgraded in 2009)
6. TD Garden-Boston (Upgraded in 2006)
7. Scotiabank Place-Ottawa (Upgraded in 2011)
8. Consol Energy Center-Pittsburgh (No upgrade since arena opened in 2010)
9. Verizon Center-Washington (Upgraded in 2007)
10. United Center-Chicago (Upgraded in 2009)
11. HP Pavilion-San Jose (Upgraded in 2007)
12. Tampa Bay Times Forum-Tampa Bay (Upgraded in 2012)
13. PNC Arena-Carolina (Upgraded in 2009)
14. Nationwide Arena-Columbus (Upgraded in 2012)
15. Wells Fargo Center-Philadelphia (Upgraded in 2006)
16. Air Canada Centre-Toronto (Upgraded in 2008)
17. Bridgestone Arena-Nashville (Upgraded in 2007)
18. Scotiabank Saddledome-Calgary (Upgraded in 2006)
19. Prudential Center-New Jersey (No upgrade since arena opened in 2007)
20. Scottrade Center-St. Louis (Upgraded in 2006)
21. Xcel Energy Center-Minnesota (No upgrade since arena opened in 2000)
22. Arena-Phoenix (No upgrade since arena opened in 2003)
23. MTS Centre-Winnipeg (No upgrade since arena opened in 2004)
24. Madison Square Garden-NY Rangers (Upgraded in 1991)
25. BB&T Center-Florida (No upgrade since arena opened in 1998)
26. Pepsi Center-Colorado (No upgrade since arena opened in 1999)
27. Honda Center-Anaheim (No upgrade since arena opened in 1993)
28. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum-NY Islanders (Upgraded in 2008)
29. Rexall Place-Edmonton (Upgraded in 1994)
30. Joe Louis Arena-Detroit (Upgraded in 2006. New video screens)
(My condolences to Detroit fans for having to look at that dinosaur. Actually, my condolences for having to sit in that arena for 3 hours nightly. I have issues watching a game there on TV.)

As you can see, once the list gets to Minnesota at 21, it begins the list of scoreboards that badly need a replacement. And one would hope, that some of those dinosaurs at the bottom will be gone in the next few years.

You should hope that the folks over at Minnesota Sports and Entertainment (The company that operates the X) are giving thought to a new scoreboard. Two-thirds of the NHL have already invested in new ones themselves within the past 7 years. It doesnt seem like it needs to be a necessary move, but at this point in time, it is.

Keeping the Xcel Energy Center atop those NHL arena lists, is a daunting task, but, this team has for 12 years now. And to help ensure it remaining there for the next 12, they might as well put in a new scoreboard. Its just better for everyone that way.