Friday, July 19, 2013

Wild 2013-14 Regular Season Schedule Released

Since the NHL and Olympics finally came to an agreement this morning, the release of the NHL schedule was not far behind.

The Wild will open their regular season on October 3rd at home against the Los Angeles Kings, then remain at home for three more games against Anaheim, Winnipeg, and Dallas before hitting the road. Every team in the NHL will visit Xcel Energy Center this winter, so there will be no shortage of must see games.

Not forgetting the Wild are now in the new realigned Central Division and will get six games each with division opponents Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, and Winnipeg.

Here is the schedule in picture form courtesy of KFAN:

The least favorable part of the Wild's schedule comes in April, when they play at Chicago, Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, Boston, St. Louis, and Nashville to close the season. It should be cause for concern given the way the Wild backed into the postseason this past year. But lets hope that is not the case.Oh and not forgetting that nearly three week Olympic Break in February too, should be concerning given the fact the Wild could potentially have eight players participating.

There are several great opportunities for road trips on this schedule. I know I will try and take advantage some of them (i.e. Tampa/Florida in October, Pittsburgh/NY Rangers/Philadelphia in December), and you should too if you love getting around to other arenas in the NHL.

Thoughts on the new schedule Wild Fans?

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

NHL To Send Players to 2014 Olympics

At long last, the NHL finally announced this morning that they will be sending their players to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was some of the best Olympic hockey in recent memory, and featured a gold medal game that went to overtime between Canada and the United States (although the U.S. would like to forget the outcome.

The Wild are expected to have several players participate for their various countries. Mikko Koivu (Finland), Zach Parise (USA), Ryan Suter (USA), Jonas Brodin (Sweden), Jason Pominville (USA/Canada), Mikael Granlund (Finland), Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland), and Niklas Backstrom (Finland) are the logical choices to play in Sochi. Should all these players end up playing, it would clearly be a team record for number of players participating in the games.

It won't be until January when the official rosters are unveiled. There are Olympic camps coming up in August, and that should offer a better idea as to who should make the team (perhaps).

Look for more news today as the long awaited NHL schedule will be released...

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jason Pominville's Contract Extension

Pominville should be staying in Minnesota past this season

Now that the free agent frenzy has settled down, its time to take a look at what's left to do for the Wild this offseason. Since their roster is pretty much set in stone (except for maybe the fourth line), one move Chuck Fletcher still has yet to make is sign Jason Pominville to a contract extension.

Pominville came over at the trade deadline this past season from Buffalo. They gave up quite the ransom for his services as he was acquired for Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett, the club's first round pick in 2013, and its second round pick in 2014.

In 10 regular season games with the Wild, Pominville scored four goals and added five assists before missing the final two games with a concussion. He also missed the first three games of the postseason with the concussion before returning for the final two games. His minutes in those games were limited and he was not much of a factor, but don't let those games discourage you from how good he really was.

During those 10 games, Pominville was the offensive force the Wild wanted when they acquired him. He was a spark on a offense that had become rather lifeless. If you go back and watch any of those games, you will also find him to be pretty responsible defensively as well. He buzzes around the puck no matter where it is and can make something happen at any given moment.

Pominville will be 31 in November, and his contract is set to expire after the 2013-14 season. The team would be better off to lock him into an extension now and not let it drag on during the regular season.

Right now he is projected to be back on the top line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, the line where he did most of his damage before being shuffled around in the final couple of games in 2012-13. So should he be on that line for a significant amount of time next year, his production should be very similar to his 10 game stint in the previous season.

Its a bold risk to lock a player into a long term extension after only playing a small amount of games in the previous season. But this is a risk the Wild need to take. They need Jason Pominville. They are better with him and they should hold on to him for another five or six seasons.

He is just that good...

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why Is Matt Cooke Here?

Last night, Chuck Fletcher turned the entire Minnesota Wild fan base upside down when he signed Matt Cooke to a three year deal. Literally the entire fan base united together and hailed the move as ridiculous, mainly due to Cooke's past.

It is true that Cooke does have a terrible history in this league when it comes to supplemental discipline. Five different times between 2008 and 2011, Cooke was suspended for illegal hitting. His worst hit was a elbow to the head of Bruins F Marc Savard, but he did not receive a suspension, as the play was deemed to be within the rules. Following the hit, the league made substantial changes to its hitting policy, focusing on hits to the head.

Following his last suspension in 2011 (a suspension that caused him to miss the entire postseason), Cooke took it upon himself to change his game. He wanted to still be that gritty player, but play within the rules. He took the time to go over his hits, and studied how he needed to change. In the time since he studied how to change, Matt Cooke has not been suspended. In fact, its hard to remember an instance where you said, "Thats a dirty play."

In addition to the changed physical play, Cooke also improved his overall game significantly. Offensively, he has decent speed, good hands, and can score 12-15 goals a season. Defensively, he buzzes around the puck causing issues for the opposition (mainly from his physical play), and has been one of the Penguins top penalty killers the past four seasons.

Cooke also brings ample playoff experience with him from Pittsburgh, playing in 58 playoff games with the Pens. He was part of their 2009 Stanley Cup championship squad, scoring one goal and six assists on the Pens third line during that postseason run.

If you all want to hate the baggage Matt Cooke brings with him to Minnesota, fine. But hate the baggage, not the player. The player is much different from when he used to antagonize the Wild with Vancouver many years ago.

You need to ask yourself, why is Matt Cooke here? Is he here to throw elbows around and get suspended several times? Absolutely not. So you need to get over that fact real fast. Because Matt Cooke is here to help this team win. And I know most of you can't believe this when I say he CAN help this team win.

If you are going to be rash and hate the Wild because they have Matt Cooke, go right ahead and hate them. But I'll be right there to show you the door.

We all need to trust in what Chuck Fletcher is doing. Teams who contend for the Stanley Cup every year are not built overnight (this is by no means saying we are going to win the Cup on the sole premise of signing Matt Cooke). It takes time. He has a plan for this team as a whole, and he feels Matt Cooke can be an integral part of that plan. We need to start to trust in Chuck (a hashtag I have been using on twitter lately).

Matt Cooke has changed so much. His past is indeed in the past. Care about his future with the Wild, not his past with different teams.

Lets all take a chance and believe in him.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Friday, July 5, 2013

Wild Sign Matt Cooke

Cooke won the 2009 Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh
Just minutes after the Wild traded Devin Setoguchi to the Jets, the team announced they signed free agent F Matt Cooke to a three year deal worth $7.5 million. His cap hit will be at $2.5M for each of those seasons.

Cooke is an awfully troubling signing. He has had several suspensions in the past for his foul play (the worst was his hit on Bruins F Marc Savard). He seems to have cleaned that aspect of that up, but his hit on Erik Karlsson this past year stirred that debate up again. So on this front, the Wild are taking a huge gamble with all of that baggage.

Besides the dirty play, Cooke has a very decent skill set. He is coming from a high powered Pittsburgh team, so that might skew his offensive stats. But he has been averaging around 15 goals with the Pens, and had eight this past year, which was a strike shortened season. He is very good on the PK, and can hold his own in the defensive zone.

He will probably slot on the third line as Cal Clutterbuck's replacement this fall. But my question is, if the Wild were going to deal Seto, why not keep Clutter who would be a much cheaper option than Cooke? They both are pretty similar in style of play.

There will be more from this move later on, but right now I can't even grasp where I stand with this signing. Lets all just give this a few days and let it sink in and see where we stand with this.

Wild Trade Setoguchi To Winnipeg

The Wild have traded F Devin Setoguchi to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for the Jets' 2014 2nd round draft pick. The move comes hours after free agency opened and teams tossed money around like no other to a mostly forward crowd. The Jets were a team that stood pat this afternoon and watched most of the UFAs get signed up.

Setoguchi, 26, was acquired by the Wild during the first round of the 2011 NHL draft with Charlie Coyle and the 26th overall pick (Zack Phillips) for D Brent Burns. Seto had two up and down seasons in Minnesota, scoring 19 and 13 goals respectively. He was a dominant force with Matt Cullen on the second line in the last half of the season and helped the team reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

From the fans perspective, you hate to see Seto go for just a draft pick. But with the trade for Nino Neiderreiter last week, it made Setoguchi and his $3 million cap hit expendable. And now that Matt Cullen is gone, you had to wonder if Seto would ever get close to what he was in the second half of the season.

So from the hockey ops perspective, this is a good deal. Getting a second round (it will be a high 2nd round pick in all likelihood) pick in return for a very inconsistent goal scorer is a great deal. The move freed up his $3 million cap hit, giving the team just over $4.5 million in cap space.

Best of luck to Seto as he goes up north to Winnipeg, the Wild's new division rival.

Wild Re-Sign Jared Spurgeon

Today the Minnesota Wild announced they have re-signed D Jared Spurgeon to a three year deal. Per Russo, the deal will cost Minnesota $2.66M towards the cap each season.

Spurgeon was an RFA this summer, and until he was signed this afternoon, it was not clear when he was going to sign. The two sides had been reportedly far apart on the specifics of the deal. Apparently it all came together this afternoon, as the specifics got worked out and Spurgeon signed on for another three years.

Jared is coming off an uneven 2013 season where he registered 5 goals, 10 assists while averaging over 21 minutes of ice time a game this season. He was a big part of the Wild power play, scoring four goals, while bouncing back and forth between the first and second PP line (sometimes Mike Yeo rolled out four forwards on the top PP, pushing Spurgeon to the second PP line). But he struggled in the last month (only 2 assists in April), and was rather abysmal in the defensive zone.

Based on the lack of great play from Spurgeon in 2013, one would say that this is a bit of overpayment for the defenseman. But should he be able to step up and be the defenseman he is capable of being, this deal will probably end up being a steal for the Wild.

Spurgeon is slated to open the season on the second d-pairing with Marco Scandella, who is also coming off an uneven 2013 season.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Parise and Suter Watch: One Year Later

It seems like just yesterday. The media watch on coveted free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter was now in its fourth day. The date was July 4th, 2012, so one assumed that there would be no significant news on this day, right? Wrong.

Just shortly past eleven, news broke. Zach Parise was signing with his hometown team.
Then before you could collect yourself from the news, lightning struck twice. Ryan Suter joined Parise in Minnesota.

There had never been a moment like that in the history of Minnesota sports. There probably won't be again. It was the single greatest moment in the brief history of the Minnesota Wild.

The Wild had gone four seasons without an appearance in the postseason. They had built up the best pool of prospects in the NHL, after Chuck Fletcher inherited the worst pool of prospects four years earlier. Now all they needed was to land some big time free agents to make the team relevant again.

Now here we are, a year later. The Wild are coming off a lockout shortened season, in which the just barely made the playoffs. Parise was an anchor on the top line and lead the team in goals with 18. Suter lead the NHL in TOI (27:16) and finished second among NHL defenseman in assists (28), while finishing second in the Norris Trophy voting. Suter was also named to the NHL's first All Star team yesterday as well (surprised Ovechkin wasn't voted in as a defenseman too).

The pair lead the team to the playoffs in their first season. They also helped the young kids (Granlund, Coyle, Zucker, Brodin) come along and make significant impacts during the kids' first season in the NHL.

Who knows what happen to the Wild had they not signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on this day last year. Its probably fair to assume they dont even make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. But luckily for us, we never have to think about that problem.

So now as we move forward, what are the realistic expectations for the Wild in year two of the Parise and Suter era? Division Champions? An appearance in the second round of the playoffs? Conference Final trip?

We can answer that question in the coming weeks. For now, lets just reflect on what a great year it has been.

Here are the old posts in the Parise and Suter Watch series.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wild Buyout Tom Gilbert

With a decreasing salary cap and a payroll that was already close to that cap, Chuck Fletcher finally did what we all knew was coming. He used one of the team's two compliance buyouts on defenseman Tom Gilbert.

The team will be on the hook to pay Gilbert $1 million in salary the next two seasons, but they no longer have his $4 million cap hit on the books for the 2013-14 season. Gilbert is coming off a dreadful season in which he notched 3 goals and 10 assists but was a -11 and was a huge defensive liability. His play was so bad this year he ended up being a healthy scratch a couple of times.

Gilbert picked the worst year to play horribly. He played himself right into a compliance buyout, and now is without a job. You would of liked to have given him a second chance, but the team simply had their hands tied with Dany Heatley still being on the roster.

The buyout of Gilbert now gives the Wild $6.45 million in cap space, with just a few holes on the roster to fill. The team still needs to re-sign RFA Jared Spurgeon (expect a 2-3 year deal worth about $2-2.25M for Spurgeon) and they now need to sign a defenseman to fill the void left by Gilbert (unless Wild fans want Nate Prosser to be the 6th defenseman).

In Russo's blog today, he mentioned that Chuck Fletcher believes there are bargains to be had from free agent defenseman (its been suggested that former Gopher Keith Ballard could be that bargain). Some could be prone to taking a deal that is below what they are worth due to the decreasing salary cap, and some could end up taking a two way deal just to keep their career going.

Should Fletcher end up signing a bargain defenseman just to be the 6th D-man and keep cap space, it could be likely that the combo of Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella will open the season as the second D pairing. The pair played admirably in the playoffs, and should get another chance to prove themselves next year.

Where Fletcher goes from here is a mystery. But by the end of Friday, we will probably know who Gilbert's replacement is.

Start placing your bets!

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Farewell Cal Clutterbuck

Thanks for the Memories, Cal

On Sunday, the Wild acquired F Nino Neiderreiter from the New York Islanders in exchange for the Wild's 70th overall pick and RW Cal Clutterbuck.

Clutterbuck was drafted by the Wild in the 3rd round (72nd overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Since his arrival with the team during the 2008-09 season, he has been a fan favorite. His physical play was a huge hit with the fans and his teammates. He often got into the opposition's head with his play, and that created some rather interesting moments.

His best season was in 2010-11 when he registered a career high 19 goals and 15 assists, and tallied a NHL leading 334 hits (his career high for hits in a season was 356 in 2008-09).

Cal did not have a great season in 2013 (only four goals and six assists in 42 games, but that can be blamed for spending his most of his shifts in the defensive zone), but he still carried a lot of value. That's why he was moved Sunday for one of the Islanders top prospects.

Clutter was a great asset to this team. But the decreasing cap space and his RFA status made it clear that he was going to be moved this offseason. He will be missed here, but this move will benefit the team greatly in the long run.

Thanks for the memories Cal!